Saturday, July 26, 2014

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.

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