OUR JOURNEY TO
Story Changes !!!
Finding Our Title
Though we are well into the production stage in June 2020, we’re still calling our project the Kitemaker Film. We hadn't found a title to call our short yet, but it was time to think about it. I jotted down a list of potential words but none really feels right.
Sometime later that month, I was casually researching the history and culture of kites, which was very fascinating. One shocking fact that I discovered was that according to a German researcher, Wolfgang Bieck, the first-ever kite that was flown by humans was from Indonesia! It was a kite called Kaghati Kolope, specifically from Muna Island, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia (read more about it here). I quickly learned that ‘kaghati’ itself means ‘kite’ in the Muna language, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with the word and thought how fitting and beautiful it is for our film’s title, and voilà!
So we eventually gained more insights on Kaghati Kolope by watching documentaries. There was also this online illustrated-children-book about it that I translated to English for our international friends. This research stage was very crucial as the last thing we wanted to do is to include elements that are inaccurate, or worse, offensive to anyone. Everyone was very excited to learn about this leaf-made kite that turns out to be the ancestor of all kites!
Revising Our Story
The first half of July was pretty hectic. It slowly became clearer to us that in order to have a realistic goal, we would need to cut the beginning part of the short entirely and stick to just the last part (the garage scene). This would save us a ton of time from modeling and texturing the whole interior of the house, as well as cut down on animation and render time! In short, we can pour all our energy and love into a smaller chunk of the story.
However, the last bits of our original story couldn’t be left as it is; the audience will lack context and the point of the story will become unclear to them. I had a couple of friends that I showed our early animatic to and they both felt it was crucial to nail the first interaction scene between the girl and the grandpa, to lay down the chemistry of their relationship. Since we essentially need to cut down the whole beginning part, Amanda and I started revising the storyline to make sure we still maintain the integrity of our theme and message, while keeping all the action happening only inside the garage. I can tell you now that revising stories isn't a walk in the park...
During those uncertain times, I happened to watch a documentary series Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II in Disney+ with Amanda. We gained so many insights into story development and how the artists at Disney face story changes.
We were motivated
In my opinion, since everyone on the team is giving their maximum effort, we might as well deliver a high quality short film not only visually, but story-wise. I feel strongly that there isn’t much point in putting our best to only produce mediocre story
Sure, we’ll all still learn invaluable lessons from this collaborative experience, understanding the whole pipeline and how to work effectively with each other
I’d very much rather spend more time to put love and care into the story
New storyboards and animatic cut!
Jun 28 - Change story I → Girl ngambek, look at kite plane (Amanda’s V2)
Jul 9 - Change story II → Girl trying to find socket, throws kite plane
Jul 11 - Change story III → Possibility of using DS/Gameboy
Jul 13 - Finalized story!!!! → Girl holds the spool as controller
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 unnsettling (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). 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 in this early layout, some of the 3D shots didn't match our 2D animatic exactly, which most of those decisions came in after diving down into the 3D space and figuring out which camera angle, focal length, and movement work best for our storytelling. I'll be showing our final layout in chapter 7, but I suggest you sit back for now 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. For some reason, the girl was very tricky to work on, so we did some draw-overs and Photoshop manipulation of Andreas’ model to help him better understand the direction we're heading for.
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
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 on 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.