The Giant premiered at SXSW 2017. Webby nominated for 2018, it was named Best of the Year by Vimeo, adding to the their Vimeo Staff Pick Premiere - their first 360 video premiere ever. A constant at film festivals, worldwide, The Giant is on tour: keep your eyes out.
The Giant was New Media's first foray into VR. It was a long, winding road to get here.
I initially wrote The Giant as a live action piece years ago, and it was actually the first project that Ryan and Abby and I worked on together. At the time, wanting to push myself in new directions, I actaully set out to write something with unshootable moments. (It worked.) Was reading lots of Grimm's Fairy Tales at the time (via Philip Pullman's retellings) and I got obsessed with the brevity and fast-paced nature of the oral stories. They felt very contemporary. Wrote a bunch of stories, picked The Giant and set to work.
Kicked out this animatic for The Giant to see what the hell was going on, and to get people excited enough to volunteer. Got volunteers, never figured out what the hell was going on.
Made loads of practical props and sets. Costumes were by Titania Inglis. Amy Oelsner starred, she was amazing.
Mountain test for a practical prop. I never was able to build it full-size, no surprise.
CGI mockups for the compositing. Made tons of these. Never found a look I liked: everything felt wrong.
Started to go this direction, but the footage didn't work too well with the look. I still like the it, will probably run with it on another project. There's never wasted time, you know, I guess you're always just informing yourself for some future attempt. But for this: just never felt right.
Had to learn Zbrush (a digital sculpting program) and how to render nicely. That sure took awhile. Along the way I came up with an idea for creating a digital sculpture series.
I showed those around, and ended up with a solo gallery show in Lawrence, Kansas that I put a WIP of The Giant into. Made a bunch of 2D prints of digital sculptures for it - some are shown above. Was thinking about if this was an oral story, like the Little Mermaid or whatever, and it was passed through time, what different work different people would been inspired to make. I liked the idea of the story informing salt shakers, bookends, or a weird leather hat. Like a 17th century Star Wars.
Eventually, I gave up on the live action footage. Just wasn't usable no matter how I bent it. Sometimes you eat the bear, etc. "Maybe", I thought, "I can animate the whole thing." Sculpted and handpainted some new sets and characters, did some tests, but couldn't find the time to pull it off. Still didn't feel right for the story anyway. The Giant languished and in the meantime, I burrowed deeper into animation and rendering, and made a bunch of other shorts.
Time passed, and I joined forces with Ryan and Abby and formed New Media Ltd. About a year ago, virtual reality came within reach, and my skillset had advanced enough to where I could tackle it. The Giant, unshootable as it was, seemed a perfect fit. We opted to blow the dust off the assets. Started some concept drawings.
Came up with this idea of the world as a record on a record player: that the camera would act essentially as a record needle and tie it all together. VR's dope as you can build the world to match the structure of the narrative, there's many more possibilities.
Graphed out the major story moments kind of like Stations of the Cross. Mapped out the camera like you were on a floating raft on a Disneyland ride, and rendered some camera tests. It finally worked: delivered in this manner, the story felt correct.
Had this idea to go back to sculpting everything out of clay, 3D scanning it in. Was thinking of this totally blue world, like Picasso's blue period. Kicked out some sculptures and a render.
Here's a 360 dance party test, using assets from other videos. Looks nice in 4K. It's the moment when the theoretical ("Yeah man no problem, I can totally make a fully animated 360 VR piece alone and distribute on Google Cardboard") becomes actual ("Damn that was no joke, this is going to be a nightmare to build but I swear I can do this.")
So, long story short, we were suddenly and without forewarning offered to premiere at SXSW. Had something like six weeks to make the whole experience. I was slated to go on a honeymoon for two weeks inside of that. Tossed the hand sculpted idea out the window, went for digital sculpture and pushed the pedal to the metal. Thought about going porcelain for the look, but ditched that quickly. Seemed hard to relate to, as a viewer.
Here's some terrible attempts as I learned to render with Arnold. As always, a learning curve. Over the course of the Giant, I've probably rendered hundreds upon hundreds of little variations, test frames, and thrown them all away. The culmination isn't even in the final version of the Giant - I'm still unhappy with the final look, of course. The real culmination of the effort will be in the succeeding projects. How it just always seems to work. It keeps it fun.
Honing in on the look here, a bit. Thought the lighting would be pretty dramatic and we'd lose the background to cut costs. Not a bad look, but it really got rid of a lot of the purpose to be in VR: to immerse in another world. Had to locate the sculptures in a place.
Started rendering out some overviews of the world. Still trying out some dramatic lighting.
More terrible renders. You gotta keep your nose to the grindstone. Had to make these fast to pass on to a company to try and get funding. Tried to get funding from a half-dozen production companies. Everybody always begins with "yes" but doesn't often end that way. Figure you can either cry about it or just focus on finishing the work. One of those gets you done.
Trying out Suspiria lighting, as we call it. Was kind of nice but caused more problems than it solved. As usual, will kick the ideas down to a future project.
The terrible renders begin to tighten up, just a little bit.
Was pretty into this Da Vinci "Virgin and the Rocks" lighting scheme but couldn't pull it off with the render budget. A rough render of the hero: model was Abigail Van Steenberghe, she was great. Starting to put together a final look.
Finally bringing it all together. Learned Substance Painter for the final paint job as well, rendered through Arnold (as you can see by the watermarks, we were still waiting on funding to come through to buy the license).
Check out how dumb that booth looks! Ha! It got a nicer when they dimmed the lights: SXSW did a great job in the cinematic VR presentation. (One great thing about VR is what totally weird carpets are always in the venue where you show your piece.) Anyway, we made it to SXSW in time, we pulled the trigger on the render, and installed the booth. Huge success. Hundreds upon hundreds of people viewed it. We talked to nearly everyone: it was wonderful.
Cannot wait to make the next piece: so many ideas, learned so much from this. More to come on that front, guaranteed.