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We generally create animated content for clients, so we often wonder what would happen if there was no client at all, what if we just made something ourselves? What are we going to make? Is that idea good enough? How will we prioritise it? How will we pay for it? When will it be finished? What constitutes ‘finished’? Why are we doing this at all???!!!
Here’s one of our studio led project called ‘Body Bots’ and how we went from an idea to a pitch-able animation in less than the time it usually takes us to get from our studio in Cornwall to a meeting in London and back again!
With this project all we knew was that we wanted to make something ourselves, doing away with rounds of feedback, getting approval from different agencies, and to get through as much as possible in a short space of time. This isn’t to say that we wanted to rush, rather we wanted to constantly move forward.
One of the most important questions we ask ourselves every day is, what one thing can I do today that will get me where I want to be? We were at the starting line, so we needed an idea. So we sat down and threw out ideas. One idea that came out was an animation about little nanobots that sit inside the body and help to fix it when things go wrong; Jason had just watched a documentary on the future of technology in medicine. We liked the idea, we could all see it in our minds eye (even if everyone was seeing something different). To be honest we could sit down for longer and refine the idea, or come up with a better one, but that isn’t the aim of this project. We’re excited, we want to make it, let’s just crack on and make a start. Now armed with an idea, what one thing can we do today that will move this project forwards?
In order to unify what we’re all imagining it will look like it’s time to get some concept art drawn up. An hour on sites such as Artstation or Behance will give you the widest range of concept artists, very talented people with their portfolios and contact details right there. We picked the ones we liked and agreed would suit the idea. We then contacted them with a brief and some references pulled from a Google Image search, asked them all for quotes and availability. The next day we had enough responses to make a decision. It didn’t cost us an arm and a leg, and the results were amazing.
We had asked the concept artist to first roughly sketch out some forms, different silhouettes, to help clarify what we wanted the characters to look like, and what we didn’t want them to look like. It also helped us to fill in the blanks with the idea. When we received images of many different styles of character we started to ask ourselves, will there be one main character? Many? Are they friends, are they a family?
We took the spark of an idea, and let others contribute and bring their ideas and creativity to the table. We weren’t precious; after all it had only been an idea in our heads for less than a day. It’s surprising how such outsourcing of creativity can make a project so much richer.
Giving feedback to the concept artist they then drew up more polished images of the main characters and the environments, giving us a look for the animation to work from. Some final tweaks to refine the characters and the concept art was done. Next!
We could get bogged down in creating character sheets and working out exactly what each detail would look like, how the characters would move, what expressions they could make. For us this would take too long, cost too much money, and would only give us time to dwell on the earlier questions such as, why are we doing this in the first place? Let’s get stuck in and create some models! Making up the details knowing that it was us who would ultimately sign-off on the models was really liberating. I urge anyone reading this not to focus on the small details and make larger strides. It’s much better to have something 100% finished than to have a perfect 10% of something. Any creative person will want to make something perfect, but the reality is that no-one will notice the small details, they will focus on the bigger picture. Perfection, like mastery, is something we strive for, not something we ever achieve.
As John Lasseter likes to say, “Pixar films don’t get finished, they just get released”.
When working on a large production we will spend around 2 weeks on this stage for a character, here is one of the Body Bots characters being modeled in 45 minutes.
Characters modelled, it’s time to rig them. As with the modelling, there was no time to lose here. We could have planned the rig, named every joint, made it incredibly neat and clever, but we just wanted them to move and have some expressions so that we could animate them. This absolutely wouldn’t form part of the process of a large production pipeline, but when will be us animating with the rigs, they just need to work.
There was a little back and forth here when we start to play about with the rigs, we noticed that we can break them if we do certain things, due in part to the fact that we stormed through the rigging phase. They were easily fixed though and soon the rigs were being animated.
One of our animators spent 150 minutes animating one of the characters and putting in a rough and ready environment for them to move through. Although we opted for a simple and loopable animation it still needed to be full of character.
Lighting and post:
With the scene animated we put in some lights, rendered a few different lighting passes and brought the frames into After Effects for some colour correction to achieve the final look. We spent 90 minutes on this post production process. We rendered small frames to cut down on render time, our thoughts being that it would embed nicely into sites like Vine, and would work well on mobile devices.
So here it is, the result of an idea, some concept art and 5 hours and 45 minutes of studio time. Not bad really! Although we’re working quickly, we’re not rushing. Working in this way is entirely achievable, there were no distractions and we were intrinsically motivated to work on it. If you’re not doing the animation work yourself, find a studio that is as motivated as you are to make it happen, they should be able to work this quickly if enabled and if you’re open to their creative interpretation and accept that it might not be perfect, but that achieving that perfection would cost infinitely more with very little impact on the end result. This is how to get value for money!
We spent the same time modelling and rigging the other characters, so in total we’ve spent a small amount of money on a concept artist and a total of 11 hours of studio time and we now have some concept art, an animated clip, and 4 characters rigged and ready for animation. Now we just need to decide what we want to do with it next!
If you started this on a Wednesday afternoon you could have the same by the weekend! Just crack on!
Free Character Rigs Download:
Download these free character rigs using the sign up form below and if you have any questions, tweet them to us @EngineHouseVFX using the hashtag #EHwhatImade