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Counting Rabbits

Wit Animation's Jeb Milne describes animated bunny pipeline for Counting Crows video

First off, how did you get started in animation?

I was working for a company called Launch, doing blue screen and compositing work but got bored with it and quit. For the next nine months or so I locked myself in a beach house and taught myself 3ds max . I animated a few characters and showed them to a few friends and then one day one of those friends, who was working for a company starting a major character animation project, called me up and asked me to show them my characters. They saw two characters and said, ĎOkay, youíre it. Youíre in charge of animating all the characters.í Here I was with no formal training, no experience, no background and I was suddenly in charge.

So you didnít start out doing traditional cell animation?

No. Iíve always used computers.

Was there a lot of preparation done for the Counting Crows project?

We had a pretty good idea about what was supposed to happen in a general sense -- story boards, script, and so on -- but there were a lot of details that hadnít been worked out and things changed during the actual live shoot. For example, we knew that the bunny was going to sing but we didnít know how much interaction it would have with the live actors. We werenít sure if only the girl would be able to see the bunny or if the boy would be able to see it as well. We also didnít know if the bunny would be singing the entire song or if we could throw narrative out the window and just make a little movie. In pop videos, you have a lot of flexibility with the narrative.

How important was it for you to be on the set during the live shoot?

It was imperative that I, or someone from the company, be there to measure everything -- the walls, the cabinets, the distances from the camera to the actors -- everything was measured and photographed. We then took all those measurements and built a virtual 3D set in 3ds max based on the measurements from the real set.

Another reason that it was important for me to be there was that even though we had a script and storyboards they didnít exactly follow them to the letter. For example, in one scene the boy actor started throwing eggs around the kitchen even though that wasnít in the original script. I had to step in and tell the director that it probably wasnít a good idea because if we had to later render CG eggs dripping down CG bunny fur it was going to take a long, long time. Someone had to be there to tell them what was possible in CG and what wasnít possible -- or would take too much time. 

Did you run into any problems?

We ran into lots of problems, but we also learned a heck of a lot from the experience. One thing that I would have done differently was to be more careful with the lighting. We did have a few stuffed teddy bears that someone picked up before the shoot to act as stand-ins for the bunny. Weíd put the teddy bear in place and Iíd take tons of still photos, but I donít think we spent nearly enough time making sure that everything was lit properly. Itís hard because you have to light imaginary areas. Later, when we got back to the studio, it turned out that there were scenes where the bunny would end up in shadows or in dimly lit areas and no one wants to see a CG bunny dancing and singing in the shadows.

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?

Well, since this was our first time mixing CG and live action I was still pretty awestruck by the whole live shooting process. I sort of tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, made a few suggestions here and there, but for the most part I just agreed with whatever they wanted. Next time I would put my foot down a bit more firmly. Iíd be a bit more of a hard-ass. Everything was on a pretty tight schedule and there wasnít time to do things properly -- like the lighting. But there are some things that will end up costing you more time later when you try to add CG elements. Next time, Iíll put my foot down harder and be more strict about things.

Speaking of schedules, three weeks isnít a lot of time to create 49 shots and almost two minutes of animation. Most traditional animation houses would probably never agree to a schedule like that. Why did you take on the project in the first place?

Honestly, we didnít know any better. Being a small company sometimes you force yourself into difficult situations. If I had known how much work was going to be involved I might not have agreed. That being said, we learned a hell of a lot - it was an incredibly valuable experience. To meet the deadlines we had to bring in new people and step up our production facility. That gave us a chance to learn about each otherís strengths and weaknesses. We had to ramp up very quickly and we built a very long list of dos and doníts for the next time.

On the technical side, what tools did you use?

Everything was done in 3ds max and Digimationís Shag:Fur plug-in. We didnít use any special hardware or other software. We rendered everything using the standard max renderer and then exported Targa sequences with alpha channels. The actual compositing was done by Pusher, who also did the live shoot.

Would you do it again?

Yes. Probably. Some day. But it will be on our terms. In the meantime, I think weíll stick to CG characters in CG worlds for a while. Thatís really what we do best.

For more information about Wit Animation and to see clips of some of their projects visit


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Guy Wright has been kicking around computers and video for more years than he cares to admit and written too many articles to count. He has been a director, editor, producer, video operator, and announcer for a score of radio and TV stations. His credits include hundreds of insipid local-origination programs and commercials, dozens of cheesy radio spots, and even a book or two. Mainly he writes and edits articles for Digital Media Online.
Related Keywords:Wit Animation, music video, Jeb Milne, CG characters, live action

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