Le Voyage de Bernie
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Le Voyage de Bernie

Vivi TRAN
by heidun on 31 May 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

Synopsis: A little robot, a bit rusty, wants to offer a gift he made to its owner. A short movie made by Lisa Vivi TRAN.

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Hi, my name is Vivi, and today I would like to show you the process of the short movie I made for my third year at MOPA.

The theme was "Blow and make a wish", and we have to make a one minute short movie. We had four months to make the movie on our own.

                     The Scenario

It wasn’t easy at first: the subject was vague. At the time, my mind was totally blank, I had no ideas and nothing to push me in the project. But after a short discussion with a friend, I could slightly see a topic I wanted to treat, but the idea was still abstract.

Originally, the story was about a little robot who wanted to gift a cake to his owner, but I dropped the idea: the cake constraint was too complicated, I didn't want the robot to bake a real one, and nothing to make the viewer understand what is was with just some rocks and grass.

I still remember trying to develop the story with some friends, but I didn’t even know what I wanted to tell. However, I have a clear image of what I wanted to see: I had a lot of theatrical images in mind, with a lot of green foliage. I really wanted to see these images, I felt the story could have been heartwarming so I followed this feeling and tried to develop it.

I’ve begin to imagine some possibilities for the writing: I had at first the idea of a toy who uses all of its imagination to create the best gift for its owner. I was really thinking about it like an animation project, with a lot of acting, but it was too complicated to choreograph for a short amount of time, and I couldn’t explain it very well. So I thought about a toy who has been thrown away in a dump, who would, at each birthday, climbed the mountain to offer its owner a gift. I remember I wanted a “humouristic” kind of ending, where the robot was always took away when he was fronting the grave, because he was out of energy and seems like not even working anymore, and it was always the same old guy that put him in the dump... The old man could have been, like, "Ooow you poor thing, why are you always there? I thought I put you in the dump." and never do it again and again over the years. But it was impossible to show in one minute. Still, it was a great start for me, and I could feel what kind story I wanted to tell.

I was more or less sure that my main character would be a little robot. I didn’t wanted to bother with the character skinning so, I just go for it but I began to face my very first obstacle: I never designed a robot. I kind of tried something I wasn’t used to, and get out a little bit of my comfort zone. I tried to stick to a round design, that looks really friendly and suitable for children.

I had a first version of the story where the gift was totally revealed at the beginning of the movie, the shots were really simple but I knew it could be better. So I discuss with a professor to try to make the shots more poignant, and to connect more with the little robot than just following him from afar. And so, after four versions of the storyboard, I come to my actual movie storyboard. The movie was too long, so I had too make it shorter and some of the shots have been removed from the actual movie.

                         Production

At this moment, I began to model my scenes props and to texture them little by little to have an idea of the final picture I could have. It was a lot of tests, since I never model greenery before. I even tried the particle system and Tyflow. Kind of tough, as it was the first time I used it, but I really enjoyed the process. For that matter, I got a hard time to settle the rain, as I couldn't use Tyflow to render on Deadline, I just use the 3ds max particle system, but the particle couldn't be calculated with the animation, and I couldn't see if it was great or not since it was long to calculate... It looks great in the end, and I'm glad it worked out somehow.

Then I looked for HDRIs map for an ambiance base and to adjust my lights in my scenes. I was confident about it since I worked on some colorboards beforehead, and I tried to stick to it. Well, what a surprise when I saw that none of my textures was consistent. So I reworked my textures and tried to stick to a style. I wanted a stop motion kind of textures, with lots of colors and the textured rendering like, so I paint my textures like I would paint a real object and add imprefections.

For the character rigging, I really wanted to try to make my own and understand the process of it, so I didn’t use the auto-rig. It was challenging since it was the first time I’ve rigged a whole character, but the final result was really satisfying and I really felt like I learned a lot during the process, even if this one is just a simple RIG.

Once all my scenes were set up, and my lighting done, I’ve began with the character textures. It was my longest session, because I wanted my character to tell a visual story, something that could say a lot without saying anything. So, I tried to learn Substance painter more basically and understand what the maps were used for. I needed to try a lot of things, as the textures weren’t like the environment. I couldn’t just make it shaky, since it was the center of my movie, and I dedicated a whole week to texture him.

And I thought about a lot of things: what kind of story I wanted my character to tell? What did he go through? Why would he looked like this? How does his owner treated him? Why does this little robot liked his owner so much? I really wanted to answer those questions when I was texturing him I'm really satisfied with the result.

      Music and Sound Design

The school has a partnership with the MAAAV, a music school for visual arts. Since my story was totally based on feelings, I really wanted my movie to have its own music. It was also the moment where I began to animate. So I settled all my key poses to have a layout to show, and I began to send mails to musicians that could have been interested by the project.

Finally, I worked with Dorian Spiess. He answered my mail right away, and we began to work together. It was a real challenge for me since I needed to catch the composer's interest with only my pitch and my layout. But I did it! And what surprises me the most, is how attentive Dorian would have been.

Since my layout just had only some ambience sounds and I didn’t designed the robot sound yet, we just work through the storytelling and the feelings I wanted to put in each scenes. I tried to be as clear as possible to the composer, so he could transpose the feeling I wanted to put in the movie into music. He translates really well what I wanted, and I think it’s the other half that was lacking to my movie. I do think this exchange permits to the movie to grow up really well, and the exchange I had with the composer really made my idea clearer about what I needed to tell.

Sound design was a little bit harder than what I thought. I got a clear idea of how I wanted my robot to sounds like, but looking for this kind of sound, or making them was a really hard challenge. But after three weeks of hard work, I finally made it through!

I first put the sound that was easy to understand visually, and not to hard to translate into sounds, and then I tried to put textures, and then some robot sounds that makes my robot what he is now. I’m really proud of the amount of effort I put into this, but it was really tiring since it’s not my strong point.

                   Compositing

For this one, I asked a friend in 4th year, Marine Dieval, to help me. I never really use Nuke, so I didn’t know where to start. I just knew what kind of images I wanted, but didn’t know technically what I should have done. All my scenes had the same kind of compositing, a lot of ray lights, noises and color correction. I added a lot of glow, I think it made my movie a little bit «dreamy» like? Like, everything is beautiful, not real, heartwarming… I’ve painted the portrait of the owner based on that kind of feelings too. I’m not really good at painting, so I kind of tried something, and did my best until I was satisfied, and when I could say «Yeah, the the portrait made me feel nostalgic, I want to cry my heart out and tell my grandma I loved her», I could tell myself «Okay, my job is done here.»

Funny fact, since I didn’t like to use photoshop for painting, I use my own digital painting software at home (Paint Tool Sai). So, when I was still in school, I would work on my animations, and then at home, I would work on my matte paintings.

Another funny fact, I made a last minute animation: the incence smoke.I couldn’t find the Tyflow tutorial for the smoke one of our professor made. So I just gave up and I was like «Nevermind, I’ll do it anyways, I can’t escape anymore», and then my friends was like "But we have it if you want". It was kind of a fun situation, but well, it was too late to render again so I just animate it.

                            Finally

This movie was a really good experience to have and to share. Even if I’ve missed a lot of things because of the time limit, I could have done what I wanted in the end. Instead of a four months challenge, it became a five month project but going through a time limit really helps to push myself to work properly.

I really feel connected to this movie I made, since it’s based on my emotions, but also because I always really loved my plushies and that they all knew a tragic end, which makes me really really sad. So I was in a mindset where the roles were inverted, where the toy would see the owner had a tragic end, but still love them. Well, I hope that people won’t throw toys away if they are attached to it, even if they’re told that they’re grown ups and not kids anymore. Love your toys and your surroundings.

It was Vivi, and I hope you enjoyed the movie!


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