Astro 11: Inertia

Project Background

In 2017 Chad Wixom and Ryan Griffin launched an animated short for Fauxcorp called Astro 11 and are currently developing it into a series of animated shorts involving unique physical experiments. This short features a special test astronaut flung about space from an explosive blast.

Inertia is the first episode and has a unique two-act structure demonstrating inertia in space. Intended as a stop-motion piece, Chad presented the concept to Ryan and it shifted to a discussion about Twin Peaks where Donna asks Laura, "D'ya think that if you were falling in space... that you'd slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?" 

The first part is the visual beauty of the experiment and then followed by a didactic which leans on drawings that Wile. E. Coyote made to trap the Road Runner which turned out to be a great way to diagram the experiment and wrap the short up and build a structure that works for the other experiements.

Creative Direction

Working with physics is a favorite of ours. We create a lot of particle systems and lighting setups and camera lens effects. But there is a very little known plugin for Photoshop called Pixelsquid and with this plugin, we discovered a stop motion nest of opportunities. From this discovery, the initial creative direction evolved from a simple idea to something a little more special. We used only an astronaut and a bowler hat from it (which we ended up replacing) but we were pretty proud of using just two assets. The story stemmed from our internal discussions and rhetoric about space exploration and sciences.  

Below: Found references for inertia and force. Also shown are visual references to our think tank and inspiration.

Art Direction

As unique as Astro 11 is, it is not too terribly complex and we wanted to keep it simple. We settled on digging into Wile E Coyote and diagrams of how to catch the Road Runner. We agreed to have a Wile E. Coyote moment in each of these videos called a Didactic and we'd use it to explain and animate the physics on a sheet of graph paper in a different way than the earlier picturesque views.

Below: Early framing and treatments with color correcting and lighting using custom presets. We opted to go with a darker render to keep it more in line with our entire series.

Production: Background

Our goal was to show vibrant colors in space but visually the colors had to match the composition and idea. It couldn't be sci-fi and it couldn't be cartoony and it also couldn't be bright all the time. We needed dark moments. So we decided to create different lights and switch them on and off, with some lens flares and particle passes. The explosion had to be a burst and force that kicked this off the light also had to imply distances. We used several plates to achieve the depth we wanted but not every scene worked this way when we needed to involve a 3D camera.

Below: Production stills with various background treatments

Production Design: Astronaut

Early on we hated that we only found the orange astronaut suit. Removing the orange was not as simple as changing the levels or the saturation. In order to keep the integrity of the suit and not remove information where the shadows, GI (Global Illumination) and AO (Ambient Occlusion) hit on the astronaut, advanced selective color, curves, and levels were made into a stack which had to be executed in the proper order or it wouldn't work (see below). This seems like overkill for the scale but we need these for an entire series, not just one video so we needed to assure we had some flexibility with the suit and lighting.

Below: Production stills of the animated astronaut with our custom sketch and toon material and forced camera lens perspective. 

Production Design: Hat

Our bowler hat was not as simple as the astronaut. We decided it was best to go into Cinema 4D with a model. Remember again, we will use this in a series so we wanted a good looking hat. The hat was not just left with base materials, we stripped it and shaped it to our liking; removing a lot of the polygons. We then applied Sketch and Toon and found a way to tweak some settings that we applied using different rules for the layers. After we animated the hat in Cinema 4D we exported the frames to After Effects as transparent pngs.

Production Design: Titles

For the typography, we agreed we wanted it to look like "found" footage. In order to be distinct and not just use methods, we have seen; we decided to post-process the typography so we could have each type of treatment unique to itself.  We rendered endless type because it was so much fun.

Production Design: Didactic

As mentioned, the Wile E. Coyote moment in each of these videos is called our Didactic. Ryan loves graph paper, probably more than any designer I know. So we threw together a composite of our animated astronaut flailing his arms and made some magic happen with some direction arrows and a very unique zoom panning.

Sound Design: Sketches and Production

Sound design for this animation was not entirely complicated but did not complete until after the production was animated. We knew we wanted a relay of radio-control room style communication. We recorded the VO passes on a Zoom H6 and then brought them into Ableton Live to construct a vocal arrangement and sound design. Ryan composed the base for our music bed and after we shared many ideas on what we wanted things to sound like.

Below: Soundcloud of audio beds, sfx, voice-over reads and more.