Character design (2): clay models

Another aspect of character designing that we did was making the characters actual 3D. No I am not saying modeling them in a 3D software, like Blender. I really mean like “real world physical 3D“: you can touch it with your fingers and feel bumps here and there. I know, this is incredible technology! 😉

Doing clay (or other suited material) representation of characters, objects or even places is a pretty common tool in animation and film making, before actually making, filming, drawing, 3D-modeling (or whatever technology your film uses) the finale images. Such a technique is done in probably all animation schools and animation studios. Therefore this is not about doing props used in the movie, but really for the movie (i.e. not used on camera, and never seen in the actual film). This is a design tool, or a reference for 3D modelers, painters, animators, actors or directors.

As a side note, we saw some cool exhibits of this while visiting Weta studio in New Zealand (a famous studio which does props used in most big Hollywood movies). Amongst other cool stuff, they had this huge fake gorilla — actual size, like more than 2 meters high — in the visitable part of their workshop, which had not been used other than as a reference (I don’t remember which movie, or even if they told us).

So you remember when I was saying in an early post that character sheets are used as reference, right? What if instead of a turnaround character sheet, you had your real physical character you could really turn around? Well we don’t have the real marmot, but we can do clay models.

That’s really cool, right? 🙂

These were actually made back in November, and at the time I only thought of making a small message on @ZeMarmot twitter account in December. Their first usage was helping designing the current version of the main character, by experimenting physically with various shapes. Later they may again be used, as said above for instance for perspective drawing, positioning (or 3D modeling if we ever needed a 3D marmot), and many other cases.

You may also have spotted a few of these statues in the video interview of Aryeom, on her desk. But then, I thought it deserved a blog post on its own, don’t you? 🙂

Note: originally a private post whose link was only given
to Patreon contributors over $10 on February 27, 2016, and made
publicly visible on March 3.
If you like, consider supporting ZeMarmot project on its Patreon page too!

Reuse: all photographs in this blog post are works by Jehan,
portraying Aryeom, under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

Launch of Patreon page for ZeMarmot and interview of Aryeom

Great news everyone!

Today we are launching a Patreon page for ZeMarmot project! If you don’t know what this is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform with a recurring logics, therefore mostly used for continuous creative contents. As ZeMarmot pilote is currently being produced, sponsorship through Patreon will happen monthly. After all, Aryeom just works all the time (daily) for it! And I kind of do too, but differently.

Patreon is in English. Since our project is so international, we also updated the movie website: as usual you can also find French, Korean and Italian versions there. 🙂

To mark the event, I recorded a small semi-impromptu interview of Aryeom yesterday.

So if you like what you see, go and click the big button “Support ZeMarmot on Patreon” above. 🙂

Storyboarding (1)

Today, let’s talk about storyboarding. Often considered optional on feature films, in animation though, bypassing this very important step would be likely self-destruction (unless you go for random or glitch animation. There are a few concept movies in festivals that may have been done without clear storyboarding, I suppose).

Once your scenario is done, the director can set up the stage. The scenario will tells that “in this scene, character A does this, while B does that other thing“. But the director will decide where the camera will be, how it will move, where A will appear from, if maybe B is already in the camera field from the start, where each item and background elements are, and so on.

In feature films, the director choices are often bound to the filming set, and cameras as well. You cannot set your camera(s) anywhere (at least not easily. Prepping cameras on difficult conditions can sometimes take hours). This is probably why storyboards are often forsaken (unless 3D incrustation was planned, in which case more preparation is needed, I guess) because anyway what you imagined on your desk may not be possible once you arrive on the set. Limitations aside, the layout of the location can also give you cool ideas that you couldn’t have had before. For instance you spot a tree with a shape so strange that you think “I have to get this tree in the camera field“. Just because it is there.
Another reason is that many directors love the freedom of “last minute changes”. I guess it is in the creative process. In other words, flexibility is more important
Note: my experience is limited, and on French productions only. On big Hollywood movies with a lot of 3D, preparation steps would be a lot more detailed.

In animation films, on the other hand, flexibility is the root of all evil. No problem for changing the script back and forth. But when you ask your animators and painters to draw detailed scenes, 24 frames per second, you cannot just tell them a month later: “oh finally let’s get the character come from the right, rather than the left, and have the camera pan differently. Eh that’s only 2 minutes of movie (3072 frames) wasted!
Also animation cameras have absolutely no other limitations than the storyboarder and director’s minds. You can have a fixed camera, but also a camera falling from the sky if you wanted to. And you can have whatever you want on the screen: if you think a strangely-shaped tree is cool, just draw it in the background. So these cannot be a reason anymore to last-minute changes as they are in feature films.
These are the reason why you need to stop being flexible at some point and “freeze” your choices. This is done in the passage from script to storyboard, which is the last time where you are allowed flexibility.

Contents of a storyboard page

Storyboard - scene 2 page 2
Storyboard – scene 2 page 2

Here is an example of our storyboard for ZeMarmot. It has actually been modified since then, this is an older version, but this is for the sake of explanation.


The header is important, it contains the scene number, and a page number, in order to keep your documents organized. As you can guess, Aryeom keeps these pages all well ordered in a ring binder.


The timeline below contains key frames on the left with all main elements (main characters and important items) in their expected rough position, direction and doing the scripted action.
This gives a very good idea of what will appear on screen, while not being perfectly detailed and measured yet. You can notice that some images get out of the frame format (like the 3rd frame on the above page), and the small “Pan” arrow indicating that a camera panning will be done here. Therefore the finale background will be drawn bigger than the frame.
This is indication for the painter, animator and the editor.

The right part contains various indications of matter for the script, like specific moods, action details of the character which may not be clear on a static image, specific sound effects, rhythm sync (when you need perfect sync with a music)… Anything which needs precision. Indications are also spread on the images themselves on the left side, with arrows or various indicators when it makes understanding easier.

Actually it is not uncommon to have vertical panning drawn on several boxes of the storyboard, or horizontal panning eating the “comments” part. In the below example, panning was as big as 3 frames, so Aryeom would stick an additional piece of paper with scotch tape to the left, and fully draw on the comment box to the right:

Storyboard - Scene 2, page 3
Storyboard – Scene 2, page 3

This is where we see that perfectly organized boxes and field are not always adapted to all situations and that it is good to improvise. 🙂

Paper and Digital

Well we are also quite technological people, right? Aryeom uses both medium. She often writes on paper storyboard when not in the studio, or when she wants to have the analog feel. But she also uses the computer to prepare the storyboard.

It is much easier to “add” boxes, or change some of the layout ideas with a tablet pen, right? Here for a sneak peek of the storyboard in progress by Aryeom, drawn on GIMP, as usual:

Storyboard - scene 2 WIP
Storyboard – scene 2 WIP

Well I hope you enjoyed the update and the storyboarding information. We will probably post more on this topic, so here again, I add a small (1) in the title. 🙂

Note: as often, all the photographs and images in this blog post are
works by Aryeom,under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.