Monday, December 17, 2007

le cadeau du temps

About a year ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a video. The video had a junkyard that got struck by some lightning; flash, boom, and a hulking robot was born. It stomped into town and everything seemed lost, or at very least turned into aluminum foil.

And then, sharing. Sharing stopped the madness. Rainbows and kindness. This was a Zune-Arts film, and they are all about sharing.

Long story short, I was contacted by the extraordinary people at 72 and Sunny, the creative minds behind the aforementioned robot piece and the other Zune Arts films to make one. They saw The Ruin of the Beast on YouTube, liked it, and got in touch.

Some of you who have visited the studio in recents weeks have seen some of the work in progress. Here's some of the work and a brief history of how this project came into being.


72 and Sunny came up with this idea: a man who finds this magic poiton which either keeps him from aging, or makes him grow younger. And he doesn't share it. All the Zune arts films are about sharing and they wanted to explore what would happen if you didn't share, and the consquences of that.

Maybe I'm biased (and I'm willing to admit that) but I believe, this Zune arts film has the best story to date. The narrtive accomplishes so much with absolutely no dialogue. The pictures would mean little to nothing without the story. They might be nice to look at but without the narrative behind it, a clear direction and story, there would be little point outside of an aesthetic exercise.

I believe le Cadeau du Temps has the most depth of any of the other films, due largely to the fantastic story telling of Charlie Stephenson, the writer.

Glen, the Creative Director of 72 and Sunny had this to say about the piece,

"This is a departure from past films on a couple of levels: Visually it has a timeless, organic and decidedly un-CG quality. And the story is more complex and dark. Perhaps the only Zune Arts film that shows the ill effects of not sharing. Really excited about what Godbey has brought to the table."

- Glenn Cole, Co-Founder / Creative Director, 72andSunny

Man finds elixir, man doesn't share, man lives forever, man regrets, wants to make it right.

As simple and beautiful as that.

Up front they told me that they were open to any suggestions I had. To not only work on such a fantastic project but to be able to have an degree of input over the direction was fantastic. I spent several nights running over the ideas in my head before I put anything down on paper. They had sent me a challenge: how does the old man actually get the potion, how does it work, and what happens after.

We had established he found/got this potion, he wasn't going to share it, he'd live/exsist for hundereds of years and then come to think about his actions. The orginal treatment had a slightly different ending-- I'd had an idea about that part, but I was saving it for the storyboards.


Typically, anything I've worked on that requires storyboards I write everything out first before I draw anything. Line by line, point by point. Helps me to get my head around everything.

We spent awhile on the storyboards and they went through several revisions before we settled on the story exactly. But the deadline was very tight-- while I was working on the storyboards I was also working on some of the final art work.

The storyboards I made completely in photoshop. I have a template of frames and I just copied them and drew. I drew them quickly and roughly. Here's an example:

We went through several stages of storyboards. Several versions with minor changes. But here is the first, original version:

The first, original round of storyboards

At one point the "Walk Through Time" as it came to be called, had more "clever" transitions. Ultimately these didn't help the clarity of the story as well as we hoped and we returned to the original idea of cross-dissolving backgrounds. I like this because it makes it feel more like a play and feels more honest somehow. Here's an example of some of the "transitions."


72 and Sunny referenced a film for the visual look for this commercial that I'd never heard of called The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

A little researched yeilded a volume of information, clips, and images: Prince Achmed is a 1926 animated film by the German animator Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving feature-length animated film. It featured a silhouette animation technique Reiniger had invented which involved manipulated cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera.

I bought some black construction paper (fresh out of thin sheets of lead) opened my box of x-acto knives, and set to work. I created several sample pieces for the team to see and get a feel for my interpretation of the look.

Originally everything was going to be paper cut-outs but (if I remember correctly) their art director liked my storyboards so much that they wanted to take it in a slightly different direction, visually. They liked the rough look of the boards and wanted to apply it throughout. This was just fine by me; it made my job easier. It meant that I'd be able to be freed up from cutting a new silhouette for every frame (or making a puppet) and I would actually be drawing more in photoshop. Which would ultimately be quicker and make the deadline more within reach. In the end it was mix of tradional paper cut-outs and photoshop drawing on top of that.

This new direction in mind, I reworked my sample pieces and resubmitted them.

With the greenlight to the art direction and the storyboards finalized, I was set to finish the all the artwork needed to make the film (several dozens of pieces; backgrounds, characters, background characters, enviroments, props, flying machinces, robots, you name it) and start animating.

Before I talk about that however, I wanted to post two very early animations I made first off just to show the team at 72 and Sunny. I was ridiculously excited to work on this project and it spilled over into a few pieces that I was just wanting to experiment with. These aren't all that significant on their own, they are just tests.

Here is a brief original, pre-production animation test.

The final animation.

I've developed a really backward way of animating. It's painstaking and tedious but it delivers a look that is hard to duplicate as quickly (by comparison with other stop-motion techniques) and the quality of movement you get is unique.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, who may just be the single greatest artist who ever lived, is quoted to have said, "Genuis is eternal patience." Maybe that's true he said it and maybe it's not but it sure sounds good. All I know is it takes some form of eternal patience to do animation. It's tedious and it takes forever but you get to see things move.

I take files in photoshop and then I nudge the layers ever-so-slightly. Then I take a screen capture. And I do it again. And again. And again. The Ruin of the Beast had over 2,000 individual frames of screen captures. This "le Cadeau du Temps" had around 1,200. While there's less frames (because the Beast was 4:30, this is 2:30) "du Temps" was a significant step up in many, many ways. First off there was people in it. That was mind-boggling to think about doing. Secondly, the knowledge that this Zune ad was going to, very likely, have a much wider audience than the Ruin of the Beast ever did. The Beast made it to YouTube; Zune Arts has had pieces featured in the MoMA. Thirdly, it's HD. 1920 x 1080. The Beast is half that. Still it's a higher resolution than standard DVD quality but because it was a much more personal project I could fudge things. I could blow up images and bring them towards the camera, things like that. Pixel stretching. Things that I shouldn't really be allowed to get away with anyway.

I take the frames and then string them together in iMovie. There you go. Drop them all in and hit play. I'd edit the length of certain frames, make some longer some shorter, but all in all, that's how it works. I exported and rendered the final file in AfterEffects and found the uncompressed file to be 25 GB. Long story short we got an external harddrive and overnighted it to them to deliever the final package.

What I love about this final piece is how like a play it is. It's set with an almost stage-design mentality. This is due in large part to the source material, Prince Achmed. The flat silhouettes and stage-like set up are lovely, I really do love that Lotte Reiniger animation. The dramatization, the movement, everything is wonderful in the truest, most original sense of the word.

I love animation and I've watched cartoons all my life. I love the Pixar films better than anything and classic Disney animation is flawless. I loved Bugs Bunny and Hanna-Barbera. Though I grew up on these I never studied animation in school. I made a few flip-books (a dinosaur eating a man, I did one of the Power Rangers-- one of them had a girlfriend get kidnapped by aliens. He called his Zord to come rescue her but it ran out of batteries.) but never anything for real. I credit all the animated films I watched for any sort of idea I have about making things move.

In the end, this isn't an end-- it's a means by which I hope to do able to do more. I hope it brings in more work like this. I enjoy it very much more than I can say.

Le Cadeau du Temps from Cory Godbey on Vimeo.


Here I've spent the majority of the post talking about the "how” of the piece and I didn’t really get to too much of the “why.” I've been asked a few questions about the piece recently and posted my answers as well as a "apologetic" of sorts for some of my choices. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Miracle the Christmas Unicorn

A week or two ago Portland Studios set up a booth at a local event called "Holiday Fair." We had a table full of good things to sell; books, t-shirts, and last-but-not-least, Christmas cards.

At least two employees ran the booth at all times. The event ran from Thursday to Saturday. Saturday morning Justin and I ran the booth. With us was Michelle (author of Beowulf) and Hallie, current Portland Studios intern.

We autographed some books, sold a few, got rid of a handful of t-shirts but to our collective astonishment, we sold not one single Christmas card.

Wagon loads of people passed us by to get to the booths with the fake turquoise earrings and the potporui flavored candies and the glitter covered popsicle reindeer scupltures. We were mildly distraught. What on earth! How could someone, anyone pass up our Christmas cards?

We knew what had to be done: We had to make some crappy cards for the people.

After several false starts, half-hearted attempts, and shooting stars, I did it--

Behold! Miracle! The Christmas Unicorn.

All in all, I lovingly and painstakingly crafted eight Miracle cards, each and every one of them a gem in their own right. Below are two of them:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I've got a friend here at work that is a Polymath. What is a polymath? I don't know either. But he's a polymath none-the-less, and he does polymath good. Some people sretch themselves thin and do many things but none of them very well. Aaron does them all. And greatly.

Aaron Greene, husband of one, father of three, writes and teaches music, holds a myriad of degrees, plays in a band, recored and engineered our studios' first audio book (yet to be released) he's our in-house IT guy, and to top it all off he's an excellent photographer.

And I don't just be saying that because he makes us all look good. Even though he does. Anyway.

He's recently started a photoblog and is posting some really superior photographs. Above is Aaron's son, Jude. Visit often. I will be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


"Silent Night"

This isn't the first Christmas piece I've done titled "Silent Night" either. Two years ago there was this piece. Same idea, different implementation.

It's always nice to think you can use an idea over again.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

productivity: down, good times: up

The Luxury Wing of Portland Studios. That's where I work. The Luxury Wing was established in our old office, founding members include Justin and myself.

Honorary members include, Jamin, our publishing and financial man here at Portland Studios.

The requirements for admission into the Luxury Wing are as follows: a recurring, debilitating pyshical injury. And that's about it. My shoulder dislocates. Justin's shoulder hyper-extends and dislocates. These are terrible, terrible things. But thankfully have not occurred to either of us in a while.

Jamin, Honoris Causa: double knee injury, soccer.

Our work space is luxurious however. And we don't mind that a bit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

portland christmas cards:

Alright! We've got three, count 'em three Christmas cards made by us. Check 'em out!