On Yellowbird we were quite blessed to have a wonderful cast for such a small indipendent film.
It was definitely one of those situations where you couldn't quite believe you were lucky enough to be working with such terrific actors and how their performance would really help give our characters life.
But I'm jumping the gun here a little as we had to settle on our designs first and take them to model.
Our design team started by exploring all possible options for creating the look and give the characters charm and appeal based on Benjamin's first development artwork.
We had to make sure these characters had appeal yet worked well in animation, their inner workings as well as the out skin and plumage being able to retain the 'paper' quality we wanted for our stylized look.
Capturing the right look for each character goes very deep into the emotional core of the character itself and of the story; it allows audiences to connect with them, root for them, or hate them if they're a villanous individual.
Even before we found our cast we knew we had to pin down our main characters... And along with assorted secondary and generic ones, we had 13 main characters in our flock to create!
Once we settled on the designs our team of modelers, look development artists and Character Tds.
Of course before the animator can start using these characters the models need to be constructed, much in the same way a sculpt is made.
Our modelers were responsible of building not only our very complex 3D characters, but also all our sets and props. The paper style look ran through all departments so as well as adding that look into the textures of the models once they were finished and coloured, they added some little creases and folds into the volume of the sets and props.
Once the modelers had finished each character, it was given to our charactsr TDs in charge of creating the articulation rig, a digital skeleton bound to the 3D mesh, to the sculpt of the character, which allows the animators to manipulate and move them through its highly complex set of articulations and controls.
What we wanted to achieve in Yellowbird was a very realistic natural look, having our characters behave and move like real birds and not in an anthropomorphic way, and our team not only built rigs which allowed this but also created the animation interfaces, establishing muscle, skin, and father behaviors, which all allow for a broad range of realistic physical movements but also very cartoony squash and stretch.
It is a cartoon after all and I love big broad exaggerations and movements, especially in comedy settings, and anyone watching the film will see the balance between our realistic bird mannerisms and some very very cartoony animation.
Above and below some of the progression of the character work on Darius, one of our most charismatic characters voiced by the charming, sombre yet fatherly tones of Danny Glover.
We allowed only one exception with the anthropomorphism in our characters, and that was the Owl in the hotel tree scene.
Voice by Elliot Gould the owl needed to use his wings a little more than the others, and it really helped round the character off. It is one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
The unsung heroes of any computer animated film are the Technical Directors and all the tech and soft departments, who's tireless work, with artists, helps plan and create the best solutions and strategies for the whole production.
Aside from helping create the tools to build each character, aiding with the difficult task of making the plumage of each bird move indipendently if needed, or in unison at the breeze in the air as they fly, we developed and achieved our own toold to create moving clouds that retained a stylized look yet moved like real clouds.
All I have to do is make a drawing of what I would like, then hopefully if it's achievable in the budget, these guys find ways to make it happen!
In the next post I'll talk specifically about Yellowbird and go over some of his characteristics and the decisions made in finalising his design and model, before heading into the storyboard process.