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!


Josh Cleland said...

This is great! Very inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

Cool. The robots made it in.

studio lolo said...

Absolutely wonderful and touching. The star at the end choked me up. Wow, wow, wow.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic work -- I'm curious about the process, HD screen captures? Cinema HD Display and a tablet, I imagine...

studio lolo said...

Cory, looks like you're one of the 5 that gets a little something from me by commenting on my post. I can't imagine you wanting anything done by me based on your own genius talent! You really are good...I love your troll guys.
Anyway, let me know if you'd like an ATC or a selection of a few notecards. Do you prefer whimsy, landscape, collage, animals...??? Just let me know when you email me your address.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

The original storyboard and test animations are really cool also.

Gwendolyn said...

Cory this is one of the most beautiful things I've seen you do in my life. wow. I sat here absolutely mesmerized. incredible.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the website posted on a designer forum I frequent called and your animation clearly stood out. Very moving and beautifully done. I was so excited to come across your blog to see how it was made. Inspiring!

Debi said...

Thank you for sharing the process and your excitement for this beautiful project. It is truly gorgeous and is the product of much patience, work and expressive genius. I want to share the links to the video and to this page with my friends and family so that they can also enjoy it. It's been the highlight of my day, and it's still morning!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Visually, a beautiful piece of artwork, kudos and congrats on your continued success.


Though you say this is the best story done so far, it's still pretty weak in all honesty right? It wasn't clear on first pass why HE was chosen to receive this elixir? Also, the reasoning behind him sharing the elixir (his loneliness) seemed rushed and unclear to me, along with the reason he shares it. I guess it's because he's lonely but it seems, logically, razor thin reasoning though I guess it gets the job done...

Here's my question, you're obviously a wonderfully talented artist, how much input, story wise, where you able or asked to change? Was this a freelance thing sort of setup or was this a directing gig straight up where you had some more leverage in changing the story as you saw fit? Also, did you have any issues with the story and how did you resolve those?

Thanks for any questions answered in advance, again, just looking for info, great work!

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a very beautifully done animation (and the music seems fitting). Also that the point of sharing is brought home like this is really good. The only thing which doesn't make sense - to me - is that the person, even after sharing is alone. Kinda defeats the point of that sharing changes something.

Cory Godbey said...

Spit and Spite,

Thanks very much for your questions. While I spent the majority of the post talking about the “how” of the piece I didn’t really get to too much of the “why.” You’ve raised some legitimate questions and ones that I think merit some thoughtful answers. I’ll address them in order:

Concerning the story: A way to explain it might be, as a friend of mine said recently, and I think pretty obviously so,

“Fairy tales are different from Russian novels.”

You could apply that thought here—a short film about sharing (or not sharing, in this case) isn’t interested in trying to be another Dostoevsky or Tolstoy; it’s an impressionistic and romantic vision of the world—in a nutshell, it’s a fairy tale.

With regards to the “reason” for the gift:

It’s an intentionally dialogue-less piece. Early on the idea of (like the silent film I took visual cues from) incorporating title cards of text came up. I wrote up about 7 or 8 ideas and edited them into the reel. For a two and a half minute piece of animation this took up a lot of time. An early version had a card that read something like, “I am come down to give you a good gift.” This was all like a lot of things, nice, but not necessary for the piece.

I wasn’t interested as much with the “why” he got the gift, but the consequences of an eternal youth potion. Maybe he got it because he’d proved himself worthy in some way earlier in life, maybe it was a test given by a higher power, or maybe (and what I think most likely) it’s along the lines of the old fairy tales of the poor woodchopper who’s just getting by chopping wood in the forest. A beautiful creature explodes into his life and he’s met with an extraordinary vision. His life is changed forever by the appearance of the vision. In the fairy tale the woodchopper is given three wishes. What keeps us reading isn’t the back story of the woodchopper, that’s all assumed, what keeps us reading is what on earth is the man going to do with three wishes.

Ultimately, these were all fine things to have in the back of my head but I didn’t, and still don’t, believe there needed to be an explicitly stated reason why the old man received the potion. I think the viewer with can imagine for his or her self what is the reason. What I want to see, and what I hope the viewer wants to see as well, is what is the man going to do with eternal youth.

As for him sharing the potion, the ideas went back forth. We needed something to communicate instantly and settled on remembering his friends. Traces of the world he knew remain, the bench for example, but though the place is same, everything is changed. In an early draft, (and you can see in the storyboard reel I posted) there was a sequence I loved but unfortunately I had to cut for time. The old man goes home and hides the potion away. We see a family, his family, gathered around the table. All their shadows dance across the wall. We’re fixed on their shadows. We see our protagonist’s shadow and his unmistakable beard join them. Slowly the figures and shadows lengthen all the way up the wall (signifying the progression of time) yet his shadow remains the same. Their shadows stretch and become tombstones. He remains. One version then showed him alone at the table. Another version transitioned to the old man in the graveyard. (Both of these instances were operating under an earlier idea of the potion as an “age-stopper” not a youth potion.)

All that to say, simply, there wasn’t time for this sequence and connecting the man, now old again at the end, with the bench and his friends appearing just felt right. Coupled with what I’d imagine as the weariness of living forever made him want to “make it right.” Obviously he can’t bring his friends back— (even thought it worked to stupendous results in “Los Corazones” ) he’s alone.

The final version of the film has the old man shuffle into the future next to the bench. And while I believe this was the best solution of expressing his loneliness and isolation (while the geographical location is the same he is no longer apart of that world), an earlier draft had him fall to his knees and cover his face. In his desperation he looked up, saw the fountain, and took his chance to give. This sentiment remains intact but is more understated in the final film. It’s not a self-fulfilling, bombastic, operatic moment—it’s the soft fall of piano keys and the realization he’s made a terrible mistake.

The arc of the story follows the blessing, selfishness, journey, and atonement of our protagonist. The concept of sharing is beautiful, but what I like about this story is that it attempts to show selfishness, the reverse of sharing, and its consequences. It’s ultimately a piece about an old man seeking redemption.

In the end he wanted to make it right and share. Loving a gift isn’t complete until it’s shared. And that’s what Zune Arts films are all about—Sharing.

In answer to your questions regarding input, I was given an idea about the story. As I said before, 72andSunny came up with this idea: a man who finds this magic potion which either keeps him from aging, or makes him grow younger. He doesn't share it. He travels through time, maybe hundreds of years. He comes to a party, seeing friends dancing he is lonely and pours the remaining potion into a punch bowl. He then lies under a tree and sleeps.

Up front they told me that any ideas I had about the story they wanted to hear. They are the real professionals. I was challenged to figure out how the old man got the potion, what the “walk through time” looked like, the mechanics of the potion, etc. I brought up the idea that maybe in the end the old man could pour the potion into a fountain and make the Fountain of Youth. I wanted to the bench to be an emotional anchor throughout the piece; the starting point, the realization point, and the end.

72andSunny gave me the chance and the challenge to really make something. There was open discussion and a free-flow of ideas about every aspect of the film. There were times they asked serious questions about things as seemingly insignificant as color choices in the backgrounds. And I had to defend those choices. Their allowing me to really own the piece gave me a degree of personal attachment and commitment that I’ve only ever felt with my own private work. This was a client piece unlike any I’ve done before. I wanted certain things to look certain ways but I needed good reasons to be able to keep them. There were things I had to let go (the family sequence, for example) but ultimately I was allowed by the producers to influence the film to, I feel, a significant degree. They were fantastic with editing certain parts and keeping things moving along (just compare how slow are some of the places in the first draft of storyboards, especially the star falling)

I was very happy with the story in the first draft and thrilled with the end product.

Making this short film was an experience I won’t forget easily.

Anonymous said...

Wow I was really really impressed by Le cadeau du temps so lovely Big Claps from Wales :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing your process.

Anonymous said...

Really lovely piece. I watched the video before I read the post and immediately thought of Lotte's Prince Achmed, an animated piece I love and admire. It was nice to confirm the influence after I read your blog. You really did an excellent job capturing the look and feel. What a great story too-- Really awesome job!

Rohit Iyer said...

Amazing work!

I find it really encouraging, as I too am working on my first film and it has a similar style, although the story is of a very different kind.

Thanks for sharing... I'm officially a fan!

Unknown said...

Man! this is so beautifull, maybe im to sensitive but i drop a few tears. This story is very very deep for me , life and mistakes that we made on our path ...great movie !

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Thanks so much for sharing this. Wow! Really enjoyed.
I'm a fan....

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