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.

Header

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.

Timeline

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.

Main character design (1)

Today let’s discuss character design! This is a complex topic, and I can foresee several other blog posts to be done on this topic. What we call character design is often called “study”, because this is what it is: the “study” of a character. It is more than just a graphics style as you could do for a standalone artwork. And as such, it involves many attempts and experiments.

About character sheets

With Aryeom, we have discussed and reviewed a lot Marmot’s design. This is the main character after all. So she did and redid him a few times. You may remember some of the early designs, which we posted exactly a year ago, and you will likely recognize the design we used in our teaser.

These types of design sheet are called “turnaround” sheets, since they show the character on various angles, usually at least front, back and one side (or both sides if the character or one’s clothing are not really symmetric). Sometimes you may have more angles, or even specific sheets with smaller angle rotations, focusing on a particular side of the body (like a few angles on the back, etc.).

There were actually a lot other versions of Marmot, for instance one of the early conceptualization was very cute, and I still like it very much.

Marmot research

As you can see, this is a different style of character sheet. You often find these under the name of “rough” character sheet since these are quick sketches (which is what a rough is) of the character in various poses or situations. These different kinds of character sheets are complementary and in the end, you have many of these for the same design. Rough ones are usually earlier in the concept design, though it may depend on the artist.

So what are these for? They have multiple purposes. Of course a main goal is collaborative work: if several artists have to draw the same character, one has to make sure everyone doesn’t draw a personal variation. Consistency is important. But even if you were to work alone, you need consistency with yourself! With time, memory and your previous work as only reference, you lose the chosen style and the character attributes. You cannot even use your own scenes as reference because you would slowly diverge, from scene to scene. Indeed maybe the character in scene 30 looks like in scene 29. Same for scene 29 and 28. But what if you were making slight changes while barely noticing, or letting them slip since these may be seen as minor glitches, which would add up, so that the styles between scene 1 and scene 30 are actually quite different in a very noticeable way?
This is why you need a stable reference fixed in time, always the same. So you prepare your reference for various cases, on all angles, and plan a whole bunch of possible poses and actions to refer to later. These references are the character sheets.

Note that even (more?) for 3D films, you need character sheets as a detailed reference for the 3D modeler.

Finally another good purpose is to build a solid character. When you draw and redraw, you get to understand him/her, to grasp one’s purpose and behavior, one’s particular attribute. Why is he wearing this? How did one get this scar? Should one have a birthmark here? What kind of action is one likely to do? Is it a character who runs? Who cries often? Who is happy? Without this, you end up building up the character in the same time as you produce the film, and create irregularities, or changes which don’t add up. How many times have I read webcomics where a character would be right handed or left handed on different scenes, or attributes as important as scars would be forgotten sometimes. Why? Likely because these attributes had no real meaning for the creator (of course mistakes happen to anyone, with or without character design. This is not a perfect fail-safe tool. But it helps).
Once again, this is about consistency, but also about a deep character that people will love or hate, and in any case in who they will believe in.

Note also that this is all just “common knowledge”, and there are “styles” where detailed character sheets (or even character sheets at all) might not be necessary, or — why not — even undesirable (that would be rare though, but why not!). Rules are here to be broken, as long as you do it on purpose while knowing what it entails. In the end, use your common sense.

Marmot’s current design

Something we heard a few times with our teaser was: «this cat is so cute!». Now we don’t want to do a scientific documentary, but we still want that people recognize which animal we are drawing (ok it wasn’t that bad. Many people still directly recognized a marmot; also it turns out that in many countries, marmots are quite an unknown animal, which explains failure to recognize). On the other hand, we don’t want too much of anthropomorphism in our movie, but this is still an animation about a marmot traveling with a swag on the shoulder, so there is a good share of anthropomorphism anyway, right? So this makes it OK to leave some scientific aberration for the purpose of a fun movie. Let’s just make a good compromise between scientific rigor and fun.

After seeing and photographing a lot of marmots in the Alps, Aryeom tried a whole new bunch of designs. For reference, here is a real Alpine marmot:

Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)
Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)

To cut to the chase, here is the current design for our main character.

Marmot: character design 3
Marmot: character design 3

Note that we still allow ourselves to change the design before actual production (i.e. finale drawing) begins, but we thought it may be worth updating you with this new design. which you may already have noticed in our new year drawing.

What to say about it? First it obviously looks a lot more like a marmot while still keeping its share of anthropomorphism. In particular the feet look shorter than most our other designs, the snout is closer to the real deal, eyes are on the side rather than in the front, and the ears are lower than the teaser version (ears in particular were probably the attribute which made people believe it was a cat). Fingers also properly follow marmot’s anatomy with 4 fingers on the arms and 5 on the feet.

The color scheme has also been updated, brighter, brownish. The grey color was making it too close to a mouse (even though many marmots are really grey-ish). On this topic, you can notice how Aryeom places the character color palette directly on the design to easily pick from it later (because a colorized character sheet would not only be about painting consistency but also color consistency).

I think this is all for now. Soon more on character design and other topics!


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

ZeMarmot in 2015: research, script finalization and character design

ZeMarmot is slowly coming to shape… well not in animated images yet, but hopefully soon. A small summary of what happened in 2015 and early 2016:

Research

As you know, we have been to the Alps (as well as 1 day to the Massif Central) in September.
We got more than 100 GB of data (for 4 days of research, considering we lost most of the first day data), consisting mostly of photos, videos and sounds. We will share the full raw data with you under a Libre license (likely CC by-sa) at the end.

As a side note, we are also now in contact with a scientist, specialist on marmots (yes it does exist!). Not that ZeMarmot is any kind of scientifically-accurate film, but it is always nice to get some scientific background as a basis, even if it means later breaking the rules of nature (which is ok when done on purpose). We’ll tell more about this if the contact evolves into a real cooperation. 🙂

Music

October was rather slow since we were planning to go to the Creative Commons Summit, which we unfortunately failed to attend to, very sadly for uncontrolled reasons. Then Aryeom has been absent for a week for a trip to Italy (not ZeMarmot-related, but it ended up with some resources that we may use).

In between though, we met the musicians of the AMMD cooperative during the 15th birthday party of their founding music band. This was a cool and very enjoyable first meeting.

Redesigning

In November and December, we have worked quite a bit on a redesign of the main and secondary characters. We will post later details in a dedicated news.

Script

November and December were quite eventful on the scenario side as well.

First of all the format of ZeMarmot: for quite a long time, I hesitated on the exact format that ZeMarmot should have. Heading for a short, we would definitely not have the time to do anything close to what I envisioned for the story. A featurette on the other hand, we can do something cool, but will we manage to ever finish it? We just don’t have the funds. A series is a cool idea, but I was really looking forward a film in the end. Series are a cool format, with their own good points, but also bad ones. Yet in our situation, we may not have much of a choice.

Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!
Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!

So already since October, we decided to release ZeMarmot in the form of a series, but with the actual goal of having a feature film in the end. This is actually quite a hard gamble and I seriously hope we will manage to make every episode interesting, while also making sense as one movie. This is similar to the planning of Cosmos Laundromat from the Blender Foundation.
The funding is used to finalize the first episode (the “pilot“), which hopefully will trigger people interest to fund the rest! 🙂

Pilot treatment is over

And now we finished the treatment of our pilot on January 20!
I am quite happy with it and think you will all find it very cool too. But I don’t want to spoil the fun and reveal details. This said, we are working transparently since it is a Libre movie. So we will look for ways to share script details to people who don’t care about auto-spoiling themselves (if you are such a person, just contact us). 🙂

Working on ZeMarmot treatment
Working on ZeMarmot treatment

Next Steps

And now? Aryeom is working hard on the pilot storyboard (as you may guess on the above image, this is already work in progress), which should result into a first animatic. In the same time, we will start working with AMMD for the few scenes of the pilote which require music.

Stay tuned!

ZeMarmot at Alternatiba Paris 2015

Barely back to Paris since yesterday, we will be at Alternatiba Paris tomorrow, Sunday 27th of September. Alternatiba is a World event (mostly present in France) which mostly focus on climate, ecology, but also alternative social models, more human and fair. It went in many cities and will end up in Paris, place de la République, this week-end.

Well we will be there in the “Libre Village”, particularly in the “cinema” and “museum” booth, close to other communities, projects and association of Free Software and similar movements (April, Parinux, Framasoft, Franciliens.net, la quadrature du net, root 66, Chiffrofête, Mozilla-FR, Drupal, Novalys, Libre Office…).

We are in the area '9' of this map!
We are in the area ‘9’ of this map!

We will represent the LILA association, ZeMarmot animation film project, and do a few GIMP demos and presentation.

Come see us if you are around Paris!

P.S.: we’ll make a small report of our trip to the Alps where we got very cool references for ZeMarmot, very soon. We’ll just need a few days to have some rest after this exhausting journey!

In the search for ZeMarmot (2)

So we are now in Saint-Véran, highest village of France (third in Europe) where marmots are just everywhere. For our first day there, we encountered quite a few marmots, made nice photos, videos and sound recording, and found some nice spots which may become a cool burrow for the hero of ZeMarmot.

Also thanks to Magic Lantern, the Free Software allowing us to do cool videos with our Canon EOS 50D (which had no video feature officially!).

Hop, a small preview video of a marmot getting its nose out of its burrow (CC Attribution 4.0 International):

Beginning the search for ZeMarmot

We have started a dozen days of research for “ZeMarmot” Open Movie. By this, we mean we are going for a trip to the Alps, where we we will stalk cool marmots! Our goal is to get photos, videos and sounds, of marmots, other animal and awesome mountain landscapes. These will be used for reference for the animation film, to study marmot behavioral patterns, movements, get ideas, and so on.

We actually started in the Massif Central, the center mountains in France, since it was on our way south. We stopped by Mont Dore, where we hiked for a day the Puy de Sancy, since we read that many marmots were living there (reintroduced by mankind after disappearing… probably because of mankind anyway!).

Puy de Sancy, France
Puy de Sancy, France

Well the day was not the most sunny, and it was quite windy, so apart from some mouflons from quite far, we could not find any marmots. I imagine they would not get out in crappy days. I wouldn’t if I were a marmot!

Mouflon on the Mountain, Puy de Sancy, France
Mouflon on the Mountain, Puy de Sancy, France

Well… until the very very end, just when we were getting back, and when the rain started, a small ball of fur ran just a few meters in front of us! It ran inside its burrow, but we camped in front for a dozen minutes, and it slowly came out again. So for a first day, we were quite happy. We at least got our first photographs and videos of a marmot!

Marmot in Puy de Sancy, France
Marmot in Puy de Sancy, France

Now the bad news is that our 64GB UDMA7 CompactFlash card died while we were transferring all the photos and videos on the computer, the next day! We lost at least 71 photos (many of them of the said marmot unfortunately) and 1 video in my count, and maybe more, and we’ll have to buy a new one tomorrow, before we are heading to the Alps for the main part of the research adventure.

Well that’s life, I guess.

See you soon for the next update!

Name dropping in the last hours of ZeMarmot crowdfunding

We had an awesome funding experience, but this is not finished. First because we still have a few hours left, so if you were planning on contributing and simply waiting for the last second, now is the time! Also because this is only the start of ZeMarmot adventure. With what we have funded, we are going to release the beginning of the movie in a few months, which we hope you will enjoy, then decide to continue supporting, financially or otherwise.

As of now we have 327 awesome funders from 36 countries, from smaller amounts to bigger ones (1000 €). Amongst our Silver Sponsors, 2 organizations officially support our project: apertus° (the first OpenHardware cinema camera makers) and Laboratorio Bambara (a research group on audiovisual art).
Our first ever Silver sponsor was Mike Linksvayer, former executive director of Creative Commons. We can also count Terry Hancock, Free Software Magazine columnist and director of the Open animation serie “Lunatics“, among our funders, and other contributors from well known Free Software or Free Knowledge projects: a long time GIMP developer, Simon Budig; a Mozilla employee, Xionox; a Creative Commons employee himself on a movie adventure too, Matt Lee; GCompris maintainer, Bruno Coudoin… And I’m sure I missed a lot of people.
Also several teachers from various universities, even a bookstore (À Livr’Ouvert) backing us officially, fellow artists, some using Free Software (like Tepee), people from the cinema industry (an executive producer for instance).

Of course the GIMP project has been supporting our project all along…
Screenshot from 2015-05-08 19:56:40
As well as Libre Graphics World, reference for Free Arts-related news…
LGW-screenshot
BlenderNation, linuxfr (French-speaking Free Software news), Framasoft, GIMPUsers, the VLC project, and so many others.
We were also featured in wider audience news website as Numera and Reflets, and even in television on TV5World, and twice on French FM radio.

Tristan Nitot (former president of Mozilla Europe, now Cozy Cloud Chief Product Officer), Free Software foundation, Creative Commons shared our project on various social networks or blogs.
Nitot-tweet
Ton Roosendaal, Blender Foundation chairman, called our initiative “a Libre movie project with the right spirit”.
ton-roosendaal-tweet
Now I’m just name-dropping. That’s because we were impressed by all this support. Yet let me be clear: you are all as important to us! Everyone of you. You show us that Libre Art, independent films and Free Software are cool and have a chance. Because seas are made of each drops.
We love you all.
Marmot Love

Animal figures in ZeMarmot

Wilber & Co. - Marmot encounter
Wilber & Co. – Marmot encounter (Creative Commons BY-SA)

Animal characters in our movie are in-between real animals and usual anthropomorphism that you would find in common animation films when animals are main characters.
So yes our Marmot wanders with a bindle on a stick. Yes he wears a bandana around the neck. But he does not speak! You won’t find any speaking animal in our movie (well unless we meet parrots maybe!). We even have a scene in our current script where Marmot will end up in a human city… as comfortable as a Marmot would be in a real city: not very!

This is a scriptwriting choice we made long ago, even when we were still thinking making ZeMarmot as a still comic. And though this was not a secret, this is — I think — the first time we reveal this here so clearly. This makes animation direction and music that much more important in our movie.

This is what inspired this “Wilber & Co.” joke. If you don’t know, “Wilber & Co.” is a regular comic strip we release in GIMP Magazine, drawn by Aryeom, script by both Aryeom and I. And if you don’t know even who is Wilber (or Tux), this is the mascot of GIMP, the awesome software for drawing and manipulating images we use and contribute to (and Tux is the mascot of the Linux Kernel which is also our Operating System core of choice).

I have now started again to work on ZeMarmot’s script, and while we won’t share too much details immediately, I thought it was interesting to expose some of our script choices. 🙂

Also in case you missed the news, ZeMarmot’s crowdfunding got extended by the platform so you are still encouraged to contribute if you wish to be part of an awesome 2D animation film under Creative Commons BY-SA/Free Art, made with Free Software and with a cool story (well I write it, of course it is cool :p)!
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