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This animation was created as the practical element for the final year project of my undergraduate degree. I chose to study the way cut scenes were made for games and find out the best practices, for which this practical was a demonstration. I really wanted to make a short animation as well for many years so it was great fortune that I should be able to do both at once. This animation took 6 months to create from september of my final year till march of the following year.
When I started I really wanted to make a 45 minute animation about the future and spaceships fighting, a bit like Star Wars I suppse but different from it again. I felt like I was trying to make a movie I'd seen but could never find anywhere, with massive space stations and unique senarios.
The plot was set in the future after a alien attack which had destroyed the earth and major settlements leaving only scattered space stations throughout the solar system as human civilisation. The human defenders had managed to wipe out the first wave of alien attackers of which there were more waiting to come. The reason the aliens could not continue there attack was that the oort cloud, which is a spherical asteroid field at the edge of the solar system had become too dense for them to pass into the solar system. The oort cloud's density changes in tides over time so it was only loosly packed when the aliens attacked years before but too dense to pass now. Unfortunatly for the defenders in the coming future it would open up again allowing the next alien wave to attack and finish them. The human defenders in the mean time were looking for the last of a series of very powerful space figters, which if they could find, would allow them to manufacture thousands in the undamaged atmospheric factories of Jupiter and Saturn. However, there was also a group of antagonistic pirate humans who wanted the space fighter for themselves; not to defend the solar system but to defend their own haven city which was situated in another solar system far away through a wormhole. The pirates did not want to help defend and rebuild the solar system. Instead they wanted to start again far away and wanted this space fighter to help them do it. So the race was kind of on for both set of humans to find the fighter for their own ends before the aliens attacked again. I must have completed about the first act the this story in the animation. In my mind I wanted it to be more detailed but you have to dream on a budget when you're one person.
I wrote the script and decided that if I was going to do an animation that was worthy of seeing, then I'd have to record the voices properly in a sound studio and research ways of animating the characters. At first when I went to the music department and said what I was doing, they gave me a microphone, a digital recorder and some headphones and sent me away to record. But after casting the people for the roles, I found I could never get a good recording the equipment they'd given me so I said to them that I really had to use the sound studio. I think they weren't keen at first to give me access to the studio because I was a games student they'd never seen before who wandered in and said he was making a short animation. But I guess at the time I thought that if it needs decent sound then I've got to record it in a sound studio and after all the facilities were right there to be used.
I started record the dialog for the animation in about January, half way through the project. I knew I didn't want to leave it till too late because I didn't know how difficult it was going to be to animate the characters to it and do the audio design for the animation. I'd never really done anything like that before so it didn't seem like something insummountable. My friends came to help in the recording booth doing the sliders and recording. It was really good fun. I'd never had to direct things in a studio before but I just tried to do it like you see on TV. When I recorded voices on the digital recorder in times before I always thought the performances could have been better but its hard to imagine you're a space pilot and act convincingly when you're in the living room of a smal house in Stafford. So I think when we had the studio and people had headphones on and microphone in front of them and the wall looking like egg boxes it made them think "wow, we're in the movies now, let's do it for real". I tried to make sure when directing the people, not to let them get away with a bad acting performance. I knew none of them were actors and that they were doing their best like us but as one of our music lecturers Paul Hodson used to say "You can't shine a turd", the meaning being that a bad recording can't be pollished on the computer into something good. If its bad at the beginning its bad at the end. One of the first recordings we did was for the first scene's voice over. I asked one of our games lecturer John Morton to be the voice over and to my suprise he said yes. I remember at the time thinking "I hope he'll do it or maybe he won't think its proper enough" but he had a voice that I thought was really good for it, in quality and tone. It felt strange saying to him through the headphone to do this and that when for the rest of university before we'd always been listening to him instead. He was very good and everyone said so at the time and on watching the final piece.
When I made the animation I knew I might not be able to finish the whole piece of so I made it one scene at a time. First I modelled all the required elements of the scene, then animated them and finally did the sound and audio design. So as I moved on to the next scene I had a finished scene and some models that I could reuse again. The advantage of doing it that way was that if I got cut short at least I'd have some proper finished material to show people rather than perhaps some animation with no sound or some dialog with no video. I'd read the book "Raising the Bar" while I was making the animation. The book is about the making of the game Half-Life 2 which relies heavily on game engine cut-scenes were the character talk from one to the other and move the plot along. In the book they said that to try and get the dialog right so that people would know clearly what was happening they would make a cut-scene as a radio play first. I tried to do this with the dialog I recorded but I would have needed at some point to record a voice over to help the plot along when there was no dialog or write the dialog in way were the exposition of plot was very clumsy with people saying "hey Frank let go round and get into the fighters now, I think the pirate are going attack!". I mean not that it was a master piece of writing or recording but we tried to do it right.
I think overall the animation did achieve a large chunk of what I wanted and even though I knew at the time the modelling could have been better or the animation could have been better or the lighting; I did my best at every stage to make it look like final fantasy: spritis within or something like that, but it was a lot of modelling, texturing and animating to do. I even had to buy a second computer to render it all on while I worked on the next scene. A lot of things I had to learn for the first time but it was really fun all through. I think I knew when I started making it that when the element all came together the end result would be more than all the parts singularly. I'd like one day to go back and remake part or all if it with my skills in modelling, texturing and animating being better now; but its still something I achieved back then.




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