Last week on Gold…
So many things happened! The project is now really starting to take off, after some stumbling first steps. From October 27th til November 7th, Jericca Cleland, the director (based in Canada), was at the studio. And then for the first time, production designer Florent Masurel (based in France) joined us too, for a week of collaborative sessions and face-to-face meetings.
I'd like to go back a bit and shine light on the beginnings. After all, can a story stand well without a solid base?
When was the story first pitched by Jericca to the Blender Studio team? I am not sure, so allow me to focus on things I witnessed first hand...
At the end of March, Jericca spent some time at the Studio in Amsterdam to work on presenting her project to the whole Blender team. The aim was to clearly define goals and challenges for the film, see how they would align with the software development, get feedback from the entire team, and then officialy greenlight the project. That is also when first roles and responsibilities among the Studio team were determined.
After some back and forth with Ton, Francesco and the artists, Jericca made a presentation to the whole team: a beat reel, some concepts and her pitch. In the last couple of days before that presentation, a few elements of the story were changed due to notes given by the team. Thus, Jericca asked us all to fill in the new gaps with our imagination as she explained key elements of her story:
The story of Mikassa, a strong sailor, caught off-guard by an accident. She then plunges deeper and deeper into strong emotions, until water and despair completely overcome her. She hits rock bottom, all broken down. Then a glimpse of hope appears, in the shape of a new companion. Mikassa fights to regain her strength and shape, to make it back up again.
Not long after, Francesco and Ton greenlit the project.
Since then, the story has changed even further. In spring, the Studio team wasn't available yet to work on Gold. Jericca was thus focusing on the written story and the beat reel, an edit made out of concepts, rough drawings and tons of notes. This beat reel was very important to get a first idea of the structure and length of the film, of its energy. However it lacked details and needed to be turned into a real animatic. That's what the 'Previs and Board' part below will address.
As a whole, story development is a crucial step where the director, producers and the team try to find balance between what we want to tell or show, and what is needed. In the past few months, we have gone back and forth a lot to clarify, trim down, justify or cut out some parts. Because Gold is so personal to Jericca, we have strived to be mindful while giving feedback - which isn't always easy, as you may guess. Working from different parts of the globe has also put more strain on the process, which is why time spent all together in the same place is so precious!
At its core, Gold is an intimate journey. The visuals, sometimes magical or ethereal, will be there to support Mikassa's arc and shouldn't take the focus away from what she is going through. Hopefully we solve most questions in the next few weeks. Jericca is hard at work editing and taking in the latest feedback!
Hjalti started working on previs in June, right after finishing his work on the layout for Wing It! - and after a well deserved break to enjoy the first weeks with his new born. Revigorated and well rested (or not), he began setting the first shots in 3D, with a rough model of Mikassa, an approximation of the sea, blocks of 3D meshes to build the environment. Give previs to an animator and he'll push it far, right?
Previsualization is already, inherently, a slow process. You have to deal with uncertainties, half designed assets, all while in a 3D environment full of constraints. It is also lots of back and forth with editing, especially as here Jericca needs a lot of material to tweak and choose for the edit. Thus Hjalti had to shoot from different angles, with varied shot values, different speeds or feels - plus, the set is wide open, Mikassa's movements are either very technical (sailing) or oniric (falling deeper, through fantastic environments). And to add even more complexity, we didn't go through a storyboard phase, so most actions were not defined, shots were not timed yet: everything had to be decided in previs.
We took it too far at the beginning by having animations and rendering movie files. After a few weeks, we realized this was not helping the process and would bring delays to our schedule. Hjalti and Jericca then switched to working with still frames, allowing for more speed in making them and more freedom in editing.
However lots of questions and uncertainties kept piling up as we were constantly pushing the limits of what previs can bring.
As the whole team became available to work on the project, in September Rik and Pablo offered to lend their 2D skills to Gold. They started working on some sequences not yet touched by Hjalti, to fill in story gaps with thumbnails and then storyboards. All in Blender, with Grease Pencil and Story Pencil, sometimes using the 3D space to navigate in the mock up sets built by Hjalti, or to use the early versions of the characters.
Little by little, it allowed Jericca to put her ideas on the screen, more quickly than with previs and sometimes even more easily. Indeed, dealing with effects or shapeless elements is easier when you can simply draw them with a few strokes. Easier than to try and figure out their 3D counterpart from the start!
Furthermore, adding more people to the story team helps Jericca in switching from action to emotion, as Rik, Pablo and Hjalti have different sensibilities. It gives our director more brains to discuss her ideas, more points of view to draw from. Gold is filled with transformations to portray, both delicate and brutal, and having a bigger team to bring them to life has defintely helped.
Currently all sequences have been tackled at least once, and we are now waiting for a full cut of the movie that takes into account the notes given in the last few days. Soon!
The processes we use at the Blender Studio might sometimes collide with the habits or even the needs from other artists. In the past few months, Francesco and I have done our best to balance our savoir-faire with what Jericca or Florent might need to thrive; not an easy feat, and I have to admit that the whole team has been confused or frustrated more than once. Having to deal with the end of another project or working remotely has added to the challenge, which we are all learning from.
What matters is that we keep communication open, working all in good faith, towards the making of a beautiful project. And in that, I have no doubt we all align!
Gold is currently in development and the progress can be followed here on the Blender Studio website.
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