How a Team of 3 Made an Incredible Short and Won the Draft Selection of the Rookies Awards 2021
On a lone desert road, a grizzled old man crosses paths with an exhausted boy, barefoot in a hospital gown. As the boy collapses, the good samaritan rushes to get him help ...
Piers Shepherd-Rose, Callum McKay, and Paulina Rybakaitė made this amazing short movie come true and won the Draft Selection of the Rookies Awards 2021, which is sponsored by the world-leading cloud rendering services provider, Fox Renderfarm.
- Jr. Animator at Industrial Light & Magic
- From: UK
- Roto / Prep Artist at Union Visual Effects
- From: UK
Paulina Leonarda Rybakaitė
- Junior Modeler at Industrial Light & Magic
- From: UK
The dedicated team accepted Fox Renderfarm’s interview and shared with us contentful details about their creative process.
Fox Renderfarm: Hi guys, thank you so much for accepting our interview! Could you briefly introduce yourself respectively?
Callum: We’re all recent graduates from the University of Hertfordshire! Our graduate film, RUNAWAY, had us all taking on a variety of roles but primarily Callum was our Lighting and Compositing artist, Piers was our Art Director and Animator, and Paulina was our Character Modelling and Texture artist.
Fox Renderfarm: Congrats on winning the Draft Selection of the Rookies Awards 2021, how do you feel about winning the prize?
Callum: It was both an incredible and humbling experience for us to make it as far as the Draft Selection in the Rookies! We are incredibly proud of ourselves and how far our project has come.
Fox Renderfarm: The plot is so intriguing in this animated short. What’s your inspiration for this short?
Paulina: There were a lot of inspirations for particular elements of the story. We went through a lot of iterations of the plot until we were satisfied with it. It definitely helped to have great examples of short films that had effective storytelling and developed a specific atmosphere like Yona (2019) and the Witness (2019). We always went back to them to draw inspiration not only for the plot but also to understand how visual elements and specific styles help to build the whole world of the film. We also decided that we wanted to go with a specific time period the film would be set in and we chose the 80s as we liked the aesthetic of those times and it made sense for our plot to develop in those times. For that, we did a lot of research for both visual and aural elements. We looked at films like Fish Night (2019), Badlands (1973), Star Trek (1966) for both the environment settings as we wanted our film to be based in the Nevada desert and some plot elements that could be useful for our story. It made us excited to combine both - the 80s and its aesthetic with supernatural elements which was quite challenging to tackle at first. We wanted to make the film feel as if it is part of a bigger story so we had to figure how to use that one minute and a half effectively with all the elements working in harmony together.
The Witness (2019)
Fish Light (2019)
Star Trek (1966)
Fox Renderfarm: Could you introduce the task allocation in the creative process to us?
Callum: As we were a small team, we had to wear a lot of hats during production but primarily our task allocation was as follows:
Callum McKay - Lighting, Rendering & Compositing. Cloth Simulation.
Piers Shepherd-Rose - Concept & Art Direction, Animation
Paulina Rybakaitė - Character Modeling & Texturing
Fox Renderfarm: What software and plugins did you use for the animated short?
Paulina: We used a wide range of software. Maya was the main software we used for certain bits of production like environment modeling, animation and lighting for example. For something specific like cloth simulation, we used Houdini. Character modeling was done mainly within Zbrush, Maya and Marvelous Designer. All the assets were textured in Substance Painter. And then finally, the film was rendered with Arnold renderer and put together and composited in Nuke.
Fox Renderfarm: The lighting plays such an important role in creating the American road’s mid-night vibe and the suspension feeling in the short. How did you manage to set the lighting?
Piers: As an initial part of our pre-production process, we developed a number of 2D concept paintings to quickly explore lighting ideas and help hone in on our visual style before developing our 3D assets. When we then came to create our 3D previsualization passes for the film, we were able to block-in our lighting using these paintings as reference - which further influenced our final lighting choices for the film once we had finalized our characters and set design. We strived to be very purposeful in our lighting & colour choices, in not only creating clear focal points for the audience, but also hinting at characterization through their design & placement. We designed the two main colours used throughout the film to be representative of the two main characters, and to highlight the contrast between them - this might not be immediately obvious for the audience, but we found it rewarding in development to consider every aspect of the visuals as thematically-linked to the narrative.
Fox Renderfarm: The style of the characters is very unique which combines the oil painting and wooden texture. Why did you choose this special design? What’s the process of creating these 2 characters?
Piers: We drew inspiration from a number of visually striking short animated films, including Alberto Mielgo’s The Witness & Kevin "Teau" Rose & Gautier Alfirevic’s YONA. We especially enjoyed how they blended 2D & 3D techniques to create unique visuals, specific to each film.
YONA © Kevin "Teau" Rose & Gautier Alfirevic
To create our characters, we began by researching into our chosen time period & setting, and collated lots of images that we could use to inform our design choices. From this research, we created 2D concept paintings for each character & explored different iterations for each - including variations on costumes, as well as alternate face designs. Once we had settled on a final design for each character, we started to build them in 3D. Eventually, the characters were textured, taken through look-development, and had a character rig built for each of them - which would ultimately be used by our animator to develop the final performances for each shot.
Fox Renderfarm: When it comes to animation, we found the camera moves help the whole short draw the attention of the audience. Any special consideration behind the animation process?
Piers: In regards to the camerawork, whilst they were entirely CG cameras, we set out to keep them as grounded as possible in realism - As in our visual design, the cameras operated realistically, we wanted to keep this consistent through their movement. We tried to consider how each shot might be achieved in real life with real cameras, & allowed this to inform our choices as to how we used them in the film. We also put thought into how specific camera movements evoked certain feelings to the audience, such as how a slow push-in might invite closer attention and immerse the audience into the scene. We went as far as to add tiny micro-movements to the camera animation for each shot, to further help bring them closer to realism.
Fox Renderfarm: Did you meet any difficulties in the creative process? How did you solve them?
Piers: Every day there was a new problem to solve! As a 3, we were quick to discuss potential issues and sought ways to navigate around them as best we could. At one point during production, our initial composer & sound designer tied to the project had to unfortunately leave her role due to personal reasons. Moving quickly, & thanks to a certain sound-licensing website, we were able to edit & finish the music and sound for the film entirely ourselves.
Fox Renderfarm: How long did it take to finish the whole project?
Callum: We had A LOT of ideas before coming up with RUNAWAY and it took us around six months of ideas generation before all agreeing on an idea that we really liked during September of 2020. After that, we set about developing the narrative as well as our visual style before eventually moving into full-fledged production which finished in June 2021.
Fox Renderfarm: We are amazed that you created such a quality short with only 3 artists. Could you introduce the pipeline to us? Did you and your teammates do anything special to make the communication and cooperation efficient and effective?
Piers: Thank you! Whilst we developed & led the project as a 3, we certainly couldn’t have done it without the help from a small number of ‘freelancers’ who filled in essential roles where we couldn’t.
Our pipeline for the film reflected a fairly typical CG pipeline. Beginning in pre-production, the key stages included: Concept design, Pre-visualization, Modeling, Texturing, Look-development, Rigging, Animation, Cloth Simulation, Lighting & Compositing.
As a small team working from home, organization & communication were essential - We used a project management application to keep track of our tasks & progress and kept in touch constantly by setting up team voice meetings week to week.
Fox Renderfarm: Do you have any plan to prolong this animated short or create any other project based on the plot of RUNAWAY?
Callum: We currently don’t have any plans on creating anything else based in the world of RUNAWAY although we’re definite that the inspiration and style we have adopted from working on the project will follow us along onto our new projects in the future.
Fox Renderfarm: How did you encounter CG? Could you share with us your educational and career experience?
Piers: When I was younger I had the typical early dream of being an animator when I grew up - after getting through school & spending some time weighing up other options and working in retail after college, I decided to throw my hat in to properly pursue a degree in animation. This led me to the University of Hertfordshire where I’ve since been able to graduate with First Class Honours! During my time at University, I was fortunate to gain invaluable experience on 2 internships in the industry & since graduating I’ve been exceptionally lucky to start my career with Industrial Light & Magic as a Jr. Animator.
Callum: When I was 16 and leaving secondary school here in the UK, I decided I wanted to go and study Games Art at college as I’ve always loved video games. After graduating from that college at 18, I set my eyes on pursuing a degree in it as well at the University of Hertfordshire. Shortly after starting on the course, I found out that there is a lot more than Games Art in the realm of 3D! I found Visual Effects and a little later down the line, compositing.
Paulina: I never thought making CG was possible until I came to the UK and started studying at the university and funnily enough I did not have almost any experience with computers or software before it as I was mainly concentrating on traditional art and was aiming to be a 2D animator. When I started the animation course I realized that there are way more specialization opportunities and so I was not purely concentrating on 2D art anymore and tried out as many new things as possible as this course let us to. When I first picked up the 3D software, it amazed me how there were almost no limitations in making digital art, it was just so fun to always try to push yourself more to see what you can achieve and the problem solving aspect of making 3D art always intrigued me since. I am very grateful that our course made us try many different disciplines from the very beginning as because of that I found a big passion in 3D modelling and I am continuing to grow as an artist in that field currently working as Junior Modeller in Industrial Light & Magic.
Fox Renderfarm: Any artworks or artists inspire you the most?
Piers: I follow a swathe of animators online and am always inspired to see brilliant animation floating around the web - But, if I had to pick someone specific, I’d say I really enjoy the 2D gestural animation style of Glen Keane.
Beauty and the Beast (Supervising Animator: Glen Keane)
Paulina: There are so many, it is difficult to give only a few names. I try not to only concentrate on 3D artists either as there is so much that can be learned from traditional artists. I have to say though that I have been very inspired by digital artists that emphasize surface texture of models - Maria Panfilova is one of the great examples and she also draws inspiration from amazing traditional sculptors like Beth Cavener. From the realism side, I find Kris Costa’s work very inspiring and I can never get bored observing his portraits.
Beast statue 1/4 XM Studios © Maria Panfilova
© Beth Cavener
Tribute to H.R. Giger © Kris Costa
Fox Renderfarm: What’s your next step?
Piers: Stay employed! I’m excited to continue building on my experience as an animator in the industry and will continue to develop my skills where I can and push myself to be as good as I can be.
Callum: I just landed a job as a roto/prep artist at Union VFX! The next steps for me are growing my skill sets as both a paint & roto artist and a compositor with aspirations to move onto a fully-fledged compositing role.
Paulina: Currently, my main goal is the same as mentioned before - stay employed! I am also concentrating on developing my skills during my free time after work and trying to dedicate at least a few hours per week to work on personal projects when I can. I am very happy with my current position and I am excited to keep learning and growing in this industry.
Fox Renderfarm: How do you feel about Fox Renderfarm’s cloud rendering services?
Callum: When I was first researching various different cloud rendering service solutions for our project, I expected that it would be a complicated and difficult process. But after using Fox Renderfarm’s cloud rendering services, I realised that the service made it so easy and user-friendly to upload scenes, render them, and download the output in a few simple clicks. The customer support was great and the service made organizing our renders a lot easier as each render pass was put into its respective folder during the download as well! We’re definitely over the moon with our experience with Fox Renderfarm.
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