Bru & Boegie – Freelance Mountain

Well. I can hardly believe it, but I managed to finish this Bru & Boegie short. WHAT THE HECK YO. I started out animating it around the same time I got my house, about 3 years ago, and remember sitting in a pretty dark room animating on a temporary table with my Wacom setup, recording some of the early process vids in bad lighting. Now, I finished it in a comfier space, with a bigger desk, better light in the room (though I still prefer the dark sometimes) and better Internet, so this short is a bit of a diary for me.

It started out as a simple idea – at various coffee shops around Plett I sketched a bunch of backgrounds in my sketchbook in pen, with a very loose idea of a story, and I was going to scan these in and animate over them in black and white in Toon Boom Harmony on my laptop and Cintiq – surely a simple personal project that wouldn’t require too much complexity. I recorded the voice afterwards without a script – a kind of ‘gonzo’ freestyle way of coming up with a story based on super loose ideas, all in one long 8-min take. I used Logic, but later moved over to Ableton Live. I then edited the voice down until it made some kind of sense. I did basic posing in Toon Boom Harmony (or perhaps I started with Storyboard Pro, I can’t quite remember) and timed it out to the audio. Then I got a buddy Keegan to help me animate one shot. He made it look so cool and smooth with so many inbetweens, and he gave me a better idea for the ending, so I plussed up the other shots. I recorded my brother’s mate Dan’s voice in Cape Town, recorded myself and friend Bronya in my study in Plett with a combination of a Zoom H1 mic, and a AKG D5 mic and sound card. Then another buddy Sheldon asked if the short would be colour, so I thought ‘I better make it colour’. Then I got my iPad Pro and Procreate and it became a meditative experience working over the backgrounds in colour whilst I was sitting at coffee in town, or on the couch, getting pretty experimental with techniques. I animated 2 shots on iPad using ‘Rough Animator’ and even did some 3D stuff in Blender. I hired Randy Whitlow on Fiverr to do the narrator’s voice. Then, I wanted coloured outlines for characters, which was done with a module in Toon Boom, the little side-project took more and more of my interest, and generally it seemed like the finish line got further and further away, so all I could do was sit back and enjoy the ride while learning a whole bunch of new stuff in the process, which is what I’ve been doing for the most part.

To curb the scope creep, I eventually finished animation by making a list and working through that one by one, to quantify what ‘finished’ meant. I exported shots from Toon Boom Harmony as PNG4 (PNGs with transparency) sequences, and comp’d them all together in Premiere Pro CS6 (I’m using an old Adobe suite, and purchased it before Adobe went subscription-based. It suits my needs fine). I comp’d the sequences over still images of the backgrounds in Premiere – because there aren’t too many camera moves, I just needed one background per shot. For times there were camera moves or moving backgrounds, I worked around that. The reasons for doing this are: 1) To keep the best image quality possible – rendering movies out of Toon Boom and then re-rendering those movies in Premiere can incur a loss of quality. 2) For ease of use – with image sequences, it’s possible to re-export just parts of the scene without needing to re-render whole Quicktime movies per scene, and because the images were being overwritten, the sequences would automatically update in Premiere. I’ve done tests and exporting this way preserves as much colour data as possible – actually, rendering TGA sequences from Toon Boom is better if transparency isn’t required. It also allows me to treat the background separately from the characters in post – it’s easy to add overlay layers to them in Premiere or tweak the colours without affecting the characters.

I needed to set up different ‘write’ modules in Toon Boom to export the shadows separately and set them up with their own sequences in Premiere, as those needed to have ‘blending modes’ applied in Premiere to ‘multiply’ in with the backgrounds.

Once that was done, it was tempting to ask one of the many musicians I know (especially my brother Dave aka The Kiffness who has done audio for a lot of my shorts) if they’d like to do audio as a freelance job, but because I had gone through the process of setting up drum mics and got levels right for recording, it’d have seemed like a cop-out to not do music and sfx after coming so far. So, I used Ableton Live 9 to record my drums and edit them down, added some software synths and instruments over that, started out with some free sfx online but ended up paying for a month subscription to Splice to get the rest of the foley and sfx sounds I was looking for – Splice was a great tip from my brother and allowed me to spend more time on the mix and less time searching for royalty-free sfx. I mixed on my laptop speakers as a start, then used headphones and used a little knob on my MPK Mini to quickly adjust sample volumes. I thought I’d need to send it off for mastering with compression, but after playing with, I ended up preferring my open and breezy mix.

I’ve actually started another longer Bru & Boegie short, based an idea I had probably 11 years ago, and I’m about 3/4 done with that, which funnily enough helped get this one finished.

For now, I don’t want to make the same mistake I’ve done with other shorts, that is – being so exhausted after finishing it that I don’t submit it to film festivals. I’ll submit this to a couple festivals I think, and maybe a couple other people who might enjoy it.

The freedom to do whatever is one of the benefits of personal shorts. It started out as just a nugget for an idea, didn’t require me to show a ‘vertical slice’ or anything (as useful as that can be though), it just felt good and right – I kept following the organic crumb trail to the end. Almost 100% of the energy can be put into the project without a large portion of that energy being misdirected into non-important stuff, and I’m grateful to have the capacity to do these personal projects. Still though, many times I thought this was the best thing I’ve ever made, and other times thought it was complete tripe. I ended up learning a stack of new stuff that I can use for both personal and commercial work. On many abstract levels, ‘Freelance Mountain’ is a cathartic project and unpacks some unconscious rumblings without trying to pin a tail on a donkey or be too ‘on the nose’ with any particular message. I’m pleased to be able to transform that into… something cool and (I think) lovely. Before over-intellectualizing this little bit of magic, I hope you enjoyed watching it! I’m very pleased with the result and found the process overall nourishing.

I was sure to make videos that recorded the process so here is the ‘Making Of’ playlist of videos if that kind of thing interests you:

I’ll probably make one more closing ‘making of’ vid to go over all the final processes, but didn’t want that to hold up releasing this pup. Thanks to friend James Wolfaardt and gf Kayla Archer who kept encouraging me to release this. Part of the reason I was keen to get this done is it’s been taking up so much space on my 2013 Macbook Pro’s limited hard-drive and I’ve been dancing around that by removing other projects and putting other stuff on external hard-drives, so once it’s all done and dusted I look forward to backing it all up, removing it off my local drive and making space for another Bru & Boegie project!

Thanks for reading.

Here’s a playlist for more Bru & Boegie shorts (click the little ‘hamburger icon’ top-right to see other videos in the playlist):

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