This enchanting 3D short tells the tale of a young man who lives inside a billboard and is charged with updating the advertisements. When he falls in love with a beautiful lady living across the highway, he has to use the only method he knows to get his message across - advertising.
Q: How did the project come about?
Matt Berenty: "The project started when David Bokser and I were just about to graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design to pursue jobs in the animation industry. We were driving to lunch one day toward the end of school and I looked up at a billboard and asked, 'What would it be like to live in a billboard?' This instantly sparked an interest in telling a story based around this idea."
David Bosker: "I think what made it stick so well for us was that the field of advertising was so ripe for satire. We are constantly being bombarded by advertisements which are essentially messages that somebody, somewhere has thought up in order to influence our actions and emotions.
"We wanted to find a way to wrap that concept inside a traditional love story without it being too heavy handed in it's message or too sentimental."
Q: What were the film’s influences, both story-wise and stylistically?
MB: "We both love creating films around stylised 3D characters, which has also influenced our professional careers with positions at companies such as Psyop and now Wolf & Crow. Obviously we were enormously influenced by Pixar. The short films they produced, such as Geri's Game, For the Birds, and Boundin', were so fun to watch and convinced us that you really could tell an appealing story in the short film format. Making something to that quality, both stylistically and story-wise, was one of our biggest goals."
DB: "While the high-end animation from Pixar and Dreamworks were definitely huge influences on the style we went for, we also wanted to distance ourselves a bit story-wise from the Pixar shorts by making our story more subversive but still appeal to the same audiences.
"A big influence initially was Dr. Suess, who had an amazing ability to tell important stories with meaning but without hitting the audience over the head with it and making it enjoyable to read. We initially wanted the film to be a spoken word narrative like a Dr. Suess storybook, but as the story developed and our singer and composer Hunter Curra came in and started putting music to it, we added more singing parts to round out the amazing score he created."
Q: What 3D software did you use and why?
MB: "The 3D animated short film was predominantly created using Maya. Maya gave us the freedom to model and animate all of the necessary assets while maintaining flexibility to create artist friendly tools. For final render we decided to use Chaos Group's V-Ray. As an out of the box render solution, it provided us with the best looking results for the least amount of needed development in its interaction with Maya."
DB: "Maya's referencing system was a huge help as well in allowing multiple people to work on various shots without taking up a ton of space and also letting us keep assets updated in the scene.
"When we moved to Wolf & Crow to complete the film, it took on a more traditional centralised pipeline where we were working off of the same servers with people in the same building. By that point I had written a number of pipeline tools for asset management and other tasks so that move both informed how we set up the project on the central server and also dictated how I should update the tools to work as generic pipeline tools for any CG production at Wolf & Crow."
Q: What was the most impressive technical aspect of the project?
MB: "Doing actual cloth and hair simulation was a large effort for such a small team with few resources. We hadn't planned on doing these when we started the project and, at least from a technical aspect, it is what we're most proud with the piece."
DB: "Yeah, the cloth and hair were definitely one of the things we had no real clue about going into production. We initially were going to make modeled hair and clothing skinned to the characters, but as I got more experienced with cloth and hair working on commercials and film, we decided to try and tackle it in the short.
"One thing I learned working in more established cloth pipelines is that almost nobody relies on just the default solver for their cloth simulation. Having the straight simulation from Maya's nCloth solver is the first step and then there's a secondary process of pushing and pulling the cloth, fixing interpenetrations, and generally modeling how you want to cloth to look and behave. Maya out-of-the-box has the cloth solver, but we had to develop our own tools to be able to adjust and fix the cloth after simulation."
Q: Did you make any mistakes during production?
MB: "Doing an eight-minute, animated, high quality, CG short film with as little resources as we had was our biggest mistake! Though I'm joking about it being a mistake, I do think the biggest obstacle we overcame is the sheer amount of time and effort it takes to do this type of independent film-making. It's certainly not a sprint, but a marathon, especially when we were trying to do it in our off-hours while working full-time in the commercial production industry.
"We are very proud of finding the motivation and determination day-after-day, week-after-week, and believing in the story enough to see it through to the end. We also have to thank Wolf & Crow for believing in the short and stepping in to provide the resources to finish it, without which we would probably still be working on it."
Q: What's the plan for the short now?
"We finished the short in March and it is currently making its way through the festival circuit, recently qualifying for Oscar consideration. You can find a list of screenings on its website."