8 of the best animated shorts

04. Asteria

  • Directors: Alexandre Arpentinier, Mathieu Blanchys, Lola Grand, Tristan Lamarca, Thomas Lemaille, Jean-Charles Lusseau

This short film set in space has won over hearts and minds, not just with the quality of animation, but with its sense of humour, something that was of great relief to one its directors, Alexandre Arpentinier. "One of the hardest tasks was to give a good rhythm to the film, find a good end stop, and make good gags. It's hard to know if all the jokes will make the spectators laugh when you work for several months on it and hear it dozens of times a day," he says.

Student projects can often fall victim to unforeseen problems, but the Asteria team avoided this with careful planning and teamwork. "We didn't make any big mistakes during the production because we always did tests before we started in the different tasks," says Arpentinier, who adds that the team worked together to stay organised and on track.  

The team used a variety of tools to create Asteria, including Maya for modelling, rigging and animation; ZBrush and Mari for sculpting and texturing; Arnold for rendering; Nuke and Houdini for compositing and effects, Premiere for editing, and occasionally Photoshop for testing or small alterations. 

But Arpentinier doesn't think that one tool is more important than another. "There isn't a single software or tool that has helped us a lot during the production, but we think it's the combination of all the software that allowed us get good quality in every field," he explains.

05. La Parfumerie de Monsieur Pompone

  • Directors: Camille Ferrari, Axel De Lafforest, Florian Ratte, Yoann Demettre, Tanguy Weylan

This ambitious short from co-directors Axel de Lafforest, Florian Ratte (opens in new tab), Yoann Demettre, Camille Ferrari and Tanguy Weyland follows the story of a perfume manufacturer in Paris and is influenced by the works of Roald Dahl.

"We all had a different role to play in the creation of the movie," says Camille Ferrari. "I was in charge of most of the storyboard, texturing and editing.  We all directed it, but Axel was at the heart of the project, so he had to write the basis for the story. Tanguy was our technical director, Yoann our lead modelling and Florian our lead animation."

The team used 3ds Max mainly for the 3D, Mari for the texturing, Nuke for the compositing, and Avid for the editing. Nuke was also vital to realise the team's vision. "We wanted the 3D to look like 2D," says Ferrari. "Our main goal was to have a very graphic render with a lot of patterns on the textures."

With the film winning awards at both the Panam Anim and the Beijing International Film Festival, it's no surprise that all of the former student directors are now gainfully employed in the industry.

As far as wider animation goes, Ferrari has some thoughts on the future, "I think 3D animation is the future of animation. 2D is very nice but it needs more money and more time for production. I don't think we could have done a six or seven minute 2D animation film in one year. But I do sometimes work in 2D. Making a 3D movie doesn't mean giving up 2D animation."

06. Poles Apart

  • Director: Paloma Baeza
  • Dfx team: Gillian Simpson, Shivani Shah, Ollie Brummell

Director Paloma Baeza (opens in new tab) started out as an actress before moving into writing and directing. Never one to shy away from a challenge, creating Poles Apart – which stars Helena Bonham Carter and Joseph May – was a new kind of experience for her. 

"I wrote, directed and partly animated. Animating is the hardest for me as I am very new to it... the biggest transition was learning about animation in the technical sense – animatics, the actual hands-on animating, as well as time-scales and the precision involved," she explains.

As with any new medium, mistakes happen. "Early in the shoot we animated a long shot with focus pulls and puppet rigs, but I foolishly didn't get clean background the separate focus pulls. This made good rig removal and compositing very difficult. In the end, we had to re-shoot this sequence, but we didn't make that mistake again!" says Baeza.

While Baeza prefers to focus on stop-motion, using Dragonframe, the digital FX experts on Poles Apart – Gillian Simpson, Shivani Shah and Ollie Brummell –
were deep in other methods. 

"The CG icebergs were achieved using photogrammetry of the props made by our production designer, which allowed us to replicate an identical 3D asset that reduced time in modelling and sculpting, but also enabled us to create a range of diffuse and light baked textures for the motion control shot in particular," explains Baeza.

07. Garden Party

  • Directors: Victor Cair, Théophile Dufresne, Vincent Bayoux, Florian Babikian, Gabriel Graperron, Lucas Navarro

Garden Party (opens in new tab)'s photo-real animation of amphibians has been showcased in many festivals, and earned a Grand Jury Prize at Nashville Film Festival, as well as Page's Eye Candy – Film of the Year 2017.

The team used a wide range of software in production, but they also had to craft a hefty piece of hardware. "In order to obtain the realistic look we wanted, we had to build a 3D scanner in our garage, based on photogrammetry, to scan 3D assets. It was a huge challenge for us," says one of the six directors, Victor Caire. "We used the software RealityCapture to scan the objects, then all the scans were brought into ZBrush for remeshing," he adds. 

The team also developed a script in ZBrush to export colour, normal and displacement maps from the scans before moving into Maya, where the maps could then be plugged in automatically.

Caire thinks that the fast pace of the industry means that new artists have to stay focused. "The most important thing is to have good composition and storytelling. It's not always about the software you use, think more about the result. There's always a way to do it."

08. Gokurōsama

  • Directors: Clémentine Frère, Romain Salvini, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli

Gokurōsama (opens in new tab) is a Studio Ghibli-inspired short film that follows the story of an old woman and her assistant just before a mall opens. "We really enjoy the contemplative quality you can find in many Japanese animation films like those of Studio Ghibli," says one of the directors, Clémentine Frère.

"However, stylistically we wanted to stay away from being too anime-like... it was mostly a job of giving the environment that abundant feel (of a mall) while still keeping the characters silhouettes stand out using colour blocking."

The project used 3ds Max (V-Ray) for modelling, lighting and rendering; Maya for rigging and animation and Mari to paint the textures on the characters. Working in Mari was particularly useful.

"I think Mari was probably the most vital software to production because we were able to quickly and easily update the textures of each character, even during the rigging process," says Romain Salvini.

Salvini believes that an inquisitive mind is vital for success. "You must be curious about new software and ways to make things. And keep watching movies, reading, looking for nice pictures, because these things can become an idea or reference for a project."

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 224. Buy it here (opens in new tab)!

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Shelley Page is DreamWorks' head of international outreach and international talent consultant