Producing 'Sweet Heart' | Breakdown

Making Of / 05 June 2023


'Sweet Heart' is a 3D VFX short film which is written and directed by Liam Mann and produced by Manos Zervoudakis, within twelve weeks at Escape Studios in London.


The story is is about two male wedding figurines that fall in love but are mismatched by the baker when placing them on top of the wedding cake.


We explored numerous designs featuring various suits, dresses, and colours until we found the ones that perfectly matched our theme. Presented below are a collection of our initial designs alongside the final versions.


During this phase, our primary goal was to ensure the effectiveness of the story. What set this project apart from all my previous ones was the approach of shooting the live action material based on the storyboards, leaving no room for reshooting a shot if the angle proved ineffective. As a result, we had to be extra careful and explore a wide range of ideas before we settle. After undergoing numerous revisions with the storyboarding team for a week, we ultimately reached a final decision on the following panels.


Once we had the final panels, we proceeded to create an animatic, incorporating a temporary music track and sound effects.


Prior to entering the production phase, we made the decision to create a colour key. We specifically selected the three pivotal moments in the film and painted them accordingly, with the purpose of establishing the mood and lighting conditions for the short.


Just before the live action shooting, we decided to shoot a 'crapamatic', using our own camera equipment. Through test shootings, we examined the feasibility of our ideas, focusing primarily on positions, camera angles, and timing.


The day of the shooting soon arrived, we had booked our space, purchased all our costumes and character placeholders, set all equipment, and have the call sheet ready for the day. By closely working closely with the creative director and director of photography, we were able to successfully shoot everything we planned for and even some extra angles which gave us some flexibility after. Having a well-thought animatic and going the extra mile to create a "crapamatic," greatly assisted us during the day of shooting.

Please see below for a couple of pictures during the shooting and a time-lapse video.


After shooting the film, we took many photos of the space and equipment to be able to build the environment in 3D without having to start from scratch or worry about the accurate positions of some items. 


Once the shooting was done, the comp team started by organising the live action plates and converting them to 2K EXRs (ASCIS) so they are ready to be edited. 

The following edit contains all the trackers and place holders.


As it was our first time making an edit with animation and live action footage, we made the decision to merge the characters from the storyboard panels with the live action plates and create an edit which would help us identify any issues before starting animating.


The following video showcases the considerable changes in our camera angles compared to the animatic. Due to the prevailing COVID situation, we were unable to visit the shooting location in advance and plan properly. As a result, we found ourselves adjusting and improving certain camera angles on the go.

Throughout the production of this short film, I was asking myself the following questions whenever someone was suggesting a change:
- What is our motivation to make this adjustment?
- Does it help the story?
- Do we have enough time?
- Can we afford it?
- What potential future issues may arise from this change?


Below you can find a few images showcasing the characters' evolution from the design stage to a rendered version.

You may be curious about why our protagonist has two textures. The reason behind this is that after he falls down and breaks, he is reassembled using a centuries-old Japanese repair technique called 'Kintsugi'. It roughly translates as 'joining with gold' and it uses urushi (Japanese lacquer) dusted with powdered gold to restore broken ceramic and porcelain vessels.

Below you can see the two cakes we designed, modelled and textured for the film. We wanted for the first one to be simple but elegant while the second one would be vibrant and colourful, aligning with the visual representation of our characters' emotions.

Cake No1:

Cake No2:


References are key. I cannot stretch enough how important they are for animators. We made sure to ask all animators to film their own references, and get the director to approve them before start animating. Once the blocking stage had well-defined poses and timing, we transitioned into splining and polishing.

Below, you can watch a good example showcasing this process.


The following video provides a breakdown of our processes.


'Sweet Heart' was managed using both ShotGrid and Google Sheets.

Please see below for all the software and documents used.


Everything was in one place and well connected, work was visually assigned and easily readable, artists were receiving notifications via email and the overall progress tracking was very efficient.

Production Schedule:

This calendar format schedule displays the main tasks with deadlines, status indicators, and progress bars, providing the production team with a constant, clear overview of the overall progress and important milestones.

Shot Breakdown:

Primarily utilized during pre-production, this document comprehensively breaks down all shots and presents essential data such as shot numbers, brief descriptions, durations, frame in/out points, transitions, shot types, sound effects etc.

Shot Plan:

Arguably the most crucial document utilized throughout this production. It effectively tracked all shots during animation, 2D and 3D work, lighting, rendering, and compositing stages. This document was color-coded, ensuring ease of readability, and included assignees, status updates for each task, progress bars.

Asset Tracker:

Throughout all stages, this document helped us monitor the progress of our characters, environments, and individual items. We allocated a dedicated section at the bottom of the document for the team to report any issues or bugs encountered along the way.


-    VFX Pipeline:
After having successfully produced 'Sweet Heart'', I'm now more confident in managing a VFX pipeline and integrating CG into live action plates. Throughout the process, I gained solid knowledge on various aspects such as preparing for a shoot, including booking a location, renting the equipment, and filling all necessary paperwork. Also, I learned how to handle 4k/8k professional shooting equipment, performing photogrammetry, and enhanced my understanding of clean-ups, rotos, and 2D/3D tracking.

-    Effective communication between departments:
As the production lead, I managed all aspects of production. From planning, scheduling, and tracking shots and assets to coordinating all internal and external staff including leads and heads of departments. The team consisted of 25 people, which was a very exciting challenge for me! Establishing effective communication, fostering a positive atmosphere, and building trust were pivotal in creating a healthy work environment and promoting efficient collaboration. At times, I encountered the need to make difficult decisions, yet my role as a producer required me to prioritize the bigger picture of the project, making sure we finish on time and within budget. These experiences have proven invaluable, as they have helped me develop skills in diplomacy and strategic decision-making.


Director: Liam Mann
Co-director: Shenaaz Suliman 
Producer: Emmanouil Zervoudakis
Writer: Liam Mann 
Storyboarding: Chanakan Jeffries 
Concept Art: Montse Larqué Ferrer, Shessy Idowu, Chanakan Jeffries 
Colour Script: Ella Grunberger 
Director of Photography: Clement Gharini 
Rigging: Molly McCabe 
Animation Lead: Montse Larqué Ferrer 
Animation: Liam Mann, Shenaaz Suliman, Ella Grunberger, Chanakan Jeffries, Shessy Idowu, Cameron Haley 
3D Lead: Efthymis Bairaktaris 
Modelling: Recep Atalmis, Frankie Elliott, Reece Roberts, Daniella Benfield 
MatchMove: Efthymis Bairaktaris 
Texturing: Efthymis Bairaktaris, Frankie Elliott, Reece Roberts 
Lighting: Shessy Idowu 
Render TD: Efthymis Bairaktaris 
2D Lead: Autul Sikdar 
Compositing: Andrea Tomas, Jack Carine, Rahul Karavadra 
Graphic Design: Daniella Benfield  
Music: Maria Cortes-Monroy 
Sound Design: Mihail Sustov 
Editing: Emmanouil Zervoudakis
Actor: Efthymis Bairaktaris