TGW, IFCC Croatia and our other projects are usually associated with the computer game world. And rightly so. We do, however, have a lot to do with the movie business as well. The way CGI and film are merging, soon will all have a game controller for playing movies. While expectantly waiting for the day when we can crash the Millennium Falcon into JJ Abrams house we’ll be going about our business of promoting wonderful artwork involved in films. On this occasion we would like to present Jenny Harder and her upcoming short „Being Good“. It’s a very ambitious, a very indie, animated movie that promises to grow in a big way.
About a year ago, “Being Good“ leaped from the realm of Jenny’s imagination into the real world. The business major turned character artist cut her artistic teeth working as a concept artist at Daedalic Entertainment in Hamburg, making hand-drawn point & click adventure games. Her work helped her discover her passion for creating characters and animation films. „ At the beginning, I just wanted to become a better artist and learn whatever I could. After some years I found I was focusing more and more on character design and fell in love with animated movies.” Now realizing what her desire was, Jenny began her first animated project about a teenage girl and her two guardians, the angel Ava and the demon Mal, who act as her conscience. The short animated movie currently being developed is a short only for the time being. “Being Good” will be showcased not only as a small indie venture, but also as proof of concept for a feature film. It’s a big step towards even bigger ends.
The realization of an indie dream is only part of the magic involved in “Being Good”. Almost as important as the development itself is the way in which the short was created. Jenny started out alone, but soon had a respectable team adding their know-how to the title. “At the moment, the team consists of 50 people working in their spare time. It is a very passionate and lovely team with incredible talent from Disney, Dreamworks, Bluesky, Sony, ILM, Macguff etc. The size of the team is bound to change because of the way we set up the production”. The production was patched together with enthusiasts around the world drawn to Jenny’s story and production approach. The way everybody got to work together was via the online virtual studio platform Artella. “This is my first film project and directorial debut, so I knew that I would need a lot of help and people with more experience involved in the project. Artella launched at the same time as I started creating concepts for “Being Good”. It was an auspicious coincidence. Artella provides an incredible worldwide platform for talent from the industry and was my main go-to source for finding the right support. When we launched the project, we had over 50 applications over night! To date 500 applications have been received.”
Working through an online platform certainly sounds like a great new age way to rally people from around the globe to work on a single project. However, the dislocation of the team and the reliance on an unknown individual’s work ethic can, surely, be tricky if not crippling for a project that needs to be kept on track in order to conclude with satisfactory results. Did this approach beset the film? The directoress says, not really. “One of the main issues was the language barrier, communication issues, time differences and the fact that people can’t really meet up and get to know each other. Have things gone wrong? Oh, yeah! On many occasions. But, this has been a learning experience for everyone involved and I feel that I have learned more during this project than in my 1 year of MA studies. It is still challenging, but I truly believe virtual studios could be a great option for future film making.”
Apart from the sometimes difficult communication, people dropping out of the project was an issue, although an expected one. “People dropping out was something we quickly learned to accept. It was mainly for personal or work related reasons. It can be hard committing long term to a side project with a normal life and an 8 hour job going on. We had a few unfortunate drop-outs where people simply stopped replying or, even worse, kept promising to finish something without ever delivering. That is why it’s especially important to constantly be in touch with you team, making sure they are aware of their workload and have realistic completion estimates in mind.”
Problems aside, the virtual studio certainly has its upsides. Using it allows creative folks with designs bigger than a one-person workload to connect and set up networks and teams. The disembodiment can also have a liberating effect, where everybody gets a place at the table and discuss issues, solutions and ideas. Like a game jam, but with clearer guidelines. The approach is specific for virtual studios and attractive to creatives who now how to use the extra creative space. “Lots of our members said they were attracted by the artwork and feel of the film, but I believe the whole set up was important to the appeal. We have a very open approach and not much of a hierarchy level. Some supervision is necessary, of course. Even with supervisors, we listen to everyone’s worries and ideas and make sure their concerns are considered. After all we are all here to create something beautiful together and enjoy the journey. It’s a different feeling if you can say that this is as much your project as the director’s.”
The project blew up from a modest skeleton crew to a formidable set up in a short time. Pros and enthusiasts signed up for the job, each contributing to the movie in a specific way, making the process even more interesting and affecting the outcome in a very positive way. “At the beginning, when the team was small I personally spoke to friends and artists I knew were talented and passionate, but as the team grew I heavily relied on the judgment of our supervisors. Having experienced members on board was really helpful. Our animation supervisor Albert Barba (Illumination Macguff) was indispensible for reviewing animation reels and selecting fitting candidates and so were our simulation supervisor Nikita McKinder (ILM) and lighting supervisor Edouard Sisternas (Illumination Macguff). I also made sure to have a conversation with each candidate to explain our vision and production pipeline.”
Even at this the 11th hour, you can still join the “Being Good” team. The production is always on the look-out for new members, with openings depending on the production phases. The modeling work may be finished, but there is still need for simulation artists, render wranglers, Xgen specialists, marketing and renderfarm support. They are also currently working on an artbook that will require additional concept artist and illustrators to be added to the fold. The workloads vary and with them the working hours. Depending on your appetites you’ll be exposed to various stress to fun ratios. “If you are planning to join an existing project on one specific position, that will probably be quite an enjoyable amount of work that can be managed next to a full time job. If you are considering starting your own project though, make sure that you have the energy and passion to take it to the end. You will most certainly get to a point where you might feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I always felt that it was my responsibility to make sure everyone was doing ok on a professional and personal level. I communicate with every single member at least 3 times a week and I really feel it strengthens the team’s connection and spirit. Is it hard work? Definitely! There are weeks where I work 14 hours a day, that being said I know it’s totally worth it and that keeps me going.”
The story of Embry, the protagonist of “Being Good”, is a story about identity. We asked the directoress to expand a bit on the origin and inspiration for the story. “A good friend of mine reminded me last year that good stories always come from personal experience. I have spent a lot of time living abroad, including Germany, Japan and the UK. During my time abroad I learned that perceptions of right and wrong can differ based on someone’s upbringing. “Being Good” is about Embry, a German girl that goes to live in her mother’s home country of Scotland where she faces various challenges. She’s a rebellious punk girl trying to find her identity and draw a line between right and wrong. This is where Mal and Ava come in as her conscience, voicing her inner conflict. I wanted to do a story that encourages people to be open to experiences and harness a wide world view. I have to admit that I can see several of my own character attributes in each character.”
From the first sketches of March 2016, “Being Good” has come a long way. The currently animated short will be presented at this year’s CTN as part of the Artella panel. It will be shown as proof of concept and subsequently head out on the road for projections at several festivals, next year. The creators are looking out for an opportunity to develop a full length feature. Depending on reactions, negotiations with sponsors and production companies, along with support from the community, “Being Good” will grow in scope and duration. At this time, the short is unfunded, with preparations under way to launch a Kickastarter campaign later this month to fund their renderfarm and allow the team to pay festival entrance fees. Some of the supporter perks are an impressive artbook, character 3D prints and insights into the production. Any involvement in the campaign will be greatly appreciated and an incredible help to the Artella based production. The plan is to go live within the next few weeks, reach out to anyone hip to what Jenny and company are trying to do and pitch the feature film idea in 2018. The followers and supporters will be in the loop.
Don’t forget that you can still contribute to the “Being Good”. Give a shout to Jenny Harder at firstname.lastname@example.org and make it happen. We wish everyone on board all the luck and send our congratulations for all the hard work and accomplishments so far. It’s always fun to support cool stuff. Now check out the trailer!