As you probably know by now, my day job is voiceover work. As a professional voice talent, I get paid to read radio and TV commercials, narrate videos, and do on-hold telephone messaging and voicemail. But because I’m the type who likes to help others when I can, I also lend my voice occassionally to student projects. Because of the nature of these things, there is usually no budget, so the only thing I receive in return is the satisfaction of having helped someone trying to break into the entertainment business and perhaps my name in the credits.
And I’m ok with that!
For most of us, at some point in our lives someone gave us a helping hand to get to where we are now, and I like to be able to ‘pay it forward,’ so to speak. Earlier this year, I did some voicework for a group of Ringling College of Art and Design (Florida) students working on their final project – an animated short – and it was just completed about a month ago. I thought this might be a good opportunity to follow up on an earlier post I wrote about what spurs us to do what we do, and how we begin our career journey…as well as to get a glimpse of how computer-animated films are made.
Keep in mind, this was not produced by professional animators; it was created entirely by three film students, Adam Campbell, Elizabeth McMahill, and Uri Lotan, looking for their first big break!
When Elizabeth sent me this final version, I couldn’t believe how professional it looked…and sounded! She and her partners managed to rope in not only me, but also well-known voice actor D.C. Goode (you may not recognize his name, but you’ve heard his voice – trust me!), among others.
I asked Elizabeth to talk a little about the project, to get her perspective as a student filmmaker:
- What made you decide to get into animation?
I have always loved art and creating. I had never really animated or done any film work at all before college, just drawing. I thought about going into Illustration or some other design field but at the time animation was more of a challenge and a mystery. I had drawn and painted before, but I had never brought a character to life. I was drawn to animation because it was new and exciting ground, built upon the same foundations of the other visual arts but taking it in entirely different directions.
- What, exactly, was this project?
This was our graduation thesis – the capstone of our four years at Ringling. It is a requirement that all students in the computer animation major create a short film. We spend the second half of our junior year in pre-production on our films and then our entire senior year in full production. Most films are created entirely by one student but Adam, Uri, and I decided to team up for our film.
- How did you & the team come up with the concept for this project?
We came up with the idea of a western town full of pie citizens late one night for a side project. We had a day off from school and instead of working on homework we decided to use the time to make a 24 hour film, just for fun (we didn’t even come close to finishing it). The night we got together to plan out the film for the day ahead one of Adam’s residents had given him a pie. Somehow that turned into us making a bunch of western themed pie puns and jokes. Months later, when the time came to pitch ideas for our thesis film we pulled out the pie western and reworked it into a full story.
- Goes to show you never know where the next great idea might come from. So briefly, what was the process you used to put this all together?
That night of us sitting around making jokes and silly drawings was the real birth of the film. Later in the production of the film we’d get together every so often like before for gag sessions to brainstorm new lines, events, changes to characters, and other ways to make the film better. In the concept stage we reworked the story, characters, and camera quite a bit through our team meetings, script, storyboards, and ultimate animatic. Alongside story we worked on development art for the film, exploring the look of the characters and environment.
- And that was just pre-production, so that was your entire junior year. What did you do after that?
In our senior year came the actual production of the film. First was modelling our characters, roughing in our sets, and texturing and rigging our characters for movement. It was during this time too that we set out to find our voice actors so we could lock down our dialogue before we hit animation. Then came Layout where we create an edit of our film in 3D from the animatic with rough posing and timing of our characters so we can lock down our cameras. From layout we entered a period of about eight weeks of animation. Once animation and our edit was pretty locked down we began working with our sound designers and composer. At this time we finished up building our sets, texturing them, and planned out our lighting. The last few months of work on the film were spent in lighting the shots, rendering them out, fixing things, and tying up any loose ends that were still hanging around.
- Wow, what a lot of work for a senior project! Where do you go now with the film? Is there a future for this project?
The future of this film is to get it in front of people and seen! That’s really all there is. We worked on it, had a great time, and now we’re all working on other things. We’re just trying to share it with the world right now!
- What is your personal career goal? What would be your ultimate dream job?
I’m always the worst person to ask about explicit goals or role models, because I don’t have them! My goal really is to make cool things with great people, to constantly be challenged, learn, grow, and make a living doing it. I’m excited to see where that takes me. (ED. NOTE: Adam is now an intern at Pixar, Uri is apprenticing as an animator at Digital Domain’s new Tradition Studios on their first feature film, and Elizabeth is in LA working as an intern at Syyn Labs.)
I want to thank Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions; I find it interesting and inspiring to learn how different people work towards their dreams. And even though she says she doesn’t have them, Elizabeth’s goal to make ‘cool things’ and be ‘constantly challenged’ are good enough goals for me.
Since I spoke to her, this film short has been accepted to the LA Shorts Fest and will also be shown at Siggraph Asia, a huge computer graphics and technology conference to be held in Singapore. All I can say is good luck and best wishes to the three of them!