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

FROM SPARKLESS TO DANCE INFERNO!

Ok, so... Ramen’s model was finished and Rasta was on the way. Meanwhile, I was being asked by Simage when the storyboard will be ready. Without it, they could not make their own schedule for the animation and wouldn’t be able to tell me when they would be finished. That meant that I didn’t know if the whole promo could be ready in time for the pitch meeting.

Andrew was suffering a bout of writer’s block (only a storyboard artist’s version) so I cut together the music track to see if that could help him get a feel for the action. I don’t know if that worked or not, but Andrew delivered the storyboard pretty quickly after that and did he ever deliver. As I had said before, once a spark is lit and one gets started in on a storyboard, it isn’t unusual to find a groove and suddenly the work pours out at great speed. That was clearly the case with the GoD storyboard because not only did Andrew deliver a terrific storyboard, he delivered too much of it!

It was a very long storyboard. It’s clear that he found a groove and went with it. Sadly, I knew I would never be able to fit in everything into the 15 seconds of the dance sequence. The first 15 seconds was what it was and so that left only the last 15 seconds for all the dance moves. That’s really not a lot of time even with fast cutting. I don’t mind fast cutting, but you can only cut so fast before what you have is not follow-able by the audience. So, my first task was to trim the storyboard down to a length that seemed close to time before I started to cut the animatic (An animatic is filming the storyboard panels and cutting them into a film in sync with the soundtrack, for those not in the animation business).

I cut a lot. It couldn’t be helped. Some fun stuff had to go and some stuff that I was pained to cut had to be to cut: 15 seconds only allowed for the bare bones narrative of the dance off. From there, I scanned the board panels into the computer and started editing. I very much enjoy editing (and by that, I mean hands on editing and not sitting on a sofa while an editor shows you something and you say “Ok, great!” or throw in your 2 cents while the editor does the donkey work) and so cutting the animatic was a lot of fun. As with the whole GoD promo, editing the animatic was a very organic experience. Sad, but I still had too much dance to fit in the 15 seconds and more got trimmed. What I was left with is pretty much the spine that Andrew and I plotted before he drew the storyboard. Once it was all done, both Andrew and I were happy with the results and I took the animatic to Simage to go over it with them.



You may notice that after the title screen, at the end, that there is an extra scene with no music. Well, that final shot was a late addition added after I took the animatic to Simage.

Andrew had shown the animatic to the fella who was paying for this promo and he felt that the promo, as reflected in the animatic, was too intense and he wanted a tension release scene at the end. I wasn’t terribly pleased with the idea, to be honest. My thought was that I wanted the promo to be as intense and exciting as possible: 1) Shock them into it with the big title pounding in. 2) Transition into aggressive music and a flurry of animated visuals. 3) Pound in the show title and allow it to drift away with the finial musical note. I felt the title shot was enough of a release, really. I wanted the viewer to feel a rush of excitement that would carry forward into the rest of the pitch meeting so that they would be more receptive to investing money because they feel the excitement of the show.

After I vented my frustration, Andrew and I started to try and think of what we could add. I absolutely didn’t want to add more animation since we were short of time and more animation was not going to help the promo get done faster. As it was, I didn’t even know if we’d have 15 seconds of finished animation, so the tension relief cut had to involve no animation.

I believe it was me who came up with the idea of a still wide shot of Ramen and Rasta against the wall (Rasta squatting, having a smoke). I thought that that would have a nice filmic look, it would release the tension and it would only involve adding a drawing of the characters on an already made background. Great! The more we talked about the shot, the more I started to like it. I went from 100% against the idea to 100% gung ho to add the shot, in about an hour.

Andrew drew the new scene to the storyboard and I spliced it into to the animatic.

The only trick I needed to pull was that although the shot was to ease tension, I didn’t really want to do that and I wanted a dynamic out of the promo over a slow fade out. The latter would be too soft and I wanted it to have a hard end to increase the tension even though I was supposed to be releasing it.

I had suggested that for the music that it be an old 1920s phonograph run through a cheap speaker. Andrew suggested using an old Chinese song and since that made a lot of sense and he had some music in his collection, I left it to him to pick something. He gave me three to select from and I picked the one that I liked the mood of best. It was coincidence that the lyrics translated into a line about waiting for someone. Serendipity indeed. Anyway, for my hard out, I thought that the music and visuals would just cut out as if they were interrupted. So, I came up with the idea of a computer screen declaring the end of the promo to the sound of a static humming blip sound. That seemed dynamic and in keeping with the feel of the promo.

Then for the next week and a half, I had to add “Artist” to my Producer/Director credits, again.

Next: Let Production Begin and The Myth of the ‘Radio Edit’

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

RAMEN, RASTA AND THE SHIRT AND BIKINI GIRL THAT BLEW MY JANUARY HOLIDAY

Before I forget... While Andrew and I were plotting the storyboard (he was looking for dance reference and I location scouting), Simage, the hired animation studio who were to build the two character models and provide the animation, where given the model sheets for Ramen and Rasta, that I made, in order to start building the character models. I was told each would take about a week to build and rig (Rig: to give the sculpted body a kind of skeleton that enables the model to be posed and animated), so that was in fact the first thing started on the promo.

Flashback a few weeks to just before Christmas 2007:

At that time, I had just finished my part of the one-sheet poster while Andrew, in conjunction with a Toronto animation studio, were gearing up to make a 3D animated promo for God of Dance (“3D” meaning that it would be animated as computer animation as opposed to traditional 2D cel animation. The kind of thing Pixar does so well, for those who are not animation people reading this). Andrew and I were talking about how the promo was going and he told me some disconcerting news:

1) The parties producing the work in Toronto were only going to be able to build one un-rigged model for Andrew’s trip to China and the pitch meeting to investors. Essentially, the model would be played as a movie wherein the character would stand motionless with its arms strait out to the side and it would spin in a circle like it was on a turntable. The important thing to note is that this was at least 4 weeks before the meeting.

2) The Rasta model was going to need a shirt, according to the modeler in Toronto. The reason given was that bare muscles would be “too difficult” and the shirt made building the model more possible. At least as far as that party was concerned (of lack of).

My first impression on point 1 was: Andrew was going to take an MOV movie to an investor meeting in China and all he’ll have for a video presentation is essentially a character model that would stand motionless with its arms strait out to the side and spin in a circle like it was on a turntable?! “Exciting” stuff!! Who wouldn’t get pumped up enough to risk big money after soaking that in? Or in more pragmatic terms: How much face was Andrew going to lose in that meeting? I could only imagine the potential investors crowded around a laptop watching Ramen or Rasta spinning in circles endlessly, slowly turning to Andrew agape with blank stairs (or anger for wasting their time) and Andrew shrinking on his stool holding a half eaten carrot ala Fred Flintstone. Not good at all. How anyone imagined that anyone would be impressed by something like this is beyond even my limited imagination. I knew Andrew wasn’t feeling too satisfied.

My impression on point 2, after being extremely annoyed (Everyone loved the Rasta design and conceptually his character would never wear a shirt ever: even in the dead of winter he’d be shirtless (maybe he’d add a scarf to look seasonly). This adding a shirt business was messing with my vision!!), was ye old “Well, that just doesn’t sound right.” Now, I’m no expert in computer animation from a nuts and bolts point of view: I don’t know how to build and rig a character and I’m not very certain about just how difficult certain tasks are and how long they take, but I do have a brain and have been in the animation business a long time and that affords me at least small amount of insight in the process. “Needs a shirt”? Really? Hmm... Methought Andrew was being bullshitted.

Over breakfast the next morning, I looked at a poster on the local diner’s wall. It was an ad for a grape drink called Ribena. On the poster was a 3D modeled cartoon girl wearing a bathing suit. I stared at it for a bit, swallowed my egg and asked my wife (who has years of experience in computer animation and special effects as a Producer and knows more about how difficult tasks are and schedules, etc.), “Is that character hard to build?”

Ribena

Calmly looking at the girl on the poster, and in her usual matter of fact manner, turned back to her meal, “No, it’s pretty standard.” Camera, push in on my face furrowing my brow pondering, “Hmmm... Methinks I know Andrew is being bullshitted.”

Upon my return home, I gave Andrew a ring and more than likely the first words out of my mouth were, “I think you’re being bullshitted”. It’s a good opening line. Try it! I told him my wife’s informed opinion (which confirmed my suspicions that a shirtless character shouldn’t be so tough) and I may or may not have expressed my feeling that going to China with no promo is plain lame. He’d already know that, but I don’t know when to shut up.

Within the next day or two, Andrew called me up and basically asked if I’d take over executing the promo and handle everything in Hong Kong. The promo had to be in 3D and 30 seconds. I agreed and that was the end of my workless January holiday that I was so looking forward to. I think I’d planned to write a movie script idea I’d developed on my holiday, but that went on hold as for the next 4 weeks I was going to be busy every day with God of Dance.

Ok, so now that the origin story is fleshed out, back to the models. Would there be two rigged models (one minus a shirt as it should be) before Andrew went to China? Of course, the only question was how good they would be.

In the initial meeting with Simage’s owner, looking at the model sheets, he asked me what kind of render style I wanted. I had an idea in mind that I thought would look pretty cool and different, but he suggested the 2D render style that wound up being used. I wasn’t too keen on that because pretty much everything I’d seen with that kind of look (3D models rendered to look like drawings) never were very convincing that they weren’t computer animation and I was asked to make a computer animation promo and not hand drawn 2D. He told me that they’d been experimenting with the software to make a more convincing render.

As I said in a previous post, almost all decisions had to be made on the spot because there was no time to fool around humming and hawing about anything: the show HAD to go on. He didn’t offer me any test to look at and I didn’t ask for one: I felt very comfortable with the owners character, experience in animation and most importantly, his taste and interest in the medium (He and his team also came highly recommended by my wife, so that didn’t hurt). I took a chance and gave him the go ahead to do the 2D render and I’d make a case to Andrew for it and hope that he and the person paying the bill saw my point and hoped that Simage would come through.

Ramen Rotation Colour

Ok, so it would be exactly one week by the time the first model (Ramen) arrived in my inbox for me to look at and approve. As it turns out, I was teaching English (Something I did part-time for kicks) the evening it arrived and looked at it on my dinner break. Yes, I was nervous. When I stick my neck out, I don’t like it getting chopped off. If the model looked great, everyone in Toronto would feel confident that this promo would go well and I’d have room to breathe. If it didn’t look good... I didn’t want to think about it. I’d manage the situation, but I didn’t want the extra hassle.

I opened the MOV file and saw this (I added the music)...



I watched it over and over and over. I was EXTREMELY happy! I thought Ramen looked great! In fact, I though he looked better than my original drawing. I fired it off to Toronto with full confidence and I didn’t give Simage a second thought for the next week while they rigged Ramen and built Rasta: they’d proved themselves more than capable so I just kept off their backs and out of their way. I also was very happy with the way they handled the 2D rendered model. It was head and shoulders better than anything similar I’d seen to that point. I’m glad I trusted my instincts on them. The feedback from Toronto: unanimously positive.

Exactly a week later, Rasta arrived and I watched that MOV file on my dinner break at the school...



To be honest, I wasn’t as happy with the way he looked. I wasn’t unhappy, but this time, the 3D model didn’t look as good as the drawing I did. He lacked a cool feel. The feedback from Toronto was the same as mine, but it didn’t make me worry about the animation to come: I still felt very good. Ramen’s model was just such a high, and relief, that probably any model could have arrived a week later and I wouldn’t have been as excited. The funny thing is, when I watch the animation, I think I like the Rasta model better than the Ramen model: he looks very cool when he’s moving, but then... that’s how he should be.

Rasta Rotation Colour

Ok, the models looked great and the art direction on the backgrounds looked great too (The paintings arrived around the same time as Rasta). Now, the storyboard. Simage needed it and they needed it now.

Next: From Sparkless to a Dance Inferno!

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

YOU CAN’T FIGHT A WAR WITHOUT A PLAN AND A STORYBOARD IS THE PLAN AND WE NEED IT LAST WEEK IF WE ARE GOING TO MAKE ANY DEADLINE (OR: THE LONGEST BLOG POST TITLE MADE LONGER BY ADDING AN OBVIOUS SECOND TITLE GAG THAT OVERLY OVERSTAYS ITS WELCOME AND THEN SOME ON TOP OF THAT)

In the meantime, I’d also met with a small animation studio about handling the animation. That was Simage Animation and Media Ltd. They came highly recommended by my wife who is a local Producer and had worked with the studio owner and his key staff in the past. She said they were excellent artists and reliable. Both are assents in any production, but when you are under the time gun, they are ESSENTIAL assets. After the initial meeting with the boss, I felt very comfortable with his attitude and knowledge and with him, personally; so, I contracted his studio for the job. That was easy. He just asked for the storyboard asap so he could make a schedule and budget. Fair enough. Andrew was on the job and by tomorrow morning, I’d Skype Andrew and he’d have emailed me the lovely and finished storyboard. Now, read that last sentence back with the voice of the narrator of The Wonder Years and you will know what is about to happen next. If you are unfamiliar with The Wonder Years... well... just read on.

Next day: I Skype Andrew and he was stuck. By that I mean he was having a writer’s block on the storyboard. This is not all that unusual for anyone. It’s easy to start a storyboard when you have a script (Ok, depending on the quality of the script, it isn’t always so easy, but that’s another matter) in front of you because you can always default to whatever the script outlines or just crank something out just to get something on paper and worry about improving it, later. But, in this instance, there was going to be no “later” and the first draft storyboard was going to have to be, more or less, THE storyboard: there was no time to tinker, tweak or flat out fool around with it. It had to be great out of the gate. Remember: this promo was designed to sell a show to investors. It isn’t going to children, it’s grown men and grown men with money and most importantly... grown men with money that we want to spend on us: They have to be impressed!!

Even though we’d walked through the beats of the storyboard and even worked out very specific shots, there was still a lot for Andrew to think about and settle, so I don’t and didn’t blame him for having a hard time finding that spark that leads to a storyboarding firestorm. It is the eternal problem of the blank page and “where do I begin”? Even when you have a plot, it’s only marginally easier to get going with that. It’s still a daunting moment. I probably would have had the same situation had it been me having to draw up the storyboard on this. I got off lucky having to spend the day playing Producer and contracting a subcontractor and location scouting.

It was clear that Andrew needed some kind of ‘push’ to ignite that spark. I knew that once he got rolling, he’d be able to produce a solid storyboard quickly, so it was mostly a matter of how to generate some inspiration for him. Andrew wanted more time to draw the board, but I had the subcontractor wanting the storyboard so they can budget and schedule. The artist in me said, “Sure, take as much time as you need: we want it good!”, but the Producer in me said, “If this is going to get done on time without having to pay any kind of extra ‘rush fee’, I need it now!!!!!!” I sided with the Producer, but chose to handle it with an artists insight.

After Andrew and I finished talking, I took a shower (where all my good ideas come from) and had, of all things, a good idea: MUSIC!! I was going to select the music track after the storyboard was finished, but then it occurred to me that Andrew might find having a music track helpful to put him in a mood and help generate some images and a pace into his mind. Maybe that could unlock his block! Yessss...

Now, Andrew calls me a “music snob”. Now... I like to think that only a TRUE music snob would call another a “music snob”, but that’s another matter. I will say in his defense that I do like music, have always liked music, have always played music, listened very closely to music and collected music. And yes, that does lead me to have some rather strong opinions on the topic, from time to time. Back when I had to sit down to decide what music would be the basis for the main track of the promo, I turned to iTunes. First, let me say “GOD BLESS iTUNES!!!” if for no other reason than it made trolling through 10,000 music track a whole lot faster and easier than it would have been had I only had CDs on hand. At the time, I had 10,000 songs in my iTunes (Just about 13,000, now. Maybe I am a music snob?) and first thing I did was decide that I wanted techno music. It is an obvious choice for a dance based promo, but I didn’t want anything too typical or generic: I wanted it to grab the audience by the throat and not give them a chance to breath.

My first instinct, which is usually 85% what I like best when it comes to a music selection process, was the track I ended up using. It is ‘Hollow Ground’ by NOISE UNIT off the CD Strategy of Violence. I’ve always really liked that song for its drive and interesting lead sound. It has vocals on it, but I basically edited the intro to fit the 15 second time of the dance portion of the promo. I listened to a whole bunch of other tracks to see if anything worked better, but this track just seemed perfect from the get-go. You’d think that out of 10,000 tracks there would be so many to choose from and hard to pick one, but I knew what I wanted this promo to be like pretty much from the beginning of my involvement so everything creative that wasn’t tempered by time and budget was mostly about fitting my vision. That makes life simpler than feeling around in the dark not knowing what I want. That doesn’t mean that the creative process didn’t evolve: it did quite organically, but knowing what I wanted helped a great deal towards making choices and quick and good decisions.

Ok, so the main section was scored. How to deal with the pulsing visuals of the opening into: what music to use? I knew I wanted ominous rhythm, but what exactly? I knew I DIDN’T want the typical “booooommm... booooommm... booooommm... booooommm...” kind of thing I’ve seen many many times in movie trailers. I wanted something like that, but more fresh, more edgy and more more. Back to trolling iTunes.

Now, I like industrial music so it shouldn’t be too hard to find something ominous that bangs in an edgy way, but my answer came from, of all things, a classical TV Anime score by YOKO KANNO: Eskaflowne Suondtrack 2 - ‘Machine Soldier’. It had the right feel and it had more more. It’s one of the best TV soundtracks I’ve ever heard from one of the finest Animes ever made. So it got slice into the first 15 seconds and was followed by NOISE UNIT, but... I didn’t feel that the first 15 seconds stayed strong for its entire length: it needed some extra umph at about 6 or 7 seconds to elevate the tension a but. I loved the way it just pounded in shocking a viewer to get their attention (and it worked extremely doing just that), but it wasn’t going to sustain that tension until the main music kicked in, so... back to iTunes to find something I could lay under YOKO KANNO that would add extra atmosphere.

I trolled through ambient tracks and a whole lot of them: from soundtracks to instrumental songs to sound effects. My choice was an old favorite: LAIBACH. What is not to love about them? They covered the entire Let it Be LP!! As I said, what’s not to love? I took a snippet from the song ‘To the New Light’ off Jesus Christ Superstars (you mean you DON”T own it? Hmmm...). It’s an odd song, but it’s also very interesting and it was perfect to lay quietly under YOKO KANNO to keep the musical momentum going into the main section. If you are using computer speakers, you’ll likely not hear this part. If you are using headphones or good speakers, you probably can hear it, certainly if your speakers have a good range: particularly on Rasta’s close up: there is a low moan noise and that’s LAIBACH.

Lastly, I needed a smooth “BOOM” sound to get out of the NOISE UNIT music to cover the edit and allow a tension release at the end that was still a punch in the face. I didn’t want to let up on the audience at all. I figured that we only had 30 seconds to get their attention and have them wanting more so why weaken in the creative resolve of the music? I listened to a whole bunch of “BOOM”s. I selected the first note of KMFDM: XTORT - ‘Craze’ because it had a neat electronic buzzing on the tail and I though that set it apart for a clean boom reverb effect and that matched the ‘dirty’ feel I wanted, in general.

So I sent the 30 second edited music track off to Andrew. I don’t know if he found it helpful or not and if he did, how helpful, but at the very least it was something else that had to get done, done. Tomorrow was going to be another day.

P.S. The music was given to someone else to listen to and he felt it was too intense and maybe something softer should be used. Two things: 1) My creative stubbornness, I mean... conviction was not going to let that happen. What I edited together was perfect to the feel I was trying create and 2) As Producer, there wasn’t time to make any fundamental changes. With Andrew’s help, I won that debate. Remember, music snobs don’t like to lose musical arguments.

-Steve.

Next: Ramen, Rasta and the Shirt and Bikini Girl That Blew My January Holiday

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

HONG KONG ALLEYWAYS, YOUTUBE AND TRASH TALK

I like to walk about town. It’s just something I do. If I’m in no hurry to be somewhere, I really don’t mind walking the hour or two it takes to get to a place rather than take a bus, taxi or subway. One of the benefits of a hobby like this is one gets to see things that one would otherwise miss from a vehicle, whizzing by. All kinds of restaurants, small shops and little details of how a city is put together or how it evolves. This walking and looking combined with an animation artist’s pension for looking at things in minute detail (Or maybe that’s just me) and my natural inclination to analyze everything (my wife might suggest I OVER analyze, but since this isn’t www.pointoutsteve’sfaults.com, we’ll save that debate for another time), it comes in handy when location scouting.

I wanted an urban looking location for the promo and I had a hunch about an area in Hong Kong called Tsim Sha Tsui. TST is a busy shopping and tourist district filled with shops of all kinds, plazas, hotels, restaurants and in one corner... a bunch of small bars. I seemed to recall seeing a back alleyway around there that might serve my purposes to get good reference for my backgrounds for use in the promo. It was there and it was perfect.

The alleyway seemed to adjoin to a few bars/clubs and so it had a nice section with graffiti and doors covered in stickers, etc. Lots of character that I could use to infuse my location with authenticity.

DSC00601DSC00606
The value of reference: Look at that pipe on the right side in the second picture- it just stops, going
to nowhere. Look at the stickers all over the place. Nice details that are easy to not think of when
drawing off the top of your head.


As I said previously, I really don’t like animation designs that look faked. It doesn’t take much in the Google Search age to find good photo reference and I find it amazing when someone still fakes a design. I’m all for hyper-stylizing something, but I think a certain percentage of the design needs to be grounded in some kind of credible reality in order to sell it, even in a kid’s cartoon. When I see something, as a viewer, that looks faked, it pulls me out of the story and I feel a lack of respect for the creators involved and that rubs off on my enjoyment of the show. But.... maybe that’s just me.

As a quick aside, my epiphany that led me to my design stance happened when I was on a Toronto street waiting outside a building for a friend to come out. I looked at the sidewalk and noticed all the black spots littering the concrete. It was spat out gum that had be stepped on and stepped on and then some. I had never realized how dirty the sidewalks really were and thought that I will never allow a sidewalk background to be painted without gum spots: they look naked without them: too unnaturally clean. Then I looked up and noticed just how many wires run atop the streets overhead. So many more than I would have drawn in a design had I even had the thought to add them. Rarely do you see those kinds of details in animation backgrounds. When I do see them, they add such a degree of believability to the location that I’m now quite inflexible in making sure things are referenced. Especially on animation that is supposed to be more realistic in style, as was the case with God of Dance.

Ok, back to the location scout...

I took photos of everything that I could: the walls, the doors, the lights, the pipes, the graffiti, the ground, sewer covers, wall stickers, garbage and gutters. For me, it’s the little details that spice up a good design, once you have solid broad strokes, that is. After covering the ally, I took a few photos of some closed and for rent shops on the street because the alley obviously didn’t have a storefront in it and I wanted a closed storefront in my set to help sell the location as being at night but also an area that has empty shops for rent to suggest it being an area that is not so busy and prosperous: just to “dirty up” the location a bit and give it more a “street” feel (How was THAT for a run on sentence?).

DSC00615
I stood in the middle of a narrow and busy road to get this picture. Multiple taxis where speeding in
my direction assuming I would see them and get out of the way. They assumed correctly.


Armed with too many photos, I headed home to draw the design.

This location/set design went quickly: I think I knocked it out in about 2 or 3 hours. I only needed to have 3 flat walls painted and one floor. I didn’t need a 360 degree location with sky and a forth wall. A flat walled stage set concept was enough to suit the needs, and schedule, of the promo. Remember: cutting time and money costs was always a factor in every step of this production. Sky: Don’t point the camera at the sky and if we must, place some bright lights up there pointing at the camera so a blackened out sky makes sense. No forth wall: Don’t shoot in that direction. A good storyboard artist knows how to work within extreme limitation and between myself and Andrew Tan, I wasn’t worried about storyboard issues in the least so a simple set concept was not at all going to be a problem. The storyboard problem wasn’t from a lack of skill or thought, rather the opposite: maybe too much of it (more on that, next time).

BG_Main_Wall
LAYOUT 1 (Main Wall): The color art stuck on the wall include: The big collage behind Ramen and
Rasta= Some Shanghai Artist’s collage doctored to be torn at the bottom and Chairman Mao heads
replaced with Andy Worhol (Andrew’s idea. The irony was too perfect not to do it): Blue posters are
the background from the GoD one-sheet poster: The small red squares are the first album cover from
Pop Will Eat Itself: The two yellow posters are old 80s cassette tape art from a couple of P-Model
releases: The rest are all taken from photos of a back door littered in various stickers which included
Trash Talk.

BG_Right_Wall
LAYOUT 2 (Right Wall): All these layout drawings were done on A4 (8.5x11) light bristol paper, each.
This angle is pretty much as you see it in the photo, minus graffiti. I didn’t want any fancy graffiti
cluttering up the location: I liked the pipes, textures and posters more. Note that in this and the next
drawing, I don’t draw every grate or wall tile: an indication is enough to give a competent painter. I
didn’t even worry about my lines being strait: the painter would correct for that.

BG_Left_Wall
LAYOUT 3 (Left Wall): Who wants to draw or paint all those posters? And in a digital Photoshop age,
who needs to? To save time, I just cut and paste the posters from the photo onto the drawing in
Photoshop. If the painter chose to paint them anew, up to him. These are real numbers, please
don’t call them.

BG_Floorplan
LAYOUT 4 (Floor Plan): Take a good look, kids, this is what a professional artist can draw when he’s
really on fire! Then again, what more would a capable set painter/builder need? Had I put this blueprint
together with the real layout art in Photoshop, as I could have, it would have taken me 10 times as long
or more. This probably took me a minute. And you can’t even tell, can you? Yes, indeed.


P.S. Trash Talk was one of the stickers on a club back door. I don’t know what it was for, or care, but I loved it and put it in the background design. Andrew Tan also loved it. Sadly, when the final painted BG came back, the BG painter omitted that section of the wall to shorten it and Trash Talk never “made it”. We all mourned the loss.

map001b
“Trash Talk, wherefore art thou?” The painter chose to omit the right side of the layout. I assume in
order to save time. It was a good call on his part. I didn’t immediately notice the section missing and
that’s a first indicator that there isn’t a problem with it being missing and so there was no reason to
bother asking for the additional section be painted. Besides, as I said, it was a good call. The painter
did a great job on the set and I was 100% happy.


map004
Beautiful! The painter didn’t paint a couple of elements, like the pipe cage, poster and wall tiles, but
again, I assume they were saving time, I didn’t notice and so it didn’t matter. I know the painter wasn’t
trying to short cut me because he did alter some elements to make it work better as a 3D environment
that were not in my layout drawing. He was using his head: beautiful!


map002
Looks like the painter wanted to paint all those poster signs as much as I wanted to draw them.
I don’t blame him. It appears to me like he used some from the layout and others from another
photo I gave for reference.


Time was very short so that meant the storyboard needed to be done... see me blink? Faster than that.

Luckily for me, Andrew and I had already arranged to beat out the storyboard the next morning. He came back for the meeting with a ton of YouTube videos (I had the complete set design) of music videos with dance moves he liked (I have no interest in dance and so that was his job) and also a bunch of Wuxia videos for reference of various moves the characters could do and some reference of a South American martial art that is very much like dance. I watched and studied all the reference in the next 24 hour period and noted which moves seems useful, to me, and then we beated out the storyboard on the following day via video Skype.

We talked the promo through shot by shot, both of us suggesting various ideas and drawing panels that we’d hold up to camera to make clear what we were talking about. We decided to start with still art images to introduce Ramen and Rasta, launch into dancing and then end on the show title. We, however, struggled to deal with how we wanted to transition from the still art into the dance-off.

Originally, that “tricky cut” (at 0:15), as Andrew and I call it, where the camera swings around and cuts to a slow wide drift out of the two dancers facing off, right before they start to battle, was to happen before the climax. It seemed like a good way to slow the action, let tension build before a big payoff of some kind. I had the sudden idea to place those two cuts right at the start of the dance segment, instead, as a really dynamic transition from 2d still art into full on animation. Andrew agreed with me that it worked and the rest of the storyboard flowed from there really easily (at least when we talked about it). All the basic moves, when they would happen and in what order and who would do what were settled from start to finish. Any extra business added was to be Andrew’s call as we’d collectively settled the important broad strokes.

After that meeting, Andrew went away to draw up the storyboard. I would have done it or helped, but while he was doing that, I had to play Producer.

Next: You Can’t Fight a War Without a Plan and a Storyboard is the Plan and We Need it Last Week if We Are Going to Make Any Deadline. (Or: The Longest Blog Post Title Made Longer by Adding an Obvious Second Title Gag That Overly Overstays Its Welcome and Then Some On Top of That)

Trash-Talk
Rest in Peace, TRASH TALK.

-Steve

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The Making of God of Dance [radio edit]

I THOUGHT I WAS JUST GOING TO DO ROUGH CHARACTER DESIGNS?

As I have noted elsewhere, my involvement in the God of Dance [radio edit] promo was something that evolved out of my rough designing, then clean and color designing the characters and then re-designing, though not to camera ready art, a one-sheet poster.

GoD Poster Final

As with the one-sheet, I wasn’t supposed to be much involved in the promo, but as fate would have it, things were not working out as smoothy as they might have and, as with the one-sheet, I was asked if I could take the promo over and handle the whole thing from Hong Kong (direction and production). This was just after Christmas in 2007, I was free and I liked the idea of making the promo so I accepted the task (I won’t say “job” since I wasn’t hired to do it nor paid). The only downside was that I had exactly one month to make a 30 second promo from scratch. That doesn’t sound like much work, but considering that the only materials that existed up to that point were a few character rotation designs and very little in terms of locked down concepts for the show and virtually no solid concepts of how the promo should play out or look (all to be done within a rather tight schedule and budget), a lot of fast creative decisions had to be made, often on the spot. Everything had to be planned out within about a week so that whichever studio was contracted for production could have enough time to build the character models, sets, etc. and deliver the footage for the deadline of the presentation meeting (Hopefully).

I pow-wowed ideas back and forth with Andrew Tan about what the promo would be. The original idea pitched at me, though it wasn’t Andrew’s, was for two characters to have a dance off (Which also involved some kinds of kung fu “powers”. More on that, later) in a Chinese themed night club complete with Ming vases, dragons, Terracotta Warriors and yin yang symbols (Cue game show “X” buzzer..........NOW!).

I thought that was really lame. Keep in mind, this concept was to be pitched to people in China and not to readers of the 70s Master of Kung Fu comic. This was a show designed to appeal to modern kids in China, who seem to know something about China, I’m told. My feeling was that such a cliched idea like a Classical Chinese themed night club, where young people would frequent, just screamed “fake” and would come off as a white person’s, who has never been to China, idea of what all things Chinese are (Look at almost any given Master of Kung Fu comic and you’ll get the idea of what I wanted to avoid). I wanted the promo to look like something you would see in an actual Chinese city (though hyper-real) and make it urban (More on that later).

One important thing to note before I go any further: The development and organization of this promo all happened REALLY quickly and so the exact order of events may not be 100% the way they played out. Every day involved discussions, practical work and research: always with an eye on the self imposed schedule of “If we don’t get the preproduction work done by the end of the week, the service studio won’t have enough time to build the characters and set and animate the footage in time!!!” It isn’t so difficult if you have an idea of what you plan to do going into it, but this really was the barest of concepts with nothing locked down from day one and so in order to produce a promo that in some way reflects what the series would be like, should it get made, an enormous amount of quick thinking needed to happen. In that kind of environment, one just operates on instinct, guided by experience, and time loses its meaning: results are all that matters in the moment. If I make any mistakes, I’ll back track on them as I write this article.

We, Andrew Tan and I, beated out the basic structure of the 30 seconds. This part was tricky because one key factor of the promo was that we had to pull a sleight of hand: the budget was not high and the schedule short, so as a result, the contracted studio could only build and rig two characters and animate 15 seconds of complete footage in the time allotted them. In fact, their delivery estimate was 3 or 4 days AFTER the pitch meeting when it needed to be ready (More on that later). So we needed to create a storyboard for a promo that tricked the viewer into thinking there are 30 seconds of animation when in fact we would be lucky to have 15 seconds ready in time for the pitch meeting.

This kind of squeezing the lemon/magicians trick process factored into every single decision involved in the making of the promo. Nothing was decided without these two things in mind: Can it be done in time and on budget? If something, even the smallest element seemed like it would burden the schedule or budget, it was discarded or retooled to be created in a way that wouldn’t add time or money. BUT, it had to look great and be entertaining. No small order.

I actually like to work under restrictions and so it was quite fun, for me personally. I find restrictions often bring out the best ideas in creative works.

Our structure then became simple: start with some flashing stills of the two players facing off in order to accomplish the visuals with no animation in order to fill the first 15 seconds of animation without having any actual animation (it’s a trick), segue into full animation of the dance-off (15 seconds or less) and smash to the title and “The End”.

This was a good structure because it meant that we should be able to get away with only a maximum of 15 seconds of actual frame by frame animation, which the service studio should be able to manage (30 seconds would have been impossible on such short notice) and we’d get our 30 second promo done. By having the promo start with slow stills and swing hard into fast action right to the end, the viewer should be left somewhat energized by what they just saw since the most dynamic visuals would be the second half. If the job was all done well, the sleight of hand would work and no one would even notice that everything was done to save time and money and they’d think they saw something more animated and expensive that what was the reality.

Once we settled that, Andrew and I went our separate ways for 24 hours before the next pow-wow. That day, I believe I went out and did some location scouting. I wanted the location to look 100% authentic: I didn’t want to fake anything. I can’t stand cartoons that fake things and I certainly wasn’t going to partake in that level of laziness. So, armed with my loyal mobile phone, I went out in search of a suitable place for a dance off.

Initially, I had thought of a back courtyard I had once seen in Shenzhen that is close to the train station and boarder with Hong Kong. It had the right look of open space, concrete and slight urban decay. But, before taking a 90 minute train to Shenzhen, I decided to check an instinct I had about a back street in Hong Kong. I couldn’t place my finger on why I should go check it out, but it was a slight detour from the Hong Kong train station I would use in order to get to China, so why not take a look?

I found my spot and saved a 90 minute ride to China.

Next: Hong Kong Alleyways, YouTube and Trash Talk



P.S. Although I have never read an actual issue of Master of Kung Fu, I understand it was quite a good to excellent comic for periods of its run. I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m anti-Shang Chi. If someone wants to buy and send me the Doug Moench/ Paul Gulacy run, I’d happily ready it.

-Steve

HIM
The new page (pg 20) has been posted over at HIMcomic. Click on the action packed preview of this week’s action to get more comics! FANG!
HIM020_preview



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20 Years?

Hard to believe, but I’ve been in the animation business for 20 years. 20 YEARS!!

I was hired by Nelvana Ltd. as a Layout Artist in January of 1991 while I was in my final year (3rd year) attending the Classical Animation course at Sheridan College. I went freelance in 1993 and so here I am as I am, today. That’s the short of it.

There are plenty of stories and anecdotes I could write about (Like: how I was hired for my first job, or rather how I wasn’t really hired and just showed up for work, sort of), but that’s for another time, if anyone is actually interested, that is. I’m not sure why anyone would be.

As an exercise out of personal interest, I had the idea to list all the different shows I have worked on in the past 20 years. They run the range of styles from stick figures (That’s called “easy money” in the business) to UPA to typical cartooning to typical adventure style to psudo-Anime. The mediums included: traditional 2D hand drawn cel art, 3D animation and Flash style animation. I’m still partial to traditional 2D, but alas, there is less and less of that being done in North America.

I started my career as a Layout Artist (Setting up the shots by drawing the full sized background and character poses that would be given to the animators and background painters) and became a Storyboard artist in 1995 or maybe 1996 and am still drawing storyboards to this day. What can I say, it’s a good job.

Ok, so here is the list of shows I’ve worked on, in chronological order (as best I can remember):

LAYOUT:
Rupert - Nelvana Ltd.
Beetlejuice - Nelvana Ltd.
Dog City - Nelvana Ltd.
Pink Panther - Pheonix Animation
Magic Schoolbus - Nelvana Ltd.
Eek the Cat - Nelvana Ltd.
Little Bear - Nelvana Ltd.
Pippi Longstocking - direct to video movie - Nelvana Ltd. (I also did location design for my own scenes)

STORYBOARD:
The Terrible Thunderlizards - Nelvana Ltd. (This was a part of the Eek show)
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective - Nelvana Ltd.
Blazing Dragons - Nelvana Ltd.
The Tick - Sunbow Entertainment/ Sony Wonder
Stinkin’ Around - Nelvana Ltd.
Wing Commander Academy - Universal Studios
The Busy World of Richard Scarry - Cinar
Mummies Alive - DIC via Pictor
Magic Schoolbus - Nelvana Ltd. (Also served as Storyboard Supervisor on the final season)
Pippi Longstocking - TV series - Nelvana Ltd.
Salty’s Lighthouse - Sunbow Entertainment/ Sony Wonder
Anatole - Nelvana Ltd.
Birdz - Nelvana Ltd.
Brother’s Flub - Sunbow Entertainment/ Sony Wonder
Franklin - Nelvana Ltd.
Rollie Pollie Ollie - Nelvana Ltd.
Fat Dog Mendoza - Sunbow Entertainment/ Sony Wonder
Braceface - Nelvana Ltd.
Generation O! - Sunbow Entertainment/ Sony Wonder
Timothy Goes to School - Nelvana Ltd.
Cramp Twins - Sunbow Entertainment/ Sony Wonder
Berenstain Bears - Nelvana Ltd.
Cyberchase - Nelvana Ltd.
Di-Gata Defenders - Nelvana Ltd.
God Of Dance [radio edit] - promo - Independent (I didn’t do the actual storyboard, but I directed the thing and so I had a hand in its creation. I just didn’t give myself credit)
Grossology - Nelvana Ltd.
Hot Wheels: Battle Force Five - Nerdcorp
Stoked - Elliott Animation
Bolts and Blip - ToonBox
Total Drama Reloaded - Elliott Animation
Handy Manny - Nelvana Ltd.
Detentionaire - Nelvana Ltd.
Babar: The Adventures of Badou - Nelvana Ltd.

If I have left anything out, it is because my involvement was quite minor (fixing a storyboard or helping out on a show for a week or some other small task) or I simply have forgotten about it.

The thing I’m most happy with was God of Dance. I was able to have pretty much total creative control over it and I was very pleased with the end result. It was also great fun to put together at all stages. Even the all-nighter I spent scrambling to approve the final footage so the promo could be delivered for presentation. Actually, the making of story behind this promo is interesting. Maybe I’ll write about that, next time.

So... To sum up:

When I started in the animation business, I would meet guys who’d been around for 20 years and was amazed that they’d been ‘in’ so long; now, I’m one of them. I guess if you live long enough, it is inevitable that you become one of “them”, whomever “them” may be.

-Steve.

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Clothes make the HIM

So I was working (what else do I do?), the other day, and to distract myself from what I was supposed to be doing (what else would I be doing?) I doodled out what I thought I would do if I wanted to design a HIM t-shirt.

Below, is what I think would be my ideal design for the front and back.

HIM-tshirt

I have no idea how much it would cost to make or sell a shirt like this since having the back be a separate piece of red jersey would require specific manufacturing of the shirt over buying white t’s in bulk, but it enough interest was expressed, I will look into it. I know I want one!

-Steve

HIM
The new page (pg 19) has been posted over at HIMcomic. Click on the thrilling preview of this week’s action to get more comics! FLING!
HIM019_preview
-Steve.
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Inking!

I thought I would get some HIM pages in the can, this week, since I have some free time.

A while back, when I was drawing HIM as a back up series in the ongoing Lethargic Lad comic series. I had just started inking HIM for issue #14 (The first page and parts of the next 2 or 3) when word came to me that number 13 was to be the final issue of Lethargic Lad. Naturally, I put the work down and shelved it, having no plans to continue with HIM, at the time. The story did see print in penciled form, with lettering, in a mini-comic called “The Unfinished Lethargic Lad #14”, but the inked pages (I always inked with a clean page over the pencils by using a light box) have not been seen by anyone other than myself.

Now that I have reactivated HIM via himcomic.com and decided to return to the story I never finished, I needed to finish inking those pages that I actually penciled some ten years ago.

As I said, Some of the pages were partly inked. My usual method of inking involved laying a fresh sheet of light bristol board over the penciled page and starting to ink with a thin marker to do all the detailing that would have been to fine to do with my paintbrush. Once I’d finished the marker work, I would get out my brush and do all that line work and fill in the blacks. The last stage would be to take markers and draw all the HIM chest logos.

So...today, I looked at what will be the page for page 45 and it had all the marker work done already: I just needed to do the brushwork.

HIM45_paper-web

Well, my old brush just isn’t what it used to be. Its day is done. A sad day indeed, since anyone who uses brushes will tell you how hard it is to find a good one that lasts and is a workhorse. Faced with buying a new one, I decided to try to ink the brush phase digitally. Aside from the loss of some of the great features a brush provides that digital will never be able to replicate, I think it turned out ok! I’ll at least finish this chapter by using the bit of paper/bit of digital method. Whether I will do all digital pages, part digital or 100% hard copy art when it comes time to produce 100% new pages, I don’t as yet know. I will certainly not pencil in digital (that’s for sure) but inking... maybe.

Anyway, here is the finished page. Can you tell that it wasn’t all paper?

HIM45_finish-web

Incidentally, I scanned the semi-inked page into Manga Debut and inked the brushwork with that. I originally bought it for the AMAZING screen tones feature, but it is actually a pretty solid comic art program. Though I am still a fan of paper (Maybe someday I will articulate my multipule reasons why) , this is a pretty solid tool. For the price I got it at, it is more than worth it!

If you draw comics, that is.

-Steve.
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The Crunch is Over

Yup, this was indeed a busy week, for me, drawing Babar. But, that’s another episode under my belt so I can now breathe a bitsy until the next crunch time. Until then, I guess I should try to add something to this site, this week. I’ll have to give that some thought, but I’ll post something new on Wednesday, I figure!

In the meantime...

HIM
The new page (pg 18) has been posted over at HIMcomic. Click on the action packed preview of this week’s action to get more comics! FLEX!
HIM018_preview
-Steve.
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