What's the true meaning of Christmas? More Stuff! We commissioned musical comedian Ben Champion to write and produce a festive song to parody an animated musical.
Everyone in our studio was invited to pitch to direct the animation, and Blue Zoo animators Simone Giampaolo and Joe Kinch’s cheeky character’s won the company wide vote.
This is what the team made...
Designing the elves was tricky, as they needed to be original and unique. It's extremely hard to come up with a new take on something that has literally been done thousands of times, such as the bell wearing elfs from Rise of the Guardians or the special operative approach from Arthur Christmas.
We aimed to give them a look as dopey and manic as possible, generally cute but able to turn extremely insane at the click of a button. The idea was to create a cast of these elves and make them as squashy and stretchy as possible, in order to give the animators a real spark of imagination when they opened up their rig.
Once we had the first draft of the song, we created an animatic to make sure our shot ideas fitted into the timing of the song. At this stage it was important not to add bits in for the sake of it, always keeping in mind the aim of the animation.
When it came to rigging, we used our studio’s modular rigging python scripts to auto-rig the characters. This meant we could re-build the rigs for the different shapes of the elves extremly fast, without having to laboriously re-create rigs for each different body shape. If bone positions needed to be adjusted, we could just change the position in a source maya file, then re-compile the rig with a single mouse click.
Due to the limited time we had to create the animation (just 8 weeks!) we knew we wouldn't have time to model lots of environments, so we turned to in-house artist Izzy Burton to paint some fantastic digital mattes.
The artists put a lot of effort into the smallest details in order to make Santa's workshop become as entertaining and unique as possible. For instance, here below you can find some lunchboxes' art and a poster for the large conveyor belt room.
The animation took influence from two masters of traditionally animated comedy: Tex Avery and Genndy Tartakovsky. Our aim was to achieve the fluidity and snappiness typical of traditional animation, whilst giving it the friendly charm of a stop-motion animation.
In terms of aesthetics our aim was to create very stylized characters with the tactile feel of a stop-motion puppet. So we gave them very simple body shapes and facial features and combined them with realistic materials (cloth, hair, skin, etc.).
In order to make the animators' lives easier, we created two different versions of the characters, a "heavy" one with fur and shaders for rendering, and a "light" one without fur or textures just for animation. Once the animators were done with their shots, using some handy scripts we connected the heavy character to the light one for rendering the scenes out.
Since there were several scenes with a large number of elves, we had to optimize our workflow and shaders. We wrote some scripts to connect shaders to geometry meaning that we didn't have to load several duplicates into the scene at once.
Being very organised at the start and not jumping in was essential to get the short lit and composited in just three weeks. Knowing we had just a few weeks to get all the lighting and comp done, we decided that our usual pipeline of using alembic caching could cause more problems than it solves due to the amount of small tweaking we needed to do, and constantly re-caching animation takes time. So Charlie wrote some custom scripts so that the animators could work with super fast rigs, whose attributes were then copied over to the heavy render rigs. This saved an enormous amount of time and made sure all the characters used one set of shaders, not duplicates.
After just 8 weeks of hard work, sweat and Christmas cheer we had a finished animation. We held the grand premiere in our studio on the evening of our christmas party - it was a fantastic way to celebrate a project we’re really proud of!
It follows a brief behind the scenes video showing our creative journey through the production of More Stuff.
Enjoy people, and Merry Xmas to you ALL from Blue Zoo Animation!