A Few Finishing Touches

Animators are perfectionists. Or, to put it more accurately, perfectionists often end up becoming animators. Just look at Robert Zemeckis. Even the largest Hollywood live-action budgets still cannot bend to the tiniest nuance of a dedicated director’s mind. But animation can. Animation gives us the (somewhat dangerous) ability to go back and endlessly tweak a piece of cinematic storytelling. This is the trap I have intentionally fallen into this month.

With six whole weeks between Fall and Winter quarters here at SCAD, I am utilizing the extra time to fix every irritating detail of “The Girl and the Fox” that has bugged me since the first “final” cut back in May. The goal is to polish up the entire film to be festival-ready by the start of the new year. And so far, things have been going along very well. I slated about 75 major corrections that were needed throughout the film, and as of yesterday we just passed 30 completed items. Some of them are so minor that no one will probably ever notice except myself (I doubt you’re going to care that there’s one less rock in the background of Shot 34), but each correction is one more step toward sanity for me.

First off, we also are going back and tweaking all the audio for the film. Our composer, Azniv Korkejian, has already graciously returned to the score and added a few small flourishes that we requested. We also have another sound guy working on some higher-quality drone frequencies, which is sort of the other half of the musical score. Finally, when SCAD opens back up during the first week on January, myself and our remaining audio team will re-sync the final sound mix with the new music and sound effects.

Other major changes you will notice are focused on lighting, color and animation. When we started this project, the total amount of cartoon shading experience I had was from the scattered color comics I have done over the past decade. But this was the first time my process had to be implemented in full motion, on an industrialized scale. To put it lightly, it was a learning experience. But after a lot of hours practicing and a lot of heavy thought put into color schemes, lighting charts and friend’s feedback, we’re now making things right.

Another major change you’ll notice are some seriously cool new particle effects and 3D lighting. I’ve taken the compositing process to a new level on this film, dynamically generating many of the character’s previously nonexistent shadows through 3D layers and lights. Granted, this was something we experimented with back on “Ara,” but in this case the 3D is always aimed at serving the 2D look of the film, while adding as much depth as possible. I create false three-dimensional ground planes that match the painted background, then cast diffused lights accross those surfaces to match the characters’ movements. It doesn’t work with every shot (some tricky shadows will still have to be done the old-fashioned way, by animating them frame-by-frame), but for many of the shots this process has been working great.

Of course, what would a Base14 film be without some sort of crazy effects animation? We had snow in the May version of TGTF, but it received nowhere near all the attention it deserved. No more. I’ve tossed out the old particle engine used for the old snow and replaced it with something ten times as powerful. Now we can simulate lumpy snow with gravity, wind, air resistance, depth of field and lighting falloff. And it’s all simulated in 3D space according to the camera I set up. We’re not stopping at snow storms, either. I’ve been looking into other effects like smoke, fog and vapor. It allows us to try out some really neat details like this:

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This is the sort of thing that keeps me excited about a project that we’ve been working on for so long! And I think in the end, it’s the little details like this that will allow “The Girl and the Fox” to really stand out. The month’s not over yet and we still have a lot of work to do, but rest assured come January, TGTF is going to start shipping out to festivals everywhere. Let’s hope it makes it into a few. :)