Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Animatic December 5, 2007

This is the animatic that I presented at seminar on Dec 5. I'll post the feedback I've received shortly.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Santosh update

I worked on her face quite a bit to make it less realistic and more like my storyboards.
I'm not sure what to do with her clothes yet...maybe she could have a sweater.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Santosh Update

Another pass on her face and hair. I'm calling this good for now

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Santosh Model

My first pass on the mom:

I have more work to do on her clothing and hair, but overall she's coming all nicely and I'm getting faster.

With all three models, I think I need to spend one day just on the hair so it doesn't look so tacked on.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More cloth tests

Worked on Bir's kurta some more. I feel like I'm getting closer, and I've also noticed a couple of areas where the model needs to be refined such as the shoulders, which are too broad.

On the bright side, things are moving now.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Modeling update

Here's what he looks like now:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Refugee

I started on the model for Maqbool...this is what I have so far. I'm struggling a little with the design - he feels a bit generic to me.

Nice chappals

I'm more or less done with Bir - I'm still not happy with the hair, but the rest of the model is close to final. Modeling curly hair is really tricky and I've tried several times in both Maya and Zbrush, but still can't quite nail it.

I like his chappals i.e. sandals - they're based on a pair that I own.

The texturing is just temporary, I'll continue to tweak the textures as the look of the film evolves. Still, the temp textures reflect the dirty, dusty look that I'm going for.

Most people think he looks like me, which is a good sign because it's deliberate. The resemblance is based on the idea that as the filmmaker, I've become part of this story.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More modeling

Bir's final appearance is getting closer. I like the eye brows. The hair needs some work. The ear was super hard but it looks ok now. Maybe his face needs to be rounder and cuter.

I'm using the very useful modeling tutorials available at Second Reality as reference.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Maharaja's New Clothes

The clothing worn by people in this period and part of India consisted largely of salwar-kameezes and kurtas. This form of clothing is extremely difficult to animate in 3D, so I am working with two options:
  1. Use a cloth simulation -- difficult, but nice secondary motion
  2. Stylize the cloth and rig it -- easier technically, but may look too stiff
I got some great advice from Mark de Sousa of Sony Imageworks, who suggested that I use a combination of bones and deformers to rig the clothing if I choose not to do a simulation. But he felt that cloth simulation would still be better overall if I could fit it into my production schedule, and liked this test that I did using Maya's new nCloth system.

I'm still deciding, but am leaning towards rigging the cloth because I already have my hands full with technical issues and cloth is known to be tricky. Still, I'll keep working with the cloth simulations for a bit longer.

In addition, Christine Panushka suggested that I differentiate the clothing between the Hindus and the Muslims more, instead of relying solely on colour. Now, the people from this time would wear similar clothing, so it'll be tricky to do so, but maybe I can give the Hindus shorter kurtas or a waistband or something.

Shonali Bose Script Review

So I had the good fortune to have the newest version of my script reviewed by Shonali Bose, director of the acclaimed film 'Amu'. This review served as an important validation for me, since she is both a filmmaker and Indian, and is therefore much more familiar with the historical and cultural context that I am working in. The good news is that she liked the script and had some interesting suggestions as well.
  • She agreed with Mary Sweeney's comments about telegraphing the significance of the cap, so I will continue to try and think of a way to integrate it into the script.
  • She also liked the text that I introduced in the beginning instead of the old Khushwant Singh quote, and felt that it was a step in the right direction.
  • In addition, she suggested involving the mother to a greater extent at the end, and mentioned that one way in which I could do this is by having the mother succeed in getting to the door of the compartment, only to witness Maqbool placing Bir on the train through the door at the other end of the compartment. I agree that the mother's role could fleshed out more during the climax, so I'm going to look into ways to resolve it, including the above suggestion.
Overall, this is good - I'm going to keep moving forward and do some more modeling.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Second crowd test

For this test, I started to explore what the crowd might look like before the riot starts. I still want to stay with the idea of silhouettes, but they don't need to be black.

I like what I came up with because it's getting away from the idea of distinct 3D characters in the crowd and starting to resemble a moving painting. I've still got a lot of work to do - for starters, I need to get some more dust and atmosphere in. I also need to integrate Bir and Maqbool so that I can see if the crowd design is too distracting.

**** Update
Christine agreed that the projected texture looks weird when the characters are really close to camera. So I need to try to give each character a unique texture, perhaps by projecting the textures in 3D.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Motion Tests

Based on my meetings with Mike Patterson and Christine Panushka last week, I decided to try some motion tests to see if my ideas for the crowd were even feasible.

Massive (the crowd simulation software) doesn't export geometry to Maya, so I had to hack together a script to get my Massive animation to drive Maya characters. These tests use just one character although the final version of the film will have more variety.

Here's the 3D render:

The composite with color correction, temporary smoke and a background:
***Update: I also added Bir to this shot

I think the next step is to get some more handdrawn texture onto the crowd and Bir. Also, the white caps are not really that visible right now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mary Sweeney script review

I had another script review today, this time with Mary Sweeney of the Writing division. Overall, she liked the script, which was really encouraging.
  • She really liked the use of color palette to separate Hindus and Muslims into two 'tribes'
  • She liked the transitions, especially the animated transition from the map into the train
  • She thought I did a good job showing, instead of telling, and that the images and dialogue are both used efficiently
I asked her about the use of dialogue, and she thought I should keep it in because although the story works without the historical context, it's the context that makes it even more interesting. And the dialogue between Bir and Santosh is the way in which I provide this context.

Also, she did have one interesting story suggestion - to telegraph/foreshadow the significance of the cap beforehand. For example, Bir could find a prayer cap and playfully put it on his own head, when his mother quickly removes it. This way, the audience realizes that the cap is specific to one religion and its transfer is not common. So this moment amplifies the significance of Maqbool's gesture later on in the film.

I like the idea a lot (in fact, I had a variation of this idea in an earlier draft), but it may cause problems because I already have Bir picking up the cap and giving it to Maqbool. So, two cap incidents might be too many. Therefore, I need to either combine both the incidents or use only one of them. Food for thought, I suppose.

Monday, October 8, 2007

More mom

Well, I had a frustrating day today trying to put cloth on my characters, but I did make some fixes to the mom that I liked. She's starting to look more feminine, but I still need some more work. Something about her lower jaw bugs me.

I really want to avoid the technical problems that come with cloth simulations, especially since I need to animate crowds as well. I hope I can think of something.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Modeling Day 1

A low poly first pass at Bir, his mom and Maqbool. I. I'm going to try and keep that carved look as I add more detail. I also threw on a simple shader that my professor Eric Hanson created to see what it may look like after texturing. I'm not too happy with the mom yet, but the other two are more successful.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Crowd Editing and Choreography

I created the following thumbnail collages from "Empire of the Sun" and "Water" to study the editing and crowd choreography:

Paul Demeyer Storyboard review

While working on the script, I've also been storyboarding the film. It's been a real challenge because the film is set in a crowd, so I created some references from scenes that I like - one's from 'Empire of the Sun' and the other's from 'Water'. This helped a lot.

Anyway, this week I workshopped the film in Paul Demeyer's storyboarding class. This critique was really helpful because Paul didn't know anything about the project to start with, plus he is very candid and a great director.

Unfortunately, he was very confused when he first saw it. He then asked me to step him through the boards and he felt like the idea works, but there were certain aspects that confused him.

Here's what he thought:
The quote in the beginning from Khushwant Singh is confusing because it talks about Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, whereas the film is really about Hindus and Muslims. Solution: I'll try to fix the quote or get a different one.

The title's not onscreen long enough. Easy fix.

When the mother starts explaining the situation to Bir, there's a long delay before her response. Solution: Cut over the dialogue. (I'm missing the hand with the stick in the above scene too.)

He wasn't clear that Maqbool and Bir were at the same station. I think that this will be clear in the final film.

The cap exchange is not clear because I don't show it, I just show Bir's reaction. Solution: Put back the shot of Maqbool taking the cap off his head.

Joanna also had a couple of good comments:

Perhaps Bir should see his mom being pushed onto the train. That way it gives him a target.

Towards the climax, we lose the fact that Bir is being chased. I need to work more on the tension in that section.


Paul asked me to bring the film in again next week, so that should help some more. Overall, I think these notes are all really helpful.

Paul Wolff Script Feedback

I met with Paul Wolff, who is on the writing faculty in the film school, and these are the notes that I got:

The idea works. He felt the content was unusual for an animated film but he liked it overall.

He was confused about whether Bir was Hindu or Muslim because the dialogue misled him to think that Santosh and Bir are Muslims going to Pakistan, instead of the other way around. Solution: Fix the dialogue in the beginning to make it more clear.

He didn't like the fact that I don't show the mother reuniting with Bir at the end. He feels that the film is too short to have an ambiguous ending, and suggested that I have Maqbool hand Bir to his mother so that she's involved in the end. I'm not sure whether I agree.

He felt that the mother would do everything in her power to get to the child, so I should be more explicit about the fact that she can't get to him. Solution: Cutaway to her in the train compartment, unable to get out.

I asked him whether showing Bir chased by Muslim ruffians before being rescued would work against the premise. He felt that I can fix that by showing Hindus with weapons fighting back.

Overall, he was positive about the piece and understood most of my references to Muslims/caps, which was great. He recommended I check out the crowd scene in 'Empire of the Sun', a scene that I already have been looking at in great detail, so that makes me feel that I am on the right track.


This is my sixth version of the script and the version I am working with right now:


A TRAIN flies down the tracks.

SUPERIMPOSE: In 1947, the last act of the crumbling British Raj was to partition the Indian Empire into Pakistan and India, based on religious majorities.

Both the compartments and roof of the train are filled with passengers.

SUPERIMPOSE: This division displaced ten million people as Hindus and Sikhs fled to India, and Muslims fled to Pakistan.

On the roof of the train, a man wearing a prayer cap (MAQBOOL) kneels and prays with the other passengers on the roof.

SUPERIMPOSE: One million people died in communal violence at the borders of the new nations.



SUPERIMPOSE: Kufi: A short, rounded prayer cap traditionally worn by Muslims.

A ten-year old boy (BIR) is playing with a TOY TRAIN on the platform. A middle-aged woman (SANTOSH) is seated next to Bir, gazing into the distance. Behind them is a sign that says ‘Lyallpur'. The crowd has a color palette of mainly warm colors (browns and yellows). Bir and Santosh are dressed similarly.

Bir pushes the train along the ground and it rolls a short distance before bumping into Santosh’s feet. Santosh looks down and with a smile on her face, hands the toy to Bir.


Ma, where will the train take us?

Santosh smiles.


Son, we’re going to our new home in India.


But isn’t this India?


It used to be, but not anymore.

A train whistle blows and Santosh looks up. The train pulls into the station.


Bir, stay close to me.

Santosh grabs Bir’s hand and they stand up.

The train comes to a halt at the platform. The green and grey passengers from the crowded train start getting off even before the train stops fully and start making their way through the crowd. At the same time, the brown and yellow people on the platform begin to push their way onto the train. Angry shouts are heard as both sets of passengers push and shove. Santosh and Bir battle the crowd as they head towards the train.


In another part of the crowd, Maqbool is pushing and shoving his way away from the train. He gets shoved by a person wearing a brown shirt in the crowd and falls to the ground. Both his hat and bundle of belongings go flying.


Get out of the way, old man!

Bir is visible through a gap in the crowd and he looks at Maqbool trying to reach his bundle. As Maqbool picks up his bundle and struggles to his feet, Bir lets go of his mother’s hand and runs into the crowd.


Bir! Come back!!

Santosh runs after Bir.


Bir catches up to Maqbool.



Maqbool turns around. Bir starts to hand an object to Maqbool...


Sir, you dropped your cap!

Bir drops the cap into Maqbool’s hand. As Maqbool looks back up at Bir, all he sees is Bir disappearing back into the crowd.

Santosh sees Bir in the distance, making his way towards her. She starts to move towards Bir. Abruptly, the crowd surges and starts to push Santosh towards the train and Bir away from it. Santosh makes eye contact with her son in the distance.


Grab my hand!

They struggle to reach each other. Then Santosh disappears from Bir’s view. He is pushed and shoved by the crowd. In several sections of the crowd, green and grey people are fighting the brown and yellow people with swords, daggers and staffs. Several people from both sides get wounded and collapse.

The surging crowd pushes Santosh onto the train.

In the midst of the crowd, Bir looks around frantically. He is pushed one way and then the next by the crowd. Through the crowd, he sees a figure in the distance.



He moves towards the figure. He grabs at the figure’s clothing once he is closer. The figure turns around and Bir sees that it is a young man wearing a white prayer cap. There is a dagger in the man’s hand and a dead body in front of him. The man moves to strike Bir, who dodges the blow. Bir turns around and starts to run away. The man follows him. Bir puts his hand to his face and feels blood from a thin cut on his cheek. Bir pushes his way through the crowd, glancing over his shoulder as he does so. As he looks around, he sees the silhouetted figures of green and grey people wearing caps all around him.

Bir trips and falls over another body. On his knees, he looks up and sees the train in the distance through a gap in the crowd. He jumps to his feet and starts to run towards the train.

He runs into another person. Bir looks up to see a prayer cap on the person’s head. Bir sees that the man is Maqbool. Maqbool grabs Bir, but Bir pushes him away and turns. As he turns, Bir trips over a stone and falls. He begins to crawl away from Maqbool on his hands and feet, but finds his way blocked by the young man with dagger. All around them are people wearing caps. Maqbool catches up to Bir and drags him to his feet. Bir closes his eyes as he sees a shadow swinging towards him.


Stop! - I know this boy.

Bir opens his eyes. The young man backs away and disappears into the mass of people. Bir touches his head and feels a prayer cap on his head. Bir sees that the crowd of people wearing caps is melting away from him. Maqbool’s hand is on Bir’s shoulder as he wordlessly leads Bir through the crowd. Maqbool is not wearing a cap anymore.

The train whistle sounds and it starts to move. Some members of the crowd struggle to get on the train, others fall behind. Maqbool and Bir run towards the train. Through the window, Bir glimpses Santosh in the compartment. Bir and Maqbool get close to the compartment’s entrance and Maqbool forces the boy on, who stands at the entrance, sandwiched between the legs of the other passengers. Bir looks back at Maqbool as he slows down and eventually stops. Bir takes off the prayer cap and looks at it. He looks back up in the direction of Maqbool, and watches him disappear into the crowd. Bir’s gaze lingers for a moment, and then he turns around and begins to make his way into the compartment towards his mother as the train pulls away from the station.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Thumbnails are a great way to explore different story ideas without getting too attached to anything.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I plan to make this film in 3D CGI. My previous 3D film has a relatively clean look, but with my thesis I'm trying to create a very textured, worn look and "dirty" up the frame. The 3D elements will be created in Maya, and I'll likely composite in Shake (maybe After Effects). Although the characters and environments will be 3D models, I'm going to experiment with rendering them flat - sort of like a textured Toon shaded look. Hopefully this approach will also have the side effect of keeping my render times lower than if I went with a Global Illumination-type look, which in turn will give me more time to play with the art directing.

In addition, I'm going to use a lot of handmade (possibly animated) textures along the lines of the references and tests that I posted about earlier. I'm also looking at puppet/stop-motion films for character design ideas. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm going to do some tests with Massive for the crowd scenes.

Finally, there will probably be a tiny bit of live action in there too. During my Contemporary Topics project, I got some more experience integrating a live cloak onto my animated character. Similarly, I used some dry ice footage as fog for my last film. Based on these projects, I feel that elements like dust (which I plan to have a lot of) are a lot easier to create in live-action than in CG, and can be integrated pretty well with some careful compositing and futzing with the frame rate. Live elements also seem to ground the animation, and make the environment seem more believable and organic, even when you're not going for a photorealistic look.

Crowd Psychology

One of the big technical challenges with this project is depicting the sheer number of people involved in the migration. Since my story has Bir getting lost in the midst of a mob, I also need a way to pull the characters out from the background. I'm still exploring how I would achieve the sense of chaos, but I do know that I don't want the film to feel like it should have been made in live-action. As a result, I'd like to use lighting and painting techniques to stylize the crowd into a single mass. I did the following "style frame" to explore this idea:

I plan to backlight the crowd and exaggerate depth of field to really pull attention to the main characters and have the crowd be a mass. Of course, this is going to mean a lot of post-production work, but I really enjoy art directing and compositing, so I'm looking forward to it.
I'm also about to start experimenting with Massive, a crowd simulation software that makes it easier to choreograph CG shots with many characters. So even though I want a stylized look for the crowd, having a Massive layer will give the crowd a little more internal movement that might look pretty cool.

September 26: I found this picture that reminded me of my concept -

Visual Development Test

At the same time that I was developing the idea for this film, I did a project for my Contemporary Topics in Animation class that explored a stylistic direction that I may take with this project. While the actual content of the project was quite different, the colors and mood are elements that I hope to carry over into my thesis.

Art references

Maaz by Christian Volckman is another cool film that I came across that is representative of where I want to go with the look:

A film that I really like in terms of visual look and style is Wojna
I want my film to have a handcrafted quality and I think that this film is a good example of how CG and handdrawn elements can be combined to this effect.

The brown color palette of Bharat Bala Productions' Vande Mataram music video is also great and helps recreate the feel of India.

For art references, I've been looking at the work of Indian painter, MF Husain, because I really like the texture and the broad patches of color he uses in these two works:

This painting by Hebbar has a similar feel, though his color palette is much more muted:

In addition, I've been looking at some Giacometti sculptures to help me with visualizing generic characters that I can use for the crowd:

Historical Reference

One of my most significant sources of visual reference from this period is the work of Margaret Bourke-White, an American photo-journalist who captured images of Gandhi, Jinnah, and the massive migration of people during partition. I'll be referring to these images when creating my environment and characters.
Besides the images below, more of her work can be seen online at the BBC website

A public domain image that also reflects the scale of the migration:


Here's a visual depiction of how India was partitioned. Pakistan was initially comprised of both East and West Pakistan, but in 1971, East Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh. My story is set in West Pakistan.



Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Story

First, a word about the historical context in which this film is set:
The partition of India into was the last act of the crumbling British Raj, when an independent Islamic state, Pakistan, was split off from India. This geographical division along with years of "Divide-and-conquer" British policies, poor official foresight and a host of other factors resulted in the largest ever human migration as Hindus fled to India and Muslims to Pakistan. Fifteen million people were displaced from their homes, and innumerable families and communities were fractured. In addition, between 500,000 and 1 million people were killed, primarily in communal violence/ethnic cleansing at the borders of India and Pakistan. A lot has been written about the event, but most people I encounter in the States don't know about this aspect of the history of India and Pakistan. Here's a link that goes into more detail about the event: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2007/08/13/070813crbo_books_mishra?currentPage=1
This time period has always fascinated me because both my sets of grandparents had to leave behind their homes and belongings and flee from what is now Pakistan.

Partition may have fractured an entire generation of people, but amongst the horrific carnage that occured, there are innumerable stories of escape and kindness that transcended communal boundaries. My inspiration for this film came from a partition story I heard from my father. My great-uncle - Bir Bhalla - would have been attacked by Muslim refugees at a train station if not for the intervention of a Muslim man. The man placed his Muslim prayer cap on my great-uncle’s head, who was a Hindu. Something about that gesture has always intrigued me - it's simple, yet complex and symbolic, and so powerful given the context in which it occurred. As result, I've decided to turn that idea into a film.

In the current version of my story (which is slightly fictionalized), Bir and his mother arrive at a train station in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan, to take the train to Amritsar, India, since they are Hindus. At the same time, a Muslim refugee from India - Maqbool - arrives at the station. Bir is separated from his mother when a fight breaks out between the Hindus and Muslims at the station. Bir gets lost in a section of the crowd that is comprised mainly of Muslim refugees and his life is in danger when Maqbool rescues him by placing his own prayer cap on Bir's head.

At this point, I'm still trying iron out the story so that it conveys the premise that compassion overcomes religious differences. This task is challenging because my goal is to depict the events such that the film does not come off as anti-Muslim. Moreover, since so much has been written about partition, I've also been thinking about how to bring something new to the topic. That's why my protagonist (i.e. Bir) is a child who is 10-12 years old. This will allow me to explore the events from a child's perspective and use animation to (hopefully) create some compelling psychological imagery.

Up, up and away!

Welcome to my thesis blog! In my final year at USC's MFA animation program, I'm going to be working on a film set during the partition of India in 1947. This is a space for me to document my work and organize my thoughts as I embark on what promises to be a very challenging project.

Character Designs - Old Man

Character Designs - Mom

Character Designs - Bir