Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Post-Mortem - Emily's Story

My wife and I live a few blocks from the south shore of the Monongahela river. In spring, summer and fall you can often find us walking or biking on the lovely and well-maintained paths that run between Station Square in the west to Southside Works in the east. Those two places are more or less the bookends of our neighborhood, the south side. Several important moments, conversations and decisions of my adult life have happened as we walked along that trail.

I'm not from Pittsburgh originally. As such, my view of the place is probably a bit different from that of the natives. Pittsburgh seems to me at times to be roughly 15% city and 85% river, bridge and slope. We only have the three rivers, but the way the city is crammed into the valley where they meet makes it seem like we have about 25. Seriously. I've been all over the country and I've never seen so many bridges. Ages ago, Pittsburgh was a major industrial boomtown, as you most likely know. Factories were built practically right on the river and no one was too concerned with what they were doing to the air and water. The city has been decidedly post-industrial for decades, and the riverfront has been slowly reworked with trees, walkways, and trails like the one that we use all the time. Which brings us to:

The Project : A few months ago, Riverlife, a nonprofit advocacy/planning/guiding organization for the the redevelopment of the Pittsburgh riverfront, contacted me about doing some animated pieces. They had gathered a few interviews with people, detailing their memories and thoughts on the rivers in Pittsburgh and they wanted to visualize them. That sounded awesome, and they have been a pleasure to work with. In our initial meeting we listened to the interviews and discussed what they wanted and what ideas I had. We were on the same page from just about day one, which is always great. I did some character designs, knocked together some boards and away we went! Emily's story is the first of four episodes. I think the next episode is releasing next week with the final two coming out later. I'll do shorter, more process-focused posts on each of them.

Design-wise, I wanted something friendly and approachable. I haven't really seen Pittsburgh animated before, so I wanted to do this saturated, storybook version of it. That informed the character designs.
These are the initial sketches for the main characters of the four pieces. Kyra looks a bit more like a girl now.

In the process of making these, I boarded out some shots that later proved to be far more difficult to execute. Emily's Story contained a few of these shots, most notably the fish's-eye view of the fireworks. I like to challenge myself with shots I have no idea how to accomplish. I thankfully haven't boarded myself into a corner yet, though I certainly banged my head on the desk a few times trying to get them right. I mean, look at the sketch:
That looks easy! Let's do that!
This shot used almost no 3d layers. I was surprised at how much I was able to cheat it.

Another challenging shot was the Fort Pitt Bridge shot.

When I boarded it I thought I'd find some way to cheat it a bit more than I actually could.
In the end, I spent a while building out a semi-3d, forced-perspective version of the bridge and downtown.
Here's what it looks like from a different angle.

Final Verdict - This has been a very busy year for freelance work. Because of various scheduling plans, none of it has been released yet. This is the first to be viewable, and it feels good to put something out there. I've also had the pleasure of having some dream clients this year, and Riverlife has certainly been one of them. The amount of creative latitude I was given is rare and much appreciated. Here's to successful collaborations!

As I mentioned before, you'll be seeing more of these as the weeks go on. I hope you enjoy them!


Willem Lagerwaard said...

Ha! Great work with the bridge! When I saw the animation I thought: "Naaah, it couldnt have been done in forced looks too good!"

Compliments again and thanks for sharing.

You have made the world friendlier and more accessible by doing so!

Big up from Rotterdam!

blake said...

Hi Scott! I'm really enjoying your latest work as always! Your blog has some really nice artwork updates, and the breakdown examples are really nice additions as well. I just wanted to add that your posts are anticipated and appreciated.

Keep on rockin' till the cats come home!

Anonymous said...

Seriously well pulled off. The bridge shot is totally convincing, well done! How do you get such textures on your solids? Do you pre-comp them all first? really impressive, keep it up!