Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Post-Mortem - Kyra's Story

Note - this is the last of the Riverlife post-mortems. For the full treatment check out the other write-ups here and here. Thanks for reading!

Well well well. Here we are at the very last of the Riverlife episodes. I realize that I didn't do a post-mortem for number three, but that was because I was very busy and it was extremely straight forward. Nothing much to write about, except for the fact that I liked the turtle quite a bit and I think Louise is adorable. It was hands-down the simplest one and yet at this point I think that Riverlife has gotten the biggest response from it, so shows how much I know.

Kyra's Story, on the other hand, was anything but simple. It was supposed to be. Originally it was supposed to be easily the simplest of the four spots, a nice peaceful little ending with a cute kid on a bridge, looking at the river. In fact, check out the original storyboards:

But then Stephen over at Riverlife wanted to do something special for the final episode, some sort of big stylistic departure. He was super-cool and left the details and the decision in my hands. Riverlife have been nothing but awesome and flexible this entire time and I wanted to do something cool with their project. I took a couple of nights and came up with the whole revolving-scenery thing and Stephen said "rock on". And so I did and all was well. I cranked out the first and last shots pretty easily over a few nights. They were done in the typical fashion, a blend of 3d and forced perspective. As is tradition, here they are from slightly different angles so you can see how they were put together.

But then I hit a snag. And we are going to talk about it.

I had to come up with a shot that showcased the Smithfield Street Bridge and Station Square during both night and day. The visual direction worked well for characters moving along a river bank, with the river and the far shore parallel to them. But a character walking across a bridge couldn't be easily placed into that formula. The river would have to run longitudinally. And for some reason, my brain just broke. That happens to everyone at some point. For reasons sometimes good and sometimes inexplicable, you just can't think of what to do. For three entire days I banged my head against the wall trying to solve this incredibly simple problem. I started building it several times, only to get a few hours in and realize that it didn't work, or clashed violently with the styles of the first and last shots. I honestly can't remember an instance in which I had so much trouble solving such a simple problem. And then, one morning, while falling asleep after a frustrating all-nighter working at it, my increasingly erratic sketches hatched on something that might work.

Somewhere in the squiggles, near the bottom of the page, it clicked.

Having that kind of experience makes you feel like the most brilliant person alive, and then immediately the stupidest. You realize that solving a problem, while fantastic, is a response to a problem. And sometimes the problem is your own lack of an idea. So the enormity of the solving is also a referendum on the enormity of the problem. And so on. I feel good about it, though. I bashed my way through it and I'm reasonably happy with the results. The client loved it. Sometimes making things is hard, and that's ok.

This spot made me weirdly familiar with downtown Pittsburgh. I don't really spend a lot of time downtown, other that driving through it. I go there for client meetings, sometimes the wife and I take a long walk to the other side of it during the summer, and sometimes we catch the ballet. But after making THREE DIFFERENT angles of it for this spot, plus another for Emily's Story, I know it like the back of my hand. We were driving over the Birmingham Bridge today and I looked out the window and had flashbacks of placing the 130-odd individual little buildings I made for these spots. How did I do it? Secret Weapon. I have to say, making these has really made me reflect on the city in which I live, and notice it more. I feel like I have this odd relationship with it. I feel like I drew it like one of my french girls.

I put one final touch on the episode, and that was Kyra popping up at the beginning. That was also a completely optional idea from Stephen, since Kyra was so swallowed up and far away when compared to how intimately the other narrators were featured.

KEYFRAMES : Because the best things in life aren't procedurally generated.

Also: the other three narrators are in the video, as is a character from one of my own shorts. Upon request from the client, there is an honest-to-goodness football player. Pittsburgh enjoys sports more than just about any place I've ever been. Oh, and the one cyclist has tattoos. That was fun.

I don't usually post-mortem client work for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's not particularly interesting - some motion graphics here, some compositing there. Often it's just not something I can talk about in detail for professional reasons. But these spots were different. I was given a large amount of creative control and the scope of the episodes were such that I wanted to dig into them a bit more. And the client was amazingly cool with me being transparent about the process. I can't remember a time when I've had a more enjoyable and easy relationship with a client. Riverlife have been just fantastic. I've enjoyed making these immensely. I got to try out a bunch of ideas and got to know my own city better. I hope we can do some more in the future.

It's an amusing coincidence that I am moving today to the east end of Pittsburgh. In fact, I am writing this post on Saturday night and scheduling it to automatically post on Wednesday because I'm going to be without internet for a week in the new place. When I finish typing this, I'm going to shut down and pack up my workstation. In a few hours, some friends are coming over to help us move over the bridges, away from the rivers. I won't be taking leisurely walks along the riverside trails anymore, at least not without a drive. I'll have parks and cemeteries and fun neighborhoods to wander around, but I will miss the rivers very much. It was nice to get to know them so well.


RICK-O said...

Thanks for posting this visual breakdown. I think it's an absolutely beautiful spot. I'm glad to read how you were able to break through the challenge of the bridge scene. Encouraging for me to know that breakthrough IS possible, even if it takes days!
This is my first blog posting of yours to read. I'm anxious to dig further and see how you are using After Effects to do character animations. I'm using Anime Studio Pro and After Effects CS5, but I'm seriously thinking of doing everything in After Effects now.

Keep up the amazing work, and thanks for the inspiration! :)

EJ said...

Amazing breakdown and always interesting to see the thought process behind design solutions you came up with. This spot has stuck with me because of how perfectly executed it was. Pretty nice what results a designer can come up with when given the creative freedom to be able to spread their wings, eh?

Thanks again for allowing us to look into the window of your creative mind!