January Song: Days 9 & 10

Day 9

This was the first day of post-production. I spent most of the morning working out how to create digital steam in After Effects. A lot of the tutorials on YouTube either deal with third-party plug-ins or the kind of wispy steam that you might see coming off a kettle. That wasn’t what I needed at all.

In the end, I settled on a fairly simple method that involved scrolling a fractal noise field. It turns out that’s a pretty processor-intensive way of doing things, although I suspect the particle-based alternatives would be even worse. If I knew how to use After Effects, I could probably have done some kind of pre-render to speed things up but I don’t.

Day 10
Day 10 was always going to be the tricky one. Darren had said that he’d get a rough copy of the song to me by 1pm, with a finished version to follow at 5pm. Until that first version of the song arrived, I hadn’t been able to edit the film together properly and get all the timings right, which meant that I hadn’t been able to do any of the face animation.

The rough version arrived right on time. The first thing I did was film myself lipsynching along to the words. I’ve found this to be the quickest way to get a basic animated lipsynch track – instead of synching to the audio track, you can just compare the mouth shapes in the live action singalong with the animated mouth shapes and try to get them to line up. It’s not a perfect method but it makes a good first pass.

I then set to work on moving all the pre-shot footage around in the timeline to get it to fit. Some pieces were stretched to fit a whole verse, some were trimmed. I was about 30 seconds short overall, so that first shot of Darren in the waiting room was extended to cover the intro and opening lines.

Once I actually knew how long each shot would be in the finished piece, I could start adding faces. I’d deliberately tried to keep Lego Darren’s head as still as possible because I knew time would be tight for this part.

Somehow it still ended up taking ages. Two hours after receiving the song, I’d managed to finish first pass animation on 30 seconds of footage. By the time the final version of the song arrived, I was up to a minute.

My lack of After Effects experience came into play here. Adding faces to the shots with steam effects in them took way longer than it should have, and AE actually crashed on me a couple of times. Rendering a 10 second shot could take 15 minutes. There has to be a more efficient way of doing that.

Having originally told Darren that I should be finished by 8pm, I finally finished the last shot at around 11pm. I checked everything over in the edit, then set the final cut rendering. It was about this time that I ran out of disk space.

Half an hour later, having archived off a whole lot of old animation projects, I set it rendering again. This time it worked, producing a 20gb file. I started up Handbrake to compress that down to a more manageable size. It crashed. Tried again. It crashed again. I finally got a compressed version out to Darren a litle after midnight but by then it was too late to mess about downloading and re-uploading for the January Songs site.

Still, I managed to finish it just about on time, which was never a sure thing.