Film Independent Spirit Awards

Royale’s animated, collage-style opener sets the tone for award show honoring groundbreaking films.

Film Independent considered ideas pitched by several design/animation houses before choosing Los Angeles-based Royale to create the show opener for the 2012 Spirit Awards. Of all the ideas they offered, Film Independent most liked Royale’s suggestion to create a collage of 2D and 3D elements based on some of the films being honored at the ceremony, including 50/50, Drive and The Descendents. “We were really excited about this project because we love independent film, and we know that so many great films and artists are below the radar,” says Royale’s Senior Producer Sean Sullivan.

From New York to Los Angeles, Royale’s opener for the Film Independent Spirit Awards takes viewers on a colorful, cross-country journey.

Kyle Smith, Royale’s art director, worked closely with Film Independent’s Diana Zahn-Storey and Shawn Davis, to come up with a narrative theme that conveyed the message that independent films come from everywhere, not just Hollywood. Using Maxon’s Cinema 4D, Autodesk’s Maya and Adobe’s After Effects, they created a montage that takes viewers from New York’s East River to the beaches of Santa Monica where the ceremony is held each year. (Watch it now.)

A bridge serves as a slash in the title of the film 50/50. Birds in the shot were animated in Photoshop and comped in After Effects.

The collage-style look harks back to show openers created for previous Spirit Awards ceremonies, Smith says. “Film Independent likes the attitude of the collage look because people sometimes poke fun at the production value of the Spirit Awards because everything isn’t paved in gold; it’s about having fun and celebrating.”

The warm lighting throughout the spot was achieved using the linear daylight system from Nick Campbell’s Light Kit, and was meant to convey the feel of that golden hour in the evening when “everything looks pretty,” Smith says.

 From east

After winning the pitch, Royale had about two months to finish the show package. The creative team often included as many as 10 people, including animator Renzo Reyes, who uses both Cinema 4D and After Effects. “I knew that people would probably change their minds about which films would be featured in different shots, so I was careful to structure my Cinema and After Effects projects so the titles could be easily swapped without having to re-render things” Reyes recalls.

Film titles changed frequently, so Reyes used external compositing tags to make it easy to swap them out. Even the Film Independent sign on top of the taxi was switched at the last minute.

With Royale’s storyboards as a reference, Reyes used C4D to create some animations that looked semi-photorealistic and others that more closely resembled sketches. Set elements in different scenes were usually created in Photoshop, and everything was comped in After Effects.

“I used Sketch and Toon a lot, and we usually got things right in a couple of tries,” he says acknowledging all the help he got from Royale designer and animator, Anthony Madlangbayan. “Anthony created all of these really nice looking cell animations and I would take those and bring them into my After Effects comps and then put them in 3D space to see how they worked.”

Names of all of the nominated films appeared in a map Royale created for the spot.

In keeping with the theme that independent films are made everywhere, Royale created a map of the U.S. using the names of every film that was nominated for a Spirit Award. Smith made the original map in Illustrator, and Reyes brought the Illustrator paths into Cinema 4D and brought the map to life using Extrude Nurbs.

The orange glow seen in much of the open is meant to convey the feeling of the “golden hour.”

For a scene in which rows of yellow taxis cover a New York bridge, Reyes used C4D to texture some low-quality models of taxis Royale bought online. Madlangbayan used Photoshop to enhance the quality of the low-res model of the bridge, which they also purchased. And the city, seen in the background, was generated with Nick Campbell’s City Kit.

“Anthony did all of the lens flares on this, and we’ve got that nice, orange glow on the bridge,” says Reyes. Madlangbayan also created the cartoon-like arm sticking out of the window of one of the taxis by making a cell animation in Photoshop, which he comped in After Effects.

To west

Far from New York’s crowded streets, a bicyclist makes his way across a seaside boardwalk in another shot created by the Royale team. After originally opting for a photo-realistic bicyclist, they opted to switch gears and use Maya to create a character with a hand-drawn look using a model Reyes made in C4D. City Kit came in handy again for the buildings in the background, as well as other shots of Santa Monica. Cartoon-like rolling green hills behind the boardwalk were designed to resemble actual elements of the ceremony’s set.

The eye-catching sky above the sea is a long panorama Madlangbayan created in Photoshop and used as a backdrop in 3D space in After Effects.

The opener ends with a sweeping pullback that reveals the end of the cross-country journey, and the Spirit Award trophy atop the event site in Santa Monica. Taking advantage of FBX files, Royale was able to send camera data and geometry from Cinema 4D to Maya, so their in-house Maya artists could animate the bird on the trophy. At the same time, Reyes worked on populating the rest of the shot using C4D.

Both C4D and Maya were used on the spot’s dramatic final scene, the end of the journey in Santa Monica.

“The key to working on heavy scenes like this is to take advantage of features such as the layer browser,” he explains. “Throughout the opener, all of the elements were carefully sorted into layers to allow us to isolate certain objects so we could work faster and more efficiently.”