Monday, 5 March 2012

"It's All Part of The Plan..."

This is a thumbnail drawing of a quadriped running cycle drawn by our Chief Animator, Anton.  It seems like such a long time ago that everything we are seeing now come out as fully realized renders started life as text files and drawings on paper.

A lot of people wonder how we managed to get to this point.... With full-color images coming out and flowing in motion.  But the attached image represents in a way how we came so far - from not knowing how to do this, to becoming knowledgeable enough to execute the plans we drafted.  You come up with a plan, maybe not the best plan, but a good enough plan.  And then you execute.  No matter how small the steps are.  As long as it's part of the plan.  That includes the small stuff - like thumbnail drawings.

More surprising to me, but also related to the question above, is how we students came together and started our "jamming sessions" surrounding REVERSION weeknights, weekends, and holidays.  A majority of our group is not composed of professionals.  In fact, in many ways we are highly dependent on each other and even now we operate as highly specialized units.  We have Anton on Animation, Mitch on VFX, Wes on Art, and various people in other functions.  The only thing we had in common was that we were all students and we approached REVERSION as the way to answer that question every art and animation hobbyist or student thinks about from the first day they see animation on the screen: "How did they do that?"

To finally answer the questions above, about how we made progress, and how it is the group of people who became The Magic Movie Machine came together, I have to say what I have told many laypeople and non-professionals when they pass by our work and ask us "How did you do that?"  The answer is that making a movie is a lot like building a house.

Just like it is not possible for anyone to get a contractor to build a house that has no plans, it is not possible to begin making a movie without plans.  Plans for where the film is going, plans for whom the film is for, plans for how the images will be made, and most importantly - plans in the form of the script and storyboard.  There are countless stories, including stories at the professional and fully-budgeted level, of film projects that crash and burn only because everybody fired up their 3D apps too soon.  I live constantly in fear of this type of situation.  A lot of my peers on CG Talk are already familiar with the very meticulous way in which I reduce items, analyze them, and arrange them, this is the same character that the very very early phases of REVERSION took on.  In a paper written back in the 90's John Lasseter wrote: "At Pixar, the last thing we do is fire up our PC's.  We don't want people working on something that isn't ready."  or something to that effect.  The message of that statement sticks to me to this day.

I'm always thinking about what might not work.  And yet the plan has to actually look like it will work.  This is indeed one of the wonders of the human brain.  The ability to think consistently with inconsistency.

So at the start, it was all a bunch of text files, charts, and sketches.  Not just text files of the script, but also files explaining how it might be possible to complete the film within X amount of time.  When I look back at that time, it was a lot of studying...studying...studying.  Once this was done though, all the homework made it easy to talk to people about the concept because I would show them these things.  And if they liked it, they could join our "study group".  I believe today it was partially the level of organization and risk-control that attracted the talent to REVERSION.  The fact that, although small in scale and not revolutionary at all, REVERSION does offer the answer to that one nagging question of the animation hobbyist or student:

"How did they do that?"

And later it becomes: "How can WE do that?"

Planning the phases of the work, which processes can run at the same time handled by different persons, and properly managing the phases of Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production are part of the key.  This is not just so that you can actually produce the finished picture, but in the beginning it's what makes the film look like it is actually feasible.  And then later when we were all in the thick of things, looking back at the plan is how we calm our nerves.  Take that thumbnail drawing from so long ago, for example.  When everybody is talking about the FX, and how things are going to blow up, it's easy to lose patience or get demotivated when the reality is just a bunch thumbnail drawings.  But if you have a plan, and it's posted there, and it's clear.  Then it is easy to continue with these phases that are actually necessary.  Having faith in the process is what keeps a movie team sane.

The REVERSION plan, I must add finally, is also an exercise in humility.  One must realize that unless one is part of the Hollywood system, then one cannot possibly outdo Hollywood.  REVERSION, for its primary objective as a vehicle for our study, only runs at a fraction of the running time of an animated picture, it also only contains a fraction of the FX complexity, and only a fraction of the number of cast members for an animated feature.  All of the Visual Effects used for REVERSION are effects that have been seen in various forms in other animated films before REVERSION was made (although how to execute them in time without a server farm is another story all in itself).  There are other ways in which this film was an exercise in humility.  Mostly for me, because frequently, every individual artist working on the film is far more adept than the director himself, but this is something I will write about on another day.

In the coming days, we will share more from the REVERSION film.  We will also respond to any questions people have about REVERSION or about the talent behind the film. 

Ciao for now...


  1. Awesome post! Can't wait to live vicariously through your experiences!

    1. Nice to see you here, Mike.

      Keep it on here, cause it's going to be quite a ride.