Nemusidian in Cruise Ship Catastrophe

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  09 September 2013
Nemusidian in Cruise Ship Catastrophe

Hello, I'm working on a short film in Blender. Nemusidian in Cruise Ship Catastrophe will be an under 9 minute animated film about a young thief who stows away aboard a cruise ship and finds herself in a precarious situation.

This is a film I've been wanting to make for a long time. It's my first animation work at what I hope will be a high quality level. Also my first real film, although I've been studying filmmaking for many years, primarily writing scripts. So, the story for this short was designed in order to give me practice with a number of technical challenges, character animation, cloth, hair, explosions, physics, etc. My primary focus is on the animation. The story is pretty simple. It's basically a big chase around a cruise ship and havoc ensues after she steals a wedding ring.

Below is the layout pass for the first scene:

Everything is still mock-up and will be replaced later with the finished models and lighting. The main purpose of the layout is to get a sense of the timing and framing. So that's what I'm looking for feedback on from this. All of the animation will be replaced during the blocking stage so you can ignore the rough quality and all the weighting issues.

In this scene shes just woken up and found herself in this room with people sleeping all over the floor and empty bottles and things and is sneaking away towards the door when a glint from the dresser catches her eye and she goes over to check out this shiny ring (I indicated the glint effect with some scaling and rotation, but that'll be replaced with the actual lighting effects in the final version. The first shot will have a lens flare too that's not there presently).

While examining the ring she sees a shadow behind her from the corner of her eye and quickly spins around drawing her pistol (not present in the layout yet -it's just her hand) but it's just someone rolling over in their sleep and knocking a bottle around. Then a knock at the door draws her attention and knocks a bottle off the dresser which crashes and causes her to turn to the man in the bed, where we'll see him waking up in the mirror behind her. Then she pockets the ring and bolts before the door opens and the room stirs to life. And we end the scene panning on the open window to suggest that that's where she made her escape.

->I should also add here, that the movie is going to be silent (Music only. No dialog. No sound effects) -because I wanted to avoid actors and lip syncing so the focus would be completely on the animation. This created a filmmaking challenge. Instead of hearing a knock at the door, I have to visually represent through animation that there's noise from the door. I think this will be fairly apparent from her head spinning to look at it and the bottle crashing, but I might also add some animation of the door shaking or other objects if it doesn't read as well.

I also noticed another change I need to make just uploading this. When she first pulls her gun and we cut to the bottle rolling I think it should actually cut to the person who's just rolled over so we know they're still asleep. Let me know if anything else doesn't read as well for you too. Getting new eyes on this will be incredibly helpful.

If you'd like to read the script Ive included the first page that corresponds to this scene here for reference: http://nemusidian.files.wordpress.c...hip-page-11.pdf I might share more of the script as the production progresses going forward if there's interest.

I explain the storyboarding process I went through for this scene in detail over at the production blog: Why I Don't Believe in Storyboards -Or Do I?

Here is a WIP render of Nemusidian:

One thing I'm trying to improve is making the backstory clearer in the scene.

To clarify her character, she isn't a professional thief, although she fancies herself one. Her background won't be delved into in this short, but I hope to hint at it and draw from it wherever I can. She grew up alone on the streets. So she knows a thing or two about how to get out of situations but she also has a habit of getting herself into situations, like this one.

She's trying to get out of the room quickly before the rest of the people wake up because she misled them the previous night while they were drunk into thinking she was one of their friends to get a bed to sleep in for the night but she's probably a stranger to them. She's a stowaway on this ship and this is how she's been finding places to sleep, because she's too pampered to hide out below deck. She's willing to risk being found out to get a comfier bed.

The crux of her character is that she's impulsive and has this mindset that she has to be this great master thief. And she suffers because of it constantly. She finds the ring on a whim completely impulsively. As soon as she she realizes the door is opening she knows she's gotten herself into a situation. It's sort of like Indiana Jones where he's all cool and tough but as soon as he gets a whiff of an ancient artifact he's completely consumed by the quest, and he gets in over his head and constantly thinks he's on top of things, but isn't at all.

Making her a sympathetic character is something I've struggled with. We don't see any of this backstory so it has to all be implied through the animation and her actions. I'm open to ideas on this.

Her character design isn't final either so there's room to use her outfit to callback to some of these traits too.

The environment in the background behind and around her in the scene will be filled with little details to try and provide story cues as well.

----Technical Challenges:--------
1. I'm trying to solve a Blender specific challenge to do with accessing cloth settings on linked objects. I won't go into it here, but I started a thread on the BlenderArtist forums about it: Library Linking Cloth Simulation Settings

2. Rigging the Shoulder Bag -A second problem I'm working to solve right now is rigging her shoulder pack. It's going to be around her shoulder most of the movie, but as you can see in the layout she does need to be able to take it off. I'm trying to find a solution that will automate the animation for it bouncing about against her hip as much as possible, perhaps using cloth or rigid bodies in combination with an armature. But that's a challenge I'm still trying to solve so if you have any ideas that'd be a help.

Finally, if you're on Facebook or Google+, and you like what you see, it would really mean a lot if you could please give the pages a Like or a Follow:

You can also follow me directly on Twitter if you'd like, where I tweet updates regularly:

And you can also follow the production blog directly here:

Okay, I think I covered all the points I wanted to hit. Long post, so thanks for reading. I'd love to hear from you what you think so far. And if I missed anything or if you have any questions please let me know. Thanks.
  10 October 2013
Hi again, Considering So, yesterday I didn't get a chance to look at your short--but I did today! I like it... as I mentioned, my background is writing (fiction, actually), and I'm coming to art as an added endeavor to keep adding to my own story-telling skills. SO, that said--I looked at this as much as anything from a storyteller's point-of-view. I have blocked out some basic anematics before, so I understand to not judge anything but scene blocking at this point Here are my comments--and I hope they are helpful:

1) I am glad you mentioned the issue of backstory. It was my primary concern as I watched the clip the first time through. The fact you are aware that the backstory isn't entirely clear is good. As a filmmaker/writer, you know that a character's appearance and the objects s/he carries can tell a backstory as well as anything else (scars or dress-type or pick obvious examples). These types of backstory indicators can come later, of course. Also, I would say the immediate situation could use a lot of clarification in the same way (why are these folks all heaped in one room sleeping? Why is this ring left out? Whose ring is it?)

2) I also think that the blocking of the scene and your choices of camera angle can also help tell her backstory, in a way. A particularly good choice, I would say, is toward the end when we see the officials (I assume they are officials?) coming in--you have their heads in a medium close up, filing past (I think..I wish I could watch it again as I type this, haha). This really adds the drama and suspense of the whole thing. I'm not a master of camera angle, by any means... but I wonder if you had a few well-placed close ups that convey the emotion and tone--but also the character--if that would help the issue with this that you pointed out (conveying all this without sound or dialogue).

3) Because everyone else is sleeping, and she is sneaking around (to steal or to just escape?), I can't tell what her relationship to this world around her is. I think that a camera pan of some sort to show the other types of people in this room with her would be good... are they all different sorts, thrown together for survival? Or are they all kind of down-trodden low-life sorts? Again--greater detail in future renderings can show these kinds of things through artistic renderings.

A last note... when I taught writing--both fiction, memoir, and academic writing--I always told my students: remember that when your reader in Utah or Ireland or wherever is reading the book, you don't have the opportunity to cut in while they are reading paragraph four of chapter three and say, "Oh, by the way--I know this is a bit murky, but what I was trying to convey here was this sense that Sara... [so-on-and-so-forth]..." I know that is also probably obvious advice, but I feel sometimes it's important to re-read It's easy to assume the reader/viewer will just "inherit" your intentions... but everyone's OWN backstory also plays a part in how they interpret what they see--and so there is never really just ONE story telling the story that you've put out there.

I hope this was helpful Best of luck! I am intrigued and really look forward to seeing more of this

  10 October 2013
Thanks Angi for the feedback! Definitely helpful.

In the past couple weeks I've had a chance to look this over again, and I went through the script for the rest of the movie as a whole too and got some perspective. I cut down about 3 pages so I think it'll be closer to 6 minutes.

I should clear up my intention for the conclusion of the scene. I've been sort of unhelpful trying to keep it a secret. It doesn't make much sense to keep it secret. Visually it'll make sense hopefully immediately in the final render that the men walking in at the end are wearing tuxes, and that they are groomsmen; the ring she stole was a wedding ring. The following scene we cut to we're going to see a ballroom being setup for a wedding reception with a wedding cake, bridesmaids, buffet, guests and things in case the point wasn't clear enough.

I'm less concerned about establishing the backstory now. I don't think it necessarily matters to the rest of the story that much. The important thing to establish in this scene is that she's a thief. But how she got in this situation is something I'd actually like to leave a little ambiguity in for the audience to jump to their own conclusions. I have my own explanation but it doesn't need to be in the movie.

And just as a safety though if it turns out I'm wrong about that and we do need to understand how she got here I can throw in one of those silent movie cue cards "The stow away has overslept her welcome" or something similar. I'm planning to use one or two of those later on in the story for fun anyway so it would fit the style. But like I said I don't think anymore that the backstory needs to be given that much attention. It's going to be implied in the scene, in her outfit, the environment, and her behavior. What's important to get across is just that she's stealing this ring. That's the clear point of the scene and I don't want to over clutter that with other points if I don't have to.

A couple things I'm adding are, when she picks up her bag we'll see the inside with a name written and she's crossed it out and replaced it with her own. And she might steal something off one of the sleeping figures.

I also changed my mind. I think we'll sympathize with her when we see the situation she's in, in the following scene. So it's not important that we sympathize with her yet here.

So most of the story issues I think were just from focusing too much on this one scene. But I do still want to elude to that backstory and her character visually through her outfit and acting any way that I can.

I'm actually trying now to get this first scene completely finished in the next few days or so. I envisioned this from the beginning as a very quick and dirty production just to actually do a movie, and do it on a schedule. So I'm pretty much locking this scene down now. I think it will be productive to just finish it and see the reaction it gets and then move on to storyboard and layout the rest of the movie.

That's my intention also with the entire movie too. Just to make a movie quickly and see what people think and where I should improve for next time. But I'm definitely interested in taking on feedback as I go where I can. But I just want to be clear that I am trying to move quickly and I'm not going to backtrack at all through decisions after they're made. I'm trying to find things, when I can, to post, where I have a little time to get feedback on them before I finalize them and move to the next stage, but I'm not going to be going back to layout once I start blocking for example. Once decisions get made for better or for worse that'll be the movie unless something is easy to change obviously.

I'm willing to let a lot of bad little things go. My goal is to finish the movie as a whole in a reasonable amount of time. There are going to be lots of things that could be improved but getting it done on time is the priority. I'm only one person, so I'm not planning to spend forever on this and it's not going to be perfect. I want to finish it in a short period of time. That's the approach I'm taking. I just wanted to clarify that.

Of course I'd still love to hear opinions and critiques on even those things that I move on from. I'm totally open to all open and I'd love to hear what people think. I just want to make it clear that this is a train moving as fast as it can, and it doesn't go in reverse.

Anyway, to be a little bit more open, and since I don't have anything new to share really, I thought I'd share the 2nd page of the script. So if you are interested in reading ahead a little I'd really like feedback on that. I'm going to be doing storyboards and layout for the rest of the movie soon once I finish the first scene, and I think most people will prefer to wait for that to see things visually, but here's the first 2 pages of the script if you do want to read:

I could use a little help at the beginning of the second scene, I've just written basically "establishing shots"... so I need to come up with those still obviously. That's really the only area of the rest of the movie left unclear. Everything else is pretty straight-forward what the shots will be, but I could use ideas on that.

Thanks for reading!
  10 October 2013
I think that undertaking a project as a solitary endeavor is extremely brave. Six minutes--that's huge So, I think it's good that you are okay with letting small things go--the most important thing is to tell the story and get it done

I think if you take the route of making backstory less important, then establishing sympathy will be most important. You say that will become clear in the next scene when we see her "situation," and now that you've explained the storyline a little bit, it makes a bit more sense. If much of it revolves around the wedding (the ring, the groomsmen, the decorations, etc) then it should be relatively easy to show all the "in" people who belong at the wedding and then our thief, who is certainly the "outsider" or "intruder"--and, as you said, her visual appearance can tell the story here probably easier than if the other people were more loosely tied together. Since the other characters can be tightly bound as the wedding party, their visual cohesiveness and the thief's contrasting appearance can really be conveyed well, I think

At any rate, I look forward to following your progress --I don't know if my feedback is helpful, but it's definitely interesting for me to see someone take a story and implement all the elements of the production pipeline to create the finished project. I am a noob, of course but it's fascinating! Best of luck
  10 October 2013
Thanks Angi!

Sorry I haven't been replying sooner. Been busy. I've been dealing with a lot of technical issues, mainly working on figuring out my rendering solution for the movie. I'm using Blender, open source software, and the new render engine Cycles which is still in development has been difficult to get noise-free renders. (A bit technical but this is not necessarily a fault of the engine, but common to most unbiased path-tracing render engines... In this scene I'm trying to do high contrast, interior, natural sunlit lighting which can create lots of noise)
I wrote a blog post about what I've been up to since September that goes into more detail:

So I've been dealing with that. I'll probably use the Blender Internal render engine instead. It's not accurate but it's much faster, noise free, and it can be easier to work with lighting. Here are lighting tests I did in both for comparison (First image is BI, next 2 are Cycles. Render time is at the top left, the one where the stamp is missing took close to 1 hour)

I tried to creatively use the graininess in the Cycles renders for a film grain effect by animating the seed value so the noise would change with each frame, but uploading to Youtube heavily compressed it and it made the image quality very poor, and I spent a day researching Youtube compressions, but couldn't find any solution, so I don't think that will work out.

But I'm moving forward in Blender Internal, so hopefully rendering is settled and I'll be starting animation soon.
  10 October 2013
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