3D Artist

Animating an award-winning short

News & Features
Poz Watson

The artists behind two SIGGRAPH award-winning shorts tell us the secrets to animation success

Animating an award-winning short

Want to transform an animation into a prized film? These outstanding artists tell us how:

Concentrating on craft – Jinxy Jenkins, Lucky Lou

• Shorts, Hamburg Animation Award 2014
• Best Computer Animated Short, SIGGRAPH 2015

Created with Maya, Photoshop, Premiere Pro and NUKE, the award-winning short ‘Jinxy Jenkins, Lucky Lou’ took co-directors Michelle Kwon and Michael Bidinger a year and a half to make. The care taken shows on screen, with Kwon saying “You should know your characters, and want to share their story with the world. If you’re passionate about your project and you have the necessary tools, everything will fall into place.”

While the initial story was there from the off, the specific story points were trickier. The pair had to “show as much as we could without making it too long. We were able to show who the characters were and why they were unhappy pretty efficiently after we went with the split-screen idea. It added style too… The specific obstacles [the characters] face are what changed the most,” explains Kwon. “Each peril had to be things luck related or something that Jinxy and Lucky could influence with their luck – at one point we had her throw a lucky penny to change the path of a train on some railroad tracks or something, but that was too complicated and at some point we both said ‘Screw it, let’s just have a bunch of falling pianos!’”

Kwon and Bidinger both modelled, animated and directed the film in equal parts, but they also had specific areas of focus. Kwon says: “I was more of the art director of the film, overseeing the design of the characters and environments and making sure it translates well to 3D. Mike took on the role of lead animator/technical director, making sure the acting told the story well in addition to taking care of all technical necessities of the film.” There was also a third member of the team, Sarah Kambara, who managed production and festival submissions. “We are so grateful for her because it allowed us to solely focus on making the film,” Kwon adds.

The scale of the film and making the city feel populated were two of the biggest obstacles,. “To do so,” says Kwon, “we scattered some moving cars here and there. The city still ended up feeling a little empty, but Jinxy and Lucky are moving so fast for most of that it wasn’t too much of a problem. We were able to make the city feel varied and city-like by using a modular approach to modelling; building a few variations of separate parts to put them together in different combinations – like LEGO.”


Animating an award-winning short
Creating characters out of inanimate objects – Home Sweet Home

• Best Animated Short, SIGGRAPH 2014

Alejandro Diaz (lejodiaz.com) now works at Oriental DreamWorks, but in 2012 he was working with three other students at Supinfocom Arles on their graduation film, ‘Home Sweet Home’.

Alongside Pierre Clenet, Romain Mazevet and Stephane Paccolat, Diaz tackled a big challenge as the characters were actually houses. He explains that: “The fact that they were houses was, at the same time, the coolest thing about our short film and also the one aspect that didn’t let us approach almost any step of the pipeline in a conventional way. Starting from story, where we had to come up with reasons for a house to uproot itself and start a journey, [we asked] ourselves questions like: ‘What could happen to a house during a road trip? How can we create a friendship between houses? Can houses even have friends?’”

It was even more of an issue when it came to character design, as they tried to find a balance “between a believable house, from a real world, and a house that could be appealing, have expressions, communicate with the audience and still be engaging. What would that mean in terms of shape language and design?”

“We had to model the main characters differently from the regular prop house of a set because they had to be animated,” Diaz explains. “Then there was the pipeline management of hundreds of roof tiles, wood tiles for the walls and other sub objects. With rigging we had to figure out a way to create a low-definition version of our houses so we could be able to actually move them in Maya.”
Animating a house isn’t the same as animating a humanoid character either. They were constantly thinking about “the weight they have to show without making the pace too slow. We had to find clever ways to communicate their emotions and develop their different walk cycles to give each one of them a different personality.”

Maya, 3ds Max, FumeFX, MARI, Photoshop, NUKE, After Effects, V-Ray and Premiere Pro were all used in production, which took the best part of a year. All the effort was certainly worthwhile though, as ‘Home Sweet Home’ won Best Animated Short at SIGGRAPH in 2014. Learning to work in a team was a big take-away for Diaz, as was the importance of knowing what you want to create. “In my opinion, a good story, a bold statement, a clear author’s intent or a strong structure will always be better than the good execution of a poor idea,” he says.