18 Dec 2010

The Butterfly Video: from Concept to Metamorphosis

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In a far away patch of space, between human curiosity and the depths of our imagination lives a pack of butterflies. Whose sole purpose is to bring light and life to the cosmos. However, nothing gained of this order comes without great loss. Something must give all before all can see the light of change.

We received a lot of great feedback for our Film Intro Video. This post is an attempt to give you a glimpse into the making of the video from concept through to final render.

The Mythology

The concept was born from the desire to craft my own mythology and the need for a kick-ass intro video to our film projects. My goal was to tell an epic story of pure mythology, push my team to their creative limits and convey the kind of storytellers that we are here at SLF.

Like early man trying to figure out how the world worked, I was a kid that wanted to know how movies were made. With their lack of understanding, early man created explanations which we call religion and mythology. I knew movies were not the work of magic, but it sure seemed like it.

Watching a good story can be a transportive process, in which you are taken into an alternate reality for a brief time in order to experience something real. I felt it only fitting that in the intro to our stories, that you be brought back to a state of wonder.

While I can’t tell you how my ideas are formed, because I would be lying if I did, I will give you some reasons I accepted the muse’s offering. The butterfly and her comet shaped pack of sisters plays on the symbols of change we all recognize. The birth of a son and the presence of a star are hallmark mythological connections that most people know even if they can’t recall why. Bring them together and you have two great tastes that taste great together.

Now, onto the good stuff.

A Star is Born

Eva Pfaff created all things visual from storyboarding to rendering the animation. She is a painter, 3D artist and the Art Lead of Solar Light Films, so it was a no brainer to ask her if she would be willing to devote months of her life to this single goal. She graciously accepted.

Describing the range of disciplines involved in creating 43 seconds of animated brilliance is beyond my skills as a writer. So, I will give you a satellite view of the mountain she climbed and let her take it from there in her own blog.

First, Eva storyboarded the major movements of the animation. We worked out a lot of conceptual designs, found references online and even took a field trip to the San Diego Wild Animal Park to view their butterfly exhibit. Once we both felt comfortable with the path, she started climbing Mt. Incredible.

She created the butterfly using a combination of Maya, Mudbox and Photoshop. With that comes the concepts of modeling, rigging and texturing. Essentially, she had to give it shape, bones, color and texture. This is all necessary for not only the looks of the butterfly, but how it moves and flys through space.

She created the butterfly wing particles, implosion, explosion and sun using a concept in the 3D world called Dynamics. Given that she specializes in 3D modeling, this was a major diversion from her normal work. However, she was eager for the challenge and did not disappoint.

Animating the pack of butterflies and the “star” butterfly of the project is another skill highly prized in the 3D world. Achieving realistic character movements is the ultimate goal. If your characters do not move realistically, it reminds the audience that they are watching a bit of fiction.

So, how do you make a butterfly flying through space look realistic? First, we attached little motion capture sensors to a group of volunteer butterflies. Next, we snuck them aboard a NASA shuttle, let them loose into the void and hacked into the Hubble Space Telescope to capture the data. Eva then imported the data into the system just to find that Hubble had a smudge on the lens… typical.

The Sounds of Light

The music was composed by Michael Kakhiani. This was our first time working with Michael and I can say we are excited for more opportunities to work with him again.

I started looking for a composer a few weeks before we finalized the visuals and locked the animation for timing. Michael’s work was on a site called Audio Jungle. We liked his range of work and contacted him about the project. Lucky for us, he had a window of time to work on this and agreed to do the project.

We immediately set to finding the right instruments and tone for the two major parts of the story: the butterfly and the explosion. Robert and I hunted through numerous tracks to find the pieces that we felt resonated the feeling we wanted. We all agreed that strings and piano had a direct tether on our emotions.

I know even less about Michael’s process than I do Eva’s. As far as I can tell, Michael took our ideas, added his own creativity to the mix and wallah, magic! There were very few changes from first draft to the final composition.

There is something very special about adding strong audio to a strong set of visuals. A lesson is there for all aspiring filmmakers: music is a character in your story.

We are all fans of movie soundtracks here at SLF. If a movie has a strong soundtrack, you can bet that we listen to it while working on our own projects. Music guides emotion and helps take you to a mental place quicker than anything else imaginable.

That’s a Wrap

I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the making of our new pride and joy. You can follow Eva on her blog at evapfaff.com and Michael on twitter via @Emkaymusic. Eva is writing a series of blog posts concerning the development of this animation from a technical and artistic point of view. You should check out the first post titled “How is a star born?“.

Thanks for reading,

- Scott

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