In the Collaborative Project course in Spring 2013 our group of animation students at Savannah College of Art and Design gathered to make an animation short with a ten week deadline. We didn’t want to make an animation just for the class, but a great film that we could all be proud of and love. Our team is formed by 15 people with different backgrounds and talents. Since we had a small team everyone had to wear many hats in the production of our film.

Story

Snow Boat was a word combination that was created and chosen by our team member, Samantha Aguiar. She had this simple and poetic idea about a lonely man who lives in a snow world and makes snowmen for company. Based on that idea the whole team participated in developing the story for our film. The storyboard team brainstormed for weeks. We kept pushing the story and debating back and forth to make the story into what it is today. Ling Yen, Adriana García, Samantha Aguiar and Mirror Su drew the storyboards then the editor, Emely Rodríguez, and the director, Mirror Su, worked together to create the animatic which was edited over twenty times in just a couple weeks.

Production

Our producer, Sarah Mannino, planned out the schedule carefully with Mirror Su. They interviewed each team member to understand their strengths and what they wanted out of this project. We went into full production around week three.

Art Direction

Snow Boat is a spiritual story that illustrates a man's struggle against nature and himself. We were after a simple yet unique aesthetic for such a poetic film. Art director, Ziwei Duanmu, worked closely with the director to decide the look of the film. Ziwei has a solid art background so after a few tests she quickly created the look of Snow Boat.

REFERENCE IMAGES COLLECTED BY MOISES SILVA AND ZIWEI DUANMU.

CONCEPT DRAWINGS BY ZIWEI DUANMU.

Adriana García has a strong passion for character design. Based on early art research and concepts, Adriana illustrated our main character, nicknamed “Frank” by the team, and his companion.

CHARACTER DESIGNS BY ADRIANA GARCIA.

Modeling

We were lucky to have an experienced CG generalist, Majd Alrosan, to be our main modeler. He worked on the 3D characters in Maya and with Xinwei Song and a few other team members on the props and environments. In the modeling process we encountered the difficulty of balancing the stylized 2D character concept and the solid 3D model. One challenge was finding the right size for Frank’s ankles so that they looked like they could support such a heavy character. We compromised and obtained the balance between the 2D and 3D designs.

Rigging and other technical processes

We had an experienced rigger, Xi Wu, to help us set up the rendering pipeline and deal with every technical difficulty. We had many challenges in this production including Frank’s short legs and big coat, a snow woman and a snow boat which would melt as the story goes on, the fishing pole and the scarf dynamic simulation.

RIG BY XI WU.

Ziwei Duanmu went through many iterations to paint the character with help from Madhu Nagarajan in UV mapping. We referenced many animations and found that we wanted a 2D painted look on a 3D character. Blurring the boundaries of 2D and 3D painting in Maya was a fun and challenging process.

CHARACTER TEXTURE PAINTING BY ZIWEI DUANMU.

3D Animation

Snow Boat is a minimalist film therefore the animation style is very subtle. The animation director, Moises Silva, recorded live action references according to the animatic. The animation team, composed of Moises Silva, Ilsong Lee, Ling Yen, Emely Rodríguez, Samantha Aguiar and Xinwei Song, animated the shots in Maya.

Music and sound

The music was composed by Mirror Su. She considered it a great opportunity to explore the relationship between film and music by composing music while directing the film. The music, inspired by the story itself and Ziwei Duanmu’s drawings, illustrates a cold and lonely world.

The sound designer, Cabel Adkins, worked with the team throughout the production. There were some interesting discussions about how sound effects and the visual components should react with each other and how a few seconds of timing can make a huge difference in storytelling.

VFX and Compositing

The compositing process, which involved 74 shots, was an interesting experiment for us because we were doing something we had never tried before.

Snow Boat does not have many complicated 3D textures. The only procedural 3D textures are the base color and some translucency in items such as the snow and the candle. The rest of the textures were created by our 2D artists. Our rendering and compositing process was divided into the following steps:

1. Texture in Maya: We applied a simple 3D texture on each object with a small degree of translucency on the snow and candle.

2. Render in render layers: In Maya render layers the shot was divided into different layers according to the 2D texture role.

3. Compositing in Photoshop: The 2D artists creates new textures and painting on top of the render in different layers that later will be applied to the moving images in After Effects.

4. Compositing and animation in After Effects: Once the 2D artists finished the texture paintings the compositing crew, Emely Rodríguez and Mirror Su, imported the Photoshop layers and the Maya rendered sequences into After Effects. They then matched the still textures to the moving images rendered from Maya. Although the layers in Maya were separated, if the object or the character had a large degree of movement or rotation in the 3D environment then the 2D magic might disappear due to its flatness attribute. To solve this issue we used techniques in After Effects to animate the texture along with the moving 3D images.

In addition to the After Effects animations we also combined frame by frame 2D animations. The 2D animation crew, Samantha Aguiar, Ilsong Lee, Sarah Mannino, Emely Rodríguezz and Mirror Su, created animations such as water drops, splashes and ocean waves.

Editing

Our editing process was more effective because we continually updated the animatic. When we started editing most of the timing was already figure out and the sound and music was composed, therefore the process went smoothly and allowed us to complete the film on time. Editing was done by Emely Rodríguez.

Conclusion

The animation film production of Snow Boat gave us a great chance to test our limits and work together as a team. Thanks to all our team members for the effort and contribution to Snow Boat, and especially thanks to our beloved professor, Luis Cook. With the lead of Luis, we successfully created a positive environment that let us learn and grow together.

Snow Boat is currently being submitted for festivals. This page will be updated with upcoming showings and festival information.