Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Here's the geometry (sculpt) of one of the characters in the film. I'm calling him Dragon Bug. He moves through the branches like a squirrel, jumping fearlessly from branch to branch. It's going to be interesting (impossible?) getting good movement out of him with his short legs, but that's a challenge I'm looking forward to.

Now I need to texture him, which means giving him colour and deciding how he'll actually look in the scene. Which leads to a big question - what's this film going to look like?

From my last short, "The Perfect Detonator"

My past four shorts were flat-shaded, meaning that the characters looked more like drawings or paintings. I don't want to do that this time. If I'm going to flat-shade a character, I'll animate him classically. This time around, I want to make better use of the strengths of 3D animation than I have in the past.

A huge difference between 3D computer animation and other forms of animation is that you can play with light - you can move lights around just like you would in a movie set. Characters and sets can be lit in all kinds of gorgeous and complex ways that aren't even possible in reality. And I'm finally realizing what I've heard one hundred times before - that, when it comes to visuals, light is everything. It's how information is transmitted to our eyes. If you're creating work that people will be looking at, you'd better be thinking about light!

All the paintings I've been doing for the past year have been exploring light in some way, and I want to continue to do that.

Intention 1: "Paint with light" in every shot to create mood. This includes character lighting, set, and background paintings. I would like to have some really abstract backgrounds like the one above in some shots.

I want the film to feel loose, both in the process of creation and in the final product, so I don't want to restrict myself to one level of detail. Also, I tend to get bored pretty quickly with some parts of animating. I think this is because of the traditional way films are made: Design and storyboard first. Then animate every shot. Then edit it together. 

I far prefer the painting process because I'm designing and laying out big ideas at the same time as refining and editing. My mind can jump around all these things at once. Can I do that with a film?

Intention 2: The process of making this film should be a constant discovery. I should always feel actively engaged and challenged by the work. 

This is a 30-minute acrylic painting I did a couple nights ago - just a sketch, trying to think about how the world is going to look when the background is more realistic. I don't know yet. Maybe too literal? Maybe I need to apply that painting onto 3D objects as textures (like decals), then light the object, to get nice rimlights and shadows?

I feel like this is already getting too tight. Maybe the foreground tree is okay, but I should try a far more abstract background that just gives the impression of light filtering through trees. Actually, I like that idea a lot.

I'd also like to have a bit of this jumpy randomness that you see in stop-motion films. This is going to come down to a different way of animating in 3D. I talked about this a few posts back:

Intention 3: - In the final product, we should be able to feel the spontaneity of the creative process. 

But at the same time...

A test shot I just found from about twelve years ago, for a film I never did.

Intention 4: I also want to use stylized motion. 

This is another place where animation excels. It's a delight to watch characters move a little differently than they do in real life. I haven't done this kind of animation in way too long. I always loved it when I first learned animation fifteen years ago, but got into a job where the motion had to be more realistic, and every job afterwards was the same. I followed the pattern and used the same semi-realistic animation in my past four films. Time to get back to the craziness! 

Intention 5: The film will be as much about sound and music as it will visual.

I strongly believe that sound is the most important thing about an animated short film. Music and animation is like music and dance - I think the two are very closely linked. Look at all the greatest short films since the medium was first born, and almost every one has a huge element of sound or music to it. 

This time around, I'm working with an original piano composition which is being written as the animation progresses. I listen to the rough chunks of it as I jam out wild storyboard ideas in the morning.

Intention 6: I need a fucking story!

Most important! The story is everything. If you don't have a story, there's no point in making a film. Where's the fucking story? I have one fleshed out, but I'm not sure about it yet. I think it's just going to appear as I keep making stuff, so maybe I shouldn't worry about that. I would like the look of the film to reflect the story, though - everything should serve the story. So maybe I need to step back a bit and do a little more writing.

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