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.