Reflecting on completing Baboons: Cam and Mike take a look back at the process

Early in 2009 we were throwing around a huge range of potential ideas for our next project. Writing and developing a short series was high on our priorities. Over this time we had some decent ideas that we may still work on in the future. We had always made film-clip style short films and thought that we should perhaps diversify and stray a little from this.

Then we realized how much more inspired we were to create something based on music. We had been listening to our friend's band ‘The Dairy Brothers' and there were two songs that really motivated us to create something, ‘Car Crash Crush' and ‘My Neighbourhood has been overrun by Baboons'. With a funding application deadline approaching, we pitched ideas for both of these songs and let the panel of selectors decide what we should make. They chose ‘Baboons' and we've never looked back. It's an incredibly fun and energetic song with a tune that's way too catchy to listen to the amount of times we had to during editing.

It's hard to say what we thought it would turn out like back then. We spent a while writing the script even though the entire song is essentially a narrated story. There was still a huge amount of flexibility. I don't think our interpretation was very close to what the songwriters had in mind but they still loved it. Our intention, particularly while writing, was to create a film with a more significant meaning than simply a whimsical comedy. However, when it came to shooting, we just went for the things that worked rather than forcing an idea that may be too convoluted to be understood. This was especially significant when considering the perspective of our target audience, an average film-clip viewer, simply watching the film for its sheer entertainment value. The elements of deeper meaning are still somewhat present, so we are happy with that compromise.

We wanted the look of the film to be bright, energetic and really intense to suit the music. Although creating much more work for ourselves, we made sure the camera was always moving to create a tumultuous feeling, as if the audience is rushing around in panic like the main character.

There were a lot of important visual decisions that made themselves due to the resources we had available. For instance the houses on the street all looked the same because rather than making them all ourselves we just borrowed a bunch of bird aviaries from a friendly local.

Although buying many props and set materials meant we didn't have as much creative choice, we were still able to incorporate our own visual style, particularly in the making of the characters. A lot of time was spent researching and designing the look of the baboons and then even more in creating them. This required a lot of experimenting with various materials and difficult choices to make, considering the amount of animated movement that was required of them.

A decision we thought we would regret was to have long, hairy fur on the baboons. However, we soon realized that it was surprisingly controllable to animate and achieved some great results. We stumbled across an effect that made the hair look incredible when the footage was slowed down for slow motion, so we used this a number of times throughout the film.

We wanted to make a significant improvement on our character animation. The first step was to get some decent armatures for inside the models. These were quite expensive but worth their weight in gold. It made animating that much easier and we now can't believe we ever animated without them in the past. There were still some issues and our animation is still far from perfect but we did improve a lot.

Overall, we feel like we have made a lot of improvements on our past work. For us, that is what film making is all about. Stop-motion animation is an art form that takes a life time to learn so we are happy to have taken a few more steps in the right direction. Along the way, we produced a film we are quite proud of and we're also pleased to find that most people thoroughly enjoy it.

We have always made it a priority to make our films as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Baboons was no different, even though we now had some money at our disposal, getting funding from the MRC as part of Digitopia, their animation intiative. We immediately prioritized where the funds would best be spent. We feel our strengths are in the technical side of stop-motion animation, particularly cinematography and special effects. We are always tempted to spend our available funds on the latest equipment that can help us achieve our ambitious vision. However, realizing that we have created technically impressive films in the past with limited resources, we figured we should focus our attention and much of our budget on the artistic side of the film. We simply bought the equipment we needed and focused our attention elsewhere.

We spent a long time in pre-production, experimenting with different materials for characters, sets and props. We bought a lot of ready made props, rather than building them ourselves. We realized that we could now afford to buy things that undoubtedly look better than anything we could make ourselves. A large amount of our budget went into all the little details in the set that hopefully add up to a more impressive overall production design.

We transformed our shed and two spare rooms into our studio spaces, where we pretty much lived and worked for six months straight, often working 24 hours a day just to get the film finished. The last couple of months of shooting were incredibly difficult. Our deadline was tightening, but we were already working around the clock so there wasn't anything more we could do. This was a stage where we had to decide where we could make compromises in order to be more time efficient and still achieve a good result. As it turned out we really didn't have to stray too far from our original plans and were more than happy with the final results.

While it may have been hard work, it is certainly all worthwhile when you have a film that you're proud to show to everyone. It was an incredible experience and we learnt a huge amount just because we pushed ourselves to do something ridiculously ambitious.

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Making The Characters
 
Baboons Intro

One of the first steps in the production was to create the characters. We needed 1 main human character and a whole horde of baboons. We ended up making 5 different baboon heads interchangeable on 3 bodies. This is because we only ever needed a maximum of 3 baboons in the 1 shot. It will hopefully look like there are more than 5 different baboons because we can change the eye-pieces easily and dress them up to make them look completely different.

We really wanted to take a step up in the quality of our characters. We thought that in our last film Animal Instincts, the characters were pretty simplistic. This was fine because it suited the style, but considering their simplicity, they were quite impracticle to animate. We had made our own wire armatures inside them and these were far from perfect. The sheep wasn't too bad because he was so light but the cow model was covered in plasticene so was a lot heavier and struggled to balance and hold its own weight.

So we thought it was time to invest in some professional ball and socket armatures and see how they work. They have certainly made life a lot easier when animating and we now regret not getting them earlier. The People's Republic of Animation were good enough to lend us their kits from Armaverse for the 3 baboon bodies. We modified them from a normal human skeleton shape to a more ape like shape with longer arms and shorter legs. Have a look at this timelapse of Mike putting together the human character's armature...

Putting together a ball and socket armature from GooRoo Animation


Before we started putting any of this together, we had to decide what the baboons were going to look like. We did quite a bit of research and got some design help from Cam's brother Chris Edser (of Screamdance and Quench Studios). We ended up straying considerably from his designs but they went a long way in helping to determine what we wanted. You would be surprised how many different types of baboons there are out there. They can range in appearance a huge amount. Our baboons are closest to mandrill baboons, which we thought were the most interesting and distinct with orange fur and colourful faces.

A great new material we discovered was Super Sculpey bakeable modelling clay. It was a good alternative the plasticine because once baked, it is firm and you can paint fine details on it. We used it for the baboon characters heads and chests, and this made them much less fragile, easier to keep clean and easier to animate than past character made primarily from plasticene. The only plasticene used is on their mouths, eyebrows and feet that all need to be manipulated to animate.

Other materials we used to create the characters were blue tac, applied directly to the armature to fill out the shape and make the joints more ridgid, furry orange material covering most of the body, thin aluminium wire inside the indidivual fingers, latex covering the legs and hands, pins sitcking the hair to the sculpey head, a hinge for the jaw and hand painted glass eyes made by Marigold.

 

While we were still in pre-production, we were offered a job from Ash Trotter of Tektime. He was after a short animated clip for his TV show. The brief was to have a character playing a guitar so intensely that it bursts into flames. We thought, yeah that sounds like fun and figured it would be a good opportunity to test out our new baboon character. We wanted to see how easy it was to animate the character as well as trial our new technical setup with a new camera and software.

We went straight to our mate Nick Cole, who recorded a crazy guitar solo for the clip. We dressed one of the baboon characters up as Slash from Guns'n'Roses and made a little stage for him to play on.

It was a good chance for us to test out the live action capabilities of our new camera the Canon 500d, integrating real fire and smoke, creating an amazingly realistic special effect.

The clip will be played during the Guitar Hero episode of the show, going to air in Australia on Channel 7 in November '09, and can be viewed online as soon as it goes to air.

We were pretty happy with the way it turned out, and thought, at 15 seconds long, it was perfect to use as our GooRoo Animation intro to play before the film. We made a few changes and added our logo to the end of it (on fire of course for added awesome-ness) and will now stick it at the beginning of "My Neighbourhood has been overrun by Baboons".


 
Digitopia

This film is a big milestone for us as a production company. It is the first short film that we have produced with funding other than out of our own pocket. We developed the idea for this project and applied for an animation production initiative called Digitopia, run by the Media Resource Center in Adelaide. We recieved $4500 to put towards the film. We have spent about twice this amount already, investing some of our own money into the film. However, much of this is for equipment that we will continue to use on future projects.

As well as the funding, we have also recieved support through the animation production initiative in the way of script development assistance from writer Simon Butters and production mentorship from Hugh Nguyen, producer at The People's Republic of Animation. Their assistance, and the support of the MRC is greatly appreciated.

 

The Dairy Brothers
The Dairy Brothers are an Adelaide band, mastering the genre of comedic rock. We've collaborated with them before in 2004, creating a film clip for their song, Never Gonna be a Star. "My Neighbourhood has been overrun by Baboons" is their latest single, off their EP "Got Rock".
     
Making The Neighbourhood
 
Shooting Interiors


This short film is quite demanding in terms of the amount of sets it requires. The fast paced narrative song moves from location to location many times in just 3 minutes. The biggest set we needed to build was the neighbourhood street set. The set is about 2x4 meters, built on top of 4 wooden doors. This is the largest and most elaborate set we have ever constructed, taking up most of our studio

It has a 10m piece of vinyl curve around the back 3 sides as a backdrop. It was originally intended to have a sky painted onto it but we later decided to just paint it a flat blue and replace that colour in every shot using the technique of bluescreening.

We were lucky enough to borrow 6 detailed bird avairys, around the size of dolls houses, to use for our film. We just had to give them a paint job. This didn't sound too hard but proved to be quite time consuming. Thanks to Daniel Wise, Hannah Richards (Mike's sister), Naomi Beeston and George McLoughlin for their help with painting them. Check out this time lapse of a house being painted by Cam...

Painting a miniature house from GooRoo Animation

The main characters house is a dolls house kit we bought over the net from this place in Canada. It would have been very cheap if it weren't for postage. We regretted not buying a ready-made house after it took over a week to put together. This didn't help when we were already behind schedule! Check out this time lapse of the house being put together...

Putting together a dolls house from GooRoo Animation

The set turned out pretty nicely as a whole, and comes up a lot better with a different sky composited behind the houses. Check it out...yet another time lapse! This one is of the entire set being constructed.


Constructing a miniature neighbourhood set from GooRoo Animation
 

The interior scenes were the first to shoot. These were all done in the spare room at Mike's place because our main studio was taken up by the huge neighbourhood set. Due to the time constraints of the imposing deadline, Mike started shooting the kitchen and bedroom scenes, while Cam finished making the neighbourhood set.

The kitchen was first up. The set had some nice props in it that were hardly seen in the one quick shot they featured in. So to make sure they get seen...have a look at the behind the scenes picture gallery below (click to enlarge). There's also a time lapse of part of the bathroom scene being animated.

Image Gallery (click to enlarge):


Time lapse of animating from GooRoo Animation