Glimmer
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Glimmer

A sad and neglected girl meets an angel who shows her the happiness she has always wanted, however the angel’s intentions are more sinister than it seems.

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“Glimmer” is about Layla, a young girl, who gets disheartened by her parents’ argument, she is then greeted by an Angel. Soon after Layla returns the ball to Angel, Layla’s room is lit by magical toys brought to life by the Angel. However, Layla’s parents' arguments interrupted them and Layla was forced back into reality. As Angel offers Layla to leave, Layla refuses and decides to stay, resulting in the Angel revealing her true nature and intention.

This story symbolizes the experience of anxiety in a young aged child. The thoughts of wanting happiness yet, covered in fear altogether. All it takes to fight that anxiety and fear is just a short second of love from her loved ones.

We are referring to the movie “The Boss Baby” by Dreamwork as our Art and Design Direction as it's suit for our film, cute and adorable but highlighted with emotion and expression. The proportions of our character models are exaggerated while retaining a realistic anatomy. The heads of every character are made larger in contrast to their body to focus on their facial emotion and expression while pushing a “cute” narrative to their appearance. The body proportions were stylized as well with little muscle definition. This translates to the clothing shape design as well with the main characters who are little children being cone-shaped from neck to pelvis and then an inverted cone shape from the pelvis to feet. The Father and Mother models only have an inverted cone shape from neck to feet to resemble an adult’s figure.

The character designs were first concepted by our character artists in both 2D and 3D. While the main designs were drawn in 2D, we had our 3D artists begin rough sculpts of them to acquire the best results in a 3D space. Once the most suitable design for the film is decided, we begin the 3D modeling of the character whilst refining the 2D design and implementing the refinements as we go.

There are 3 main characters which are Layla, the Angel and the Demon respectively. After the head and body models were only sculpted and modeled, they were shared between all 3 characters for efficiency purposes with the help of blend shape for the heads. The designs of each character were referenced from their respective 2D turnarounds. The clothing for the characters were modeled in Maya rather than sculpted or simulated to ensure our shape design is kept intact without unnecessary details such as folds that will affect their silhouette.

Other smaller parts such as the inner mouth, teeth, gums, tongue and eyes were shared as well with the exception of being the eyes with slight variation.

Layla (Main Character)

Layla is the protagonist of this film, a shy and innocent 6-year-old Chinese girl who lives in San Francisco, America. With a light shade of lilac as her main palette, it reflects Layla’s soft and delicate personality. Simultaneously, her dark purple-tinted hair compliments the Angel’s golden locks.

In order to exaggerate Layla's facial expression, we modelled her with a height of only 2 and a half heads tall, resulting in a bigger head proportion compared to her overall body size. We also sculpted a pair of big eyes to enhance her “cuteness” aspect. She has a pair of long braids which are constantly swaying based on the head movement to show her passive personality. Her loose long sleeves of pajamas play a big role in her silhouette to indicate her soft-heartedness. A rabbit design was put on her pajamas which symbolizes a good listener, showing that she is always listening to her parents, even when they are arguing.

The 3D model of Layla is modelled based on the concept art done by our character designers. Her fringe is more elongated compared to the concept art because longer hair is more visible when the animation is applied into it. In order to make the process of cloth simulation smoother, her sleeves were shortened up to her wrist to avoid intersecting with her hands when they bend during animation. Her eyes were modelled slightly slanted inwards and she was given thinner lips and dark brown irises to bring out features belonging to a majority of Asian heritage.

The Angel (Main Character)

The Angel appears before Layla as a look-alike of herself who she can trust and support. To show a better correlation between the two, the Angel is based on how Layla's inner self imagination creates a perception of what her guardian may look like based on who she can trust. Based on the character description, the main approach for the Angel is a character of similar age, charming, lovable and heartwarming persona akin to Layla’s. The Angel’s design closely relates to the character of a Guardian Angel as her character forms as an echo of a person's own character or complete opposite to compensate for one’s lacking trait.

Her overall image is seen as someone you can approach without fear and alarmed. With puffed up wings to make it look light, cute/ friendly, curly hair to give it that delightful look with accommodation to the long dress which adds to the effect of a dream like being. To keep the main aspect of a Guardian Angel, her eyes and wings were given the color blue to give a sense of secure and trustworthiness towards Layla, her gold hair and dress lining associated with magic and compassion. Overall, colors were chosen to provide a sense of purity and heavenly looks of the angel.

The final result of how the design was translated from 2D to a 3D design was that a few minor changes were made to further accommodate and to keep the perception that the Angel is a depiction of Layla's inner self. And one of the biggest changes was that her head needed to be modified to have and the design similar to Layla's as it is the best showcase that Layla herself is her guardian. The improvements that were made to the included the extending her dress and the addition of gold flakes at the bottom of the Angel’s dress to give her a heavenly flow. Finally, her front braids were modified slightly as it had difficulty being translated into 3D. Even though some elements were added and some were changed, the majority of the design was kept as we try not to stray too far from the original concept art.

The Demon (Main Character)

The Demon is revealed as the Angel’s real identity at the climax of the film. Initially, the Demon was designed to be a copy of the Angel with slight variation to her wings and hair which resulted in a ragged version of the Angel but ended up not successfully reflecting her character. 

The concept of this character revolves around being evil and deceitful. For the final design, in order to convey her evil and deceitful character, we exaggerated the “wicked” and “sinister” characteristics. We took some design cues from the Tooth Fairy of Rise of The Guardians. The hair and slender body profile drew out a recognizable silhouette to the Demon--thus creating a distinguishable design from her counterpart. The body was given a viscous texture that surrounded the Demon’s body, similar to that of a repulsive nature akin to the famously known character, Venom from Spiderman. Such treatments were consistently applied to smaller details such as the ears, eyes, eyelashes and fingernails. We had to keep in check that certain features remained similar to ensure the audience knew they were the same character, just that one had undergone a transformation. For example, the wings were kept identical to the Angel’s wings but now with a touch of edginess.

A set of dark colors were chosen to push the “evil” characterization further with red chosen for the Demon’s eyes and magic being the biggest contrast. Red can be regarded as a color which represents rage or danger especially by children. This allows us to capture the audience's attention without having them confused with the Demon’s intentions. The 3D model of the Demon is kept close to the final 2D design with some minor changes. The Demon’s hair was refined to have a more malleable shape which also helped improve the overall silhouette from multiple views and angles. The overall shape and design of the wings were also improved by increasing the number of feathers and giving each more thickness. More feathers also allowed us to layer them in a more realistic and believable way. The entire wing model was also curved on the Z-axis from it’s original straight and stiff position to further enhance it’s volume and silhouette.

Layla's Parents (Side Characters)

Layla’s parents are a young married couple who loves and supports Layla and they serve as the side characters for our film. We opted for a design that shows their characteristics while adhering to our art direction. As parents, both models have to take cues from Layla such as facial features and clothing design.

The final design of the parents was something that enabled the audience to realize they are caring and soft. We avoided using edges and smoothed their hair styles and clothing. The colour chosen for the father’s shirt was pink as it is reminiscent of Layla’s pajamas while the mother’s was calming beige. We made sure the colours of their clothing were easy on the eyes in the environment which they would appear in.

Realizing that their silhouettes would play a major role, we added accessories such as big rounded earrings and a bracelet for the mother while the father has spectacles and a watch. These details helped make the design more interesting by adding certain negative spaces to their respective silhouettes.

From a 3D perspective, only their silhouettes and back view are visible to the audience. For that, we first made sure the major shapes and design were translated from it’s 2D concept properly while simplifying the models for efficiency sake. Thus, the final models had simplified eye sockets and no eyes.

Characters: Look Development

Due to the stylized look and proportions of the models, we balanced it with realistic textures. Realistic textures help to keep them grounded to present a sense of familiarity when observing the stylized models.

The method of texturing begins with base colored materials and then adding an appropriate level of “imperfections” that occurs to the specific material above the original layer, affecting all the diffuse, specular and reflection channels. This helps us achieve the look and depth of materials that do not feel too “fake” to the eyes. This method is applied to clothing, accessories, skin and the eyes of our characters.

Head Texture Breakdown in Substance Painter

For the head of the main characters, all 3 of them use the same model with similar UV mapping. This allows us to focus on texturing 1 head by building up the base layers, applying color theory, and also creating a sub-surface scattering (SSS) map that works on all 3 characters. Details such as moles, freckles, scalp color and other minor imperfections are then applied over them separately. 

The SSS map helps bring our characters alive by allowing a certain amount of light to pass through certain parts of the head that are realistically thin enough. A thickness map was used to mask out accurately as to where the sub-surface scattering will occur.

Clothing Texture Breakdown in Substance Painter

Clothing Look Development is largely based on texturing work. We start off with an appropriate base material and color from within Substance Painter. After that we add layers such as surface details, minor folds and finally imperfections. References were used so that we can imitate as close as possible to real materials. Discoloration is a big part of the imperfections to clothing unless brand new. We found that having shades of a color at particular edges of clothing help with giving a natural look to it.

Eye Breakdown

The eyes were also another part which was worked on extensively in order to achieve a believable look. Even with a layer of cornea applied over the eyeball, we were still unable to achieve a good enough result with the particular white dot that appears only when a strong light is shone directly towards the eyes. To counter this, 2 rectangle lights set to eclipse shape were parented to the eyes of our characters. The lights are set to only affect the reflections of the cornea via light linking, thus creating the white dot effect and reflections that cannot be made naturally. 

Hair Breakdown using GMH2.6

Another important part of our models was the hair. We first opted to have geometry based hair to keep in check with our semi-stylized direction but ultimately chose a more realistic approach which brought a sense of balance to our models. Having more realistic looking hair raised the level of detail that was somewhat missing to our simplistic looking models. The hair was first tested on our Layla model using pfx and NHair but we were greeted with unsatisfactory results as the hair did not look convincing with various gaps between clumps of strands. We then decided on GMH2.6 (Geo to Maya Hair 2.6) by Phung Dinh Dzung. GMH2.6 simplifies the process of creating good looking hair by converting existing mesh into hair clumps while maintaining the stylized shapes of the hair which we were aiming for.

Environment

Our environments consisted of an exterior view of her house, an interior of Layla’s bedroom and a corridor which connects to the bedroom. Our concept artists came up with many sketches of the environments while ensuring the placement of props made sense as well as making it seem as if the environments were lived in.

Props play a huge role in our environment as some of them interact with the characters throughout the short film. Our props were carefully designed with a set of rules that ensures their shape design complements the characters and environment. This includes proper tapering which goes from big at the top to small at the bottom with some exclusions; much like our characters.

Environment - Look Development

Just like our character models, a similar method of texturing is applied to the environment and it’s props where close-to realistic looking textures were used to balance out the stylized models.

Due to the nature of our short film, our team had to texture the environment and props twice - 1 set for normal textures and 1 set for scary textures excluding the exterior of the house. Designs of the props with the scary textures applied were made by our concept artists and then replicated into 3D space. The core of it was to make the environment scary and not just old or worn looking. This means pushing the “scary” element by adding intentional rips and scars where in a normal situation wouldn’t happen naturally.

Rigging

Layla Rig was rigged mainly with the default rigging tools from Autodesk Maya. In order to speed up the production, the completed Layla Rig was transferred to the other 2 characters which are the Angel and Demon with the same base model.

With the help of blend shape, Layla's head was modified to be the head of Angel and Demon, therefore the facial rig was still preserved after transferring the rig. Advanced rigging setups were added for example bendy and stretchy limbs, joint-based facial rig, and fake dynamic rig for the fringe and braids. Animation Picker was created with the plug-in of Anim School Picker to make the selection of the controllers easier. Scripts were written to develop a tool to transfer the transformation of IK joints to FK joints along with the controllers and vice versa.

Animation

Glimmer has an exaggerated-realistic animation style. All the actions are based on real life references but it’s exaggerated by animators to enhance the appeal of every action and acting. 

We start the animation production with laying out the characters and setting up the cameras based on the animatic to come up with a previsualization in 3-Dimensional. From the Previsualization we start to plan and sketch out our acting choices that are best suited for the situation of every shot. We would shoot references of ourselves to refer to our facial movements and body mechanics. We then proceed to block out our animations adding in the animation principles on our acting choices. With the blocking done, we would polish every animation to ensure a smooth animation.

Due to the lack of manpower, working on character animation in this film was quite a challenge for the animators. To solve this, the animators followed a strict schedule by setting up their goals and deadlines. With considerable time management, we managed to complete the animation while being able to achieve the animation style.

VFX

The VFX in the film uses the Adobe After Effects software for simulation of particles and effects. The VFX portion consists of 6 different variants as there are 4 different styles being used in the film.

Angel’s Magic

For most shots that included the Angel demonstrating her magic, we used the method of particles to showcase a very magical effect portrayed by the angel and the colour of yellow is used to convey a very attractive and happy colour like a child playing with sprinkles. It mainly conveys that she has lost hope of her surroundings and trusting this magical angel of hers that wherever the angel is bringing/showing her is a place better and more magical than where she is now.

Transformation Scene

This shot conveys a change of tone from magical to a scary dark tone. To convey properly, keep it from having too much/very bright effect to have a smooth transition from angel to demon without a sudden change of effects. Here the environment with the effects of burning/merging the background to more suit the demon section. It also conveys that the girl's imagination shifts its tone from a safe place into an area the girl wants to get out of. A sign that the dark side of her mind and personality is slowly taking over.

Demon Magic

For the demon magic, using red as how a child portrays danger, as most effects are seen. It is a shift from magic that the girl would be afraid to witness. It shows that the real Angel is actually her darkest personality and comes to overpower her will to take over her mind and thoughts.

Lighting & Compositing

As the story takes place in the middle of the night, we have opted for a dark bluish mood with tints of purple. When there is a light source nearby, we then shift the mood to a lighter pinkish-purple tint to make the setting brighter.

The story starts with a warm hallway as warm as Layla when she peeks out from her dark bedroom. Although the hallway is illuminated with a warm light, it is darkened by shadows to represent the tense mood in the hallway as well as Layla’s sadness as she stands covered in a shadow. Her room is only lit with a single light which is the lamp to represent Layla’s feeling of small hope that her parents might stop and make up.

Next, when the Angel character is introduced, we brighten the moonlight shining into Layla’s room as it represents the Angel as good and pure as well as bringing the hope and happiness to Layla. At the climax, the room was fully illuminated by the bright magic from the Angel which also signifies Layla at her happiest moments.

Soon after, when Layla refuses the Angel’s invitation, things turn sinister quickly and we opt for a darker, more desaturated mood. We also changed the Angel’s warm-toned magic into a reddish tone to indicate danger.

At the finale, the room returned to its bluish tone, more desaturate. Then, Layla opens the door to welcome her parents as the film ends at the warmest tone, with warm lights illuminating her face, showing that Layla has finally walked out from her sadness and embracing hope. 

It has been a long journey, that helped us to learn to be a professional in the industry of Filmmaking and trained us in working as a team. Thank you for reading our Project Breakdowns! Hope you enjoy our short film, Glimmer


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