Monday, October 24, 2011


 Welcome back! Well I had a fantastic summer internship at Chuck Gammage Animation Studios ( where I learned lots more about modelling, texturing, lighting and rendering in Maya. I'd go into more detail, but I think for now, and the rest of the school year, this blog will be focusing on developing this little film here.

"Heartburn" started up in the summer 2 years ago. I knew I didn't want to be fumbling around too much with story when I got around to 4rth year, so I laid out the premise, environment, characters and action  during that summer, along with some initial design work.
I also knew, that this film would be done entirely 3D animation, using Maya:
The city Acheron, with its massive armoured wall to protect it from eruptions.
Designs for the ship, Charon, anti-lava suits, and structures inside the city Acheron.
Old character lineup. At top, Mantel, a worker, Caldera, a soldier and another worker. Below the lineup are various ideas for Mantel, and Avalon (the stripey girl)

At the start, the story was about an engineer named Mantel who wanted to be free of the terrible conditions in the city, Acheron. Mantel builds a ship, the Charon, to cross the lava ocean to freedom. The oppressive General Caldera is angered by Mantel using resources and manpower on what Caldera thinks is a fruitless, suicidal effort, so Caldera banishes Mantel and forces him to leave before the Charon is ready. The ship breaks down out on the lava ocean, it floods with lava and everyone onboard but Mantel is killed. Mantel, clinging to the last bit of unmelted ship, then rides the ship down as it falls off an immense lava-fall at the edge of the lava ocean. Mantel wakes up on a piece of scrap metal floating in a water ocean, where the girl, Avalon, swims up and saves him.

From the start I knew the idea I had was much too 'epic' to present in a short film, so I thought of a few ways to show a snippet of the larger universe I envisioned. The design style also evolved, initially I imagined a fairly straightforward sci-fi style for costumes, props and buildings. Around August this year I realized I wanted a more identifiable style, so I had a simple thought, "everything is trains". I love trains. So I decided the costumes, props, sets and vehicles would all be designed around the world of late 1800's steam locomotives:
 Avalon's swimsuit wasn't very 1800's like, so I started considering more era-appropriate dress.

Caldera's 'steamsuit' was steampunky enough, but too limiting for movement, and still too sci-fi compared to Mantel and Avalon.
His new suit took reference from the American civil war. He's got a cow-catcher for a collar, his cane has a little boiler on the end of it. Not seen here is his monocle.
The Charon's inital design is on the top right. Current design is the big one. The top left design is again, steampunky, but you can't see a train anywhere in it.
The airship Ecclesia, Avalon's vessel that she uses to rescue Mantel from the falling Charon. At the very beginning it was a sailing ship just seen in the background on the water ocean. As I fiddled with the plot, Avalon took on a much more active role. The current story has a great big beauty shot with the Ecclesia diving down past camera. Current design is on the right, though I'm adding a few more side propellers.

These last 2 months were dedicated to getting our stories as close to where we want them as possible. Changes can still be made until December, but not very big ones. Heartburn now consists of the action of Caldera trying to get rid of the rebel Mantel, who is being supported from the outside by Avalon. Mantel is nearly killed by Caldera, and in Mantel's failed escape he is rescued by Avalon with her massive airship. Avalon and Mantel return together to overthrow Caldera.

The film is 1 minute 44 seconds long, that's including the title and credits as they are. I don't expect it to get much shorter. The voices here are all done by me, with the assistance of some audio editing, I'm contacting a voice actor to see if I can get some professional voices for the final film. Here's the leica!

Everyone says this is an ambitious project, and I completely agree. My goal is to challenge myself this year. I plan to finish this film as I envision it. However, I have a backup plan, that I can animate at least 1 minute of the entire story and call it a demo.
This week (which is reading week) I am diving head first into modelling the characters; Mantel, Caldera and Avalon. Ahead of me is modelling the sets, props and the two ships. Then there's texturing, and then rigging. All of this is to be done before Christmas break.
Somewhere in modelling, rigging and texturing I also have to figure out exactly how I will generate the lava. I intend to use realflow, where needed, and I need to learn how to handle that.