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Light - Short Film

Every kid dreams of growing up, graduating from school and following their passion and achieving their dreams. When the time comes for the kids to leave their nest and fly away to a different place, they go through a roller-coaster of emotions, feeling happy and excited about the new adventures to follow, being sad to be separated from their school friends. But what about the ones for whom the kids never really grow up, The Parents? How do they feel at the moment?

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"Light" is a story about the relationship a parent has with their child and what importance they hold for the parent. The film highlights the event of a young boy all grown up and excited to leave his home for the first time to pursue higher studies to follow his passion and fulfill his dreams. He is all excited to leave the house, when suddenly he stops at the door, realizing he forgot to give his dad, who was his superhero, a last goodbye hug. The short film shows what kind of emotions a parent goes through when their child decides to go away from them. They are happy as their child is trying to follow their dream but sad at the same time as their little bird is all grown up and ready to take off! The film is a no-dialogue short which captures only the emotional ride of the event which every parent and child go through at least once in their life. 

"The film is a way to thank my parents for being supportive of my dreams and passion for becoming an animator and being there for me always. It is also a tribute to all the parents who have experienced the same situation when their child decided to pursue a dream in a different city or country!" - Rishi Gupta

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Character Design

Character exploration began keeping in mind the personalities of the characters, the story and the cultural background of the characters! The personalities for the characters were laid out in order to show a Father-Son relation, rather than the typical Mother-Son story or Father-Daughter story. The idea was to show the emotional side of a father, as they tend not to show their emotions a lot in front of anyone and try to keep it all bottled up.

The character design began with the Father's character, since he was sort of the "Protagonist" in the film, and the decision to make him round and chubby was to show a soft and huggable character, one with whom the audience instantly feels sympathetic and falls in love with. The design for the Mother was done in a slender and sharp looking manner, contrasting the emotional personality of the Father, since she was quite realistic and down-to-earth. The Boy was in a neutral space between the two, since he was quite excited to begin his new journey, so the personality needed to show the same. The Boy's personality was enthusiastic, excited, soaring for the sky, giving the design for the hair and the overall character.

Gallery

Character Designs by Manolo Jamie

Character sheet and Model by Rishi Gupta

The idea to not include a mouth was pretty much there since the beginning, although some exploration for it was still there. This was done so as to take forward the idea of "Fathers tend to not show or speak a lot about their feelings", as well as the demand for the story never required any sort of dialogues or big facial expressions in conveying the emotions. This is a story everyone has experienced once in their lives and the moment doesn't require a lot of big gestures. Simplicity was the key factor in designing everything for the short film!

The idea to not include a mouth was pretty much there since the beginning, although some exploration for it was still there. This was done so as to take forward the idea of "Fathers tend to not show or speak a lot about their feelings", as well as the demand for the story never required any sort of dialogues or big facial expressions in conveying the emotions. This is a story everyone has experienced once in their lives and the moment doesn't require a lot of big gestures. Simplicity was the key factor in designing everything for the short film!

Character Model Turnarounds

Turnarounds for the character models

After the character design was done and proxy models were made for rough planning of shots, finalizing the 3D models for the characters with clothes and accessories was the final step towards having the characters ready to be rigged. The clothes were designed based on the references for the 3 characters, along with certain accessories, like finger ring for the Father and Mother, nose and ear piercings for the Mother, bangles for the Mother, etc. The 3D models were kept true to the design of the characters as much as possible, to keep the overall language and style of the short film intact. The hair for the Boy character proved to be a little challenging but was achieved to a certain extend in the end.
The character model UVs were unwrapped and surfaced in quite a different way (taking inspiration from One Small Step and many others), having the shadows painted on as textures to a certain level so as to add more impact to the overall composition and look of the characters.

Environment Design

Designing the environment was kind of difficult, majorly because of the requirement in the story. The idea was to shoot in 2 to 3 locations in the overall set, and even in that, certain requirements were there for storytelling and cinematography.
 

- The first major requirement was to have an entrance area, a buffer area before actually entering the apartment, where the characters could perform secondary action or take a pause before exiting. The Shoe rack at the entrance was a requirement as well in order to show the Boy's footwear missing, symbolizing the void the Boy left in the parent's lifestyle.

- The second major requirement was a sort of partition or wall at the entrance, having the idea of creating negative space and a sort of chamber looking entrance in terms of camera placement (Reference for cinematography choice from Joker, having a narrow entrance with walls on both sides, to show trapped or chamber like feeling).

- The third major requirement was the furniture arrangement for the Boy's room. Initially the bed was under the window opposite to the entrance, however, as the story progressed, the study table was decided as the perfect piece of furniture to initiate a memory sequence or flashback sequence for the parents. Also, the apartment had to have an Indian Middle class family aesthetic to it.

Environment References from the Internet

Overall Environment Model - Rishi Gupta

Asset Model - Victor Navarro, YungJen Chang, Dirce Carsi, Rishi Gupta

References for designing the floor plan were taken from multiple apartment floor plans and then after selecting one of those, altering it based on the story requirement. The overall aesthetic of the apartment was inspired from a middle-class Indian household and certain assets were kept in order to keep the feeling alive. Initially the set was supposed to be of a bungalow or something, but later down the line the idea of an apartment sounded much better. The lobby outside the apartment door was a later decision in the story, as it was majorly there for only one shot.

 

The environment design underwent quite a few changes throughout the journey of the short film production.

Storyboards & 3D Animatic/Layout

After designing the environment, the characters were placed in the setting and the overall story was imagined from the beginning till the end.
This was the first storyboard drawn to visualize the story and get started with the project, setting up cameras and deciding which areas were to be used and how they were to be used.
However, the initial storyboard served as just a means of getting started, as the film underwent a huge amount of change after this, in terms of camera setups, environment, characters, etc.
The second image shows the initial setup of camera and which areas were used to begin with the storyboard, the 3D layout/animatic.
Storyboards, although didn't quite stick to it exactly, were pretty useful as a starting point. The boards were later combined into a video to check out the overall timing of the short film and was taken further with a 3D animatic/Layout of the same (with quite a few changes obviously)!

Initial Camera Setup in the environment and Storyboards

2D Animatic (using the storyboards to check the timing) and a 1st Pass to the 3D animatic/ layout for the short film (using proxy environment and Bony, Beefy character Rigs)

After the storyboards were laid out, they were combined into a video format to check out the overall timing of the individual shots and to also play around with the sequence of the shots.
After getting the timing through the boards, the Previz/3D layout of the same began with a proxy environment and substitute character rigs (Bony and Beefy characters, provided by the school).
The initial 3D animatic/layout had a lot of changes, in comparison to the boards, in terms of the beginning of the short film, the ending of it and some parts in the middle, but had quite the same essence of storytelling as that in the boards. It was the first 3D animatic/layout for the short film, which itself underwent a lot of changes under the guidance of my instructors and help from my colleagues.

6th Version of the Animatic (but actually the 2nd Pass to the updated storyline) with Proxy Rigs and Models for the final characters

11th Version of the Animatic (but actually the 3rd Pass to the updated storyline) with final character rigs and models. The pass right before correcting geometry crashes and adding secondary details to the short film

The animatics kept updating (till the 11th or 12th version) before getting into the lighting phase of production. There were story updates and editing involved in almost every version of the animatic, but the drastic changes happened in the 6th and the 11th version of the animatic (in terms of story and animation).

The shot of the boy (supposedly the 2nd shot in version 6) was to give off a sense of chaos in the beginning of the short film, inspired by the scene from Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse where Miles leaves. However, it didn't quite fit with the overall storytelling and so was removed from the sequence by the 8th version. However, camera movements and shot sequences were changing till the 11th version, after which, only minor things were changed in the overall short film.

The animation was improved (finger poses, timing, secondary details) along with fixing the geometry crashes using Blendshapes, as well as adding cloth simulation in the curtains to add more life to the still scenes, especially in the bedroom by the 12th version, before moving into Lighting the shots.

Rigging

After the models for the characters were done, even after the proxy models, the process of rigging began simultaneously. The proxy rigs had very basic controls for the initial layout and previsualization of the story. The Proxy Rigs had very basic control setup, including:

  • IK controls for legs and FK for the arms

  • FK Spine

  • Neck and Head controls

  • Finger Controls

  • Foot control

As the models for the characters were finalized, so were the rigs by adding additional controls according to the requirement.

Video showcasing the rig setup for the characters

The final rigs had much more controls as compared to the proxy ones, including:

  • IK/FK switching for legs and arms

  • Hybrid IK/FK system for the spine

  • Spine, neck and head Squash and Stretch

  • Spine twist

  • Space switching

  • Clavical Follow control (where the animator could decide whether the arm should follow the clavical or not)

  • Deformation controls

  • Corrective blendshapes

  • Facial Deformation controls

  • Breathing control

  • Knee and Elbow Pole Vector follow.

  • Blendshapes for eyes and face, etc.

  • Additional control for Parent Constraining things to the Arms.

The rigs were given a separate Breathing control using clusters based on the requirement in the short film, so as to add the control without having to disturb the main controls.
The rigs also, since the character designs didn't have a mouth, had a different approach to the Eye rig, where nHair particles were used to stick the geometry of the eyes to the face, but have them move around independently of the skin. As for the highlights on the eyes, the placement of UVs for the eyes were rigged so as to get an animated texture (similar to 2D rigging or Lego style rigging for the face).

Multiple references were looked at and quite a few rigs were "dissected" to make the rig. It was quite a task to do the rigging along with modelling and animating the characters as well, especially considering it was 3 characters in total, but it was quite a learning experience.

Animation Tests

Expression Test with Mouth Visible

Mr. Buttons Rig from Keith Osborn

Expression Test with Mouth Hidden

Mr. Buttons Rig from Keith Osborn

Expression Test with Mouth Drawn-over

Boy Proxy Rig

Expression tests were done early in the Pre-production stages to finalize what kind of facial animation would be carried forward for the short film. The initial tests had 3 types of styles, one with the mouth, one with the mouth hidden and expressing only through the eyes, and the last one with the mouth drawn over in Post-production.

Animation test for the Father character, testing out the personality as well as the rig setup and functionality

A small animation test to test the functionality of the rigs as well as testing out the personality of the Father. The test also helped in getting accustomed to the challenges of working with short-heighted stylized characters, so as to aid in the production phase of the short film and pose less challenges when tackling the same.

Color Script

The color scheme for the short film was divided into 3 major categories, based on the storytelling and the emotions to be conveyed in those story arcs. 

  • The first category was to be all bright and happy, since the Boy is all excited to go embark upon a new adventure of his life and the parents are happy as well for him. The setting chosen for this was Day as it really helped in setting up the mood of the arc.

  • The second category was to be all sad and gloomy, since the Father is missing the Boy and goes in his room to just remember his child playing around in the room. This arc was set in a Night setting as the darkness really helps escalate the gloomy and sad tone. It had a mix of both bright and sad moments to create a contrast between the shots which actually helped in exaggerating the sad part.

  • The third category was a neutral space between happy and sad, as that was the time when the Father accepts the fact that his son had to go away from them to follow his dreams. 

Color Script

Still frames taken from the short film showcasing the overall color setting for the short film

Breakdowns (Shot Progression)

A glimpse into the changes the short film went under, not just in the case of story, but animation, camera, scene setup and even the duration of the shot, using an example of two shots from the short film. Progression shots also showcase the stages a shot went through to get to the final thing which gets incorporated in the short film. 

Shot progression for the Hug shot where the Boy comes running towards the parents and gives them a goodbye hug.

Shot progression for the  shot where the Father opens the door of the Boy's room

Breakdowns (Look Development)

The art style was quite a challenge to achieve. Initially the idea began with a proper 2D looking art style for the short film, getting inspiration from the works on Taiko Studios like One Small Step and Fú (Airbnb) short films. However, throughout the journey of the film, quite a few changes were made and a different style was adopted, which had a 3D look but some aspects of 2D were there as well, something which would be a blend of the two art styles.

Compositing played a heavy role in achieving the overall look of the short film. Extensive research was conducted in order to get an idea of how to approach the same. Tests were done for compositing early in the Pre-production stages itself and quite a few challenges presented themselves during the process.