Trailer finshed and success in FEST

Our trailer is finally completed. And we are very proud of the results. A year of hard work from Alex, myself and the other students is now up on show. We got it done just in time for our pitch in Portugal (apart from one shot of the crowd, which was finalized on our return. It turned out the people there liked seeing a work in progress shot, as it illustrated out process)

The pitching workshops were hard work. Great thanks go to Guillermo Garcia-Ramos who ran these sessions, which were fantastically useful and helped us really distill our film into a paragraph. (Not to mention that the sessions were very amusing, occasionally at our expense!) We ended up rewriting our pitch about 4 times. We also attended some very useful master classes and met a lot of fantastic people and were very inspired, if a little hung over by the end of the festival.
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The actual pitch on the following day went far better than Alex and I were expecting. (Pays to be a pessimist: you’re never disappointed) I went first with the synopsis, then we showed the trailer, then Alex outlined the production side. Out of the 17 producers about 5 gave us feedback. They loved the trailer and said we had a saleable product. They were generally very complementary about the general look and feel of the film. There were some questions about why we had chosen animation over live-action, and a few quibbles about our two stage budget for previz to full production (they said quite rightly why would someone just want to pay for previz) Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid at the 12 million projected cost, which was a surprise.

A big coup for us was that Gareth Willey, Woody Allen’s producer liked our work and wanted to follow up back in the UK, to see how he could help us. He made it clear that his books are full for producing himself, but would see what he could do. The exciting thing here is that even if it comes to nothing, we have been validated by industry producers, that say what we’re doing is saleable. We are now on the radar, so it should just be a matter of time before we find a full time producer.
The one thing we were told though, is that it’s now all about the script. The door is open for us, mostly thanks to the trailer. But now we have to prove ourselves with the screenplay. Gareth emailed yesterday asking us to send it. We shall be sending it later today. I’ve given it a quick reformat in a proper screen writing application (as it was in word) and amended a few things from our shoot and subsequent story boarding. But it’s basically the same. I’m very happy with it, as it tells the story I want to tell in the way I want to tell it. But time will tell if it’s everybody’s cup of tea.

So, to summarise, we are about to send our script to a producer who’s used to reading scripts from Woody Allen. No pressure then. More on this next month.

Paul

New funding and future plans

We are fast approaching our deadline for completion of the trailer (our London show) and have one more shot left to render. As mentioned before it’s our most ambitious yet with 26 characters and it will be touch and go whether we get it all rendered in time. It’s pushed our render farm to the limit and we’ve found out it’s just too big to render on the farm machines, so are having to transfer it to our 2 individual super high spec machines. (Tech babble: the scene was using over 22 gig in ram per frame and we only have 16 on our farm machines. At least we think that why it’s crashing, more on this in future posts) Keep your fingers crossed for us. We have 3 weeks left, so hopefully that will be enough time to get all the frames out we need!

Some exciting funding news. We were short listed out of over 100 entrants to be one of 17 film projects pitching to a panel of industry producers at the Portuguese FEST film festival next week. This is fantastic for us, as it’s a chance to start the next phase of the project’s development. Just in time for the completion of our trailer. There are assorted prizes for the pitch, the most significant of which is the chance to get production mentorship to take our project to the “next level” in development. Even if we don’t win however, which is obviously a long shot, it’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to get feedback on what we’re doing, and hopefully a realistic insight into to the challenges we’ll have in raising full feature funding. One very useful effect it’s had is to force us to properly plan and budget for the next year and really distil the project down into tighter descriptions of our artistic and financial intentions. We also now have a “film pack” which contains the elements a potential investor could browse through to get a real feel for the project (storyboards, concept art, Previz, animatics, script, synopsis) We are hoping the fact that we were short listed must be an indication we are doing something right! More on this next month when Alex and I get back from Portugal.

A bit more detail regarding our production plans for the next year. Now the trailer is almost compete, we are focusing on our short 5 minute excerpt from the feature, which can stand alone as a short film and will be entered into festivals around the world. This is another traditional route to funding features, as producers sometimes pick up shorts looking to be developed further. It’s also a good way to raise our profile even more. Our other plan for next year, although this is contingent on us raising the necessary finance, (possibly helped by a kickstarter campaign, more on this after the trailer is finished and we’ve had our Portugal feedback) is to start a commercial animation studio to compete the Previz for the whole film.

Previz Example

We plan to do this using graduates with a few industry regulars. (If we can tempt our graduates back from the bright lights of soho, which is by no means guaranteed!) Our plan is to have a completed edit done in a year. The next stage would be to add the detailed environments, VFX and textures, which would happen after further fund raising for the following year. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to really hone the edit and complete the structure of the film, right down to the length of individual shots, before we plan and cost the next stage. This will be the really expensive bit and will probably require working other vfx studios due to the volume of shots.

That’s all for now. The next blog should be a report on the first showing of our completed trailer and news from what transpired in Portugal. If you want to see our work in progress, which we posted up thanks to some great publicity from one of our sponsors Vicon see below.

If you fancy hearing us rambling on incoherently about what we’re up to, with occasional jumps for editing out Tom’s swearing, check out our twitter feed for our first podcast which is coming soon.

Paul

Original Story and Music

As we’re still finishing up the last few shots of the trailer, i thought i’d add a little bit from our composer Pasha Curseli about the musical background to the project and how it formed the original story to our film:

It was the track below that started things off 4 years ago. It was written during the winter of 2010, whilst looking out of my window as the snow settled and slowly transformed my home town of Tsetsveki into a world of brilliant white roads and soundless streets. I wanted to capture the feeling it conjured up, the way snow seems to transport you to another world.

The result still conjures up images of that particular Winter for me, even if it does sound a bit like a Zelda level from the early 90s:

I then decided to re-orchestrate it, to give it a more classical feel:

I’m glad i bothered to develop it (partly spurred on by some comments i got about how 80s the original orchestrations sounded!) as it formed the first piece in the original “Stina and the Wolf” story; I imagined Stina wandering off and getting lost in the snow as she’s bewitched by it, having never witnessed anything like it before. As a result I decided to attempt  a piece of “Peter and the Wolf” style narrative music, but taking the audience on a darker and more mythic journey. I wanted the main character to travel through different landscapes on a symbolic quest, in a similar way to characters in Angela Carter’s book of short stories: “The Bloody Chamber” in which she re-imagines popular fairy-tales into new, strange and often darkly modern myths.

The Original Story

The original tale comes from the first completed draft of the music and describes Stina’s story as she leaves her village and goes on a journey of transformation from human to wolf and from child to adult. A lot of it has changed since, as it’s evolved into a fully fledged screen play with fleshed out characters,  plot and motivations.  But many of the original ideas still pop up in the film in various forms. It’s unlikely that all of this music will remain in the final movie, as it will need to be scored specifically for the drama, but below is the story in its original form, with accompanying music.

Her signature melody and main instrument is an oboe and develops, intertwines is eventually replaced by the wolf’s instrument, a muted trumpet which develops through a series of hunting calls. Her imaginative life is represented by a harp, the beast she meets in the  underworld is a flute and the village and it’s traditions are represented by a gutiarviol (a crossbreed between a guitar and a viol that sounds a lot like a medieval viola-da-gamba):

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Stina and the Wolf  (original story and music)

 

1 –  The Village

Stina lives in small village high in the mountains. It is a place of tradition and ceremony. It’s stifling and oppressive. She is doing her chores.They never end. She looks out of the window, towards the distant snowy mountains. She watches an eagle as it soars in a giant arc above the highest peak, disappearing into a cloud. She dreams of a better life, but is brought back into reality. (but a harp has now joined the Guitarviols of the village and her imaginative life is awakened.)

2 – The Snow

The next morning she wakes to a glorious sunny day. She creeps out into the wild meadows accompanied by her trusty dog Griot. It’s a cunning plan to escape her never ending chores. Mid way through the piece all goes quiet and the first flakes of snow start to fall. She’s excited. She has never seen snow before. She runs to play but is soon lost, although she doesn’t yet realise it.

3-Transformation

Now Lost and alone in the wilds she imagines the village, (the guitarviol melody is now reprised by the softer harp as she yearns for home.)  Suddenly the moon appears, bathing all the forest in a soft blue light. She doesn’t notice as the moon slowly begins to turn blood red. She catches her reflection in an icy lake. She is transforming. On the far side of the lake a wolf calls. Suddenly scores of glowing yellow eyes blink out of the red soaked darkness. She is surrounded by a pack of hungry winter wolves. She is now a wolf herself. She dives into the forest to feed with the pack. She is hungry and joyfully. She follows the pack into the ground under a tree root and finally curls up, content, into sleep.

4-the Underworld

Stina wakes up underground and makes her way slowly down into the earth, towards the underworld. She finally comes to a giant underground ocean. A lone wolf stands guard on a rock and calls to her (muted trumpet), saying she cannot enter. She answers (oboe). Their conversations intertwine and he finally tells her she can pass. He summons up the horde from beneath the waves. All the strange and fantastical creatures of the forest emerge and process down into the depths. They carry her down towards the beast’s lair, until finally she arrives through a giant wall of water (gong).

On arrival the lair is dark and empty. Suddenly the beast emerges from the gloom. He sarcastically reprises Stina’s melody (fluttery flute). She replies softly and they dance. Their melodies intertwine. He resists at first, but she soon teaches him to dance like her and they join in harmony. She leaves him in his lair, still dancing and the horde return to take her back to the surface, through all the levels of the underworld. Finally she bursts out into the brilliant mountain sunlight next to the village.

5-Home

She returns to the village. It is full of snow. The villagers are gone but have been replaced by wolves (the original village guiatrviol melodies are now played by trumpets) They are eating viscera and staining the white snow crimson red. With her new found skills from the underworld, Stina casts a spell and returns the villagers to their human form (harp). She calls out to them, but her voice is now that of a wolf, and they throw stones at her. She watches the villagers going about their lives, now only able to look in. She knows she can never go back. She has changed into something new. Her wolf form (trumpet) is joined in duet with her human form (obe) in a final melody. She turns from the village and runs into the mountains to start her new life, now with the beasts of the forest.

-The End-

3 shots left and SIGGRAPH news

Here’s the latest from the Stina front line. Only 3 shots left and the trailer’s officially done. We’ve left the most challenging shots to last, of course. One has a mammoth 26 characters that all need cloth, hair, moustaches and face and hand animation. All the motion capture is now in and looks great (thanks go to recent graduate Krisztián Kinder for lining all this up); It’s now all lit with composite tests done and we’re very happy with what’s turning out to be our most ambitious shot to date. We’re also delighted to have got the rendering times down from 24 hours a frame to something slightly more manageable! Another equally ambitious shot involves us simulating an ocean wave colliding with Stina’s dress as it creates a plume of spray, all back-lit by a sunset. This shot is being helped a lot by the new open VDB toolkit (Fast and good quality volumetric rendering) available in Arnold, on to the soon to be retired (don’t get me started) Softimage XSI. It’s all new and relatively tricky stuff for us (tech babble: particularly tricky has been trying to get vector motion blur to work with our Open VDB renders), but we’re still on target to get it all done by the end of May for our London show.

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In other exciting news, we have been accepted to give a talk at Siggraph 2014 in Vancouver, and Alex and I will be heading out to perform our familiar double act. Please come along if you’re attending. We will be focusing mainly on the educational angles of the project, giving an insight into the students experience, but will also be premiering the new trailer and showing some new behind the scenes breakdowns, hopefully on a posh projector (a chance to justify our 2k resolution)

We are also continuing to progress with the short film sequence that will accompany the trailer. This won’t be ready until after the summer, but has now been storyboarded by our storyboard artists Chavdar Yordanov and most of the assets are built and ready to be assembled into the scene. This includes some cool new dynamic scatter ICE tools we’ve made for grass and trees (thanks to 3rd year programming wiz Scott Richards here), plus a fantastic new muscle system built by 3rd year student Tom Goodchild. We also have our second full time hire for FOAM Digital: Freya M Spencer, another talented 3rd year student who will be joining us as a character animator for 4 months to flesh out the new sequence. She’s already completed some very polished animation, but it will all be kept tightly under wraps until in the final edit. We are still debating whether to show the sequence publicly or not, or leave it for investors only, as it does contain some film spoilers. The sequence has also given us an excuse to use the wonderfully rich and characterful voice of Martin Daniels, who plays the “Pipe Catcher” character:

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The next report will be in June, when we’ve completed the trailer.

Paul

Trailer progress and Awards

Over the last few months we’ve been edging closer to our goal of a finished trailer. We are now well over half way to rendering and compositing all of the 52 shots and have finished the majority of the animation and cloth stages. It’s been slow going to keep our quality levels where we want them, but we are getting very excited about how it’s all finally turning out. We’re on target to get it finished by the summer, in time for our London show, a bit later than the February deadline we had originally planned for, but the loss of a few key staff to the bright lights of Soho (thanks to James Skilbeck for all his hard work on our cloth here) and the demands of our university day jobs (staff) and coursework (students) have slowed production a little. Just to make our life easier, we have also decided to run a separate project in parallel, featuring a key a scene from film that introduces one of the main characters, Griot. More details on this in later posts, but we hope to have this ready by the summer as well. It will form a key part of our “film pack” that will go out to potential investors, along with a book of storyboards and the 2k version of the trailer. We also hope to take this scene around the short film festival circuit, if all goes well.

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We also have production designer and storyboard artist Chavadar Yordinov back on staff as of this week, and he is working hard to complete our storyboards.

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His skills will allow us to develop a full set of artwork that can be developed into a graphic novel, in addition to helping us with the previz layout and final editing (He is also redrawing some of my earlier, and some what sketchier story boards!)

In other news, we were delighted to be awarded the Prize for Innovation in the 6th “Snow Wolf” Cup animation competition at the 4th Northeast Asian Culture and Art Week held in China for the test shot we did last year. We competed against over a thousand entrants from around the world and were very surprised to find out that we’d won! Next stop the Palme d’Or 😉

Paul

Softimage Creatives

We’ve been slowly ramping up for the new term over the last few weeks, reorganising a few things in the structure of Foam. We are attempting to make our shots run more efficiently by combining a few departments and dividing up the huge world into more focused CG sets that we can use at an earlier stage in the pipeline. Our plan is to get as much lighting and texture detail in as early as we can, so we have a clearer idea how to compose the final shots.The process of making the trailer has made it clear that we need a lot more colour, texture and lighting information early on to tackle the cinematography in a way that we can be confident it will look good at render time. For the trailer we have had to revise a lot of shots after render, due to compositions not quite working when all the lighting and texture information is assembled. This early design process we are calling “post viz” and will involve the motion capture being brought into a low resolution model with the facial performance projected onto the character heads. (we are calling these “egg head” rigs. You’ll see why in the attached video) We are combining these with a highly textured set, which we will light to a level that gives us a good representation of the final render. Hopefully this will allow us to put together early edits that will give us a much stronger sense of how the finished scenes will look.

In other news: We were kindly invited to present the project to a group of industry professionals at the annual Softimage Creatives meeting in London (Thanks Andy) . It was a great opportunity to get some industry feedback and was good to put our work in a broader context. We got a lot of useful tips, as well as providing a few of our own, which was a nice surprise. Our weakest link at the moment was clearly our compositing pipeline, which we are addressing at the moment. (with additional help from some ex students who are now experienced pros: thanks To Luke Armstrong here)

We also now have the first full time paid staff member of Foam Digital: James Skilbeck, a student who graduated last year and was running our Production and Cloth departments. Thanks also to a few other recent graduates who have been helping out on the trailer in their spare time: Tom Lee for Animation and Owyn Abram for VFX. I’ll leave you with a video of our London presentation with Myself, Alex and James giving a breakdown of our project so far and a sneak preview of our trailer work-in-progress.

 

Trailer Show at MPC

Over the last few months we’ve been working hard to finish our trailer. A small core of about 10 of our best have been beavering away trying to compete the 52 shots crammed into our one and half minute snapshot of the film. With so many ambitious shots and such a huge variety of characters, sets and atmospheres, we realised early on that we weren’t going to hit our original deadline of June 21st. We planned to show it to assorted industry people at MPC in London as part of the end of year BA animation show. Instead we decided to show as much as we could complete of the trailer and VFX breakdowns as a “work in progress”, rather than a finished piece. In the end we got all of the animation completed and about half of the cloth done, with around 7 shots rendered and comped to a finished level. We still had a completed trailer that delivered all of the acting and narrative beats, and the shots that were finished looked great in the MPC screening room, particularly at our chosen 2k resolution. This made it all feel very cinematic. It was very exciting to see our work projected at its native resolution on a cinema screen, where it belongs. Also the addition of some fantastic sound design by one of our graduates Chris Popiel really bought it all to life. A few bits still required some imagination; we made all the non-completed work black and white to distinguish it from the completed shots. But it still managed, to quote one member of the audience, “..make the hairs go up on the back of my neck..” Which was very gratifying. The students worked extremely hard and given the size of our team, what we showed was a lot more than I expected we’d be able to produce in the time. Sadly a lot of the team have now left, as they have now graduated, but hopefully the experience and work they’ve produced will give them a  head start in industry. Luckily we still have some very talented artists set to do another year with us. The present deadline for completing the trailer has now been shifted to Christmas, as we have a reduced team, but the majority of the shots just need lighting (apart from a few massive VFX heavy shots!) I’ve posted up a few of the finished frames here. Watch this space for the full animated trailer coming soon.

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Pickups and Trailer Work

It’s been a busy Winter and Spring for the project as we’ve been tackling a lot of the very ambitious shots in our trailer, trying to reach the dizzy heights of Hollywood with our oceans of simulated water, collapsing cliff faces and close up facial acting.
Our grant has helped a lot with the more computer intensive shots and we now have 2 6k computers stacked up on Alex’s desk grinding away simulating individual water droplets. we also have a new piece of software called “Flora”; thanks to FABRICENGINE for this, as it will be invaluable in helping us create  our massive mountain forests.We are starting our big push with full time studio practice this week,  now that the teaching term has finished.  Our dedicated Stina team will be working full time to finish the trailer. So far we’ve made good progress with our character pipeline, environments  and shader development and are getting closer to having an integrated muscle system for all the characters, which may possibly make it into the trailer if our R&D proves production friendly.  We are also well on target for animation and have already finalled a number of shots.

Over the  Easter break we’ve also been holding our  last (possibly) round of pick-up shoots. A chance for Alex to get off the computer and start playing with proper boy toys.
Week one of our shoot saw Becky and Dave reuniting  as Stina and Gunter, our main characters,  giving us more insights into their stumbling romance. There was also a cameo from students Owyn Abrams and Lucy Spurge for our Rammstien Dance-athon.  I promise not to put this up on you tube. maybe 🙂
For week two we worked with professional Dramatic Violence group RC Annie, who helped us develop our Militia into a proper fighting force. They delivered some  fantastic improvised performances, including a scarily convincing sergeant  major and some terrifying fighting styles with scimitars, knives and spears. All the more impressive given our smaller capture volume. Their dancers also gave us a fantastic variety of weird, sexy, scary and surreal dance performances to capture the spirit of our uniquely odd Gypsy Caravan troupe.
Now we’ve completed all the performances, including our incidental and background action, we have the raw ingredients to make the whole movie. A lot of work lies ahead to build the rest of the assets, characters  and effects to wrap around the performances. Our next big challenge (once our promotional trailer is completed; which hopefully will be the focus of our efforts to finance  the rest of the production)  is to edit all the reference footage down to a solid 2 hour film. This will be cut with storyboards and assorted previz to get an overall sense of the structure and tone of the movie. Once completed we can make a definitive shot list and start ploughing through all the motion capture, cleaning it up and adding the cameras and the world around it. A massive challenge, but we have the solid base of a good story, a lot of our key CGI assets, great performances and a wealth of sumptuous concept and storyboard art to guide us through . Over the next few years we  should be able to complete the whole film, if the trailer does its job and helps us finance the rest of the production (our next very big challenge!).
All for now, check back in the summer to see our finished trailer,

Paul

3D Artist and New Funding

So I’ve been a little lax with my updates over the past few months. My excuse is that we’ve all been far to busy working on the movie to spare any time to write about it.
Our trip to LA bore fruit in the generous and unexpectedly lengthy article run by 3d Artist. Along with the accompanying 3d tutorial it stretched to a whopping 12 pages! Thanks to Lynette at 3D Artist for championing our cause on this. With our double page images (thanks go Solid Angle here for lending us some Arnold licenses for the super high detail renders) it was a great platform for talking about the film and Foam Digital. Myself, Alex and the students were given a lot of scope to frame the story however we wanted, with Alex and i writing over 10,000 words that were eventually edited into a very comprehensive piece.
Another benefit of our trip to LA was to help our ever expanding sponsorship base, with new people coming on board all the time, (mostly as a result of Alex’s tireless production efforts; he now has a producer credit to add to all the others!)
Other really big news is that we’ve secured new funding internally through the university HIEF fund. This will take the pressure off me and Alex a little, as it will allow us to buy some of our time out to focus more on the production. (Although I expect the odd all-nighters may still be on the cards here and there) We can now also afford a lot of the specialist software and machines we need for some of more challenging technical areas of the production. (Mostly related to fluid, cloth and particle simulation and rendering) We will also be able to bolster our back end systems with server hardware and software that will help us establish a solid and reliable pipeline, essential as we progress into full production.
The plan for the new year is to complete our ambitious cinematic trailer. It has a lot of variety and high end production value shots, so will take all the time and money we can throw at it to get to the quality levels we’re after. Our latest trailer edit showcases some exciting key scenes from the film and will hopefully offer a good slice of our narrative, thematic and stylistic approaches. It should also act as a launch pad for us to seek full film production funding towards the end of the year. We now have over a hundred staff in Foam Digital and our pipeline is slowly but surely starting to function like a real VFX film pipeline. We still have a fair amount of work to do on developing our assets publishing and control system: Tank, as we push it to deal with the realities and complexities of our full CG feature pipeline. We will be seeking help with this from some top Soho VFX houses over the coming months. We now have the scheduling software Shotgun functioning well with our integrated online artist review software Revolver (thanks for the fantastic support from Shotgun and Tweak software on this). We are already pushing shots through Mo-edit and Previz and off to the other departments, where animation, environments, vfx and compositing have started work. We have also started development on the sound design and folly for the trailer and have a professional sound designer and audio wiz Ian Palmer on board to help our talented homegrown (and now ex-Lionhead studios!) lead sound designer Chris Popiel.
We have a lot to get done between now and the summer, so it’s going to be a very busy Spring! But the Previz is looking great, as is the look dev. coming out of the costume, concept, animation, VFX and environments depts. (Plus some brilliantly realized models from the models dept. Pipe Catcher’s wagon is looking particularly cool!)
That’s all for 2012. If we can pull off our very ambitious shot list, we should have something pretty special to show you all in June 2013.

Paul