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He isn’t sure why, exactly, but for as long as he can remember, Doug Purver has been obsessed with fish. So it’s no surprise that in his new film, “Omar and His Skyhook,” (which was included in last month’s LA Shorts Film Festival) fish have starring roles—most notably the evil villain.
Purver, a New York City-based director who calls his one-man creative services studio, roadnorth, began the project as part of Psst!3, a collaborative film project in which teams of directors, animators, composers and designers team up to create short works. He quickly realized, though, that in addition to doing his segment of the larger team-driven piece, he had enough material to create his own film using MAXON’s CINEMA 4D and Adobe After Effects. “With the collaborative project, you don’t get to tell the full story on your own, you just supply the beginning, middle or end,” Purver explains. “I thought this story had so much more to offer that I wanted to see where that would go.”
The short film tells the story of Omar, a little boy who yearns to go fishing with his grandpa. But when the old man shoos Omar away so he can continue napping, he sets out on his own fanciful journey. As Omar casts his fishing line into the sky to catch one of the fish swimming in the clouds, an enormous, evil fish swoops in, snatching the boy up and sending him on a very unexpected adventure that artfully blends live-action footage, still photography, 3D and other graphic effects. Inspired by the Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films he was watching at the time, Purver decided to have the piece be silent with a grainy, flickering look. Music and sound design were created by Q Department.
It took about a year, working on and off, for Purver and his crew of talented friends to finish the film, which was included in SHOOT’s New Directors Showcase event in May. While he knew fantasy would play a big role in the film, Purver wanted the story to be grounded in reality, which required shooting live-action footage that could later be embellished during post-production.
Producer Michael Neithardt gets the credit for pulling the entire shoot off in one weekend in February of last year. He even cleared out part of his apartment and loaned it to the crew for interior shots because the loft has such great natural light. “A lot of studios would have done something like this using all green screen, but I like to start with something real,” says Purver, who worked as an animator in New York City for years before adding 3D to his skill set and starting up his own business a few years ago.
Once the footage was complete, including some green screen shots of Omar flying after the fish has taken hold of his fishing pole, longtime editor Ryan McKenna did a loose edit before the compositing and animating began. “I’ve worked with Ryan in the past and he knows that live action isn’t always everything; graphics and effects shots take a lot more time to complete,” says Purver.
For example, with the exception of a foldout couch/bed, Omar’s helmet and the characters, everything in the interior scenes in the boy’s and grandpa’s bedrooms (the same room was used for both scenes) was created using set extensions with images that were treated to match the light source and tone and then composited in After Effects. The yellow feathers on the helmet, which are the only colorful element in the film, were a “happy mistake,” Purver says. “I wanted some focus in this monotone world and I was playing around with some color matting and saw that the feather was such a vibrant orange, so I keyed that color out and overlayed it back on top and it ended up working really well.”
Sweeping skylines featured in the scenes where Omar goes fishing in a park were digitally created by matte painter Mara Smalley using photographs and textures brought together in Photoshop. To populate the sky with fish, Purver used stock models that he purchased and either retextured or animated in CINEMA 4D. The most challenging fish to make was the one Omar turns into at the end of the film, Purver says, because he started with a very basic model and added a lot of small details to connect the fish to Omar and the feathers on his helmet. “I used C4D’s Hair module to add very thin hairs streaming from the tips of the fish’s wings and coming from under his chin and around his wings where they meet his head,” he explains.
Purver, who has been using CINEMA 4D for three years, was concerned about animating the fish in a realistic way considering that he didn’t have the time, budget or experience to rig up each one. So he was happy to find that he was able to use the MoGraph module’s Spline Wrap deformer to get the right flap and curl of their bodies as they swam in the clouds. “CINEMA is amazing to me because I could go in there with little knowledge and figure out how to do something that looks really great,” he says.
Omar’s nemesis, the evil fish, was made by 3D modeler Dave White using Autodesk’s Maya. Once the model was finished, Purver imported it into C4D and used BodyPaint 3D to texture it. Again, he says with a laugh, “I was learning as I worked.” The random, looped animations of fish swimming in the sky were also made in CINEMA 4D before being duplicated with MoGraph’s Cloner Object and repositioned to create small clusters. By placing the fish on a Spline Wrap, Purver was able to create the illusion that the fish was chasing the camera the whole time. “I gave it a lot of kinks and bends so the fish looked like it was flying violently in all different directions,” he explains.