How did you come up with the concept for your short film?
I was trying to place extraordinary characters in an ordinary setting. The idea of a vampire at a bus stop made me laugh. Bus stops are boring; vampires are cool. The contrast was there. I would try it out on people. “Hey, there’s this vampire at a bus stop…” and they always wanted to know— “Then what happens?” Also, the “hunter vs. hunted” angle has always intrigued me.
I admire characters that save themselves, not through good luck, but by their own discipline. So in that way I created Agatha to be able to overcome a supernatural monster through her rigorous training – good luck coming from hard work.
The idea seemed to have legs. I fleshed it out from there by creating some conflict/contrast for the characters. I hoped that the story twist would crack the audience up.
What important lessons did you learn from making your short film?
I learned to work much faster and to push things as far as I could. I cultivated an urgency within myself to really finish the shots. I took my shots out of blocking as soon as I could. That step alone trips a lot of animators out of the gate. Even though we had several passes on our short, I pushed for final on each pass, unless the shot was weak. The approved shots would be put aside – done – while the weaker shots got more attention.
I learned a lot about observing existing performances and then extracting what I needed from them. My Class 6 mentor, Robert Russ gave me great advice on this. He pointed me to some performances that would help me really give my characters life and contrast. Contrast is a key element between two characters. The skies opened. It became huge for me.
The girl is very twitchy and so I studied Pixar’s Woody. My vampire is very oily, almost lazy and so I watched a lot of arch villains like the Bowler Hat Guy. Another film Robert introduced me to was Shadow of the Vampire in which William Dafoe is brilliant as an aging vampire.
Another lesson I learned was to really enjoy the process. Polishing the movements and living in the curves for an evening turned out to be something I looked forward to. I also fell in love with subtle acting, takes and glances, etc.— facial pantomime, if you will.
I had a great time doing this. Sure, there are the all-night slogs, but those can be fun too! Sometimes good inspiration comes from that crunch time.
How long did it take to complete your film?
The story took 12 weeks. Class 5, the story class, had so much golden information and it was an extremely important step in the process. Arguably, the most important.
I finished the animation in the eleven weeks given to us by Animation Mentor.
I really burned a lot of moonlight on this and really cranked out that work.
So a total of 23 weeks.
How much planning was put into your short film? Did planning help make the process easier?
I’d still be working on it wondering what to do next if I hadn’t planned! I did lots and lots of planning. A solid plan made things much easier with no guesswork later on. There’s enough to worry about in the execution of your film without having to figure out how to make your shots flow.
Getting that story nailed down was my roadmap, and helped me be ready to go. The story, layout and assets were all ready for Class 6. So plan. Pave that road and then DRIVE it.
Do you mind sharing some of the pre-production work with us with a little explanation of what we're looking at.
I spent some time altering the Bishop model quite a bit, especially for the vampire character. His ears were fun to do. It’s a fine line between elf and vampire ears. I used textures to give him a sunken look. This was done in Photoshop. To give it that extra creepiness, I added a touch of glow to his red eyes.
With Agatha, I chose Bishop for her and not Pawn. Pawn is too curvy for this character. I needed a tomboy, a kind of awkward girl. Her ears were inspired by The Incredibles. I love Rita’s hair from Flushed Away and tried my best to recreate it. It didn’t turn out as planned. I would have liked to rig her hair for some nice overlap. It just wasn’t happening. Maybe someday I can go back and put that in.
Building the other assets was not so bad. Grass and trees were easy. I found the lamp post and signage models for free. I created the bus sign graphics in Maya and then textured it in Photoshop and tried to give it a weathered look.
Creating strong poses to have the two personas read was essential. I collected many photographs of people at bus stops and most of them at night. The body language differences between men and women are so amazing. Even when they’re just waiting around at a bus stop there’s a huge difference in posture and attitude. I did a lot of sketches for this.
What obstacles, if any, did you experience during the creation of your short film? How did you work your way around them?
Balancing family, work and my short film may have been the biggest obstacles. Sleep deprivation takes everyone down eventually. I had to play it day-to-day, getting as much work done as I could. I would sneak in an hour here and there during the day and work in the wee hours at night after everyone was tucked in bed. Spending time with my wife was also very important. You can turn into merely flat mates if you don’t have that time together.
I had to remind myself to get outside and see that bright thing in the sky and to use my legs too. Honestly though, it didn’t always work and sometimes I would just crash out and not get anything done. I just had to pick myself up on Monday and hit those splines again.
The other obstacle was trying to find a nice double-decker bus to use. I’m not much of a modeler but I tried to make my own anyway. It wasn’t very good. I eventually found a really nice one online. I used driven keys to make the tires rotate properly.
Tell how your Animation Mentor experience helped you in creating your short film.
Where do I begin? Um…All of the above!
Seriously, let me start by saying none of this would have been possible if it were not for my experience at Animation Mentor. I wouldn’t have the confidence or know-how to even attempt a short film. Animation Mentor has exceeded every expectation. Not only did I finish my short in a relatively small amount of time, but I am also very proud of it. It’s gotten a very positive response.
In a nutshell, they taught me how to do everything. From a blank page to a finished short film that gets noticed.