The Inflatables - Pfffirate
1 June 2004, Guillaume Herent, Vanguard Animation
Wouldn't it be great to have your own boat, and sail the seven seas with the wind in your face? Perhaps not, if you're living in an inflatable world where anything sharp could result in perilous catastrophe. Such is the premise for Guillaume Herent and Xavier Andre's award-winning short film "Pfffirate". Guillaume recently spoke to CGNetworks about the production of the short film.
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I discovered Supinfocom while at high school and when I saw what its students were able to do, I was inspired and wanted to do CG animation. I wanted to go to Supinfocom, and prepared myself by taking a few courses in graphics. The full course at Supinfocom is four years in length, but students can enter in third year and do a two year course. I met Xavier Andre when he came into the course, and we both worked on the short film Pfffirate together. Because Pfffirate was so well received, we graduated with the examiners’ congratulations, and the short went on to win the 3D Awards in the student short film category! The training at Supinfocom, and the short film, has served both Xavier and I well. I now work at Vanguard in
the UK as an animator on the Disney feature film “Valiant”, and Xavier works at Buf Campagnie in Paris as a CG artist on Luc Besson’s “Arthur”.
The Premise for “Pfffirate”
At Supinfocom, all students have to submit an idea for a short film and some of them are selected for production. Xavier’s idea was about a sailor drifting on the sea with his rubber ring. We worked on this together to make the sailor a pirate, and instead of a rubber ring, that he would be an inflatable pirate -- hence the name “Pfffirate”. The pirate wants to be left alone through his adventures on the high seas, but is bothered by various things that are dangerous to him. Something that would be disastrous for an inflatable pirate and his ship would be a mechanical bird with sharp edges!
Our goal for “Pfffirate” was to make something light-hearted that would have people smile and laugh. It had to be simple enough that everyone could enjoy the film without putting too much thought into it. Overall, it had to be comical.
The Technical Process
When building the pirate and the inflatable universe, everything had to be round, soft and smooth. We undertook a lot of research on inflatable objects such as blow-up chairs and rubber rings to define the look of the inflatable world and make it realistic. We designed this universe with the idea in mind that if anyone, or any toy company wanted to make merchandise out of these designs, it had to be possible.
The bird is a mechanical toy, thus it has constraints – especially when it moves. Its head has two rotational axis, as do the wings and tail. The design and animations had to be made according to these constraints. While animating, we implemented a lot of bounces and gave the impression that everything was light – just like the real-world counterparts. As the bird was mechanical and solid, it had to feel ‘jerky’ and stiff.
Our 3D pipeline was to have all 3D, including modeling, texturing and animation in 3ds max and render in VRay using global illumination. The pirate was drifting on the sea under a beautiful sun, so the universe had to be bright and shiny. As we rendered the foreground and background elements separately, we composited these together with Combustion. The final short was edited with Adobe Premiere.
Our biggest challenge while making Pfffirate was the short timeframe. We had a simple story that everyone could understand, and worked on animatics till the end of April 2003, but the film had to be completed in June in order to graduate! Because of this, we had to keep the render times as low as possible, just to have the short completed.
There were also other challenges associated with working in collaboration – trying to find middle ground between Xavier and myself, finding the best designs, how to sound the film, to go for a “cartoony” look and feel rather than photo-realistic.
At Supinfocom, we have most of the software to create CG films such as 3ds max, Maya, Photoshop, Combustion, etc. What Supinfocom did not have was all the top-notch hardware such as multi-processor workstations and huge amounts of storage. But then again, you wouldn’t expect a school to have the same type of equipment you’d find in a commercial studio.
The music for Pfffirate was made specifically for the film by a musician named Bertrand Bossard. He had composed music for other Supinfocom shorts in the past such as “Reveils”, “Sarah” and “Le Faux Pli”, What was difficult was trying to find the type of music that would fit the film. It had to be comical and funny, with strange sounding instruments that sounded “round” – like a bass. Bossard would play the sounds for many instruments and we’d tell him whether we liked it or not. We also booked time in a sound recording studio to create and enhance sound effects for the film. Three days before the final delivery, we had the final score for the film!
If I could go back and change something, I’d tweak the animation. Nothing stands still in real life, so I’d make the characters appear to be moving slightly. I’d also spend more time enhancing the sound effects and music.
Guillaume Herent has since graduated from Supinfocom and is an animator at Vanguard Animation (UK) on the Disney film “Valiant”. Xavier Andre graduated the same time as Guillaume and is working on Luc Besson’s “Arthur” at Buf Campagnie (Paris).