Monday, July 23, 2012

Life By A Thread: Behind The Scenes

One of my favorite aspects of film making is going behind the scenes and seeing the step by step process on how it all comes together. I wanted to share with you all how my new short "Life By A Thread" came about.


It all starts off with the idea. Back in September of 2010, Andrew Kaiko and Rajesh Bhavnani started making films based on "sweaters", and they encouraged me to do the same. I couldn't really think of anything until I went on a trip to Boston with my family. Getting away helped me think of an amusing idea that would have a solid beginning, middle, and end. " What if a freezing cat came across a sweater   and the thread of the sweater got caught in miscellaneous obstacles i.e. a dog, bike, subway, etc."


Before I storyboard, I like to draw up a bunch of concept sketches. I drew these while I was in Boston two years ago. 


One of the most important aspects of film making/animation is to take ideas from life. The design of my cat character is loosely based off my own two cats, Giselle(left) and Joseph(right).

I wanted the cat to have Joseph's scraggly fur and Giselle's eye and fur color.

The inspiration for the mischievous little girl was based off my friend and coworker, Alex Kwan


Once I have my design down, I start storyboarding. I like to go straight to board as opposed to writing a script because my ideas, gags, and visual humor flow better that way. These are my thumbnail sketches before I start the final board/animatic.

After I am satisfied with my thumbnails, I start going to final storyboard. Rather than draw my boards on little squares, I drew up the boards in flash as an animatic composition so I can get the timing down. I also took reference pictures of the Tribeca district since I thought that would be a cool spot for the film to loosely take place. Here are the final boards along with the final composition. 

Deleted Scene

Not everything is going to make it in the final product, and you can't be a stickler on what should stay, and what should go. Sometimes certain ideas, no matter how funny or interesting, are not going to work. After the cat flew out of a delivery man's bicycle, there was a scene in which he flies into a obese woman's bedroom and gets the thread caught in a bra. It was funny when I first drew it, but thanks to some helpful input from my coworkers Mike Carlo, Al Pardo and Joey Capps at Titmouse, it was best to take it out.


After the boards are complete, we come to the animation. I wanted the animation style to be fun, loose, carefree, but also believable. I don't really have a set process on how I animate. Sometimes I'll key out my poses and in-between, other times I will go straight ahead, I'll even go straight to clean as I animate! Here are some of my favorite roughs.

Sound Design

While I was laying out my BGs and others were helping me color, I had to lay out my sound ASAP. I went over to 440 Sound Studios where Kerry Pompeo helped me find the necessary sound effects I needed. I didn't want the film to be littered with cartoony Hanna Barbera sounds because I felt like it's been done too many times. I wanted to sounds to feel somewhat natural, because you never really expect that from a cartoony looking film.

Kerry also helped me record the vocals for my film. I even made up my own sound effects!

Final Comp  

With the sound locked, my animation and backgrounds inked, colored, and complete, it was time for the final step......rendering the video. The compression had to be in 1920 X 1080, so I made sure my video was picture perfect. My girlfriend, Melissa Hurley, stood by my side till 4am in the morning while I was rendering out the final product in after effects, and it is something I will never forget. Once the rendering was done, it was good to go for Matt Lee's "Midsummer Night Toons".

Closing Words

Between animating on Motor City, the hour and a half commute from work to home, and trying to maintain a social life, working on Life By A Thread during my free time was tough. But in the end, I was very satisfied with the final product, and I am not stopping there. I intend to make even more animated films/projects in the future, and I can't wait to see how I will evolve. If you are an aspiring animator and you are reading this, MAKE AN INDEPENDENT FILM NOW! Not only is it fun and rewarding, but it is a good way to find your storytelling sense as well as your artistic voice. You don't need to have a million dollar budget to make a film. Mike Judge created his first Beavis and Butthead short "Frog Baseball" right on his kitchen table! With flash, photoshop, after effects, and other digital tools at our disposal, I think we have it pretty sweet compared to the animators of the past that had to paint each cel by hand and had to shoot each individual drawing meticulously. And if you do happen to make a successful film that is shown at different festivals and screenings, DO NOT STOP THERE! Keep creating, keep drawing, keep animating because if you base your success on your ONE FILM, you will become sluggish with your work and you will not evolve. What is to come? Who knows, but until then, KEEP CREATING!


jeaux janovsky said...

Great read James!

Anonymous said...

Awesome BTS James! Loved the message at the end :)

Jesse said...

Great work James, It came out awesome!

Melissa Hurley said...

Very inspiring & creative :)

Andrew Blondin said...

Inspiring words. I can't believe you were able to do such a good job on your film while managing everything else. I'll have to make an independent film now. :)

Saw Lady said...

Very cool! I play the musical saw - let me know if you want to record for the soundtrack.

Brenda Chi said...

Thank you for showing your process. It's really inspiring to see that you could make something of your own while you have other projects to work on. Super thank you for the message at the end. I've been wanting to make some sort of animated short, but too scared, and often had "what the hell do I do to start" attitude. you've given me some confidence in making it happen.