Written by Callum Luckwell
a small illustration or portrait photograph which fades into its background without a definite border.
Originally, we wanted the four creatures to be surrounded by smoke and fire to give off an unnatural, nightmarish vibe. However, due to many technical difficulties this proved to be too time consuming and intensive on our systems.
These tests were created by Callum Luckwell.
To counter the lack of smoke, I thought back to the show Hannibal (2013-2015), and noticed that it made use of a more blurred, darker boarder on most of its frames. They ranged from very subtle to incredible obvious, depending on the intensity of the scene.
I did a little more research into the use of Vignettes in film and how they can be used effectively, and most importantly, how they add to the emotion of a scene.
Below you can see the how I incorporated the vignettes into the film.
I achieved these effects by duplicating the movie file, blurring it, then creating a circular mask that cut out the middle of the picture, leaving the unblurred movie file beneath visible. I then added a gradient overlay to the blurred image, and depending on the emotion of the scene, made it subtle or very dark.
I had never even attempted to learn After Effects before reaching the editing and compositing stage of this project. I began by looking at some basic tutorials to get me starting with learning the interface.
It was a learning experience and I did manage to get the hang of the program, and I was able to render the imported frames and apply the correct effects to them.
My main goal for the animation in the film was to be emotion-driven, dramatic and appealing to look at. As the film is not a comedy there was no need to have the exaggerated posted and super fast, snappy animation of a film like Hotel Transylvania (Sony Pictures Animation)
As our film has a much greater focus on drama and emotions I decided to look at animated films and games that focused on creating a dramatic and emotional character.
I was already using live-action footage of rabbits to use as a reference for animating the main character, and despite the apparently obvious comparison, I was not going to use the very dramatic Watership Down as a reference for how I would like to animate the film.
Though the low-budget roughness of the animation is endearing, I understood that the lack of and arcs or overlapping animation would not translate well into a 3-Dimensional medium.
An animation style that I did really love, however, was from the previously mentioned Ori and the Blind Forest (2015). Though it is a video game, it is during the cutscnes where the staging, posing and movement is at its finest. Everything is very simple but fluid and it results in an incredibly stunning visual treat.
It was the simple yet effective animation style of Ori and the Blind Forest that influenced my animation style for the short film more than anything.
As you can see in these two examples I kept the animation as simple as possible, while still trying to convey a lot of emotion and energy. I still took into account the 12 Principles of Animation and implemented them to the best of my ability. In the first example you can see the very clear Squash-and-Stretch of the bunny’s face and brows as he emotes. In the second example there is a very clear portrayal of the Slow-in, Slow-Out and Overlapping Animation with the Chimera’s wings. Ideally there would have been more Secondary Animation and Overlapping Animation with the Chimera’s snake tail but restrictions with the rig meant this was impossible.
The goal in every single shot was for the characters to have a very distinctive and readable silhouette, and I received a lot of feedback for the 2D storyboard telling me I had achieved that, I feel like I succeeded in translating those strong silhouettes into the third dimension.
Since our animation would have no dialogue, the story would completely rely on being told through the environments and the expressions of our main character.
In a 2D animated film, it is just a matter of putting together an expression sheet, and following the guide later on by referencing these presets.
In 3D animation the process is incredibly similar, except for the the fact that one must sculpt the expressions needed for facial animation first.
To create the blendshapes needed for the main character, I drew inspiration from the expression sheets for Pixar’s COCO (2017).
I felt that Miguel from Coco has a similar face shape to our main character, so I used him as a reference for sculpting the rabbit’s face shapes. You can see a lot of squash-and-stretch with the overall shape of Miguel’s face
Instead of copying and pasting the topology of the character’s face and sculpting each individual expression individually, I decided to use blendshapes and driven keys while sculpting directly onto the character’s geometry. I found this method much more organic and natural for me, and I was pleased with the results.
I wanted to give our rabbit very clear silhouettes and cartoon-y, readable expressions. The layout of the blendshape controls wasn’t ideal, but was laid out in a way that the eyebrow controls were over the eyebrows, the eye controls were over the eyes and so forth. It was still cohesive and functioned exactly how it should for the animation.
Making sure the main characters have a pleasant texture I felt was very important. As Callum and I were experiencing a lot of problems with creating fur, we decided to scrap fur effects altogether and went with a more cartoon-y, smooth design for the rabbit characters instead.
The textures were still designed to evoke the overall painterly feel of the film, so I incorporated many thick brushstrokes in the hopes that it would still feel like part of the same painterly world.
The only other “supporting” character to receive a painterly texture was the bee that appears in the opening shot and at the 3/4 point of the film when the rabbit is underwater.
I made an artistic decision to not have painted textures for the Snake, Hawk, Wolf and Chimera. I wanted them to appear to be entities that don’t belong in this painterly world. I used the Wendigo from NBC’S Hannibal (2013-2016, created by Bryan Fuller) as inspiration for these creatures.
Though Hannibal is a very dark show, both thematically and visually, the Wendigo stands out with its’ oily black skin, starved frame and unnatural proportions. It’s unnatural shape evokes fear and discomfort from the audience, and I wanted to use it as the main inspiration for the overall effect that the Four Creatures would give off.
The Creatures are little more than silhouettes or Shadows, with a matte black or deep purple texture applied over the entire mesh depending on the lighting.
The Four Creatures stand out as being separate entities from the world of the little rabbit and appear physically imposing and threatening against the painted backgrounds.
As I wanted to give our short film the aesthetic of Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) I went looking for some behind the scenes videos and came across this gem from the lead animator of the game.
It is a wonderful and comprehensive presentation about how the tiny team working at Moon Studios managed to make an absolutely beautiful game whilst overcoming their limitations (team size, experience etc).
A lot of the presentation is to do with game design which isn’t really relevant, but it is still fascinating to see how everything came together.