DAVID WEINSTEIN - Producer/Director
What was the goal in mind when creating the Azureus Rising animated short?
First and foremost - the goal was to create a kick ass piece of film that people would want to watch over and over. Also, introducing Azureus in a way that would get people excited and eager to learn more about the overall concept.
What is the concept behind Azureus Rising? The website mentions that it is a "proof of concept"?
That's right. Azureus Rising is feature film concept. The Azureus film is about the transformation of our main character and hero. At the beginning of the story our hero is a troubled young man who is thrust into this life changing journey which molds him into a heroic freedom fighter. It's a new take on the classic Hamlet theme set in space.
What is the story behind Azureus Rising?
Azureus is essentially a science fiction epic. It's the journey of one young man and his rise to greatness over the span of many years. At it's core it's a revenge story. However it's a film with a solid message about life and overcoming your fears. There is also a love story that plays heavily into the theme.
Why don't we see any of those story points in the proof of concept?
That's the thing. With 5 minutes - I knew I wasn't going to get the emotional reaction I was looking for from my overall story. There's no time to set up the characters so you feel like you can relate to them, and then watch how they handle and react to the events that unfold around them. For me story this story is about showing change. The change in a character - the changes in the world and the hero's impact on those transformations. I also wanted to grab people's attention as much as possible. So instead of trying to half ass my story into a 5 minute piece - I opt to make a exciting visual display of the world and the character in action. The budget also played a big part in the decision.
Is Azureus a kids movie or more of a adult type of concept?
It's a bit of both actually. It's action, adventure and SciFi done in a way that I feel most audiences can relate to and have fun with. Both kids and adults. It's like classic Indiana Jones or Avatar without the realistic violence. Not to say there isn't violence with Azureus because Azureus is essentially a "comic book" character like Batman or Iron Man. Azureus is a good guy though - a normal man who has become something more. He is out to help people and defend against the bad guys.
How many people helped create the proof of concept animated short?
I think there were about 25-30 individuals who contributed. The core team was about 5-6 guys... artists who spent more then 2-3 months on the project. It was really challenging finding talented, dedicated artists who were serious about getting things done. I was fortunate enough to find a crew of artists who believed in my vision for Azureus and wanted to help make it a reality.
What other challenges did you face?
To be honest every step of the way was a major challenge. Every single shot - all 120 of them had it's own challenges and issues. I believe that 50% of film making is problem solving and finding creative solutions. It's really is a major undertaking, especially anything animated that is fully rendered and composited with fxs. Your literally making the film frame by frame. And every frame has dozens and dozens of elements that make up those frames. I used to say to Adam Coggin the Cg Supervisor, "Anyone who makes animated films must be insane". The film plays at 24 frames a second... so for every second, 24 hand crafted images flip by at high speed. If you blink you just missed a whole weeks worth of work. Dealing with limitations becomes a really difficult part of the process also. With such a small crew its easy to drive yourself mad because you can only do so much so fast. You have to make strong decisions and keep moving forwards. Not having the money and resources to make changes or try alternative ideas that you feel are needed can sometimes be frustrating. One small change could spiral things out of control really fast - set extensions, shot continuity, additional 3D modeling & texturing, rendering and so on. I always say, its like playing a game of chess. You have to be thinking several moves ahead. Keeping your eye on the global picture is so important. I really have to tip my hat to anyone who has created an independent animated production and finished it. That says a lot in my book.
The look of Azureus is very unique, where did you draw your inspirations from?
My influences came from all different areas. Japanese anime has always been a big influence on my work. Ninja Scroll, Dragon Ball Z, Ghost in The Shell and Akira where pretty influential. Directors like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Brad Bird are also really inspiring from a story telling level. TV directors like Genndy Tartokovski are also high up on my list. There's a ton of games... Half Life 2, God of War, Uncharted2 and Devil May Cry come to mind at the moment.
What was the art & design process like?
The design process of the Azureus world was really fun. I was lucky to have artists like James Zhang and Hideyoshi Ruwwe help flesh out the look of the characters and the settings that I had in my head. They came up with some nice stuff. The concept faze was pretty rushed however because the 3D team was waiting to get started creating assets. We call them assets in 3D production. These are the characters, props, weapons, etc. Everything we draw has to then be created in the computer by hand. This takes a long time. So I was forced to push things through quicker then I would have liked to. What you see in the Azureus proof of concept animated short has changed a bit since when we started way back. If I were to revisit Azureus there is a lot of new design work that reflects the global story more accurately. The proof of concept was just about getting it done and making it look cool as a stand alone piece.
What do you think of all the 3D stereoscopic hype right now? Like what James Cameron did with Avatar?
Well I've always been attracted to 3D since I saw the Terminator 2 - 3D ride at Universal Studios way back in the day. I knew when I saw that, that 3D was eventually going to be a big hit. At least for the big action adventure movie types. When I saw Avatar a few months ago I was like holy shit, this is awesome. I couldn't help but think what Azureus would look like in 3D with the depth of the city and the colors and scale and all that. That would be awesome. I feel 3D is an amazing tool to help draw the audience in. It doesn't create better stories and help cover up a poor plot. It's just another visual element to help immerse the viewer into the character's world.
Can you talk about the animation of the characters. How was that created?
The animation process was carefully planned and executed. I wanted to move the animation process along as quickly as possible just because animation takes along time do. You can spend weeks and weeks on every shot getting extremely detailed. Its a very time consuming process. We didn't have the luxury with this piece to spend weeks perfecting each shot. The average shot took 3 days to animate. The record was 7 shots in one week by one animator. The stylized look of the animation allowed us to maintain an interesting look and keep the pace moving forward. I didn't want the characters to move ultra realistic or too cartoony either. So I directed the animators to push certain moments at the right times. But stay grounded for other moments. The main thing for me was maintaining weight in the movement of the characters - that was very important to me. I didn't want the characters and robots to feel floaty or like they were not making contact with the ground. Its very easy to lose the sense of weight during action scenes or when dealing with a super human character who can run faster then normal and jump 10-20 meters high.
There was no motion capture performance used?
No, the entire piece is hand animated. I debated when I first started the production to involve motion capture as the base for the animators to work from. Use the capture if needed and hand do the parts that cannot be captured. Like a 75% hand key frame look with 25% motion capture blend.
Why didn't you end up shooting motion capture?
I decided against it because of the cost of shooting the data and then not having the resources to track, solve and clean the performances. It got shot down real fast once we tallied up the cost. Also finding good actors and stunt performers is tricky. I love working with actors but it just wasn't possible at that time. In the end I am glad we hand animated it because it added to the overall look and feel of the piece.
The camera work and cinematography is also unique, what was that process like?
The camera and cinematography for the short was a fun experience. When I watch it now there are so many things I'd like to change. The original layout was done years ago by myself with no help. I have much better understanding of cinematography today. The limitations of what I could show because of the work load also played a part on the camera work. I wanted to keep the camera work more traditional. No over the top CG camera moves. I've seen some amazing animated camera moves where the camera is doing these big elaborate impossible moves. I feel that can be overkill and should be used sparingly. I decided to keep the camera work more grounded with a steadicam type feeling. There's some hand held areas in there as well when the action picks up. If could do it all over again I would most likely use a virtual camera system called the Intersense camera which creates hyper realistic camera moves based on real world camera movement.
Is there anything else you would have done differently or added/subtracted from the short?
There's a wish list of things I would have liked to do. The armored guard fight area I wish could have had more interaction. Same goes for the freeway area when the space craft is chasing after Azureus. I planned a entire chase scene there with cars skidding out and getting shot up that had to be cut because it was to much for our small team to handle. I would have liked to add cars and people in the background freaking out during the scorpion tank fight at the end also. The ending was the main area I wished we could have added to. I wanted to have Azureus take off his mask so you could see his face and have him deliver a line that would end the scene. It just wasn't possible with our time and budget limitations.
Any last comments?
Yeah I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who contributed to Azureus - I can't stress that enough. A very special thank you to our loved ones and friends who have supported us during this crazy journey. Many painful sacrifices where made to bring Azureus to life and I hope everyone out there likes it and tells a friend to check it out!