Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Before I delve into Yellowbird and a description of his character, personality, his cast choices and how we arrived at his final design and model, I wanted to share a few more of the handsome images from our character design and development.
Some of which never made it to the final cut of the film, some due to budget restrictions obviously, others to scenes being cut from the movie.

As in all films, after the first draughts of the script, we had to draw our cast into a kind of shortlist, based on the amount of primary, secondary and generic characters we actually could afford to have in the whole film.
As we had 13 main characters in our flock, the family that under the guide of the hapless Yellowbird attempts their annual migration to Africa, we already started at a disadvantage in terms of the secondary and generics we could achieve. So we needed to 'double-up' or create designs and models that could be derived in order to create other characters.

 Below you see some character designs for our human cast. We established early on that we did not want the humans to be fully visible in our film, that although they were a invading influence in the World of birds, they should not be fully seen or even heard. I wanted the humans to have a presence but to be almost shadows, forms, shapes, that made sounds but with no specific lines of dialogue. So I cut all the lines from the humans at edit, and aside from some shouts, muffled voices and such, we rarely hear them. But their presence is very strong as our way of life invades and permeates over the life and habitats of all birds... And most times not for the best!


 Some character derivations were only by colour, thus achieving a higher number of generic birds for example, when their shape and model was non-specific or common enough; a crane or flamingo would always look like a crane or flamingo even if they were coloured blue or yellow.

Other models needed to have some shape derivation, so we designed then built models which, with a little tugging here, and a little pulling there, and perhaps with the addition of a few head feathers, would look different from each other even before the colour alteration. These shape derived characters allowed us to increase the number of our generic cast considerably.

Of course in a road movie, which Yellowbird essentially is (except it takes place in the sky, and the land, and some beaches, but mostly in the sky) you need variety and there's is plenty of variety when your film is about animals and you travel to a different continent.

Africa was one of our biggest challenges as it is a relatively small scene, yet it is pivotal to the story, the culmination of the journey, so we had to create a setting, a location, and characters to populate it with the same budget Madagascar 2 spent on their coffee.

Let me tell you there's nothing more ridiculous than spending a 2 hour meeting try to work out which animals will populate your Africa, and which characters from other scenes are you going to cut from the film in order to do so. 
My producer Corinne was fond of flamingoes, so these had to feature, but I fought hard for my elephants, the intelligent and noble beasts of the Savanna had to have a place at the end of the film.
For me the size and presence of the elephants and the giraffes were the perfect counterbalance to the beauty and poetry of the flamingoes and other tropical birds we populated the scenes with.

When looking carefully at the end scenes you will notice that some of the tropical birds are in fact generic French birds we use at the start of the film and we see migrating South half way through the film... We just painted them with more fun and tropical colours!

The saddest decisions you have to make as a director are the cuts. What and where to cut is at times even more important than what you decide to keep. You risk making an awful mistake if you cut an item, a character, or scene on which a pivotal part of the film rests.
Unfortunately for our production, and more importantly unfortunately for mister Nutria and Lucille the centipede, one of the biggest cuts I applied to the film was scene 5. 
This was the first scene we completed, in full animation, and close to being fully rendered. And although the character design was strong, the scene was one of the funniest, involving Karl getting his fortune read before the migration by a cunning Nutria living under the flock's tree, ut did not add anything to the story. It was a strong character scene for Karl but the main story point could be told in one line of dialogue, so I opted to cut the scene and add a line to one of the following scenes in order to keep the story point.

I'll post the cut scene in a later post once we start looking at storyboards.

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