• Making Waves with Early Bloomer
    Behind the scenes of Imageworks' short film
    Tito A. Belgrave, 8 September 2003

    "Early Bloomer" is a comical coming-of-age tale about an awkward, but adorable, tadpole just trying to fit in and keep up with his mischievous and playful friends.

    The animated short film was created and directed by Kevin Johnson, who served as lead storyboard artist on "The ChubbChubbs!," the winner of the 2002 Oscar® for best animated short film. "The ChubbChubbs!" is the first Academy Award® for Sony Pictures Imageworks.

    "Early Bloomer" began as in-house training exercise at Sony Pictures Imageworks, but its universal theme and wonderfully expressive characters soon made this film less an exercise and more a labor of love for the talented Imageworks team.

    CGNetworks speaks to Kevin Johnson, director of "Early Bloomer" about his experiences in the production of the short.

    Kevin Johnson
    Animation Artist
    Sony Pictures Imageworks

    Story artist and animator Kevin Johnson has worked in the animation industry for more than thirteen years. He began his career with Don Bluth Studios, where he worked as a clean-up artist, a rough in-betweener and finally an animator.

    Kevin joined Sony Pictures Imageworks in 2001 and worked as an animator on "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and on the character design of Margalo in "Stuart Little 2." He was also the storyboard artist on the Academy Award® winning "The ChubbChubbs," Imageworks' first all-

    CG animated short. With the inauguration of Sony Pictures Animation, the feature animation division of Sony Pictures, Kevin will be focusing his talents on visual development and story for their upcoming projects.

  • Tito A. Belgrave: Has the success of "The ChubbChubbs" helped you field the idea for another short? Or has this been a goal of yours long before "The ChubbChubbs"?

    Kevin Johnson: I always had ideas for shorts but working on ChubbChubbs definitely helped me realize a way to execute it.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Can you elaborate on the final look for the tadpoles? What reactions were you hoping to achieve?

    Kevin Johnson: There was two reasons for the outcome for the look of the tadpoles, 1. I wanted simple,but sophisticated clarity from them and I found that the easiest way to set them apart was through color and variation of size. 2. There was always a concern of getting the project done so economy of modeling and rigging also played a factor in deciding on a simple approach.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Although the short was 3+ minutes, you managed to give each tadpole enough personality for us to differentiate between them, but what were their names?

    Kevin Johnson: The names came through some collaboration with my daughter.

    Zip - is the fastest and first (yellow)
    Rose - is the red, named after my sister who has always clued me in to the obvious.
    Bubbles - is the orange one who blows bubbles through the piece.
    Iris - the purple one is the second largest.
    Lilly - is the green and the main character of the short.

    Image: "Early Bloomer" is a comical coming-of-age tale about an awkward, but adorable, tadpole just trying to fit in and keep up with his mischievous and playful friends. Lilly, the main character of "Early Bloomer" is the first tadpole to begin its metamorphosis into a frog, inducing lot's of laughs along the way!

    Tito A. Belgrave: With the limited amount of time assigned to this project, how were the water effects handled?

    Kevin Johnson: The water effects were achieved in several ways. The water surface through refraction was one of the illusions. Caustics reflecting off Characters and objects added to that. and particles gave us the feel of murk in the water. On the animation side of things we had a procedural set up on the plants to give them a floating feel and the animators were careful on keeping buoyancy to the characters within their shots. All these things added up to an underwater illusion.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What have you learnt most from working on "The ChubbChubbs" that has now been applied to Early Bloomer?

    Kevin Johnson: Plan your story. There is so much busy work that can be avoided if you are attentive up front. This especially holds true for animation. Also understanding the talents and expertise that others bring. So what I gained From my earlier experience was know and plan the story I want to tell then trust and delegate accordingly.

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  • Tito A. Belgrave: Can you elaborate on the choice of music and a bit about the composer?

    Kevin Johnson: This was one of the nicest surprises that happened to the show and it came about through the involvement of Penney Finkleman Cox, and Sandy Rabins, the Excecutive Vice Presidents of Sony Pictures Animation. I showed them the piece and Penney immediately said you need a score and I know someone who would great for this. So she introduced me to Mark Mancina. Mark came in, looked at the piece and his reaction was, My daughter is going to love this. At that moment I knew he was the right choice. And the fact that he is an award winning composer and one of the most likeable individuals to work with was icing on the cake. This is one thing I look back on and am truly grateful for.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What was the most challenging aspect your team faced throughout production?

    Kevin Johnson: Keeping an all volunteer crew enthused about what they were doing and that we could get it done.

    Tito A. Belgrave: How many artists were assigned to the project?

    Kevin Johnson: This is tough to say. There may have been as many as sixty because this project was executed through training. Some artists we had for a day or less. The bulk of the show was done by less than 20 Individuals.

    Tito A. Belgrave: How has working on Early Bloomer been for you? What would you say was the most beneficial aspect?

    Kevin Johnson: Working on Early Bloomer has been one of the most creative and enjoyable experiences of my career. The most beneficial aspects of the process was collaborating with other artists. Every day there was some artistic addition given to the project that I wasn't expecting. It was like that saying it is better to give than receive. I felt the artists just kept giving of themselves and their creativity.

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  • Tito A. Belgrave: Can we expect to see anymore of Early Bloomer?

    Kevin Johnson: Possibly, through games, books and toys.

    Tito A. Belgrave: So now that you've wrapped Early Bloomer, what's next for you?

    Kevin Johnson: Right now I am working for Sony Pictures Animation in story development.

    Discuss this article on CGTalk - Digital Visual Effects Professionals

    Words: Tito A. Belgrave and Kevin Johnson
    Images: Sony Pictures ImageWorks

    Related Links:
    Early Bloomer Official website
    CGNetworks - The ChubbChubbs
    Sony Pictures ImageWorks

    Tito A. Belgrave is a CG artist at Calibre Digital Pictures in Toronto, Canada. Outside of his hectic production schedule, he is an Associate Editor for CGNetworks. Email him here.

    Discuss this article on CGTalk - Digital Visual Effects Professionals

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