Cane-Toad: What Happened to Baz is a 3D animated short film by Andrew Silke and David Clayton, who both hail from Brisbane, Australia. The short follows the speculations of Dazza the cane toad, whose mate Baz has gone missing, and he gives us a few insights into what might have happened to him. Combined with over the top Aussie accents and humor, Cane-Toad is sure to bring laughs to film festivals worldwide.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing David Clayton and Andrew Silke on their exceptionally original and comedic short Cane-Toad "What happen to Baz". The Australian animators have already submitted their short film to the 3D Awards, the industry's largest set of awards and are aiming their short for various film festivals including the 3D Film Festival screening at 3D Festival Copenhagen 2003.
Tito A. Belgrave: Can you tell us a little about the short and what inspired it?
David Clayton:"Cane-Toad" is a 3D animated short film completed in 2002. Basically, the film is a toad's perspective of life in Australia. Not everyone knows that Cane-Toads are an introduced species, and have risen to plague proportions. Enthusiastic locals have come up with some creative ways of controlling toad numbers, and we thought this provided perfect subject matter for a funny short film.
The story of "Cane-Toad" follows the speculations of our main character Dazza. His mate Baz has gone missing, and he gives us a few insights into what may have happened to the little fellah. Needless to say, some of Baz's possible fates of aren't pleasant.
Andrew and I had been animating in various companies for a few years, and felt ready to create something with complete artistic freedom. We feel that short films are the perfect medium for getting some nice, polished animation out there in an entertaining way. Cane-Toad was a chance for us to practice the film making process and put our animation skills to the test.
Tito A. Belgrave: When did production begin on Cane-Toad?
David Clayton: We began production in November 2001. Andrew and I both made the decision to take six months off work unpaid to complete the film. We felt that complete commitment to the project would be required if we wanted to make it something special. Working nights and weekends was going to be too tough for us.
Before we even touched a computer, we spent a good month coming up with our story. We knew that a solid plot was going to be vital in making the project a success. We made numerous revisions, and used our friends and workmates as a pitching audience. If we could make a story work with scribbled pictures, then pretty 3D graphics would be a bonus.
Andrew Silke: I know it sounds risky, but it really wasn't that difficult to to go unpaid for 6 months. Students don't mind paying for an education but somehow funding ourselves was a bold thing to do. It was like buying a short animation instead of a car. With the skills learned we hope to make our money back in the long term!
Tito A. Belgrave: Right off the bat I was laughing from the very opening of the short, the Aussie humor was subtle, refreshing, and well executed, who was responsible for the dialogue?
David Clayton: The scenery was done in the same way but we used a photo library as a base. Everything was unwrapped and textured with Photoshop. We've never really believed in procedural textures because they're always less organic than the real thing. You can achieve a great deal with a couple of good dirty textures.
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Tito A. Belgrave: What obstacles did you come across while making this short?
David Clayton: When we made the choice to output Toads at HD resolution it put our render times through the roof. We probably spent half of our time on story, models, textures and animation; and the other half rendering the thing. The whole time I was thinking to myself "why are we doing this at HD?!" But now that we have the opportunity to transfer Toads to film, it becomes very much worth it.
Tito A. Belgrave:What was the most challenging process in the creation of the short?
Tito A. Belgrave: Can you give us some insight on your animation process?
David Clayton: The most enjoyable part of creating Toads was the animation process. We'd taken the time to model and articulate our characters well, and this made the animation workflow smooth. We used a bone driven facial system which allowed us to move the face more realistically than traditional morph targets.
Our first step in animating dialog was lip sync. After roughing out the main mouth shapes, we added secondary lag to Dazza's lips and jowls. More character was given by making him talk out of one side of his mouth. We found asymmetry to add a lot to the final result.
The next step was to rough out the key facial expressions. This meant starting to think about the overall feel and emotion running through the scene. Mirrors set up by our computers were invaluable for the face and head motion. Translating subtle head movements into curves on the computer was a challenging step, but eventually we'd nail it, it would just feel right. Short, sharp eye movements were also a big leap forward in bringing our characters to life - it's all in the eyes.
Hand gestures were also an integral part of our character's performance. We found that hands were second only to eyes in the expressiveness of our characters, so we spent a lot of our animation time getting the hands feeling right.
We then added body movements to reinforce the hand and head gestures. We wanted Daz to readjust himself from time to time, lean forward and back, etc. After this, it was just the finishing touches. We created a "breathing" morph target, which was hardly noticeable yet indispensable. Subtle movements of the feet, spine and fingers were added to keep the whole thing moving.
All our friends got involved in the process, by offering feedback at anytime. We found that it doesn't necessarily take someone with a trained eye to make a good suggestion. In fact, sometimes a "non animator" can offer a more valuable opinion.
David Clayton: I don't really have a grand plan for the future, I'll just go with the flow and see what happens. If I keep myself challenged and continue to learn then I'll be happy. Having complete artistic reign over a project like Toads is definitely something to aim towards though. It's hard work but very rewarding, so I'd love to get another short film going at some point.
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Tito A. Belgrave: Can you tell us a little about the short and what inspired it?
Andrew Silke: We didn't have to look far for inspiration, it came from our own backyard. At times we've had hundreds of toads hopping in our own backyards. Cane toads are a big pest here in Australia (Editor's note: especially in Queensland, we hardly see them in South Australia), and they've got an ironic history. They were introduced to eradicate cane beetles but ate everything else instead! When I was young I vividly remember a mate of mine grabbing a golf club and smacking cane toads about. They're very placid creatures - not afraid of anything, but here they were getting bludgeoned about. It's interesting! We asked ourselves "what would life be like from a cane toad's point of view? What would they make of their world?"
We had a heap of ideas but we needed to be smart about what was achievable. The film became the story of a yobbo toad who's mate has gone missing. He theorizes various scenarios that might have befallen his poor buddy.
Tito A. Belgrave: What hardware and software were used in the making of Cane-Toad?
Andrew Silke: All animation and rendering was made in Maya, textures in Photoshop, we edited in Premiere and the final film was composited in Inferno.
Tito A. Belgrave: Great detail was paid attention to in regards of the objects the characters interact with, how long did it take to model your vast array of props?
Andrew Silke: They say the devil is in the details, and they aren't wrong! All the animation was done in 5 weeks - but the props, textures and lighting took about 3 months to complete. One scene took me a month to build, light and texture... and it was only in the film for one shot! We have an early version of Cane-Toad before the details were added, lets just say I'm glad we spent those extra hours slaving away!
David Clayton: There was a lot of effort put into the creation of Dazza's "world". We tried to think of the sets and props as characters in themselves, and wanted to bring them to life as much as possible. Leaves swaying in the breeze, heat haze, ripples in the dog bowl and moving shadows all added to the illusion of a living environment. We even animated the beer inside Dazza's stubby!
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Tito A. Belgrave: Do you plan to release Cane-Toad to any animation/film festivals? And what do you hope to gain from the increased exposure?
Our intention wasn't to make money, we just wanted to create something entertaining and have fun doing it. Toads has become a great promotional tool for us because people are happy to watch short films, whereas show reels can get mundane.
David Clayton: For us the exposure is a chance to get a response from our audience. We want them to feel something - happy, sad, scared... just not bored. Seeing the audience having a laugh at Toads is a kind of nervous excitement.... part of you is up there in front of everybody. I think that every animated character is a reflection of the animator responsible. So yes, somewhere within us lies Dazza!
Tito A. Belgrave:Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
David Clayton: Yeah, I'm still waiting for the phone call from Andy that says "Hey Dave...... feel like taking another six months off work?!" But until then, I'm just recovering really. No amazing ideas have hit me just yet, and that's fine with me. Because once I get excited about an idea, I can't stop until it's done!
Tito A. Belgrave: Thank you Andrew and David, this has been very insightful, it was a pleasure.
Andrew Silke: Cheers Tito, it's been an honour.
David Clayton: Thanks for the opportunity Tito.
From the Director of Community Development, Tito "Lildragon" Belgrave
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