Cuttin’ Some Slack

We recently teamed up with the ever-inventive creative studio Giant Ant to help deliver Traffic – a short CG stop-motion clay jam for communication app Slack!

Giant Ant led the creative while Sequence’s talented team took care of the 3D and compositing.

Below, Sequence’s 3D lead Daniel Smith discusses the process behind the animation, and how we created a productive workflow for a productivity app!

What was the process behind the creation of this short?

We received the initial 3D animatic from Giant Ant with the set models that they had created. We took these and UV’d them, smoothed out the creases. We then replaced Giant Ant’s placeholder character with our fully rigged characters. We then textured and lit the shots, adding effects where they were needed. Our animators used the 2D animation reference supplied to them and animated the characters to match their key poses. The animatic supplied to us was very clear, so there was little room for misunderstanding as to how we approached the animation.

What was the main hardware/software used?

We used Maya as our main 3D package, so all the animation and scene setups happened there. We used V-Ray to light and render the shots.

Regarding hardware, other than our workstations we also used our local render farm, which was vital to the completion of this animation. The average render time for a frame of animation was 2.5 hours – with a total of 60 seconds of animation that's almost 100 days of rendering around the clock on one machine.

Thanks to our in-house render farm we were able to get everything out fast and on time. It also helped that we were rendering at 15 frames-per-second rather than the standard 24.

Was rendering at 15fps in order to create the stop-motion look?

Yes – when rendering at 15 frames a second so you get a choppy look, which reveals that, really, the animation is made up of a sequence of photos – just like stop motion! We also used a shader on the characters and set that has the look of hand-sculpted clay with fingerprints, smudges and imperfections, all of which really adds to the effect.

What was most challenging about this project?

For me it was simply the volume of shots to light and render and managing the render times. Many of the shots contain a pristine white environment, featuring lots of glossy reflections – they’re a render engine’s worse nightmare!

Thankfully, at Sequence we’re used to such challenges, and finding solutions is one of the things we enjoy most! We spent a great deal of time getting the render times as low as we possibly could without sacrificing quality. I set up presets that I could apply to shots as I progressed through the project, which saved a great deal of time.

What are you most proud of?

I think the Slack project goes to show two things about Sequence – one, that we’re capable of working with others, and collaborating towards a shared goal. We love working with Giant Ant and this project is yet another extension of that.

However, the project also goes to show what can be achieved by a small team of talented people with a boutique sensibility. We’re a small team at Sequence, but when we knock our heads together the results always come out great. I think the Slack ‘Traffic’ project is a shining example of that.