Sunday, December 21, 2008

ganesha - a short film

ganesha was created during my second year of grad school at savannah college of art and design. it was animated in flash (drawn entirely with a tablet) with additional editing in final cut. it runs approximately one minute.

the following posts are a behind-the-scenes look at my filmmaking process...

Saturday, December 20, 2008


this was initially assigned as a fifteen second piece which could include any subject under the sun, as long as it was somehow personal. i of course took this artistic freedom and jumped overboard with it. this is the first narrative short i've ever created and i was whole-heartedly up to the challenge. plus i had some time to kill, and after working as an interactive designer for two and a half years, i know flash like the back of my hand. so, what the hell, lets do this thing.

i've created this blog to kind of embellish some of those moments during the film that flash by (no pun intended, har har har) without a trace. i think what i'm proud of most about this film is the timing, but damn, i painted seventeen bloody backgrounds - i want to see them!! also, i did a lot of research of other artists and filmmakers while in the early planning stages - i learned a ton just by analyzing scenes and reading how other animators worked out certain issues - so i figured someone somewhere might get something out of seeing my approach...

i've recently been reading up on hindu and buddhist mythology and i thought "wouldn't it be great to somehow express some of these wonderful beliefs in a short film?" the problem there is that, these mythologies are so vast and so complex it would be impossible to convey even one myth in a quick orderly fashion. so... i made one up ;D

i love this character ganesha. he is described as "an elephant-headed deity, son of Shiva and Parvati. Worshiped as the remover of obstacles and patron of learning, he is usually depicted colored red, with a potbelly and one broken tusk, riding a rat. Also called Ganapati." how great is that?! so much potential for caricature and animation. i read somewhere that many worshipers believe ganesha brings good fortune and success. i then wondered "how would this ancient hindu god appear in modern times?"

these next images are early concepts for the look of the piece. i was using the hindu prints (above) as inspiration and tried to include the same subdued, kind of dreamy color palette. i also wanted another layer of texture which would hopefully keep the film from screaming out "i was animated in flash!" and also incorporate that hand-crafted aesthetic, so i scanned some old unprimed canvas and overlayed it.

character development

traditional 2D animators learn pretty early on that simpler design means less clean-up, fewer remorseful thoughts and more sleep. so i came up with a fairly simple design of ganesha, kind of using a combination of the familiar disney formula with my own haphazard-painterly flair. you can tell from the following studies that the belt didn't make the cut and his color scheme changed a bit, but this was the basic design (more sketches coming soon). instead of making a full turnaround, i drew up a quick silhouetted animation test in flash to see how his basic form would work. this gave me more clues to how ganesha would act/react. i imagined him as this big portly guy who defied gravity with his divine powers. he seems like a good-natured fella, maybe a bit too concerned/borderline obsessed with the wellfare of others...

my next task was to design the poor saps that ganesha would be rushing in to assist. i wanted a good age and color range of characters. the first character he encounters is who i call "lonely boy" (creative huh?) the second character "crisis man" (like mid-life crisis, you get it) these two are both fairly monochromatic, pretty down and out, but their emotions change dramatically within seconds. the boy's long hair which was once covering his face in sorrow is suddenly emphasizing his joy. i drew crisis man in silhouette to accentuate his beer-gutted slovenliness (sorry, theres no better way to describe it) when reversing this curve in his spine, he suddenly has an air of success. i suppose the suit and briefcase helps too...

ganesha's close encounter of the third kind (ha ha... not so funny) "elderly monk," brings about the moral of the story. the monk is perfectly content with his current state and needs nothing that ganesha can provide. i decided to make his robes a bright friendly yellow. he doesn't move much, he actually never leaves this meditative position so his design was pretty simple.


once the characters were designed and finalized, they pretty much told me the story, not that its terribly complicated. there were a number of things that had to happen - i had to introduce ganesha (a four-armed, elphant-headed, beet-red, bipolar man), break the laws of physics so that the audience would be on board with everything that comes next, introduce ganesha to the needy who he then facilitates, and finally come to a screeching halt when he reaches the monk who also appears to be lacking something. everything has been building up to this moment between the monk and ganesha. the monk snaps his fingers at the end which signifies a reversal of roles. he looks up to acknowledge the audience and convey the message/moral of the story which is sort of a gift of knowledge.

everything leading up to the monk scene was unscripted. i think my notes read something like "ganesha jumps from scene to scene helping people." and i knew he would be snapping his fingers because that was a fun little device that everyone can relate to. because of the experimental quality of the film, i completely skipped the storyboard phase and jumped right into the animatic with some rough animation tests. much of the animatic was drawn in silhouette which gave me a quick preview of how each scene was panning out.

i'm not keen on reusing footage, but i thought it actually helped this short. like the soundtrack (which i'm still working on replacing) it gives the film this repetitive predictable quality "okay he's going to snap his fingers again and something crazy will happen..." most of the challenge came with timing everything. how short is too short? how many frames should it take ganesha to fly from here to there??

background design

with the animatic complete, it was time to start fleshing out the backgrounds. i imagined this story taking place in an anonymous city (could be new york, LA, chicago) where ganesha would have his hands full. i specifically wanted the monk situated in a park where he would be closer to nature, but still close enough to the city where the story wouldn't feel disconnected.

a lot of my references came from internet sources. the bakery idea, for instance, came directly from an image search. but i needed some really specific shots and i didn't want to just fudge something together, so i went out on a photo shoot (specifically savannah's forthsyth park and broughton st.) to capture the angles i was looking for. i then took these photos into photoshop and warped the s*** out of them. i saved these out as JPGs and brought them into flash for painting. btw, chain-link fence, not so much fun to draw...

the following are progressions from the original animatic to photoshopped references to final painted backgrounds -

rough animation

when the backgrounds were painted, the characters could take a firm hold of their environment and i could complete the animation. i did quite a bit of skipping around my apartment to get ganesha's walk just right. but you know what they say "you don't have to be a tree in order to draw one," so a lot of the morphing scenes were just fun straight-ahead animations. most of the timing and placement was already there in the animatic, it was just a matter of finishing up the in-betweens. the animation is pretty clunky in some areas (sometimes only on 4s), but i'd like to think of it as "bill plympton finesse" ;D

here's the final animation in rough form -

and here are some still sequences from that footage -

final composite and thoughts

after crudely cleaning up the character animation, i have sooooo much more respect for the cell painters of the good old days. holy... that is a lot of busy work my friend! and i had the luxury of the undo button!! i can't even imagine...

so yeah, once everything was in color i went back in and added a shadow layer to connect the character's feet with the ground plane and so on. i also applied a subtle gradient layer to each scene to kind of indicate sunshine or shadow. i exported an image sequence from flash and brought a quicktime file into final cut for final compositing with the canvas texture and final sound editing. the video posted (above) is a low res version of the film. i've posted some beauty shots taken from the high res video so you have a better idea of how the final picture appears...

this film turned out to be a culmination of all of my artistic disciplines - from painting and character design to character animation and film editing. the project was first and foremost a learning experience, but it was also a chance to voice a personal opinion. it is a firm belief of mine that those who need the least are the most content with life. i know in this time of iphones, hummers, and double-shot no-foam skim lattes, some folks of the western world can't firmly grasp the concept of "less is more". but hopefully this film will spark some interest. if the moral isn't perfectly clear, perhaps at least someone will walk away thinking "what the f*** is ganesha?" which will possibly lead to more questions. maybe even a google search...

thanks for reading. and watching. i'd love to read your comments and/or concerns and answer any questions you might conjure up ;D


sweet sweet afterthoughts (coming soon)

UPDATE 03.23.09:

as promised i have some sweet sweet afterthoughts to make public ;D

i entered Ganesha into the 2009 SCADDY Awards (SCAD's version of the ADDY awards) and i am pleased to announce that i was awarded a Gold SCADDY in the category of On Screen Graphics (i know, this is a horribly generic category, but i humbly accept!!). in addition to this honor, my work was forwarded on to the big league - the ADDY Awards. at the local savannah level, i was awarded a Student Gold ADDY, this time in the category Elements of Advertising - Animation. i'm going to continue entering the short into various film festivals and stand by to see how Ganesha fares at the regional and perhaps national level of the ADDYs...

click here to check out the 2009 SCADDY AWARD WINNERS

also, i put together a little collage of drawings from my sketchbook. i think Ganesha needs his own after-school spin-off! what do you think? are you feeling the love?? ;D