Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Anya," Behind the Scenes of Creating an Animation Clip

To Russia With Love

Anya To Russia with Love
"Anya" finished product.
I recently posted this clip, "Anya," about Russian orphans. However, I am going back to it to take a peek behind the scenes. Let's look at how these animations actually get made. It's rare to get a chance to see some of the laborious stages that animators go through, but the producers of "Anya" were kind enough to show us how they create magic.

"Anya" comes from Brown Bag Films, the best animation shop in Ireland. They win all sorts of awards and are on a par with any other outfit that makes animation shorts.

Because this was a charitable endeavor, the Brown Bag staff worked on it for free. The charity is To Russia With Love, which places Russian orphans overseas. Damien O’Connor led the effort, which turned out well. Just because it was pro bono doesn't mean they skimped on it at all. It took them six months to turn an early storyboard sequence into the finished product, which is below.

Six months may seem like a long time for five minutes of animation, but that's what it takes when you want to do a quality job.

Brown Bag Films has been around since 1994 when Don Bluth was working in Ireland on his sequence of feature films including "Thumbelina." The shop was begun by Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell. Since then, Brown Bag Films has developed and refined its abilities. It has produced top-grade works such as "Octonauts," "Doc McStuffins," "Olivia," and "Peter Rabbit." These are shown around the world, including in the States. Some would say that Brown Bag Films is the best animation shop in the world, but since there's a little place called Disney, I won't go quite that far. But, they're good.

It took 82 volunteers to make "Anya." There were animators working on this as far away as Singapore, at animation shop Infinity Studios. The charity’s founder, Debbie Deegan, contacted O'Connor with the idea for an advertising spot. Since she had written a book about her charity, "To Russia With Love: Changing the Lives of Abandoned Children," O'Connor read it. He then went to visit the orphanage in Russia. Ultimately, they decided to ramp up the project into a short instead of a 30-second ad.

They then made up the storyboards and, of course, the story to be shown.

Anya Brown Bag Films
"Anya" storyboards.
O'Connor's interaction with the kids at the orphanage affected the script, the look of the setting, and the mood of the piece.

Anya To Russia with Love
"Anya" Animatic Stage.
The first video above is called the "Animatic Stage," which is what the above picture is taken from. This stage includes temporary sound effects and temporary music and obviously is only a rough draft. At first, they thought about including narration but later dropped the idea. This is a concept stage, done when the entire project is still in the animator's head.

Anya To Russia with Love
"Anya" blocking pass stage.
Next came the blocking pass stage. This involves camera placement and where characters appear within the setting. Stage actors are familiar with the phrase "blocking," and this is the same thing - where do you stand, what are you near, how are you facing, that sort of thing. It is the first thing you do after doing script read-throughs and memorizing your lines. At this point, O"Connor had visited the orphanage and could fill in details, such as the long, dark, forbidding corridor and the institutional beds.

Anya To Russia with Love
"Anya," Final Animation Stage.
Then, the animators get the lighting and colors just right in the Final Animation Stage. What color are the rooms? Are they dark? Are they bright? Is the sun shining? Is it day or night? There are lots of decisions to make because, in animation, there are infinite possibilities.

Anya Brown Bag Films
"Anya" finished product.
Lisa Hannigan then provided the background music, which has a Russian flair for obvious reasons. Music is vital to setting the mood. The wrong music can kill a project, but just the right music can make it epic. You also don't want the sound to be too good, that is, to make it sound like something (or everything) else that's out there or that transports you beyond the setting or distracts you. There has to be a uniqueness about it that enhances the visuals, giving them life and depth, but serves the larger purpose of selling the video as a whole to the viewer.

Pretty much everybody has to agree that they did a great job.

Oh, for anyone interested, here is a Brown Bags Films showreel:

From the Youtube page:
"ANYA - A heart-warming tale charting 20 years in the life of a Russian orphan.
If you are moved by the film please text HUG to 50300 and DONATE €4 to help To Russia With Love continue their work with abandoned and orphaned children. Thank You.
ANYA is produced by Brown Bag Films. 
Directed by Damien O'Connor Produced by Edel Byrne Music by Darren Hendley Vocals by Lisa Hannigan Narrated by Chulpan Khamatova
Title: ANYADuration: 5:30 minYear of Production: 2014"


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