Monday, May 17, 2010

Film Talk

Going to do a couple blog posts instead of trying to cram everything into one. So first up, just a quick write-up of my experience making my third year film, "Bothered Bot."

I started out the school year with several ideas, I even had developed a film idea over the summer, but something always came up that made me shelve one idea and start anew---usually being, "This is way too epic. No." By November I had narrowed it down to two film ideas.
One simple 2D film idea involving this little elephant:

And then an entirely different 3D film idea based on this odd-ball robot/alien guy that I had doodled one day in an afternoon class:

I was boarding/pitching both for a couple weeks. I wasn't too concerned about the medium, I love animating whether it's Maya or pencil/paper, and I was jazzed for both film ideas. It really wasn't until I got some very sound advice from my 3rd year animation teacher, Scott Wright, that I made the official jump to only focus on the 3D Bot film. Another factor involved attending CTN-X and realizing that if I wanted a full-time job animating somewhere in the industry, I really needed more 3D work. At that time my reel consisted of traditional work. So what better way to bulk up my reel then making a 3D film where I'd only be animating in the computer.

Winter break was the final test for this film. If I couldn't get all the Maya-prep work, like modeling/texturing/rigging done before Dec. 31st, then I'd go back to the elephant idea. So on the day after Christmas, I battled my way through modeling the character, ship, and environment. Then followed that immediately up with a couple days of intense rigging madness. By the time I came back to school at the beginning of January I was already doing a couple animation tests to make sure the robot rig would operate properly once I started actual film animation. The above images show a little progression in his design, the Bot on the left is the "old" look before I showed him to a couple friends for feedback. Pretty cold looking and not quite there yet. The Bot on the right is the final design, not a huge re-do, but just tweaking a few aspects of him and he suddenly became a lot more likeable.

From the couple of quick animation tests, I fixed several issues with Bot rig version 1.0---a lot of bugs with those legs of his, but within another week I had version 2.0 up and literally running. Onto animating the film! Woo!

Out of 3 films I've made at CalArts, this was definitely my favorite one to animate. Despite the occasional rough-patch, like the PC labs being down an entire day for maintence(happened a couple times), or just having a really bad animation day(also happened a handful of times), I had an incredible time working on it(which was the majority of the time). That Bot was a blast to animate and a lot of scenes just fell into place so easily. I also had a close group of classmates/teachers right by my side to give me constant, very honest feedback(even on a frame-by-frame basis, which was amazingly awesome!) That group helped me really push my animation.

A quick screenshot of the graph editor from a scene in my film. This was taken before I started tidying up some of the animation---actually a small chunk was removed to keep the scene from "dying" in the middle. This scene had a build-up of tension/action and mid-way through it kind of stopped, but not anymore. Also, this doesn't include the facial animation(aka. the eye).

Anyways, that pretty much covers it. Like I said before, I really enjoyed working on it and after awhile, I almost didn't like the idea of "finishing" it--or at least no longer animating. Spending several hours a day just moving the lil Bot around was quite fun. No all-nighters, though things got a little nutty towards the end and I was pulling some really nasty hours trying to composite everything together in After Effects:

That's an example of what a scene looked like when I initially brought it into After Effects. Elements like the bg, shadows, reflections on the environment, additional camera moves, sky, special effects like snow, etc were all added in once I had the robot/battery animation working. This one scene(when the icicles are falling around the robot while he's desperately trying to pick-up the battery) took about 5 hours to put together. Most of the time, scenes took maybe 15-30 minutes to put together, just a handful almost did me in.

Okay, the next post will be a Producer's Show/Job fair wrap-up....


Anonymous said...

oh wow! Congratulation in finishing your film and also making it into the Producer's Show!!

I'm curious though, you mentioned that you were doing Animation Tests in January, did you actually finish animating the entire film between January to March/ April? That's a pretty tight schedule of 3 months or 4! Wow..

Jennifer Harlow said...

Aw, thank you! :)

Yeah I started animation around the third week of January and was animating until the first week of April. It was a pretty intense schedule, but I never felt overwhelmed.