With each project that we take on, now more than ever it feels important to have a positive impact on the world. We want to use our platform and skills for social good. That’s why the BZ Shorts film, Sinking Feeling, is to raise awareness for PAPYRUS, a charity preventing youth suicide. With this film, we hope to stop the stigma around suicide. We aim to encourage people to check in on their friends & family who they might be concerned about, and not worry about raising the subject of suicide.
Blue Zoo Shorts program offers equal opportunity to create in new and innovative ways. A great idea can come from any person in the studio, be it an Animator, Recruitment Coordinator, Storyboard Artist… anyone at all! This is why the pitching process is open to the whole studio. Once all ideas have been pitched, the studio vote on the best idea to go into production.
This blog post is to record the timeline of BZ Shorts film, Sinking Feeling, updated as production happens! Come back to check in on the progress...
The Blue Zoo Shorts film, In Shapes, which was directed by Zoé Risser and created to encourage body positivity, was completed and the Exec Team began to think about the next short.
Over the last 6 years, the studio has released a comedy Christmas short each December, but as 2020 has been so challenging for so many, we thought it would be better to use those resources and our platform to help others. So we decided to make a short for a charity to help amplify their message. After searching for charities, we decided to help PAPYRUS, as their mission to reduce youth suicide is more relevant now than ever before.
Additionally, during lockdown, Blue Zoo staff formed a Virtual Choir, so we thought we’d collaborate and use their beautiful voices as the soundtrack for this short.
For the brief, we wanted the experts at PAPYRUS to explain their charity’s work, the issues they encounter and how they help.
To do this, BZ Co-founder, Tom, had an insightful chat with the Papryus team, which was then shared with the entire studio, and we welcomed everyone to submit a pitch.
A short segment of the conversation Tom had with PAPYRUS, learning about how you can approach talking about suicided to those you may be concerned about.
We received more pitches for this brief than any other BZ Shorts submission ever! As with every pitch session for BZ Shorts, the quality of pitches is sensational with a huge selection of stories, imagery and ideas.
Everyone at the studio voted on what they think are the strongest aspects of each pitch. Once the voting closed, we discussed the results with PAPYRUS and the idea with the most positive feedback and votes was ‘Sinking Feeling’, pitched by Short-form Animator, Mark Spokes.
The Blue Zoo Virtual Choir recorded a cover of ‘True Colours’ by Cyndi Lauper to accompany the story of the short. As the choir practices and arranges the song, the short goes into production.
Later in December, we announce that the new short is in production by uploading the BZ Choir’s recording of the song. You can watch the choir’s beautiful recording below. Powerful stuff!
Mark works with the short Art Director, Grant Berry, to design the environments and characters. Modelling begins on Sinking Feeling, Sophie Jameson modelled Grant’s character designs and other artists helped with the props.
For this project, the decision was made to use Blender as much as possible.
Why Blender? Blue Zoo Shorts is all about experimenting, not just with styles of animation, but also with new programs and workflows. Blender has grown to become a real contender for professionals to use and we want to test in a professional environment. To date, our studio has only used it on one project, where the Short-form team have created a commercial using Blender with stunning results. This production tests how a bigger team fairs when creating in Blender, all working remotely.
Below you can see how rigger Chris McFall implemented really flexible rigs in Blender, with bezier controls on the elbows to give a cartoony level of control.
Using Blender meant we needed a pipeline developed to aid the workflow of multiple users working on assets at the same time. Rather than developing out own, we though it would be best to use an off-the-shelf solution, and as we are all working remotely due to Covid, we thought it would be ideal to try out a cloud based pipeline. Looking around we opted to try out the new Blender-focused cloud pipeline tool LoUPE by Tangent Labs. This felt in keeping with Blue Zoo’s new commitment to working with artists remotely across the globe. In fact, the Sinking Feeling team is working remotely from several countries including UK, Canada, France and Germany!
Shout out to Tangent who have been super supportive in getting us up and running in a brand new tool!
When it comes to rendering in Blender, we had two choices, the CPU/GPU render Cycles, or the GPU real-time render Eevee. Our LookDev Artist, Jack (based in Vancouver) tested out the different options and found that Eevee was able to replicate the grainy illustrative look the easiest, fortunately in real-time too! Check out the animation test below by Jack where you can see the beautiful stylised look that Eevee achieves.
On animating in Blender, Director Mark Spokes said:
“For most of the animators, Maya is their comfort zone and having to switch to Blender is a little disorientating. Luckily the number of people who stepped-up to help out is huge so each artist is working on one shot each. This means that they have plenty of time to learn the ropes as they work. Also pooling our collective knowledge about Blender has been super helpful for troubleshooting issues as they crop up.”
Using a new program is all about communication. Teamwork and collaboration is at the heart of this project and we can’t wait for you to see it.
Animation has all been wrapped up and the team has done a fantastic job. There were 8 2D animators and 22 3D animators working on this short, for many it was their first time using Blender.
3D Animator, Bianca Iancu, said about using Blender, “It was definitely a steep learning curve for me. Blender's animation tools work quite differently to Maya's and it took some googling and customizing to get it to function comfortably while also avoiding trying to make it work like Maya does. I was able to get answers on Blender's very active community forums though, by watching the Blender YouTube series by Luciano Muñoz (#LollypopMan) and finding equivalent scripts like AnimAide and X Pose Picker online. These extensive resources helped me pick it up much more quickly. Overall I think it's great for simple animation but anything more detailed or complex would take significant practice. I'm glad I took the leap because it's always worth exploring new tools, especially if they're free and produce such great results.”
The majority of March was spent on the lighting and compositing stage. Lighting and compositing on this project has proved challenging, mostly due to the new workflows and a very stylised look. This was achieved from a mixture of procedural shaders in Eevee and hand-painted textures to achieve an illustrative look.
In the short, there is a void sequence with a dark, ethereal vibe which was achieved using charcoal. Grant Berry, the Art Director, said about this: “I really wanted to pull on real textures and the handcraft. Even if the sequences weren’t used you can’t beat looking at nature and real textures as a source of inspiration or reference. I wanted to create a sense of chaos and disorientation with these textures as this is where we see Benji sink further into the dark.”
That’s a Wrap!
We’re so proud that Sinking Feeling has now wrapped!
With over 60 artists volunteering to help on the film, this has been an immensely collaborative project. However it’s also been challenging for a number of reasons. For many of the artists, this was their introduction to Blender. Working remotely and using a new cloud based pipeline and a stylised look in Blender, this project has a lot of firsts for BZ Shorts and the studio.
Regardless of these challenges, Director Mark Spokes’s vision never wavered. The initial pitch document translated directly to film with barely any change which is a testament to the strength of the original concept. Sticking to that vision is truly the mark of a great director.
We have now had the internal premiere of the film to the whole studio to a very positive reception. There were definitely a few tears shed!
Mark says, “I’d like to thank everyone who worked on Sinking Feeling. So many people came forward to work on this project and it’s been really enriching meeting and working with so many talented artists. I’m very proud of how the short turned out. Thanks to everyone's hard work, I really think the message of this film will resonate and hopefully do some good, as well."
A huge thank you to the Sinking Feeling team for your hard work and dedication!
Keep an eye on PAPYRUS UK’s social feeds for Sinking Feeling coming soon.
Adrian Lan Sun Luk
Brenda Ximena Roldan Romero
Sergio Muñoz González
Ricky James Honmong
Claire Louise Hodges
Lighting & Compositing
Ana Martín Vega
Blue Zoo Choir
Aurelie Lise-Anne Van Overloop
Katie May Gascoyne
Technical Lead/Blender Support
Realtime Technical Artist
Jack Alexandre Sainsbury