1st Feb 2021 | Open Movie | Sprite Fright
Sprite Fright is Blender's new Open Movie, now in development. You can follow progress and updates on the Cloud. Here, we discuss Sprite Fright’s aesthetic with Art Director Andy Goralczyk. Andy has contributed to many Open Movie projects, including 2019’s Spring, which he wrote and directed.
For Sprite Fright's makers, the film's visual style is an extension of its plot. Andy says, “Back when Sprite Fright was being conceptualized, Matthew and Ricky took great care in developing a look that served the story.”
Of their many considerations, one was paramount. “They wanted to avoid overly-familiar design tropes from recent animated movies," Andy says, "Especially in terms of character design. They were aiming for something unique, something that can stand on its own."
So Matthew and Ricky restocked their visual library. This included references already well-known to Cloud subscribers: Blender's previous Open Movies -- in particular Cosmos Laundromat, Spring, and Agent 327: Operation Barbershop. Andy gets into specifics: “They really liked the whole atmosphere of Cosmos, and the lighting. They also really liked the lighting on Spring. And the whole choreography of Operation Barbershop.”
Gradually, an over-arching approach emerged. Andy says, “They wanted to blend simple, stylized characters with a lot of finesse around the environments and lighting.”
This took a lot of thought. After all, making a 3D film based on reality is comparatively straightforward. “You just copy everything, one-to-one” says Andy. “Stylization is much harder.”
Enter Ricky Nierva’s favourite concept: “Chunkification.”
Andy: “As we understand it at Blender Studio, Chunkification is about looking at things through the lens of a model maker. What would happen if we built something from the real world, but on a smaller scale? Certain features would get bigger, other features would disappear altogether, and you wouldn’t get such sharp corners.” In other words, “Chunkification” does what it suggests. “We’re trying to simplify stuff and make things more, well, chunky.”
But Chunkification isn't a superficial stylistic choice. The Sprite Fright team took it seriously, applying Chunkification logic to every aspect of Sprite Fright’s world. Andy: “When we’re designing objects we have to keep the characters in mind, because the characters are chunkified too. They have bigger hands and bigger feet. The joints on their limbs are very softly defined, almost to the point of being rubber hose."
It’s this adherence to the creed of Chunkification that makes Sprite Fright’s reality coherent. “We have to make sure it’s preserved through the entire production,” Andy explains. "Everyone on the team knows about Chunkification and we look at everything through those glasses.”
An example of Chunkifcation in practice: one of Sprite Fright’s very first props, Jay’s Boombox. “We looked at lots of references of Boomboxes from the ‘80s. That’s also part of the design thinking: Sprite Fright takes place in this version of the 1980s, which is a different period entirely in terms of design sensibility.” In the actual, non-Chunkified 1980s, Boomboxes were laden with detail. “Lots of decals,” Andy recalls. “Lots of graphics, lots of buttons, including buttons that probably didn’t do much, but were used for this techie vibe that manufacturers were going for back then.”
So the first stop on the road to Chunkification was to remove the clutter. “You just strip out all the stuff you don’t need,” says Andy. “Then you try to add a certain rhythm to whatever’s left. Then you need a little trial and error when approaching the whole modelling process. You start with the overall shape and add elements from there. Though the trick is knowing when to stop, when you've got enough detail.” Andy’s tip: it helps to place the character next to whatever prop you're creating -- that way you can assess whether the item fits its user.
If you’d like to study Chunkification first hand, see the Sprite Fright production logs, where you can download Sprite Fright’s characters and study the evolution of every prop… including Jay’s Boombox.
For more on Sprite Fright’s design philosophy, have a look at this Cloud article, featuring 3D Artist Julien Kaspar.
And for more of director Matthew Luhn’s thoughts on storytelling, there's this post.