The Marionette

3-D Computer Animation
A wooden puppet's journey to freedom.

Brown University

November 2019

Team Size: 3
Storytelling is powerful, especially when the tale is a relatable one.

For my intro to computer animation class, the final project was to create our own animated short using Autodesk Maya. Through countless hours spent developing the story, modelling, shading, lighting, animating - and of course rendering - my team went through the entire animation pipeline in less than a month to bring this one to life.

Watch the film here and scroll further as I walk you through our process.

Crafting the story

Our story and plot went through a lot of iterations before we finally settled on what our two minutes should consist of. With only 2 minutes to deliver a compelling narrative, every second mattered. We developed the plot through storyboarding.

Animatics are a powerful way of running through an entire story and figuring out what to tweak. My team split sections of the story for sketching and pieced together animatics similar to this one:

Visual Development

We came up with the visual style by creating mood boards and seeking inspiration from outside sources:

Modeling & Lighting

My role was to create the set and the coins for the film, from modeling to lighting. Here are some in-progress shots:

There were several challenges I faced here, from "how do I make the curtains look velvet-y enough?" to "how do I make the coin reflective enough to show the puppet's expressions?"

The lighting was one of the toughest parts, but also the part I enjoyed the most. I had to balance visuals with efficiency, keeping in mind that adding too many lights increases the render time a lot. At first, the lighting was too harsh, causing sharp shadows that were distracting. I placed two large spotlights across the set and evened out their shadows, in an attempt to replicate a real life "stage" setup.

Animation & Camera Work

Majority of our time was actually spent animating and refining the motion of our character and camera. We split our work into sequences and each took over some sequences to animate. In addition to making sure our movements were polished, we also had to consider the transitions between sequences as the working styles between animators can be completely different and we had to work parallelly instead of sequentially.

We often made "playblasts" on Maya, which are non-rendered, short sequences to test our animations and get feedback. It was a very useful way to iterate on our work and ensure that we were evoking the right meaning and emotions that we were aiming for. Just hover over (or tap on if you're on a touch screen) some of the playblasts below to get a hint of my work:

Still Renders

Here are some more stills that we rendered as we polished our work further:

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