“Snowbot” — New Animated Short

One of the Android blogs I follow had a video contest, so I put this little film together in an evening. It’s all After Effects + Illustrator, and done on my teeny tiny S10 netbook. Animating an HD film on a 10″ screen is probably insane, but at least it saved me a trip to the office!

Alas, much of the evening was spent dealing with render errors (lesson: overflow volume settings are REALLY IMPORTANT on a netbook), so I only managed to upload the rough version before the contest’s midnight deadline. Oh well, maybe an extra couple hours is ok?

People are clearly pretty intense over their entries though… within seconds — seconds! — of posting the rought cut I had a flurry of one-star votes and comments like “GARBAGE.” Oh YouTube. At least no one’s claiming that my film is an Obama conspiracy yet. But seriously, if you’re that into winning a Nexus One, just go buy the thing. It’s a phone, not fifty grand.

The snowed-in robot idea was suggested by Chris Needles (thanks Chris!). I simplified it into something I could animate in a couple of hours, storyboarded it out, then found an .ai of the Android logo (which is Creative Commons licensed! Hooray open source!) from which to build my puppets.

The sledbearing penguin is just the robot colored black and white, with the addition of pointier arms and a beak. And he’s not an intentional Linux reference, although I’ll take the free geek points. :-) He’s actually there because my stuffed Android tends to hang out with a penguin-shaped pillow, and they make a cute pair.

Rigging the two puppets was unbelievably easy… no knees or elbows or hands or feet or even a neck to worry about! All I had to do was move the anchor points to the right place and parent everything to the torso. The backgrounds and snow piles are just shape layers and a couple of gradients, very simple stuff… even the effects don’t get any more complex than default CC Snow and a standard vignette. Still, it’s pretty incredible to me that I can start storyboarding at 7:30PM and have a minute-long film before bedtime.

It’s so rare I do anything narrative, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the process. Having to figure out the quickest, clearest way to get the story across — with no time at all for experimentation or style research — is an interesting challenge. You’re really forced into being decisive in ways that bigger projects don’t require:

“Okay, I can use two characters, but they have to be built from the same model.”

“Do I have time to make three sets if one is just a wiggly shape? What if I use the same basic background for all 3?”

“I need a couple title cards, but there’s no time to animate them. Plain text it is!”

The crazy thing is, it’s actually fun having that kind of rush deadline! Normally I’d tweak things endlessly and fiddle with unimportant elements for hours on end, and not just MAKE SOMETHING. But this time I followed my original storyboards almost exactly, and even ended up putting back the only thing I’d initially taken out. And I went to bed with a FINISHED FILM. When does that ever happen?

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