The Big Journey of a 3D Animated Short: 'Le Gouffre’

Mon 2nd Mar 2015, by Mike Hepburn | Production

Le Gouffre from Lightning Boy Studio



Le Gouffre is ten minutes of pure animated joy. This beautiful short follows the journey of two friends who, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, attempt to build a bridge across a massive chasm.


The perfectly-paced film was created over two years, by the Montreal-based three man team  Lightning Boy Studio:  Carl Beauchemin, Thomas Chrétien, and David Forest. Together they developed a unique painterly style, which brings this stirring story of human achievement alive. Le Gouffre is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and has been selected for more than 40 festivals worldwide, where they have won six awards, three of them for “Best Animated Short”.  CGSociety was lucky to catch up with David Forest to find out more about this inspiring work.





Where did the idea for Le Gouffre come from?


Everything started from our desire to make movies together. Carl, Thomas and I knew we would make a great team, so we decided to make a 3D animated short to get the attention of big players from the film industry. We didn't get the idea first; we developed Le Gouffre after deciding to team up.


From there, we figured out which emotions we wanted our film to convey. We wanted a strong, emotional ending that would touch our audience and stay on people's mind, so we started by creating this part of the story. We then built everything else around our ending, to support and enhance it. It was very challenging to make our story engaging enough so that people would care in such a short amount of time.


The themes of friendship, perseverance and sacrifice were all inspired by what we were going through at that time. We thought that a bridge would be a very powerful representation of all the efforts one has to invest in order to achieve his dreams.





You had a very successful kickstarter campaign. Your original goal was $5000, but you ended up smashing that with over $24,000! There must have been some dancing in the Lightning Boy Studio that day! Can you tell me about your experience with Kickstarter? What made you decide to go for crowd funding? Why do you think so many people contributed? How did you market it?


Our Kickstarter campaign really was one of the highlights of Le Gouffre's production. At that point, we had been working full-time on our film for more than two years, so the change of pace of building and then launching our campaign was really a breath of fresh air. But most of all, it gave us a lot of energy and motivation. People reacted very well, supported us and gave us very encouraging comments. On top of all this, our fan base more than doubled during our campaign's run so, definitely, Kickstarter was a huge help.


Ironically though, using crowdfunding to raise funds was not our intention at all when we first started this project. We thought it would never work since nobody knew us at the time, and we were a bit uncomfortable with the idea of asking people for money if we couldn't show them what the final product would look like. Our plan was to save up money so we could survive while making the film, and also apply for government grants to have a little extra help while making the film. Sadly, we were refused every time we applied for grants and the production took way longer than we first thought. It soon became obvious we would have to find another way to finance our film, especially since we had started to pile up debts and still had to pay for the music and sound effects.


That's when we decided to go with Kickstarter. In the end, using crowdfunding so late in Le Gouffre's production really helped us. By then, we already had a small fan base that we had built slowly thanks to our production blog. It wasn't huge, but just enough people to help share the news of our campaign around. We also had a lot of work done by then, so we could make a trailer to show people what our film would look like. People could see that we really gave everything we had, and that we needed help.


We achieved the goal of $5000 in a few hours on the first day. Like you can imagine, we were overjoyed by such a huge reaction! Our campaign really exceeded our expectations.



I first discovered the existence of your project in the IP Incubator Club over at CGTalk. This wonderfully supportive online club started up in 2013 by an incredibly passionate Forum Leader, Roberto Ortiz. Le Gouffre is one of the oldest projects, but there are over a dozen fascinating properties being incubated, from board games to short films to video games. Can you tell us about your involvement with the club, how did that community help you?


The IP Incubator Club was a great place to gain exposure for our project and receive interesting critiques from very talented people. One of our main goals when making Le Gouffre was to show the world what we can do, but for that we needed people to know we exist, and that can be very hard to do when you're on your first project. We were thrilled when we heard about the IP Incubator Club and quickly began posting there regularly.





Just like your heroes in the short film, your task must have seemed insurmountable at times, how did you get pass the inevitable feelings that it was just too impossible to continue?


There were times where it all felt a bit overwhelming, but we believed in our project and that kept us going no matter what. It was really worth it to take our time and tweak our script and storyboard before starting production. It allowed us to come up with a story we really loved and knew was worth investing all our energy into.



The Journey Behind Le Gouffre from Lightning Boy Studio



What tools did you use to bring your story alive?


Our 3D program of choice is Softimage. We used it to do the modeling, rigging, animation and rendering. We used ZBrush to add extra details on some models. Photoshop for the textures, After Effects for the compositing. We used a plugin called Slipstream VX to do every particle simulation seen in the film. Finally, we used Sony Vegas for the editing.





I love the palette you used – was that inspired by anything? How did you achieve that beautiful painterly style?


Thank you! Some Japanese animated movies were particularly inspirational, especially for the backgrounds. We looked at many references early on but it was important for us to find our own art style, something different that would make our film stand out.


Our painterly style was mostly achieved through our hand-painted textures and the way we did our compositing in After Effects. Instead of setting our light passes as additive layers like we would normally do, we treated them as opaque layers, much like if we had illustrated the frames in Photoshop with multiple layers of paint. It took a while to figure out exactly how to get the result we wanted, but in the long run this technique was really worth it and allowed us to tweak things easily without having to render new frames.





What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make such an ambitious film like yours?


The two most important things would be to have a great team and a great story. You'll spend so much time together that you have to team up with people that you enjoy being with. If we didn't laugh so much together during the film's production, we probably wouldn't have been able to make it through. And then, like we said before, the story has to be good. In our minds, there's no point in spending two years of your life to tell a story if it isn't good. It would be the worst feeling to finish such a big project and realise that it just wasn't really worth it.



You are from Montreal, which is a World creative hub. How does where you live influence how and what you make?


We were lucky to be born in a place with such a vibrant community of artists. We all had a chance to study at a great public animation school, and there are many studios to work at in this city, both in the video game and visual effects industry. Inspiration can come from everywhere though and, since we were kids, American movies have always been our biggest influence. Our dream would really be to team up with Hollywood studios one day and make the type of high-budget films that we loved so much when growing up.



When not creating world beating art, what do you like to do? What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?


Right now, we are investing a lot of time and energy in our future, so we are spending most of our time preparing our next project. We are watching movies and TV shows as inspiration, we try to read about how to make even better stories. And we are also spending a lot of time trying to share our film, answering interviews, emails and stuff like that. Ever since Le Gouffre was launched, we haven’t had much spare time!





What is the next Lightning Boy Studio project?


We are currently working on a feature film idea that we would like to pitch to film studios soon! It's going to be quite different from Le Gouffre. Of course, we want to keep the core of what made our short successful: an impactful story and great visuals. But we always thought of this first short as a standalone project, which sole purpose was to get us noticed. With this next project, we're seeing much bigger, with a lot of characters, more complex emotions, and humor too! We can't really say much more for now, but it's set in a whole new world which could be turned into a very profitable IP if handled right.



Sounds great! Please keep us in the loop!


What would be your #1 advice to other artists?


Every artist will have different goals in life. If you want to be happy and progress with your art, you have to figure out what you really want. In our case, we want to work in the film industry, so everything we do is a step towards that. Time is precious, it shouldn't be wasted. The sooner you will figure out what you want in life, the sooner you can start working hard in order to get there.



Do you have a motto?


We don't really have a motto, but if we had to find one maybe it would be something along the lines of "Don't be afraid to go all-in into something you believe in". We've faced many obstacles making this film and if we had stopped at the first setback, we wouldn't have come very far.





Lightning Boy Studio have set up a mailing list for people who are interested in hearing about their next projects: They also have an Art Of for sale for those would like to support their efforts.

Le Gouffre

David Forest's CGPortfolio: and personal


IP Incubator Club





Directed by Carl Beauchemin, Thomas Chrétien, David Forest

Music: Dan Cullen, Deryn Cullen

Foley and Sound Design: Mark Donis

Animation and Rigging: Carl Beauchemin

Art Direction and Animation: David Forest

Visual Effects and Compositing: Thomas Chrétien

Voice Actors: Nicolas Charbonneaux, Charles-André Gaudreau, Élisabeth Forest

Final Sound Mixing: Jean-Pierre Bissonnette

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