Roadkill: new animation from Laval University
It’s a case of brains over brawn in new short Roadkill. Kerrie Hughes talks to the student team behind the film about character design and choosing the right software…
New student short Roadkill features a ruthless car, barrelling down a desert highway, that’s no match for a defiant little turtle. As the reckless vehicle attempts to terrorise the desert creatures, a turtle caught up in the chaos makes a stand and uses wit to outsmart it.
Roadkill was created by a student team – François Bonneville, Vincent Lachance, Chloé Proulx, Rémi Danvoye, Mathieu Robillard, Jade Bélanger, Pascal Maltais and Karine Paradis – from Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
The team first started work on the final-year bachelor’s degree project back in May 2011. “One of our teachers, Daniel Potvin, suggested we work from an early storyboard made 20 years ago by himself and one of his colleagues, Stephen O’Keefe,” director François Bonneville explains.
“We took a while to improve the plot and the characters, and five months later had a story of our own.”
After creating an original narrative, the team turned their attention to the most significant aspect of the film.
“We started the whole process with the characters’ creation; their design and their personalities were going to influence the entire plot of our short,” says character animator Chloé Proulx. “The personal drawing style of our art director, Jade Bélanger, has always been very ‘Pixar’. We based our character design on her talent.”
Pixar wasn’t the only influence on the short. Animation director Vincent Lachance explains: “As we wanted a mature short, we were influenced by the energy of the short film Mac ’n’ Cheese, the visual style of Rango, the animation of Cars and the camera work of Duel by Steven Spielberg.”
To create the many different characters and set design, the team organised an efficient pipeline early on, choosing Softimage as their primary 3D program for the project. They also relied heavily on file-sharing software to enable them to meet their deadline.
“Being a low-budget student team, we leant on Dropbox to share and synchronise our character models,” says Bonneville. “Our modelling supervisor, Pascal Maltais, was always very quick to respond with rig updates and the resolution model versions.
Our technical director, Rémi Danvoye, also created various Softimage scripts to load models and to render new story reels to accelerate our general pipeline.”
Softimage also proved most helpful when the team encountered a last-minute crisis. Just before the submission deadline they found the turtle’s rendered frames were black and the character wasn’t in the same position in all the passes that needed compositing. “The diffuse and occlusion passes were rendered at different times, with the turtle’s animation changed meanwhile,” Danvoye explains.
This caused the team a huge headache, with them unable to redo the render due to time constraints. “We thought about rendering the shot in one pass, like a beauty shot, but our pipeline wasn’t constructed this way,” says Danvoye. “We decided to create a new shader that would create all the passes we needed. [The turtle] was in the same position in all the passes that were rendered at the same time through this special material, and we could finish the compositing.”
The composition stage, and After Effects, helped the team out of other tight spots, including the two slow-motion shots in the film.
“Ideally, we wanted to do it in Softimage, but the shot contained too many frames; it would have been too long to render,” Lachance says. “We finally decided to use the tool Time Stretch in After Effects – after all, time is money! And we obtained a good result using this fast approach.”
Composition was also vital to achieving the final shot. “All the animators had to collaborate on this scene and the camera angle was studied extensively to get the best picture composition possible,” explains Lachance.
“However, we were never satisfied with the camera animation; we tried many different paths before deciding to do it frame by frame because it was a more efficient way to get an interesting composition.”
The team spent a lot of time developing this shot to really bring the film together. “The final shot was the only one that rounds up almost all the characters,” says Lachance. “We wanted it to be a strong image of the superiority of nature upon the truck.”
After a year of working on the film part‑time, the team finished in time to meet their deadline. “We were pleased with the final project, but as always in a production, we dreamed of having more time to create a more polished result,” says Chloé Proulx.
The experience of working on the film is one that the students feel will help to prepare them for their future careers in the filmmaking industry. “We consider ourselves lucky to have been able to have such a constructive team experience,” explains Proulx.
“Everyone was essential and we really relied on each other to push our limits. We took this project very seriously and always behaved professionally, so we think we now have a good idea of what it’s like to work in a professional environment.”
You can read the full version of this article in the new issue of 3D World – out on 12th September!
on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 at 6:29 pm under Shorts, Showcase.
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Tags: Animated short, Animation, CG, Lavel University, new, student