The number one goal should be to create an environment that can be multipurposed. This I learned from a stop-motion animator who created a film that takes place in a hospital. The character runs through what seems like endless hallways, but in reality the animator had created just a single hallway with a turn at the end. When the animator needed a turn in the other direction, he just flipped the frame when he was done shooting. When he got to the end of the hallway in a shot, he would just cut to a new angle and move the camera and character back to the corner to give himself plenty of room to shoot. And he would control the set dressings (plants, doors, chairs, lights) meticulously so that each stretch of hallway felt unique. I thought it was brilliant and it inspired me to do the same thing.
To really take advantage of the modular middle, you must also try to maximize your environment design. Your middle is not truly modular if you have to create a custom environment for each shot. Props, on the other hand, are fi ne to create on a per-shot basis.
I kept my design loose and fun, again. There were a few props drawn in to the design, but for the most part modelers could just create anything they wanted. I had some help in my studio from Tyson Karl and Jocelyn Cervenka, and what they created for the short was awesome. But even better, take a look at a photo of the space where we animated Booty Call:
You might not have as much luck with your environment as I did, but suffice it to say that a loose design is a handy thing. Discovery can happen in the environment to a much greater extent than with the characters, so keep things open for interpretation at the modeling stage. There are also opportunities for inspiration to come from your environment, so you want that to be possible too. For instance, in our fi lm, one of the set dressings is a hanging chain; when one of the animators saw the chain, he based his entire shot around the character “clotheslining” himself as he runs through the ship. It meant I had to create a rig for the chain, but nevertheless, it shows how the environment can be a source of later inspiration. Plan for the modular middle to take advantage of everything you are putting into your environment, while at the same time not planning too much.
Your environment is made up of more than just objects. If you are creating a short that deals with nightmares and shadows, then light is a part of your environment. If you are talented enough to do digital paintings, then your environment designs can serve as more than just form and function. You can even move into the realm of look development.
If the advantage of being trained in traditional art disciplines is not readily apparent to you by now, I don’t know what else to show you to convince you. These environment designs embody the whole awesome, unique look that Meet Buck is known for. The painterly style, the light bloom, the contrast of large and small brush strokes—I almost want to frame them! Whether you can make designs of this quality or not, they have a level of artistry to aspire to.
When designing props, your main aim is to establish a level of detail for your objects. This is to avoid being in the middle of modeling a prop, then having to stop because you can’t quite figure out how to finish it. After establishing a look for your film with a library of designs, you will have a bit of a shorthand for describing objects that fit into your film visually. And because modeling is so much slower and more laborious than a sketch, prop designing is another one of those things that pay huge dividends when you are pressed for time.
For Booty Call , the modular middle was the majority of the time on screen. It is also the only section in which Babinsky is really interacting with any props. Since the only prop that I knew would be featured was the cannons, the only detailed prop design went into those. The rest of the props, for the most part, were modeled off of the dressed environment design that you see above and google image searches open on a second monitor.
Excerpt from Finish Your Film! Tips and Tricks for Making an Animated Short in Maya by Kenny Roy © 2014 Focal Press an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.