Yeehhhhhh so I was thinking about doing some kind of animation autopsy thing for my Elon Musk Jam submission, and since the winners have just been announced I guess nows as good a time as any to write up my thoughts while the experience is still relatively fresh.. This is mainly for my own benefit, but maybe someone else might get a kick out of reading it too.
Just checked, and the 'Date created' of the animatic.mp4 (an animatic is basically a roughly animated storyboard), and it seems as though I finished the animatic on 15/06/20 23:54 (July 15th). And given that the deadline for the competition was 22/06/20 (July 22nd), that meant that I only left myself a week to churn the fucking thing out. For anyone who's been to University / College, this was a week reminiscent of when you have to hand in your dissertation, one of those weeks where your brain and time decides to get a little bit fermented.
To borrow a line from Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe), production management in animation is like, 'putting together a magical puzzle', and structuring my time was crucial. A few things I'll note here are: I had to decide which scenes to keep and which to chop, and in what order to do theses scenes; less important shots shots were done first, to get my eye in, the fiddly / important shots in the middle, before fatigue sets in and whilst there's still some time to play with if there's any delays, and the easier stuff last, when I'm in full swing. I also made sure I didn't leave the audio / foley mix til the last day which I have done in the past, and that I made my daily schedules to be a mix of design and animation, so each day didn't feel too same-y. A fundamental maxim with animation is to 'never underestimate the work', so I stuck too, and tried to get ahead of, the schedule I set myself. Anyone can do an all nighter on the final day, but the trick is to get yourself into that do or die mindset early on, and hopefully by doing that you create a bit of breathing space towards the end of the project.
Without wanting to sound like too much of an ass-hat, I've always felt like one of my better attributes as an animator is my ability to turn on my tunnel-vision, and put in 12-14 hours a day on a project when I have to (which I certainly did here). I'll be thinking about the project in bed, during dinner, while I'm out for a walk (and of course the only reason I'm going out for a walk is so that I'll be refreshed when I get back in, and therefore more productive!) (nerd!). It was definitely more of a sprint than a marathon, and it was nice to have a chance to test that aspect of myself during COVID, as there's been more than a few days during quarantine where I've just felt sapped of any energy.
A big motivator for me was having great voice acting to work with, and a huge shout out has to go to Johnny Utah for his sizzling performance. He's the sort of guy who could read out the phone book and it'd sound funny, and getting to work with raw audio from him was a treat. If the final thing is any good, that's down to him.
Creatively there were a load of decisions to make on this project, one central thing I tried to keep in mind was that each shot needed to be 'funny first' - I didn't mind if character animation or rigs or whatever were a bit sloppy, so long as the scene made me laugh. Another rule I had was, 'cheat with colour' which essentially means that if I didn't have enough time to create a super detailed background, I'd throw in a bold colour, or an interesting gradient or texture, as a means of distracting the viewer. Colour really is a whole other ballpark, and not something I'd call myself an expert in, but using colour effectively can be a great way to cut corners and make a shot look better, quickly, which is useful if you're up against the clock. There's a reason why comic books usually have a separate line-work artist and colourist.
No retrospective would be complete without the arbitrary "if I were to do this project again I would..", and I really could go off on a tangent here... I think fundamentally the animation was under-cooked, if I'd had 2 weeks to animate it would have looked gorgeous, so what ended up being posted was a exercise in compromise. Although I'm still pleased with it.
I think a wise move may have been to rope in someone to help with backgrounds, as this would have freed up a lot more time for me to work on the character animation etc. I'd also re-do shots D & G again completely as I'm not happy with them (the profile shot of Elon and Assistant, and the 3/4 of Elon and Grimes). I'd stick some music in there, clean up the char animation, maybe do some extra details of tattoos on Grimes' arms, and maybe chuck a few inbetweens in with the face rigs for blinks and mouth positions, little things. I'd also include a blooper reel of Johnny Utah doing different takes of 'X AE A-12', because they were really funny. On the positive side I really liked the shot of Elon's feet and the sfx Drill sequence, they're probably my favourite shots funnily enough even though they're not pivotal ones.
Last of all, I'll just make a comment on the Musk Jam winners. Fuck you all, you bastards. (quieter) You bastards. I'm only kidding.. I'll admit I was partly swayed to take part in the comp because I thought winning a prize would be gnarly, and I appreciate that anything I say here will sound like sour grapes, but I feel as though my animation was certainly in the top 16. I won't name any names, but I feel like even though it could have been better, it's still hella better than a few of those that got the nod. What especially stings is the fact that some of them were submitted a day or 2 after the deadline, and a day or 2 would have really helped me neaten up some things, that would have been essentially an extra 1/3rd of the time I spent on it.
Judging was always going to be subjective though, and there are some crackers in the winners list (Son of Musk was a worthy winner for sure). I think perhaps one of my errors was to back-load my animation, and have the quality improve as it went, after it starting off a little rough around the edges (design-wise) and then end strong. That was a deliberate decision, but I feel as though perhaps that turned some people off from watching the whole thing, and maybe it would have been stronger overall if I'd cut the initial Elon monologue. But you live and you learn, and it still got front paged which was coool.
COVID has been a crazy time, and it really would be petty to rant about not winning when there are more serious issues out there in the world right now. #rantover