S / M / L

Sometimes there are things that just need to be brought to life and with the creators of S/M/L, Tendril Animation & Design, they had that exact feeling. Here’s the story behind these absolutely amazingly loveable characters who are so full of life in such a short time as well as the actual animation!

“For years we have had an urge to create a character-driven animation piece and although we have designed characters and formulated stories around them in treatments both internally and for clients, nothing really stuck or gained much traction. In this industry, with character work in particular, just as with live action direction, just saying you are ready to do something and having exciting ideas and designs is not going to cut it—you need demonstrable, production-proven skills. It’s a chicken and egg problem.

For us, the opportunity came knocking in the Fall of 2010 disguised in the form of a pitch for ‘Funcheez’. The script called for slapstick comedy played out by aliens on a planet made of cheese. The aliens would narrowly avert being sucked into a blackhole, which by the end of the spot was to be revealed as the imaginings of a kid munching on Funcheez Moons & Planets.

We got excited and pulled out all the stops for the pitch. We designed characters and environments, drew up storyboards, colour boards, and boardomatics. We developed a motion test and even had our characters rapid prototyped for the presentation. At one point early in the process, we even brought in a savvy five-year-old to get perspective on ‘kid-appeal’. The pitch was beautiful and fun, but in the end the client decided to go with another studio for the spot. But it was too late—we had somehow fallen completely in-love with our strange little alien creatures and rather than relegating them to our salon des refusés to gather dust, decided to take the plunge and build a story around them. We got even more excited and pulled out stops we didn’t even know we had.

A lot of ideas were thrown out on the table and at least as many ended up the recycling bin. After a short, intense period of exploration, we decided on a very simple story framework that would allow us to push the character animation to a high polish that any discerning eye would appreciate. We also wanted it to be funny. At the studio we are always taking the piss out of each other and the level of joking around, laughing, and overall stupidity is how we gauge our level of morale.

On the production end, we implemented a rigorous multi-stage character animation process that has set a standard how we handle all our character work. First there is the Blocking Pass, where key poses, overlaps, anticipations, facial expressions, and lip sync are set as stepped keys. Following a few rounds of blocking, the stepped keys are turned into splines for the Spline Pass and animation curves are tweaked. Eventually overlaps and secondary motion are also added. Once the motion has been refined to everybody’s satisfaction, we move to the final stage, the Quality Control Pass where intersections are fixed and minor adjustments are made. As a general rule, we spend 65% of our time on the first pass, 30% on the second and 5% on the final pass.

As usual, we knew that music and sound design would play a super-critical role in the piece and so we turned to our long-time collaborator John Black of Cypheraudio. Whenever we hear those robotic grunts and bleeps we picture John in his studio with a folly mic vocalizing and acting out the emotions of our characters and we laugh ourselves to tears.

Tendril Design”

S/M/L from TENDRIL on Vimeo.

I had stumbled upon this on http://www.feeldesain.com/sml.html a very nice arts blog/website which is one of my many bookmarked sites that seem to find amazing pieces of art from photography to film and sometimes just has the most best pieces of inspiration.

Simple character design but still full of life with the expressions and subtle actions within the animations. I really like the style as well and the effect they seemed to have put over the animation which really pulls the sounds and imagery together, it seems incredibly coherent.

At first I was going to blog this under the Game Art, Design and Animation module as the character design for this short is amazing as well as the animation, but this is something that I wish to do in the future as well as something that I just have an incredible passion for.
This sort of reason to create characters is something that I also desire and knowledge that you don’t always get the jobs you want or you sometimes have to do something you don’t want to do to get to where you want to be…

I’ve gone ahead and emailed Tendril Animation & Design in hope just to get a some advice about what they think a young and upcoming animator such as myself should do, need and look out for. Just some advice as well as looking into how things are with the creative industry within other countries as they’re based in Canada, which I’ve had a lot of interest in recently.


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