'Candle Wick' is a 3D animated short film which was produced within six weeks, entirely remotely, by 2nd year students at Escape Studios in London. It is written by Oliver Gallagher, Muhammed Mansoor & Liam Martin and directed by Oliver Gallagher & Shauna Ludgate. In the below blog I will share my experience as a Producer and a breakdown of the production process.
'Candle Wick' is about an adventurous candle living inside the walls of an old house. When a water pipe inside his den started leaking, he found himself needing to go outside and find an item to block it. Being so small, every journey is a danger, even the smallest of steps, but he must risk it all when it comes to saving his home.
SCRIPT & STORYBOARDING:
During the first two weeks our writers & storyboarding team were revising the story and panels and making any necessary changes to ensure we have a working story before we move into production. That process helped us a lot moving forward because during that time we made sure that our cameras and angles were working overall in 3D and didn't have to do any major changes at a later stage.
See the image below for our main 2D animatic panels.
Our Art Director, Tsvetelina Kumanova, decided to go with colours like purple for the hallway to express the feeling of the unknown, orange and red for Wick's den to show the warmth of his home and finally dark bluish for the basement for its cold and dangerous environment setting.
Check out the images below to see our colour script.
Oliver Gallagher, the Director of the short, designed Wick with the vision to have a protagonist who looked strong enough and capable of going on adventures but had an easily defined weakness. In our case he is a small, lit candle. He chose warm colours for his clothes like orange and yellow to push the fire aesthetic but also some grey for his hands and feet to make some body parts better distinguishable.
Click out the video below to see Wick's colour aesthetic.
MODELLING & RIGGING:
Wick was entirely modelled and rigged by Tom Perry, our team modeller & rigger. Designing a lit candle was not as easy as we first imagined, and Tom had to learn and use multiple technics in order to give the animators as much control as possible. He achieved that by using a set of key drivers throughout the body controlling its blend shapes as well as sets of optional, more advanced controls, for minute details in the face and body.
Click the video below to see a full character turnaround in different stages.
Shauna Ludgate, our second Director and 3D Supervisor, was responsible for doing the 3D Layout. It included three different environments, Wick's den, the hallway and the basement, which she built within the first two weeks of the project. On the third week, she passed it on to our modeller & rigger, Tom Perry, to do daily maintenance, future adjustments and troubleshooting while she was supervising animation and doing lighting tests.
Check out the below 3D Layout pictures for multiple views.
Knowing the importance of references when animating, the whole team spent a good amount of time researching examples of detailed material for the most realistic look for their shots, as well as acting out their scenes and recording themselves for their animation.
Check the two videos below for some examples of the references we used.
We were going for a realistic, humanized animation style for Wick, so we made sure that all animators followed the correct steps for an industry standard pipeline to ensure a polished look at the end.
Check out the video below to see the differences in animation between each step, from previz to the final render.
LIGHTING & RENDERING:
Shauna Ludgate, our one-woman army, was also responsible for lighting and setting up all the renders. We implemented an alembic workflow to transfer animation into her master lighting scenes which included multiple shot setups with the same environments for time efficiency. She also set up all the render layers + specific AOVs, using RedShift, which allowed us to render the backgrounds on their own while waiting for the animation to be finalized. This way we did not only saved time on rendering but also gave us the power to manipulate more things during compositing.
See the two images below for a quick look at our lighting continuity and our render layers/settings.
I was responsible for compositing the short and used NukeX as a preferred software for the results we were aspiring to. Using the right render layers and AOVs offered a few technical and aesthetical advantages such as 1) allowing me to adjust the colour gradient of specific items in the environment by using crypto, 2) manage smooth focus pulls with the Defocus node by using the Z pass and 3) troubleshoot any issues with shadows using rotos.
Watch the video below to see an example of a frame from Maya and then composited in Nuke.
2D FLAME PASS:
Having a realistic look for the 3D flame is very challenging so Tsvetelina Kumanova decided to do a 2D pass of the flame in After Effects, on top of the 3D mesh, so the edges look a bit more naturally deformed.
Check out the video below to see one of her shots in black and white, combined with the 2D flame pass.
I mainly used Excel for production planning and progress tracking throughout the short and had to create bespoke documents for efficient visual project management.
See the three images below for the key planning tools we used.
Image 1 - Production Schedule:
The Production Schedule displays all big tasks set with assignees, deadlines, and progress bars in a form of a calendar. This helped the whole team know at glance the stage of production and any pending activity.
Image 2 - Shot Breakdown:
This is a detailed document displaying the different shot numbers, descriptions/script, frame numbers, camera type, transitions, sounds and voiceovers. It would assist the team in different stages of pre-production but mostly when working on the script, storyboarding and 2D animatic.
Image 3 - Shot Plan:
This tool helped us manage all the different stages of production for each shot, from previz to comp. It contained automated drop lists and different status and for each step and was also colour coded to make it easily readable.
'Candle Wick' was very challenging and required technical knowledge to manage it. Wick was a moving light source so we needed to be proactive with our rigging process so we don't encounter too many surprises during lighting and rendering. We also dealt with internal conflict throughout the project which was very difficult to handle, especially when we entered production. This is a good representation of the real world because we won’t be able to choose our colleagues when we join the industry. Nonetheless, It taught me how to confidently manage a difficult project when it's out of my comfort zone and how to effectively communicate throughout a project when disagreement is more common than agreement. It provided me with great experiences, technical practice and lessons which I will definitely carry over once I graduate.
Writers: Oliver Gallagher, Muhammed Mansoor & Liam Martin
Directors: Oliver Gallagher & Shauna Ludgate
Producer: Emmanouil Zervoudakis
Art Director: Tsvetelina Kumanova
Storyboarding: Oliver Gallagher, Chanakan Jeffries, Tsvetelina Kumanova & Aroosa Qureshi
Colour Script: Tsvetelina Kumanova
3D Layout: Shauna Ludgate
Modelling & Texturing: Tom Perry & Shauna Ludgate
Rigging: Tom Perry
2D Artists: Tsvetelina Kumanova, Liam Martin & Chanakan Jeffries
Animation: Muhammed Mansoor, Tsvetelina Kumanova, Liam Martin, Oliver Gallagher, Shauna Ludgate, Aroosa Qureshi, Chanakan Jeffries, David Akinyose, Tom Perry, Emmanouil Zervoudakis & Giada Carnevaletti
Lighting & Rendering: Shauna Ludgate
Compositing: Emmanouil Zervoudakis & Shauna Ludgate
Original Music: Maria Cortes-Monroy
Sound Design: Mihail Sustov
Editing: Liam Martin & Emmanouil Zervoudakis
Voice Actress: Ellie Wills