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    Interview with Tsvetelina Zdraveva & Jerred North, Directors of HBO Max’s Animated Short Film "Yellowbird"

    Interview with Tsvetelina Zdraveva & Jerred North, Directors of HBO Max’s Animated Short Film "Yellowbird"

    "Yellowbird" is a 3D animated short film written and directed by Tsvetelina Zdraveva and Jerred North from Afterman, which will be streaming on HBO Max on March 23 as a part of an anthology of seven other short films called Only You: An Animated Shorts Collection.

    Tsvetelina and Jerred explore grief in isolation through the perspective of an immigrant in this short film. While living in New York, a young Bulgarian immigrant receives tragic news from overseas, and must choose between going home or staying in the US to maintain her legal status.

    As the best cloud rendering service provider and a leading render farm in the industry, Fox Renderfarm is glad to provide the cloud rendering service to "Yellowbird" and contribute to the birth of this short film. Recently, we had the honor to interview Tsvetelina and Jerred who share with us how they create this impressive animation.

    Fox Renderfarm: Hi, Tsvetelina and Jerred, it’s our honor to have you here. First of all, please introduce yourselves and your team.

    Yellowbird Team: Hello! It’s so wonderful to get this opportunity to chat with all of you!

    We are a two-person directing team based out of Los Angeles. We’ve been working together since 2013, making primarily animated commercial work. "Yellowbird" is our first narrative short film.

    “Yellowbird” Poster

    "Yellowbird" Poster

    Fox Renderfarm: What is the inspiration for the short film?

    Yellowbird Team: "Yellowbird" is a snapshot of Tsvet’s attempt to go back to Bulgaria after the sudden death of her dad while living in New York on a visa. At the heart of this story is an immigrant's struggle to process grief in isolation from relatives and loved ones, a struggle that has become much more familiar to everyone in our post-Covid world.

    Fox Renderfarm: How did you become a part of the Animated Shorts Program launched by HBO Max and WarnerMedia Access?

    Yellowbird Team: Since 2019, we’ve had a working script for "Yellowbird". And in our after-hours, we’d chip away at creating visual materials that we could use to pitch our project to grants, programs, and scholarships. By the end of 2021, our pitch was substantial enough that we felt ready to apply when HBO Max and Warner Access announced the call for submissions. We submitted our deck and then had a follow-up meeting where we presented our project in person. Luckily, they liked the pitch enough to invite us into the program.

    Fox Renderfarm: Any tips or tricks for the main characters' design? Are there any references?

    Yellowbird Team: Because the story is stylistically journalistic, we knew the animation needed to be true to life to create a real world with real stakes. We felt photorealism would be very difficult with our limited resources and could be distracting for an audience.

    We were immediately drawn to creating characters with a foundation in human anatomy to support natural movement, but we worked within a simplified design language. The goal was to emphasize basic shapes and planes, and modify realistic proportions just enough so that the characters might be easier to empathize with.

    Working from extensive reference, we designed concepts of each character in poses specific to the story that helped show their unique personality. These painted poses then became the reference for the animators to block out their shots and keep the rigs on-model.

    Character Design © Afterman

    Character Design © Afterman

    Once we had designs we were happy with, we sculpted them in Zbrush. There was a bit of back and forth as we looked for ways to preserve the straight lines and acute angles in character silhouettes from the concept designs, while making sure that all the flattened planes and proportional exaggerations in 2D did not become too overwhelming in 3D or too limiting for animation.

    Texturing was done in Mari, treating each model the same way our backgrounds were created–as camera projections of 2D paintings.

    Character Design © Afterman

    Character Design © Afterman

    Character Design © Afterman

    Character Design © Afterman

    Fox Renderfarm: Why did you choose "Yellowbird" as the title of the short film? We’d like to know the intention behind it.

    Yellowbird Team: The yellow bird, both in Tsvet’s real life and in the film, is central to the story as a character and as a metaphor. We have our own interpretations of it, just like we hope an audience will. That the bird could mean so many things was a big part of what kept us attracted to this story for so long.

    Fox Renderfarm: Can you tell us about your pipeline/workflow? And how long did you finish the work?

    Yellowbird Team: Despite starting the program with a relatively finished script, the main character design, and a first pass at an animatic and sound design, it took a full year of production to finish the film.

    Between the two of us, we wrote, storyboarded, edited and created the 3d layout for the short. We then modeled and textured all characters and their props, and filmed ourselves for body mechanic reference for our animation team, Chaya in Thailand. They did the heavy lifting on rigging the models and animating the principal characters. The background characters were animated by Ashley Chung in LA, and we had some invaluable additional animation help led by Alexander Snow.

    Still Image of "Yellowbird" © Afterman

    Still Image of "Yellowbird" © Afterman

    To create the final look of the environments in the film, we used 2d-painted backgrounds and projected them onto 3d geometry. Because we had so many environments, and limited resources, we used our layout as a guide to determine the least amount of camera projections necessary to create all the camera shots we needed. We then took the layout backgrounds and added high-res assets, lit, textured, and rendered them with Arnold so that the painters could use them as blueprints for composition, lighting, and color. Lèa Pinto and Michał Sawtyruk took those bases along with a style guide and sets of photographic references we provided, and painted the final backgrounds we see in the movie. This approach helped us get what we needed with very few revisions. Menoua Dersookiasian used the geo and camera information from our layout setups and created 3-dimensional projections using the final background paintings. Chris de la Guardia was key in tying up loose ends at this stage by creating all remaining paintings that were needed and to either up-res or fill in missing parts to existing projections.

    Background Paintings © Afterman

    Background Paintings © Afterman

    Background Paintings © Afterman

    Background Paintings © Afterman

    We assembled, and lit everything in house, and sent it to Fox Renderfarm for an almost instantaneous render.

    Guillaume Cassuto created a composite look for most of the key shots in the movie, and we applied his logic across the whole film. Kim Stevenson elevated the whole look in a final color-correction pass.

    The music was composed by the brilliant Ramachandra Borcar, and the sound design is the work of Gypsy Sounds here in LA.

    Fox Renderfarm: Is this animated short film in the style of cel-shading? Why did you choose it to present your story? Have you followed or learned any new CG skills?

    Yellowbird Team: The visual style of the film is something we've been developing for a few years now specifically to help tell this story. We aimed to blend the appeal and shape language of illustration and 2D animation with cinematic storytelling and cinematography that is more accessible with 3D tools.

    Both the story and visuals of this film are very tied to our personal experiences and taste and give us a foundation that we're excited to develop and explore in our next projects.

    Still Image of “Yellowbird” © Afterman

    Still Image of "Yellowbird" © Afterman

    Still Image of “Yellowbird” © Afterman

    Still Image of "Yellowbird" © Afterman

    Fox Renderfarm: What’s the most unforgettable and interesting part of the creation process?

    Yellowbird Team: Reaching out to people whose work we’ve admired for years, and getting a chance to collaborate with them.

    Also, having the chance to build our own pipeline–something we’ve been working on for quite some time now.

    Fox Renderfarm: Did you meet any difficulties when creating the film? And how did you solve it?

    Yellowbird Team: We think solving difficulties might be another perfectly legitimate name for low-budget animated filmmaking!

    Because we had so many limitations, in both time and budget, we wore a lot of hats on the project, in addition to helping our collaborators do their own work. Some of the most important problem-solving we did was to find ways to help minimize revisions with the other artists so that the work could be finished on time without sacrificing quality.

    Fox Renderfarm: We’d like to know more about the story of Afterman. And could you share with us several unforgettable projects you’ve made?

    Yellowbird Team: When we first met, Jerred was working as a cinematographer and a writer, and Tsvet as an architect. We were looking for ways to collaborate together after hours, and quickly found 3D and animation to be a good middle ground for our individual skill sets.

    Our first project was for NASA back in 2016, and we pitched it as a blend of 2D painted textures and 3d characters and environments, similar to this film. We learned a lot about our own animation workflow on that job. With many more projects behind us since then, we were excited to try this approach again with "Yellowbird".

    Fox Renderfarm: Any artworks or artists inspire you the most?

    Yellowbird Team: So many artists inspire us and we love looking at many art forms when thinking about our own work.

    To start with, all the incredible artists we were so fortunate to work with while making "Yellowbird". From the incredible painters Michal, Lea and Chris, to all animators who worked with us, to our wonderful composer Ram. They are all some of the best in the world at what they do.

    There are other animation directors whose work we admire, and who have been pushing the bounds of what’s possible in animation; Quentin Baillieux, Rémi Chayé, Alberto Mielgo, Julien Bisaro, Patrick Osborne, and Boddicker to name a few.

    Fox Renderfarm: How do you feel about Fox Renderfarm’s cloud rendering services?

    Yellowbird Team: We had tried several other render services before finding you. It can be very difficult to get a project-specific pipeline to work well with a render farm, but Fox Renderfarm integrated seamlessly into our workflow. It has been very intuitive to use the platform, and the technical support you provided along the way was always speedy, kind, and very efficient. Everyone on your team is generous and engaged, and we loved working with you!

    Fox Renderfarm: Any other things you want to share with the audience who supports you?

    Yellowbird Team: The voice of the Dad is played by the professional wrestler Miroslav Barnyashev. Tsvet thinks her dad would have absolutely loved that.

    Thanks a lot to Tsvetelina Zdraveva and Jerred North for using Fox Renderfarm's cloud rendering services. Don’t forget to watch "Yellowbird" starting March 23 as part of ONLY YOU: An Animated Shorts Collection on HBO Max!

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