This making of Fishing Reel post should give you an idea of how I finally finished this two-year project. It’s as much for my benefit as anyone’s (so I have a record of it), but you should hopefully find a tip or two as well, especially if you’re interested in making your own short-film.
It all started about two-and-a-quarter years ago. I had an idea for another animated short-film, but I decided to do Fishing Reel first as a test, basically to improve my general Blender skills as well as my film-making skills. This was back when I was 14. I think my original deadline was for two months.
Deadlines are critically important, as well as difficult to judge. It’s taken me almost two years to start giving myself more accurate deadlines, and I still often misjudge them.
If you’ve got any questions about Fishing Reel and how I made it, I’d be glad to try and answer them for you :).
The first thing I started off with was the script. This was originally written by my dad, and you can read the final version here.
After I looked through the script, I decided to storyboard the whole film, although it was more to give myself an idea of how the film would flow than actual shots. Always write down your ideas on paper, and try and plan it out as much as you possibly can before starting. It will help you so much later down the track.
Then I tried sorting out my workflow and creation process. One of the first decisions was to use Blender 2.5x. Back in 2010, it was still only just being developed, but I had already been using it for a couple of months, so it was the logical choice. I also wanted to keep render times down as much as possible, so I rendered the whole film in 720p, and avoided more intensive features like ray-tracing whenever I could.
With the pre-production out of the way, I started on the Office set.
I built this set first simply because it was the easiest. I think the render time for each frame was about 30 seconds. The first challenge came with animating the character, as I had never done that before. But first, a little bit about the characters themselves.
This was the first human character I had ever done, although I had modelled a head before. I could not find any tutorials at all for the body and legs, so I had to model them purely by figuring it out myself (which is actually a pretty good way to do it). Fortunately I did find a rigging tutorial, as I had absolutely no idea how to do that. A lot of the tutorials that I found were from Blender Cookie. The hair was another problem, but in the end I used hair particles for the shape, and then converted them to a mesh, which I added a solidify modifier to, so that it would render out better.
For all my scenes, I would set them up by designing the set itself in one .blend file, and have all the extras like characters, lures, tackle boxes, and vehicles in their own .blend files. Then I would append everything that I needed into the environment file (the set), and animate everything and render it all from there. So I appended the Dylan character and fishing rod into the Office set, and then went from there.
I wasn’t sure how to do the animation at first, so what I did was video myself doing the actions, and then load the file into Blender’s VSE and scrub back and forth to break down the individual actions to try and understand it better. Using reference footage for animation is the best thing you can do when trying to improve your animation.
I think doing just the first office shot in the film took me a couple of months alone to do, although a major problem was finding the motivation and avoiding procrastination and distraction.
Whenever you want to create a short-film this long, you’re going to have to find motivation otherwise you’ll end up stopping as soon as you come up against a wall, and the project will most likely never be completed (speaking from personal experience :)). In the end, my main motivation was that I had already spent so much time and effort on this project, it would be a shame to never finish it, plus I wanted to get it over with as soon a possible so that I could move on to other projects.
So remember, if you want to get a project completed, you’re going need something to convince you to get it done. If it’s something positive, so much the better :).
I’m pretty sure I finished most of the Office set by January 2011, and I was also working on the drain set at the same time.
This was pretty difficult for me at first, because I wanted the water to look realistic, but to do that I would have to use ray-traced reflections. In the end, I went with the realistic reflections even if it did increase render times. I was also going to use another drain set as well, but in the end I scrapped that since it would have been too much work on top of everything else, and I was trying to finish the movie as soon as I could. The final render times were about 1-2 minutes each (which was a lot for me back then).
Throughout the whole entire creating process, I was always trying to find ways to do things quicker and more efficiently. I would try to find ways to tell the story, while doing as little work as possible so that it didn’t take too long. For instance, when the lure washes out of the drain into the river, instead of using a physics sim with the water flowing out, or even using a texture base with particles or something, I just cut straight from the drain to the river, and add a splash sound effect to let people know what’s happened. Sound effects are so important, but more on that later.
Between March and October 2011, I was completely busy with other stuff, and didn’t have a chance to work on Fishing Reel at all. Finally, in October, I was freed up to get back to it, so I finished off the office scene, and move on to the Street Set.
The street set was a big step up from anything I had done so far, in terms of both complexity and then the animation. I had turned 15 by then, and I did have a lot more skills and experience in Blender.
As with the other sets, I had originally planned more in the storyboards, but realistic limits meant I cut back on a lot of it, and used certain shortcuts to try and hide it. I used a lot of textures with this set. For instance, all of the interiors are photos from real stores.
I put in a lot more detail into modelling (relatively speaking :)) and I also used a lot more textures compared to my previous projects. I still tried keeping the poly-count as low as I could though, to improve render times, and UI speed (very important for animating). I was considering using AO, but the results were less than perfect, so I scrapped that in the end. The average render time for each frame was about 2-3 minutes.
For the shot where the car drives past, I knew it wasn’t worth spending a week or two modelling and texturing car just for that one shot, so I downloaded a car model off BlendSwap.
This was also the first time I had animated a character walking, which you can see in the results from scene one. If there’s one thing I would change in Fishing Reel, it would probably be the shot of him walking along with his legs completely bent, and his elbows flexing backwards :). I completed the scenes with the Street set over the summer holidays around December 2011 – January 2012 (Yep, I’m from Australia).
For scene three, where the truck drives in town, I used the same set, just with the truck. The truck itself I also downloaded from BlendSwap, however I modified it considerably to make it suitable for rendering the interior, as it hadn’t come with one.
I also made the underwater scene around January 2012. I think I did the whole thing in about a week, as it’s a very simple set and short scene as a whole. I’m not entirely happy with it, as I think it is sometimes a bit bare and it is an important part of the film, but it does the job.
From February to May 2012, I built the final set, and also animated scene two.
This set is definitely my favourite. By this time, I had turned 16, and had been using Blender for exactly two years as of February, so I had a lot of new things for this set:
- Instancing (I had over 18,000,000 vertices altogether)
- Baked AO (yes, I finally got around to using Ambient Occlusion, plus this was the first time I used baking)
- Texture Painting
- My first nature scene
This set was the most difficult to create, considering the scale and complexity of it. The average render time of each frame was about 7 minutes, although it was at 11 minutes before I optimized it (mostly through shrinking texture sizes, and removing unnecessary vertices.
I had no idea how I was going to do this set at first, with the size of it and all, but in the end I’m happy I spent the time and effort into it, and that I didn’t try too many shortcuts on it. I started out by sketching different ideas on paper until I got the set mapped out in my head, then I used the Grease pencil to sketch the outline in Blender and then modelled from there, which actually worked very well.
As I use this set in the evening as well, I had two variations, one with the normal lighting and background image, and one with the sunset background image and slightly different lighting as well. It wasn’t much of a problem though.
I managed to animate and render scene two by about June. From June to November this year I was also completely busy with a couple of trips overseas and my Cert III course in Media. Finally I had the chance to finish Fishing Reel this November. My deadline was November 24th, 2012 (for an event that I wanted to show it at), but I still had to animate a whole entire scene, and then add sound effects to the whole movie.
I honestly did not expect to complete it in time, especially when I look back to how long it took me for the other scenes. However, I mapped out what shot I had to get done for each day, and just went at it. I would work as late as I had too, as long as I had the shot done in time. I set out two weeks for the animation, and another week for all the sound effects. Incredibly enough for me, I managed to finish the animation a day ahead of schedule :).
Now that I finally had the video locked in, I could work on the audio. Although you might think that the video is the main part of a movie, the audio is actually just as important, and almost always more so. I read recently that audio makes up 90% of the movie, which I tend to agree with. Fortunately for me, my brother had already composed all the music for the whole film, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
The way I tackled the sound effects was to watch through the film over and over, looking for every single moment that would need sound to enhance it. I then wrote them all down (see here), and categorized them into what I could download, and what I would have to record. I also found background ambience sounds for all the sets online.
Once I added all the sound effects, the last thing I had to do was record the “Ah”s and “Oh”s which play a pivotal role in the film. This was actually fairly easy to do.
The hardest part of recording all the sound was mobility and quality. I used a boom mike plugged into a laptop, which worked fairly well, although the mike would pick up a lot of noise. I ended up running everything we recorded through Audacity to remove the noise, which worked quite well.
Having compiled everything together, I got my quality control personnel (my dad) to check the film one more time, fix a couple of minor mistakes, and then I FINALLY declared it finished…one day before I had to show it!
It’s been a very long journey creating Fishing Reel. Some of you might think that two years for a three-minute film is not worth it, and I would agree with you, but the learning experience from this journey has been so helpful. I’ll be glad to move on to further projects now though :).
I would like to wrap-up this long-enough post by saying thanks to:
My Dad – It was your script in the first place :). You’ve been super-supportive the whole way, always pushing me to keep improving and striving for the end. This would never have happened without you.
My brother – Your soundtracks are amazing, and they make this movie so much better and more enjoyable.
The Blender Community – You guys are an amazing part of Blender, and the level of support and encouragement you show for each other is truly inspiring.
Everyone else who has helped me and encouraged me to keep going – Thank you
Next stop: The future!