1. Description of project stating goals, inspiration and medium
Blew is a short film that captures the last leg of an idealistic engineer’s journey: his return to Earth. In the film he is a character between worlds; he is comfortable in the controlled environment of his own construction, but he’s been away too long. He misses the unpredictable planetary life at home. This last portion of his trip is the most dangerous; it includes atmospheric re-entry and the conversion of the worn spacecraft to underwater sub. But if he survives the voyage, will he find the same planet he left?
Feeling triumph at the end of a long ordeal is a universal human experience. Possibly also universal, but certainly personal, is the experience of focusing so intensely on a destination that the adventure itself starts to blur. Blew is a contemplation of these feelings. We often live inside our own expectations without realizing it. But at the end of any journey, our expectations must encounter the great modifier that is the outside world.
It’s my intention to tell this story visually with emotional impact that crosses language barriers, is appropriate for all audiences, and celebrates the rich but shrinking art of hand-drawn animation. The project will be frame-by-frame animation with a musical soundtrack and no dialogue.
In this regard, I was directly influenced by Skyler Page’s student work, Crater Face and Jérémie Périn’s Fantasy (nsfw). For me, these films emphasize the expressive storytelling power of hand-drawn animation and challenge the preconception that good animation is exclusively the product of large studios. Visually, I’m inspired by the bold colors and dynamic compositions of Max Fleischer’s Superman from the 1940s. I’m a huge fan of Fleishcher's mechanical designs and dramatic use of light and shadow.
Thematically, my film is an inversion of Marilyn Venable’s short story, “Time Enough at Last,” best known from the first season of The Twilight Zone in 1953. Venable’s protagonist, Henry Bemis, yearns for a quiet solitude so he may read the books he loves. The protagonist of Blew, on the other hand, has had enough solitude. He’s ready to return to the world. In the end, both characters get what they wish for, but they observe a gap between wish fulfillment and true fulfillment.
Incidentally, "Be careful what you wish for" is a frequent motif on the Twilight Zone, which requires the story to punish the main character for dreaming or striving. I don't completely agree with this convention, and I intend to portray a more nuanced resolution.
The action of the story is complemented and propelled by the soundtrack. I've selected the song Blew, from the band Strung Out and their album, The Element of Sonic Defiance (2000). I chose this song as inspiration and project namesake for its emotional range and thematic consonance. The song vacillates between, and travels through, feelings of boredom, frustration, confusion, triumph, and relief. These are feelings I intend to reflect and amplify in my film. The soundtrack finishes with a brief monologue by Andre Gregory from the film, My Dinner With Andre (1981).
2. Approach for completing project
This project has been moving along steadily (and secretly) in the background for a long time. The design, storyboards, animatics, and soundtrack plotting are done. The 3D model of the ship interiors, exteriors, and mechanical transformation are nearly done. There are 5 phases left to complete: background art (largely guided by the 3D model), character animation, coloring, compositing/effects, and publishing.
The film is four minutes and thirty-four seconds long, with nineteen scenes, nearly 100 shots and 6,500 individual frames. As a side project, it could take between three and all years to complete. But with my full attention allocated, I can do it in one.
Without a doubt, the most difficult and time consuming aspect of the project will be the hand-drawn animation. 3D models will serve as motion guides to maintain the continuity and scale of the characters and objects in the scene, cutting down on errors and production time, as well as allowing camera movement through a convincing hand-drawn space. Frames drawn directly into flash with a tablet eliminate the need for pencil roughs, scanning, and formatting individual drawings.
Much of the technical and creative foundation is already in place. For example, here is the process for designing and depicting the ship. [Slideshow]
In a previous career, I was the Logistics Coordinator for a University Hospital. That’s where I learned the value of managing projects with spreadsheets. I’ve developed one to guide and record my workflow.
If awarded the Adobe Creative Residency, I will mark these deliverable dates to the workflow I’ve already developed:
- May 2016 - Finish 3D models, begin backgrounds
- June 2016 - Finish backgrounds, pose motion guide character rig in scenes
- July 2016 - Rough motion animations, keyframes and breakdowns
- August 2016 - Rough motion animations, in-betweens
- September 2016 - Rough motion animations, in-betweens
- October 2016 - Clarify lines, improve motion
- November 2016 - Clarify lines, begin color
- December 2016 - Color, shadows, onscreen display graphics
- January 2017 - Color, shadows, effects
- February 2017 - Clean up, details
- March 2017 - Compositing, color correction, credits
- April 2017 - Prepare to publish, promotion
I'm compelled to complete this work and my progress and results drive me ever forward. I’ve plowed through all of the preliminary steps already, and I’ve plotted the course. With a little help, I can complete this work next year.
3. Tools and technology that will be used in your project
- Paper and pencil - Concepts, storyboard, backgrounds
- Microsoft Excel - Project management
- Blender - 3D models, lighting, motion guides
- Adobe Photoshop - Image formatting, background paintings, accessory art
- Wacom Cintiq Tablet - Animation roughs and finals
- Adobe Flash - Frame-by-frame animation, coloring
- Adobe AfterEffects - Audio synchronization, animatics, effects, compositing, final render
- Vimeo - Publishing
4. Estimated costs for materials and production
- Soundtrack license, Railer Media: $2,500
- Wacom Cintiq 22 HD, pressure sensitive tablet: $1,799.95
The advantage of hand-drawn animation is the expressive, tactile result. The drawback is the amount of processing each drawing requires. A pencil rough must be scanned, aligned, sequenced, cleaned, clarified, and colored. In studios, this process requires a team of workers. But a drawing tablet with a screen eliminates most of these steps. The roughs can be drawn directly into the timeline, then cleaned and colored.
A third resource, one that I can't calculate cost for, would be consultation with an animator or director. My vision is clear, but I suspect I would benefit from an outside perspective. I don't want to become myopic in my process.
5. How you plan to share publicly about it
At the inception of this project, I was hungry for resources. I turned up hundreds of tutorials on specific techniques and thousands of amateur animators sharing their walk cycles and bouncing balls. I bought Richard Williams’s The Animator’s Survival Kit and I learned about overlapping action, anticipation, and arcs. Projects I admire, such as In-Between and Eclipse from Gobelins students share behind the scenes featurettes (1, 2).
But these resources always fell short of my larger questions. How does one decide on camera placement? How should one choose a color palette? How would one set pacing? How do pencil roughs become final lines? What's the best software? What are the themes of these stories, and how do the style and story elements support the themes?
With time and experimentation, I answered my own questions and developed my vision and process. My greatest (and least visible) breakthrough came last year when I understood that I could use scripts in AfterEffects to synchronize one soundtrack across the scenes I was developing separately. As an Adobe Creative Resident, I would be thrilled to share my successes in the hope that my experimentation and discoveries might give a creative boost to someone who’s searching the way I was.
I would love to blog about the process or make videos about it. I have (quiet) Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vimeo, and Youtube accounts, but I've been keeping this project secret, since it lives on the side. As a side project, it has to be last on my list of professional obligations. I won't broadcast incremental progress over the course of years, or report on a project that ultimately doesn't deliver. But if I can move forward on it full time, I will open the floodgates!
I would also be excited to present my work in person and talk about my process and tools. I can make a mean presentation and I enjoy interacting with a group. As a matter of fact, using what I've learned this year, I'm presenting an introductory course on Blender at the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators conference in Santa Cruz this summer and really looking forward to it.
The final animation itself will be free for anyone to view and download. At this point, I've chosen Vimeo as a publishing platform because it's ad-free, supports HD, and allows downloading. License and entry fees permitting, I would like to enter the work into festivals like SXSW and Short of the Week to reach a broader audience. I don’t intend to profit from my project, only to produce and share it.
6. What you hope to accomplish as a Resident?
My primary goal as a resident is to complete this film that’s dying to come out of me, at the high level I've set for myself. I just really want the film to blow people away. But even though I've pegged a rigid workflow to a spreadsheet, a year of focus gives me the room I need to explore. I refined my ship design in a long(!) process of experimentation. But I'm not out of problems to solve; I've still got coral reefs under water, parachutes deploying, dolphins swimming, technical readouts, and more!
I hope that I can share what I’ve invented and learned with people like me who are invested in ambitious projects. I'd like to connect with other creative professionals to strengthen my approach and exchange expertise for future endeavors.
I want this work to lead to future projects like this. I already have a short animatic for my next project, and ideas for more. I'd like to meet and collaborate with professionals who do this kind of work. I’d like to start my own studio for original short films and science animations, but most of all I want to keep exploring what's possible.