An Animated Affair
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.