God of Dance

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

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.
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The first idea for RAMEN. He’s named after the idea that he makes ramen noodles.
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Sometimes, you just know a winner design when you draw it.
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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!
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The END (for now...)
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The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Nine)

THE LAST 24 HOURS BEFORE THE PITCH MEETING

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

FIRST FOOTAGE AND “I DON’T DRINK COFFEE”

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)

THERE ARE TIMES FOR 2 CENTS AND THERE ARE TIMES FOR TWO CENTS: THIS WASN’T THE TIME

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”.

character1

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

LET PRODUCTION BEGIN AND THE MYTH OF THE ‘RADIO EDIT’

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...

Ramen-cut-22

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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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

Comments

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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Spring Cleaning: Part Three

A few things to look at:

First up is a two shot of a couple God of Dance characters posing from the original one-sheet poster I drew.

The poster was originally not done by me (I’d only provided a bunch of rough character designs), but the original poster that was made was deemed to be not up to par and so I was asked if I could make one up as quickly as I could. I think I could have taken a week, but I don’t like to let things drag on so I did it in about a day and a half (I think it was much more urgent than I was told, anyway. I was doing it for free so you can’t really push a guy who is working for nothing and I think that’s why I was told I could take a week). About the only reason it took more than a day was because I was using a mouse to color the characters. I didn’t have a Cintiq, back then, and I didn’t like using a tablet for coloring.

Giving the fact that I was under time constraints, I decided it was best to see what materials I had on hand and use whatever I could that was already finished art and only create new art as I needed it. I looked at the character rotations I had already done to see if any of those poses could be used as is. Yup, a few of then could. One, Rasta, needed to be colored, but the rest I could drag and drop into place. That left the need to draw a new Ramen pose as well as a couple other characters. I also needed to design one more character to fill out the scene: I call her Cherry and she can be seen in the illustration, below.

Cherry-and-Ringo

This next illustration was a test I threw together to see what a scene drawn and roughly painted at post-it note size would look like in full color. After having animated Listen to Me... MoMo... on post-it notes, I wondered if I might try something more detailed and see how it works out. My conclusion is that, based on this rough sketch, it could look just fine for small screens like YouTube or mobile devices and that it is better to pay people to hand animate than do it myself. I knew there was a reason I draw storyboards and never wanted to be an animator.

GoD_test_col

Finally... For a period of about 5 or 6 years, I used to teach English on Saturdays to children as a means to get out of the house, once and a while. I had a class cancelled, one afternoon, and since I had my computer with me, I thought I’d do something to keep myself occupied. It was summer and hot and going out didn’t seem like a good idea.

Shortly before, I had been given a bunch of Layout and Animation drawings from the latest BLACK JACK Anime series from Japan by an acquaintance in Shanghai who owns an animation studio that does a lot of work for Various Japanese studios, such as Production I.G. and Tezuka Studios. He knows I like to look at production art and so he scanned me these layouts to look at.

So, I picked one to see of I could paint a background in Photoshop. Overall, I think it looks pretty good. Granted, it isn’t the hardest background to paint, but then I’m no painter. The students thought it was cool, so I guess it worked for the audience it would be going out it as an actual TV series.

BJ1lo
This initial Layout would have been done in Japan.
BJ1key
This is a Key Animation drawing. I’m not sure if this was done in Japan or if the studio in Shanghai handled it. The Japanese writing under the potted plant suggests it was drawn in Japan. Note how off model the characters are in the Layout and how the Key Animator is responsible for correcting model. If he can’t do it, there is another final step of quality control.
BJ1
Hmm... The original Photoshop file’s colors are deeper and richer than this, but what are ya gonna do?

A final note: I’ve never actually seen the Anime version of Black Jack, but I’m a big fan of the comic series and highly recommend it.

-Steve.
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Spring Cleaning

It seems that my hard drives are getting full and room must be made. It’s shocking, to me, just how many redundant files one can accumulate over time. I figure I should be able to reclaim at least 1/3 of free hard drive space by deleting all the duplicate files, safty copies of old versions of files and whatever other useless tidbits I stored thinking I may have need of.

Of course, one of the things I do enjoy about the procedure of spring cleaning of any kind (and house packing, for that matter) is going through everything and discovering assorted bric-a-brac that I’d forgotten about.

Today’s forgotten item: This cel set up I put together from the God of Dance promo. When I originally slapped these characters on this background, there was no promo to speak of and I don’t think there was even talk of one. I’d just finished an afternoon of drawing and color designing 7 characters for the God of Dance pitch bible and I just wanted to see what they would look like on a painted background.

I had on file some very nice watercolor animation background style paintings that were painted by a very skilled former animation background painter from China. He’s since given up on the animation business and is now merely a very skilled painter. I believe he’s also teaching at a university. I forget why I was given these painting files, but I always liked the feel of them and so I picked one painted and a couple of the characters that I thought would look good on it and voila.
GoD-setup
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God of Dance [radio edit]

Newly added to this site is the God of Dance section which can be found under the Films category.

This is a 45 second (excluding credits) promo I co-developed and directed in 2008. It was made as part of a pitch for a TV Series concept. It was a blast to make and I’d love to do more things like it. Cut 01 Finished Art

More info is on the page itself.

HIM
The new page (pg 7) has been posted over at HIMcomic, so please go check it out and laugh until your sides split. Bandage yourself up and laugh some more! What can it hurt?

-Steve.
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