CGSociety :: Production Focus
22 November 2012, by Paul Hellard
Four students from the Bellecour Ecoles d’Art, an animation school based in Lyon France jumped on board for the production of Destiny
a short film made during their third and last year of their animation course. "The team was formed by our teachers at the end of the second year," explains animator and director Fabien Weibel. “The story was originally imagined by me, but it evolved greatly during the production. Many new ideas were found during our intensive brainstorming sessions.”
In short, this project, led patiently by Fabien Weibel, offers us a vision of the ravages of stress and routine with humor and poetry. Weibel’s team consisted of Sandrine Wurster, Debatisse Victor and Manuel Alligné who shared all areas of production. Getting into this real production albeit in an animation school, is the proven best way to learn the ropes of the animation coalface. Working with a good script is the first lesson, and creating the characters using the technology available to you is the next, but learning how to operate the tools can be the biggest hurdle for some. Thankfully, it appears they were in good hands at Bellecour Ecoles d’Art.
“The goal of this circus was to learn how to use 3D tools to create well composed images and believable animations,” explains Weibel. “Making a short movie at the end of the third year was the best way to put this knowledge into practice. However, film-making encompasses a whole lot more than this. We needed to know how to structure a story and to develop credible characters. That’s why we were closely followed by teachers specialized in storytelling.” The modeling and animation crew spent a lot of time defining and improving the expressions and the behavior of the main character [his name is Hubert] and even more to work the storyboard and the layout 3D. “I remember that we spent many hours trying to find different, more efficient ways to show the maniac attitude of Hubert in the first minute of the film by adding tiny details to his mannerisms,” Weibel remembers.
There is in everyone’s life, a moment of direction, brought on by an experience or gift from someone dear. Fabien’s father revealed a software called Blender to him one day. “It was fascinating,” he says. “Quickly, I installed it and followed some of the numerous tutorials available on the web.” Fabien even did a short movie called Freddy’s World
in a flurry of inventiveness, in just over three months. “At this point I knew I wanted to make this my vocation, one way or another. I was advised to follow a real training in a school to get more skills. I think the most interesting part of film making is the animation. Giving the illusion of life to a ‘mesh and bones’ character is truly amazing! It is a great thing to see something we imagined taking life on screen. We had the opportunity to see it on the big screen during a festival in Paris. It was really cool!”
Our influences and references for this project were Pixar’s Up, Moonbot's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore for the look and the concept is strongly inspired from the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. These kind of stories with this concept of a time loop and unexplained ‘time travelling’ are very enjoyable. But at the same time it was a challenge because it imposed a lot of constraints. At the beginning, it was planned that their character would interact with his environment. Meaning he had the ability to change things to avoid the accident, for example: locking the door to prevent his double going out and being hit by the bus. “That was a good idea but we were unable to conciliate this with the concept of the accumulation of characters in the scene,” explains Fabien. “But the basic idea stayed the same. The character had to change his behavior to avoid his tragic fate.”
They even managed to finish the movie on time! During the first stages of pre-production, Fabien did a useful view ahead to the different obstacles they could meet. “One of the advantage of this kind of story is there is only one character, copy-pasted five times,” Fabien notes. “Our biggest challenge was to find a coherent and relatively quick end to the story. It could have gone on forever really. The character Hubert had to quickly work out a way to solve his problem. He finally quits his little routine and understands the importance of enjoying simple things like, for example, a sunset.
All the production was carried out with 3ds Max. Manuel Alligné spent a lot of time developing a rig for the main character. This saved a mass of time in working and reworking the scenes. “We worked with mental ray for a simple reason that it was imposed by the school as the render engine,” says Weibel. “No problem though. We had an excellent teacher that learned us how to get nice images and how to avoid the commonly feared effect of flickering!” A simple tool was devised in maxscript to improve the entire workflow. It mainly allowed the team to automatically create ambient occlusion, z-depth, object ID and alpha passes, and quickly set a job for network rendering with Backburner which was a good way to speed up the render setup.