Making of "A is for Al....": From storyboards to final film by Rok Andic

In this video you can see sequence progression from storyboards to final film from “A is for Al….”.

The storyboards as you can see are pretty simple. Since I only draw them for myself and not as a presentation for somebody else I keep them very simple. I know in my head about the rest of the scene so I don’t spend too much time on drawing elaborate sets and backgrounds, just the main action. The boards were drawn with pencil in a notebook, scanned on the computer, cropped and put into sequence. I like drawing on paper. It’s fun but it can also be slow because you can’t copy & paste parts of the board like in the computer. Thus every board must be redrawn. This is the main reason that in the future I’ll probably draw everything digitally. Simply because it’s much faster.

For the layout I focus on camera, space and timing. I don’t worry about anything else.  The most challenging parts for me are the first and second pass of blocking. I define the whole animation here. If it’s not working here it definitely will not work in the final film. I usually draw a few key poses on paper or film myself on camera to figure character acting and actions. When drawing I usually don’t draw every inbetween or overlap, just the main poses. I found that for this film I drew key poses just for a few shots. Mostly I filmed myself and used that as a reference.

When filming myself for reference I usually split it into smaller specific chunks or actions (typing on buttons, jumping, grabbing something…). The main reason being that it is rare for the whole filmed action to be usable so I rather focus on smaller parts and connect them together later. Sometimes there’s also a problem with lack of space. If I film myself in a small room I simply don’t have enough space to perform everything in a shot. So splitting into smaller segments makes a lot of sense.

Spline animation and polishing are usually the fun parts for me where everything is already defined but the details have yet to be made. I enjoy it especially when working on my own projects like “A is for Al….”, because I already know I will not make any major changes to the shot so I am allowed to make a mess with keyframes when making overlaps or creating additional keys. When working for a client I usually try to keep this stage clean as possible in case there are any bigger changes to the shot made later and I have to go back to spline or even blocking.

As you can see the light also plays a big role in the film but I don’t create it in phases like I do  animation. I spend most of the time to set key lights which in this set are from the top. When I am finished with those I set highlights or rim lights to accentuate the forms. Then I setup the fill lights if necessary. Sometimes I create the fill lights before rim lights depending on the situation but I always start with the key light. I first set lighting globally per set. Once I am satisfied how that looks I adjust it per shot accordingly.

As for rendering I try to render as few layers as possible. I usually have just two layers - the character and the background. I don’t do any heavy compositing with these shots so it is not necessary to have more layers. In compositing I mostly just fix render problems or add glows if necessary but otherwise just put layers back together and push them forward to color grade where final images are rendered.

A is for Al....: The final film by Rok Andic

Finally finished! It’s been fun working on this one and a lot has been going on during the production. I learned a lot by trying new things: choosing Houdini as the main 3d software which proved to be a great decision, new rigging techniques I’ve never tried before, experimenting with the way I approach animating shots… all really makes me feel even more happy about the whole film :)

I’ll write more about these topics in detail in the coming weeks on this blog but for now let me just share the film with you that I hope you’ll enjoy. And if you would like to learn more about the film you can check the project page where you can see additional production images and background information about the film.

Making of "A is for Al....": The Study Room by Rok Andic

“A is for Al….” has three sets. Study room was the first I designed and modeled. The reason I started with the isometric layout for the concept is that I wanted to see how the whole space would look like and where everything was. I didn’t want to accidentally build models that will not be seen or couldn’t fit the set.

Once that was clear, the shelves and table had to be populated with props. I made these quick prop sketches which were used to fill large pieces of the set. I drew them all on a single page so I could see which ones were too far out in design and whether or not they are too complex too build. Since they are space fillers I really didn’t want to spend too much time on them.

Prop list that needed to be built to fill the shelves.

Prop list that needed to be built to fill the shelves.

Set modeling was all done in Houdini. Bigger props were modeled and textured as solo pieces. More care was needed for smaller shelf props. I just couldn’t build every single one of them nor have 100 copies of a single prop as that would just seem boring.

I used Houdini’s procedural approach to build one universal bottle that allowed me to have one base model that with different parameters could look like 100 different bottles or flasks. The flasks on the left shelves are basically all one model with different parameters. If I didn’t like it I just changed the parameter and I would have a different shape. This allowed me to have a full scene without having to build every single little detail or spent enormous amount of time modeling them.

Universal flask.

Universal flask.

Texturing work for the main pieces was mostly done in Substance Painter. I recycled materials whenever possible. Exception was the chalkboard which was painted in Affinity Photo. I created different masks for washed parts & chalked lettering and then build a material based on those masks in Houdini. Smaller elements had procedurally generated materials made in Houdini where the final images were rendered.