Making of Age of the Sentient
Posted 09/09/2018

After finally releasing the film online, I can now finally talk about how it was done, why it was done, and where I am going from here with it. To start with, this is the first film I have ever completed of this scale. All my past work has been tiny snippets and shorts, from the crude stop motion animations I made when I was a kid, to the motion graphics I work with today on a daily basis. Nothing has ever came close to the effort and time it took to produce this. Of course, with everything I make, there is so much I would change now, but nevertheless, its great to finally tick it off and move onto something else. From past posts I have already explained some of the development of this project, but I will try to include more detail this time around as it’ll probably be the last time I talk about it.

The idea came about in late 2016, I wanted to create an 8 episode series based on a story I am writing. This short film was to act as a bit of a teaser and to trial concepts, processes, and development of making an animation series. I knew at the time it was going to be quite a mammoth task, but I was up for the challenge of at least trying to get some sort of story or pilot released. I would then go from there to perhaps get funding.  So I started development on this throughout 2016 in my spare time, I made some very simple character models and produced an animatic that took less than a week. At the time the story and characters made in this short, were unlikely to be reflective of the actual series, because I was still unsure at the time of what I wanted the story to be. I did however know that some of the ideas were definitely helping me flesh out the stories universe. Development for this short seemed to be moving so quickly. It seemed very feasible that I could do a series, this however changed when it came to making the scenes and animation.

When I moved on to making the scene, I knew 90% of it took place in some tunnels, so I decided to make the entire tunnel system in one project, instead of splitting it up for each scene. This meant I could add extra shots or in-between scenes knowing that they’d fit in and not look out of place. I started by fleshing out a rough model design of the level, adding in all the camera moves, and roughly key-framing the characters. Eventually coming up with a rough 3D animation for a majority of the short. I then went back over it to add the real character animation and cluttered up the scenes with piles of junk. As it is set in tunnels, a lot of the shots where quite dark, so I had to be clever with the lighting by adding light in key areas. All of this took a long time, I was well into 2017 by this point. Animation seemed to be the biggest time hog, even though it was just one character, I had a lot to learn about correct 3D character animation. I spent a lot time redoing and re-rendering shots because of my sloppy animation. In mid 2017, I was swamped with other work, so lost interest in this project and didn’t pick it back up until 2018.

2018 was a fresh year for me, I picked up writing again on the series story and worked heavily on characters, lore, and history of the robotic universe I was creating. I knew by now that most of the content in the short differed from my series writing, but knew I needed to get it finished because it was good practice. So in the spring of 2018 I went back and revised some of the shots, composed the music, composited a bunch of effects, and got the film to an almost complete level. It was finally close to being done. But watching it back I grew to dislike a lot of it. After hundreds of hours of work, I saw so many flaws, I became a little disappointed that this was my best result. I decided to place it on hold once again.

This summer, I drew up a plan and checklist of all the work I wanted to complete or make a start to. This was near the top. I decided that before I start any new projects, I would finish the vast amount I had already started but never finished. Being away from it certainly helped me look at with a refreshed pair of eyes, I pushed myself to re edit shots by mainly speeding things up, outsourcing more music, and adding some finishing touches to completion. Now that it is done, it gives me a better impression of what I want to achieve with the series and what I want to avoid.

Looking ahead at the actual series, I’ve now changed some of the direction I’m taking with it. The biggest change is the style. With the teaser short, I think the 3D style blends in with any other 3D animation. Nothing really stands out. I think its because I have tried to make it look as real as possible with no identity. So this is why I hope to take a more cartoon styled route, where I give the model textures a hand painted look, more exaggerated proportions, and thick black outlines. I feel my style of painting is unique, so hand painting the textures would give it a look that is personal to me. I also think it would help to create a lighter tone with the story instead of serious one it had before. The characters will also have some major changes, the characters in the short feel very lifeless because of the limited facial features. Granted they work well as robots, but are less relatable to humans. That is why they need some shifting towards appearing human to allow more life in the characters. So that is why I’m planning for the series characters to have expressive faces to go hopefully with their individual personalities.

This was a draft of one of the series characters. I may keep the mesh mostly the same, but the texturing and final rendering will change significantly. You can notice already how much more facial features there are to play with compared to the short. Dialogue is also something I will need to work on because I’m planning out a lot of script. I’ve had very little experience in making characters talk, so this will be something I need to learn.

Some newer concepts for character designs. A different attempt with rendering options. The 3D models will hopefully reflect this new style if I use my own custom drawn textures. I take a lot of the style from a video game called Machinarium.

This short film has been quite an experience. I never planned to spend this long on something of this scale. As usual, my ideas spiralled out of control and I created something far more detailed and complex than I had originally planned. It is great to finally have a 3D character piece to my name as proof that I capable of building large scale projects on my own. I still have a long way to go before I’m satisfied with the style and concept, but with the progress I’ve made so far, I am confident I’ll get there.