Must-see animation was made on Facebook

Vodka lovers on Facebook shaped the story of this stunning animated short, to be screened at SIGGRAPH next week.

It's that time again! Next week, the industry's great and good will descend on LA for SIGGRAPH, the annual gathering of global animators. And with all eyes on the work being showcased in the Computer Animation Festival, there's one animation everyone's talking about – Dark Noir (above), an ad with a difference.

Vodka brand Absolut enlisted Brazilian comics artist Rafael Grampá to create this short, based on user-generated suggestions submitted through the Vodka company’s Facebook page as part of their #NEXTFRAME project.

The result is a stunning four-minute film that combines traditional and 3D animation to tell the story of a hard-boiled detective hunting down clues in a world populated by shape-shifted demons.

We caught up with Rick Thiele, creative director at Red Knuckles, to find out more...

Why do you think Dark Noir got selected for the Computer Animation Festival?

The film has many unusual aspects to it, with some qualities that you don't normally see in commissioned animation projects. For starters it was a very daring project for any brand.

Absolut and Sid Lee did a fantastic job by taking a chance and giving the artists involved unheard-of creative freedom.

The story is based on user-generated suggestions from Absolut's Facebook page

Rafael Grampa as writer and director was able to put on screen a film that had very little distortion caused by the brand and as creative directors.

We were able to push a different style of mixed-media animation, fast paced action and storytelling, and filmic cinematography – all quite reminescent of the 80's when movies were still made of organic matter and not shiny plastic.

What was the brief?

Originally the film was meant to be live action with CGI and 13 minutes long, but due to budget/schedule issues it ended up becoming a 3'15'' minute full animation piece.

The project was part of a broader campaign called Transform Today. Rafael Grampa had already been chosen by Absolut and Sid Lee Amsterdam to direct a short film of his choice, so he wrote the story for Dark Noir, heavily influenced by Plato's allegory of the cave.

The short combines mixed-media animation with fast paced action and storytelling

Red Knuckles came into the mix as a production partner to find a way to produce this film in all its 75 days schedule glory. So Grampa came to London to work from our studio as we needed to make sure his very unique 2D comic book style would be perfectly translated to 3D.

He sat with us throughout production and after many arguments, late nights and many a bottle Absolut vodka, the film was finally finished.

Did the mix of animation techniques pose any challenges?

The Daimons in the film needed to stand out enough in colour and style so as to be quickly identifiable in each shot, but also integrated enough so as not to look like badly made collages, they live in a different plane and in this case, a different dimension altogether.

This didn't prove to be too difficult technically speaking, because compositing and integration was straightforward. But visually/artistically it posed a challenge, due to both mediums looking so drastically different and because we wanted to keep the 2D looking flat, with no delineation of light and shadow.

What advice do you have for anyone creating an animated ad?

A lot of the times, telling, showing or explaining everything you can of the story and characters in detail seems right on paper. But once it starts being translated to the screen, the best thing you can do is hint and suggest only, leaving a lot of the story up to the viewers' imagination and assumptions.

Red Knuckles worked hard to translate Grampa's 2D comic book style to 3D

I'd also say that planning your time well and meeting initial approval deadlines is always key, but this sometimes requires a loud voice and thick skin.

What influences do you think Siggraph has on the animation industry?

Siggraph is a festival that celebrates not only the visual/storytelling aspect of an animated short film, but also the technical aspect of it, which is incredibly important for the animation industry.

It means celebrating the work of people that spend long hours and endless nights behind the screen pulling vertices, setting expressions or waiting for simulations; people that worked and reworked small details over and over again, but rarely go up to the stage to pick up an award for it.

Having a festival like this empowers 2D/3D professionals and students to create more, create better and be recognised for it in front of their whole industry.

Do you think a certain type of work tends to get screened at animation festivals?

I think the majority of the work chosen are mainly projects that make anyone in this industry go 'wow' when they watch it. Some of the films might not have millions of hits online, but are so incredibly powerful visually that they have to make the selection.

Red Knuckles wanted to keep the 2D looking flat, with no delineation of light and shadow

I wish more student films would be chosen though, the underdogs that don't have a massive studio and infrastructure behind them, but still manage to produce very strong and influential animation.

What other submissions to the Festival have you excited this year?

We love all the work by Blizzard and Blur, like Take Back New York this year is incredible. We are also big fans of Shy the Sun and Platige and they have some great films running on the festival this year, like I said above most of the films chosen make us go 'wow' so it's hard to see something you don't like.

3D World magazine: on sale soon!

For more animation news, views and reviews – including a special feature on Siggraph's Computer Animation Festival – don't miss the latest issue of 3D World magazine.

On sale this coming Wednesday, 13 August, issue 199 features an incredible special feature on the rise of TV VFX, Game of Thrones and Star Wars-related tutorials, and more.

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