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

RAMEN, RASTA AND THE SHIRT AND BIKINI GIRL THAT BLEW MY JANUARY HOLIDAY

Before I forget... While Andrew and I were plotting the storyboard (he was looking for dance reference and I location scouting), Simage, the hired animation studio who were to build the two character models and provide the animation, where given the model sheets for Ramen and Rasta, that I made, in order to start building the character models. I was told each would take about a week to build and rig (Rig: to give the sculpted body a kind of skeleton that enables the model to be posed and animated), so that was in fact the first thing started on the promo.

Flashback a few weeks to just before Christmas 2007:

At that time, I had just finished my part of the one-sheet poster while Andrew, in conjunction with a Toronto animation studio, were gearing up to make a 3D animated promo for God of Dance (“3D” meaning that it would be animated as computer animation as opposed to traditional 2D cel animation. The kind of thing Pixar does so well, for those who are not animation people reading this). Andrew and I were talking about how the promo was going and he told me some disconcerting news:

1) The parties producing the work in Toronto were only going to be able to build one un-rigged model for Andrew’s trip to China and the pitch meeting to investors. Essentially, the model would be played as a movie wherein the character would stand motionless with its arms strait out to the side and it would spin in a circle like it was on a turntable. The important thing to note is that this was at least 4 weeks before the meeting.

2) The Rasta model was going to need a shirt, according to the modeler in Toronto. The reason given was that bare muscles would be “too difficult” and the shirt made building the model more possible. At least as far as that party was concerned (of lack of).

My first impression on point 1 was: Andrew was going to take an MOV movie to an investor meeting in China and all he’ll have for a video presentation is essentially a character model that would stand motionless with its arms strait out to the side and spin in a circle like it was on a turntable?! “Exciting” stuff!! Who wouldn’t get pumped up enough to risk big money after soaking that in? Or in more pragmatic terms: How much face was Andrew going to lose in that meeting? I could only imagine the potential investors crowded around a laptop watching Ramen or Rasta spinning in circles endlessly, slowly turning to Andrew agape with blank stairs (or anger for wasting their time) and Andrew shrinking on his stool holding a half eaten carrot ala Fred Flintstone. Not good at all. How anyone imagined that anyone would be impressed by something like this is beyond even my limited imagination. I knew Andrew wasn’t feeling too satisfied.

My impression on point 2, after being extremely annoyed (Everyone loved the Rasta design and conceptually his character would never wear a shirt ever: even in the dead of winter he’d be shirtless (maybe he’d add a scarf to look seasonly). This adding a shirt business was messing with my vision!!), was ye old “Well, that just doesn’t sound right.” Now, I’m no expert in computer animation from a nuts and bolts point of view: I don’t know how to build and rig a character and I’m not very certain about just how difficult certain tasks are and how long they take, but I do have a brain and have been in the animation business a long time and that affords me at least small amount of insight in the process. “Needs a shirt”? Really? Hmm... Methought Andrew was being bullshitted.

Over breakfast the next morning, I looked at a poster on the local diner’s wall. It was an ad for a grape drink called Ribena. On the poster was a 3D modeled cartoon girl wearing a bathing suit. I stared at it for a bit, swallowed my egg and asked my wife (who has years of experience in computer animation and special effects as a Producer and knows more about how difficult tasks are and schedules, etc.), “Is that character hard to build?”

Ribena

Calmly looking at the girl on the poster, and in her usual matter of fact manner, turned back to her meal, “No, it’s pretty standard.” Camera, push in on my face furrowing my brow pondering, “Hmmm... Methinks I know Andrew is being bullshitted.”

Upon my return home, I gave Andrew a ring and more than likely the first words out of my mouth were, “I think you’re being bullshitted”. It’s a good opening line. Try it! I told him my wife’s informed opinion (which confirmed my suspicions that a shirtless character shouldn’t be so tough) and I may or may not have expressed my feeling that going to China with no promo is plain lame. He’d already know that, but I don’t know when to shut up.

Within the next day or two, Andrew called me up and basically asked if I’d take over executing the promo and handle everything in Hong Kong. The promo had to be in 3D and 30 seconds. I agreed and that was the end of my workless January holiday that I was so looking forward to. I think I’d planned to write a movie script idea I’d developed on my holiday, but that went on hold as for the next 4 weeks I was going to be busy every day with God of Dance.

Ok, so now that the origin story is fleshed out, back to the models. Would there be two rigged models (one minus a shirt as it should be) before Andrew went to China? Of course, the only question was how good they would be.

In the initial meeting with Simage’s owner, looking at the model sheets, he asked me what kind of render style I wanted. I had an idea in mind that I thought would look pretty cool and different, but he suggested the 2D render style that wound up being used. I wasn’t too keen on that because pretty much everything I’d seen with that kind of look (3D models rendered to look like drawings) never were very convincing that they weren’t computer animation and I was asked to make a computer animation promo and not hand drawn 2D. He told me that they’d been experimenting with the software to make a more convincing render.

As I said in a previous post, almost all decisions had to be made on the spot because there was no time to fool around humming and hawing about anything: the show HAD to go on. He didn’t offer me any test to look at and I didn’t ask for one: I felt very comfortable with the owners character, experience in animation and most importantly, his taste and interest in the medium (He and his team also came highly recommended by my wife, so that didn’t hurt). I took a chance and gave him the go ahead to do the 2D render and I’d make a case to Andrew for it and hope that he and the person paying the bill saw my point and hoped that Simage would come through.

Ramen Rotation Colour

Ok, so it would be exactly one week by the time the first model (Ramen) arrived in my inbox for me to look at and approve. As it turns out, I was teaching English (Something I did part-time for kicks) the evening it arrived and looked at it on my dinner break. Yes, I was nervous. When I stick my neck out, I don’t like it getting chopped off. If the model looked great, everyone in Toronto would feel confident that this promo would go well and I’d have room to breathe. If it didn’t look good... I didn’t want to think about it. I’d manage the situation, but I didn’t want the extra hassle.

I opened the MOV file and saw this (I added the music)...



I watched it over and over and over. I was EXTREMELY happy! I thought Ramen looked great! In fact, I though he looked better than my original drawing. I fired it off to Toronto with full confidence and I didn’t give Simage a second thought for the next week while they rigged Ramen and built Rasta: they’d proved themselves more than capable so I just kept off their backs and out of their way. I also was very happy with the way they handled the 2D rendered model. It was head and shoulders better than anything similar I’d seen to that point. I’m glad I trusted my instincts on them. The feedback from Toronto: unanimously positive.

Exactly a week later, Rasta arrived and I watched that MOV file on my dinner break at the school...



To be honest, I wasn’t as happy with the way he looked. I wasn’t unhappy, but this time, the 3D model didn’t look as good as the drawing I did. He lacked a cool feel. The feedback from Toronto was the same as mine, but it didn’t make me worry about the animation to come: I still felt very good. Ramen’s model was just such a high, and relief, that probably any model could have arrived a week later and I wouldn’t have been as excited. The funny thing is, when I watch the animation, I think I like the Rasta model better than the Ramen model: he looks very cool when he’s moving, but then... that’s how he should be.

Rasta Rotation Colour

Ok, the models looked great and the art direction on the backgrounds looked great too (The paintings arrived around the same time as Rasta). Now, the storyboard. Simage needed it and they needed it now.

Next: From Sparkless to a Dance Inferno!