An An­i­mated Af­fair

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AThe 2017 World An­i­ma­tion Cel­e­bra­tion An­nounces Win­ners

nother edi­tion of L.A.’s own World An­i­ma­tion Cel­e­bra­tion came to a close ear­lier this month and by all ac­counts, it was a huge suc­cess. After two days of screen­ings, panels, portfolio re­views and much more, WAC 2017 re­vealed the win­ners of its in­ter­na­tional an­i­mated short film and pitch com­pe­ti­tions. The event was pre­sented by An­i­ma­tion Li­ba­tion Stu­dios and An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine, and hosted by Sony Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion in Cul­ver City, Calif. Fea­tur­ing panels on TV shows such as Amer­i­can Dad! and The Loud HoU.S.e, Sony’s The Emoji Movie, pi­o­neer­ing women of an­i­ma­tion and a clas­sic Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion re­union, the event also show­cased new shorts by the likes of Glen Keane and Bill Plymp­ton,

“The fes­ti­val was about the artists and the Stu­dent Film: 2D Dig­i­tal 1st – Si­esta, Gabriel Ar­rel­laga (Sheri­dan Col­lege, Canada) 2nd – Ku­pala Night, Joanna K. Stopyra, Sarah Marschman & Ve­sela Sta­men­ova (Academy of Art Univer­sity, U.S.) 3rd – The Other Side, Ching Cheng (Van­cou­ver Film School, Canada) Pro­fes­sional Film 2D Dig­i­tal 1st – swiPed, David Chai (U.S.) 2nd – Jamshid: A Lament for a Myth, Moin Sa­madi (Iran) 3rd – Me­nage a Tetris for TEDx Syd­ney, Cam Black­ley & Alex Der­win (Aus­tralia) Stu­dent Film: 2D Tra­di­tional 1st – Inn, Jun­heng Chen (USC School of Cin­e­matic Arts, U.S.) 2nd – Danse Aqua, Cindy Fou­cault (Cégep du Vieux Mon­tréal, Canada) 3rd – A Pri­ori, Maïté Sch­mitt (Fil­makademie Baden-Würt­tem­berg An­i­ma­tion­in­sti­tut, Ger­many) Pro­fes­sional Film: 2D Tra­di­tional 1st – Dear Bas­ket­ball, Glen Keane (U.S.) 2nd – Cop Dog, Bill Plymp­ton (U.S.) 3rd – Notes on Mon­stro­pe­dia, Koji Ya­ma­mura Stu­dent Film: CG 1st – In a Heart­beat, Beth David & Es­te­ban Bravo De­sign, U.S.) 2nd – Tom in Couch­land, James Just (Rin­gling Col­lege of Art and De­sign, U.S.) 3rd – Deuspi, Corentin Yverg­ni­aux, Os­car Malet, Camille Jal­abert, Quentin Ca­mus, Leo Brunel (WIZZ Academy, France) Jury Award for his ac­claimed col­la­bo­ri­a­tion with Kobe Bryant, Dear Bas­ket­ball.

“There were so many things that I re­mem­ber from WAC this year that made me proud,” adds Boni­tatis. “It was great to hear an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Pete Michels ( Fam­ily Guy, Rick and Morty) say, ‘I wish there was a fes­ti­val like this when I was go­ing to school…the next gen­er­a­tion of artists will have some­thing to look back on and re­mem­ber.’ It was also won­der­ful to see film­mak­ers fly in from Uruguay, Swe­den, Mil­wau­kee and Ore­gon, to name few, and have their work screened and meet Glen Keane and ask him ques­tions about his work.”

The Art of the Pitch orig­i­nal con­cept con­test was spon­sored by Toon Boom, which pro­vided the first place win­ner with Pro­fes­sional Film: CG 1st – Cuer­das, Pe­dro Solís Gar­cía (Spain) 2nd – The Gift, Ko­hei Ka­jisa (Ja­pan) 3rd – Play­ing House, Cenk Kök­sal & Özgül Gür­büz (Turkey) Stu­dent Film: Stop-Mo­tion 1st – Be­tween Sand and Tides, Rui Fan Wang (Royal Col­lege of Art, U.K.) 2nd – Poles Apart, Paloma Baeza (Na­tional Film and Tele­vi­sion School, U.K.) 3rd – Lay­mun, Cather­ine Prowse & Han­nah Quinn (Kingston Univer­sity, U.K.) Pro­fes­sional Film: Stop-Mo­tion 1st – The Best Cus­tomer, Serghei Chiviriga (Ro­ma­nia) 2nd – Bitz – The Whip­pet Made from Ran­dom Stuff, James Pol­litt 3rd – Un­til That Day, Satoshi Kita­gawa & Kat­sumi Na­gai (Ja­pan) Stu­dent Film: Ex­per­i­men­tal 1st – Del­i­catessen, Fenglin Chen (School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, U.S.) 2nd – Aeon, Derek O’Dell (Chap­man Univer­sity, U.S.) 3rd – Eon, Nick Zweig (RIT School of Film and An­i­ma­tion, U.S.) Pro­fes­sional Film: Ex­per­i­men­tal 1st – The Way­ward Kite, Yut­ing Hsueh 2nd – Glo­ri­ous Vic­tory, Will Kim (U.S.) 3rd – Fist­bird and the Hand­dragon, Ty Tuin For more info about the event, visit www.worl­dan­i­ma­tion­cel­e­bra­tion.com.

With your amaz­ing story in-hand, a rag tag pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion bud­get in the bank, and your ea­ger guerilla pro­duc­tion team in tow (see last is­sue), you’re ready to be­gin the ar­du­ous and ad­ven­tur­ous trek of pro­duc­ing your first an­i­mated fea­ture. Ef­fi­ciency Above All Else Any in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially that of the an­i­mated kind, needs to be built on the un­break­able foun­da­tion of ef­fi­ciency. Ma­jor stu­dios with ma­jor bud­gets tend to throw money at pro­duc­tion chal­lenges as op­posed to find­ing sim­pler, more straight- for­ward, el­bow-grease ap­proaches. For ex­am­ple, in a 3D an­i­mated fea­ture, should a char­ac­ter have a tail, an en­tire team of pro­gram­mers may be called upon to cre­ate cus­tom scripts to al­le­vi­ate the task of an­i­mat­ing said tail “by hand,” thereby burn­ing through tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

The in­de­pen­dent ap­proach to the same task would be to have the an­i­ma­tor(s) sim­ply…an­i­mate the tail. After all, an­i­ma­tion should be cre­ated by an­i­ma­tors, not al­go­rithms. Con­stantly mak­ing th­ese sim­ple, di­rect con­nec­tions is of paramount im­por­tance through­out the du­ra­tion of your pro­duc­tion.

Ef­fi­ciency is as much an at­ti­tude as it is a sequence of ac­tions to com­plete a task in the sim­plest, most di­rect way pos­si­ble (see: Oc­cam’s ra­zor). The con­cept of spend­ing ex­tra money in hopes that a new piece of soft­ware or mag­i­cal wid­get may do the work for you must be com­pletely abol­ished. Ven­tur­ing into the un­known is of­ten a waste of time and money, nei­ther of which you have to spare. Fig­ure out how to make the shot hap­pen with what­ever as­sets you cur­rently have avail­able.

Team Ex­pec­ta­tions Your team more than likely con­sists of a wide range of tal­ent, ex­pe­ri­ence, avail­abil­ity and fi­nan­cial re­quire­ments. While ev­ery­one that has com­mit­ted to your pro­duc­tion—whether for fame, for­tune or the bet­ter an­gels of their na­ture—is firmly ob­li­gated to per­form as agreed, it is help­ful to have a few ad­di­tional, in­ter­ested pro­duc­tion artists on call should any­one fall away. Peo­ple of­ten have the most hon­or­able intentions, but, nicely put, things hap­pen. Build a stack of qual­i­fied al­ter­nates so any holes in your team can be filled as soon as pos­si­ble. Spe­cial­ists vs. Gen­er­al­ists Pro­duc­tion staff can be split into two cat­e­gories: Spe­cial­ists and Gen­er­al­ists. When dol­ing out as­sign­ments, al­ways con­sider your spe­cial­ists first, as they are highly adept in a spe­cific area but quite pos­si­bly de­fi­cient in oth­ers. Use gen­er­al­ists to tackle what­ever tasks have not been as­signed to spe­cial­ists, as gen­er­al­ists have a wider range of skills and are of­ten hap­pier per­form­ing a va­ri­ety of tasks.

Project Man­age­ment As­sign­ing and track­ing tasks from a di­verse pro­duc­tion team can be a daunt­ing task. Thank­fully, there is an abun­dance of project man­age­ment tools avail­able, many for free or cheap, that are per­fect for man­ag­ing your fea­ture. In fact, you are prob­a­bly al­ready sit­ting on spread­sheets, cal­en­dars, email clients and var­i­ous sched­ul­ing soft­ware that can be uti­lized for your project. Hint: Search “zero bud­get soft­ware suite for film­mak­ers” to make your movie-mak­ing life mas­sively eas­ier.

Com­pat­i­bil­ity When mul­ti­ple peo­ple on the team need to im­port, ex­port, share and ex­change work files within a spe­cific soft­ware ti­tle, ev­ery­one must have the ex­act same ver­sion, as no an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion soft­ware is truly 100% back­ward com­pat­i­ble. No plug-ins, add-ons or cus­tom in­ter­face wid­gets al­lowed un­less they are ex­plic­itly re­quired, and ev­ery­one in­volved has the ex­act same setup.

Fair warn­ing: Never, ever, un­der any cir­cum­stances, up­grade ad­e­quately func­tion­ing soft­ware in the mid­dle of a pro­duc­tion. Shar­ing Work Given that many of your team mem­bers may be work­ing re­motely, hav­ing ex­cel­lent on­line col­lab­o­ra­tion tools at your dis­posal is a must. Hold­ing on­line meet­ings and be­ing able to read­ily share doc­u­ments, sketches, video clips and more is in­valu­able to pro­vid­ing feed­back and hit­ting your mile­stones. Find all you need gratis from a sim­ple “best free on­line col­lab­o­ra­tion tools” search. Pre­pare for the Long Haul There are leg­endary an­i­ma­tion projects of yore that were pur­port­edly pro­duced by a sin­gle artist who locked him/her­self away in a shed on a des­o­late, icy plain, iso­lated from the rest of the world, re­fus­ing to emerge un­til the fin­ished film was in hand. While I don’t rec­om­mend cut­ting your­self off from civ­i­liza- tion in or­der to force your­self to com­plete your project, this is the level of ded­i­ca­tion you need to suc­ceed. Labors of love al­ways have ups and downs—an­i­ma­tion, dou­bly so. But if you stick with it, keep ef­fi­ciency in mind, and have an open chan­nel of col­lab­o­ra­tion with your team, it will only be a mat­ter of time un­til you emerge with your first an­i­mated fea­ture film in hand. Martin Gre­bing is pres­i­dent of Fun­ny­bone An­i­ma­tion and can be reached at www. fun­ny­bonean­i­ma­tion.com.

Imag­ine if you could step in­side your fa­vorite CG-an­i­mated movie and in­ter­act with the kind of beau­ti­fully ren­dered, lov­able an­i­mals that have been the sta­ple of fam­ily movies for the past few decades. That is what you get when you ex­pe­ri­ence the first chap­ter of Baobab Stu­dios’ VR project Rain­bow Crow, a daz­zling piece that wowed au­di­ences at the Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val and SIGGRAPH con­fab this year. Directed by none other than Eric Dar­nell, the DreamWorks veteran who helmed Antz and the four Mada­gas­car movies, the piece is a charm­ing take on the Na­tive Amer­i­can folk­tale about how the crow came to have its iri­des­cent, black feath­ers.

The project, which fea­tures the voices of John Leg­end (who is also a pro­ducer), Diego Luna, Con­stance Wu and Randy Edmonds, be­gan a few years ago when Dar­nell came across the tale and fell in love with it. “The story is quite in­spi­ra­tional as it is all about sac­ri­fic­ing the thing that is most im­por­tant to you to bring light­ness for

the medium, but I can say that we jumped out of the plane and made the para­chute as we were fall­ing!”

The tal­ented Mex­i­can-born di­rec­tor re­calls that the real-time ren­der­ing in VR was hard. “But the au­di­ence still wants it to look beau­ti­fully tex­tured. In an­i­ma­tion, we’re used to con­trol­ling every­thing—es­pe­cially cut­ting and fram­ing. In VR, you lose both of those things. I said I wanted to be able to do those things. So we fig­ured out how to cut and fig­ured out a way to, not ‘frame’ things, but to make you look at cer­tain things.”

“The big ‘aha’ mo­ment for me was think­ing about it like theater,” Gu­tiér­rez notes. “A theater di­rec­tor di­rects the au­di­ence with light and sound and by telling the ac­tors to walk to a cer­tain place. And wher­ever you’re sit­ting in the theater, you’re go­ing to get your own ver­sion of the story. So in­stead of look­ing to the fu­ture, I looked to the past.” Work­ing in Ab­stract

En­vi­ron­ments No­tably, a sim­i­lar aes­thetic was fol­lowed by Scot Stafford, who co-directed the dream­like VR short Sonaria with Kevin Dart of Chro­mo­sphere. “We’re trans­port­ing you through 10 to­tally dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments, which is hard to do in VR,” ex­plains Stafford. “We thought, ‘ What if we ap­proached it like the­atri­cal light­ing and scene changes?’ Chro­mo­sphere took that idea and ran with it.”

Stafford, through his com­pany Pollen Mu­sic Group in San Fran­cisco, has worked on the sound for sev­eral Google Spot­light Sto­ries, in­clud­ing Pearl and the Aard­manin­spired mo­bile piece Spe­cial De­liv­ery. Sonaria was Stafford’s first co-di­rect­ing ef­fort, but he’s been in­volved in VR since 2012. He likens that to “dog years,” say­ing it’s felt like 35 years.

Sonaria was new ter­ri­tory, how­ever, for the an­i­ma­tors at Chro­mo­sphere, notes Kevin Dart. His L.A.-based stu­dio, which has done an­i­ma­tion for clients in­clud­ing Dis­ney and the tele­vi­sion se­ries Cos­mos, hadn’t tack­led a com­plex VR chal­lenge be­fore. “Get­ting a project from Google that was meant to be an ex­per­i­men­tal art piece was a dream,” says Dart. “That’s some­thing we usu­ally do on our own time.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Stafford and Dart ac­tu­ally was fa­cil­i­tated by Google Spot­light’s tech lead, Rachid El Guerrab. “Rachid showed me Kevin’s film Forms in Na­ture,” re­calls Stafford. “I was thun­der­struck. It was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing ex­plo­ration of forms and shapes.”

When the di­rec­tors be­gan com­mu­ni­cat­ing, Sonaria evolved into an ab­stract ex­plo­ration of di­verse en­vi­ron­ments, from deep-sea dives with phos­pho­res­cent crea­tures to high for­est canopies and bat caves. Stafford says this re­quired ex­ten­sive au­dio tool de­vel­op­ment. “We needed to have full spheres of sound both above and below.”

Au­di­ble De­lights To achieve this, Pollen Mu­sic worked not only with Google en­gi­neers but also UC San Diego’s Sonic Arts De­part­ment. “Sound plays a huge role in VR. Sound can tell you where you are and what you’re look­ing at. You can only see a small mi­nor­ity of the world at any given time, but you can hear all of it,” notes Stafford. As Google’s El Guerrab ex­plains, “We pushed the idea of real-time fil­ter­ing, and blend­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent 360 au­dio fields.”

Watch­ing Sonaria on an HTC Vive head­set al­lows the viewer six De­grees of Free­dom. Stafford re­marks, “You can stand up or sit down or step to the right and have a much more im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.” But a naive viewer can also end up feel­ing dizzy. And for an­i­ma­tors com­ing from a tra­di­tional back­ground, 6DOF means they can’t an­i­mate to cam­era. Stafford ob­serves, “There are new chal­lenges that you would never see in film.”

Even the tra­di­tional way of sto­ry­board­ing a lin­ear piece is not ap­pli­ca­ble in VR. So Chro­mo­sphere had to de­velop a new way of do­ing a 360 sto­ry­board. Dart also notes, “We had to fig­ure out how to pre­view an­i­ma­tion from an an­i­ma­tor. They haven’t quite in­vented a pipe­line yet to do ef­fec­tive VR an­i­ma­tion re­view.”

That’s one of sev­eral rea­sons why El leg­endary 2D Dis­ney an­i­ma­tor Glen Keane ( The Lit­tle Mer­maid, Beauty and the Beast, Tan­gled) to pro­duce the mo­bile 360 short Duet, and Dis­ney An­i­mated Short Os­car win­ner John Kahrs ( Paper­man) is cur­rently work­ing on his Spot­light Sto­ries VR project. Add to this that Spot­light’s cre­ative lead­er­ship in­cludes Jan Pinkava (An­i­mated Short Os­car win­ner for Pixar’s Geri’s Game) and you can see the se­ri­ous­ness of Google’s ef­forts.

El Guerrab adds, “We hope to show­case to cre­ators the many kinds of things that are now pos­si­ble in VR, and why they should cre­ate con­tent for this medium. They can do things that aren’t pos­si­ble in a theater with sur­round sound.”

“It’s great to have a pa­tron like Google with­out any ex­pec­ta­tions other than driv­ing the tech­nol­ogy for­ward,” says Stafford. It is surely in the self-in­ter­est of deep-pock­eted Google to jump-start the VR move­ment. As El Guerrab puts it, “This is an age when a lot of dig­i­tal com­pa­nies are be­com­ing con­tent com­pa­nies. We can’t af­ford not to do it. I think com­pa­nies that have the abil­ity to in­vest in this are the ones who should.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing to ob­serve that 2D an­i­ma­tors are wel­comed in Google’s VR fold, a re­flec­tion of ag­nos­ti­cism about tra­di­tional forms. While Sonaria is pri­mar­ily 2D an­i­ma­tion, Dart as­serts, “We’re not try­ing to res­cue 2D styles.”

Gu­tiér­rez also re­minds us, “I come from 2D. I had El Ti­gre on Nick­elodeon. I think 2D peo­ple will love work­ing in VR. I’m now wait­ing for stop-mo­tion peo­ple to join the move­ment.” For more info, visit atap.google.com/ spot­light-sto­ries.

Glen Keane

Dif­fer­ent Ap­proaches:

In an en­tirely dif­fer­ent world, Scot Stafford and Kevin Dart’s is a dreamy, sound-driven ex­pe­ri­ence ac­com­pa­nied by ab­stract im­mer­sive vi­su­als.

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