• 3D Festival interviews Mike Brown, the artist behind "Nyxies - Creatures of the Night"
    By Tito A. Belgrave, 13 August 2002
     Image: Leeeks, the main character in Nyxies take a jump
    Mike Brown began his career as a lift operator on the ski slopes of Vale, Colorado. After mastering the art of loading chairs he went on to attend school at the Colorado Institute of Art and received a degree in the Applied Science of Animation. For the past 5 years he has been working at Presto Studios in San Diego, CA as the Supervising Animator. Having worked on numerous titles including Star Trek:Hidden Evil, Stephen King's F13, Myst 3:Exile and the upcoming XBox release, Whacked, Mike still finds the energy and time to produce his own animated shorts.

    Growing up, he had always wanted to be an animator so he spent most of his time practising stop-motion animation and watching cartoons. These days he spends most of his free time hanging out with his fiancé Christy, riding his mountain bike and seeing how far he can push brain freeze (he seriously thinks it's one of the coolest things ever). When he's not experimenting with cerebral temperature deprivation he also started work on his short episodic film Nyxies and occasionally will update his personal web site anticz.com.
     

    3D Festival: What exactly is "Nyxies - Creatures of the Night" about?

    Mike Brown: The world of Nyxies wasn't always like it is now. A long time ago there was a balance between light and dark. They co-existed in a cycle of day and night. At some point something cataclysmic caused the day and night to split apart and the creatures of the night were born. Perhaps Leeek will discover some truth about what really happened as we follow him on his adventure. It's mainly about his exploration of the world. Leeek's a curious fellow who likes to adventure. Ultimately it's about him discovering where he fits in and the value of friendship. It's also about figuring out how things work and learning to survive in a tough world.

    When I started working on Nyxies, I was really influenced by Jeff Smith's 'Bone' comics and the amazing story telling he does with that. I wanted to do something like that, but animated. A big adventure that unfolds a little bit at a time. Leeek's pretty mischievous so there's also a little bit of 'Calvin and Hobbes' type of stuff mixed in as well. Another big thing for me was telling a story without relying on narration to carry the plot. I'm hoping that'll make it a little more accessible internationally since this is being presented on the web. I'm hoping people in Asia, Europe and across the globe will enjoy this too. There's no language barrier other than the title and credits.

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  • 3D Festival: When did production begin on Nyxies?

    Mike Brown:I started working on it just before Summer last year. We were in the pre-production stage of Presto's upcoming game 'Whacked' for the X-box so it was a little slow at work. I built several primitive characters, no hands or feet, pretty blocky and rough, to get a general idea of the character design aesthetic I wanted. Then I went ahead and built the male and female leads (Leeek and Laurr) and posted them around a little. I had no idea what I was going to do with them at the time. I had a couple story ideas but nothing really solid. They just kind of sat around for 9 months while I worked on story ideas and started laying out how the whole Nyxie universe fits together.


    Note: Above link is a 12MB AVI in DivX format.

    Once I got the mechanics of the world worked out, and had a couple of story idea sequences on paper, I started laying everything together into a story. The storyboards were done pretty quickly and after that it took about 5 weekends to build the environments and animate everything. I did one or two shots each weekend and built the sets and props as I needed them. The title card animation took an additional 2 weekends. The web site kind of evolved over the course of a few weeks. I'd say the story and character development phase took about a year to solidify and the actual production time was about 8 or 9 weeks mostly on weekends.

    3D Festival: Is Leeek the only character in this tale? If not, how many more can we expect?

    Mike Brown: I've got a pretty broad cast of creatures and characters designed and planned. There's a couple good guys, a couple of bad guys and a few things somewhere in-between. It's an odd world where things aren't always what they appear to be at first glance.

     

    The first six episodes are designed to introduce a lot of the players so you can expect to see at least one new creature or character introduced in each episode. After number six there'll be a few more characters but they'll be introduced more sporadically. The environments will start getting a lot more lush as well. Most of the episodes will take place outside in a very dense forest. The cave settings are pretty stark and bland compared to what's coming.

    3D Festival: Where in the world did you come up with the idea? It's exceptionally original.

    Mike Brown: I got the original idea from a dream I had about these two tribes of little creatures made of rope that were at war with each other. On one side there was the dark creatures with glowing eyes, and on the other side there was the light creatures with black eyes. The glowy eyed side was fighting to keep the world dark because the bright sun hurt their eyes. The dark eyed creatures were fighting to keep the world bright because they feared the dark. The first idea I had was to do a series of 'Spy vs. Spy' type shorts with the glowy eyes and dark eyes battling it out. I really didn't find the dark eyes to be nearly as appealing as the glowy ones so I abandoned that concept and started focusing on the glowy eyes. I kind of think of them as dark, mischievous 'Smurfs' in a way. They're not evil or malicious, they just like dark places.

    3D Festival: What is your target audience for Nyxies?

    Mike Brown: I'm really not sure I have a target audience. I basically started this to have fun and learn more about film making and directing techniques. Shot flow and camera angles and stuff like that. I'm really just trying to entertain myself and hopefully some of that will carry over to the audience. I'd like to have something that's primarily fun for adults but is also acceptable and for kids to watch. There's so much adult stuff on the web. I'd like something mom and dad can share with the peanuts. If grown-ups like it, I think kids will too.

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  • 3D Festival: What obstacles did you come across while making this short?

    Mike Brown: The biggest obstacle has been the story, and fitting the whole universe together. The actual animation and production was the easy part. Coming up with interesting situations for the characters and stringing them together in a sensible way is hard. I'm glad I spent a lot of time working out the rules of the universe up front, and putting a lot of that down on paper first. It really paid off as far as developing story ideas. The other thing that's been difficult is the actual presentation of the work. Little things like what format to encode the movies in. What bit rate to use and how to organize all the assets and such. Also things like building a friendly, functional web site with good content and finding hosting so people can actually download and watch it.

    I really underestimated the amount of time and effort that goes into that stuff. I actually finished working on the first episode two months before it went up on the web. I don't think I was even close to being as prepared as I could have been. Luckily I had a few friends like Tom McGuire at Pixeltwisters who is hosting the movies and Dave Beres who did an outstanding job on the audio and all the great people at 3D Festival and specifically Tito A. Belgrave who promoted the whole thing and came to the rescue after Tom's server was overwhelmed. I'm sure there's more people that I'm forgetting but the point is, a lot of people did a lot of really great things for me and I think they're the one's that made Nyxies a success. I really didn't expect it to get so many downloads. I'm glad people enjoyed it.

     

    3D Festival: One aspect that complemented this short well was the essence and fairytale like quality of the music, can you elaborate on that?

    Mike Brown: The audio was done by a friend mine named Dave Beres. I was introduced to him by Kelly Standard who did the Pyxie textures for the opening title card. I'm a big fan of Bjork so I had a track from Vespertine called Fosti as a place holder for the music. I showed Dave the animation with the temp audio and he was really keen on doing the audio for Nyxies. I knew he had never done anything quite like this before (worked on animation I mean) but he's a talented guy, so I was excited to have him work on it. He did a great job. The first sample I got back from him was pretty much right on the money. There were a few minor changes and revisions but overall I thought it kicked butt and really got me excited to get it up on the web. The show he was working on got shut down recently so he's had a rough time the last couple weeks. If anyone needs audio work done in the San Diego area, give him a shout -- he's a great guy to work with!


    Early concept models for Nyxies - Creatures of the Night

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  • 3D Festival: What hardware and software were used in the making of Nyxies?

    Mike Brown: For animation and rendering I used 3DS Max 4.2 stock (no plug-ins other than a few free things and a couple scripts). I've been using it for a long time and it's grown up to be a very powerful app. It's nice because you don't need an army of TD's or people writing shaders for PRMan to get great results out of the render. I can do everything myself. I can even script my own tools for just about anything I need. I think that's pretty amazing since I'm about as far from a programmer as you can get. For everything else it was pretty much the usual suspects, Photoshop for textures, Combustion for compositing, DVMpeg for encoding, Frontpage for web stuff and Premiere for editing. The hardware was a Dual 2.0ghz Intel Xeon w/ 1gig of RAM, Dual drives on a raid array and an Elsa Quadro4 750Xgl card with Dual monitors. Dan Mulkiewicz, the IT guy at Presto, built it for me for 3K. It's been rock solid! The scenes have about a million polys each, a couple volume lights and lot's of textures. I think the longest single frame render at D1 rez was about 95 seconds. I'd say Max's scanline is pretty decent to be able to do that.

    3D Festival: After the ending of the 1st episode, we're left wondering what happened to Leeek, how many more episodes do you have planned?

    Mike Brown: Don't worry, Leeek winds up on his feet (he is the hero of the whole thing after all). There's 18 episodes in the entire saga. I've got six episodes storyboarded and planned out in detail. Nothing is completely set in stone. I usually change things a little as I go but the basic structure is always there to guide me. The remaining episodes are loosely roughed out in my story book. I've got enough story ideas to keep going for quite a while after the first 18 but I dought I'll get that far unless someone pays me to do these. I'm really focusing on getting the first six done for now. Hopefully people will enjoy the whole thing and that'll push me to do more. I'd love to work on these guys full time and maybe make some stuffed toys or something so who knows what'll happen.

     

    3D Festival: Besides Nyxies do you have any other works planned?

    Mike Brown: Right now I just want to get the next episode of Nyxies done and still have a little bit of free time to mountain bike and hang out with my girlfriend. I don't really have enough time to play with more projects right now. My day job at Presto keeps me pretty busy and I'm always looking for freelance stuff as well. Dan Paladin (www.synj.net) and I just finished the cinematics for Presto's upcoming X-box game titled Whacked. We did 48 minutes of character animation in three months and surprisingly it's all pretty good (you heard correctly, two animators, three months, 48 minutes of animated cut-scenes that don't suck :D) . There's a couple fun little animations for Whacked on the X-box site. I've also got a couple of new tutorials planned for anticz.com if I can ever find the time to get that stuff together. I could get a lot more done if it weren't for that pesky sleep thing.

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    Related Links:
    Nyxies - Creatures of the Night
    Anticz

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