Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, February 28, 2011

Before The Wheel

At this time 11 years ago, I was a ghost. An apparition. Friends would swear they'd seen me, perhaps at the dining hall or by the mail room, but always out of the corner of their eye, and they could never prove it. Late at night, they might swap stories about such sightings, about their brief glimpse of a spectre resembling someone they once knew.

It was my final semester of college, and I spent half my waking hours in the art building working on pieces for the art majors' senior show. The other half I was holed up in a computer lab, completing my other senior project: a 3 min 15 sec computer animation. With no time to spare for food or socializing, I lost 20 pounds and 30 friends.1

Three minutes may not seem like much to you, but you've never been an animator.2 For comparison, it took 8 people to complete Pixar's short Luxo Jr., which is 2 min 18 sec long and only contains 6 items on-screen (2 lamps, 2 balls, an electrical outlet, and the floor). Admittedly, Luxo was made 14 years earlier and is far superior, but I was doing everything myself, with 100+ 3D models, 80+ textures, 30+ lights, 4 cameras, and a total of 5,850 frames of animation.3

Back in 2000, it took 2-3 minutes to render a single frame. If I was lucky and no one else was using the computers, I could run 4 of them overnight and get about 800 frames rendered. The next morning I'd pick out all the mistakes (e.g. motion, lighting, timing, executive producer credit), then make adjustments and run the machines again that night.

Rinse, spit, repeat.

There are still plenty of mistakes in this. Close to fifty, at last count.4 For years, I told myself I'd go back and fix everything, but life and laziness always intervened. I finally stopped deluding myself a couple months ago — for one thing, I no longer have access to the software — and got a local video place to copy the animation from Beta tape7 to DVD.

The picture quality isn't great, but for the first time in 11 years, I have a digital copy. Thus, I've finally released it into the wild (a.k.a. the Tube of You). And since the Academy just awarded the Oscar for best animated short last night, I thought it fitting to share mine with you now.

Behold! The Hunt, the greatest computer animation ever made (by me):

Also, if you're interested, here's a list of all the Easter eggs I included in the animation.

1 Neither of these is true.
2 Or have you? If so, disregard that blanket statement. Instead, read this blanket statement: "I like blankets."
3 Okay, that's not entirely true. I didn't do everything. My friend Jared Castiglione was gracious enough to record two sound effects for me.
4 Don't try to count. Really.5
5 By the way, when I tried to get a job in computer animation after college, everyone loved the video. Creative directors, Human Resources, graphic designers, even CEOs. Everyone, in fact, except the animators. All they saw were the mistakes.6
6 Yet it was good enough to be shown at Temple University's NextFrame Film Festival. The site provides no proof of this, of course, since the 2000-2001 year is the only one without an archive page. Like I said, 11 years ago I was a ghost.
7 Yep, you read that right. Beta.


  1. Well done!

    I like the story. Got really worried when the paper approached the guillotine...


  2. Hey, where are the credits? I'm in the credits. And what's with this claiming you made the ENTIRE production on your own? I seem to remember you getting help with like two sound effects. Yeah, that's right--I called you a liar.

  3. my stoopid work PC doens't let me watch videos. SO i've starred this post and will check it out later on my laptop

  4. you harmed a tube sock? how could you?

  5. Girl Friday: Thanks! Glad you liked it.

    Joseph: *takes a bow*

    Misha: Oh, pish posh! It wasn't a guillotine. If it was, one of the thumbtacks would have been wearing a black hood.

    Naomi: I cut most of the credits because I no longer talk to any of the people who were in the "cast," and because most of the jokes were over 10 years old. But you're right: I should have given credit to the sound effects guy. I'll make the edit now.

    Falen: I've got the same problem where I work. Hope you enjoy it when you do get a chance to see it.

    Chris: It was easy. I took a ballpoint pen in one hand, the tube sock in the other, and then I [CENSORED]

  6. Oh my Goodness I Am SOOO IMPRESSED!!! Leave it to 'other animators' to see the flaws--they ought to have their heads nailed to the floor!

    Seriously, though--I had to show my husband (who has pretty much memorized every line to every digital animation [by the way, he really appreciated your "Elasti-Girl" comment on my blog]) and he thought it was very clever, too!

  7. Dude, that was impressive. Cool story, amazing images!! It blows my mind the things that can be done on computers. Are you still doing this sort of design work? Man, that must've taken forever! No wonder you had to go into hibernation. Kudos on the film festival show!

    P.S. Next time my kids come hunting for me because we're out of clean laundry, I'm totally hiding as origami.

  8. Brilliant. Especially enjoyed the subtle inclusion of such titles as Catch-22 and How to Make Paper Airplanes.

  9. I love your blog.

    I'm trying to not gush compliments all down the front of your shirt, but I think you need to be my e-husband.

  10. JB: See? I told you I'd eventually post some of my own work. (Next time, I'll share drawings o paintings.) Glad you and your husband enjoyed it!

    Carol: Alas, no, I no longer do 3D animation. (And yes, it did take approximately forever.) The software I have is 10 years old and doesn't work on my current OS. But I'm happy I was able to blow your mind, as well as give you new camouflage ideas. I think you'd make an excellent crane.

    Joe: Thanks! I do take pride in the little subtle touches I incorporated into the animation. Glad you noticed.

    Rachel: Wow, I'm honored. And to commemorate this moment, I'll take off my shirt and lead you slowly toward the... e-laundry room, because I have no idea which e-detergent is best for removing compliment stains. Or perhaps I should leave them in; they're doing a good job of flattering my figure.

  11. Wow, Nate, that was...epic. That's the only word I can come up with that even comes close to describing how much I liked this!

  12. Jeff: So, what you're saying is 'epic' doesn't fully describe your experience, but only comes close? Wow. Thanks for the epic compliment!

  13. That's cool! I do some web animation, so I understand the effort involved. People just don't understand render times.

  14. Alex: I expect render times have come down over the years, but all aspects of animation take longer than most people know. Kind of similar to writing and publishing, come to think of it.