A character I designed and animated for an art test last year. Disclaimer: I did not create the background.
Bearly Alive is my final year animation short film project. I worked as the producer, leading a team of 4 (Laurie Heng as the art director, Jacky Goh as the lead animator and Joelynn Chien as the story lead) over a period of 30 weeks. The project was conceived in Singapore, brought over to the Redmond campus for pre-production and back to Singapore for animation and post-production. Through this experience I've learnt many new things in which I hope to share it in this blog over the next few days.
Without further ado, here's the final film. Enjoy.
Story was settled at an early stage
After receiving feedback for my solo short film project, I realized the importance of good story and animation. Therefore for this project, I wanted the team to focus on this 2 aspect. I felt that if we could get the 2 base components right, everything else would just be icing on the cake. We emphasized the quality of the initial storyboards and animatics before moving onto concepting and other pre-production tasks. This strategy worked and we experienced minimal amounts of changes in the story during the production phase. It enabled us to go full steam ahead after the animatics were approved.
The original film was planned to be somewhere around 3 and a half minutes. Luckily, Professor Pamela Matheus was adamant about cutting and making the film go straight to the point. The final video was cut down to a little below 1 and a half minutes. It enabled us to focus and iterate on the remaining scenes and make them as polished as possible. The goal was that no matter when the audience choose the pause the film, it should look good in that particular screenshot.
What Did Not Worked
Communication pipeline was bad
Our team members were more independent and introverted by nature. Very often, we would prefer to be silently doing our own work than walk around and socialize. This affected the team dynamics as we don't really know what the other person is up to. We can get a vague idea based on the task schedule, but we rarely showed each other our work-in-progresses. This resulted in man hours getting wasted on revisions that could had been avoided if we only communicated at an earlier stage.
Unwilling-ness to listen to feedback
This applies more to myself than the entire team. It happened several times during the course of the project but I'll give the most notable example. Right towards the end of the 1st half of the production phase, we were tasked to create a 3D render of a scene that promises the final look and feel of the film. For months we were struggling with how to properly light and present Tenebris, the shadow villain. Dennis Price, a lighter who worked on Blizzard cinematics, proposed the idea of having blue or green illumination on the creature. I brushed off the idea as I thought it was not going to work. I even did a half-ass painting just to prove my point.
At the end of the critique session, no one was convinced that the solution that me and my team came out could work. The monster was still being consumed by the dark background environment. Back in Singapore, I swallowed my pride and tried to experiment with the green illumination again. It worked, and it helped enhanced the character. All this could have been avoid if I had been less resistant to changes.
I feel that the team accomplished the goals we set for ourselves. Although animation is still one of the weaker aspects of the film, we are still proud to say that we executed the task to the maximum of our abilities. With that I ended my 2 and a half year stay in DigiPen and stepped into society as a trained professional.
After nearly 30 weeks of hard work, I am proud to present my first 3D animated clip.
We were given free rein (well, mostly) on what we can execute for this project. After a few initial idea pitches, the lecturers felt the premise of 'an evil villain constructing a robot to take over the world' to be the most interesting. I then went on to produce conceptual artwork, design the storyboards and eventually create the 3d models and set, ready to be animated. The good half of the 30 weeks were then spent on animating and fine-tuning the video that you see above.
VFX experimentation paid off
I use the term 'experimentation' loosely as I mostly just referred to the abundant resources that were available online (thank you, Andrew Kramer!). From the get go, I knew I was pursuing for a visually interesting animation, and the effects played a big part in selling that idea. Prior to this project, I have almost zero experience in dealing with 3D effects, and as a result, I had to spend additional time to test and tweak the simulation settings. In retrospect, I'm glad I ventured ahead to try out new things that added the extra flavor to the clip. I certainly have begun to appreciate the VFX field more after this project.
Everything was accomplished on time
This happened despite the numerous disruptions and distractions (My one week army re-service and the launch of Diablo III). Had to endure 6-hour-sleep-nights to get animation in the can, but it was well worth it.
What didn't worked
Or lack thereof. As everyone's short clip was played consecutively during the final presentation, the Pixar mantra of 'Story is King' becomes more evident than ever. Clips with a strong and entertaining story component garnered the most laughs from the audience. Mine was not in that list. To be honest I started the project intending to produce something that looked visually appealing and spectacular. I was less interested in animation and story, after all, aren't most game trailers just cuts of cool setpiece moments that when strung together absolutely mean nothing in terms of story progressment? It was tough standing in front as my clip reached the credits section and the audience remained completely silent. It was then that I finally understood the meaning behind the emphasis of story.
While I always use the rig as the excuse for the low quality animation, there are some fundamental problems with it. One of the comments I got from the industry critique was that the key poses weren't strong enough. I agree, but what you see is already at the rig's limits. The same thing could be said about the facial portion; the system I've created was too simplistic to pull off any interesting expression. I remembered my lecturer asking me to widen the character's mouth and even that was impossible. I hope to improve on my future rigs.
I feel that this has been a good experience for me. I learned a lot about the animation pipeline and hopefully I can apply this knowledge on the next project.