Friday, 5 April 2013

I DIRECTED A FILM FOR GREENPEACE YAAAAAY!

Short version:

RAAAAAA I DIRECTED A FILM WATCH IT NOW IGNORE THE THUMBNAIL






Long Version:

I directed a film for Greenpeace! It has many names. In the film itself it's called "EU vs CO2", on the Youtube page it's called "FIGHT BREAKS OUT IN EU PARLIAMENT", when you post it on Facebook it renames itself "BANNED: monster fights politician", which sort of gives the joke of the film away. You can call it whatever you like as long as you watch it. I like to call it Terry Bangles.

Greenpeace is concerned about car carbon emissions in Europe. Cars are currently responsible for about 12% of Europe's car emissions, and have steadily increased between 1990 and 2008. At the moment Greenpeace is trying to get EU parliament to impose more legislations on European car companies, ideally to cut carbon emissions in half by 2025. This would result in less oil drilling, less pollution, and more fuel economic cars. If that's something you'd like, you can sign the petition on the associated website at euvsco2.com .

But it's quite hard to get people interested in politicians in EU parliament debating an easy to ignore environmental threat. So we made things a bit more giant size with explosions and monsters and video games and kung fu and man nipples. Which area all things I heavily approve of.

I was hired to direct this by the lovely people at Man+Hatchet, an advertising company that occasionally transforms into a production company to make stuff like this brilliant video for Ecotricity. Everyone who works there is having babies constantly. CONSTANTLY.

At first it was a completely terrifying job. We had about 3 weeks to make a full blown animation with bits of video and stock footage and visual effects and AAAAAAAH. Oh and also Greenpeace didn't like our first draft design of the monster, which sort of looked like a cross between Rancor and Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas (in a good way), so we got epic artist Rob Cheetham (who also did the website art) to do another one:



I love his huge wrestling hands. So that was a ray of sunshine in a first week spent finding  animation companies and asking them if they'd do it, then getting phone calls politely telling us no, they wouldn't.

By the middle of the week things were looking completely awful. Then some good things happened. Firstly, we had a pep talk from Marcus Punter, an ex-Cartoon Network animator and games designer who knew a thing or two about making animation look good as economically as possibly. Take Johnny Bravo, which Marcus had worked on, which saved drawing time by cutting Johnny's movement down to essential poses, then having little wooshy blurry bits in between. The poses were so funny and dynamic and character defining, the lack of tweens (drawings of the "in between" movement) didn't matter.


Above: a full body turn and half a second of movement in 4 frames. Source: youtube.com/watch?v=Exe0IEB3hKs  

If we wanted to capture the aesthetic of a 1990s video game, we needed to think like that. In Street Fighter 2, the characters only has a handful of movement drawings/sprites that are re-used for every time they move or delivers a specific attack, but they're so distinct you instantly know what you're seeing. 

Above: Ryu kicking your ass in approximately three drawings. Source: http://www.spriters-resource.com/snes/supersf2

Reduce the fight sequence to its most important elements, as if someone was actually pressing buttons to make the politician or the monster repeatedly do the same attack, and have a collection of sprites we could move around and reuse without it feeling stale. That way, Marcus argued, we could get it done in time and make it look like an actual fighting game. That made us feel like we could actually do this damn thing. We even did a visual storyboard of how it could work if you reduced it to the most important poses:

 
Above: producer Simon Sanderson and M+H creative director Henry Cowling 
doing what would become 0:48-0:52 in the actual film.

The second good thing that happened was we met Chris Ollis, aka HappyToast. I've admired his work for ages on sites like B3ta, and he instantly got the style that we wanted. With minimal briefing he went away to start filling our DropBox up with useful 1990s game references, preliminary sketches of the monster for animation, and photo demos for potential walking animations using him covered in plastic bags:



CHRIS OLLIS IS A GOD.

At first he balked when we said we wanted to show movement with as many reused elements as possible, and sent us this test animation of the monster breathing to show that it "wouldn't work":


He seemed put out when we said we really liked it.

We found an excellent studio called Once Were Farmers (they're called that because they once were farmers) that agreed to take on these animation sprites, backgrounds and cutscenes and stick them together into an actual animation, with camera movement and shaky bits and parallax perspective bits and suchlike. Now things were finally getting somewhere. 

So next we had to film the live action elements and get an actor to represent our politician. We had a lengthy day's casting, then went and chose someone we already knew: editor, filmmaker, and occasional movie star Rob Hill. We filmed Rob against a greenscreen both doing politician speechy things to replace some stock footage of Sarkozy, then got him to do all the fighting poses we'd need for the sprites:





The greenscreen shoot was as fun as it looks, in fact it was one of the funnest shoots I've done. Greenscreen shoots are amazing! You go to somewhere really easy to get to with totally controllable lighting and comfy chairs and nice coffee and you can have a crew of about two people (Eben Bolter and AJ Golesworthy) doing lighting and camera and everything just works. I can see why all the big film directors are getting rid of real sets and meticulous art direction and just doing that instead. 

Also it's great to work with an actor who doesn't really see himself as an actor. Rob spends as much time keying greenscreen as he does standing in front of it, so he knew what we needed and did it very well. Then later in the week he sat at home with a glass of wine recording himself doing additional dialogue for the fighting bits, adjusted his own sound levels and sent it over to us. Rob probably could have set up a greenscreen and filmed himself completely on his own if we'd asked him. The last line of the film is improvised by him.



This video now has over a million views. Which is way more views than we have. And also he's the new face of Greenpeace. Um...

BTW the guy who did the visual effects for the live action footage was Chris Taylor, he's brilliant and also did visual effects for Doctor Who and The Dark Knight Rises. You know, just throwing that out there.

Meanwhile we still had a bunch of vaguely Dragonball Z meets Phoenix Wright cutscenes to do, as well as something that would symbolise a big chunk of Europe as a continuous rolling fighting game background. Rob Cheetham worked mainly on the backgrounds, which took ages to be finalised, as we jumped between something simple but video gamey, with lots of repeated elements and jagged pixels:


To something elaborate but not video gamey, with lots of blurry bits:


Until we ended up with our gorgeous final thing. The London bit's my favourite, in the final there's a bit of animated rain there. If we had time we'd have had cliffs and rivers on either side of the London segment that the characters could jump over.


The cutscenes were sketched out by Rob Cheetham, photographed by us in demos, photographed by us in the actual photoshoot, roughly sketched again by Rob, then drawn by Joe Dennis. Like this!



Yaaaaaay! ART. 

So now things were starting to turn into a bit of a factory. Chris Ollis churned out sprites of the monster moving, attacking, doing stuff with the environment, and general explosions for whenever anyone delivered a particularly good punch. Joe made pixelly drawings of fighting game intros and politicians going Super Saiyan. Rob drew layers of background so you could get a sense of perspective. And Once Were Farmers put everything together with bangs and whizzes and cool bits. Originally we used photos of Rob doing all the fighty bits in the film, Mortal Kombat style, but then they were turned into cartoon sprites by Chris Ollis and Scott Morris from Once Were Farmers:



It was at this stage that being a director of an animation who couldn't draw himself started to feel weird. I've got more experience working on stop motion animated projects where it's easier to pitch in and get involved, so I started to feel like Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, constantly Skype bothering people already stretched working to a deadline to ask for more explosions or more muscely bits or for stuff to be more pixelly, without just doing it myself. My one direct artwork contribution to this whole project was the title, that was added on the very last day and was meant to be just a demo but we liked it. BEHOLD MY ARTISTIC POSITIONING OF FONTS. 


It replaces a fully drawn, animated and voiced extra cutscene, so I hope that didn't annoy anyone. Sorry!

What else? Oh yeah. The sound design is glorious. Chris Green did it. The first pass didn't quite as video gamey as I'd imagined, I mentioned chiptune music people who had worked out how to filter sounds through old Game Boys, he just replied with this picture:


Then did just that. It's perfect. I love the slight distortion to Rob's voice, it really does sound like he's coming from a game cartridge that needed to store everything in 2mb. 

I'm enormously pleased with this film. It had such a great team of people behind it making fantastic, funny, incredibly creative stuff, and going the extra mile even when they didn't have to. It looks beautiful, it's full of so many things I love, and I can't stop watching it. So yeah. Thanks everyone, I really hope I haven't forgotten anybody. 

Oh and seeing as this was animated with reusable sprites doing different punches and kicks, it would only take a bit of work to turn this into an actual, working video game. You know, just throwing it out there. 



- Will.


PS here's a great Marvel v Capcom-style animation Chris did for just after the final punch that we didn't have time to squeeze in. AWESOME PUNCH MARDIS GRAS PARTY:











PPS Hooray it's doing a little bit better on Youtube than it was a few days ago! After a German commenter said that it should have been translated into German I left a long comment, translated into German by my girlfriend, that you can activate subtitles for it in loads of different languages including German. Nobody seems to have noticed, but there's that. It would be great to hear it dubbed in different languages, like that guy that dubbed Alien Easter in Russian, but I dunno if I can personally give other people permission. I'd love to hear it in Japanese. 

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Vi said...

Hey Will I love your film and the post is really funny! :) It reminded me of old school pegasus console i used to have with joysticks!

wish the world could really win with co2 :D!!!

best, martyna (george's gf, we met once in polish centre in hammersmith i think :D