As summer came to a close and the season turned to Autumn in early 2020, a group of approx. twenty students came together to produce three short animated films for QUT and Virgin Airlines. With no script and no set instructions, the students threw ideas into the air like pieces of confetti, until they found the ones that stuck out the most to them. These films, with their unique qualities, showcase the talents of QUT’s third year animation students as they explored new challenges they have never faced before.
Directed by Morgan Whitehouse is Hats Enough. Inspired by childhood favourites from Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, Hats Enough is a 2D animation about a young hatmaker who has crafted his masterpiece. But, as he walks down the street with it in his arms, dangers lurk around the corner.
Taking place in our very own backyard of Queensland Australia is the 3D animated film, Pop & Possum, directed by Christian Staats. After losing its rundown shed of a home, a brushtail possum goes out to find a new place to live. But, in the attempt to do so, wreaks havoc inside an elderly man’s house.
Lastly, there is the robotic dystopia directed by Morgan Coulson-Ryan, excellently named Charge Up. Awaking from hibernation, a little robot finds that the lighthouse he called home is in shambles. However, before he can investigate the reason why, he finds that his battery charge has depleted to almost nothing. He must scale the ruins of the lighthouse to meet the sun and come back to life to recharge his solar powered battery.
With the many antics that go on within the runtime of Hats Enough, it would be easy to assume it was inspired by the age-old classic Looney Tunes. However, this is not the case. Whitehouse and his co-director, Angus Marlow, decided that while there are definitely Looney Tunes aspects to the story, they drew almost all of their inspiration from their favourite childhood shows that featured on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon when bouncing ideas off of each other. These shows include The Power Puff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Garfield, and OK K.O Let’s be Heroes. Despite the wonderful ideas behind Hats Enough, it has definitely come with its challenges throughout its stages of production.
The main challenge presented to both Whitehouse and Marlow was the fact that their animation degree did not have a big focus on 2D animation. This meant that the members that joined their team were not as versed in 2D animation as they were. While most had a base knowledge already in their skillset, Whitehouse and Marlow had to do a weeks’ worth of training for each member that joined in order to get them up to speed. From there, to gain consistency between the multiple animators, they did continual trial and error until sequences matched the exact style they were looking for. The results from this are astounding.
Pop & Possum
When it came to animation style for his film, Staas’ easily drew from Pixar films such as Up and Presto, wanting to apply that style to the Australian setting of Queensland. However, this wasn’t the case for the story itself. When the idea for Pop & Possum first came to Staats, he was pulling from his childhood memories of seeing his parents dealing with possums in their own home. With the combination of Pixar’s style and childhood memories, Staats’ created a playful film for all Australians to enjoy. However, its creation didn’t come without its challenges.
When it came to the pre-production and animation processes, two major issues presented themselves: fur and rain. Out of the two, the fur coat of the possum was the most difficult to resolve. When their original tests in the Unreal Engine failed, they resorted to using techniques found in video games. With the help of Epic Games, they had a resource to pull from as the company released $17 million worth of content from their game Paragon in the Unreal Engine to developers for free. Using their characters as reference, the team behind Pop & Possum found that to create fur, they had to use an illusion of having fur without actually having any.
Meanwhile, the rain was not as complicated to resolve. Rain can be difficult within animation, not because of its physics but because it is hard to look realistic. This is because rain in real life affects the atmosphere of the world, therefore the rain itself isn’t enough for it to be realistic in the animation. The Pop & Possum team had to create the atmosphere as well. They made mist and fog disperse throughout the scene, and created a custom lighting scenario to recreate the rain’s atmospheric effects.
When the subject of robots comes up, for many people the film Wall. E springs to mind. This was no exception for Coulson-Ryan as it was one of two inspirations for his film Charge Up. His other inspiration is the movie 9 by Shane Acker. Using a rustic, post-apocalyptic aesthetic, Coulson-Ryan created a wonderful film that blew everyone away when he presented it at the beginning of the year. However, as the film has gone into production stages, problems have surfaced.
Throughout the process of making Charge Up, many people have come and gone within the project. This included people in crucial roles. Unfortunately, due to unknown circumstances, Augustine, the person who created the rig for the rope used in the final act of the film, had left the team in the middle of pre-production, leaving the rest of the team to finish their work. Not knowing the ins and outs of the rope rig, it became difficult for the other animators who took over to understand its mechanics. However, with time and much trial and error, they finally got it working again and ready for the animation stages of the film.
Hats Enough, Pop & Possum, and Charge Up are all fantastic films that have turned out amazing. Morgan Whitehouse, Christian Staats, and Morgan Coulson-Ryan have all put many dedicated and hardworking hours into their films with the amazing help of their teams. They will be release by October 30, 2020.
Jade R is a third year Creative Writing student. Her specialty is with writing fiction, poetry and screenplays, but she has developed an interest in the visual world, beginning her journey with experimenting within the medium. She is an illustrator for Scratch That! alongside her own writing career.