Through a mixture of blood, sweat, miniatures and CG, the Element X team “came together to write, storyboard, model, texture, shoot, rig, animate, composite and edit the final [5-minute] product” in short order. Four weeks, to be exact.
Of course, the storyline echoes several other time-rigging plots in popular science fiction media (e.g., two Back to the Future Easter eggs), but in this rendition, hitching a ride through Element X’s innocent world of special relativity makes sitting through a usually long drawn-out list of sponsor logos feel like it’s passing at the speed of light.
Element X was kind enough to elaborate on the development from beginning to end — nuts, bolts, and tools. Check out the process in their own words after the jump.
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From Executive Producer, Rick Perez:
Twenty-six extremely talented people, 90 Shots, 377 GB of files, two melted building models, all produced in four weeks in our spare time (if you want to call nights and weekends spare time).
Our creative minds here at Element X Creative (Dallas, TX) were pretty stoked about the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) asking us to create this year’s Sponsor Reel for the Southwest show. The creative carte blanche was daunting given such a small window of time to concept and produce a 5-minute piece. Adding to the challenge were our own high expectations, not only in terms of storytelling, but also wanting to create something that had not been done in the history of the show.
During the conceptualization phase, one of our big breakthroughs was our lack of time in general. Short deadlines are notorious in this industry and we’ve all yearned to stop time for a second and catch our breath. This idea, fused with the childhood nostalgia of miniatures and train sets, became the base foundation for our story.
Beyond the short-notice four-week production window and already ongoing gigs in house, we tackled many other production hurdles. We decided to shoot the background plates on a Canon 60D for several reasons: (A) these DSLRs are just pumping out fantastic pictures, and the readily available lens selections make getting the right angle easy; (B) we wanted to shoot over-cranked at 60 fps to help sell the scale of the miniatures as larger than they were — also some of the cars/trains that we moved practically through the scene, would look more realistic slowed down a bit; and (C) the flip-out screen made it super easy to get into tighter spaces, and to see what was going on quickly.
We also chose to shoot at a minimum of f/11, and when possible f/16 — I wanted to keep the DOF deeper, so it would seem more like it was photographed in the real world. We still wanted selective focus, but just not as much as you usually see when people show you photos of a miniature layout. This required us to dump a lot of light on the set to be able to shoot that stopped-down and still maintain a low ISO.
Last, we tried to get the camera as close as we could to ground level to mimic a large set — again with miniatures photographed that you might see, frequently it is shot from high above, since that is our natural vantage point in relation to them.
Using our internally developed OTTO rigging system, we put it through its paces quickly setting up dozens of characters and vehicles. Shooting such small miniatures with extreme focal lengths also made the 3D camera tracks challenging in certain shots. Logos were also pouring in at the last minute, so compositing was being handled up until the final hour.
Many late nights and take-out orders later, combined with a custom score and sound effects mix from Tequila Mockingbird, we came away with a unique animation that we are very proud of.
So take a peek at our latest and greatest! We hope you have as much fun watching it as our hero had while running around in the tiny world we created for him.
Director — Brad Herbert
Executive Producers — Chad Briggs, Rick Perez
Producer — Amy Cass
Director of Photography — Brad Herbert
Location Crew — Luis Martinez, Jiss Kuruvilla
Location Manager — Robert Bray
CG Director — Eric J. Turman
Animation Director — Luis Martinez
Animators — Aaron Werntz, Steve “Q” Quentin, Andrea Thomas
Lead Modeler — Christopher McCabe
Modelers — Bobby Reynolds, Mathew Nith
Lead Rigger — Christopher McCabe
Rigger – Eric Turman
Editor — Luis Martinez, Brad Herbert
Lead Lighting Artist — Christopher McCabe
Lighting Artists — Dennis Kang, Mike Martin, Chad Briggs, Jason Moxon
Surfacing Artist — Christopher McCabe, Bobby Reynolds
Lead Compositor — Brad Herbert
Compositors — Dennis Kang, Mark Lopez ,Mike Martin, Laura Wallace, Christopher McCabe, Chad Briggs
Visual Effects — Dennis Kang, Mike Martin, Laura Wallace
Render Wrangler — Candace Morrish
Pipeline/Tools Programming — Steven Keiswetter
IT Director — Greg Glaser
Audio provided by Tequila Mockingbird
Executive Producer — Angie Johnson
Composer — Justin Tapp
Sound Design — Shayna Brown
Mix — Marty Lester
Background Plates : LMRA Railroad Activity
Special Thanks : Robert Bray (LMRA)
3D Package — Soft Image 2012 (.5)
Rigging — otto|rig — Proprietary Rigging Plug-in
Sculpting — Z Brush 4.2
Rendering — Arnold 1.13
Tracking — Syntheyes
Compositing — After Effects CS 5.5
Custom Scripts — Python
Cannon Cameras — 5D and 60D