Why make a short film? Setting goals and finishing your project

Making a personal project is hard and painful but easier when you know why you’re doing it and set objectives.

Me every day while making the film.

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For the past two years, I’ve been working full time (or more) on “Here’s the Plan”, the 18:30 minute CG animated short film that I directed. That’s two years, were every waking hour, I was thinking about the project. Not a day passed were I wasn’t thinking things like: “Is shot 246 ready?”, “Did we fix the geometry crossing in shot 07?” or, of course, “Will everyone hate this?”

Sounds fun, right? Well, not really.

So, why do it then?

Sometimes we feel inspired when we see some awesome work in the internet and think “I should do it too!”, or sometimes we get an idea that can’t leave our head. Sadly, most of the times, our big ideas get too intimidating to actually carry them forward, or we left them along the way because they don’t meet our expectations.

I think this is were objectives come into play. It’s important to know why you are doing something and what do you want to achieve by doing it, so you don’t lose motivation halfway and actually finish it. Especially something as painfully slow and complicated like animation.

So, do you want to make a short film? Set some goals first to know why you’re doing it. For example:

  • Tell a story that says something you must tell.
  • Try/learn/master a technique
  • Showcase your skills in an specific area (art direction, 2D/3D animation, scriptwriting, visual narrative, technical CG skills)
  • Build/Grow an audience

Any of these reasons are good to make a project. It helps you build a plan to make something you could finish.

Of course, for many of you who are students, you’re probably obligated to make a film as part of your curriculum. In those cases, I think is even more important to choose an objective, since because of time/resourses constraints you probably won’t be able to make your feature-oscar-quality-winning-screenplay-MASTERPIECE. But you CAN improve your hyperealistic rendering skills if you have a very simple story! Or tell an amazing story with simple visuals!

Rabbit Stew, Animation Is and When I’m Scared. Yes, all of them have rabbits.

I’ve been animating for the last 12 years (I started at 13), and for the most of that time, I wasn’t able to finish my projects until I start setting goals for each of them. For example:

  • Rabbit Stew (2010)— I wanted to make a short film that I could send to festivals + improve my art/color skills and frame by frame animation. So the designs were very simple and the story too, since I didn’t feel I had anything worth saying (I’m glad that changed).
  • Animation Is (2010)— It was for a contest, so the goal was to plan for something that I could make in a week and also something that communicated my love for animation.
  • When I’m Scared (2013)— I had spend the last 1.5 years studing at Animation Mentor, so I just wanted to prove myself that I could make something personal again (I was scared I wouldn’t be able to) Also, focus on more stilized art and go back to animate in 2D frame by frame animation.

So, what were my objectives with “Here’s the Plan”?

  • I wanted to make a real narrative short that could showcase my voice as an author/storyteller.
  • I wanted to tell a story that show a happy couple that loves eachother and doesn’t subscribe to traditional gender roles (More on this on the next post)
  • I wanted to see if my 2D aestethic could be translated to 3D and test my 3D character animation skills on something that I actually cared.
  • On the technical side, focus on it having good art, good acting and good cinematography.
  • And something really important, learn how to lead and work with a team (Since all the previous films were made alone at my house in my pijamas)

I can hapily say that all those goals were met and the result was a great film made by a great group of people. But! Probably if I hadn’t set those goals and limitations it would never been finished.

The project was planned to be: 2 characters, simple set & props, stylized render & lightning, no cloth/dynamic simulations, no fur or overcomplicated effects or camera movements, and well… only 12 minutes long. So, in theory, it was pretty manageable, with the only ambitions set in good story, good acting, good art and good cinematography.

Then the hardships came in, like we started running out of money, had to budget unexpectedly for a render farm, part of the team had to leave and tons and tons of technical problems. Normal problems for every project, but ones you don’t think until you start one.

So, with all those problems, it’s like a miracle that we were able to finish it and I think if I had planned for it to be like, a masterpiece story with stunning realistic rendering, cloth and fur simulation, realistic lightning, extra characters etc, it would have been impossible.

Or it would have taken around 6 years.

With objectives it’s easier to make decisions. I didn’t need realistic rendering to tell a good, emotional story. I didn’t need cloth simulation to communicate that my characers loved each other. And certainly, I didn’t need realistic dough dynamics, or flour particles to show that they love baking. So at the end, I’m at peace with the results and the decision.

Objectives make this long process more bearable and possible, but also knowing the “why” deep down makes everything easier.

For me that “why” was: I had to tell this story. I couldn’t sleep without thinking about telling this and creating these characters. So it was a long and painful process to actually make it real, but in the end, it would have been much more painful to never have make it.

Do you have a project you want to make? Or are you thinking on starting one? Let me know in the comments!

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