Image Courtesy of 'Migrants' team.

VES Student Award Winners on Making 'Migrants'

The winning team of the 19th Annual VES Student Awards share a break-down of their technique in their animated short film, Migrants.



Hi, we are the people behind Migrants, a student animated project about polar bears forced to leave their ice floe and discover a new land with unwelcoming inhabitants.


This is a break-down of how we created our short-film and the big questions we asked ourselves during its creation.



What story do we want to tell, and how do we want to tell it?


We wanted to make a short film that talks about society and current issues, but we didn't want it to focus on one specific subject. So, we chose various themes that we, members of the team and young people, are worried about: refugee crises, racism, and global warming.


One member of the team came up with the question, “what would happen if polar bears were forced to live among brown bears because of global warming.” We all agreed to base our project around this question. Then, we had to figure out how we wanted our film to look visually and why.


We chose to use stuffed animal characters and stop motion stylised assets for two reasons: to cover these highly charged and sensitive topics, and to better resonate with younger audiences.


Concept art for polar bears in Migrant.

Concept art for brown bears in Migrant.


What will our movie look like?


One thing every member of the team can agree on is that we are more comfortable in front of 3D software than in front of pen and paper, so most of our Look Development (even character design), was made by testing it directly in 3D. Re-sculpting an entirely new idea instead of re-drawing it took a lot more time... But in the end, we managed to create our 3D polar bears and brown bears.


Character design of mother polar bear.
Character design of polar bear cub.
Character design of brown bear cub from side.
Character design of brown bear cub from front.


Soon after creating our characters, we moved onto our environmental assets.


Design of mushroom for environment.
Design of bush for environment.


How do we create the stop motion effect in the animation?


The easiest way to get this effect is by animating in 12 fps, but we wanted to have our bears bend and fold like stuffed animals and to have some bounciness in their animation. So, we did a “basic” rig and then we had to simulate all our animations to get those folds.


We later discovered that this technique helped us a lot! Thanks to those simulations we avoided many problems of interpenetrations for the fur.


How do we create the special effects?


We decided to turn our ocean into plastic materials to enhance the stop motion artistic direction. The challenge was to create every water movement like rain, waves, splashes, and white water with plastic pieces. The focus was on the motion and the texture to make it believable.


We also decided to transform our ice into polystyrene. For this, we created a tool to make the conversion very rapid. All we had to do was create the shapes we wanted for the shot and then the tool added all the details we wanted. It took time to set up this tool but it helped us a lot during the production.


Still of mother polar bear and her cub on melting ice cap from Migrants.


How can we convey the characters’ emotions to the audience?


As our characters were stuffed animals with black marbles for eyes, we had to do a lot of work on the evolution of the atmosphere during the movie. All these evolutions in our environments were going to impact the audience’s interpretation of the characters' moods, so it was important to get this right. To do this, we mainly worked on the lighting and compositing.

We wanted to create two different atmospheres. The first one was the arrival of our characters in the forest: it needed to be a colourful scene, with clear directional sunlight. We wanted the characters to feel like they landed on a promised land where everything looked pretty and welcoming.


For the second atmosphere, we went for something colder and darker, with an overcast sky, so that the characters and audience could feel that things would become more threatening. As soon as we defined those two atmospheres, we worked on going from one to the other, as the story progressed.

Still of brown bear cub and polar bear cub staring at each other from Migrants.

Close up still of mother polar bear from Migrants.


Meet the team - their role in the project and their current jobs:

Aubin Kubiak - Lead animator, animator | SuperProd (Angoulême)

Antoine Dupriez - Special Effects, FX artist | Illumination Mac Guff (Paris)

Lucas Lermytte -  Pipeline TD and Rigger, TD Rig | SuperProd (Paris)

Zoé Devise - Lookdev, Lighting & Compositing, Lighting/Compositing artist | Jungler (Paris)

Hugo Caby - Lookdev, Lighting & Compositing, Compositing | Studio Hari  (Angoulême)


Watch the trailer here:


Modelling, rigging and animation done in Autodesk Maya. Pipeline creation done with Python in Maya.


Thank you to the Migrants team for sharing their process and experiences, we hope that their work can inspire many other young artists and we encourage students to participate in the VES student awards 2022! More details to come soon. 


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