After working in this industry for many years now, one amazing and almost unexpected trend we constantly see is that most people, even if they’re Academy Award Winning, are more than happy to share their knowledge, experience and advice. This is one of the greatest things about the filmmaking world – generally speaking, the most talented people at the top of their chosen craft, are more than happy to chat about the lessons they’ve learnt along their long careers, share tips and trips, and just get people excited. We’re massive supporters and fan’s of people such Stan Winston (who has sadly passed away, however his legacy lives on!), Stu Maschwitz, Andrew Kramer, Mike Seymour, Kanen Flowers, Philip Bloom… the list is almost endless. All of these people are hugely well respected and highly regarded, are expects at what they do, have an amazing list of credits, but still go above and beyond to share their knowledge about the industry they all love. The person we’re chatting to today in this blog entry fits perfectly into this category. He’s stupidly talented, doing absolutely amazing work, but is also more than happy to share his knowledge with like-minded people.
Lucas Martell’s first foray into animation was his short film Pigeon: Impossible. The 6-minute short took nearly 5 years to complete and was a crash course on every aspect of CG production. In addition to writing and directing, Lucas did all of the lighting, rigging, pipeline development, and most of the character animation. The final film has been shown in over 200 festivals in 43 countries, and won more than 20 awards including Best Short at the Oscar-qualifying Montreal World Film Festival, and Best in Show at ArtFutura in Spain. The film was also a viral hit, having passed 8 million views on YouTube alone.
Lucas documented his whole process in an amazingly insightful and hugely helpful podcast, as well as running a couple of extremely successful XSI courses over at fxphd.
Since Pigeon: Impossible, Lucas has created several original feature projects, all in various states of development, as well as working on a new short film entitled The OceanMaker.
Here’s an interview we did with Lucas, talking about this amazingly exciting new project (that we really hope you’ll help support!)…
Tell us about The OceanMaker.
The OceanMaker is a 9-minute animated short set after all the earth’s oceans have mysteriously disappeared. The story is about a pilot who has learned how to seed the clouds, but in order to do so, she must fend off vicious sky pirates who roam the skies, stealing every last drop of water out of the clouds using these huge nets. It’s a very fun, inventive action-packed story, but there’s also a lot of emotion and the ending in particular is going to be very powerful… not something you find in your typical airplane movie.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from my love of old airplanes. For years I had imagined this fun world where people flew around in these junkyard planes that they had cobbled together from spare parts. It was very “Mad Max in the sky” but it didn’t have much of a story. When I finally was able to spend more time with it, I deconstructed the idea and realized that the world needed to be post apocalyptic in order to justify this old, decaying imagery I had envisioned. The last step was figuring out why planes would be so important in a world like this, and the idea came up that maybe they would be fighting over the clouds. From there it was clear that water needed to be a scarce resource, so that was pretty much the setup for the story.
It’s quite a departure from your first film “Pigeon: Impossible”.
Yeah Pigeon: Impossible was a lot of fun, but I knew that when I did my next short I wanted to do something totally different. It didn’t make sense to do something that had the same tone and feel. I’ve got a few feature projects that are right in line with the style of Pigeon: Impossible, so I thought I’d try something that would stretch my range creatively and do something that was more of an action-drama than a comedy. The big thing I’ve learned is that drama requires a lot more screen time. With comedy, its usually best to be quick and punchy. With drama, you really need more time to spend with the characters in order for the audience to bond with them. This was especially challenging because OceanMaker doesn’t have any dialogue, and our hero character is sitting in a plane the entire time, so creating those touchstone emotional moments has been the biggest hurdle, but I think we’ve found some really good solutions.
Was the production process pretty much the same for OceanMaker as it was for Pigeon: Impossible?
OceanMaker was definitely a lot more “professional”. As I’ve become better at writing stories, I was able to put together a pretty solid script in just a few days, and about 80% of that survived to make it to the screen. On Pigeon: Impossible I was just learning storytelling and animation, so it was much more like filmmaking by trial and error. OceanMaker also had a much larger crew… at least in the sense that most of the hands-on work was done by other people. I also had some help on Pigeon: Impossible, but it came in short chunks here and there. For the main stretch of production on the OceanMaker, we had a crew of 8 working full time for 6 and a half weeks.
That six and a half weeks was also pretty unique. Can you talk about that production process?
Yeah, the big thing I took away from Pigeon: Impossible and several other projects I had done, was that having people working remotely in their spare time isn’t a very productive way to go. I always said that if I were going to do another film, we needed to find a way to assemble a crew and get them all in the same location. I had saved up a good chunk of money, but not enough to hire all the artists I needed. So instead, I “bribed” them by moving production to a small island in the Caribbean. It was a bit like animation camp. We flew everyone down, and we all worked our butts off for the month and a half. The great thing was it was incredibly focused. People were there to work, and of course we still enjoyed the location, but having everyone in one place and totally dedicated to the project made us incredibly productive, and we were able to finish more than half of the film in the time we were there. That’s pretty remarkable for an animated film of this caliber, and it not only made it a great life experience for the whole crew, but it also let us do the film for a fraction of what it would have cost to do thing a more traditional way.
You mentioned that you’ve finished more than half of the film. What’s left to do?
Well since we’ve returned we’ve had to go back to the more traditional indie way of working. People put in an hour here and there when they have the time, but its not consistent. At this point we’re probably about 65% finished, which means that the story is pretty much locked but we’re still tweaking a few moments. Animation is about 80% finished, and most of the assets are done. We still have quite a bit of lighting and rendering left to do, but that’s a more technical process and we can’t do much more until all the assets are 100% finished.
How long will it take to finish the film?
That’s a tough question. If we were to keep working like we are now, it would probably take from 6 months to a year to completely finish it. However, if we were able to get the crew back together, we could probably finish all the animation and rendering in about a month, and then there would just be a little left to do with music and post. That’s one of the reasons we’ve started an IndieGoGo campaign. We’re most certainly going to finish the film, but in addition to doing things more efficiently, there’s a few “extras” we’d like to add to the film such as a second character and recording the score with a live orchestra. At this point there’s just a few days left in the IndieGoGo campaign, but even what we’ve raised so far is going to help immensely in getting the film finished.
Any other final thoughts?
Just a huge thank you to the people who have supported this project so far, and to you for helping spread the word. It’s a very special project, both in terms of the story, but also how we’re making it. We were a little nervous to see how people would react, but it’s been fantastic to see so many people get what we’re doing and rally behind us. I can’t wait for everyone to see the finished film!