By: Catherine Winder Zahra Dowlatabadi and Tracey Miller-Zarneke                Categories: 3D Animation

This case study is from Catherine Winder, Zahra Dowlatabadi, and Tracey Miller-Zarneke’s Producing Animation. The case study follows development of the animated short Luna.

In order to best explain the various stages of animation from development to pre-production to production, the progression of Luna—an original short-form film that was created, developed, and produced by Rainmaker Entertainment—will serve as a case study. Luna is a CG project produced for final delivery in both 3D and 3D stereoscopic. This case study illustrates how a story can be produced for animation by outlining the various stages of its progress from its earliest conception to final output.

Luna – A Short Film from Rainmaker Entertainment on Vimeo.

All of the elements from Luna can be viewed interactively at www.rainmaker.com/luna. The website presents 2D imagery with color as well as moving turntables, animation tests, and the various stages of the story reel from boards through final animation, lighting, and sound.

The initial project was inspired by the image in Figure 5-3. The idea that a caterpillar was in love with a moth, yet living in a lamp with no way to pursue the object of his affection, was intriguing to the Rainmaker executives. From this singular image and simple concept, they developed a story about the power of attraction and unrequited love.

Luna case study

Figure 5-3 Luna: Concept development.

After an extensive story development process, the final synopsis of the film landed as follows, presented here with a sampling of the visual development artwork that was created in order to establish the look of the characters and environment for Luna (Figures 5-4 through 5-7). The team found Silky as a caterpillar before determining his look as a moth:

Happily lazing about in his home, eating leaves and enjoying the view, we meet Silky the caterpillar. It is dark. A light suddenly illuminates Silky’s home. A shadow ominously casts upon him. Startled and afraid, Silky tries to hide but has nowhere to go. He nervously peeks up and is surprised to see a most beautiful creature—Luna the moth, who smiles and flutters about gracefully. It appears she is flirting with him. Silky is immediately smitten. It’s love at first sight, and Silky’s alter ego—a Spanish matador—transforms him. Using his many charms and talents, Silky makes his move to woo and romance Luna…

Luna too appears smitten, but the two “lovebugs” are separated. She bangs on the glass wall desperately trying to reach him. Her efforts are futile. As Silky continues with his debonair moves, the music builds and the two of them become more and more attracted to each other. The music crescendos, their lips pucker for a kiss, they rush towards each other. Thwump! Silky hits the glass. Thwump! Luna hits the glass. Silky’s  puckered lips have nowhere to go. And then the light goes out. Luna is dramatically upset. Silky doesn’t understand what is happening.

Cut outside to reveal that Luna is simply a moth attracted to the bright light in a street lamp. Returning to Silky’s POV, he realizes the light was the focus of her attraction. Heartbroken, Luna flies away. As she leaves, Silky is devastated, his heart also broken. Despondent, he attempts to return to his old life of leaf eating—but without love, there is no longer joy. He cocoons.

Time passes. Silky breaks free from his cocoon. He sees his reflection in the glass and marvels at his new body. Unraveling his wings, he is thrilled to discover that he has metamorphosed into a moth. A shadow of a moth flies by, reminding him of Luna.

Another metamorphosis takes place: Silky as the “Don Juan of Moths” emerges. Determined to find the love of his life, Silky breaks free from his old home in search of Luna.

Animation Blog

Figure 5-4 Luna: Character development for Luna.


Figure 5-5 Luna: Character development for Silky as a caterpillar.


Figure 5-6 Luna: Character development for Silky as a moth.

Flying up through the clouds, he spots her. She sees him too. They come together. It is again love at first sight, but this time it is mutual. They do a dance. Backlit by the moon, the setting is romantic. It is time for the kiss they could never have: they pucker, close their eyes, and lean in towards each other. As their lips are about to touch, a light turns on. They look up and choose to ignore it. But alas, another light and then another turns on. They continue their pucker; Silky and Luna look at each other, but the power of the light shines even brighter and begins to sparkle. Finally, the pull of attraction is too strong.

Following Silky, the camera pulls back to reveal Luna racing towards one street lamp, and Silky towards another. Pulling back even further, more street lamps are revealed, with many more moths equally enthralled, attracted, and in love . . . with the light.

Rainmaker Entertainment

Figure 5-7 Luna: Location development.


Using the script, bible (if applicable), and conceptual artwork, the producer analyzes the complexity and cost needs of the project to create the production plan, with input from key executives (production and creative). The development materials (the script and the artwork) produced along with this plan are used to get a green-light for production. After the project has been green-lit and all of the items listed earlier are completed and signed off on by the key players, the script is ready to go into the next phase of the process: Preproduction.

This is an excerpt from Producing Animation 2ed. Producing Animation 2ed can be purchased at Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

Also, check out these great video tips Catherine and Zahra provided at SIGGRAPGH 2011.

Catherine Winder is a veteran animation producer and creative executive who is currently President and Executive Producer of Rainmaker Entertainment, one of Canada’s largest producers of CG animation. Winder was most recently at Lucasfilm Animation where as Executive Producer she set up the studio and produced the feature film and television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. She has worked with many of the industry’s major entertainment companies including Fox Feature Animation, Blue Sky Studios, HBO, Warner Bros., MTV, Hanna-Barbera Productions, The Cartoon Network and Disney.

Zahra Dowlatabadi is an award-winning animation producer and a consultant based in Los Angeles. Dowlatabadi has worked with many major studios including Disney, Warner Bros.,Cartoon Network, and Universal Cartoon Studios in addition to collaborating with numerous internationally acclaimed animation studios and talent.

Tracey Miller-Zarneke earned her production experience on the feature films Chicken Little and The Emperor’s New Groove and has gained a unique perspective on the industry by having authored five books on the art of animation, including those for DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Disney’s Meet the Robinsons.

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