Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Partly Cloudy

Today in screenwriting class we watched a short animation called Partly Cloudy and I decided to do my post on this animation because the flock of birds reminded me of what we did in class on Monday and because I really enjoyed watching this.

Here are some parts from an interview that explain the animation process that I found very informative and great to read. I especially liked how they created the cloud to seem realistic but ‘floaty’ and see-through at the same time. I also provided link to watch the short animation, the ones I found on YouTube were recreated with new soundtracks so I had a hard time finding the original.

PS: The original pitch was just as I explained: There's the world of storks that deliver babies, but where do they get these babies from? And my answer was obviously the clouds. And I had done some drawings of these cloud characters -- taking some photos and Photoshopping eyes and a nose in and then having some birds all flocking up to the skies. I pitched this story of a smaller gray cloud that [lived below and] made some of the dangerous babies. And I showed John these images and he touched on one of them and said let's start developing this one.
And that was close to a year-and-a-half ago and it's been a really interesting learning experience for me. Obviously, this is my first [short]. It really is like raising a baby. I felt very much like Gus during this thing -- making something and wanting people to like it.

Sohn pitched the idea a year-and-a-half ago, visualizing where baby-delivering storks actually get their babies from and picturing clouds creating them out of thin air.

BD: How did you find the tone?
PS: I always wanted to have something with heart. And what I mean by heart is characters that are sincere in what they are doing. That was something I had to really look for and find. There were many different tonal characters. Gus was more like a bartender or a frat guy. And Peck went up and down. But ultimately it came down to being a story about miscommunication when I originally pitched it to John. I had grown up in New York and from Korean parents and they spoke very broken English and there were always miscommunications between my mother or father and me. So, from the very beginning, it was: How do these two guys work, a bird and a cloud? That miscommunication idea is a subtle thing: most of the shorts around here don't have any dialogue, but I really wanted to play with how they communicate with each other. And the way Gus looks off at the other cloud [Gloria] was inspired by my mother's reaction when I was going out to play with my friends. She would take it a certain way. That didn't change but how I moved the characters around did.

Peck and Gus in their early stages.

BD: Let's talk about the animation, which is obviously very cloud-driven.
PS: The animation is heavily based on rhythm and timing... but to describe how a cloud moves was a huge hurdle for us because the short needed to be snappy. And we did tests of Gus moving sharp and crisp, but it just didn't feel like a cloud. And we had to slow him down and get him to be floaty and have his nose and exterior parts move in a certain way and keep the crispness with Peck. So there were many experiments we did with him without even the cloud effect on him: "naked" Gus, who looked kind of like the Michelin Man. And a couple of animators [Matt Strangio and Dylan Brown] found this really amazing style of keeping him floaty: he doesn't stop ever, he just moves around. John Lasseter had a great call of that where he overshoots his overlap but doesn't rubber band back. He just floats out to that extremity and comes back. That call gave us a great place to shoot for with Gus and we experimented a lot with that and then added the cloud effect on top of that really helped sell Gus' look.
BD: How was this achieved technically?
PS: Gus is literally wearing a 200,000-particle suit. Because he had to be kept transparent, we have an invisible character that we animate that we turn off, essentially, and leave the suit on that we never get to see until later. The suit pretty much looked like a lint guy when we were using him because a cloud is basically moisture and light and the final lighting process is what brought him to life. It wasn't just the cloud movement but how soft the shadows are, how the light works underneath him and what kind of detail we get in the shadows. But he was really an amazingly difficult character to build. In the beginning, when I first pitched this to some of the technical folks, they gave you a lot of options and different "Yellow Brick Roads" to what Gus would finally look like. There was a gaseous-looking Gus and a ghosty-looking Gus. We came up with this version that was more of a caricatured puffy cloud. Sort of like Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners. The really tough challenge was that, because he is transparent and made up of so many particles, the rendering and lighting times are really long. It was a big fear that we wouldn't have enough time to render this short.

Animators Matt Strangio and Dylan Brown found a style of keeping Gus floaty and see-through. This is achieved by having Gus wear a 200,000-particle suit.
BD: But obviously you did. What were some of the other challenges?
PS: What I loved about it was we were using techniques in a new way that no one had ever done before in the lighting and in the particle world like blending shadows. But it was so hard to sell his eyes and his mouth. They were so soft that you could hardly read what was going on the face or the hands. We had to do some tweaks to finally get a smile on his face. And we tried cloudy eyes and it looked scary. Or it was difficult to make the eyelids work. Because the cloud effect is so thin, when he closed his eyes you could still see the eyeball beneath it. We just wanted someone appealing and really cute. And we came up with these eyes and mouth.
BD: And was any of this repurposed for Up?
PS: No, actually we took something from Up. A storm sequence was tweaked for our own purpose. It was lucky that this technology had just been achieved.
BD: What about the color palette?
PS: I always wanted the short to take place in a day: it starts in the morning and ends in the evening. But Noah Klocek, the production designer, brought it to life with the pastels that he had done so that morning and sunset can look exactly the same. So he caricatured it to look really warm and golden for that classical drop of the storks and toward the evening to come up with a look that is its own kind of world. It's so abstract that you want it to be believable, but you also want to caricature it so that every time you saw those colors it would be iconic in a way. And then Tim Best and his lighting crew translated that and brought it a whole new level. It was really surprising for us because there were so many times when we were working that we don't even see the clouds above or Gus in the cloud form. When the lighters come in, which are the last few months, that's we finally get to see Gus and the world.

The pastel color palate moves from sunrise to sunset over the course of the short, keeping the look iconic but also abstract enough to look believable.
BD: And what about the storks?
PS: I really love the Dumbo storks in the beginning and was trying to get that realistic feel. There are really two Dumbo storks: the realistic storks in the beginning and the cartoony stork that actually delivers Dumbo. It was a mixture of both extremes: the realistic and finding how to caricature the stork's eyes to get the appealing faces from far away when they're flying in.
BD: And the babies?
PS: It was funny because JL kept saying to make them as cute as possible, even the more dangerous animals, because you want them to be the cutest things you'll ever see. We really tried pushing them and caricaturing them and that's what sold them.

Gus thinks even his most dangerous babies are loveable.
BD: And what was it like working in 3-D?

PS: We've just done some of the right eye rendering the last couple of weeks, and that's what forms the 3-D. That world of 3-D has been really amazing. It's fun but it's a whole other set of challenges. You really feel like you're up in the sky in 3-D. It falls really far back in the depth, but you also want to focus where the audience's eyes go, and sometimes Gus' shoulder will be way in the foreground and you'll start looking at his shoulder instead of [what we want you to focus on]. It's a real balancing act of where the focus plane lies on the 3-D. But it was very successful and it's a really crazy thing to fly up there in the clouds in 3-D.

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