The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Two)


I like to walk about town. It’s just something I do. If I’m in no hurry to be somewhere, I really don’t mind walking the hour or two it takes to get to a place rather than take a bus, taxi or subway. One of the benefits of a hobby like this is one gets to see things that one would otherwise miss from a vehicle, whizzing by. All kinds of restaurants, small shops and little details of how a city is put together or how it evolves. This walking and looking combined with an animation artist’s pension for looking at things in minute detail (Or maybe that’s just me) and my natural inclination to analyze everything (my wife might suggest I OVER analyze, but since this isn’t www.pointoutsteve’, we’ll save that debate for another time), it comes in handy when location scouting.

I wanted an urban looking location for the promo and I had a hunch about an area in Hong Kong called Tsim Sha Tsui. TST is a busy shopping and tourist district filled with shops of all kinds, plazas, hotels, restaurants and in one corner... a bunch of small bars. I seemed to recall seeing a back alleyway around there that might serve my purposes to get good reference for my backgrounds for use in the promo. It was there and it was perfect.

The alleyway seemed to adjoin to a few bars/clubs and so it had a nice section with graffiti and doors covered in stickers, etc. Lots of character that I could use to infuse my location with authenticity.

The value of reference: Look at that pipe on the right side in the second picture- it just stops, going
to nowhere. Look at the stickers all over the place. Nice details that are easy to not think of when
drawing off the top of your head.

As I said previously, I really don’t like animation designs that look faked. It doesn’t take much in the Google Search age to find good photo reference and I find it amazing when someone still fakes a design. I’m all for hyper-stylizing something, but I think a certain percentage of the design needs to be grounded in some kind of credible reality in order to sell it, even in a kid’s cartoon. When I see something, as a viewer, that looks faked, it pulls me out of the story and I feel a lack of respect for the creators involved and that rubs off on my enjoyment of the show. But.... maybe that’s just me.

As a quick aside, my epiphany that led me to my design stance happened when I was on a Toronto street waiting outside a building for a friend to come out. I looked at the sidewalk and noticed all the black spots littering the concrete. It was spat out gum that had be stepped on and stepped on and then some. I had never realized how dirty the sidewalks really were and thought that I will never allow a sidewalk background to be painted without gum spots: they look naked without them: too unnaturally clean. Then I looked up and noticed just how many wires run atop the streets overhead. So many more than I would have drawn in a design had I even had the thought to add them. Rarely do you see those kinds of details in animation backgrounds. When I do see them, they add such a degree of believability to the location that I’m now quite inflexible in making sure things are referenced. Especially on animation that is supposed to be more realistic in style, as was the case with God of Dance.

Ok, back to the location scout...

I took photos of everything that I could: the walls, the doors, the lights, the pipes, the graffiti, the ground, sewer covers, wall stickers, garbage and gutters. For me, it’s the little details that spice up a good design, once you have solid broad strokes, that is. After covering the ally, I took a few photos of some closed and for rent shops on the street because the alley obviously didn’t have a storefront in it and I wanted a closed storefront in my set to help sell the location as being at night but also an area that has empty shops for rent to suggest it being an area that is not so busy and prosperous: just to “dirty up” the location a bit and give it more a “street” feel (How was THAT for a run on sentence?).

I stood in the middle of a narrow and busy road to get this picture. Multiple taxis where speeding in
my direction assuming I would see them and get out of the way. They assumed correctly.

Armed with too many photos, I headed home to draw the design.

This location/set design went quickly: I think I knocked it out in about 2 or 3 hours. I only needed to have 3 flat walls painted and one floor. I didn’t need a 360 degree location with sky and a forth wall. A flat walled stage set concept was enough to suit the needs, and schedule, of the promo. Remember: cutting time and money costs was always a factor in every step of this production. Sky: Don’t point the camera at the sky and if we must, place some bright lights up there pointing at the camera so a blackened out sky makes sense. No forth wall: Don’t shoot in that direction. A good storyboard artist knows how to work within extreme limitation and between myself and Andrew Tan, I wasn’t worried about storyboard issues in the least so a simple set concept was not at all going to be a problem. The storyboard problem wasn’t from a lack of skill or thought, rather the opposite: maybe too much of it (more on that, next time).

LAYOUT 1 (Main Wall): The color art stuck on the wall include: The big collage behind Ramen and
Rasta= Some Shanghai Artist’s collage doctored to be torn at the bottom and Chairman Mao heads
replaced with Andy Worhol (Andrew’s idea. The irony was too perfect not to do it): Blue posters are
the background from the GoD one-sheet poster: The small red squares are the first album cover from
Pop Will Eat Itself: The two yellow posters are old 80s cassette tape art from a couple of P-Model
releases: The rest are all taken from photos of a back door littered in various stickers which included
Trash Talk.

LAYOUT 2 (Right Wall): All these layout drawings were done on A4 (8.5x11) light bristol paper, each.
This angle is pretty much as you see it in the photo, minus graffiti. I didn’t want any fancy graffiti
cluttering up the location: I liked the pipes, textures and posters more. Note that in this and the next
drawing, I don’t draw every grate or wall tile: an indication is enough to give a competent painter. I
didn’t even worry about my lines being strait: the painter would correct for that.

LAYOUT 3 (Left Wall): Who wants to draw or paint all those posters? And in a digital Photoshop age,
who needs to? To save time, I just cut and paste the posters from the photo onto the drawing in
Photoshop. If the painter chose to paint them anew, up to him. These are real numbers, please
don’t call them.

LAYOUT 4 (Floor Plan): Take a good look, kids, this is what a professional artist can draw when he’s
really on fire! Then again, what more would a capable set painter/builder need? Had I put this blueprint
together with the real layout art in Photoshop, as I could have, it would have taken me 10 times as long
or more. This probably took me a minute. And you can’t even tell, can you? Yes, indeed.

P.S. Trash Talk was one of the stickers on a club back door. I don’t know what it was for, or care, but I loved it and put it in the background design. Andrew Tan also loved it. Sadly, when the final painted BG came back, the BG painter omitted that section of the wall to shorten it and Trash Talk never “made it”. We all mourned the loss.

“Trash Talk, wherefore art thou?” The painter chose to omit the right side of the layout. I assume in
order to save time. It was a good call on his part. I didn’t immediately notice the section missing and
that’s a first indicator that there isn’t a problem with it being missing and so there was no reason to
bother asking for the additional section be painted. Besides, as I said, it was a good call. The painter
did a great job on the set and I was 100% happy.

Beautiful! The painter didn’t paint a couple of elements, like the pipe cage, poster and wall tiles, but
again, I assume they were saving time, I didn’t notice and so it didn’t matter. I know the painter wasn’t
trying to short cut me because he did alter some elements to make it work better as a 3D environment
that were not in my layout drawing. He was using his head: beautiful!

Looks like the painter wanted to paint all those poster signs as much as I wanted to draw them.
I don’t blame him. It appears to me like he used some from the layout and others from another
photo I gave for reference.

Time was very short so that meant the storyboard needed to be done... see me blink? Faster than that.

Luckily for me, Andrew and I had already arranged to beat out the storyboard the next morning. He came back for the meeting with a ton of YouTube videos (I had the complete set design) of music videos with dance moves he liked (I have no interest in dance and so that was his job) and also a bunch of Wuxia videos for reference of various moves the characters could do and some reference of a South American martial art that is very much like dance. I watched and studied all the reference in the next 24 hour period and noted which moves seems useful, to me, and then we beated out the storyboard on the following day via video Skype.

We talked the promo through shot by shot, both of us suggesting various ideas and drawing panels that we’d hold up to camera to make clear what we were talking about. We decided to start with still art images to introduce Ramen and Rasta, launch into dancing and then end on the show title. We, however, struggled to deal with how we wanted to transition from the still art into the dance-off.

Originally, that “tricky cut” (at 0:15), as Andrew and I call it, where the camera swings around and cuts to a slow wide drift out of the two dancers facing off, right before they start to battle, was to happen before the climax. It seemed like a good way to slow the action, let tension build before a big payoff of some kind. I had the sudden idea to place those two cuts right at the start of the dance segment, instead, as a really dynamic transition from 2d still art into full on animation. Andrew agreed with me that it worked and the rest of the storyboard flowed from there really easily (at least when we talked about it). All the basic moves, when they would happen and in what order and who would do what were settled from start to finish. Any extra business added was to be Andrew’s call as we’d collectively settled the important broad strokes.

After that meeting, Andrew went away to draw up the storyboard. I would have done it or helped, but while he was doing that, I had to play Producer.

Next: You Can’t Fight a War Without a Plan and a Storyboard is the Plan and We Need it Last Week if We Are Going to Make Any Deadline. (Or: The Longest Blog Post Title Made Longer by Adding an Obvious Second Title Gag That Overly Overstays Its Welcome and Then Some On Top of That)

Rest in Peace, TRASH TALK.