OUR JOURNEY TO
Progress So Far: part II
Layout / Previz (Early Version)
In early May 2020, we decided to focus on the last one-minute part of the short. The scene takes place in the garage and it’s the climax of the story, and we wanted to get that done first.
Amanda created a super-duper rough layout of the garage set that was basically a large block containing smaller blocks inside as a placeholder for each prop. Aside from creating a sense of scale and proportion of the room, I can also use it to start placing the cameras around to match the storyboard frames; this is the layout stage (also known as previsualization). It was my first time ever to do a proper layout pass, so it was definitely challenging at first but I learned a lot from it. I also experimented with using Maya’s Camera Sequencer tool, which allows us to manage camera shots and when to change between cameras in one Maya scene. I tried my best to translate the 2D storyboards into the 3D world, and here's one of our very first passes at it (warning: it's very very rough).
Amanda's rough garage set blocking
My early pass for layout/previz for our last one-minute part of the short (initial story)
We actually have an even earlier pass before this where I used a stretched version of the girl model as a placeholder for the grandpa in the scene (we only had the in-progress girl model to work with then). It didn’t look pretty at all and I decided to just share a screenshot of the layout here as some might find watching the whole thing disturbing and unsettling (but our team had to go through that haha).
Using a stretched girl model for the grandpa's placeholder
Terrifying, to say the least. But it got the job done (somewhat). Yes, I also used my biplane model for the kite plane placeholder, just because. Don't worry if nothing makes sense right now, it will be in a few chapters :)
This first-hand experience really made me understand and appreciate the significance of the layout stage in creating a preview of our 3D short film very early on. As you can see, some of the 3D shots didn't match our 2D animatic exactly, and most of those decisions came in only after diving down into the 3D space and figuring out which camera angle, focal length, and movement worked best for our storytelling. I'll be showing our final layout in chapter 7, but I suggest you sit back and enjoy the rest of the read before getting ahead of yourself :)
One of the most challenging aspects of the character creation process is making sure they look authentic and reflect their ethnicity and where they come from. In our case, we knew we wanted our characters to be South-East Asian, specifically Indonesian. While beautifully drawn, the concept art by Alyssa wasn’t sufficient enough to give Andreas specific and clear directions on how to make our characters look authentic in 3D. For this, we gathered a lot of image references, both from real-life and CG, of South-East-Asian-looking grandpas and girls. Amanda and I took specific notes on certain features to include and what can be pushed into a more stylized look. We feel like Andreas' grandpa model initially didn't look Indonesian enough, let alone South-East Asian.
The first version of our grandpa character model by Andreas Smidt
Perhaps it is because the headwrap looks more like a turban, and the cheeks feel very chiseled and sharp. After receiving our feedback, the Amazing Andreas submitted this to our group chat:
Andreas' iterations of the grandpa character
After more research and tweaking here and there, we finally got our grandpa's final head model that we were all satisfied with! But then comes our next bit of challenge - the girl. For some reason, the girl was very tricky to work on. Giving verbal feedback through chats and zoom meetings was not that effective, even accompanied by some draw-overs. So we came up with a method that was both efficient and effective using Photoshop! We did some manipulation of Andreas’ model in Photoshop while recording it to help him better understand the changes and direction we were heading for.
Our final grandpa's head model by Andreas Smidt
Draw-overs on Andreas' girl model to address important features to tweak
Photoshop manipulation using the liquify tool to adjust the eyes, nose, and mouth area of the girl model to help Andreas visualize the changes he needed to make
Now hold up, we're not done yet... Our next bit of challenge was ensuring both the grandpa and the girl sat well next to each other within the same frame. We were particularly struggling with this for a while and had to keep going back and forth with Andreas even after his latest version was almost finalized. Andreas had been working on the two characters in separate files and sending us updates/screenshots of the characters individually. They looked fine by themselves until one day I brought both 3D models into a Maya scene and then BAM:
Initial girl and grandpa model placed next to each other
Photoshop manipulation to tweak the girl's head proportion
It didn't feel like they both belong in the same film/world :( The scale between the characters wasn't the only problem; the girl's overall proportion was slightly off as well. We asked him to bring both characters into the same ZBrush file when doing the revisions so it'll make his life easier. I mentioned having both their eyeballs roughly the same size would be a helpful guide. Anatomically speaking this would be accurate, but we knew we're allowed to push certain things in animation, and that’s always the beauty of this medium. We gave some clearer notes to Andreas and at the end, we got ourselves two characters that feel cohesive:
The final girl and grandpa model placed next to each other
The final girl and grandpa turntables, 3D modelled by Andreas Smidt.
In early June 2020, we decided to move from WhatsApp to Slack as our main platform of communication. Amanda created the workspace and all the channels inside. These channels compartmentalize our conversation and make our work-sharing more organized. Over time as our team grew, so did the channels! Here's a screenshot of what our Slack channels are looking like (I know, we started our project calling it the 'Kitemaker Film' and didn't bother to change our workspace name when we found our 'Kaghati' title).
Our Slack channels
We tried to keep our conversations casual and fun. In #00_approval, anytime someone uploads things for us to review, we'd all react with a 😎 to mark them as 'approved'. In the #random channel, we post literally the random-est stuff. The #musicshare is where we share our different tastes of music! We even have our own Spotify collaborative playlist.
Christian also updated our production and pre-production folder, structuring our files so it’s more organized for our pipeline workflow. He and Lorena had also been working on modeling and texturing guidelines respectively around this time. Since all 6 of us (the total team members back then as of June 2020) contributed to modeling the props, we needed a guide to ensure a consistent naming convention of and within the file. The guides also explained how to properly UV unwrap the models from which I learned a lot! You can take a peek at them here: