The Making of Cooper and Zinca
Rainmaker was asked to create an art film that was to be housed within a sculpture. Our clients, Lionheart Communications and Teck Resources Ltd, set a goal to communicate the importance of metals and the possibilities they create to the broadest audience. So, in telling the story, we chose to blend the characteristics of childhood fables centred around an important but often unrecognized truth – that metals are deeply connected to the lives we lead and the sustainable future we seek. The story is told through the eyes a boy named Cooper, a child fascinated by what lies within the earth and the great treasures and adventures that live inside. The challenge was to create a look and style unlike anything traditional seen in typical CGI.
Director, Wilson Tang, had the idea to create a computer animated short that looked “handmade” within a CG world. Creatively, this was an opportunity for the team of artists at Rainmaker to tell a story and create a film that had a traditional artistic “handprint” atypical of traditional computer graphics.
The project was incredibly exciting and inspiring to the team, however it was a huge challenge as something of this scope would typically require at least 6 months to produce however we had just 10 weeks to conceptualize the story, determine the look and produce the film.
Establishing the Look
The Rainmaker team was challenged to reinvent how they went about producing and to be as innovative as possible to inspire an artistic style unlike anything ever seen in CG production. Upfront it was assumed the film would need to be produced in a non-linear non-traditional manner to hit our deadline. As such, the team commenced story, design and look-development all at once. As much as possible, our artists were encouraged to search the real world for inspiration in order to achieve the poetic style Art Director Gabriel Frizzera was establishing. An abstract artist was hired to create and inspire the team with new looks for the ground and skies. Photographers took photos of real world items such as concrete, metals, and any interesting materials they could find. These images were scanned into the computer so they could be manipulated into unique textures for the CG models. Since the story was supposed to be a fable from the imagination of a child, materials like corrugated cardboard, crumpled paper, and cotton ball clouds were used to make up his dream world.
Innovative Production Process
One of the recurring materials used in the film was the “metallic” look seen on the trees, windmills, buildings, and the moon. Instead of using procedural metallic shaders, the team used crumpled sheets of real paper, photographed under various lighting directions in our make shift photography studio. A “normal map” was made from these images which basically told the renderer which direction a particular point on the surface was pointing at. The handmade quality of our final tin foil look was the result of HDRI (high dynamic range imagery) reflections on extremely simple surfaces, “perturbed” with these crumpled paper normal maps.
Another unique stylistic element used throughout the short were the clouds. Instead of using procedural volumetric techniques, the team opted for "sculpting" real cotton balls to give the film a wide variety of fun cloud shapes. This process provided a lot of flexibility… if we didn't like the look of a particular cloud, we simply re-sculpted it! Suspended with jerry-rigged netting over green screen, these clouds were back and side lit with desk lamps and then photographed. We found that this gave us far more variety, was easier to produce than traditional CG volumetric techniques, and most importantly, gave us the "handcrafted" look that we were after.
There was a lot of thought put into finding just the right stars for the sky of the night-time sequence. Again, since this was meant to be a child's dream, Wilson was determined to find the exact stars he had received from his kindergarten teachers. The stars he remembered had an embossed style and texture to them unlike the flat stars manufactured today. We sent production assistants all over Vancouver to find the exact stars he wanted. Unfortunately we couldn't find anyone who sold them anymore. Fortunately, one of our CG artists remembered receiving such a star and asked his parents to dig through their attic and had them courier a few pieces of his old homework to the studio for use in the film!
Throughout the process, we joked that almost every shot was a unique challenge both technically and artistically, but that was what made the project so much fun. It is rare in computer graphics to see the mark of the artist behind the imagery, but in this case, each and every frame bore the handprint of the talented artists who worked on them. In the end we proudly delivered a film that achieved a unique look with all the perfection and freedom of computer graphics, the surreal magical quality of old school photography, and the handmade quality of stop motion animation.