Independent animation has undergone a real transformation over the last decade or so as the drop in the cost of technology was mirrored by the rise of the internet as an entertainment platform. Online video distribution is nothing new at this point, and has become the default method by which creators get their stuff in front of viewers. Irish animator Terry Reilly recently got in touch and his Pegs series of shorts provided a great opportunity to see the game of creating content from the independent’s perspective.
It’s sometimes hard to know where to start with a project, but Terry decided that the best bet was to use familiar territory:
This project is personal and I thought I should stick to what I know. I’m from County Monaghan in Ireland and the two main peg characters in this pilot are a somewhat representation of the lovely eejits I have met there. Growing up on a farm in Ireland and working on many building sites has led me to meet many great storytellers. This has influenced my animation work and translates to the characters and stories I create.
The concept behind the shorts may seem strange, but again, Terry has ably justified his reasons for choosing these rather, er, obscure objects to characterise:
I was thinking about what their lives must be like and it dwelled on me that they have (or could have) a job, neighbours, friends, cousins & live in an environment with lots of outside influences, like us. On a practical side, it was a home project and I wanted the design to be simple & complete it in a few months. The focus was to convey personality and appeal in a simple character, rather than getting distracted with complex 3d character design & technical issues. It was challenging to get good acting performances because the pegs have no arms and legs but it also made it very enjoyable to animate.
As an independent project, the timeline and schedule are a bit different than for a commercial effort and Terry did have to squeeze it into his spare time. By his estimate, the short below contains about 240 hours of work (6.5 weeks) for 1:40 of animation. That seems like a lot, but it is all done by only one person, who’ll gladly point out that:
I completed most of this pilot in the early hours before work and in the evenings. Crazily, I also took on a freelance contract doing 1 min 30 seconds of a feature teaser trailer. It was a lot of starting and stopping, but I enjoyed developing it so I didn’t mind! Then my full-time VFX gig ended and I finished my freelance work, so I was able to spend about another month working about an average of 4 hrs a day on it.
What was interesting from an outsider’s perspective was how that time was broken down and what in particular caused the delays:
A large amount of my time was spent rendering on my 6 year old machine. I used Vray to render and I had motion blur. I think it took about 8 minutes per frame, and nothing ever renders perfect the first time! 🙂 Developing the characters personality and voiceover performance was the most interesting but time consuming part. I knew this pilot would take longer to develop because I wanted to build an efficient pipeline as I went along. Future episodes will take less time but I plan to focus more time on story, jokes, sound effects, music, new characters design and voiceover.
The key takeaway from that quote was the fact that Terry decided to front load a lot of work with the expectation that it would save time later. His own guess is that the following episode will take about half as long to create.
One point that should be highlighted is that it took some time to develop the characters. That aspect is one that is often overlooked in favour of cookie-cutter or ‘fill in the blank’ characters that don’t display any significant aura of originality. For independent creators, that’s terribly important because original stories are hard to come by but characters are not.
When it comes to the internet, the name of the game is choice. Even video platforms have a plethora of options but one in particular overshadows them all:
You Tube offers monetization and it has great tools for content creators.
So the ability to make money was a factor in Terry’s case, but that may not be true for all. Some may be looking for ease of viewing, or size of potential audience. Either way, YouTube seems quite dominant as far as online video goes.
The Obvious Question
Lastly, there’s the obvious question: why?
This project is for fun and hopefully profit! I’m setting out to be independent from animation studios and create my own intellectual property. Generating my own content is more fun for me because it makes me feel creatively challenged. I get to make personal choices and take responsibility for each part of the production. I am continuously learning new skills and this is another aspect of the process that I love.
Thankfully, Terry has some considerable experience to help in on his way:
My auntie thinks I’m a laminator, but I am actually a professional animator! Right now, I’m animating on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) the movie at Image Engine in Vancouver. Since 2008 I have specialized in 3D character animation. I have had the opportunity to work on the movies Warm Bodies, John Carter, Paul, Iron Man 2 & Planet 51. Before that, it was lots of 3d artist, rigging, animation, multimedia contracts in TV & games companies.
With independents there’s a wide range as far as both variety and quality goes. To be successful, it’s isn’t enough to simply have a good idea, you have the be able to execute it and distribute it to a high standard as well. The internet (and YouTube) have taken care of the last one to a large extent and software has greatly improved the quality of the middle one too.
In Terry’s case, he’s done things correctly by not only building professional experience first, but recognising that his independent ventures are a learning opportunity as well. He’s also sticking with an idea that, while instantly appealing to Irish people, has potential all the same. He’s also gone about the entire endeavour with a serious mind in regards to revenue; something that many creative types either make assumptions about or ignore altogether.
All in all, Terry’s approach represents a measured, intelligent approach that an independent creator should take when producing and distributing their original content.