Producing a Short Animated Film: "Alone"

Producing a Short Animated Film: "Alone"

UTS Animal Logic Academy's Master of Animation and Visualisation students created 'Alone', a 7-minute 3D animated short film following a lonely robot on a long-haul space journey. Hear from students about their collaborative journey in bringing this project to life.

The Master of Animation and Visualisation students at the UTS Animal Logic Academy have taken on their most ambitious project yet, producing a 7-minute 3D animated short film called ‘Alone’.

The story follows a lonely robot aboard a long-haul transport ship in deep space, who longs for a friend. Hear from students Allyson Valencia (art), Hallam Roberts (FX), Hollie Secomb (animation), Leinton Prem (lighting) and Peter Tran (previs/layout) about what it was like to bring their final student project to life – together.

How did you find working on ‘Alone’? How was it different from previous projects?

Allyson: I have a background in architecture and costume, and I found the design process very similar; a creative director whose vision we must meet, reviews and feedback and reliance on teammates. The differences in working on ‘Alone’ came from the leads we had. They really dedicated time to teaching and supporting us to complete a project that we could all be happy with. When it was done, I felt such a great sense of accomplishment and pride in the work we had all put into together. I was quite sad it was over.

Hallam: As an FX artist working on the project, ‘Alone’ was fun and quite a mixed bag. Unlike in our previous film ‘Coffee Brake’ we had a complete pipeline, simplifying the process of moving assets between departments. But using the pipeline was tricky, since all of us had to learn and repair it on the job.

Leinton: We followed the production pipeline of a studio and had the knowledge and expertise of our lead Ross to provide guidance and structure within the lighting process. Having the support of the production coordinators and the Pipeline TDs also really helped smoothen the process overall.

What was your role in the production process?

Allyson: I started the project in the art department, where we were all tasked with coming up with the overall look of the film. I ended up designing and helping with the look of environments and set prices. I then moved into the total other end of the pipeline to the lighting department and helped with some comp. We took everyone's already amazing work and made it look its best by emphasising the tone of a scene through lighting. Lighting and comp are also where we purposefully direct the audience's eye to where we want it to go.

Peter: I was in the previs/layout departments, which involved creating the first 3D pass of the storyboards. I worked alongside the animators to complete the previs and then continued to do rough layout with the approved sets from modelling, finishing it off in the final layout with handheld camera animation. Minor camera and set dressing updates were made after getting kickbacks from lighting.

Hollie: I was in the animation and previs departments. I worked mainly with character animation and enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make a robot expressive.

Hallam: In FX we focused on stressing out our friends in lighting and comp. Our methods include instancing thousands of plants for the garden, publishing hundreds of particles and volumes for the battery, and using way too many voxels for the power core's dry ice. I was fortunate to work on the plant watering, jet engine and dry ice effects, which were a nice variety of challenges. ‘Alone’ had a good amount of effects overall, including RBD, POP, FLIP, Vellum and Pyro sims.

Leinton: Being a lighting artist, I was involved in lookdev, lighting and first pass compositing my assigned shots. The main role of a lighter is to make sure the final image matches the vision of the director. This means working with other lighters and my lead to make sure we are on track to achieve that vision. Another important aspect of the job includes quality control! This is to make sure that all the elements from the upstream departments are coming through. When this doesn't happen, communicating the issues with my lead, production team and pipeline TDs becomes vital, so that we can come up with a solution together.

What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of the project?

Hollie: Some of the most challenging parts of production were becoming accustomed to the pipeline and ever approaching deadlines, and balancing speed, quality, the needs of the entire film and our expectations for what we thought a shot should be. One of the most rewarding things I found working on the project was how much I enjoy working in a team towards something and how much I love character acting. This project allowed me to really put everything into an animation and push myself. I like having challenges and tackling new things, which this project allowed me to do with the benefit of guidance from our animation supervisor.

Hallam: FX is a challenging department for any pipeline, since we replace, add and remove things last minute. It was super rewarding to see our FX turn up in renders, and I really enjoyed the lookdev for effects like the battery, planet rings and jet engine. It was great to see many unique takes and approaches to the same effect.

Leinton: Some of the most challenging aspects were onboarding new lighters from the Art Department and establishing a communication channel with them, as well as working with Production to make sure we were completing the shots on time, especially during the ‘crunch phase’ towards the end.

The team was definitely one of the best parts! Working alongside 7 other lighters and two compositors with our lead at the helm was an amazing experience. At times, the team picked up on aspects in my shot that I hadn’t noticed, and learning from the experiences of other lighters in Katana/Renderman allowed me to implement that into my knowledge base. Knowing how to communicate and act professionally while also keeping the team morale up kept us in a positive mindset, and seeing the shots come to life towards the end was an 'OMG moment' for me personally.

Can you share your favourite scene or moment from the film you worked on?

Hollie: I really enjoyed all of my shots and trying to express the thoughts and emotions of the characters. One of the shots I’m very happy with is the one where the main character turns away from his friend. There was a lot of revision and minor changes to timing and expression to figure out what worked. I also like the scene where the hero robot hesitates to place his hand on the friend’s chest and the friend leans in. I wanted to show the friend’s trust and the hero’s conflict.

Hallam: I really liked Hollie's original animation of the friend reacting when the hero powers off. It was so beautifully done and made me cry the first time I saw it. I had the same reaction to hearing the soundtrack in the final shot. We never heard the music until the very end of production, and they did a fantastic job! It was an emotional ending to both the film and the course.

Leinton: I love the shot when our main character slowly backs away from the pod room after viewing the memories of a passenger. Story arc-wise, the shot was essentially a catalyst for his intentions to build a friend. Lighting-wise, it was the first time all the shaders the surfacing department was working on for the 'PodRoom sequence' came through the pipe without any issues. It really put the team on high morale that day.

Allyson: The scene where the hero places his own battery into the core instead of his friend may be my favourite. A few of us worked on that scene but Jason Lin and I had shots that intertwined here lighting wise, and seeing them actually in edit and looking good was fantastic to see.

This scene was a huge challenge for us novice lighters as it has intense, flashing red lights emitting from a single light source: the core. We worked with surfacer Jake Shatzman to find a solution to really make it look good and it was only possible with the help I got from comper Charlene Yeh. It was so genuinely great to be a part of all that effort and stress for less than 10 seconds of total screen time. I know that reads sarcastic but I mean it!

Peter: My favourite scene that I worked on was the opening ‘oner’ shot. I still remember the moment it was approved. Alex came to review the final pass on it and we both looked at each other and knew this was it. It was a very satisfying moment seeing the animation and layout seamlessly blend together.

Keep your eyes out and follow the Academy on their social channels for the announcement of the upcoming film festival premiere of ‘Alone’.

Learn more about the UTS Animal Logic Academy's 1-year accelerated masters program here.