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  • Writer's pictureEric Wencel

Nobody said it’d be easy making a film during compounding global crises

Nobody said it’d be easy making a film during compounding global crises To say that this year has been difficult would be an understatement. At this point we’re all pretty burnt out. It’s difficult to remain optimistic when you haven’t been in the same room as your team in 10 months, there’s a mountain of work ahead of you, you’re behind schedule, and it seems like every day the world continues to come crashing down in new ways. But the story of these last few weeks has shown that perspective is everything. My team and I had a bit of a reckoning recently. We’re behind the ambitious schedule we set for ourselves months ago. Personally, I’ve been struggling to remain productive in every aspect of my life, and I’m sure we’re each dealing with that same thing in our own way. The first week of this year was not exactly positive for the Monster Roommates team. It was starting to feel like the project was slipping away. So we spent some time talking about it. For my part, the reality is that, with only 2-3 students able to put time toward animation, the likelihood of us being able to get all of our shots done seems pretty slim. As much as we would like to crank shots out as fast as possible, animation requires a lot of time, even to do a crummy job. Other parts of the pipeline face similar challenges. We needed to revisit the plan. We explored a number of ideas ranging in severity from new cuts of the film to abandoning the idea of doing a film entirely. As something of a nuclear option, I spent some time looking into “scrollytelling” websites, or websites that function as long, single pages where the audience scrolls through content (animations, film, stills, photos, etc.) as it tells a story. Usually these sites are specially built, but I wanted to see if it was possible to make something that worked using the basic tools that Wix provides on its site builder. The idea here would be if we decided to only focus on a handful of scenes that didn’t work when cut as a film, we could place these scenes into an interactive website and fill in the gaps with stills and things like that. Again, nuclear option, and I just wanted to see if it would work. After a couple of hours hacking a template originally built for massage therapy businesses, I came up with this: It’s interesting. Very rough, but it works. However, it’s not something we’d be proud of as a senior capstone project. Something to keep in the back pocket for later, though. Simple interactive storytelling like this is really cool, and it’s amazing that you can get something pretty functional with only a couple hours’ work. After talking about solutions over the course of several meetings, we ended up with some fresh direction for the short:

  • A coordinated plan where we prioritize our “best” shots. Not everything can be demo reel quality, but these scenes are most crucial to the story, and they also best feature our work across the entire pipeline. We will spend more time on these specific shots to make sure that at least some of the short really does feature our best work as a team.

  • Moving less important shots to the back of the line. If we get to them, that’s great. If we don’t, not a big deal.

  • Diversifying strategies for animation: planning to have at least one other person focus on animation starting next month. Using the school’s motion capture system for our human characters to help lessen the burden on animators.

  • A work schedule that takes into account (in brutally honest ways) what everyone’s capacity is. Some of us are able to dedicate all of their time to the short. Others, like myself, have jobs that take up a considerable amount of their week.

A NEW DAY This renewed approach felt better, but it honestly didn’t really do much to assuage the doom and gloom that I was feeling. However, change came almost by accident. During a work session we were going through our shot list and the proposed schedule that Christine and Ryan had created for the animation team. As we were looking at the work we’ve done and what we still had to do, we realized that so far we had been working on the longest and most difficult shots. We had also spent most of our time so far animating with unfinished rigs. Animation has felt like a huge struggle because, well, we’ve been doing the hardest work the hardest way possible. And that time will soon pass. In the near future our rigging team will be finishing the character rigs, and relatively soon after that the most labor-intensive animation work will be behind us. As we sat there processing this, the glimmer of hope grew. This was more than just a relief – it was a new lease on life. There is still much to be done, but after understanding where we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going, things look are looking downright hopeful.

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