Every year since 1997, the University of Washington's Animation Capstone course has produced an animated short film. I joined the course in 2014, during my senior year of college, and worked with other students to produce an animated short titled "Short Changed."
One of the challenges in making this film was starting as an inexperienced team of students and becoming a mini-animation studio overnight.
Most of us were relatively new to 3D modeling and animation, but through daily reviews, tutorials, and help from TAs, we were able to incrementally iterate our way forward.
🎯The Goal: Create a 6-minute long animated short film for the end of the spring quarter film screening.
This is the final result of our efforts, the short film itself. On the official UW Animation Research Lab's website, a short synopsis introduces the story:
"A small quiet park filled with people hoping to cast their wishes in the park's fountain is invaded by a sinister character aiming to steal their wishing coins."
This reel showcases some of the work that I was personally responsible for during this project. It features animation, prop modeling, and lighting work.
Here's a download link for the Short Changed Electronic Press Kit from the Animation Research Lab's official website.
The film's director, Barbara Mones, and her group of TAs, presented us with the film's initial story and a roughed out animatic conveying the general concept for the film. From there, it was on the animation capstone class to carry out the rest of the pipeline:
Look and Feel
During pre-production, I did a few sketches to start figuring out potential props that we could put in the film.
For the water shader and vfx, we really wanted to create a contrast between the bright, happy park above, and the dark, murky fountain below, where "Mr. Corruption" lurked.
I lead a 7-person prop modeling team, making sure they received concept art, critique, and help creating their models. The fountain, where the story takes place, was one of the props that I was responsible for.
I also worked on modeling the bushes that Mr. Corruption hides behind, and other miscellaneous props like lily pads and rocks that didn't make it into the film.
Animating every shot before the deadline was a big challenge for the team, but essential to properly telling the story. As the story evolved, shots were constantly in flux, but bringing in actors and recording animation reference proved invaluable to finishing all of the shots.
I recorded animation reference with my classmates, and used it to help me sketch out breakdown poses that I could later use when posing the character rigs.
Shot - Imposter 600
My shots were focused around the interaction between Mr. Corruption and the Goose underwater.
"As the goose tries to warn the crowd, he unintentionally kicks Mr. Corruption in the head."
Shot - Imposter 700
Creating fast-paced underwater animation proved to be tricky, and this shot could still use work.
"Mr. Corruption pulls the Goose down and motions him to keep quiet before shoving him away."
The lighting was informed by our pre-production work creating color scripts that illustrated the emotional beats of the story. The most difficult part of lighting was getting the shots to look consistent, especially when consecutive shots were lit by different people.
A lot of time was spent rendering and re-rendering, going back and tweaking shots to look nicer. The images below show the different render layers that we composited together for each frame in the film.
Short Changed was successfully completed within the 6-month window and presented at the end of the year film screening. After that, additional polish was added by some members of the team who became TAs the following year.
The animated short was submitted and accepted into a number of film festivals a few years later (see image below).
University of Washington's Animation Capstone course made my final year of college my favorite. It was the first time that I felt a spark of excitement in school, because I was working on something that I actually wanted to do, and it aligned with my own interests.
I'm happy with how our film came out and that we were able to pull it off. It was a lot of work, but we were able to create something original, true to the story that we wanted to tell.