The Making of “Wall of Death”

My friend was recently in a mosh pit with the other metal heads at a music festival, totally enjoying her favourite band, when she suddenly realized she was by herself. The crowd was split in half, but everybody was still enjoying the band. A bit warily, she stayed to listen and enjoy the song.

Then, the singer started a countdown.


That’s when she realized—HOLY SHIT!!!—what the countdown was for. She had just enough time to run out of the mosh pit before the countdown ended and the people in each half of the crowd started charging towards each other like madmen. Had she stayed another second, she would have been crushed by the crowd.

Knowing her, she was probably laughing all the way, although she was a bit humbled by her brush with death.

I took this real-life event and tried to translate it into a visual joke. The punchline of the story was clear and easy to understand visually, so I worked backward from there.

I knew exactly where the story was going, and that helped me finish the project without being distracted by unrelated ideas. It’s easy to keep your focus on a client’s work or at a job, because someone else has already decided the outcome of the project. Here, it’s all up to me.

 

Intro

The goal with this short was:

– to plan the animation enough but not over plan it enough to get stuck.

– to stick with one idea and finish it without jumping to another one.

– to finish it quickly enough so as to not lose steam.

This short animation went very well for most part. One scene wasn’t planned enough, which created some problems down the line.

There’s a fine balance between over planning and rushing into a project. Over planning will stall the project until there is no more steam left. Rushing into the project will create a problem that will expand at each step to create difficulties and frustration. Both outcomes are the same: the project ends up unfinished.

 

The tools

Paper and pencil

Scanner & printer

Photoshop

Animate CC

Premiere

After Effects

 

Character Design

 

Here are the two drawings I liked the most.

A skinny, shirtless guy, full of tattoos. The type who parties too much, but still manages to be ripped. There are many types of heavy metal singers I could have designed, but I went with my first impression.

This part of the process I rushed into and ended up not knowing the character enough when it was time to animate. I didn’t plan many poses or play with the design before starting to animate.

 

Storyboard

The closest experience I have to storyboarding is video editing. Editing is fun. You get a bunch of footage and piece all the different clips together to tell a story. You can come up with different story outcomes and play with the timing, music, and sound effects.

For this short, I merged what I knew of editing and animation to the best of my abilities. It’s a challenge to tell a story that is clear and visually pleasing.

I can’t comment much on the comedy side of this short. When I get a few laughs, I’ll know I’ll be on the right track. I’ll need to make a few cartoons to see some improvements.

Animatic

An animatic is a tool used to see the final film before starting on the production. You edit the storyboards along with music, sound effects and any audio available. You can then test your animation and see if the audio and music work well together.

I showed the animatic to a friend to get some feedback. He understood the story because it happened to our friend; anyone else might not have understood the joke. With the animatic all set up, it was easy to switch the clips around and make the story clearer.

I also watched several YouTube videos with Wall of Death footage (crazy!) to see if there’s wasn’t something I could use to make my story even clearer.

The big challenge of a 5-second short is how short it is. It’s like a comic strip that tells a joke in 2-3 panels. I could only keep the ones that moved the story forward, fast. Every panel had to tell something very specific.

 

Sound and Music

I had a good idea of what was needed right from the start. I knew the short needed hard-core music, the sound of a crowd, and the singer screaming. I’m pleased with the result.

From the first shot, we’re in front of a huge stage, like an outdoor show. The crowd sound had to be from a specific kind of show. The sound had to feel big. A crowd of 50 people sounds different than 5000.

The music had to be hard metal. I think I got the perfect one for it as well. I’ve seen many metal bands and wanted something that gave away the type of music right from the first note.

The scream was also a perfect fit for the singer.

I used both free and paid sites to find the audio. I used Audio Network extensively at my last job and was comfortable using it. The site is easy to use and the selections are varied.

Each song is available in many versions. Depending on the artist, you get different combinations of instruments, ranging from the full song with lyrics to ambient instrumental with no beat. Each track also comes in different lengths, from a full 3-minute song right down to some 15-second jingles.

I like this site for its well-produced and thought out music. I recommend it to anyone. (I’m not an affiliated of the site.)

 

https://www.audionetwork.com/

(you get 10 free tracks when you sign up)

 

I used this site for free sound effects.

https://freesound.org/

 

The green tracks in the picture are the audio and sound effects files. I chopped them up to precisely fit the timing of the shots.

 

Scanner and Printer

I made templates to help me go through the process faster. The storyboard panels and working files are all the same sizes and resolutions. Everything is set up beforehand to avoid unnecessary adjustments. It eliminates any back and forth between software for having the wrong format or size.

A smooth workflow helps save time and reduces frustration. I use several programs and when you’re not careful, it’s easy for problems to arise when you’re exporting/importing files.

Once I knew which panels to use, I printed them bigger, keeping the same ratio as the finished film.

 

Backgrounds

This was my first attempt at drawing crowds. I blocked out the crowds in big shapes, then broke those big shapes into smaller and smaller shapes. This technique helps to break down a complex subject into manageable pieces.

No crowds were animated—they remained static in the short. I didn’t want to get too ambitious for a 5-second movie.

I started with a tiny rough drawing after I watched some live shows on YouTube and saw this shot.

 

Then I used a storyboard template to draw it in (you can see the corner of the frame in blue pencil). It’s still rough and small, but I worked out the composition.

 

I scanned and resized it bigger to fit on a computer paper. I put a blank paper on top of the printed one and worked out the composition of the crowd. This image still has the same ratio as the previous one.

The crowd is divided into three sections: a foreground (dark green), mid-ground and background (light green). I separated each of these levels to create a parallax effect in my establishing shot. As the camera pans in, each section moves at a different speed, creating depth.

It was also a way to add movement while everything else was static.

 

I used Photoshop to colour the background. This is another part of the movie where I rushed in. I had no clue yet as to what I wanted it to look like. I made up the look of the short as I was working on it.

Once this background was painted, I stuck to that style.

I used my pencil line as the finished line as to not lose more time cleaning it up in ink or digitally with a brush tool.

 

 

 

Colour

Mixing of RGB colours eludes me. They don’t behave like real paint and I have a hard time creating palettes, so my digital paintings are fairly basic. I also have a tendency to use unnatural colours. which I like.

 

Symbol Animation

Symbol animation is widely used in TV animation. A symbol is a reusable image that you can move around like a piece of a puzzle. Each part of a character is made up of a symbol. For example, the left forearm and the left arm would be one symbol each. You draw a symbol once and you can animate it without having to draw it ever again.

It can be as simple as moving one symbol around or you can go as complex as you want, like having multiple symbols within symbols. If you have a traditional animation background, you can start mixing symbols with new drawings, using the advantages of both techniques.

 

 

The animation I made is very basic. My skills are not what they used to be when I was a full-time animator, but that’s okay; I’ll make more and get better.

 

Editing

-The very thin pick layer is my animatic with the titles.

-The purple track on top of it is the animation. The video exports made from Animate CC are imported directly into premiere. I made slight adjustments in the timing of one video and adjusted the speed of another one.

-The pink track on top of everything is the special effects. It’s a technique called Dynamic Linking. When created, After Effects opens up with a corresponding composition that can be altered in any way.

 

Visual Effects

As I was ready to export my final animation, I realized I have worked extensively with After Effects during the last few months. I’m more comfortable with it now, so I wanted to add an extra dimension to my short. A lighting effect would be a nice touch. It was fitting for the topic of the short.

Before

 

After

The two images show the first shot before and after I added some basic lighting effects.

 

 

Lessons Learned

The good:

I stuck with one idea until it was done. I had my end joke already figured out from the start.

 

The bad:

Some stuff wasn’t planned right from the start and gave me problems down the way, especially the character design and the poses for the animation.

 

The ugly:

I started another project, got a new job, and had to move apartments. I got distracted and life got in the way.

My project stalled.

I pushed through even though I lost steam. I didn’t like some of the stuff I was doing and wanted to start another animation instead of finishing this one. Since my goal here is to push my skills and re-learn what I used to know, I finished it.

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