Year 5

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How To Make A Seven Minute Film In Only Eight Years

Year 5
Richmond, then Ashburton, 2002-03

Siggraph came and went. Following a move to Richmond, I experienced another month of stagnancy.  During these times I tried to bring back the mood by watching movies, looking at artwork, doing nothing, going for bike rides, listening to music and scouring the net for inspiration, but nothing would conjure up the mental state required to continue on.  Most unproductive was to try and forge ahead regardless, without motivation.  This just ended in hours of torture and misery, yielding substandard results which, when the mood returned, would be scrapped and redone far more successfully in mere minutes anyway.

Eventually I found the best course of action was to just wait for the condition to subside, filling in time with whatever menial uncreative tasks that came to mind until the mood returned of its own accord - as it always did.  The trouble was, during these dry spells, it was always hard to believe it ever would . Bedroom number three.  You can just about make out a few shapes in this one.

Top:  Two character rigs arranged in the schematic view. Bottom: X, Y and Z motion curves, riddled with keyframes in order to smooth them out One of the creative tasks I had been looking forward to the most was the character animation, and the moment had finally arrived.

It was a nightmare.

All the rigging and software limitations came to the surface in a fury of twitchy, gimbal lock ridden limbs.  Every hour spent keyframing was followed by a day of repairs, often creating keys on every frame in order to iron out the kinks in what should be a smooth curve.   Fortunately though, the bus and camera shake helped to mask some of the resulting stiffness.

Preview                      Render
Ironically, one of those pesky problems resurfaced while I was rendering a walk cycle for this article, so I present it here for your own personal frustration.  Note the slight head twitch that has developed in the render that was not present in the preview.

This seems to be due to the sum effect of rotations on all axes of the bones in the torso culminating in an uncontrollable mess at the top.  The consequent sub-frame mayhem that's going on is apparently affecting the render, and
not even keys on every frame will fix that. After having spent some hours trying to smooth it out, it looks like the only solution would be to re-rig (which, as we all know, is out of the question).
I realised with dread that there was still a devastating amount of work ahead and I really wanted it to be over with right now.

More weeks passed, and dispite there being no end in sight, I felt that some kind of threshold had been passed and the momentum was picking up again. I had enough animated material for a rough cut, which received some excellent viewer responses.  I was still on the right track.  Meanwhile, my savings had depleted by half, and I began considering finding a source of external funding. After all, doesn't the government like to dish out money for these kinds of things?

I had concerns about the translation of the output resolution of 852 x 480 to the big screen. I had chosen these dimensions because I had determined it to be a standard of sorts (NTSC widescreen), and a 2K (1920 x 1080) cinema level resolution would have kept my poor little Pentium III choking on renders for the next ten years.  Clearly I was going to need some more power at some point. I decided to up the res to PAL widescreen (1024 x 576) as a sort of compromise, and deal with the extra render times at a later date. This required re-rendering of the few shots that had already been output at the lower resolution.

Ideas for gags came thick and fast, and eventually the film arrived at 6 minutes. The urgency for completion had all but evaporated, and I decided to include a climactic appendage that I felt it needed, but had earlier dismissed as too labour intensive. I had already spent five years on this thing... what was another month or two? It had taken on a life of its own, and it would release me from its grasp when it was good and ready.

Detailed  to withstand extreme close-up scrutiny, this prop came together in a frenzied two days of modelling and texturing.

Another move, this time to Ashburton.  Christmas passed. I no longer cared about Siggraph. At long last I began to descend the slope on the other side of the the visual mound. I signed off on the first pass animation phase, and the edit clocked in at around six and a half minutes. It was about as tight and flowing as I could manage, and this became the fine cut. Renders continued day and night as I began to look forward to the much anticipated music phase of the production.

What was to follow was probably the most prolonged, gratuitous overworking of a 7 minute piece of soundtrack in history... 

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