Sunday, October 4, 2015

SunTop World Explorers

My journey with Mr. SunTop, the mascot of the softdrink brand of the same name, spans the full decade of the 1990s. During this time I worked on a whole string of TV commercials for the primary product, the orange drink, as well as its spin-off SunCola.

The films were made in pairs with one SunTop and one SunCola ad per year. Initially, my contribution was limited to storyboards, background layouts and animation. Other artists did the background painting, character cleanup and inbetweening. The coloring and camera work were done at Nielsen & Nielsen, the Borch Nielsen brothers' studio, on their expensive Silicon Graphics computer (coloring animated movies on a computer was kind of new back in the early nineties).

Mr. SunTop as Colombus in "World Explorers", 1997
But in 1997, having spent a few years working on various computer games, I realized that it was possible to make an entire film in my own little studio on nothing more than a regular Windows-based PC. I sold the deal to the client - sweetened by a very competitive price - and got to work.

The plan was to do the entire thing myself, so I had my work cut out for me: make a 30 second film in six weeks. That is, 5 seconds of rough animation, 5 seconds of  cleanup and inbetweening and 5 seconds of coloring every week, plus layouting, color styling, scene planning, camera work, color adjustment and the rest of it. It was a fun challenge which soon turned into a 24-7 gig.

Storyboard by Martin Madsen, 1997.

The film had already been storyboarded (by fellow animator Martin Madsen), so I could dive right into the next phases: layouting, animation, cleanup and inbetweeing. I bought a flatbed scanner to get the drawings into the computer and a CD-ROM burner (which was also kind of new technology back then) in order to deliver the colored single frames to a video editing facility where the images would be combined with the sound and transferred to Beta SP video, required by the broadcaster.

For the backgrounds I called on my favorite background painter Thomas Dreyer, whom I had first met when working on a Guldkorn commercial some years before. Here's some of Thomas' backgrounds based on my BG layouts.

Apart from all the hard honest work to be done, only one major challenge remained. How to test the final colored scenes in real time? For sure, there was no program in Windows that could playback a video resolution film in realtime without the notorious Windows flickering and dropping frames, if at all. So, having recently aqiured som insight into games programming, I ended up making my own playback tool, not for Windows but for DOS, where I could simply load all the still images into system memory and copy them to screen memory at the right speed.

However, limited by my computer's 8 Mb of memory I was only able to playback a second or two, which wasn't very useful. So I stuffed some more RAM into the computer until I reached the machine's limit of 40 Mb, which was considered an obscene amount of RAM at the time. That way, and by reducing the images' colordepth to 8 bit, I was able to see a full 9 seconds (!) of moving color film in one go. It meant, of course, that I never saw the full 30 second movie until after it was finally transferred to video, but the 9 seconds was enough to see if it worked.

There's nothing like obstacles and limitations to spark one's creativity. Fun times!

Here's the final movie.

One small disclaimer:
You may notice that in the closeup of the running dogs the cycle is reused for all four dogs, only in different sizes and colors. This cycle was originally done one twos which is the sole responsibility of the very lazy animator. A four-legged run cycle like this should really be done on ones. It always bugged me, so many years later I couldn't resist the temptation to inbetween the cycle on ones and insert the new colored drawings into the film. According to my good friend Jesper Møller that is "tampering with the evidence", which I have hearby confessed to. I just couldn't stand looking at the jerky movements any longer. In my defense I will say that I learned from my mistake - in one sequence, which I animated for Asterix and the Vikings years later, there is a run cycle on Dogmatix (Idéfix) as he catches up with Obelix, and this time I got it right.

No comments:

Post a Comment