Monday, August 5, 2013

James Lopez' "Steampunk"

I have witnessed James Lopez' ascent from a wide eyed kid on Rover Dangerfield to a A-list animator at Disney features. James has a pet project he's been working on in his spare time, and you know how much FLIP likes spare time projects. So James told us all about it here.....

FLIP: What is Steampunk?

James: The best way I can describe "Steampunk" is that it is a sub-genre of science fiction in which a fantasy world is envisioned according to the "visual language" of the Victorian era. In a nutshell, it's Victorian science fiction. 

Steampunk takes a unique approach toward science fiction by combining aspects of both modern science fiction and timeless fantasy and blends the two through the prism of Victorian elegance. The imaginary world of Steampunk is a truly fantastic world that is boundless in its potential for creativity. It is a world that exhibits environments of epic scale, characters of eccentric personality and whimsical gadgetry such as rayguns, flying contraptions and mechanical creatures.

The main aesthetic of the Steampunk world is about taking modern technology and modifying it with antiquated fabrication methods. Objects and devices in the Steampunk world are usually crafted of riveted brass with accents of ornamental knobs, switches and filigrees with visible gear-driven machinery mainly powered by steam , electricity or, in some cases, by a mystical power source of unknown origin. These truly imaginative "contraptions" are usually highly impractical but that is what makes the world fun and adds to the fantasy element. Typically, the stories are set in the past, which suggest that the events happened "Once upon a time".

Over the past 60 years, Steampunk has served as a backdrop for such films like Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'1954), H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (both 1960 and 2002 versions), The Wild Wild West (both the 1960's television series and the 1999 feature film), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and the recent film Hugo (2011). It has still yet to reach its own full-fledged status.

FLIP: How did this project come about ?

James: A year and a half ago, there was a lack of 2d projects and the American born art form of hand-drawn animation seemed to be in danger of disappearing from our culture. I felt as though I needed to give myself a charge and take a proactive step to make an effort to keep it in practice and in the public's eye. I figured it would take a special project to make that happen. The question was what would that project be?

I was talking it over with my wife in the kitchen while having breakfast and I asked for her opinion. It was then that she remembered the previous Halloween, while visiting a friend's lawn display, we happened to encounter a performance troupe that called themselves The League of S.T.E.A.M.. They were a group of creative and talented people who love Steampunk and who make their own costumes and props and make their own short-films and post them online. It also just so happened that one of them was a co-worker of mine moonlighting as one of them.  My wife described how enchanted she felt to be in their presence and I felt that if I could get that same "enchanted" feeling into an animated film, it would become something special!

I also wanted the project to take place in a fantastic world and be able to somehow integrate 2d and Cg processes together and present it in a way like we've never seen before while keeping the integrity that each medium has to offer.

I called an informal meeting together of people who liked Steampunk and presented to them a series of random character designs I had drawn. They responded favorably to them. The next logical step would be to come up with a story however, one person suggested that I don't delay and just start animating.

So, I did.

I did a single test of a character firing a raygun that left the character in peril falling over the railing of an airship without a parachute due to the force of the kickback. I figured, I couldn't show that to people and just leave it at that, they'll want to know what happens next. I'll need another shot for closure. That's when I came up with a second character (with a retractable wing jet-pack) to save the character that fell overboard.  Then I was compelled to add more shots in an attempt to answer the question as to why they were on the airship together, etc. Before I knew it, a story was developing which would eventually become a trailer and an elaborate pitch-piece for a potentially large scale production.

I shared what I was doing with more people and they responded with overwhelmingly positive feedback which encouraged me to keep developing it.  As I would work, I would listen to an online radio station called Pandora. I’m very inspired by music, and when I heard a cover version of an old Siouxsie and the Banshees song called Cities In Dust performed by Junkie XL, I immediately saw visions of Steampunk hot rod vehicles racing along the desert. This led to a new series of shots that I called the "sizzle piece".

FLIP:  Who is doing this, or are you completely flying solo?
James: There’s a saying, “Build it and they will come.” and that’s just what happened. I feel very fortunate to have volunteers come forth to help and support this project. For all who have been involved, it has been a true labor of love.

Needless to say, it is a considerable amount of work. I've received some help here and there with CG Models, some clean-up, a few effects and post editing but thankfully, I've gotten alot more help with compositing. Other than that, I'm pretty much on my own.  I storyboard and plan my own shots which include camera moves, do my own animation and clean-up, create my own color models and paint my own backgrounds.

FLIP: How are you doing this, technically speaking?

I'm proud to say that the animation is not a hybrid or facsimile of hand-drawn animation, but rather it is true exhibition of pencil to paper. The backgrounds and camera lighting effects are painted in Photoshop and the drawings are scanned. Both elements are imported into Harmony/Toon Boom and then composited digitally.

FLIP: When and where will we be able to see it? 

Here's a trailer......

The project is currently in development but you can follow its work-in-progress on Facebook.

There are some exciting prospects for this project that I hope will come to fruition within the coming months and I will be sure to update you on its progress!

All images in this post are the copyrighted property of James Lopez.  

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