Finally! The conclusion to this massive WiP series for our work on Kevin Smith’s, Tusk. If you’ve been following along up to this point, you know that we’ve had some trials and errors with digital photography, learned how to paint, and figured out how to create real-world textures on digital prints. Now, strap in for the epic conclusion of this piece as we take a look at… animation!
While Stacy was busy painting the canvases with acrylic gel, I was talking with Ken Plume about the direction for the animation. The next hurdles would be to create storyboards and an animatic to detail the entire animated sequence, and live action bits in between.
Here is the original, uncut animatic for the sequence.
At this point, the Carolina crew was still trying to finish Tusk for Sundance, so, after a little back and forth, we decided that it was probably out of the realm of possibility to re-paint the destroyed cityscape to look like a nice calm day with the Mont Blanc peacefully floating in the harbor. Instead, we elected to snap zoom into the explosion with a transition done in Particular and dressed it up with Video Gogh, a super slick vector particle program that’s been used to created the painted looks in films like, What Dreams May Come. This meant we only had to create paintings of the intact Mont Blanc, and the collision itself. The rest of the animation would be pretty straight-forward.
Once the above animatic was approved, it was time to create the following two paintings, and head straight into animation!
In the above examples, you’ll notice a lot of texture that was not on the final drafts of the main painting. The reasoning here was that the texture in the animation should be swirling and bubbling like living paint. That’s why we reserved all of that work for once we finally got into After Effects, and didn’t take the real world texture we had applied to our printed canvases. In the straight shot of the Mont Blanc, you’ll notice this texture in the cloudy sky above the ship. The original thought was that we would use Video Gogh to add our swirling paint look across all layers in the sequence, but, we soon discovered that the plugin is INCREDIBLY render-intensive, and you need to clear your image caches after each RAM preview to get it to work properly. You can’t even alleviate the pain by rendering across a render farm because the plugin only works by rendering each frame in order (hence purging previews to get it working properly). As a compromise, we used it to stylize particle effects throughout the piece. The smoke rising from the chimney, the ocean spray coming off the bow, the smoke and fire coming from the burning ship, and the hunks of molten metal raining down from the sky later on, were all spruced up with this technique.
Since we couldn’t rely on Video Gogh for the whole frame, a few different effects were used to create the painted-on canvas look for most of the objects. To create the look of the sea, I painted an ocean texture in Photoshop (using the techniques I had previously learned for the main painting), and applied it as a texture to a Trapcode Mir object. This gave the water some weight and dimension.
For textured objects (like the swirls in the sky behind the Mont Blanc), I duplicated each layer and applied some fractal noise to it. I then pre-composed the duplicate and applied the Texturize effect to the layer, with the pre-comp serving as the texture source. I used this technique on individual layers instead of just using an adjustment layer across the whole frame, because I didn’t want to just have a generic swirl over the entire screen. Each piece needed to look like it was constructed individually from its own glob of swirling paint. The image to the left shows a cross-section of the texture source against the actual textured background. The canvas texture is from a photo reference, and that is simply laid over the frame with its blending mode and opacity adjusted.
For the motion itself, I treated this piece like it was any other 2.5D motion project. Lots of layers, not a ton of keyframes. Since After Effects wouldn’t accept the massive 3.25 gig PSB file, the main piece needed to be shrunk down to 4K dimensions, and the extreme close ups of people losing their heads and appendages, and houses being blown apart, needed to be cropped in and saved as separate project files. Oddly enough, this served to simplify my workflow.
In the end, we finished on time and within budget, but, the scene would ultimately be cut from the finished film. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll see how the sequence would have really just slowed things down. Heck, the clip below is what would have appeared in the film and it was cut in half. It doesn’t matter, though. The painting itself still hangs on Howard Howe’s wall, and a poster I created from art used in my SModimation hangs in the Not-See Party’s podcast studio.
When I started on this journey I couldn’t paint and something like this didn’t really seem possible. I was actually considering turning down the project when I realized what was involved, but, my wife and best friend wouldn’t let me :). She recognized the opportunity and knew I could do it, even if I had no idea. I love you for that, sweetheart. Now that it’s finished, I’ve learned to give myself a lot more credit, and to entertain even the craziest ideas.
Special thanks to my friend Louis for helping me transfer this site to its new home and for figuring out all the technical stuff, hence fixing the mess I created so you could see everything that went into a roughly 2-minute animation for a feature film. Check out his geeky adventures at GamutOfGeek.com, and maybe commission him for some web work if you have the occasion to. Also big ups to my friend Bryan Hughes, for helping me sort out the mess we made of the DNS across the board!
Most of all, thanks to everybody who offered a sympathetic ear, words of encouragement, advice, and once again to the people who got me involved on this roller coaster. Counting down the seconds until the next big thing, but you’ll be hearing from me a lot more this year. Promise ;).