My Sci Fi Fantasy: The Story of Sword of Arreon – Part 3

The following is part 3 of the story of how Sword of Arreon got started.

Other elements I needed where 2D animation software and a good quality microphone to record dialogue, all within a microscopic budget. I researched Adobe Flash, ToonBoom Harmony and Smith Micro Anime Studio (now called Moho), finally settling on the latter after seeing a YouTube clip of authentic style anime produced with it. For just under a hundred dollars, I bought a software license for Anime Studio 9.5. I then researched what kind of microphone to buy, and ended up getting a broadcast quality USB condenser microphone for $40 on Ebay. When it arrived, I tested it out and found the sound quality to be excellent, almost too good in that the mike picked up room echos and other undesirable noises like paper rustling, airplanes flying overhead and dogs barking many blocks away. I solved this issue by constructing a sound isolation box out of a $15 foam mattress pad and a $3 dog leash. I then laid out a blank storyboard 18 up on the page and made a few dozen copies to get started. Total cost for all software and hardware I needed to make an animated film was about $165.

workstation1Another custom piece of equipment I made was a standing workstation, created by retrofitting a painters easel with a graphics tablet and flat panel monitor. I find standing more comfortable than sitting, and this workstation allows me the freedom to sit down on a tall stool when my feet and legs get tired. The monitor, keyboard and graphics tablet are hooked up to an Alienware laptop which sits on a small step stool just behind the easel that keeps it off the ground. The retrofit cost very little, only the price of two metal shelf brackets from a second hand hardware store. The rest of the pieces came from my supply of leftover lumber and spare parts such as screws and bolts. This setup turns out to be very ergonomic, with the tablet and keyboard at waist level and the monitor at eye level. As with writing the script, I’m concerned with imbibing the process with a mythic, supernatural feel so that this quality will carry along to the final product. The easel stands at the corner of a waist high work table in our studio which I share with my wife who makes fused glass art and jewelry. On the corner of the table is a brass candle holder which always has a red taper candle lit so I can see my keyboard. The rest of the studio is dimly lit, creating a mysterious atmosphere conducive to imagination and possibility.

I needed to develop the look of the characters. I started by collecting every high quality character design I ever remember seeing in a 3 ring binder for easy reference. My collection included favorite anime characters and robots, heroes and villains from comic books and monsters from Dungeons & Dragons. Many of the designs in my inspirational collection are also content for my Instagram feed, @sci_fi_fantasy.

When creating my own designs, my process began by peeking at this reference collection and then drawing a thumbnail sketch of either the silhouette or head design. My main concern was creating designs that viewers could identify with and think were really interesting. I approached this by keeping the drawings simple and memorable, like most other iconic anime and comic book characters. Originality and leaving traces of their ancestry were also concerns when developing the look of the characters. For instance, the main character, Jom, belongs to a race of humanoids who evolved from big cats such as tigers and panthers. I studied the faces of tigers from a book on animals and worked the shape of the tigers eyes into the character, and also the orange coloration and stripes into the hair. The races in the Sword of Arreon universe are all highly evolved, so they resemble humans much more than Lion-O from the ThunderCats cartoon series, for example. Like script development, the characters were still a work in progress after making my first pass on their designs, with many changes and refinements happening after the fact.

With script, character designs and my burning desire, I moved on to storyboarding the film. Storyboards are typically miniature thumbnail sketches that show what the camera (and therefore the audience) sees in any given shot. Actions such as character movement, dialogue and camera zooms are indicated. Drawn in sequence, these images serve as a kind of comic book version of the picture in order to visualize how it will play out on the screen. Storyboards are also typically rough sketches which omit detail in favor of basic composition and action in any given shot. Once finished, a storyboard is turned over to the layout department and rendered more fully in order to determine lighting, detail and color of both foreground and background elements. For Sword of Arreon, I saved time by drawing the storyboards in more detail so I could skip the layout process and go right from storyboard to final animation during production. While these more detailed storyboards took longer to draw, I feel it saved me time during the pre-production process.

storyboard-seq

When the storyboards were finally all drawn, I had 50 total pages equaling 900 shots. I then scanned them all into the computer and sequenced them in order as a video to see how it played out on the screen.  Are some parts not working in context with the rest of the film? Do other sections drag, potentially putting the audience to sleep? This was the chance to gauge those and other factors and make adjustments. Doing so during production as opposed to  in pre-production would be more time consuming. Estimated run time without ending credits was 45 minutes, putting it in the feature category, allowing it to be both a standalone movie and a pilot for an ongoing series.

Part 4 in 2 weeks

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