Making Look-See

Daniel Savage
May 24, 2016 · 4 min read

I wanted to write a little bit about the process on my new film and the “work vacation” I took. If you haven’t seen Look-See check it out here.

Winters in NYC are brutal, so I decided to head west for all of February. My plan was to spend the month focused on a personal project and let unfamiliar surroundings alter my perception, hopefully providing a unique outcome. I decided a week in Lake Tahoe and LA for the remainder.

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One of the early studies that would inspire the film.

I’d been exploring some themes over the past months that I was really excited about. A character was being developed organically as well as the grid world he would eventually live in.

I didn’t really care about writing a story (*gasp* someone call John Lasseter) and wanted to be a bit experimental. I drew a series of sequences on their own and later pieced them together in various ways to see if I could make sense of it all. These were both visual themes and conceptual themes of some stuff that was on my mind.

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Sketch book ideas that made it to the final.

The first few nights in Tahoe was the perfect way to start, an actual vacation spending days on Heavenly Mountain and sketching away in my motel at night.

Before heading to LA I spent 2 nights in a Reno Casino. Holy hell what a dump. I’ve never felt so trapped, but as I hoped this inspired one of my favorite scenes.

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Feeling trapped in Reno.

In LA I stayed with my good friend Seth for two weeks. He was super helpful in giving me a second opinion while I crafted the animatic. By the time I relocated I had set the animatic, worked out some design ideas and began blocking key moments.

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Echo Park office.

I didn’t want the technique to be obvious, it had to be doable on the road, and I wanted to finish in a reasonable time. I used a blend of Photoshop and After Effects, going back and forth between the two which gives a great mechanical meets human combo matching the vibe of the film.

The last week I rented a place in Echo Park that felt like a cabin and was a perfect place to jam for uninterrupted 15 hour days. Pretty sure the Airbnb host thought I was crazy. I made a ton of progress and simultaneously avoided some awful weather.

Back in NY I continued to finish it, slowly taking on select client projects to get back into reality.

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A chart I drew for important sound moments.

I shared a rough edit with Ambrose Yu and he was excited to help with sound. I sent a brief with some references and thoughts. Most importantly I wanted everything to be percussive. Sampling real drums and editing after would match that mechanical meets human feeling.

Being constrained to percussion instruments really forced a break from the usual process which always keeps things fun. I started by recording samples with Justin Lawes to see where that would get us. But the first pass ended up sounding like someone playing behind a drum kit, which didn’t quite work.

First pass sound design

That realization led me away from recording behind a kit to finding new samples, recording samples, and eventually creating percussive instruments digitally. My favorite elements that came out of this were marimba-sounding chord hits which brought some nice color and continuity to the piece.

Ambrose Yu

All in all it took around 2 months to complete. At the moment I’m pretty happy with the results, but you know how that goes. It might seem crazy to work insane hours while being on “vacation”, but making exactly what you want without answering to a client is a vacation.

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