Property of La Noria/NightWheel Pictures

Into darkness: Making 3D animated horror film "La Noria"

Last modification: 31 Aug, 2018
Duration
13 mins

A life without conflict isn’t living; failure is ultimately good; darkness isn’t always what it seems: Carlos Baena is an award-winning 3D animator who, having seen rock bottom, is unafraid of what lurks there.

Since leaving Spain in the early nineties, Carlos put his creative talents to work for him at ILM, Paramount Pictures and – five rejection letters later – Pixar. He’s since contributed to enduring films like Star Wars: Episode II, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Wall-E, and Toy Story 3.

Now, taking a leave of absence from the career he fought to secure, Carlos and his hand-picked team are developing La Noria (Spanish for Ferris wheel), an elegant and opulent animated film which brings a boy’s battle with darkness, devastation, demons, and fear to light.


What are your earliest memories of drawing?

Every memory I have is of drawing. I would draw fun things like caricatures of my classmates and my teachers and darker things, too. I just drew and whatever came, came. It’s such a big part of my life and is always there in one way or another.


When did you know that you’d be a professional artist?

It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. in 1994. My heart had always gone toward the creative but I didn’t know it could become a reality. I was studying law when I lived in Spain. Surprisingly, you need better grades to pursue Fine Arts than you do to pursue law – and I didn’t have those grades. That lasted only a few months, thankfully, because I decided quickly that I wasn’t cut out for it. My parents could also see that I’d become an unhappy wreck if I stayed with it, and it was my father who came to me and said, 'You need to go out there and explore other things.'


Sketches for La Noria

 

Why do creatives have so much internal struggle over their art?

That’s an interesting question. Those internal conflicts are the ones that drive us and fuel creativity at the same time. In some cases, things that don’t come easy, growing up, things we struggle to understand about life and ourselves, are all big parts of art. I didn’t know that I was going to be able to produce something creative and get paid for it. It wasn’t until I was meeting people and working very hard that I could see the light.


How did you first break into your line of work?

I got my first industry job in Portland, Oregon, working on the M&M commercials. At that point, I decided I would stay in the U.S. and continue working. Pixar is a place that always inspired me, and I wanted to go work there. I tried so many times until I finally got in. It took five years (laughs). I had so many rejection letters piled up from that place.



Still from La Noria



Do you still have them?

I think I still have two or three somewhere. I kept one in particular right by my bed. When you cannot have something, you want it even more, and though it bummed me out to be rejected, I didn’t want it to stop me either. I just thought, 'Well, I'll work really hard to put something that's hopefully stronger in my reel for next year.'


"In this career, there is something good about failing. Failure has taught me to get back up."


Are you still that positive today?

That kind of thinking applies to almost everything in my career. I’ve worked on several films, either directing or animating, where I see so many things that make me wish I could go back and fix this or that. But I have to let it go and move forward to keep learning. It’s all part of the process. In this career, there is something good about failing. Failure has taught me to get back up.


How did you get to "La Noria"?

In 1999, I went through a very difficult period in my life where things went wrong physically, emotionally, and even career-wise. A lot of things hit me hard all at once within a 6-month period. Everyone has that one year that is the worst year, and I was living that year over and over again. It was the worst I’ve ever felt and it was my rock bottom. Around 2000, I remember doing a sketch when I was reflecting on that, thinking about the feelings that came with everything I went through – and what I learned from it, too. It was that one sketch that helped me start putting things together. That was the seed. It wasn’t until 2010 or 2011 that I started reaching out to other people to see if they wanted to help me.



La Noria



And who were those people?

There was Eve Skylar first. I stopped by her booth at the Alternative Press Expo and saw her art. I told her what I was working on and that I might use my savings to take a leave of absence from my job to dedicate myself to it. She became very interested. I started to approach other people, other artists, telling them about my idea and they started to send me early concept artwork. That’s what really got the ball rolling. Then, I met Sasha Korellis, our producer. She was at a place in her life where she needed a big change. We didn’t know how or even where we could do it because we had no studio. There were so many things we didn’t know. You always hear how difficult it is to do this kind of thing but until you’re in it, you don’t realize just how hard it is.


"...I like the symbolism of spirals, how they repeat a never-ending pattern. You can get caught up in them and it’s hard to get out. You need to be shaken up in order to get out of that pattern of going around and around..."


What's the meaning behind the Ferris wheel?

They represent a lot to me. I grew up in the 70’s with Meccano – metal pieces with which you could create whatever you wanted. My brother and my dad and I always had it around, building things and taking them apart again to build new things. Also, I like the symbolism of spirals, how they repeat a never-ending pattern. You can get caught up in them and it’s hard to get out. You need to be shaken up in order to get out of that pattern of going around and around – and that’s how it felt during that difficult time in 1999.


And why a horror theme?

Setting aside the animation, I just really wanted to do a horror film. There’s something beautiful about dark arts for me, as well as darker films. "The Changeling" is one that is stuck forever in my head. The only other one that even comes close is "The Exorcist." These images stayed with me.


"The horror part actually makes it fun. I’ve watched a lot of horror films and darker films in general, but have never animated in that style. I fantasized about how fun it would be, how to animate it, how to shoot it. These technicalities
were tricky to think about and they continue to be now."

 

Still from La Noria


What are the challenges that come with this being animated and horror?

The challenge with any film is wondering if it will suck, if it will be engaging, if people will want to see it. You wonder if it will be worth the time – the years – that it will take to work on it, show it to people and get feedback, then go back to the drawing board. Will it be worth making it independently, with whatever help, whatever tools, whatever time you can possibly find? People working on this have full-time jobs and families, so when something is supposed to take a week and it takes a month instead – that’s challenging. The horror part actually makes it fun. I’ve watched a lot of horror films and darker films in general, but have never animated in that style. I fantasized about how fun it would be, how to animate it, how to shoot it. These technicalities were tricky to think about and they continue to be now. There is always some sort of challenge that comes up where we don’t how we'll work it out. But we remind ourselves that we’ve gotten through things we didn't know before and we’ll try to get through this, too. You have to roll with the punches.



Still from La Noria

 

"Everybody [at Pixar] is working so hard and you worry that your work is never good enough. At the same time, you know that even if you weren’t there, the film keeps going and the studio would still find a way to get the movie done."



Is the fact that it’s a short make it any less challenging?

There are a lot of challenges when doing a short film. In our case, it became about resources. When you don’t have the same resources that a big studio has, it can be very hard and stressful.


You'd think that working in a big studio with huge budgets, tight timelines, and countless stakeholders is as demanding as it gets. Is going independent tougher?

There are different challenges. Working as an animator at Pixar taught me many great things about my own process. You deal with your own internal pressure knowing your shot will be shown in a very large movie. Everybody there is working so hard and you worry that your work is never good enough. At the same time, you know that even if you weren’t there, the film keeps going and the studio would still find a way to get the movie done. With your own movie, you find more limitations. If I'm not working on the film it might never get finished and you feel this pressure to figure everything out. Because of that, I decided to take a year off in order to focus on it completely. When I started to really go under the hood of our own pipeline, there were many things that needed to be organized, tested and figured out in order to start seeing things working and rendering.



Still from La Noria



How many artists are working together on this?

Between 30 and 40 artists, but at some points there have been a lot more than that. They’re all spread out in different places and they come and go when they can. They do whatever their jobs, their families, and their energy will allow because sometimes they just get tired (laughs). We take whatever we get. Everything counts. You always, always wish for more resources, but at the same time, we’ve enjoyed a lot of support, with companies offering licenses or discounts or services. That has meant the world to us.


How is the Indiegogo campaign furthering your cause?

We needed the IndieGogo to hire more people to get the film finished. It also helped us push ourselves to have a full shot completed through our pipeline. We set ourselves a deadline, saying, “This will include rendering, effects, sound and color correction, the whole thing.” We needed to do that for ourselves, to know where we were heading in terms of rendering costs. So far it has not been cheap. We are all very tired, but seeing things completed has given the whole crew a nice push and extra motivation.



Still from La Noria



What do you attribute the film's unique visual style to?

We chose to make some areas realistic and others more stylized. Since there is no dialog in this film, the character journey is shown with his eyes. I wanted to make sure that they were slightly big so we can see all the emotion of what he's going through. Also, I'm inspired by live action work and thought it would be great to handle certain aspects in that way: the compositions, the aspect ratio, the desaturated colors, film grain, and lighting – or lack thereof. We looked at Film Noir to see how much they did with very little light. In Film Noir, every shot feels treated as though it’s a painting and that was inspiring to us. The visual look is also influenced by all the talented people we’re lucky enough to work with our crew, from visual development through lighting/compositing. The film's look comes from all of that.


"We’re in an industry where there’s always something new, whether it’s work from studios or individuals. That’s very inspiring. Seeing people who are pushing themselves pushes me to work hard, too."


When you’re pouring so much creativity into your project day after day, how do you stay inspired?

We’re in an industry where there’s always something new, whether it’s work from studios or individuals. That’s very inspiring. Seeing people who are pushing themselves pushes me to work hard, too. When you animate a shot, you have to ask yourself, “Did I push myself here? Am I really trying?” It’s never about the project’s destination, it’s the journey. I don’t think in terms of when this will all get done, I think about it in terms of what we can manage to get done this week. There are some days that are very hard and then there are days where things are a lot better. When it’s dark and there are bumps in the road, we have to believe that we’re going to get through it and that there will be light in the end.



Autodesk is proud to support Carlos and his crew’s passionate vision. Visit the "La Noria" campaign on IndieGogo now to contribute to the project, and learn more about the film on its official site and Facebook page.

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