I Art L.A. | The Center South L.A.
LA Hates Art… or at least thats how it appears. Take a long, hard (but also fun!) look at the facts about where art facilities do and don’t exist in Los Angeles.
The Genesis of I Art L.A.
We were approached by a couple of cool kids over at Deutsch about a personal charity project they were working on. They pitched us the whole concept, and it felt like a really good cause. Lack of art facilities has touched all of us at some point in our lives, so it was a message we could get behind. After checking our schedules, and coming up with a game plan, we decided to donate our services! Take a look at their inspirational brief…
Experimental Internship Program
We’re fortunate enough that people want to work for us, sometimes for free. We’ve met a lot of eager and awesomely talented kids at our Alma Mater: OTIS College of Art and Design, and as this project came in, the perfect cross section of talented individuals landed in our laps. Their solid student work had lots of variety and great energy; perfect for the overall design aesthetic for the piece! Isaac, Sara, Nicole, and Sweeny dedicated a TON of time and effort into the project, and for that we’re truly appreciative.
Getting Down to Business
Once we laid out our basic plan of attack, we worked it over with the intern crew and let them loose (albeit with a little helpful guidance). They put together a sweet set of storyboards, and chopped it into a nice working animatic in the first few days.
This got a quick approval and we were off to the races. We like to be relatively exploratory with boards in the early stages, but in this case it didn’t take much to hone in on what we all responded to. The biggest challenge here was covering the broad range of ideas and text, while introducing different visual elements, all while keeping a single unified look.
Design and Refine
Our starry eyed young recruits were up for the challenge, and even though there were a few hiccups and missteps along the way, they were banging out some killer shit. Not to mention, our partners at Deutsch couldn’t have been easier to work with. Simply put, they gave us complete freedom to just make awesome stuff, and wound up loving all of it! Take a look!
Slamming it all Together
Working with an all volunteer crew on a fractured working schedule can be a bit disorienting. Finalizing designs took a bit longer than we had hoped, and the deadline was fast approaching. We sat down with the crew and walked them through the production break down, assigning shots and elements to be created. We were very conscious of trying to make the piece as tactile as possible using lots of practically shot elements wherever we could. The gang went full steam ahead, blazing away and churning through a TON of assets and animation in a very short time. But lets dig a bit deeper eh?
| The Earth |
The rotating earth was one of the last elements we created on the piece. After just a few revisions in the design phase we nailed the look we wanted, but there was a lot of debate to how we would do it easily. We talked about faking it in 2d, or making some weird Frankenstein multi-planed monstrosity. In the end, it was obvious… Just build the damn thing! A quick search for polyhedra paper templates, some nice canson paper, a little bit of glue, and a quick 360degree stop motion shoot and BAM! You’ve got a sweet little shot.
Fun Fact : We originally shot a buttery smooth 360 spin, but it looked really strange in context. Time remapping with lots of hold key frames became our solution!
| Popup Sculpture |
Yep, we made a little pop up thingy. You cant possibly imagine how long it took to light this thing. The cast shadows were doing some really ugly things. But once we ironed out that kink, the element was shot in like a minute.
Fun Fact : The first frame of the sequence is a blank piece of paper. The second frame is a very obvious cut to our sculpture starting to bulge up, but in motion you don’t notice the switch, it just looks buttery smooth! Animation is awesome like that!
| Murals and Graffiti |
This was a MONSTER of a shot, this sequence alone took up a huge portion of the total labor hours spent on the spot. And for good reason! Theres so many different transitional elements that need to come together seamlessly.
- Post designs approval, we started by laying out a multi-planed mural/city and blocking the camera in AE.
- Then we shot a quick hand painted matte sequence for the wipe transition from sculpture to abstract color.
- We found out Isaac could breakdance, so we pulled him away from his computer and forced him to dance for us. We shot him on our GH1, captured the footage, time remapped w/ hold key frames, then made him roto himself. HAH! We then printed this sequence out on card stock, hand cut stencils, spray painted all 17 frames, scanned those in, rebuilt the sequence, and used it as a matte for the white paint. It adds just a hint of analog texture that you cant so much see as you can feel.
- We shot another straight ahead graffiti sequence to wipe from the city scene to the dancer on white. We inverted the footage, generated a luma matte, and dropped the spraypaint ontop of the whole thing.
- The final bits and bobs of paint slung off by the dancer were just popped on and multiplaned again in AE which led us to the ticket transition which we’re not about to get into here.
Fun Fact : All 7 of us touched this shot at some point during the process. Lots and lots and lots of fussy refining to get all of these elements blended seamlessly. Holy shit was this a monster sequence!
| The Fortune Teller |
Remember these things? Yeah they’re super fun! As you may have guessed, we actually built these things practically and shot them frame by frame. We took our style frame, which was done over a haphazardly shot photo, and worked out how we could print it onto a template. It was much more of a pain in the ass than you can imagine. Once that was out of the way, it was really straight forward.
Fun Fact : It took over 17 printed and folded iterations to get the designs to line up the way we wanted.
| NOT |
The bulk of this shot is a Photoshop Style frame that was layered out and animated by hand in AE. This was finished really early, animated with a lot of hold key frames. (Are you noticing a theme yet?) For the crumple ball that becomes the negative space of the O, we took the end and start frames of the surrounding shots (respectively) and printed them out on heavy paper. We crumpled a nice tight ball, then unfolded it by hand shooting frame by frame. Theres no fancy dissolves or tricks, in the edit, we literally just jump from clean shot, to the first crumpled frame and it looks great!
Fun Fact : Always remember to set your white balance, and lock it to manual settings. We spent a stupid amount of time color correcting each frame as the color temperature shifted wildly through the sequences. UGH!!!!!
| Truancy People |
We had originally imagined this entire sequence to be shot practically, but due to time constraints it just didn’t happen. We start out in an all digital environment, the little people are a really nice photo collage of folded paper goodness. All movement is animated in AE with lots of hold key frames and the self-esteem color change is straight up roto. Now, the unfolding paper chain is a practically shot element, as is the next bit of animation where they fold into a cool pyramid thing.
Fun Fact : The previously mentioned paper chained dudes were actually 2 completely different setups that required different rigs. Yes they were rigged! The fact that they line up so nicely was part skill, part hard work, and part luck.
| I Art LA Letters |
Each letter was shot individually as elements that were later brought together in AE. They’re based off a couple of nice folded paper fonts that we reverse engineered and simplified. Starting with the completed letter, we played around with how we could fold them up into little boxes by trial and error. Once we had a few nice and simple steps, we drew step by step thumbnail instructions on how to repeat the steps. This was our guide as we sat under the animation stand.
Fun Fact : Due to the giant digital stills, this was surprisingly one of the heaviest shots on the project. Each letter started as a short 4k sequence, but when you add up all the color keys and luma keys pulled to generate the mattes, along with roto and color correction, we quickly had MANY instances of these high res sequences bogging down our machines. Who woulda thought such an unassuming shot would be so painfully slow…
| The End Tag |
We started with a really nice end tag style frame that was approved on the first version. “That’s it! No need to complicate it. Its just the endtag, put it together real quick and keep it simple.” we said. But of course thats just not gonna cut it. We took that frame and like every other shot in the piece, found the best little bits to give it a little bit of practical love. The unfolding graph paper, and the Center South LA logo itself were shot as practical elements and merged with the rest of the original PSD file. Add just a tiny smidge of camera movement, and get those other elements animating on and you’re finally done.
Fun Fact : The 2 practical elements mentioned were the last pieces we shot for the project. Sigh, oh to end with the end tag!
So what’d we (you) learn here? We were constantly balancing the flexibility of the Photoshop/After Effects animation environment, with the natural goodness of in camera animation. There are very few shots that are entirely one approach or the other. The constant mix and mash of digital/analog techniques allowed us to get a lot done quickly without losing the tactile feel we wanted. Given everything mentioned above, it wasnt all shoot and slam bang perfection… LOTS OF FRICKIN ROTO was required to actually get things working. Its just really boring to talk about.
Once all of the goodness was in there and working, we sent the young ones home and bunkered ourselves down for some hardcore refinement. As if you didn’t know by now, we take pride in the fact that we work as artists in the trenches ourselves on all of our projects. This was no exception; from concept, to storyboarding, design, shooting, animation, and compositing, we were hands on every step of the way. One grueling weekend later, we had the polished piece you see at the top of this page.
In the end, we couldn’t have been more happy. The internship exceeded our expectations, not to mention just putting a lot of good ole fashioned hard work into the piece, we think it shows. Not only that, but were happy to say we’ve got some new friends!
We’re quite proud to be a part of the I Art LA campaign, and look forward to the day that we can visit The Center South LA ourselves, now get over to the official site and donate some cash!
And for even more info, check out their behind the scenes blog!