Motorola Spotlight Story “Windy Day”

Directed by Jan Pinkava
Produced by Karin Dufhilo-Rosen
Animation Supervisors / Story by Doug Sweetland and Mark Oftedal
Animation by Mark Oftedal, Doug Sweetland, Jais Bredsted, Ricardo Jost Resende, Ryan Hayford, and Daniel Caylor
Art Direction: Jon Klassen
Modeling: Jaime Maestro
Character rigs: VĂ­ctor Vinyals
Company: Baraboom Studios / Pepe Valencia

In 2013 I had the opportunity and the privilege to work with a great team of people lead by Pixar vets Jan Pinkava (director of the Oscar-winning Geri’s Game and co-director of Ratatouille), Doug Sweetland and Mark Oftedal, in a very innovative short film called “Windy Day”. I have to say it’s been one of the best projects I’ve ever been involved!

The great thing here is that it was not really a short film but actually a motion-controlled interactive story app created exclusively to Motorola’s flaghship smartphone Moto X. These app allows the user to take control of the camera and explore the world where the story is taking place while the story is taking place. So it’s not like a conventional film because the user experience is different every time by choosing any point of view and following (or not) the characters to see what they’re doing. And it’s not like a video game because the viewer can not change what the characters do or have any influence in the story. It’s actually a narrative that unfolds in front of us while we control the camera to follow the action and discover new things every time we play it.

Therefore, the video you can see here is an actual capture of the short film playing in real time in a MotoX phone, and the movements of the camera were recorded from the viewer driving his phone.

The project involved a huge technical challenge in all aspects of the production, but let’s stick to the character rigging side of things. Since Windy Day’s world is rendered in real time, the characters had to be modeled and rigged following certain requirements and limitations somehow similar to those of the videogames. However, here the animation was meant to be feature-film level and very extreme and cartoony. So the rigs should reach this same feature level too, with full squash & stretch and bending capabilities and also with strict art-directed deformations. But at the same time, we had to keep the rig as simple as possible to respect two key limitations: a reduced number of joints, and the use of no blendshapes or any other deformers, just simple skinning.

I had to rig 10 characters for this project. Jaime Maestro was in charge of the modeling and did an awesome job! The models are quite low poly but look really nice and smooth at render time (the real time rendering engine uses Pixar’s OpenSubdiv technology). The use of low poly models has both pros and cons when rigging them. The good part is they’re easier to skin and faster to rig, and the bad thing is there’s no much geometry to play with when it’s time to keep the volumes and achieve specific shapes. Animation sup Mark Oftedal was giving us a bunch of great drawings and plenty of notes to help us develop the look of the CG characters and also the main features of their rigs.

Some things were harder to rig than others, for example the inclined/distorted eyes of Pepe the mouse, the main character of the story) were specially difficult to build without the help of lattices or other deformers. On the other side there were the changing faces of the Chipmunks, which end up being rigged with simple replacements, or the rig of the bear, being almost a static figure. At the end of the day, for me the rigging process was the funniest and coolest ever!

The mouse was rigged with 142 joints in total, 72 joints for the Chipmunk, 41 for the Duck, 34 for the Bear and just 25 for the Turtle.

Total hours of work… a lot.