This is not really a blog per se, but rather just a collection of enties that might be interesting or entertaining to read.
List of entires:
· The end of the end - 27th August, 2011
· First ever physical award and prize money - 17th July, 2011
· The Post-mortem - part 2 - 22nd August, 2010
· Rejections, reflections and me - 10th June, 2010
· The Post-mortem - part 1 - 10th March, 2010
· Finished; for real this time - 1st March, 2010
· Screening success - 1st January, 2010
· Preview of The Art of Sneeze Me Away - 20th November, 2009
· Not yet ready - 14th July, 2009
· We were broken into! - 30th June, 2009
· Using Orchestrated Music - 12th May, 2009
The end of the end - 27th August, 2011
Well, here it is!
What an interesting and strange ride it's been, after all this time I am happy that I can finally show Sneeze Me Away in its entirety to everyone. As my first film ever, the ride has had many peaks and valleys, and I have learnt so very much and worked with great people along the way.
With this post though, I feel the ride is finally over. Starting with the six months of script and previs development during evenings and weekends while working a day job. Then the subsequent two years of production working on the film full time, living off of savings, then finally the year and a half of the film playing on the international festival circuit. It's amazing how much time and effort that goes into thirteen and a half minutes of animation.
I want to thank some of the finest people I knew who worked on the film. First of all, to my wife, Hyo for painting the majority of the backgrounds and for putting up with me for a boss which would be one of the hardest jobs in the world. To Nicole for simply one of the best themes for a film I have ever heard (I constantly hum it to this day), and for the fantastic music. To Stanley who delivered a large amount of quality animation and never gave up. To Eddie for delivering some of the greatest sound mixes on such a limited budget. To Rudy and Onesuk for their assistance in helping to finish the backgrounds. Finally to everyone else who in some way helped get the film over the line, you are all super stars in my book!
While this is the end of Sneeze Me Away the short animated film, there may be a new adventure for Thomas and the rest of the characters in the near future, so stay tuned!
Oh and again, please buy my Art of Sneeze Me Away book in hardcover or softcover.
First ever physical award and prize money - 17th July, 2011
Am I a real film maker now?
So in the mail yesterday was a package containing the first award thophy I have ever won for a film, complete with a cheque for $100! Thank you so much to the The High Desert Shorts International Film Festival! You can even see my ugly mug on their website in the form of a screenshot from a thank you video I made for them.
(Click on the thumbnails to see an enlarged version)
The Post-mortem - part 2 - 22nd August, 2010
More on the development of Sneeze Me Away
When the last shot was finaled, I went back and gave myself another round of fixes. Though I just wanted to be done with it, I had come so far, and would have hate to let it go with just a few more things to tidy up. When those fixes were done, little did I know I was not finished yet. So I have a film, but now what? Promote it and enter it into festivals, thatís what. Not only that, but I had a crazy idea to edit together an ďArt ofĒ book to showcase the artwork from the film. A lot of work went into each and every shot, and it seemed like such a waste to see them for only a few seconds each. I also hoped that there would be enough support for independent films that I could possibly sell a small number of copies to make up for a tiny portion of the money that I had spent on the film. So I chose a print-on-demand (POD) publisher, and spent about 4 weeks putting the book together. A POD publisher allowed me to upload a PDF file and whenever anyone wanted to buy a book, they just ordered it from the site and it was printed on demand and sent to them. While this made each book a little more expensive, it meant that I didnít have to order a batch of books and deal with payment and postage myself. In hindsight, choosing a POD publisher turned out to be a great idea, because after all of the promotion for my book through various websites, to date I have sold a grand total of one copy. Thatís right, just a single book. After assurances from a number of people that they would buy a book like this, and comments from the animation community for support of this type of thing, it turned out quite the opposite. But really, it all ok, because in the grand scheme of things, selling books wasnít really a priority, and as far as I was concerned, it was another interesting and fulfilling part of this whole project. I happen to love the book by the way, and I look at it often as each piece of art gives me some good memories.
Other things that had to be done were finalising the official stills, putting together a press kit, making sure the website was always up to date, designing a poster, putting together the packaging for the DVDís and finally releasing the original soundtrack (OST), because I thought the music was simply to wonderful not to. Then there was the countless hours of researching festivals, filling in entry forms and putting together packages for posting to the festivals. All together I have estimated that I have spent about $2000 in festival fees, postage and media. I was actually granted an IMDB page quite soon after finishing the film, and I then found out about the festival website withoutabox.com. Without a Box made it quite easy to search for film festivals and submit to them all from one place, which also made my wallet lighter by how easy it was to pay the fees of all of these festivals.
At the time of this writing, Sneeze had won itís first award, which was the first festival it was screened in, and has made it into the official selection of three other festivals (one being an actual invitation!). Now that this whole affair has almost come to a close, I can look back over the last few years with amazement at what I have accomplished and be proud of what it has produced. I marvel over the fact that I had spent quite a bit of my savings on something as foolish as a short animated film, and have realised that I must have some loose wiring to go through with it all. But the experience obviously didnít drive me away, because I am about to do it all over again with my second short animated film, of which I am currently in look development. And I am looking forward to the madness all over again!
Rejections, reflections and me - 10th June, 2010
It's time to talk about the other side of Sneeze Me Away.
I have no idea how many people will stumble upon this website, but I am sure it won't be many, and even less will be likely to read this. So to you few who have nothing else to do, I hope I can offer some thoughts that are worth your time. While it's nice to always hear about the successes that a film has, failures are usually swept under the mat, and rightly so. No one wants to dwell on what went wrong, but more often than not, it's these things that are usually the most interesting to find out. Before I go on, it's important to keep in mind that I spent two years of my life working full time on this film, which is an extremely major commitment to make.
It's tough out there for a no-name, first time director of an animated short film, especially one that isn't really "arty". This line of thought usually then boils down to one question (let's call it the main question): "Why make it in the first place?" I've realised that there are a few parts to this answer, which I hope to explore here.
With Sneeze just beginning it's festival route, I have recently learned that of the first five festivals to give notification of selection, it has failed to make it into the official selection of four of them. But, it won an award at one of them too. To be fair, one of the festivals that it failed to get into, the Hiroshima Animation Festival, received 1935 entries, and only 57 were chosen for the competition. That's a 0.02% chance of acceptance. Think about that for a second: at least two thousand short animated films were made in the last two years! What chance does anyone have to make a name for themselves? I use to teach 3D animation and graphics many years ago, and I used to tell my students that between 50% to 75% of them will not end up working in the industry. What separates those that make it from those that don't is a mixture of many things, but the main ingredients are drive, passion and a refusal to give up. Being rejected is a normal part of life. It is said that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, and the truly successful have often failed a great many times. Harking back to the first few festival rejections I have now received, I then started to reflect on the main question over the last couple of days.
For a long time, I've fantasied, like many others, about directing my own feature. Of course with no track record it would obviously never happen. So I wanted to make a short to give myself some experience in making an animated story. This is the first part of the main question: to simply have made something for the experience of having made it. In my opinion, this is the most pure answer one can give. I wasn't making it for anyone else but myself. I wasn't comparing it to anything, I wasn't trying to prove anything with it, I wasn't making it to gain fame. It exists because it can exist. I had actually forgotten this thought in the process of making Sneeze along the way, and I am happy to have remembered it again, as it gives me back the feeling of satisfaction that the festival rejections had recently taken away.
The next part of the answer to the main question is that Sneeze was made as a testing ground for my untested director abilities. While making this film, for the first time I wrestled with narrative problems and these did not come easy for me to solve. But with each problem, no matter how big or small, I was enjoying every minute of it. I felt like a kid in a candy store all over again, and for the duration of production, I was increasing my directorial skills, no matter how small each advance was.
Another small but original reason from the very beginning for making Sneeze was to use it as pitching material for a children's animated feature, as I believed then, and I still do now, that I have a great story. It wasn't until I was nearing completion of it that I started to consider entering it into anymore than a tiny handful of festivals. While the terms "innovative, arty and edgy", and children's films are not mutually exclusive, try sitting a 12 year old in front of most of the award winning short animated films of recent times, and you will have a hard time in trying to keep them interested. I should know, I have two younger brothers that are about that age. I could go on about how good or bad it is to have "commercial appeal" in children's films in order to be successful, and both sides have strong points in favour of them. But the reality is that I didn't want to set out and reinvent the wheel, I just wanted to tell an entertaining story. Had I succeeded? Well I actually had gotten my answer when I held the first crew and family screening earlier this year. My cousin's youngest son was still talking about my film to his mother the day after he saw it, that was when I knew I had successfully completed what I had set out to make.
I know this short was never meant to push any major boundaries in the animated medium, but when I look back on the ideals that I had when I begun this whole affair even with the festival rejections, I can honestly say that I am proud of what I accomplished. And should the next 30 or so festivals all reject Sneeze and it never get's anymore than 17 views when I finally get to release it online, that still won't detract away from the rewarding experience of knowing that that child was still talking about my film the day after, and from having a short animated film that I, myself, enjoy re-watching. Just like I used to tell my students, I won't give up, no matter how many times I try.
Oh, and please buy my book in hardcover or softcover.
The Post-mortem - part 1 - 10th March, 2010
What an incredible experience this has been
From an idea that formed 8 years ago, it's been an amazing ride since. For many years, I've been wanting to make a short animated film of my own, but life always seemed to get in the way. Then when I finally did nail down a story, I realised that to complete this in any foreseeable time frame, that I would need to dedicate myself to it full time if I ever wished to see the end of it. Having a completed story and animatic naturally helped tremendously, but I soon found out that the story never stops developing even when the final shots are being completed. There is always something that I could improve on, something that could be refined, an animation curve to do better, etc.
Had I known that a 13 minute animation would have taken this long, I probably would have chosen a shorter story. I mean Sneeze never intended to be that long, but by the time I was neck deep in previs and animatics, I knew that I had to commit to it because I thought it was a great story. As far as planning goes, I did make a rough schedule, but I didn't stick to it too strictly. I don't think that was such a bad thing though, mainly because working on such a large project with so few people, it gave me motivation to bounce between tasks and not do one particular thing for too long.
Which brings me to something that is very important on a project like this: Motivation. The dark side of short film making is an area that if not properly checked, can ruin it all. There were long periods of time over the last couple of years where I became disillusioned with the whole project. I mean, before I began Sneeze, I was a successful CG lighter and supervisor making good money and working in various countries. I really enjoyed the lifestyle. Then all of a sudden, both my wife and I spent most of our time in a small room for many hours with no income on a very tight budget, making something that I had no idea how it would turn out, or even if I was going to be happy with it in the end. But even after going through all of this, I don't have much of an answer in how to get through times like that. Various things worked to certain lengths like a DVD movie marathon of my favourite films (animated and live action), cooking delicious food, getting out and travel for a bit, or simply watching the moon on a cloudless summer night for hours.
A lot of short animated film these days have large teams of people working on them, and I knew right from the beginning that I would be at a disadvantage in that area. As I believed that if anyone was going to work on this film, that I would try my very hardest to compensate them. It might not have been much, and sometimes it might not have been actual cash, but it had to be something. I simply could not ask anyone to work on my film for free. This meant that as I was on a tight budget, there wouldn't be much to go around. So it was left to my wife and I to produce the bulk of the work. This was not without it's problems, I won't go into it much except to say that sometimes long periods of working together in the same small room for hours and hours and hours tends to cause a little friction here and there. Needless to say that once the final background had been approved by me, she was hugely relieved. In fact, to restore a little balance in her life, she has taken up a teaching position in a language school since she finished a few months ago. I wasn't that bad was I? Hehe. In the end, while my wife painted the bulk of the backgrounds and I did all of the modelling, texturing, rigging, lighting, fx, compositing, tools development and some of the animation there were a handful of individuals that, without them, meant that Sneeze would not be the great film it is today. Nicole Brady is such a talented composer and musician, and was truly the musical mirror to my visual side. Stanley Darmawan produced a very large amount of the fantastic character animation. Eddie Bye produced the most inventive and wonderful sounds that could ever have been made, and Rudy Sumarso provided key backup in helping to polish off the last of the backgrounds. Upon reflecting over the production of the Sneeze, I realised that I film is truely about collaboration. I know that sort of thing is thrown around a lot, but I never really knew what it was like until I made my own film. These fine, talented people would not only take the direction that I gave, but always deliver something even better. Something that I would not have thought of. Some musical theme or note that sounded perfectly in place. Some great character action that I would have never considered. Some amazing sound and some wonderful colours and so on. And I know that had I attempted to do it all alone, Sneeze would not have been even half as good as it is now due to the contributions of these people. In much the same way that inbreeding in a species can cause weaknesses, so it is with film, where one must bring in fresh outside ideas to keep it strong and healthy.
Sneeze had a fair amount of dialogue in it, and getting the lines right was a big deal before I committed to a recording session. In hindsight, though I had rehearsed the lines many times with my wife, I think it would have been worth it for me to record a temp track and overlay it on the animatic. It didn't need to be fancy, I mean a lot of MP3 players have little microphones nowadays. I think listening to all the dialogue from a third person would have helped me fine tune the script and story much better, as even now, I know how I could have improved some of the lines had I done that beforehand. Plus this was the first script I have ever written, I can't exactly expect to get it perfect the first time, and I look forward to honing my story telling skills with my next film.
Finished; for real this time - 1st March, 2010
Sneeze needed a few more fixes
I was very close to releasing the film when I realised that it needed a final round of fixes before I was happy with the film. So it went back to sound editing to even out some of the levels, and I did a number of fixes on various shots that were previously a touch confusing and discontinuous. I have since realised that one dosen't not finish a film, but they simply run out of either time, money or motivation. I know that for the artist and film maker in me, given the time I would love to make a whole host of further changes, but I feel the need to finally put an end to it and begin something new.
So now I am trialing a whole host of compression options and formats to get the best quality I can for a DVD version and later on for a downloadable version. _________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Art of Sneeze Me Away preview copy arrived! - 19th January, 2010
This book is simply amazing
The preview copy finally arrived in the mail today, and I can honestly say it's absolutely awesome. There are still a few more planned additions that need to be done, and I need to re-grade a few of the images due to the normal printing process in relation to how the colour ends up. But soon enough you will be able to own your own copy and support the film at the same time!
Currently it will be released in a softcover format, but I will be considering a hardcover version too.
(Click on the thumbnails to see an enlarged version)
Screening success - 1st January, 2010
The premiere screening of Sneeze Me Away in Adelaide was a success
So I went back home to Australia during the end of the year to see my family, and to host the first ever public screening of Sneeze Me Away. I organised the Trak Cinema to screen on Sunday the 22nd of December to a group of family and friends. After a small introduction from me, the film screened once, then I spoke for a little while after explaining about the making of and other interesting facts related to the film. Afterwards, the film screened again while I spoke over the top of it providing a "director's commentary" type of thing.
All in all, it was fulfilling to finally be able to see the film on the big screen, and I am happy to say that I am satisfied with the outcome. Sadly Hyojung could not be with me in Australia this time due to work commitments with a new job, but we hope to have a screening on a big screen back home in Seoul sometime soon.
I'll post some photos of the evening when I get around to sorting through all of the photos.
Preview of The Art of Sneeze Me Away - 20th November, 2009
Showcasing the art made for Sneeze Me Away
There was so much absolutely beautiful art created for this film, that it seemed like a waste to only view it in the context of a shot that lasts a handful of seconds. Hyojung herself ended up digitally painting 146 unique backgrounds of the 200 total shots for this film, no mean feat by a single person. A selection of these rich and vibrant backgrounds, along with concept art, information about the film and more can be found in the soon to be released book: The Art of Sneeze Me Away. I spent several weeks editing this book together, and tried to pack it as full as I could with all sorts of images and information that I hope will make it the best value for money for you. It will be available in softcover and hardcover editions, and features 80 pages in full colour. I plan to have it released in a few weeks. Below is a small selection of pages that you will find in the book.
(Click on the thumbnails to see an enlarged version)
Not yet ready - 14th July, 2009
So mid 2009 has come and gone, and Sneeze Me Away is still not yet ready.
I originally wanted to have Sneeze Me Away ready for release for mid 2009. I had set this date about a year ago, but even then, my schedule was quite loose. There were a number of personal events that were mainly the cause of this release date not being met. The main events being our trip to Europe to attend the recordings sessions of the orchestra and the robbery, which pushed back the release date by a few months alone.
Due to the style of this animation, while I had lot's of experience with the 3D and comp side of things, it was the first time that I have worked so much with 2D painted backgrounds, and I underestimated the amount of work that goes into them. For example, I had planned that each 1920 x 1080 background would take at least a single working day to complete. While this ultimately proved fairly consistent, there were some shots that had complex camera moves with multiple 3D projections, which increses the resolution required. One particular shot needed 6 projections to be 4k or above. That single shot needed over a week of work.
Now I could have simplified a number of shots, especially in the action sequences, but I figured that I would never be happy with the compromises. Brad Bird was quoted as saying "Pain is temporary, film is forever", I can handle releasing this short film a little later if it means that it would be a better short film. Plus it will be for more of an entertaining experience for all of you.
I hope you all can wait just a little bit longer!
We were broken into! - 30th June 2009
Recently we had some equipment stolen, but we managed to recover it all.
So I decided to do an all nighter about a month ago, as I was on a roll, and I didn't want to stop the flow of my work. Hyojung arrived at the studio apartment we use as an office (note: for those that don't know, we are currently living in Korea) at about 8pm the next day to work through the morning, and that was my cue to go home and get some rest. At about 6am, Hyojung comes running into the bedroom crying, waking me up saying that we just got robbed! Aparently, Hyojung decided at about 5am to duck out for a bit and find some food. Oh, and by the way, you may be wondering why all the strange hours from us? All I can say is that when you're your own boss working on a passion project, normal work hours tend to give way. Anyway, back on track, Hyojung came back to the office about half an hour later to find that the laptops we use to work on and her Cintiq were not there anymore.
Upon realising what has just happened, she ran all the way back home. As soon as I was up, we went straight to the police station to file a report (at 7am Sunday morning). They immediately came around to check it out, and a very short time later, another couple of police came around to take photos and study the scene of the crime. Apparently the lock wasn't forced, and the thief even ate some precious chocolate I had brought back with me from our recent Europe trip.
My first suspect was a plumber that came around the day before to fix a broken pipe in the bathroom. I was very suspicious because for the entire year beforehand, no one except Hyojung's immediate family and a single friend had seen the inside of our office, plus the friend had moved cities about six months ago. So this plumber was the first "outsider" to see inside the studio apartment which whould have been noteworthy due to the fact that there were a number of laptops and even more desktop PC's (to render on), two large desks all squished inside a small room. Not to mention that being a foreigner in this part of town was quite rare. Plus we found out he was a locksmith too.
Anyway, the police said they would question the plumber and look into any other leads. But being a small town police station, there wasn't much they could have probably done. We spent the rest of the day putting up flyers stating a large reward for the stolen goods. It's important to note that no data related to the short film was affected, as I use a desktop PC as the main file server, and none of the desktop PC's were touched.
Hyojung's father said that he had a friend who was connected to the regional police chief, and said that he will put in a word for us to try and "esculate" our situation. The next day, two police detectives from the regional office arrived at our office to further inspect what had happened. We gave them all the information and waited. We spent the next week checking online auctions constantly to no avail.
Then, one week after the robbery, Hyojung finds a laptop for sale similar to hers in an online classifeds section. Upon closer inspection of the photos supplied, we found that the keyboard had only English printed on the keys. Laptops sold in Korea typically have Korean and English on the keys. We had a good feeling that was her laptop. We contacted the detectives who told us to arrange a meetup with the seller. The next day, we rode along with the detectives to the meetup spot (a food court), had a light meal, and waited for the seller to arrive. The police were in plain clothes to not arouse suspicion and I sat a few tables away, just incase they knew that the laptop belonged to a foreigner and figure it out.
The seller arrives and turns out to be quite young (about 20 or so). He gives the laptop to Hyojung who turns it over and reads the serial number. She confirms to the detective next to her that it was hers. The detectives then pull out their ID's, and I come over. We find out that this kid wasn't the thief, but was sold the laptop six days prior (two days after the robbery) at a subway station. At the request of the detectives, all of us go to the kid's home to do a search of his room, just in case. Nothing else turned up, so he looked like he told the truth.
Next, all of us drove to the police station to fill in the report, and on the way, we stopped at the subway station to go through their CCTV footage to see if we could maybe get a face. We found the transaction caught on camera, but it was blurry, and other angles of the thief exiting the station didn't help either. We then continue to the police station, and once everything was done, it was almost midnight. We got our laptop back straight away, as it was confiscated from the kid. Korean law states that stolen goods can be confiscated after the first sale without any need for compensation. The kid said that he had an email address, and will try to get into contact with the thief, especially now that he is down tha amount of money he paid for the laptop, and wanted to be compensated from the thief.
The next morning, we got a phone call from the detectives saying that they had the thief and our goods at the station! We rushed to the station as quickly as possible, and found out that the kid had searched for the thief's ID using the name in the email address. He had a hunch that the thief might have used the name as an ID for other things. His searching then lead him to information to beware about a certain con man and thief (I can't exactly recall how he made the connection to a name). The kid then gave this information to the detectives, and that morning, went to the thief's house and found our stolen goods there. When the detectives detained the thief and brought him to the police station, they found all sorts of stolen ID's in his wallet. The detectives told him that if he wrote down the details of all of his crimes, he might have an easier sentence. The thief listed about six or so more crimes, but the detectives told us that if he told us six, then he has done sixty.
More questioning revealed that he was not telling the truth even about the crimes he confessed to (no real surprise there). The police realised that the was a semi professional thief who has had a long criminal history, and committed many crimes. The strangest part of the day was when the police asked if we wanted to look at him face to face if we had any questions to ask. Looking straight at our robber was one of the strangest sensations of my life. Knowing he was quietly watching us in our office for a time, and also knowing that because of him our lives were turned upside down made a swirl of intense emotions well up in me. He couldn't meet our looks, and I was witness to a genuine good cop, bad cop routine in Korean. After we were led out, I had the sneaking suspicion that the detectives used us to get more of a response from the thief, triggered by his emotions in a confrontation with us.
So we eventually got our goods back (minus some precious personal data and photos), moved out of the studio apartment, and moved all of our gear into out home apartment where we will finish the rest of the film. Apparently the thief lived about 100 meters away from the office, and was waiting for the office to be vacated. How long he was watching for we can not say for sure. Hours? Days? Who can say? But we knew that we didn't want to be in that office/apartment anymore.
So not only are we making a short animated film, but we managed to help catch a semi professional thief who had been terrorising the local area. What an event indeed.
Using Orchestrated Music - 12th May 2009
My musing on the use of orchestrated music in Sneeze Me Away.
Right from the beginning, I wanted to use orchestrated music for a good portion of this animated short film. Not only does it up the ante of a short film, but it also allows for greater feeling and emotion to permeate through parts of the film better. Where does one begin to go down the road to have orchestrated music in one's short film? Well, unless you are a composer, step 1 (and quite possibly the hardest step) is to find the right composer for you. I found Nicole Brady through a contact of a contact that wanted to make a project that included animation and music. In a way, it was coincidence that we met, so sadly, I am unable to offer any other suggestions to find composers to work on short films.
Step 2 is in developing together with your composer a feel for what you want. What worked for me was to give Nicole every bit of work that was complete in regular intervals. Composers look for moments of speech, and certain actions to lay down the right kind of sound, so it was important to have Nicole notified everytime I made a new edit of the short that included all the latest finaled shots.
In the end, making sure your composer is in the same mindset as you are is obviously very important. The first couple of music compositions, there was a lot of back and forth, until it got to the stage where I completely trusted her in her music making to the point where just before the recording session, Nicole had written music for a particular part that I had not even heard yet (due to time constraints), but it turned out perfectly. The final step is listening to the finished music!
I had decided to attend the second recording session of the orchestrated music for Sneeze Me Away, and I must say that it was one of the most humbling experiences in my life. Having sixty musicians performing soley for my film was breathtaking, as my wife and I were the only ones sitting in the audience area. I can't wait to share this music with you once Sneeze Me Away is completed, but in the meantime, here are some photos from the recording session:
(Click on the thumbnails to see an enlarged version)