SFM: Location, location, location scouting…!

Long time between updates – crunch mode over the last few months (okay, Summer, Fall, and this Winter ongoing) will devour one’s energy reserves.
That said, I’m pushing myself to make something new with dialogue and multiple characters acting, as well as explore how I like step-key animation during the blocking stage. Regarding the step-key animation process, I’ve noticed a lot of great SFM animators publishing their work-in-progress, using this method. An example from Jesse Baumgartner

Primary Animation Goal: Multiple characters with multiple lines.

I already found a line of dialogue that would be fun to do, and gave me a range to play around with. The full “that escalated quickly scene” from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was crying out to me to tackle.
Naturally, by using the great Source Filmmaker tool from Valve, I was going to be using the Team Fortress 2 characters, as they have such great expressive rigs and such appealing designs.

Lots of planning notes, and a really rough breakdown of story-thumbs:
Thumbnail storyboards are fun!

Listing out the characters I wanted to use (I had already used the Medic and the Sniper from Team Fortress 2, and I wanted to use different characters before I started repeating), as well as forming what kind of staging I wanted, it was time to go…

VIRTUAL LOCATION SCOUTING.

It was actually more involved – I know some would just go “who cares” and plunk their work down in the middle, but I wanted two things: Room to move & place the required props (meeting room table, chairs) and an interesting yet not noisy environment with decent lighting, as I didn’t want to spend a lot of time lighting the animation manually. (Might still need to throw in a key light or two though)

Screenshots are from the Team Fortress 2 game maps – there are some really cool environments, so it can take a while to ‘wander’ the library of maps in search of a good location – rather like how live-action film location scouts work.

Checkpoint Fast Lane
CP_FastLane
This was my initial choice, but it’s looking pretty drab. I liked it as it had a ‘meeting room’ vibe with the rocket launch chamber outside the window, but as you’ll see, it’s pretty spartan and dark.

Checkpoint Junction
CP_Junction_Final
CP_Junction_Final
CP_Junction_Final
A nuclear launch bunker – multiple areas in this map could work, though compared to later ones, I’m not as strong on this choice of staging.

Checkpoint Mountain Lab
CP_MountainLab
CP_MountainLab
CP_MountainLab
Now we’re talking. Not too cluttered, yet totally workable as an interesting ‘meeting’ or ‘planning’ room for this conversation to be in. I’m actually torn between one of these areas in this map, versus the following…

Meet The Heavy set
MTT_Heavy
Given the subject of the conversation, and there’s just enough light that I could add a few simple key lights for readability. There’s some great props as well that I can further ‘hem’ the stage in (including a great chalkboard covered in strange designs), the only “negative” about this stage is that it could be too recognizable with anyone that’s seen Valve’s “Meet the…” TF2 shorts. Looking at the “Meet the Heavy” short, I’m likely over-thinking this too much.
When I make my choice final, then I will begin the step of placing the props and rough staging of the characters & camera. I’ll go as far as to add the audio and time the camera shots, with any necessary splicing of the audio to add just a tiny bit of breathing room. (A lot of western comedy movies tend to be very static in cinematography, as well as break-neck in their pacing – too few directors will experiment with camera angles like one of my favorites, Edgar Wright.)

Stay Tuned! Though it may be quite a while before the next update…

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