Dive deep into stylised 3D student short

Short film The Man Who Saw A Boat was anything but plain sailing, creator Henrique Barone’s reveals...

This gorgeous, stylised short tells the tale of a man living at the bottom of the ocean, who has his tranqulity interrupted by the arrival of a small boat. But should he go and investigate or remain content on the sea bed?

Here we talk to the film's creator Henrique Barone about his inspirations, mixing 2D and 3D animation and overcoming his limited 3D skills...

What were the film’s influences, both story-wise and stylistically?

"I think story-wise the short has more musical than visual influences. Songs like Sound Of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens and especially lyrics from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash influenced the story a lot, even though I noticed that just after I got the idea.

I think story-wise the short has more musical than visual influences

Also, when I was developing the idea for the film I was reading graphic novels by Jeff Lemire, which I admire a lot, especially the story telling aspect of it. I love watching shorts films online, so visual influences are all over. I'd say films from Gobelins are a big one, I like David O'Reilly's films, Salesman Pete and Meet Buck, but I think my favourite one would be Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs. I love the story, the character design and especially the animation."

Sony Pictures Animation's animated featured Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was just one inspiration source behind Barone's short

How long did the animation take to produce?

"The short was produced in the six months of the Digital Character Animation program at Vancouver Film School. The idea of the film started being developed on the very first day; the first four months I worked on character design, modelling and rigging and the last two months were set up for animation (both 2D and 3D) and compositing.

What was the hardest job?

"I'd never touched 3D before this project, so modelling and rigging were the hardest parts for me, especially modeling as I found very hard to translate my graphic style (which works well in paper) to 3D space.

I found very hard to translate my graphic style to 3D space

Also, since the modeling techniques are relatively straight forward it can get quite frustrating when you tweak and tweak and don't get the character looking the way you had drawn or the way you have in your mind.

Barone found it difficult to translate his graphic style into 3D space

"Modelling is a mixture of art and technique and rigging is pure technique. Rigging has less experiementation to see how things look, it's more about thinking and solving.

"Rendering was also a challenge, I did get that moment where I thought 'I'll use just Occlusion and that's it!'.

Barone created a clay model to help him understand the tridimensionality of his graphic character.

What 3D software did you use and why?

The short was animated in Maya, with the 2D animation created in Flash and the composition in After Effects. I had previous experience producing shorts and 2D animated pieces, but all the aspects of the 3D production were new to me and that was also the first time I was combining techniques.

All the aspects of the 3D production were new to me

This interaction was the part I was worried the most. I had a good visual in my mind but I wasn't sure if I would be able to manage all the technicalities behind it. Because of that I finished the 3D animation earlier than scheduled, leaving two weeks to fine tune the composition and the post 2D animation - water splashes, ripples, sand dust, bubbles, etc - which required the 3D animation to be locked.

What was the most useful piece of software and why?

The only 3D software used in the production was Maya, which I found to be a very powerful tool for producing short films, especially in the animation stage.

What was the most impressive technical aspect of the project and how was it achieved using 3D software?

I'd have to say the lighting and rendering. The sun was the main light source and I used a directional light to simulate that. Fill lights were most of the time spot lights.

Although the light source was the same I wanted to make the two worlds very distinct in light and colors, so I spent a long time experimenting with very hard shadows and saturated colors in the surface of the water and the boat and used almost no shadow and desaturated colors underwater.

I was really pleased that the two light techniques (Maya for character and After Effects for environment) worked well together.

Barone created two different worlds by very distinct light and colors

Did you make any mistakes during production?

Although I believe every step was done more than once, the production was actually very smooth. There was a lot of trial and error, which I believe to be one of the best ways to learn something.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working as a freelance animator but most of all I'm promoting The Man Who Saw A Boat in animation festivals and also online.

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