This 5 minute animation is the story of X, a small sewn figure that views himself as more that what he really is. Through self-realization, discovery, and creative expression, he quickly finds that his existence is not what it appears to be.
xero is the first animated short from TimeFissure Studios. Up to this point in time the TimeFissure team have worked projects together in the corporate arena, and as individual contractors and freelancers. But in the hearts and minds of the TimeFissure team there has been the drive to create stories that invoke, enlighten, and entertain the viewer. TimeFissure has plans to create other entertaining animated shorts and music videos, integrating compelling stories and characters the audience can connect with.
"We didn't care so much about the level of visual fluff we could give it. We wanted people to walk away from this piece not asking how we did it that way, but instead saying they're glad we did it that way", says Director Palmer Stinson. "When we were writing the story, we were more concerned with making the character someone that the viewer can relate to".
Custom light rigs were constructed in 3D and used in all shots. The lighting rigs moved on rails around the set. They were adjusted for each shot to "tweak" the tone of the noir style lighting from the primary overhead light. "Lighting was very important for this piece", says Palmer. We struggled in the beginning to find right mood for the lighting when we were designing the set. The set went through many changes before we could get just the right balance. I can recall times when the director of photography would stop by to see how things were going, he would look at me with this expression of confusion and say something like... I'll have to change my camera if you can't change that light. It probably would be easier to change the light."
Director of Photography Michael Sterling adds, "Getting the piece to properly show xero's feelings, thoughts, and reactions was probably the biggest challenge in this piece. Because xero doesn't speak, we had to rely on body language and music to speak for him. Some of xero's facial expressions are absolutely priceless, so we tried to get in close to him on those shots to really show his personality. To properly show what he is communicating through body language and movement, we sometimes would pull out pretty wide and occasionally needed to sacrifice ideal camera placement. I really enjoyed being able to put cameras wherever I wanted instead of being tied down to tripods and other rigging like I've been used to.
The main character utilized a rig created with default bones, spline shapes and helpers. The production goal of the project was to develop a production pipeline the studio could adapt easily on future projects. TimeFissure chose to use no third-party software plug-ins for xero. Instead they relied on the default 3D tools. By not using third-party plug-ins, they significantly reduced cost and the amount of lead time needed to acclimate to unexpected results that can sometimes accompany using new tools. Multiple render passes consisting of diffuse color, shadow passes, foreground and background plates were used for several shots and were then composited. The entire project from concept to completion had a scheduled time frame of 8 months. The 8 month production pipeline was designed to allow for experimentation of workflow. The developed pipeline will be fine-tuned to a significantly shorter schedule for use on future productions. Palmer explains, "We can now adapt this workflow relative to future projects. This will save us tremendous amounts of time in production, which allows us more time for tweaking in post."
"Before we wrote the story", says Palmer, "we had a brainstorming session. The goal was to find a balance with this animation between production time, resources, and story believability. We noticed there was a lot of cartoony stuff out there. We also noticed a great deal of dark styled science fiction and fantasy looking stuff, as well as lots of high luster looking renderings that push photo-realism. We do like those types of work, but I wanted something that combined those elements. We decided early on that we did not want go too much in one direction, plus we really wanted to do something that was just slightly off beat."
xero features an original musical score by composer Stephen Gilbane who studied film scoring at Berklee College of Music. A longtime musician with many improvisational comedy troupes in New England as well as short films and documentaries, this is Stephens first foray into animation. "I started the design of the score from xero's dance, and decided I wanted to write an actual (short) song for that segment, says Stephen. I wanted a sound that was quirky and almost vaudeville, a cross between Tom Waites and Leon Redbone, so I used some clanky percussion, an accordion, and an upright bass. I didn't think I could maintain that approach across the whole film, so the rest of the score for the movie is pretty standard orchestral underscore. That also had the effect of setting xero's dance, which is his emotional high point, apart from the rest of the animation."
The xero trailer can be viewed here.
TimeFissure Studios is located in Boston, Massachusetts.