Political Earth is an animated satirical mockumentary that explores the behavior of our world’s “political animals” in the style of a BBC nature documentary. The short film was created by Scooter Downey, and exactly one year ago today, we began the epic journey to bring this film to life faster than any animation project we’ve ever worked on.
We first heard about the Political Earth project via a website link from a friend, and we learned that the creators were vigorously seeking animators for production. With only 30 days left until the deadline, we were very hesitant about getting involved with such an unlikely goal. We could just save ourselves the headache and look for the next opportunity. It was clear that if we did take on the project, then it would be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to get the 12-minute short film finished in time. After giving it some serious thought, we ultimately decided to step up and take the challenge.
We first contacted Scooter Downey and Sean Elliot on April 1, 2013. Being that the deadline was April 30, 2013, we all knew that it was a long shot to complete a short film (from concept to completion) within such a short amount of time. Scooter and Sean worked very closely with us every step of the way, assisting us in any way that they could. On day one, we discussed our plan of execution, which included the finding the art direction and an overall workflow. The first milestone consisted of designing DaVoice O’Reason, designing the dozens of political animals, getting the audio recorded, and creating the storyboard/animatic. Our goal was to have all of this finished within the first week.
The visual style of Political Earth was inspired by the likes of South Park and the classic Monty Python intros. Everything that you see in Political Earth comes from real life photos. This was a completely new approach for us because for the first time ever on an animation project, we spent more time in Photoshop than any other program.
DaVoice O’Reason is a renowned political animal expert who narrates throughout the film. Creating DaVoice was our very first objective in the character design department. We were given great reference and solid instructions, so it was a pretty painless process. After some minor tweaks to our initial concept, we were able to have a finalized and approved version of DaVoice within the same day.
After Da’Voice O’Reason was finalized and approved, we had to get started on designing the 30+ different political animals and prep them all for animation as quickly as possible. To say the least, this was a major challenge. From the Boobus Americanus, to the Federal Leviathan, each political animal came with their own set of challenges. Every political animal was created using a series of real life photos. Scooter and Sean did an excellent job of providing hundreds of images and instant feedback, no matter what time of the day (or night) it was. We certainly couldn’t have gotten through this process as quickly as we did without them. The goal was to have all of the characters finished within the first week, but it unfortunately ended up taking us nearly two weeks instead. This was a bit of a setback because we were hoping to be deep into the animation process by then. Instead, we were just getting started on the animation with only two weeks left until the deadline.
While we were in the character designing process, Scooter had recorded and edited all of the audio together for the animation. He also started creating the storyboards and animatics for different parts of the film. As soon as we recived the first animatic, we imediately dove into the animation. We had less than two weeks to do 12 minutes worth of animation, a process that would normally take us upwards to three months. Fortunately for this particular project, the animation was intentionally supposed to look very choppy by skipping inbetween frames, similar to the style of South Park. While this did cut down on time, the animation process was still intensive and time consuming.
The characters were created and prepared for animation in Photoshop by separating their limbs onto different layers. Those layers were then exported as individual images and imported into Flash. Once the characters were in Flash, they were then animated in our traditional fashion (minus the usual quality, which was very difficult for us to hold back on). After they were animated, they were then exported as PNG sequences and imported into Adobe After Effects. We used After Effects to compile all of our assets into a final shot.
This was one of the more challenging scenes in the film. We had to figure out a way to simulate an open ocean using only layers of real-life photos. The idea of layering sections of the ocean was inspired by a 2D video game called Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Starting with normal photos of the ocean, we cropped the images into separate layers. Since this was new territory for us, we couldn’t visualize the outcome, but since time was of the essence, we had to just blindly go for it and hope for the best. We were happy with the outcome, but using so many layers made this one of the longest scenes to render. It took about eight hours to render it each time.
This short scene was even more challenging than the Federal Leviathan scene. Since this was such a unique idea, we hardly had any reference to go off of. We had to come up with a way to imitate a large ocean wave using only pictures of pills and other medical supplies. The idea that we came up with was a complete shot in the dark. We had no idea what we were doing or how it was going to look, but again we just blindly went at it, figuring it out as we went along. The final result even surprised us!
Almost all of the backgrounds are normal, unedited (commercial-free) pictures. However, there were some instances where we needed backgrounds that didn’t exist. Because they weren’t real. Below are some of the background that we had to create ourselves.
Since time was seriously of the essence, there are plenty of mistakes to be found in this short film. We didn’t have time to do much polishing, so there are a lot of blemishes that can be spotted.
Near the end of the film is where most of the unpolished footage can be found. The mistakes were made due to the increased pressure as the deadline was quickly approaching. If you watch closely, you’ll notice black frames between some of the camera cuts. This was not intentional. When editing all of the scenes together on the timeline in After Effects, sometimes we didn’t put the different footage close enough to each other, and those black frames were generated. We didn’t know about them until the film was exported, but we literally didn’t have any time left to export again.
Near the end of the film, you can see how the Boobus Americanus’ hamburgers vanish when they are thrown to the ground. We simply did not have enough time to animate the burgers hitting the ground, so as much as it pained us, we had no other choice but to leave the vanishing burgers and keep moving.
During the shot where you see the restored statue of Jesus Christ, there was supposed to be lighting effects of the sun shining from the background. We actually completed these effects, but we simply didn’t have enough time to render that version. Therefore, we had to make another painful decision to send the footage without the proper effects.
Many more blemishes and be found throughout the film, but the beauty of this particular project was that the blemishes are easily masked by the intentionally degraded quality of animation. A lot of the mistakes could easily go unnoticed, but since we are perfectionists and love to always do our very best, it was incredibly difficult for us to accept the idea of leaving those flaws.
Never in our careers have we ever come so close to a deadline. For the contest, all entries had to be submitted before May 1, 2013. Halfway through the day of April 30, 2013, we were still working on the last 2 minutes of the film. We hadn’t slept in days, and we were completely burnt. Working 24/7 and constantly switching between all of the programs had also put a major strain on our systems. There was even a point where we had to snatch the side panel off of a computer just to prevent it from overheating! But despite all of those problems, we did our very best to hammer away at those last 2 minutes. By the time that the film was finished and submitted, there were literally less than 20 minutes left before the submission deadline. Talk about down to the wire!
After our work was finished on the film, we immediately passed out for a good week or so. Once we regained consciousness, we learned that Political Earth was receiving high praises and a ton of positive feedback. When the winners of the competition were announced, we learned that Political Earth had won third place out of 600+ other outstanding submissions. We were just happy to have successfully submitted an entry, and we literally counted that as our victory.
It was an amazing end to one of the simplest, yet most challenging projects that we had ever been apart of.