Technical details about Studio Rayada and projects

24 January 2005

Love Is So Sweet

Love Is So Sweet was created rather quickly, and during a hectic time of the year. It started when Without A Box sent us a note abut the Brooklyn based Animation Block Party Festival, scheduled for Valentine's Day, 2005. We figured, this idea is for us, since

a) it's all short experimental animation
b) it's at BAM, one of or favorite places
c) it's about Love, which is what this family runs on.

Having recently completed Delicious Evening, I was ready to take on a new creative project.

Nancy and Ada had recorded a few tracks in Garage Band that we felt could be used in the sound track, so I recorded Ada a little more and used that as a scratch audio track. The most important property of this is the fact that it runs at 120 beats per minute, so each "I Love You" takes exactly 2 seconds! I could then time out the animation without having a completed soundtrack at all! With that in mind, we set out trying to come up with a scenario. Because it was to be so short, I figured just a lot of hearts and dancing would probably be enough, but Nancy wanted the characters to have a little bit of narrative going on. What was established was:

Hearts fly around.
The hearts turn into people doing loving things.
The hearts come from a special heart tree.

Also, we wanted to include male-female, male-male and female-female couples. That's rather a lot for 2 minutes!

For a while I worked on ideas for dancing animation without any real models of what was going to dance.
some ideas that didn't make it were:

Characters exchanging heads and hearts in a circle.
-- would have been complicated if the line got long.
Characters forming a Peace Sign.
-- not very convincing.

Characters tossing hearts to each other.
-- It looked like they didn't want the hearts!

Eventually, the actions turned out to be:
- lots of dancing
- growing the heart tree
- a mother nursing a baby
- two women getting married

All the animation was done in Vapor Paint, a program I started writing in 1989,
which runs natively on Amigas. Like a 3D modeling program, the program has two parts to it: a modeler and a renderer. For some years, I've been actively fixing up a version of the renderer that runs on "modern" platforms, but the modeler runs only on Amiga.
For Delicious Evening, I started to write a modeler for the Mac, which could directly read high-quality coordinates from the Wacom tablet, but right now, that program is severely unfinished.
The excellent Amiga emulator for the Mac, MaxUAE is a bit of a cycle hog (there must be a busy-wait loop in there) and does not track a mouse particularly well, especially if it's an emulated mouse coming from the Mac's Wacom tablet.
So, for some drawing it's OK, but any real detail has to be smoothed out many times to get the jitter out of it. I eventually got my old Amiga 3000 back into the game, using an old Wacom tablet and a new network card.
The workflow eventually resolved to:
draw models on the Amiga,
render the the frames on the Mac,
turn them into Quicktime movies,
import them into iMovie,
repeat various sections as necessary.

The look of the characters is generally flat animated - like Flash rather than the usual Vapor look,
and I decided not to use motion blur because it looked too blurry to me. Also that would speed up the rendering. I did decide to anti-alias the frames, though, to make them look cleaner and to help with compression.

Vapor Paint running under emulation on the Mac was also used for manipulating the large files describing the animation, since the Mac has 1G of memory and the Amiga has 6 M of memory.
The Amiga, which is about 12 years old now, easily keeps up with the drawing demands.
Vapor Paint (Amiga) has its own memory management techniques which allow it to run in tight memory situations, its own low-level drawing routines and various other optimizations, and best of all, it can be almost completely controlled via ARexx scripting commands, which also allow for some features only available via ARexx.
It's relatively easy to make changes to a model before I start animating it, but once there are a few key frames, it's difficult to keep them all in sync (something I'd change in a newer modeler, for sure!).
I wrote a few new ARexx scripts to help out with this problem.
Picking colors was done by making test swatches in (Corel) Painter on the Mac and converting the 24-bit color into Vapor Paint's 48-bit color.
I even changed the Amiga version slightly (I don't like to do that because it's so old and relatively stable) to safeguard against my erasing a file accidentally. This was good because I'd been bitten by this quite a bit, working into the dead of night.

After some scenes were done, I went back and tinkered with the soundtrack, and recorded a live track on my ancient alto recorder. It was fun putting generic Garage Band loops under this music. I hope a lot of people recognize them! The music helped alleviate the repetitive nature of some of the dance scenes. We recorded a bell for the wedding scene, but it didn't seem to go with it.

Eventually, the final sequence was agreed on, with the festival deadline looming. Transferring it from quicktime (Sorenson I think) compression to DV was disappointing. A lot of detail got compressed out, colors change for NTSC, and the like. I hope to put up my uncompressed version here, but it's really big.
11:26:36 - jhhlnet - 1 comment