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Inside an award-winning animation

Go behind the scenes with recent University of Hertfordshire animation graduates to see the creation of their award-winning grad film: The Ballad of Julio

Go behind the scenes with recent University of Hertfordshire animation graduates to see the creation of their award-winning grad film: The Ballad of Julio

We caught up with the team of 5 students from The University of Hertfordshire to discuss their animated short The Ballad of Julio, Winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Canterbury Anifest 2013 and nominated for the UK Film Festival.

3dtotal: Hi guys! Thanks for letting us chat to you; we really enjoyed your short in the 3dtotal office. Can you tell us what course you study and what the project was in aid of?

Reply: We studied at The University of Hertfordshire, on the 3D Animation pathway of the Digital Animation course there. In the third year of the course you make an animated short film before you graduate and that's what The Ballad of Julio was.

Introducing the starring musical bean characters in the graduation animation from University of Hertfordshire students

"We had so many different ideas for shorts, and actually originally completed the pre-production for a completely different film"

3dtotal: The story is well written with a splash of humor for good measure. What challenges did you run into when it came to putting a captivating story together?

Reply: The story was one of the hardest things to come up with. We had so many different ideas for shorts, and actually originally completed the pre-production for a completely different film about a scarecrow before we realized it wasn't working and scrapped everything. In 24 hours we came up with the basic plot for Julio. After that it, was a lot of refining and tweaking of the original idea and making sure the edit was perfect.

A 2D sketch of the character Julio, the lonely busker who encounters the dancing magical beans

3dtotal: There is a distinct style to the film that gives the characters and their surroundings real charm (we love the baby beans eyes!). What was your inspiration behind this particular style of animation?

Reply: We wanted to do something with a large amount of realism but then push it so that it still had its own distinct style. The character designs were really important; we did many different concepts before we settled on the final versions and spent a long time on the shaders, rigs and textures to make sure everything was of a really high quality, both visually and technically.

The animation itself was inspired by many things, including the wacky style of films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Looney Toons, while the scenes towards the end took a lot of inspiration from crowd shots in films like Godzilla. We made sure that when the beans came to life the mood of the film and visuals changed to reflect the difference they made to a lonely buskers world.

A 2D sketch of the individual bean characters that star in University graduation animation video: The Ballad of Julio

3dtotal: The process of putting together a short film is no easy task, how did you break down each part in order to tackle them?

Reply: As a group we all specialize in different areas and have different strengths so we made sure to play to those. From the beginning we recognized our weaknesses too, which was really important as we knew what we couldn't realistically achieve.

Planning was just as important and we made sure to stick to our strict deadlines so the film got completed on time. The lecturers at our university really helped out with time management and we had weekly meetings to make sure we never slipped behind. That said, there were a few times when things like render issues held us up, but we managed to get it all sorted in the end.

A color version of the five dancing magical bean characters in the graduation animation: The Ballad of Julio

3dtotal: What software did you use to create the animation and what were the advantages and disadvantages you encountered?

Reply: We made the short in Maya, as it was the main program we were taught at the university due to its heavy usage in the industry. Alongside it, we used other programs such as ZBrush for modeling and sculpting - it's becoming such a powerful program that some of the beans were actually made entirely with it.

Photoshop was used for the majority of the texturing and the 2D paintings in the short. We rendered in mental ray, which had its pros and cons, and while we did consider other options like Arnold, we had a lot more licenses for mental ray which was important for getting it done in time for the deadline.

A modeled version of Julio, the lonely busker as featured in The Ballad of Julio animation

"Another lesson was that no matter how much planning we did there were always errors and things that needed fixing"

3dtotal: The project took you all 7 months and a lot of sleepless nights to complete. What are the main lessons you learnt along the way?

Reply: We learnt the importance of caffeine. Also how important the story is to a film. We learnt the hard way at the start of the project how pivotal a good narrative is to a short animation, and it lost us a bit of time, but in the end we put a lot of thought into the journey the audience takes with our characters and I think it paid off.

Another lesson was that no matter how much planning we did there were always errors and things that needed fixing - making an animation is just as technical as it is creative so it helps to be good at problem-solving.

A full color render of Sleepy bean, one of the five starring magical beans in the graduation animation

3dtotal: As you come to the end of your course at The University of Hertfordshire, how have you found your time at the University? Do you feel its been beneficial to your future career paths?

Reply: Without a doubt, a few of us from the group came to the university with almost no knowledge of 3D, and it's crazy thinking that 3 years later we were able to create a piece of animation that we are all really proud of. We had the constant support of the lecturers and classmates which is good if you ever have questions, and seeing the great work your peers are doing is always really motivational. Sure there were a lot of late nights and shouting at our computers, but it was all worth it in the end.

A still shot of Julio from the graduation animation movie: The Ballad of Julio, showing the texturing and lighting used in the scene

3dtotal: The Ballad of Julio won the Audience Choice Award at the Canterbury Anifest 2013 and has been selected for the UK Film Festival. With the successes youve had so far, will there be a volume 2 of Julios adventures or are you all starting new projects?

Reply: It's certainly something we've considered! Weve talked about exploring how the beans got into the can and weve got plenty of story ideas not involving Julio too. Its great knowing that it's been so well-received by people from around the world. For now though, we've all just started working in the industry but who knows what the future holds!

The Ballad of Julio animation by recent University of Hertfordshire graduates

The Ballad of Julio animation by recent University of Hertfordshire graduates

Related links

MichaelWilde.co.uk
LeoBlackmur.co.uk
JamesBown.co.uk
Flaker.co.uk
AlexSpeed.co.uk

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