We have around 11 years of professional experience prior to jumping ship and focusing on our own films. At the time our focus was creature Modeling and Texturing. Some of the places Ive worked at are Luma Pictures, Rhythm & Hues, Lightstorm, CafeFX, Tippett Studios and Digital Domain.
We came up with the ningyo the way we usually come up with any of our stories. First we pick something that we would want to see. And then we also make sure that whatever we pick fits our strengths. Cryptozoology (the search for mythological or unproven creatures) was a perfect fit for creature FX artists. The problem with Cryptozoology is that it usually conjures images of bigfoot and the lochness monster. Tran brought to my attention the japanese myth of the ningyo and from that point we knew we had a seed of an idea.
Once we have decided on the “world” we begin to research everything we can about The orgins of scientific based cryptozoology and Ningyo mythology. We wanted everything inspired or takes from actual historical figures/events. Even if they were not all from the same time period. They had to be based on something factual.
It was amazing but also terrifying. On the positive side you have a preset fanbase, on the negative side is we took forever! We bit off waaaay more than we could chew x10000 and we now had a possible angry mob if we failed to deliver. Luckily everyone was super patient with us and they stuck with us. We had 1 person insult us and call us thieves a week before we released the film to them. Hopefully he liked it and can see why it took us so long.
We had a ton of concept art that was created not just for the film but also to sell our idea via Kickstarter. We tried to match this as close as possible but we had to constantly adapt and improvise based on our limitations.
The philosophy was to try and shoot as much physically real as possible and only use VFX when we couldnt afford it otherwise. This is of course ironic since VFX are so expensive to those who cant do it themselves. But we really tried to NOT make this a vfx showcase. We wanted the vfx to disappear and people focus on the world and characters we created.
The one thing we started doing which I feel I would never change going forward is we took our cg environments to final with a “cg male dummy” and then made our live action green screen elements match our cg. This is the opposite of how its usually done. The environments are lit AFTER the greenscreen shoot. This never made any sense to me since the environment is 80% of the image.
The shooting took a long time because we shot it in our living room. So we would have to build one set. Shoot. Tear it down. Clean up our house which was destoryed at that point by sawdust etc.. And rebuild another set. If we had money to have a big warehouse it would have been easy. But we had to make due. I think in total we shot 15 days.
The creatures were designed by Myself, Tran, Bryan Wynia and Soheil Danesh. Bryan is a 3D concept artist so he sometimes gave us rough 3D models which we then had to take to final detailed meshes. The creature modeling team was Myself, Tran, Chris Bostjanick and Clay Osmus. All the texturing and look development was done by Tran and I including the fur grooms. The characters had hundreds of face shapes which were done by chris bostjanick and then we had all the shots go through “shot modeling” in Chronosculpt. This tool is amazing and helped us clean up deformation issues and add secondary motion.
Since we didnt really have an FX guy (dynamics) I had to figure out what the easiest way to tackle this would be. So Maya was used for everything. All the smoke elements were done by filming smoke elements and using vray fog as a mask to give the atmosphere movement.. Bubbles were done using a large fish tank I bought as well. Mixed with cg bubbles done with simple Maya particles and Vray metaballs.
Their collaboration was as easy as can be. They believed in us gave us financial resources and left us alone. Alex Alvarez from Gnomon and Lon Grohs from Chaos were amazing in just letting us take the time we needed to take. Alex is someone ive known now since I was a student at Gnomon so we had a big responsibility to not let him down and represent Gnomon as well as we could.
TO be honest the film festivals were at first brutal to us. They hated us. To quote a film festival in NY “The Ningyo represents everything indie filmmaking is not” They thought we were rich cgi loving assholes and didnt want us in their party. Once we started getting awards and wins everything changed. The film got the attention of CAA which signed us for representation. Within a month we were sitting across from some of the biggest producers alive… It was crazy. The Ningyo is currently in development as a feature film with a very well known production company and producer. We should be announcing this soon. But its very exciting. We went from feeling like totally losers to feeling ok. 🙂
Thank you Martin for this. We need all the support we can and articles and sharing the film make a huge difference to us and our film.