We recently Quickied Keloid, a stunning trailer for an as-yet-unrealized film that the wizards at Barcelona-based Big Lazy Robot hope to produce someday. BLR’s director, J.J. Palomo, was kind enough to shed some light on the project and share some behind-the-scenes goodies.
Where did the idea for this film come from?
We’re very few in our team, so we’re very close and always hear what each other have to say in terms of ideas for possible future projects. Some 12 months ago, one of the animators came up with this idea of mechanical SWAT forces rushing into a clandestine drug lab also operated by robots.
We all agreed on two things: The idea was very, very appealing, but it still needed something else beyond just satisfying a visual appetite. We spent some months reading, surfing the web, looking here and there to build up a solid story.
In my opinion, what we’ve got today is something bigger that the art itself. We are very fond of following our appetites instead of our ideas, and our biggest appetite for this project was to showcase a real fresh perspective on sci-fi panorama.
Is there only the trailer?
The story we want to tell is nothing of an easy one, so we don’t know if a short movie can cover it all. Hopefully, it can.
We have all the characters, script and art ready. I mean, the trailer displays some of them, but there’s much more behind it. We would like, of course, to go for a feature film, but the biggest thing we’ve done so far are commercials, so we need to move slowly here.
We do advertising, mostly: Projects are never too big, the pay is good and it’s a field that’s evolving so much. This allows us to “buy” time to devote to more artistic goals, those we really love. We’re in the middle of a commercial project right now that will keep us busy until next March, so it’s a good while to sit and think.
Was it difficult writing the story? How much energy and time did you spend writing the story?
Yeah, writing the story was definitely the hardest thing; it took us more than one year just to twirl around each member’s contribution, and then we had to arrange it all into a solid uniform block that had to be 100% agreed upon. I know it’s kind of hard to tell by looking at the trailer but, believe me, there’s a pretty great story behind the action-packed trailer.
At the moment, we are developing a treatment to be sent to all those managers and production houses that have shown interest so far. We expect to have it sooner rather than later.
Did you do a lot pre-production? Storyboards? Animatics? Motion tests? Or did you just start building the film, letting inspiration guide you?
Ah, it’s the funniest part, ain’t it? You never get as passionate as in the pre-production stage. Pre-production is key in every BLR project, and this is no exception, of course. All of us spent more than a month drawing robots; then, with near 40 bots on the table, we decided to contact Aaron Beck and Greg Broadmore to get some more!
Then, we passed on to the story. We got loads of documentation, read theoretical essays on future science, and contacted robotics engineers to get some counseling. We also hired somebody to do the script. We are kind of newbies here, so we were obsessed to get it all perfect, and I guess that’s what makes you grope in the dark when you’re not an expert.
Sometimes, you gotta spend a lot of time thinking before facing off your screen, because the computer is just another tool. That’s exactly what we did: When we started to model in CG, we had been working more than five months on the project.
Is the film 100% CG?
It’s funny you ask that question; we’ve had the same question quite a lot of times since the trailer’s release. It’s all CG — there’s no live action. We used techniques we hadn’t used before. For instance, we had never worked on such elaborate, dark atmospheres, and close and oppressive scenes with so much volumetrics. We had never been quite as concerned with light’s real behavior before. I think we had never studied our models in such a stubborn way, you know. I mean, we’re usually very fussy with project preparation, but this one was especially intense.
Which software packages did you use?
We use mostly 3ds Max. Every now and then, animation and rig guys move the pipeline to Maya for functionality purposes, but we end up bringing it all back to Max again.
We’re V-Ray’s biggest fans! We use Nuke for compositing — it does not get any better. We’ve also used motion capture software called IPI soft, and it was really nice. It was simple to use, and the results were great. Every time we do mo-cap, we do half of the work by hand anyway.
What was the most difficult shot or part of the film?
Hmm. Panic came right at the moment we started to get the robots into a scene. Every time we had to send a render to the farm, we got a system breakdown in return; we simply didn’t have enough memory to make six of those mechanical gorillas dance a tango in the dark. I remember having left the office one fine Friday evening thinking: How the hell are we’re gonna do this?
So yeah, that’s the worst part of it, to see yourself limited by hardware. Gladly, we could solve it by breaking up our characters and animation pipeline a bit.
I won’t lie: It was a fantastic ride and we had lots of fun doing this in the office (the mo-cap action was real fun indeed). Obviously, everything looks easier when you’re doing what you really want to, and not what you were asked to do.
Which part of production did you enjoy the most?
Except for what I mentioned earlier, the part to get all characters into scene, we’ve enjoyed all the ride, honestly. It felt really great when Aaron and Greg agreed to make the designs, and the first time we put five shots together it felt superb. I remember it gave me shivers. As I said before, we’ve had a lot of fun, so much to our despair now that we must go on with TV commercials! We would really love to have the time and resources to spend, say, a couple of years doing this.
Tell us about Big Lazy Robot. Who are you?
Right now it’s only five of us!
Hugo Bermudez, modeler, mostly characters.
Juan Civera, rigger, mainly.
David Cordero, animation.
Leopoldo, production and non-CG matters.
Me, shading, render and compo.
The studio gets wider or thinner depending on the work. Last year we had works in which we were 12 people.
I started BLR four years ago, and I had to hire someone to get the animations sice I could not keep up with all the work. I have been hiring people ever since, people I know I can trust. See, we usually say our studio has no boss. Everybody knows what their task is, everybody knows also that failing to do your job means you’re spoiling the work chain, so it’s more a respect thing.
I know I can say this because right now it’s only five of us in here; you can’t obviously manage a 100-person CG factory like that … it would be a circus show. Part of my job is to oversee what the rest of the team does, and how they do it; but I can’t only do that — that would be death-boring, and that’s the reason why I turned down big studios job offers, or suggestions of making mine twice or thrice bigger. I’d rather have all under control and sleep at night.
The economy in Spain is difficult right now; are you finding work? Are you working for Spanish clients or clients in other countries?
You are right, things have been sort of hard around here lately. The truth is, we hardly do any work for Spain. Since our early stages, we’ve had foreign contacts, and it’s quite rare to see BLR in a national production.
Work conditions and agreements are, well, just very different. Last year, we’ve had the occasion of working with a Spanish production house, Agosto, and we really liked their proposals. Most international projects have been developed for companies like Otoy or with directors you are familiar with, like Carl E. Rinsch, with whom we’ve done quite a few things already.
What do you have planned for BLR’s future?
Well, we’re currently in the middle of another Carl’s project for Absolut that ends next March. After that, we would love to try to give Keloid a chance. So we’ll try to look for alternatives to carry it out … we’ll see. The reception has gone far beyond what we expected, and there are some initiatives we might look at, but there’s nothing really close to being definitive yet.
Do you have anything you want to say to anyone? Any random comments?
Yeah. I would like to say a huge THANK YOU to all warm comments we’ve received for Keloid. Also for the voices that sounded critical, you know they sometimes help more than compliments. We did not really expect something, well, this big, so we are astonished, and I wanted to take advantage of this interview to say thank you very much to all those supportive words, both to sites like Motionographer, as for non-professional people, who simply dropped by our website to say, “Hey guys, this Keloid thing is awesome!”
I would also like to insist on the fact that our motivation to do this piece comes from the love we have for the science fiction genre. We don’t believe that everything’s already been invented. Not all sci-fi lies in flying cars, white walls and robot heroes.
As we see it, sci-fi is such a vast area. It may hold so many interesting things that thinking the world has run out of ideas is simply insane. Cool ideas and interesting approaches are out there, like they’ve always been. We just need to look for them in the proper environments.