The Journey of 'Bearly'
Into the Unknown
Have you ever noticed that when you make plans for yourself there are times that the world decides to send you on another path? Well, that was my junior year in a nutshell. Not just because of Covid-19, but because of a little purple bear. After finishing 'Under Your Skin' for SCAD my sophomore year my main focus was to better my animation skills and focus on my demo reel. In the fall of 2019, I was a TA (Teachers Assistant) for Professor Bernardo Warman, with who I had also taken classes and TA'd for in the past. Professor Warman had told me that he would be recruiting animators to work on another student film similar to 'Under Your Skin', but this time it would be a musical under the name of the newly formed SCAD Animation Studios. It intrigued me; however, I still had my eyes focused on my reel. Professor Warman would continue to show me artwork from the film and he had even given me an early rendition of the song written and composed by Colin Rhoades. About halfway into the fall quarter I finally said I would join, that cute little bear and the music made me shift the entire focus of my junior academic year. That decision would open new doors for me and allow me to make new friends that I would have completely missed out on if I did not say yes to our little bear.
Making of 3D Animation for 'Bearly'
Once I joined the crew of about ten I immediately began working with Mason Smigel, our incredibly skilled rigger, to start giving feedback on the rig. That first week I put Bearly into different poses and I had him go through walk cycles. I would give notes to Mason and he would turn the notes around incredibly quickly and would incorporate new features to be tested. Now the animation department requested that the team create a proof of concept of what the film would look like. I had then taken the rig that Mason had been working on and I began animating the 17-second teaser which had already been boarded. I worked closely with the rest of the team as we worked on that teaser the last few weeks of the quarter. It was fun to watch and work with the other incredibly talented artist as they modeled and textured the other assets of the film. Finally, one of the opportunities I cherished the most this quarter was getting to work with the music/sound department. During the fall and some of the winter quarter there were many trips made to the recording studio to film Collin and Terrance perform and record the soundtrack. During the recording session, I and several others would film Terrance and Collin. Later in animation, we used the footage from the recording studio as a video reference for Bearly's facial expressions and lip-sync. Finally, it was coming to crunch time and the crew was working late nights and early mornings to deliver this teaser to the department while still making progress on the film. We did it and our team had grown as we got the new talent to join us for fall break and winter quarter!
Last week of fall quarter with our newly printed poster!
As I stated in the introduction you make plans in life and well things never go the way you thought. That was the case this fall break. My family had planned a 3-day cruise and then we were going to spend a few days at Universal Studios in Florida and a week at Disney to celebrate my parent's 30th wedding anniversary and my mom's 50th! Well, sometimes you need to adapt to the situations that come your way on production. We had finished the teaser; however, we got some notes from the animation department that needed to be fixed before returning to school in January. So there were times that I had the opportunity to animate on a rocking boat or early in the morning in the cafeteria of the Art of Animation hotel. Before the fall quarter had ended I was asked to lead the 3D animation team. So going into fall break I meet with the team and asked them to create a 5-10 second animation of Bearly and to send updates over break! So, while I was on a plane, a boat, and in a hotel I would give feedback to the crew on their shots and the director, Cherry Zhou and I created a spreadsheet and assigned the crew their shots for the film. Fall break was incredibly exciting to see the performances the crew brought to Bearly in their tests, but it also allowed me to start working on animation libraries, pose libraries, and creating pickers for the different rigs in the film. Now that animators were assigned shots and the Bearly rig was in a solid-state. It was time to begin animation!
Bearly Teaser Trailer
All the hard work that went into the story, music, modeling, and rigging was all set up to tackle ANIMATION! The crew of twenty 3D animators was ready to go! Each animator had one maybe two shots, which allowed each person to focus on his or her shot and bring it to the highest level possible. It was an honor to lead this incredibly talented group of people and they always blew me away with the work in dailies. I split my crew in half to give people time in-between classes and so that dailies did not drag on. So every animator received feedback twice a week, once in class during the week and then again on the weekend. In this film, there is a dream sequence that has a combination of 3D animation and 2D animation. So towards the later part of the winter quarter, we began collaborating more and more with the 2D animation team who were animating the 2D characters interacting with our 3D character. To make this happen it was important to get the camera movement locked quickly so the 2D artist could begin bringing the 2D characters to life. During this quarter it was lots of collaborating with the 2D animators, and 3D modelers who were still modeling assets and getting scenes assembled. It was very exciting facing all of these challenges and working to overcome them quickly and to the highest standard possible with the time given. A new challenge that I had the opportunity to work on was the 3D printed maquette. The animation department asked us to create a 3D printed model of Bearly. I created several poses and showed them to the crew and received feedback. Once the pose was final Mason Smigel brought Bearly into Z Brush and sculpted some of the detail on him that was achieved in texturing and he worked to make him 3D printer-friendly. In the meantime, I worked with the SCAD animation department and the 3D printing department at SCAD to print our 6 inch Bear! When the Winter quarter came to an end about 70 percent of animation was final and the last 30 percent was already in the works but just needed fine-tuning. The Winter quarter was exciting as I had never led a large team of animators before, but it was also exciting to work as a team to develop Bearly's performance and to bring him to life for all to enjoy! On the last day of the quarter, we were thrown a curveball. Covid 19 had struck home and SCAD sent out an email letting everyone know that education for the spring quarter would be moved online. Little did we know that it was going to be the last day of in-person dailies.
Last day of winter quarter with the department leads, director, producer and professor.
Fresh out of the printer! Our new 3D Bearly maquette!
The common theme and experience that I learned was adaptability. Covid-19 had finally hit home and SCAD was going virtual for the spring quarter. So now the crew has to finish this project without the physical resources of SCAD! This was a massive challenge but we all arose to the occasion. Within the first 4 weeks, the animation was complete and my animation crew dispersed into other departments. Many began set dressing and populating the shots with bushes, trees, grass, and rocks, then the remainder of the crew including myself helped render. For Bearly, the lighting team was using Katana and Arnold to light and render the film. The school had given us access to VLab, which was a way for our local machines to connect to the school's machines to run Katana and render. Now I am a very competitive person so to have some fun and get the film done I made it a game to see who could get the most rendered. This game was not completely fair because we were all rendering shots that had different frame ranges and required different levels of computing power. But it all came down to who was quickest to say "I GOT IT" at 3 in the morning when a lighter finished lighting his or her shot and needed someone to render it remotely on VLab. This was a highlight of the spring quarter since we were not working next to each other daily at the labs. Finally, the we did it! At the end of the quarter, the purple bear came to life and opened the animation showcase at SCAD. It was an absolute honor to lead and be part of such an incredibly talented crew! I am very glad that Professor Warman showed me those early sketches of Bearly in the fall otherwise I would have missed out on this incredible opportunity!
The Making of 'Bearly' at SCAD Animation Fest
Where is Bearly now?
The big question you may be asking yourself is where is the purple bear now? While we have all been stuck at home our little bear has been traveling around the globe at film festivals or in magazines and news articles! Bearly was highlighted in The Animation Magazine, Animation World Network, and Cartoon Brew! A few crew members and I also had the opportunity to be panelists at the Scad Animation Festival where we had the opportunity to speak about working on SCAD Animation Studio's first film! Finally, this past April Bearly just finished showing at Seattle international Film Fest (SIFF)! It has been exciting to see everyone's reaction to our labor of love this past year and I look forward to seeing what adventures our little bear goes on next!