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Peeling Back Layers: Exclusive Interview with 3D Young Minds Behind Animation Short "Veggie Go Round"

Peeling Back Layers: Exclusive Interview with 3D Young Minds Behind Animation Short "Veggie Go Round"

Veggie Go Round is a collaborative animated short film created by an Illustration and Digital Animation student team - Salad Bowl Studios, for their final year graduation project at The One Academy. It’s an action-packed comedy about a young boy who imagines the veggies on his plate as live monsters, merrily inspired by the universal childhood experience of growing up as a picky eater.

Watch Veggie Go Round

As a leading render farm and partner of The One Academy, Fox Renderfarm has provided the cloud rendering service to the team and helped make this animated short film a reality. We’re honored to have Violet Lee, the Director of Salad Bowl Studios here and made an exclusive interview with her. Let’s look behind the scenes of Veggie Go Round through this interview.

Fox Renderfarm: Hi Violet, thank you so much for accepting our interview. First of all, please introduce yourself and your team to us.

Violet: Hello, thank you for the precious opportunity! I’m Violet Lee, the Director of Salad Bowl Studios. We are a team of twenty-eight 2D and 3D artists who created a short film Veggie Go Round that was released earlier this year in June 2023.

Fox Renderfarm: Why did you call yourself Salad Bowl Studios? Is it a combination of all kinds of CG talent?

Violet: That’s right! Salad Bowl Studios consists of various students majoring in Illustration, 3D Animation and 3D Modeling in The One Academy, Malaysia. The concept of a Salad Bowl is indeed our way of describing the bright mixture of CG talents that contributed to this short film about vegetables.

Fox Renderfarm: Could you tell us more about this short? And what was the inspiration?

Violet: Veggie Go Round is a cute and light-hearted comedy portraying the adventures of a young picky eater as he imagines himself being chased by vegetable monsters. When creating this story, we took inspiration from our own childhood memories of disliking veggies, as we’ve found that many people around the world can relate to this experience.

Our head writer, Metta Soegiharto, is the main lead this pitch is accredited to, as she had worked tirelessly to bring us the full development and visual flow of the script alongside co-writer Chi Hang and line producer Ly-Ann. To add a fun fact: we had originally imagined our film to have an eerie and sinister style like Cuphead! However, we ultimately decided on a cute short that’s safe and friendly for young audiences.

Our initial idea was thought to have a darker art style. © Studio MDHR

Our initial idea was thought to have a darker art style © Studio MDHR

Our initial idea was thought to have a darker art style © Studio MDHR

Our initial idea was thought to have a darker art style. © Studio MDHR

The final execution ended up cute and funny. Meet the vegetable monsters! © Salad Bowl Studios

The final execution ended up cute and funny. Meet the vegetable monsters © Salad Bowl Studios

The final execution ended up cute and funny. Meet the vegetable monsters! © Salad Bowl Studios

Fox Renderfarm: How did you design the characters of the little boy and vegetables? Were there any references?

Violet: To approach each of our character designs, we start with describing a prompt of the character. For example, our boy is a “small mischievous boy, ginger hair with a hat”. Then our illustrators begin compiling a variety of references to develop design concepts around this prompt.

Prompt small mischievous boy, ginger hair with a hat

Prompt: small mischievous boy, ginger hair with a hat.

A collection of sketches by our character artist team that captures the boy best © Salad Bowl Studios

A collection of sketches by our character artist team that captures the boy best. © Salad Bowl Studios

A collection of sketches by our character artist team that captures the boy best. © Salad Bowl Studios

Once the most suitable idea was established, our lead character artist Erina Sufian proceeded with the final version of the boy’s design.

Boy character sheet by Erina Sufian. © Salad Bowl Studios

Boy character sheet by Erina Sufian. © Salad Bowl Studios

Up next is the adaptation of 2D design into 3D model, executed and rigged by our lead modeler Hsin Wei.

Boy sculpt by Hsin Wei © Salad Bowl Studios

Boy sculpt by Hsin Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Boy sculpt by Hsin Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Completed 3D model, rigged and textured by Hsin Wei © Salad Bowl Studios

Completed 3D model, rigged and textured by Hsin Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Completed 3D model, rigged and textured by Hsin Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Demo of our boy’s personality, animated by lead animator Ardelia Tiffany Yoga © Salad Bowl Studios

Demo of our boy’s personality, animated by lead animator Ardelia Tiffany Yoga. © Salad Bowl Studios

As for the rest of the cast, it is a slightly different process where we narrow down our selection of iconic vegetables to make the prompt, before creating cute and charming designs from the unique shapes. Under the guidance of art director Ting Wei, here are some key points of our veggie development.

Studying the silhouettes of existing food characters for inspiration

Studying the silhouettes of existing food characters for inspiration. © Salad Bowl Studios

Originally, we were sketching out eccentric and creepy veggie monsters for the thrilling chase scene. Later on however, it became clear that cute rounded designs were more visually appealing for general audiences, especially when viewed and animated from different angles. And that’s how our adorable and energetic cast was born!

Three different render styles for our character cast explored by Hui Ching, Joel Chong and Natasha Ng © Salad Bowl Studios

Three different render styles for our character cast explored by Hui Ching, Joel Chong and Natasha Ng. © Salad Bowl Studios

Discovering the “personalities” of each veggie illustrated by Ainsley Phua, Hui Ching, Natasha and Ting Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Discovering the “personalities” of each veggie: illustrated by Ainsley Phua, Hui Ching, Natasha and Ting Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Demo of our veggie character lineup in 3D with distinct silhouettes and unique behaviors. © Salad Bowl Studios

Demo of our veggie character lineup in 3D with distinct silhouettes and unique behaviors. The execution was a collaborative effort - modeled by Hsin Wei, Donovan and Nicholas, rigged by Alex and Vincent, and finally animated by Ardelia Tiffany Yoga, Ammar Syahiran, Violet Lee, Chloe Loh and JoJo Chan.

Fox Renderfarm: Could you introduce the pipeline/workflow of this project? What software or plug-ins did you use? And how long did it take you to finish the short?

Violet: To keep track of our progress and scheduling, we referenced the classic animation production pipeline to divide our workload across pre-production, production and post-production stages. Below is an illustrated example of how each task may be split.

Image © 3D Animation Essentials by Andy Beane

Image © "3D Animation Essentials" by Andy Beane.

In the case of our film, we referred to this timeline with some minor deviations depending on the completion status of each phase. Pre-production is largely focused on developing the story, character and environment designs in 2D so that the 3D team can begin sculpting and building the previsualization scene. An efficient workflow ensures that all the look development plus 3D blocking is completed before moving onto the production stage — which focuses on polishing the animation, finalizing the model textures, and fixing any rigging issues that subsequently arise. Lastly, post-production is dedicated to lighting, rendering and compositing as this process can take longer than expected to tweak and troubleshoot. This is also the stage for us to prepare promotional materials for official release on various platforms.

Once the film’s individual scenes have been stitched together with music, sound effects, visual adjustments and special effects, that’s when we know our film is complete and ready.

Example of environment blocking in the pre-production stage, modeled by lead environment artist Nicholas. © Salad Bowl Studios

Example of environment blocking in the pre-production stage, modeled by lead environment artist Nicholas. © Salad Bowl Studios

Render of a scene in production stage with refined textures and lighting. © Salad Bowl Studios

Render of a scene in production stage with refined textures and lighting. © Salad Bowl Studios

Final result upon release, after compositing and VFX. © Salad Bowl Studios

Final result upon release, after compositing and VFX. © Salad Bowl Studios

The main software of choice for our production is Autodesk Maya, and relevant supplementary work was done in ZBrush, Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro. Our line producers Ly-Ann and Chloe Loh collaborated to manage the timeline and arrange the task distribution for each team member.

It took us exactly a year from May 2022 to May 2023 to complete our 4-minute short film, and we managed to speed things up by having processes run concurrently such as the 2D team finalizing the visual design whilst the 3D team constructing the previs at the same time. The benefit of having a team of diverse talents is that you don’t have to wait for one task to be complete before starting the other — you can have multiple sectors simultaneously working on separate fragments to be combined later on.

Fox Renderfarm: The little boy has rich facial expressions and various movements. How did you achieve this cute style through animation? Were the animators observing the behaviors of children or taking reference videos before?

Violet: I’m very happy to hear that! Yes, to capture the cute vibe of the character, we began by compiling funny clips of children reacting to eating vegetables. However, as we proceeded to the 3D animation stage, we found that there were many references that needed further refinement before they could be translated into our workflow. That was when we started recording our own facial expressions and movements to match the emotional progression of our boy under the direction of our lead animator, Ardelia Tiffany Yoga.

An example of using our own recordings to refine body language and timing © Salad Bowl Studios

Here is an example of using our own recordings to refine body language and timing, acted by Vincent Yeoh and translated to animation by Filbert Yohanes Sulivan. © Salad Bowl Studios

Another example with more emphasis on pose-silhouette and emotions. © Salad Bowl Studios

Another example acted and animated by Ammar Syahiran with more emphasis on pose-silhouette and emotions. © Salad Bowl Studios

A difficulty that we faced at this point was realizing how hard it was to transfer movement information from a properly-proportioned reference to a small character with tiny limbs — the boy needed to run more little steps compared to our one big step. Therefore, we referenced the stylized animation movements of ‘Coin Operated’ and the TinyTAN series to better match the small body proportions of our boy.

An inspiring short film with a bouncy character

An inspiring short film with a bouncy character. (Two Ghosts Films "Coin Operated", Nicholas Arioli 2018.)

Chibi animation of BTS members

Chibi animation of BTS members. (TinyTAN “Dream ON”, Big Hit Ent 2021.)

Fox Renderfarm: Did you guys run into any obstacles? How were they resolved?

Violet: Working in 3D, technical troubles come pretty frequently. Most of the obstacles we met were related to rigging and the occasional bug in the software (Maya), but with the guidance of our lecturers, we managed to learn the necessary solutions to resolve them.

Unwanted mesh deformations can appear haunted in nature

Unwanted mesh deformations can appear haunted in nature.

Eye constraints that bugged out due to a conflicting namespace

Eye constraints that bugged out due to a conflicting namespace.

Whenever we encounter an issue with a rig, we first consult our lead rigger Hsin Wei to see if the problem lies with the rigging process, the model topology, or the animator’s settings. If the rig’s structure looks fine in the Outliner, we test the rig to gauge how the mesh deforms with skin weights and blendshapes.

We’ll also check the animator’s rig settings to see if they may have used an older version of the rig or accidentally tweaked an attribute without knowing. However, sometimes the solution is as simple as making sure everyone is using the same version across the board. When we began production we started with Maya 2022.3, but when we upgraded to 2022.4 a few months later, some parts of the rig needed to be redone to accommodate the transition. Our veggie rigs in particular required a lot of manual re-rigging from scratch due to the stylistic proportions that can’t be replicated with automated rigging tools. Although necessary, it definitely caused delays when our animators needed to re-animate parts of the rig that were affected during the update.

Fox Renderfarm: This work is rich in color and goes well together. How did you consider the color palette for different scenes? Please give one or two examples.

Violet: I’m glad you think so. While refining the story beats, we were considering the color progression to match the emotional state of the boy throughout his journey. Regarding the kitchen scenes, we wanted to give a safe homely vibe like ‘Wallace & Gromit’ and ‘Bao’.

Semi-realistic warm tone of a comfy kitchen, designed by Revvathy and modeled by Nicholas and Donovan. © Salad Bowl Studios

Semi-realistic warm tone of a comfy kitchen © Salad Bowl Studios

Semi-realistic warm tone of a comfy kitchen, designed by Revvathy and modeled by Nicholas and Donovan. © Salad Bowl Studios

However, the Veggie Land has a more stylized approach influenced by the films ‘Trolls’ and ‘Blue Curry’. To capture the childlike disgust for vegetables, our illustrators took the initiative to explore crafts with an emphasis on color and textures.

Mood and texture experiments created by our illustrators © Salad Bowl Studios

Mood and texture experiments created by our illustrators. © Salad Bowl Studios

Mood and texture experiments created by our illustrators. © Salad Bowl Studios

Color-focused explorations painted by Patrick Ch’ng, Shun Cheng, Revvathy, Ker Er and Ting Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

Color-focused explorations painted by Patrick Ch’ng, Shun Cheng, Revvathy, Ker Er and Ting Wei. © Salad Bowl Studios

After these explorations, we optimized our research into a cohesive color script that the lighters and compositors can refer to. Starting from a bright imaginative wonder, the colors slowly turn more eerie and dark as the boy delves deeper into his adventure.

Color script as the story progresses, compiled with the guidance of Metta Soegiharto © Salad Bowl Studios

Color script as the story progresses, compiled with the guidance of Metta Soegiharto. © Salad Bowl Studios

Color script as the story progresses, compiled with the guidance of Metta Soegiharto. © Salad Bowl Studios

Comparison of 2D key art and 3D execution. © Salad Bowl Studios

Comparison of 2D key art and 3D execution. © Salad Bowl Studios

Fox Renderfarm: What are the future plans for Salad Bowl Studios? Are there any ongoing projects?

Violet: Thank you for your interest! For the time being, we have no further projects scheduled under Salad Bowl Studios as our members are either focused on personal projects or have begun working in local CG production industries (Malaysia and Indonesia). As we are a student-run group, there is still much to learn when it comes to creating art in a professional environment. I’m proud to say that many of my teammates are working hard to gain creative experience and/or progressing in their careers within their preferred specialization.

Salad Bowl Studios an array of talents covering illustration, animation, modeling and rigging

Salad Bowl Studios: an array of talents covering illustration, animation, modeling and rigging.

In addition, I’d like to add that many of us are individually open to contract work and freelance. If you are interested in hiring our members for your vision or project, please email an enquiry to saladbowlstudiostoa@gmail.com or connect with us through Instagram via @veggiegoround.

Fox Renderfarm: On top of that, we’d like to know more about you, our director. How did you encounter CG?

Violet: As a kid, I was always a big fan of cartoons that aired regularly on TV. Animating stories was my dream and learning about how technology has advanced to develop 3D productions was very inspiring and humbling at the same time.

For example, when you’re young, you think that greenscreens are magical enchanted backdrops. Only when you’re older, do you start to realize how the necessary special effects that contribute to the film’s commercial success were manually created and layered by artists over months of hard work. For a perfect result, creative people are willing to go to extreme lengths to tell stories and break conventional limits. Although I’m most familiar with CG creations through Disney and Pixar storytelling, it’s amazing to realize just how much the work of CG artists across animation, modeling and VFX actually make up the backbone of most films we see today.

Fox Renderfarm: Any artist or artwork that inspires you the most?

Violet: Admittedly it's not easy for me to name specific persons, as many of the films I enjoy are created by a large team of highly skilled artists and creators that combine their unique strengths to produce a fantastic result. However, I find that some examples of CG work I’ve been awed by lately are the immersive character-centric animation shorts produced by Blizzard and Riot Games, as well as the revolutionary experimental style of the Spider-Verse movie series.

Overwatch “Alive”, Blizzard Ent 2016

A screenshot from one of the first game-animated shorts I watched a few years ago. The prospect of expanding in-game character lore through CG animation really took my breath away. (Overwatch “Alive”, Blizzard Ent 2016.)

KDA “POPSTARS”, Riot Games 2018

A music video with fantastic execution, animated by French studio Fortiche Prod. Although these are in-game characters, the production team did wonderful bringing them to life. (K/DA “POP/STARS”, Riot Games 2018.)

Spider-Man “Into the Spider-Verse”, Marvel Ent 2018

A series with beautifully-stylized art direction, produced by Columbia Pictures and Sony Animation. The dedication to wit and detail in the film left an unforgettable impression. (Spider-Man “Into the Spider-Verse”, Marvel Ent 2018.)

Fox Renderfarm: Veggie Go Round was rendered with Fox Renderfarm. How do you feel about the cloud rendering services of Fox Renderfarm?

Violet: I recommend it for both personal and team-based projects! Fox Renderfarm has been a very helpful asset in the making of ‘Veggie Go Round’, especially when our release date was just around the corner. Although I would consider our scenes less resource-intensive than many other 3D projects, we did have some shots with dynamic lighting and shadows that required at least a day or two to render with our best computers. However, Fox Renderfarm’s service managed to render these shots within a matter of hours — it was so satisfying. Implementing it into our workflow has sped up production and given our compositors more opportunity to polish up the film’s outcome.

Once your settings are established and ready to go, I definitely suggest trying out Fox Renderfarm to complete your rendering. A scene that takes an hour to render by laptop can be completed within seconds, and that extra time you save can be dedicated to making adjustments for refinement. I think all CG artists should get familiar with cloud-based rendering, and Fox Renderfarm is a good introductory service thanks to their helpful and proactive staff.

The render settings for our project file on Fox Renderfarm

The render settings for our project file on Fox Renderfarm.

Fox Renderfarm: What would you like to say or share with the CG enthusiasts who support your works?

Violet: I think the message I would like to leave most for fellow CG enthusiasts is to extend more appreciation to your own creations and others. If we take a moment to truly appreciate the incredible privilege we have in being able to create and immerse ourselves in the world of CG, we will realize how behind every project lies countless hours of dedication and creativity.

It's essential to remember that we're not just crafting images; we're giving life to our ideas and passions. In this ever-evolving field, flexibility and adaptability are becoming increasingly valuable. Embrace the opportunity to diversify your skill set, but never forget the profound joy of creating something uniquely your own! Let's continue to support and inspire each other, nurturing our love for CG and pushing the boundaries of what's possible. Our shared journey is a testament to the beauty of human creativity.

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