Film Update: Principal Photography Complete

Picture 1
Making good use of a delay between Babar scripts, I spend a few days shooting my new short film. Luckily for me, it all went well and I’m 90% sure I won’t have to do any extra shooting and I can work with the footage I have.
Picture 9
I have completed the rough cut of the film (Hence my 90% certainty. 10% is for surprises) and I’m quite satisfied with how it is coming together. It will need the usual tweaking and tightening, but I’ll worry about that after I have completed the special effects when I will have completed visuals to make tweaking and tightening more accurate.
Picture 6
Next step: Planning, shooting, executing and incorporating the special effects. I have a new Babar script on my table so the special effects will have to wait until I’m next between storyboards. I’ll be very pleased if the effects are completed by the end of September. I have 25 effects shots so if I can manage to do one cut per day, I’ll meet my target.

Picture 2

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The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Epilogue)


The Response to the Promo:

At the pitch meeting: I’m told the promo went over like gangbusters and that it had the intended effect: to get the investor’s attention and get them feeling excited.

The feedback I got back from animation people in Toronto was overwhelmingly positive. I’m told that the artists at the Toronto studio, who were supposed to make tis promo in the first place, were blown away at the quality of the promo and at the speed in which it was produced by such a small group of people (and in the case of Simage, they were moving office across town in the middle of their participation). One artist didn’t realize that the moving animation wasn’t hand drawn. I was very pleased to hear that as I wanted it all to look as close to hand drawn as possible. In terms of the promo on all levels, it was a success.

The only negativity directed at the promo was, sadly, the excuses used to justify why the promo got made in Hong Kong at such a high standard by those in Toronto who failed to produce anything and even stated that it wouldn’t be possible to make anything more than one character model in the time allotted. But, that’s their problem. My problem was that the promo turned out well and had the desired effect.

What Worked For Me:

I feel the promo played out exactly as I wanted it to. I think it is interesting and exciting and gets one’s attention without a whole lot of effects and visual cheap tricks: it relies on filmmaking to interest the viewer.

The 2D render of 3D models worked very well and the steps I took to make the transition from drawings to 3D animation worked.

One of my favorite reactions from another animation pro was their shock when they were told the r5 second promo only has 15 seconds of actual animation. That means two thirds of the promo’s length doesn’t move in what is traditionally called animation. My director’s sleight of hand worked. That was very gratifying.

The process. Everything from start to finish was smooth. Yes, there were times of difficulty, but all problems were solved quickly and smoothly. There was very little pain in the making of the promo. The fact is that it was one of the easiest and most fun projects I have ever been involved in with and end result that I’m still pleased with.

There is no “What Didn’t Work For Me” because I wouldn’t change anything. Sure, I could fix a drawing here or there, but who’d notice? No one, so there is no point to change anything since it wouldn’t serve any purpose.

So What Happened to God of Dance?

Well, the China investors didn’t go for it. Why? I don’t know. I assume what happened is what happens a lot when it comes to projects like this: a lot of people talk, a lot of interest is shown, when the time comes to commit money to the talk knees become weak and that is the end of that. The whys don’t really matter at that point.

I hope that the show can still be pitched. The series does have a solid story premise and the main characters have what I think are very interesting character arcs that I’d love to write and see play out. But, these things take time. We’ll see what happens.

Day ONE:

All I was supposed to do was draw some rough character designs of random kids. The series had no characters and no real concept. It was more or less pitched to me like this: “They are kids and they dance. Can you draw up some characters?” So, I would draw 2 or 3 every morning for a short time until I was told “That’s enough”.

Below are some of those initial designs that somehow led to me directing a full on promo.

My design philosophy for God of Dance was simple:

-They need to look believable, with real looking hair styles and clothing, and not made up.
-They need to look modern.
-They need to look like they belong to the modern China world.
-They need to look appealing to a Chinese young person, but also to a broader taste.
-They can’t be so real that they are dull. Hairstyles and clothing have to be super-heroed up a bit to make they hyper real. Never cross a line into the ridiculous unless it was just too tasty an idea.

With that in mind, I drew these (These are some and not all of the sketches):

One thing to note: When these were drawn, the most interesting style in vogue was the neo-punk/post punk/early 80s New Wave look. It may not be as popular now, but it was then.
The first idea for RAMEN. He’s named after the idea that he makes ramen noodles.
Sometimes, you just know a winner design when you draw it.
I think you can tell by the amount of notes I have on this RASTA design that I liked him from the get-go. The belt holding up swimming trunks is what I was talking about when I mentioned a ridiculous element that can stay if it is a tasty idea. This idea, I think, is so illogical that I like it. Who would wear a belt with swimming trunks? RASTA would and no one questions it because he pulls it off. What a dude!
The END (for now...)

The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Nine)


The final day before the actual pitch meeting, for me, was pretty leisurely. I had finished all the artwork I needed to generate and it was all composited and spliced into the timeline by Tom Berger the editor. All I had to do was wait for the finished animation footage to be delivered from Simage and that was not to arrive until sometime around 10:00 in the evening. The finished promo had to be delivered to Andrew, who by this time was in China, by 7:00 AM the next morning because he would be prepping to leave his hotel around then to proceed to the pitch meeting.

The finished footage arrived and it was mostly all great. But, there were some changed that needed to be made. Some had to do with continuity errors (some the backgrounds in some shots were not the right ones) and some with taking out some hand held camera action that in the end just didn’t look right. That kept me up late in order to then look at the revised footage. Ok, so that arrived and I had to do the unthinkable: I had to ask the artist to change all the backgrounds back to what they originally were when they were continuity errors from the newly revised “correct” angles. This kept me up the rest of the night.

Ok, why did I ask for backgrounds to be changed to fix continuity errors only to return the corrected footage, with proper background positioning, back to the footage wherein the backgrounds were not right (In other words, the wrong wall was behind the character)? Well, it was simple: they looked better. Maybe they backgrounds in the shot were not the walls that should be behind the character, but they looked more interesting than what would be “correct”. My rationale was (is) simply this: I’d rather go with what looks good than what is “correct”. I seriously doubted anyone would notice the error. If they did, then the promo failed to capture their attention anyway since they had the thought to spot a minor continuity error. I guess my judgement was good because not a single person has ever noticed any continuity errors.

I think the final footage arrived to me at around 5:00 AM and I signed off on it. Simage was done and I can’t sing their praises enough. They did nothing short of a professional job done as promised and done not only on time, but in fact a week earlier than they said they could deliver the footage in. What more could I have asked for? Not a single shot planned for didn’t get done and not done well.

The footage was then delivered to Tom for editing. I had to stay up in order to look at the final edit and make sure everything was right in the final promo. All the while, I was on Skype Chat with Tom and the Executive Producer. I hate text chats and I will never use them in any production I am in charge of. What a waste of time. Juggling text conversations with two different people while trying to look at footage for analysis was no way to work efficiently. All that chatter in text form could have been solved in 1/4 of the time if it was just done as a phone call. It was a major distraction from the work and I’ll never use that method of communication, for work, again.

7:00 AM rolled around and I signed off on the final edit. There was one small problem that I found, but couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was (I had been up all night), but I signed off. There wasn’t time to nit pick. I figured it out later, but no one has pointed out the error, so I won’t either. It’s very minor.

I called Andrew at his hotel to tell him that the finished promo was being uploaded to an FTP site and will be ready for him before the meeting. He was getting ready to go when I called him.

It was down to the wire, but the promo was finished and Andrew was able to go to the pitch meeting with potential investors armed with a 45 second finished promo (Remember it was only supposed to be 30 seconds long). The Toronto team was only able to promise him one built character that would spin on an axis endlessly as a video presentation, but Andrew now went with something of substance to show in the meeting.

As for me, I went to bed at 7:30 AM. My job was done.

Next: Epilogue

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New Short Mobile Film

We interrupt The Making of God of Dance for some broken news:

On Sunday, I started shooting what will be my second short mobile film.

I’m doing things a bit differently, this time, as for starters, I’m shooting with an iPhone4. I don’t have to use a mobile device for shooting a mobile film, but I’m not sure what the practicality of using an HD cam is when the designated delivery system is about the size of an iPhone screen or maybe an ipad. iPhone video has a nice picture and it’s fast and easy to deal with (plus, I have one). Using an HD cam or shooting in full HD seems like wasting fuel, to me.

There is also no script for this one. Last time, making Connected, I had a full script written before shooting. I didn’t use a storyboard, but I at least had a script to make notes on. This film: no script, no storyboard and no notes. Everything will be done in camera and editing.

I’m also in this film on camera... be warned and be afraid.

The only thing consistent with the last film (Connected) will be another appearance by Sharon Mak. She’s been my go-to girl on all my short films (Connected, Listen to Me... MoMo...) and I suspect she’ll show up in the next one. All her parts were shot on Sunday. She did a fine job and I expect that I won’t need her to do any more takes. Thanks, Sharon!


Over the past 3 days, I’ve shot quite a bit of footage. One more round of shooting should get me everything I need to start building the film in editing. After a rough cut, maybe I’ll need to shoot some minor pick-ups: maybe not.

Once the rough cut is done, then comes what I expect will be a couple tedious tasks: Special effects and replacing most of the audio. This new film will have a certain amount of effects work in it and I’m not really certain if that will be easy or less so. If I’m lucky and my plan works out well, it will be a simple task. If my plan fails, I’m afraid I’m in for some very long hours. My first impression of the audio is that it isn’t strong enough as it is and will at least need to be enhanced, but there is also the possibility that I will need to replace all the audio and rebuild it from scratch. I’ll decide which it is to be after the rough cut is together.

My hope was to have said rough cut finished before the weekend. Now, I’m wondering if that was a bit optimistic. Maybe early next week is more likely. Then again, when I get on a roll I roll quickly so I can hope.


The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Eight)


I think it was about a week before the pitch meeting that I met with Matthew and his lead animator Miles at a Starbucks so I could look at the rough animation footage that Miles had done. Only some of the shots had been rough animated, as you can see in the video where they were inserted into the animatic, but they basically looked good to me.

The only things I asked to be changed were some pretty minor points: adjusting camera angles and adding some tweaks to the camera moves, mostly. I was very reluctant to ask for changes that would take a lot of extra time (Not that there was anything major that needed to be fixed. Simage did an excellent job) since I was more concerned with the animation getting done. Luckily for me, the animation looked just fine, but I did ask for two changes that had to be made: When Rasta spins over Ramen’s head (0:06) and the kick move Rasta does that Ramen ducks (0:03).

The spin move, not reflected in the posted footage, only had one spin and I wanted more (I think three spins). Rasta’s kick move was animated with one foot on the ground at all times (You can see this in the posted video) and I wanted him to get some air to be more dynamic. Other than that, everything was a-ok and I was feeling very optimistic that we might have all the footage ready for the meeting.

One note about the animation and Simage: I didn’t impose upon them any restrictions. They were free to adjust timing and scene length as it suited the animation. The only restriction was the 15 seconds of music the animation had to fit into, but if they needed to extend or shorten a cut for the animation timing to work better, that was up to them. Animatics are imprecise tools at best and it is always better to allow the animator the ability to make the animation work. Too often if you lock a cut off to be a certain length, you get animation that is either too slow or too fast or the cut lingers or blinks on screen. The animator usually will be able to get a sense of what the precise scene length needs to be since they deal with it not in terms of seconds, but frames. As Director, I trusted Matthew and Miles’ experience, taste and professionalism. They didn’t let me down.

This next bit has nothing to do with the GoD promo, but... I don’t drink coffee. I mention it because the animation meeting was at a Starbucks in Hong Kong and all Chinese people think I drink coffee and I always say the same thing, “I don’t drink coffee”. I think I’m the only white guy in town who doesn’t drink coffee, drink myself silly all the time and is very crazy about eating curry because most Chinese people think I do and am. It’s terrible not being the stereotype/most common example of a white guy in town.

Next: The Last 24 Hours Before the Pitch Meeting

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The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Seven)


To digress for a minute... Before talking about and looking at the rough animation footage, I figure I may as well talk about a couple of suggestions that were made at a time when pretty much any new ideas or a shift in concept was simply too late and would only derail the train into oblivion. Every little detail had been planned to fit inside of the deadline and I wasn’t even certain that all the animation would be ready.

I’ve always assumed that deadlines were important because of the word “dead” in it. In other words: deliver or die. This may not always be true, but when delivering a final product (as opposed to a segment in a larger production), I believe a deadline is fixed and in the case of GoD, the pitch meeting was already set for a certain date and time and it was fast approaching. There had to be a promo of some kind ready for the meeting.

I forget at what point exactly this first suggestion was made, but it was made far too late in the process. I can say that at the very least, the concept had been worked through and the animatic completed. I don’t recall if animation had started or not, but it is moot since once the animatic was locked, there was little or no room to change anything major or add more to the promo and especially if it added more animation. For those who don’t know, actual animation takes time if you want it to be done right, unless you have a really great animator. Even then, a great animator still needs time. So when this first suggestion came in from someone who had a say in the promo, I wasn’t a happy camper...

Suggestion #1: “Let’s change Rasta into one of the female characters”.


“What?! You’ve got to be kidding?!?!?!” That was pretty much what I said to Andrew on the phone. I may have said it in a more colorful way, but that was the gist of it. The reason for the request was the fear that because there was no girl, the show would be perceived as a boys only show and inserting a girl will show it has appeal for all genders. I didn’t agree with the logic since:

a) There would be a lot more to the pitch meeting than just a promo. There would be pictures and pitching and a promo. Somewhere in all that is room to make it clear that girls can watch too.

b) We were already far enough into production that making such a fundamental character change would involve a complete rethinking of what we were doing.

I’m not of the mind that you can just interchange male and female characters at will without it having an effect on the story you are telling. For starters, I would have had to change the already cut together music. It works for two testosterone teen boys, but not if one is a girl. In the same way that Godzilla and the Three Stooges have little appeal for girls, so does highly aggressive music (There are always exceptions, of course). Perhaps it is my personal limitation, but I just didn’t feel the music worked up against a female. Something more dance club style would be fine, but then that would take away from the idea of making a promo that grabbed one by the collar and didn’t give them a chance to breath. The music had to be aggressive. So, conceptually, changing Rasta to a girl character just didn’t work for me unless we designed a new concept. Fine, but there was no time to do that.

There was another reason for me not wanting to replace Rasta: he’s a great looking design! Everyone to a rule loved his design. There was a reason he was picked to be in the promo and that reason was because he looked great. It helped that visually he contrasted well with Ramen. Rasta is tall, wears big bad sunglasses, dreadlocks and only wears a pair of shorts and flop flops. Ramen is not tall, looks like a regular guy and wears clothing. Great. Another less interesting character to contrast Ramen just wasn’t a good idea. After all, why change what everyone considered a strong design to one that is good but not quite as strong just to calm a worry that may not exist other than in someone’s head?

The bottom line was that the promo was conceived and proceeded upon the notion that it was to be Ramen and Rasta. All ideas and concepts revolved around that. It was like cooking a high end meal: you just don’t change something that is designed and prepared to be deep fried into something broiled: it won’t be good. I’m extremely flexible, but I do take a very big picture of my work and there comes a point wherein the ideas get so wrapped around each other that to change elements unravels the whole. We were at that point with GoD.

In the end, Rasta stayed.

Suggestion #2: “How about some dialogue to go with the girl?”

Aside from the fact that the characters were not rigged and were not going to be rigged for mouth movement, this was a most impractical and unnecessary suggestion. Then I read the suggested dialogue. It was, to be kind, atrocious. It was your standard “Not bad, but check this out” kind of trash talk (Ahhh... Trash Talk) that you find in poorly written animation. It was dialogue written to fill air and not amuse or inform. To add dialogue like this not only would work against the concept of the promo, but it would add cost and time: neither of which was an option. Needless to say, this dialogue idea git nixed right fast.

Suggestion #3: “We need a group shot with more of the cast”.

Ok, I wasn’t happy about this mostly because there was no time to do anything that involved new art. This request was really down to the wire, if I remember correctly. The only thing I could think to do was try and use the art from the one-sheet poster that I’d drawn up a few weeks prior and see if I can turn it into something.

I’m of the mind that when developing a show, make sure all art is compartmentalized so that it can be broken apart and turned into something new in case you need something fast. Well, I did. All the characters on that poster are stand alone drawings that sit in their own level in Photoshop. I was able to take that poster and recompose it to fit the 16:9 frame and make that the basis for the group shot that would be inserted before the main title. I added the lights on the background just to jazz that up a bit and try to make it fit in with the promo more. It doesn’t really, but I don’t think anyone gave that any thought.

I sent the layered Photoshop file to Tom the editor along with a quick storyboard that I drew for the shot. He then was the one who composited the shot and added the motion and effects according to my storyboard. He did a great job. I certainly didn’t have time to do that myself.

So, my concept of saving everything for a rainy day and making sure it is set up to be useful paid off. Whew.

I did have to add a bar of music to accommodate the extra shot. If you compare the animatic with the final promo, you’ll see/hear the difference.

I don’t love this cut, but it has grown on me. I can’t argue with the logic that it makes sense to show some more of the cast to showcase the idea that there is a populated world outside of these two guys dancing. So there ya go.

Cut 22 Finished Art

Suggestion #4: “Can we get a tension release shot at the end? It’s too intense as it is, now.”

I’ve already said my peace about that so I’ll just talk about the smoke effect.

I had the thought to hand animate the smoke from Rasta’s cigarette, but it was clear I wasn’t going to have time. The smoke got added in Toronto. The first smoke I saw was some kind of computer smoke plug in and so pitiful that I have no idea why anyone would have thought it was good looking enough to show anyone. If I put that smoke in a shot representing cigarette smoke, I sure as hell wouldn’t have shown it to anyone, I’d be ashamed as a mofo. I asked for something more appropriate and what I got is in the final promo. It isn’t as interesting as I would have liked, but it does the job and there really was no time to worry about it: the deadline was about 2 days away by that point. At least it looked like something that might flow from tobacco and the fact that it is so sedate looking probably works better for the overall shot than if more interesting smoke dominated the visual. It works and I’m very fond of the shot as it is.

Suggestion #5: “I’m getting rid of the magic.”

Ok, this was actually my suggestion early on when dealing with GoD as a concept. Originally, the dancers were supposed to channel chi and that would allow them to do remarkable feats and also do battle that would involve special effects of the chi. The problem I had with that was that I couldn’t for the life of me know what to do with that idea if an actual series were to be made. The bigger problem was that no one really knew what to do with that idea. My suggestion was just to make it a strait drama with no overt mystical aspect at all. Practicality won the debate for me.

The promo as originally devised would have had glowing fists and various effects that would light up, representing chi, the shots and provide more visual stimulus. Well, that was extra work that would have complicated production and since the schedule was tight, stripping things down to the essentials was, well... essential. Glowing fists, etc. just wasn’t practical. I also argued this, “What if the investors love the chi angle so much and we still can’t come up with an idea of what to do with it? What if that ask about it, during the pitch, and a solid idea can’t be thought up on the fly? Let’s just leave it out. We can always add it in later, but if an investor is in love with it, we can’t take it away and it could end up being a serious burden on the series.” I guess my arguments made sense because I got my way.

Next: First Footage AND “I Don’t Drink Coffee”

The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Six)


Armed with the animatic, I took it to Simage to go over it with the studio owner, Matthew Chow. We talked about the art direction and the lighting and whatnot. The only thing that worried me was that the promo needed to be delivered by a certain date, but Matthew said they probably couldn’t finish all the animation until a week after my deadline. This wasn’t his fault. My job was a last minute rush project and Matthew’s staff was small and they were already busy on other projects. Oh, one other problem Matthew had: he was moving his studio across town while in the middle of production. Yup, that will cause schedules to go longer alright.

Cut 24 Rasta Pencil Art CUT 24 Ramen Pencil Art

Matthew offered to handle the 2D hand drawn art as well, but I decided that it would be best if I handled that personally. Since I had the time and I knew I would get the result I wanted if I did my own drawings, and seeing as how I can draw (A handy asset for a Director or Producer in the animation business), I told Matthew that I only needed him to focus on the 15 seconds of animation.

So, off I went back home to leave Matthew and his lead animator to worry about my animation and for me to get started generating camera ready art for the 2D segments (the first 15 seconds). That and to worry about what I will do in the likely event that the due date arrives and all the animation wasn’t done.

My solution to the deadline issue was an obvious one: pick some priority scenes that I needed finished and ask Matthew to get them done first. The priority scenes would be based on what shots I needed to make a short version of the already short promo. If I could get 7 seconds of the full animation, I figured I could still cut together a decent promo. Here was born the “[radio edit]” idea.

Actually, the idea came up at an earlier time already having anticipated the possibility of not having a fully finished promo. An important rule, especially in animation: any production that doesn’t plan for disasters are doomed to have them so think of problems and find solutions before they occur. Be a boy scout: be prepared. Better to have a solution and not need one than need a solution and not have one.

It was in a phone call to Andrew that I used the term “radio edit” to describe the short version of the promo. Remember: the promo’s full length was to be 30 seconds. The ‘radio edit’ meant a promo shorter than that.

I came up with the term from old 45 records and how sometimes a single version of a song was edited down from the album track and sometimes called a ‘radio edit’. Since our promo was musical, this seemed a good term for the short version.

Now, if you look at the promo length, it is 45 seconds, minus credits, so obviously all the animation got finished (And on time, but I’ll touch on that, later), but both Andrew and I liked the “[radio edit]” title so much that we just left it in. It felt cool. So, the promo you see is the full length promo and there was NEVER a short version. What you see is exactly what was planned. If anything, the finished and presented promo is more like a 12” mix because it ended up being 15 seconds LONGER than what was originally asked for. So, “[radio edit]” doesn’t mean the promo was an edited down version of something else, it just means absolutely nothing, at the end of the day.

Back to the 2D art. I think I drew all the cel drawings in an afternoon. It only comprised of 6 close ups and one long shot of two characters for the end shot and that’s not a lot of work. I spent almost 6 years as a Layout Artist doing 8-10 scenes a day, with backgrounds, so this was not a big deal. In fact, it was very relaxing and enjoyable. I like drawing people and I designed the characters so even better. By the end of the first day, I had all the 2D art drawn and scanned into the computer.

One shot never made it into the promo, sort of...

Matthew had said to me that he wasn’t sure how well the 3D character models would hold up in an extreme close up as in the final close up of Ramen, right before the main title. He suggested that we might want to hand animate that part of the cut and blend it in during the snap truck in. Again, I didn’t want his animator distracted with that so I was going to animate the Ramen head look up to camera, myself. I drew the key pose where Ramen’s head would stop and that’s where I stopped. I didn’t animate it until I got confirmation from Matthew that the models didn’t hold up. Well, they did well enough and so my brilliant drawing laid waste, unseen...

Until now...


Yeah, I think this has more charm that the final close up, but time was short and the cut was so fast that I doubted anyone would give the 3D model a second thought. And they never did.

As a point of interest, the drawing were all done on a standard A4 (8.5x11) sheet of Xerox paper. Nothing big or fancy. It’s what I had lying around the house.

Cut 02 Pencil Art

I believe I then cel painted in Photoshop the cel art in the next afternoon. Again, it was relaxing work. I put together the title card, the main title and the end card and then sent all the set up scene art to Tom Berger who was to edit them into the animatic. All totaled, I think I spent 2 and half days on all that. Not full days, very casual art time. After the frantic pace of preproduction, it was nice to have a few carefree days to just sit and generate art at a leisurely pace.

Cut 02 Finished Art

By the time I’d finished the 2D art, it was about time that Matthew had rough animation to show me for approval. I met him and his lead animator at a Starbucks the following morning.

Next: There Are Times for 2 Cents and There Are Times for 2 Cents: This Wasn’t the Time

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