Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Posters and Postcards

Voila! Bet you didn't see this one comin'! The poster you see directly below is the face of Pepe and Lucas. We put up all of the mockups I created and talked about what we expected out of the poster and what just appealed the most. One of the things I liked most about this poster was how well the title fits in there. When I was designing highly narrative posters, I often drew the characters and just made sure there was space for a title somewhere. Here, the we managed to make the title a large element with plenty of breathing room, but we still have the opportunity to put all of the main characters on display as well as the environment. With everyone looking at each other like something's going to happen and the gazes creating that circular movement around the title, there's a nice air of mystery. I also just liked that we had a camera angle that I don't see often in movie posters.

We also did an alternate poster for festival promotions and giveaways etc. We chose this frame because it catches Pepe in one of those rare moments when he's vulnerable, and it offers a little bit of the world behind him. Our other motivating factor was that we'd used this image in an e-postcard and it always helps to be consistent in your imagery to give peoples memory a little kick.

Below, I've uploaded a couple of the main versions of our promotional mailer.
 Like a polaroid.
 The heavy black gave me the idea to play with the frame design like you might see in some old silent films.

 This is the one we ended up going with. Cropping in helped. So did reducing the contrast, which is the opposite direction I usually go in, but here seemed to helped clarify things.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Movie Poster Development

One of the last things I did for Pepe and Lucas was design the movie poster. In my mind, that was a pretty quick job. Just create an image that encompassed the heart and soul of the short or create an awesome montage like a Drew Struzan poster. Simple. Like so much of Pepe and Lucas, this was to be yet another learning experience. I took a movie poster class in art school and one of the assignment challenges was to design a poster for Forrest Gump. My teacher told us that he chose this movie because it contained so many genres within it and could be promoted in any number of ways. It was a love story, a war epic, a historical drama, a comedy, a buddy movie, etc.. It had everything. I came to find that the genre blending in our short created much the same challenge. So I set about trying to cover as many possibilities as I could.
 I began setting up a conflict.
 I grabbed a couple frames from the animatic.
 I took inspiration from zany comedy action movie posters like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I spent a lot of time playing with title placement.

 Eventually, I started involving the Magician as a dark, looming presence.
 Even though making money doesn't end up being the real victory, it is what causes the conflict to escalate to epic proportions. I decided very early that I didn't want to reveal the characters' "powers" or hint at a possible friendship or romance. If the twists are what make your story unique, you don't want to ruin the surprise for your audience.
 I eventually moved from just character sketch ideas to more finished color comps utilizing characters from the animatic or from the concept art. Something to get us just that one step closer to a more finished idea.
 I had started investigating poster ideas that just introduced the characters in some kind of a composition without actually alluding to the story or conflict. Just introducing them as appealing characters.
 I found this actually gave a little more mystery and anticipation and really highlighted what we had set out to do -- create an awesome company portfolio piece that demonstrated our studio's capability with a strong emphasis on character design and animation.

 I had just about exhausted all of my ideas at this point, but my co-worker Tony Vasquez suggested focusing on elements other than the faces. The hats and the shoes were all very distinct and were strong symbols for each character.

There's no police presence, even after all the destruction and mayhem, but I liked Tony's suggestion to do a literal character lineup. This may seem like a lot of posters and in fact, I cut out a chunk that were subtle variations on many of these. However, this image is one of only a handful of images that the audience gets to see to convince them to watch our short. Here more than anywhere else, we need to cover all the bases.
I don't make movie posters for our products much at BZ, but this opportunity ended up being very enlightening. It reminded me how less is so often more - less story and less character (or rather, cropping the character for a better composition). I feel like if we'd highlighted the action and the battles, then that's all anyone would have expected, but also all they would have wanted to see as well. Action and effects are so eye catching, and we really wanted an eye catching image that also intrigued the imagination. We needed to entice someone to step into our genre blended world to see what would happen. In my next post I'll show you the final movie poster we created as well as some of the promotional images we created for the film.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Color and Lighting 02

Time and budget are so often the vehicles of change. We had a little under a year to go from start to finish and remain within our goal budget as well as finish in time for the following year's animation festival entry requirements. As we entered the lighting/rendering stage we ended up re-examining the lighting. In my previous post, I uploaded the color keys from our original take on Pepe and Lucas. It was an almost noir take on lighting and color. Dark darks with highly saturated pools of light and all sorts of reflections from a recent rain. The unintended result was a huge render time for all of those reflections in a very expansive environment. We also had to put in a ton of unanticipated effort to control and push back/pull forward those lights so we could maintain the proper focal areas around our characters. Sometimes the results were a little noisy. Beautiful for some shots, but hectic for others. As our deadline grew closer, my director, Mo Davoudian, our lighting TD Mario Kim, and myself, got together to discuss how we could still make our deadline but still tell the same story we set out to do in the fall of 2011. We decided to move our lighting in a new direction that wouldn't bog us down at this crucial junction, and so I recreated the color keys I'd done earlier. You can see the results below.
We decided to go in a brighter direction. There were still shadows cast on the square from the adjacent buildings, but nothing disappeared into deep shadow anymore. We got rid of the rain puddles and toned down the lights, but maintained the dramatic magic hour lighting. While we had really liked the idea of pools of shadow and pools of light, another unintended result was a sometimes high contrast on the characters' faces which made them appear inadvertently severe.  With the new lighting direction, the overall result was that the tone became much more fun and comedic, which softened the extremes of the dramatic moments, but I think for the best. Now that a few years have passed, I can see how our original approach may have hit a few notes too dark and serious. With the brighter, more pleasant lighting, the comedy elements stepped forwards more and scifi elements like the clown gadgets and the mime imagination props felt appropriately ridiculous and whimsical. In our darker version, the "fun" was lost a little.
One of the unintended results of the change in lighting was a change in the weather and therefore the cloud formations. You can see in the matte paintings I posted, that I created them after we made the change. In my earliest environment designs, you can see that the clouds are very low and oppressive. The new sky was much more open with bigger, gentler clouds. I ended up spending a lot of time  creating stylized but still fairly realistic clouds that could hang lazily about. Just enough to break the flatness of a blue background sky.
While the darker take on the lighting gave the world a feeling that closely reflected the anger and frustrations of the clown and mime, I think the new color scheme worked equally as well as the clown singles himself out as a malcontent who cannot partake of the pleasant world around him.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Color and Lighting 01.

Color and Lighting 01

Doing color keys is one of my favorite parts of visual development. This is where you can really start to see a film come together for the first time. This is where you set the mood and enhance emotions. We set out with the goal of creating a comedy action short with scifi and romance elements. Action and comedy both create moments of extreme and abrupt emotions and so I was thinking of graphic punchy colors from the very start. On top of that, we were dealing with entertainment which has a natural theatrical element to it. As you saw in a lot of the visual development for the town square, there's a lot of competing colors in the building materials as well as in the sign lighting. To simplify this  and allow us to focus, we kept the buildings in cool shadows with strong warm lighting only on the first floor that casts out onto the street. This keeps things more dramatic and allows us to reveal the beautiful colors in the final scenes when the clown and mime have made amends and teamed up for a brighter future in showbiz. The other great thing about having multiple light sources is that it gives a natural spotlight effect and we can highlight certain characters and push others out of focus, or out of the spotlight, just like they might in a theater or circus.

In the early scenes, I really used cast light from doorways and windows to create paths of light to guide our eyes toward the action.

As the action heated up, I made sure to increase the length of the shadows so the characters and environments became more menacing. A lot of B horror film under lighting as the clownbots entered the story.

By the time the mime returns to earth in her invisible imagination mech, I started really punching up the color and I intended for it to change instantaneously like stage lighting. The mime at her angriest, would be bathed in red light while the clown, who we think is dead at the moment, is spotlighted by cool, heavenly light. I shifted the sky to much redder and more magenta colors so everything feels even heavier and less intense.

As soon as he reveals that he's fine (in this movie, characters have the ability to bounce back like your average Looney Tunes character), I planned to have the "light" switch back on and return to the original town square lighting. In our last scenes, our characters start fresh with renewed hope on a new day, a pretty standard movie trope, and we can see the world for all it's color and beauty. I should mention at this point that we set up the movie with high contrast colors at magic hour for a couple other reasons than I mentioned earlier. Just as my director and I wanted the lighting to match the emotional beats of the story, the overall time of day and weather were chosen to support the ensuing drama as well. If a new start in life is best demonstrated by a new day, then someone who's had enough, who's literally at the end of his wits would fit right in with a world that is at the end of it's day as well. We made it rainy just to make it a little worse. You'll notice that the bar and the outside world are lit much the same. Inside or out, it's the same. These higher contrast light situations certainly tipped things in a darker direction, but we were confident that the comedy and action would  prevent it from looking scary. Since the main characters' faces were developed with such a graphic look, the expressions didn't get lost on us in when they were largely in shadow.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Found a few more prop designs.

 Money designs.

 This fly had a small part in a gag that got cut.

 While the sandwich board has very little screen time, it does play a very important part, showing up in the final scenes symbolizing the new partnership that Pepe and Lucas have formed. I looked at a lot of poster influences including Barnum and Bailey posters, other vintage circus advertisements, odd couple comedy posters, and even Looney Tunes posters. The following is a combination of several of those influences. Special thanks to Tony Vasquez for all the Illustrator help and design advise!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Matte Paintings - The sky is no longer the limits.

Alright peeps, this post is matte paintings only! Usually, my matte paintings consist of just sky replacements, but this time I had to create a bunch of environments to go with it.
Fortunately, I had a little help from the modeling department - special thanks to Christie Arnold for modeling buildings and giving me some renders to work with.
Pepe and Lucas starts on open sky and the camera tracks downward until we land on the front of the pub. We only built the first couple of rows of buildings and I had to paint in the rest.

This was my rough version before getting started.

My final version. I ended up having to go in and add on to many of the buildings to vary up the architecture a bit. I also warped the rows a little so everything has a little undulation to them. This was also an opportunity to show that the action doesn't take place in the most prosperous area. I put in the wealthier area on the left. I also added foliage from time to time to help break up the monotony of buildings.

I included this painting because the lighting situation changed on me and it ended up going in a totally different direction. You can see from the unfinished sky matte that we didn't get too far. This will be more apparent in the color keys I created and I'll go into more detail then, but originally, we planned to set out story during magic hour after a pouring rain, which would really pop the outdoor lights and reflected colors. You can see (above) how the darker and cooler values would have made the square a clear focus with all the light coming from it. However, it became very difficult to maintain focus once we were on ground level and things just looked so noisy and there were render problems with all the reflections, etc., etc. In the end we opted for magic hour on a clear day with some gentle clouds floating in the sky. Essentially, everything brightened up. This actually benefited us in the end as the world became less moody, in contrast to Pepe who's personal world had become darker. Just a note, but I did this painting earlier than the opening shot, so we'd already established the new lighting scenario by that time. It would have been killer to redo two complex matte paintings.

One of the things I focused on in these wide shots was adding onto the scenery so that it looked like a vast metropolitan city.  This meant adding rows and rows of buildings and varying up the architecture, which I came to enjoy a lot. A lot of little ladders here and there, extra chimneys, balconies, and trees. Something about adding trees to a city makes it feel much more cosy, no matter how much endless concrete surrounds it. I guess it just adds that little extra bit of life.

I think that's virtually all the visual development I contributed to for Pepe and Lucas. It was a total blast! I always liked that working at Brain Zoo allowed me to constantly move from project to project, but I really enjoyed working on this project for such a long period, allowing me to really expand and refine this world.

In my future posts, I'll be sharing the lighting and color directions we took as well as developing the movie poster. Stay tuned.

Pepe and Lucas - The People, The Monument, and some birds.

In doing research for Pepe and Lucas, we looked at a lot of short films for ideas on pacing, story, and how "big" to make it. One of the things I've noticed with shorts is that there's usually only 2 to 3 characters involved in the main action and rarely a lot of characters, let alone a city of bystanders. Look at how Pixar's One Man Band and Presto both starred entertainers putting on a show, but with few onlookers or with an implied audience. Budget is obviously a consideration, but too many side characters can pull you away from the main drama. One thing that I've noticed about most short films is that with so little time, they tend to feel very immediate. So, we started off with the idea that we'd never really get a good look at our pedestrians and that the cameras would avoid them for the most part. They'd be blurred silhouettes of generic models with jackets and hats. However, like so many projects, you can't always control how they develop if you want to put in your best effort. The story department realized early on that we couldn't avoid showing people. Unlike Presto, we weren't sitting in the dark with the audience and because of the nature of the entertainment duel, there weren't the typical pauses for an audience to make clapping or cheering noises. As the battle heated up and the clown and mime started chasing each other with increasing amounts of destruction, people needed to get out of the way. It was most obvious in an early scene when the clown enters the square. Without people, how would we know that the mime was more popular than the clown? No matter how we scaled up or down the square, it always looked huge. Even with the giant monument I created for the center and trees and lamp posts and outdoor restaurant seating, with just two characters it just looked massive. There needed to be people to give us an accurate sense of scale. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we would have to populate it with more people - pedestrians walking in the background, even an occasional car, and a crowd in the foreground.  As a result we needed designs for models, but within a limited time and budget. As you can see below, I did several sketches for men and women based on the mime's anatomy so that we could reutilize the model and rig as well as keep the same stylized anatomy. However, even those changes were a little too drastic and eventually, I painted over the mime and the clown and gave them different hair, mustaches and different clothes, but left the actual anatomy untouched. We also drew upon other stylized characters we've created for other internal projects and gave them new wardrobes and hair.

The Bartender. He had a much bigger part in the original storyline, but is almost entirely hands in the final version. Another victim of the crunch, we used a differently proportioned model to build off of  and I brought over as many of the most important traits as I could. In the end it worked out just fine since we only ever see the hands anyways and they remained huge and menacing.

The Monument. As I mentioned earlier, we needed to fill the square a little bit so the background behind the clown and mime had some visual interest. My research into monuments led me to a lot of obelisk type forms that were tall and thin. However, most of our shots are at about eye level looking at the horizon, so all we ever saw was the base or a thin pole in the distance. This led me to shorten and squash the proportions. Everything became wider and the equestrian figure mounted at the top much larger in scale. You can actually see it in several shots.


I paid homage to one of Brain Zoo's original short film character's Percy by making him the figure of power atop the monument. I found a few places to place the Brain Zoo logo on the there as well as the manholes on the streets and even on the coinage. As soon as the clown car was approved, chickens became a much bigger part of the short film, as an element that gets brought in to add an extra level of ridiculousness. It even made it onto the film poster.

Since crowds of people take forever to render and animate, we looked for other sources of movement to add energy to the backgrounds, so I did several designs for city birds. This was one of the last concepts I created and by this time the story was fairly fleshed out. I knew that it needed to fit into this nostalgic, pseudo-European,  cartoony, wonky world that went beyond just mild stylization, so I tried not to make any of them look too recognizable as doves or pigeons. Just birds.

We went with the below design as it had just the right level of ridiculousness.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - The Town Square

The town square was our main environment. We had only one interior, a bar scene that appears in the beginning, and the rest of the film takes place outside on the side streets and in the town square. 

A square environment, the town square was a four sided box lined with various buildings that we'd repeat and vary to populate our town center. I looked at a lot of European towns and squares to gain some inspiration. To get away from just cartooning and stylizing pre-existing architecture, I also checked out some great artists and art such as Dr. Seus, the art for the movie Nocturna, and Shaun Tan's illustration work to name a few. All sources have dealt with densely packed civilizations with a history. All are highly imaginative and tend to have some kind of industrial look too. Pipes and chimneys became a consistent element. The one thing that I wasn't finding in a lot of the Italian and French architecture was brick. The addition of that material  to the buildings really gave the square a nice industrial look like a sturdy place that had seen better times, just like our protagonist.  It became a unifying material as well. A lot of my form language came from Dr. Seus's leaning and swooping buildings. My first couple sketches were always too clean cut and ordered and never made it to completion. By introducing wedge shapes, it made the city seem more dense as if each piece was dropped into place or built in the spare space around and between buildings. Like with the clown's props, my goal was to color the buildings with vibrant colors, but to show that they had a history and weren't in the best shape. Rather than paint dirt on them, I had the top color wear away to reveal older layers of paint underneath. Just like with the clown, white became my unifying color and was used for all the moldings.

This one makes me smile. It was canned pretty quick because it looks so crazy, but the idea was based off the original story thread that three "races" of entertainers  - the clowns, the mimes, and the magicians, all coexisted in this giant city. Each type would have distinguishing symbols, patterns, and colors that would denote who lived where. It might have been a bit much, but the polka dots make me laugh.

The bar interior only has a tiny amount of screen time, but I knew I wanted it to be a real dive. "Real Dive" would have been a good name, but we ended up going with "Smiley's" after the bar owner we designed for it. Smokey and dark and dirty. Not a nice place. No martinis here.

Smiley's bar was located on one of the side streets to the square. It you check out the next image, you can see that it picks up where the above leaves off.  The original story called for the time of day to be magic hour after a rain storm, leaving the ground level in shadow with store lights and street lamps casting bright colorful lights that would get picked up in the puddles and slick streets. I needed to create a different atmosphere for the square  and the side street. The square would be warm, inviting and active, whereas the side street was as lonely and dangerous.  Since we created only a few sets of buildings to be reused over and over, we didn't have a special set just for the back alley with the bar, so I relied heavily on lighting and color with a specific set of props to differentiate the two areas. The square would have warm yellows and oranges for lights, but the back alley would cast greener yellows, greens, and deep reds - a lot of neon lighting. We did add some cans and papers to the street, but the key differentiators in props were that we put the trash out and made sure that trees only lined the square. This made the alley feel a bit more city. We also turned off many of the lights in the windows to make it seem a bit more deserted.

As I just mentioned, we lit the square to be bright and cosy and a little festive. Having the sun low enough to cast most of the pavement in shadow allowed us to really play with display lights and create small areas of interest wherever we wanted. We really pulled from the outdoor lighting in a lot of European cities for this environment, so that the square would just be filled with strings of lights, lamp posts, building lights, and light spilling out from the restaurants and shops.

In the corners on the left and right, the light gets cooler and greener as you leave the comfort of the square.