This is a story about how my animation production came about, and it wasn’t the way I recommend. Read the following brief journal and see why. This was done on the side of occasional freelance work and other on-going projects(movie and game). I didn’t sleep much for half a year.
You can view clips of this animation production at the start of my 2009 demoreel(hd).
My HD-demoreel needed some current generation game characters, animated. I decide to go with a fishman who I had earlier modeled a preliminary head for. For his nemesis I chose a nasty looking deep sea fish (enlarged many times over). Plan was low-poly game-models with Zbrush-sculpted details applied as normal-map.
This large image shows the fishman construction, simplified.
After 3 or so weeks I had both characters modeled, sculpted, textured and rigged. Rigging was the slowest step, for it is the most technical and not my favourite. Last days of the month went to finding a way to make Messiah animation work in Lightwave with Zbrush-based displacement. I’ve later done a tutorial on this.
Plan had changed: Game character showcase now had a short high-detail animation production added to it. Oh boy.
Action takes place by ocean coast, underwater. Fishman escapes towards the light and the demonic fish chases. Enviroment creation was next.
I modeled an underwater bay with massive roots coming from above. The more I built, the more the story wanted to grow. Dangerous thing, that. Suddenly I was doing particle effects, great mats of flowing seaweed and water caustics, colours, shadows and light projected from world above. It was slow work, endless testing. Early February was also when I started production rendering, my one computer laboring 24h hours a day – with limited power of course while I work.
After that I could finally begin animating and of course discoved issues in the rigs and and meshes that needed tweaking.
The tiny animation production had grown to unestimable size. And silly me went ahead optimistic. I knew it would take some time, though.
March – June 2009
These 4 months were all divided somewhat like this: 1 week for animating, 2 for trying to make renders happen, and 1 for other technical problems. My ambition was too much for my computer, or, better said: My goals were all wrong – high detail & HD instead of good story and animation. Had to drop many cool features, optimize the scenes and renders, find workarounds and segment the workflow as much as possible to render at least one layer at a time. This in turn caused problems when things separated to several scenes had to interact with each other(shadows and more).
In short most of the entire production was spent fighting limited resources, trying to make the render at all possible, and then render and re-render because it crashes over and over. I count my computer rendered 5 months(!) around the clock giving me 12+ gigabytes of hd720p animation frames: characters, scene and effects all on separate layers. Combined it is 5-6 minutes of animation.
July – September 2009
I spent a week or so combining animation frames to video clips in Vegas. Doing this it crashed 9 times out of 10. HD editing with more than 2 layers was again too much for my computer. The rendered clips revealed many faults in the animation, but there was no way I would go through the test’n crash-hell again to fix them.
I edited the animation down to 3 and half minutes. Following removed scene was an easy cut. It doesn’t fit overall story pacing and both continuity and animation are lacking. In the clip the fish looks for the fishman but finds his discarded lamp instead.
A sound-savvy friend did the sound effects in August. I also had a musician working on the music, but our sensibilities didn’t meet this time. In September I found another musician. One of his compositions was almost a perfect match for the film pacing and lenght. So, on September 29th the final movie was complete.
Results and things learned
The movie is now going to festivals. The first it was accepted to is Short Film Festival of Los Angeles. So even though it wasn’t a sensible story-based production, it has some merits – people like it. I’m glad 🙂 This festival tour is why I’m not sharing the film online, yet.
So what did I learn? I knew this is not the way to do an animation production but couldn’t help myself. It was a technical challenge I set myself to finish, no matter what. I learned not to do production this way ever again. Also the process taught many practical things – some I’ve been sharing as tips. And finally I learned doing production the hard way doesn’t necessarily mean the result is bad. But doing it ‘right’ would improve end result a lot and make whole process a great deal easier.
Please don’t get carried away with some half-baked project like I did. Be a realist and plan well to get the most out of your story and animation.
What about you, what’s your story? Have you made your own production(s) or tried and crashed & burned? I’d love to hear about it.