To celebrate the release of Maya 2018, Long Winter Studios crafted the short film “Wall of Death,” featuring the best of Maya’s animation and modeling workflows. Here’s a peek at what inspired them and powered them through the process, from concept to final renders.
1/ We used Maya to stay fast and flexible
From start to finish, we built the film in six weeks. Essentially, that is two weeks for concept and asset creation, two weeks for layout and animation, and then another two weeks for render and comp. This was possible due to the flexibility of working with Maya as our core software. With Maya, we’re able to both rely on a huge set of tools we’ve built internally, and also are able to quickly write new tools and scripts on the fly that massively speed up production. We automate whatever we can in order to focus on the artistry on screen.
2/ Our team worked entirely in the cloud
We’re a remote team. We work entirely off a cloud-based pipeline, with specific tools we've made for Maya to help facilitate our "connectedness." We deliver high-quality work FAST, taking advantage of RenderNation's cloud rendering system for the Arnold work. Our creative director for “Wall of Death,” Eugene, was six hours ahead of us in the UK, and our small team of four was spread throughout the United States. Working in different time zones can be tricky but being organized and having some slick tools makes it possible to keep the artists focused on being creative.
3/ We embraced the challenge and worked smart
Projects like "Wall of Death" are our wheelhouse. We’ve come to love them. We all dream of long projects where creative vision runs free but let’s be honest, with this fast-paced industry, we never get the time we want on a project. Decisions have to be made quickly, and mistakes can ripple out through the entire project. Therefore, you have to be smart, solve problems fast, and hold the quality no matter the pressure. This is what we’ve come to love about our niche. It’s incredibly challenging but also super fulfilling.
4/ We repurposed an old friend
Grimm’s design was inspired by an internally developed character we called, GrimSkull, created by Eric Meister and Thomas Moore. GrimSkull was developed for a graphic novel the two worked on together. In their version of the character, he’s an Indiana Jones-type, stealing precious gems and other relics. For this project, we riffed off that idea and made Grimm a more containable motorcycle daredevil, reckless and with nothing to lose. Grimm is a seasoned stuntman who has looked death in the eyes. He doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t blink, and won’t back down from the next killer stunt. This made imagining his story fun. There is so much more that could be done with him!
5/ We pushed the grit (while having laughs)
We wanted to push the grit of the character as far as we could in the limited time and space we had. We used a long opening shot to establish the character and help you understand a bit about who he is. Then, throughout the film, we wanted to have a bit of a laugh with his tricks. It’s animation after all. Since our creative director was in the UK, sipping tea was a must. I (Andrew Conroy) love office ping pong and since we’re a remote team, animating the ping pong shot is as much as I’ve played (during work hours) since starting our studio here at Long Winter.
6/ We dove into the nitty-gritty with MASH
Fewer assets mean more details so we were able to really dive into the nitty-gritty with this project. Everything from Grimm’s clothing to the Wall of Death itself, we zoomed in and got into the details. The Wall of Death is made up of individual boards. Each one of those boards is unique, and they are all held together with nails. This made for a heavy scene when everything was loaded, but with the use of MASH, it was easy. We built out a group of assets and then populated the wall using the new MASH tools. Using MASH again for the motor cycle chain, we got an actual chain on the motorcycle as opposed to faking it with textures. In both instances, MASH allowed us to take a lot of repeating detail and build it out quickly. The illustrations around the scene, as well as the ones found on Grimm’s bike and clothing, were all hand-drawn by the talented Eric Meister. His graphic illustrations in this projects pushed the look and gave authenticity to the film overall.
7/ We paired Arnold and Maya with amazing results
This crazy pipeline of ours relies heavily on new technology, so the pairing of Arnold and Maya is a huge help. For this film, we’re able to visualize a lot of different lighting solutions quickly with their integration. Making sure the scene felt right was a big focus for us. We needed the sense of scene to be right on target since we only had one chance to showcase the idea. Different colors, light setups, and even a few different takes on the stadium lighting were required to make it work. Arnold’s integration with Maya allowed us to keep editing until we had what we wanted.
8/ We kept things Nimble to save tons of time
We took advantage of Nimble Collective’s cloud platform for the post-production work. These guys are incredible, and we pushed through our comp work faster than ever by using their system. As we all know, resources for small shops can be limited and being able to run high-volume footage through their robust system saved a ton of time.
9/ We made things up as we went
We had a total blast making this! From the first call we had about the project to final footage, we were solving problems and seeing results. Running a small remote studio like Long Winter is fun because there is no model for it. We’re making it all up as we go. Every day we come to our desks asking how we’ll sort out the day’s challenges. No day is ever the same! Over the years we’ve done a lot to build what we feel we need to make films like “Wall of Death,” both in tools and talent. To put it all to the test once again on this project was super rewarding.
10/ We pushed ourselves and kept the dream alive
Long Winter, at its core, is a small team of close friends who come in every day to push ourselves and each other toward something new and unique. This film is the product of that. We enjoy making the work but we love making them work together even more. Seeing Thomas’ lighting/modeling or comp work is a blast and the 2D concepts that Eric puts out are always thrilling. From Skype calls to Slack chats, hanging out with friends and making fun films is truly living the dream.