Friday, June 25, 2010

Music Video Done!

I just finished my first music video!

It's not appropriate for those under 18 to watch, so I won't post it here on the school blog, but it is viewable from my Reel and Portfolio site.

I wanted to talk about my process for it here, however.

After rushing into it and working on a bad concept intermittently for about two years, I scrapped it and started from scratch on April 1st. About 2 weeks into my new concept, I scrapped it again and started over one final time. No amount of slick animation and artwork can save a crappy concept.

This time, I brainstormed several concepts and outlines and decided to go with the one I liked best. I settled on a modern (and adult) take of the Helen of Troy story, with Ivan (the rapper) playing Paris.

After that, I sat down and outlined the general plot points using characters I had already designed from my first attempt to save time:

- Ivan is at a record store
- Ivan sees girl
- Girl sees Ivan
- Girl and Ivan want each other
- Girl and Ivan run off with each other
- Girl's boyfriend chases after the two with his army of robots
- Ivan beats robots and boyfriend
- Ivan gets girl

Not a complicated story, but more than enough for the minute or so that was the length of the song. I knew that to sell it to the audience, the entertainment could not come from plot but from the way the plot unfolded.

Unfortunately, my mind was still filled with the bad ideas and concepts I had from previous attempts as well as bad habits I developed over the years from either a lack of formal cartoon education or poor industry practices. I blame the former, as I haven't worked in big studios to be able to make an educated guess as to why their cartoons bore me (although, Up, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon were awesome).

So after doing a little research on how cartoons were made in the old days, I discovered something called a gag or "no-no" session over on

A gag session is a lot like brainstorming, only instead of using words, you use drawings. They can be stick figures and really bad drawings, but the point is to get the idea across visually, and to do that, what better way than by using drawings like the cavemen did?

It was called a no-no session because no idea was turned down immediately. All ideas were welcome until it came time to choose one. A gag session wasn't the place where ideas were chosen but were created.

So during my "no-no" session, I went through each story point from my outline and drew out several different gags for each. I honestly have never laughed so hard at something I created since my days in film school when I wrote scripts just for myself.

*Note: I also made sure to improvise and add gags while animating. This helped keep the process fun for me and make up for gags that didn't work as well from the storyboards.

After the gag session, I gave myself a deadline to finish the music video and drew up a schedule. More than any single thing listed here, I feel this was the most important step that lead to me completing the video. I knew what I had to do and when I had to do it by. sometimes I was ahead of schedule, sometimes I fell behind. But in the end, I finished 6 days ahead of schedule and with a piece I had no idea I was capable of doing because of it.

For storyboarding, I already had my outline and it was simply a matter of choosing my favorite gags and modifying them so they fit together into a cohesive story. I drew roughly to model and scale in Flash, timed it to the music, and after some editing and revisions, the animatic was done in about a week (and a week ahead of schedule).

From there, I got feedback from friends and family. Anything that was confusing or didn't get the reaction I was going for, I dropped or changed.

I then made an outline of every setup in the cartoon, noting where the camera angle was the same. This saved me from having to redraw or re-shoot certain backgrounds.

After creating the background plates, either by shooting video/photos or drawing it from scratch in Photoshop, I moved on to animation, placing in only the backgrounds that were necessary for proper feet placement, etc. so as to save memory and loading time in Flash, my animating program (I did some animation in Photoshop, like the fight scene's background).

While animating, I went in chronological order for the most part, deviating from that only when animating shots using the same set up or when animating several short shots. For example the shots of the robots evaluating Ivan didn't require much drawing, and neither did the last two shots. So I did them in the same day so as to make the most of the eight hours I committed each day to the project.

Also, the medium shots of Ivan, for example, were all one set up, but had different actions in each. I animated all the shots from one setup as one whole sequence and cut it up into different shots later because this allowed me to make the most of the momentum I gained from drawing the same character over and over as well as ensure the character stayed on scale and relatively on model.

The fight scene took me the longest to animate, coming in at 10 days for the whole sequence, from lines to color.

After I finished animating, I rendered out the finished animation as separate layers according to the depth they would have on screen. For example, while animating the long shot of the record player where Ivan takes the girl from the midget boyfriend, I drew them as they would appear on screen. But to render the cutout effect, I needed to manipulate each element on screen separately in a program with capabilities Flash just doesn't have.

The robots were in the background layer, the midget and girl in the middle-ground, and Ivan in the foreground.

With my layers rendered separately, I was able to tweak the lighting and shadow effects for each individual layer, and more easily create the paper cutout look I was going for, adding such effects as depth of field, to greater magnify the depth lost during the shooting and animating process.

After much trial and error with some help from Video Co-Pilot, I was able to get the look i was going for in After Effects.

I finished the video in its entirety exactly two months and eight days after I my third attempt and more than two years after my first.

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