Zombie Walk: A modern day thriller

Over the summer, our friends from Pixel Pirate asked us to help them out animating a music video - produced by the ever-awesome Carl Jones (Black Dynamite, The Boondocks) - for the one of the hottest rappers on the market to-date: Desiigner!  The music video thusly titled "Zombie Walk" - is an homage of sorts to "Thriller."  And we all know that "Thriller" to this day as a monument of pop music videography.

I love making music [videos].  Unlike television and web series projects were because of the "turn-and-burn" schedule where getting it done is more important than artistry; commercials and music videos - and not to forgot short and feature films - are all about impact.  Meaning, you need to push the creative boundaries and the quality of the work more than you usually would.  Impact projects take into account all the little details such as the performance of the "actors" on stage, to lighting and mood changes, color design and more into account.  The devil is in the details after all.

how the soup is made

Storyboards & Animatic

For this project, the storyboards and animatic was produced by our client.  It's not uncommon for another animation studio to provide designs (character and background designing along with art direction) and storyboards and/or animatic(s) to us for two reasons.  The first reason is to ensure that the director's vision comes through clearly in the boards and two, in order to help speed along production.  In many cases for us here at the studio, we'll do storyboards, animatics and design in-house.

In-house, we use a Storyboard Pro/Harmony pipeline as it's been proven to be the most accurate and most efficient way of handling productions.  We'll do storyboard panels and build the animatic reel at the same time in Storyboard Pro and export a Premiere file of the reel along with Harmony files all set for production.  However, if we're receiving animatics from another studio or client, it'll go through an additional pre-production process...

Pre-Production & Planning

When the storyboard/animatic is given to us, or when we've completed and gotten approval on our animatic; we go through the process of breaking the entire production down to the smallest detail.  The animatic is brought into Premiere and chopped up into individual cuts and then those individual cuts are exported and then imported in Harmony for file preparation.   

Unlike live-action where the story is edited together after all footage has been shot; animation starts with the edit first and then goes back to get all of the footage.  

Example of our simple production schedule.

Example of our simple production schedule.

A macro look at each cut and where it stands.

A macro look at each cut and where it stands.

A look into our production breakdown and tracking.

A look into our production breakdown and tracking.

During the pre-production part of the process, schedules will be created based on the output the studio can produce on a daily or weekly basis.  We then take the animatic and break it down into individual cuts (or shots), and I will personally sit with the production team to talk about what is happening - or going to happen - in each and every cut.  We'll measure or count how many characters will be on screen, how many props need to be designed, the type of camera setup that will be needed, are there any special effects needed and any compositional hookups in order to maintain continuity of the reel.  

I'll also work closely with the director of the project to make sure that I understand his vision and that we're both in sync creatively.

Once all the macros and micros of the project have been inventoried, we then take the project over to Basecamp, our online project management and collaboration app.  From here, the production team will set the entire project up, invite our team into the project, set due dates, reference files and any other necessary resource the team will need.

A look at the main production site on our Basecamp.

A look at the main production site on our Basecamp.

As soon as Basecamp is setup, we gather the entire team around to watch the animatic, talk procedure and then get right into it.

Pre-Production often an overlooked and unsung part of the process because it's not as glamorous as the artists working, but being able to organize your project in a way that can help you track and measure progress is vital to successfully completing a project on time and on budget. 

Posing

Storyboard panel

Storyboard panel

Posing frame

Posing frame

When we get storyboards/animatics, more often than not the designs are not on model - meaning they are not drawn according to the final approved design.  This happens mainly due to timing issues, but we consider this part of the pre-production and planning process because it's important that our team is able to keep the artwork on model during animation.  The more info the team has at their disposal, the more success they will be in delivering the client's vision.

It's very important to understand that when the pre-production phase of the project has been complete and enters into animation production, you have officially reached the point of no return.  From here on out, the plane has taken off into the stratosphere.  Making any additional adjustments while the production plane is in mid-flight will result in a loss of fuel and the plan may not make it back to it's original landing strip.  It's only until AFTER the plane has landed at it's destination can adjustments (retakes) be applied.

Animation production

From our process video (above), you can see how a cut will go from storyboards to pose to animation.  With a solid production pipeline - a linear process of completing tasks - the animation team takes hold of their cuts and do what they do best: animate!  

Our client, Saxton of Pixel Pirate, passing his retake notes on posing before it hits animation.  

Our client, Saxton of Pixel Pirate, passing his retake notes on posing before it hits animation.  

A typical conversation on the production of this particular cut.  Even though we work together in-house, we still use Basecamp as a way of keeping track of progress and keeping each other accountable during the project.

A typical conversation on the production of this particular cut.  Even though we work together in-house, we still use Basecamp as a way of keeping track of progress and keeping each other accountable during the project.

retakes

Once animation production has been complete, if there are any changes which need to be made - whether because of hook up issues, narrative changes, color issues, etc, we enter into the retakes (or revision) process.  We use this as the time to add the polish to chrome and make the work look as pretty as we can make it within the time (and budget) allotted.  After this, we get animation locked and it's onto compositing.

Compositing

After animation has gone through it's process of rough animation and cleanup and approvals, we'll take the backgrounds (for Zombie Walk, Pixel Pirate was responsible for art production) and merge them together with the animation frames into After Effects.  With in After Effects, we'll do a color treatment pass to bring additional mood, punch up lighting schemes and include any additional effects which we could not create by hand - such as rack focusing on a character or adding in additional lighting transitions.  

Final Product

Lastly, when all cuts have gone through the pipeline, they're put into a reel via Premiere to see the entire picture as a whole.  The reel is rendered out in HD format - watermarked for insurance purposes - and send to the client for final approval.  

In the case of Zombie Walk, seeing as it's apart of a much larger project, we send the client individual cuts so the end-client's editor can place them into live-action film reel.

You can see the final result here.

Even though the animated bits of the reel go on for about 90 seconds of screen time, the overall time spent on production was a blistering 2,640 hours over a 5 week period.  A lot of late nights and weekends went into the production of just 90 seconds of on screen imagination and we couldn't be any more happy and proud of the work we've done.  And while the video may garner some online recognition, I would hope that we can all celebrate the hard work that also goes into the making of it all.

PHOTOS

Credits

Animation Produced by Echo Bridge Pictures, LLC

  • Director/Producer - Esteban Valdez
  • Assistant to Producer - Meike Groh
  • Coordinator - Jyeesha Wilson
  • Animators
    • Christian Cooper
    • Leonardo Bencosme
    • Silas Caldwell
  • Assistant Animators 
    • Audrey Elizabeth
    • Jordan Navarro 
    • Krstina Mastilovic
    • Ryland Carlin
  • Compositor - Jon Woodard

Produced by Pixel Pirate Studios

  • Director - Saxton Moore
  • Producer - Carl Jones
  • Producer - Obi Onyejekwe
  • Storyboards - Shawna Mills
  • Backgrounds - Phillip Johnson
 

If you like what you're seeing and reading and want to say "hi," if you've got a project that you'd like to see come to life; contact us!