This past January I had the incredible good fortune to fall sideways into a wonderful graphics research project. How it came about is pure serendipity: I had coffee with my advisor from UW, who’d recently started at Google. He asked if I’d like to test out some experimental sketch-based animation software one of his summer interns was developing. I said sure, thinking I might spend an hour or two… but the software was so much fun to use, I couldn’t stop playing with it. One thing led to another, and now we have a paper in SIGGRAPH Asia 2020!
Have you ever wished you could just jot down a 3D character and animate it super quick, without all that tedious modeling, rigging and keyframing? That’s what Monster Mash is for: casual 3D animation. Here’s how it works:
I’m heading to LA this coming weekend to do a retrospective talk about Spotlight Stories. It’s part of an ASIFA-organized “Animation Day” event at Infinity Festival Hollywood. starting Saturday, November 9th at 10am. (Our friends from Baobab will also be doing a talk about some of their latest work, so it should be a really interesting morning!) Angelenos, swing by and say hello!
Here’s a thing that happened. Remember that crazy accidental stereo photo that we shot at the LA wrap party for “How to Train Your Dragon”, back in 2010? Well, not long after that, we had a second wrap party in Palo Alto, for the PDI part of the crew. At one point I was talking with Chris Sanders, and I showed him that stereo photo from the other party. His eyes got really big, and his inner ten-year-old, always very close to the surface but particularly so in that moment, looked at me very seriously and said “we have to do this again… right now… with EVERYBODY HERE!” Without any kind of plan, we just snapped into action, moving tables, herding animators, passing on instructions in a game of telephone as everyone gathered in a big circle with Chris, Dean, Bonnie and Bruce in the middle. Cameras and phones out and ready, on a count of three, we all snapped a shot– as simultaneously as a crowd of reveling filmmakers can manage (which turns out to be not simultaneous at all, but hey, we’ll fix it in post!) I got everyone to email me their photos the next day, and spent way too many hours truing them up over the following weeks. I even did some very bad morphing at one point. I never quite got it to a state that felt good enough to share, so this sat on my hard drive for the better part of a decade without anybody seeing it.
But the third chapter in the trilogy comes out today! So in honor of that, and all the amazing artists who were there in that room nine years ago, and the many others who have worked on these movies before and since, here it finally is, in the form of an animated GIF: Dragon Wrap 360!
Photos by: Jennifer Yip, Craig Rittenbaum, Kathy Altieri, Craig Ring, Gil Zimmerman, Andy Wheeler, Susan Hayden, Ronman Ng, Melanie Cordan, Jennifer Dahlman, Rebecca Huntley, Ben Andersen, Janet Breuer, John Batter, Andrew Pearce, Katrina Conwright, Toshi Otsuka, Lou Dellarosa, Nara Youn, Michel Kinfoussia, Kevin Andrus, Dave Torres, Michael Baula, Tanner Owen, Karen Dryden, April Henley, Kate Spencer, Cassidy Curtis, Ron Pucherelli, Scott LaFleur, Simon Otto, and Dane Stogner.
It’s not every week you have to fly down to LA twice, but what a great reason to do it. “Age of Sail” was nominated in a bunch of categories, and won Outstanding Production Design at the Annie Awards, and Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project at the VES Awards. I’m so grateful to have worked with this amazing team of artists, and and so proud of what we’ve accomplished together!
Way back in 1999, I had the pleasure of contributing a segment to a SIGGRAPH course on non-photorealistic rendering. By that point I had made a whopping two-and-a-half animated short films with different visual styles (Brick-a-Brac, Fishing, and a never-finished The New Chair) which in those innocent times made me an authority on the subject. So I threw together a loose framework based on what I’d learned from those experiences, and built my piece of the course around that.
I went back and re-read it the other day, and was surprised to find a lot of it still holds true. In particular, one lesson that we carried through in both Pearland Age of Sail is that if you plan ahead and you’re smart about it, committing to a stylized look can also save you a lot of time and money.
So if you’re interested in making a film with a new visual style, but you just don’t know where to start, have a look!
I’m talking about “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” of course. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen, and already want to see it again. (If you still haven’t seen it, you are missing a major milestone in film history. Get off your tuchis and go to the movies already!)
There’s a moment in the film when our newly super-empowered Afro-Latino hero Miles Morales and the original Spider-Man Peter Parker meet for the first time. Their spidey-senses activate, and suddenly they both realize what they have in common. “You’re like me!” That moment of recognition, beyond its first purpose of conveying the powerful “anyone can wear the mask” message of inclusion, hit me personally on a whole different level. I found myself looking through the screen, senses buzzing, at the amazing team of artists and technologists who made it, people who really get it: the idea that when you take the art seriously, when you use every step of the process to amplify that artistic voice instead of sanding off its rough edges, when you’re willing to break the pipeline and challenge “how it’s usually done”, that’s when you can make something special, unique, and meaningful. This movie is a triumph, and every single person involved in making it should be incredibly proud. I see what you did, I know exactly how hard it was to do it, and I see you.
I can’t wait to watch this a few more times to soak in all the details– the smear frames, the animation on twos, the silhouette lines and suggestive contours, the halftones and Kirby dots, the CMYK misprints, the world-class acting choices, the strong poses, the colors and lighting, that crazy Sinkiewicz flashback, all of it.
I also hope this marks a turning point for the animation industry. Listen to your artists. Trust them. Let their work shine on the big screen the way they meant it to look. And don’t let anyone tell you what “can’t be done” with the look of your film. The non-photorealistic rendering community has been building the technology to do this, literally, for decades. Let’s use it!
For the first time, the Annie Awards will honor animated VR productions. Vying for the prize are “Age of Sail” by Google Spotlight Stories and Broadreach Pictures; AtlasV’s “BattleScar”; “Crow: The Legend” by Baobab Studios; “MindPalace” by Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg GmbH; and Polyarc’s “Moss.”
In addition to the VR bid, Google Spotlight Stories’ “Age of Sail” came away with three other nominations, including character animation in an animated TV/broadcast production (Sikand Srinivas); character design in an animated TV/broadcast production (Bruno Mangyoku); and production design in an animated TV/broadcast production (Celine Desrumaux and Jasmin Lai).
Gnomon released the video of the making-of talk that John Kahrs and I did. (John’s part is not to be missed: a life lesson in thoughtful, personal filmmaking.)