Tiny indoor fireworks
This project was a new experience for us in a bunch of different ways. Firstly it was our first chance to work with Forest of Black. We had met a couple of members of the team at the Move Summit a few months previously and were pleased that they reached out to us when this project opened up.
They were pursuing animation due to the restrictions placed on live action film production by the UK wide, Covid 19 lockdown. It was this environment that lead to our second new experience: running an animation project in lockdown.
Our core team had already set themselves up at home so the challenge came in the logistics of sourcing and directing our team of 5 animators as well as efficiently relaying daily reviews and feedback to and from the client.
We used a variety of services to enable this. Everything was shared via a Dropbox folder system we set up to avoid files being lost in email chains. We used the project management tool Asana to allocate and feedback on shots across the team. We also regularly used Zoom to talk to the client and occasionally reverted to the stone age and used our phones!
With the pipeline set up the first challenge was to create a look for the band that was both practical to animate and also to the taste of the client. Initial conversations made it clear that the client and director, Oscar Sansom, were not looking for a characterised, cartoony take on the band but rather wanted something a lot closer to realism.
We explored various sketchy styles before arriving at a heavily shadowed, realistic take on the band members. While this looked great it created a new challenge of how to accurately animate realistic versions of the Simon, James and Ben without going way past our deadline.
We were lucky that the band had provided us with lots of reference footage. This lead us to consider rotoscoping (tracing the live action) as it would provide the most accurate look and motion for the characters. However, the look of rotoscoping can have a habit of creating wobbly images that start to descend into an uncanny valley look that isn’t very satisfying.
We decided that the best way to capture the likeness of the band was to rotoscope the key poses in each shot and then use traditional inbetweening techniques to create a more controlled, animated look without losing the essence of the live action performance.
With the character animation complete we then had the challenge of creating the fluid paint effects. We used a completely animated solution to this as we had no reference and the motion was going to be based on the movement of the band so reference wouldn’t be hugely useful anyway.
With all the primary animation completed we then worked on the transitions. Oscar was keen to have a lot of the shots bleed in and out of the live action so we developed quick, fluid, abstract transitions to create this.
The final stage was the composite. The very limited palate and scaled down design meant there was a risk that some shots could look a bit static and contrast with the energy of the song. To combat this we added camera shake and occasional camera moves to make sure the shots were never still. We also added paint and paper textures to break up the solid shapes of the animation and create a more organic feel.
Our initial work on the project was to be around 30 seconds of animation but over time it developed into about a minute of animated work (the rest being done by animator Ross Hogg and Oscar). With the character animation complete, we were also asked to create a different style of animation on top of the live action footage.
Oscar was keen that even in the live action shots we should keep the animation present so the video always felt exciting and energetic. We spent some time working on this rougher, more wild style of animation before landing on a method that utilized the mixer brushes in Photoshop to create a traditional paint look. Then, unlike most of our animation, we drew each frame without referring to the previous or the next frames. This gave a vibrant, bubbling energy to each shot that wouldn’t have been possible using our normal animation methods.
This project was a challenge for lots of reasons, particularly those caused by Covid 19 but we had a great time working with Forest of Black to overcome them and create a piece of work that used the restrictions to it’s advantage to create this one-of-a-kind music video.