06/04/2014

The Making of Dysco

 
 This post is about making Dysco and some of the process and thought that went into it. 

Dysco is a self-initiated experimental 3D animation. I didn't really know what 'experimental' meant when people used it to describe their work, but now I think I have a better idea. To me it means that you're in somewhat uncharted territory, that you can't plan a map ahead but have to feel your way forward. This happened whilst making Dysco mainly because of the technical challenge of producing super-tightly synchronised animation to music. Planning out something so technically and conceptually complex befuddled me so I just resorted to just making little chunks at a time and then working it out later. This approach also allowed me to try out lots of different ideas and techniques and slot them in later. Unfortunately it also led to a somewhat fuzzy narrative thread but it did, in the end, allow the animation to be made. 

Initially I aimed to make an abstract animation concerned only with synchronising shapes and sound. But the environments kept getting darker, influences from the real world crept in, especially the Snowdon leaks, the Arab Spring and maybe just the fact of living in London, the most surveilled city in the world. A lot of themes are also present from my earlier (and very stylistcally different) film Nothing To Fear. (Watch it here)

I spent a long time detailing the world of Dysco. Everything has a reason for being, for example the lampposts have solar panels and anti-climb spikes to stop interference with the cameras. The graffiti references various hacker groups and movements such as Lulsec and Anonymous.  'Freedom' or 'Resistance' is plastered on the walls in Turkish, Cantonese and Korean. The drones and security apparatus are branded with parodies of major tech companies, FreeSec is based on the Google Chrome logo whilst Omni is a parody of Facebook.

Musically it proved tricky to work with composers as I needed such specific sounds and timings. There was a lot of R&D to do and the audio and visuals were so interdependent that in the end it turned out to be easier to compose the audio myself. I hadn't a lot of experience in creating music so I had to learn some new software but it was a lot of fun. It really made me realise how much dedication and craft is needed to make well produced music. When I'd finally cut the film together Dom from Toot! took my audio and made it sound professional. He used my noises as a guide for timing and replaced or processed them and did a lot of work on sound design and mixing as well as adding lots of formant shifting to give it a nice glitchy quality. 

Many of my early tests were automated animation driven by the audio. In the end the majority of the animation was done manually but there are still some automated sections. This was because I was doing such small sections of animation there was no real need automate it, it in fact was harder to create generative systems than it was to just key it by hand. I think audio driven animation is an interesting area and something I'll continue to explore, it'd be particularly good for making semi-automated music videos or even in live performances. 

The environments are based on photographs I took around London. I used Cinema 4D's Projection Man tool to project it onto geometry and then I began populating it with futuristic buildings, barbed wire and drones. Before building anything in 3D I generally researched in online and sketched it out by hand. 

Most of the animation and particle work was created in Cinema 4D. I used After Effects to composite and add in extra effects and Premier to arrange and edit everything. I found the integration between After Effects and Premier CC surprisingly good. 

I used Thinking Particles and Xpresso a lot for the early automation tests but soon I was mainly keyframing the animation and X-Particles became my new particle plug-in of choice. It's a powerful tool and a lot of fun, if you're into that type of thing :)