Capacity: “Upgrade + Mobilize” Q&A

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Click to watch “Upgrade + Mobilize” on Capacity’s site.

Upgrade + Mobilize

In the words of Capacity’s Ellerey Gave, “Before we became designers and animators and communicators, we were painters and illustrators and dreamers.”

Over the course of the last year and a half, Culver City-based Capacity has been working on an in-house short film while juggling client projects for companies like NBC, Cartoon Network and Toyota.

At long last, “Upgrade + Mobilize” is ready for the masses, and it’s definitely worth the wait. Mixing inspiration from Asian animation and art with their own polished aesthetic, Capacity has created a high energy, two and a half minute preamble to an epic battle of good vs. evil backed by beautiful audio from Plaid.

Motionographer was fortunate to get an advance interview with Ellerey about “Upgrade + Mobilize.” Check it out, along with some process work showing the development of this ambitious short film.

Interview with Capacity’s Ellerey Gave

Can you give us a brief overview of the storyline for “Upgrade + Mobilize”?

First of all, thanks so much for wanting to hear more about our work. We’re humbled and excited to be able to share it with everyone. Without giving too much away, the basic progression in Upgrade + Mobilize has the characters preparing for battle, facing overwhelming odds, and finding strength in unity.

Where did the idea for this film come from?

We’re always looking for interesting ways to tell stories and communicate emotions. Part of the beauty, especially in more artistic applications, is to leave as much as possible open to interpretation. That being said, Upgrade + Mobilize is about good and evil, about being equipped and ready to fight, about not losing hope.

Even though it is pretty abstract, there are some tangible, relevant ideas that we latched onto. I find the STAND YOUR GROUND part particularly relevant in the uncertain times we live in (escalating global turmoil, financial instability, etc). We like to try to convey a positive message in our work, and we’re hoping that people find it somehow inspiring or empowering, even if it just happens on a subconscious level.

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Who/what were some of your influences?

Just as we were getting into brainstorming, we encountered an interesting collision of inspiration. Murakami‘s retrospective exhibition was showing at the MOCA here in Los Angeles. ARTWALK Culver City (which takes place at a cluster of galleries that surround Capacity’s studio) had some amazingly epic paintings and sculptures that year. We also happened to be watching a lot of anime at that time; Miyazaki movies, Paprika, classics like Akira, and especially Tekkonkinkreet, directed by Michael Arias.

The subject matter and execution for each of those films are completely different (other than the Asian influence of course), but the unique methods of storytelling really resonated with us. They have a certain raw energy and emotional quality. Sometimes they don’t make perfect sense, but they leave you with a distinct feeling and experience.

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What was the biggest challenge in creating Upgrade + Mobilize?

From a technical perspective, there are a lot of different techniques happening in the piece, all of which are relatively time-consuming: painted backplates, complex character models, a combination of hand-animated and procedural effects, particle systems, stylized hair, and layer upon layer of compositing to get the look that we wanted.

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From a practical standpoint, we had to work on this intermittently over the course of a year and a half or more. It obviously had to take a backseat to our client projects, so the timeline got a little more spread out than we were hoping for. As it neared completion, probably the biggest challenge was having to be patient about finishing with the same level of attention to detail that we started with, mainly because we were just excited about sharing it with everyone. I’m really proud of the team for having the stamina and commitment to see it all the way through.

What do the on-screen Japanese words mean?

Strength, weapons, battle, evil (which transitions to “evil” in English) and Upgrade + Mobilize (which transitions to its English counterpart as well), in that order.

Actually, the evil transformation was one of the very first things we made. We loved the idea of using the chunks from the kanji character to create the translated word, and we wanted to animate it in a way that also communicated the essence of the word.

The Upgrade + Mobilize type animation was the same idea, but on a more complicated level because of how many parts there were. Here is a work-in-progress diagram that we made as a guideline for the animation.

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I’d love to hear how you guys worked with Plaid. Did the music come first, simultaneously or after the project? Did you give them direction of some sort?

Oh man. This was one of my favorite parts of the process. We had been working on our own music and sound design internally throughout most of the project. It was actually sounding really great, but I kept referring back to the soundtrack from Tekkonkinkreet, which was of course created by Plaid.

I kept hypothetically thinking “wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get Plaid to do the track for us?” until it dawned on me to actually contact them. ; )

They were so great to work with. As extremely talented musicians who are also familiar with scoring to picture, they got into it right away. We gave them some direction and worked back and forth, which was an amazing process in itself, but they really brought something to the track far beyond what we could’ve described to them. Those guys are true artists.

Upgrade+Mobilize feels like it could be the trailer for a larger project. Anything in the works?

That’s actually the exact feeling we were hoping for. We don’t have anything in the works yet, but we like to think that the story extends in both directions beyond the two and a half minutes of Upgrade + Mobilize.

Business has been very good for Capacity. Your work for NBC, Cartoon Network and others has garnered you enough attention that you don’t really need to create short films, at least not from a sales standpoint. Why do you guys spend so much energy on projects like Upgrade + Mobilize?

I think the biggest reason is our insatiable desire to create art. Before we became designers and animators and communicators, we were painters and illustrators and dreamers. We do a lot of deep thinking and strategizing on a daily basis for our clients, which we absolutely love of course, but sometimes it’s nice to focus in on our purely artistic roots just to see what happens.

We have a hard time shutting off the brand strategy side of our brains, which is why we refer to U+M as a short film / experimental branding piece. The inspirations, ideas and techniques in the piece are a direct extension of our individual artists and the tone and message are an extension of Capacity’s brand. So far, the response has been extremely positive.

Watch “Upgrade + Mobilize”