If you always wanted to know how a computer animated short film like 'Kicker' is made you have come to the right place. I will try to explain the process using only a minimum of technical terms. Of course, other filmmakers use different procedures and techniques, so this is rather personal. But I am sure the production notes will still give you an idea of the neccessary steps involved. Enjoy!
June - July 2001: Preparations
In order to rebuild the Kicker table in my computer, I had to get some reference material for orientation.
In August 2001, equipped with a digital camera I went to “Rosi’s Bar”, near the Reeperbahn street in Hamburg. This is the place where I got the idea to make this film. There, I took plenty of pictures of the kicker table in the back room: the table in total, close-ups of the figures, the different kinds of surfaces and the room itself, including the beautiful wallpaper which can be seen in the film.
I also got the dimensions of the kicker table, of the metal bars and of the figures from dedicated websites which allowed me to measure certain lengths (e.g. distance between the players) directly from the photos.
Reference images for the foosball table
August - December 2001: Modelling
My first task was to make 3D models of the Kicker table and the figures in the computer.
This took a relatively long time, which is not very surprising, since this was the first phase of the project and mistakes were plenty. I had to get familiar with the software and also with the various techniques of 3D modelling.
The kicker table, basically a block into which the playing field had been lowered, was modelled in no time, the bars with the handles as well. Modelling the players, on the other hand, took forever.
I had all the detailled reference photos at hand, yet I didn’t know where to start. First I decided to give a technique called box modelling a try, starting out with, well, a box, adding more and more details in the process. Slowly, I started making progress: feet first, then the legs and torso.
Finally it was time to model the head. That’s when I found out that the original figures have rather stupid faces, so i had give them new ones. But box modelling didn’t get me anywhere.
Luckily I stumbled upon a technique called “spline modelling”, a mixture of drawing the countours of the objects and filling the spaces inbetween. I was so happy with this method that i even modelled those parts of player again, that I had already modeled.
Still, modeling a face wasn’t easy. Only very slowly it changed from flat and utterly stupid to expressive and lovable. Oh, and then there were still those challenging eyelids…
Around christmas 2001 the proto-figure was finished.
From flat and ugly to round and beautiful
January - March 2002: Script/Storyboard
I wanted to draw a storyboard, sort of a comic version of the film. After all I’d read about film productions I was convinced that the storyboarding phase is a necessity and that it would speed up the production process. As it turned out this wasn’t the case with my film.
First, though, I wrote down what exactly I wanted to happen in the film, especially during the match, the central piece of the short: Who’s got the ball? What’s he doing with it.
Then I imagined the camera angles for the first shots and started sketching. I decided that my sketches could be more detailed and drew a more elaborate version. But since i cannot draw it took ages.
After a few weeks I came to the conclusion that my project would not benefit from continuing the storyboarding phase: The location and the course of the actions were clear anyway and there was no team that I had to communicate with via the storyboard.
Storyboards from the film
April - July 2002: Light and Shadow
Compared to modelling lighting the scene was a piece of cake. The first try - one bright light as a lamp above the table and three lights for ambient illumination - already caught the typical atmosphere surprisingly well.
I expected more problems, because in reality the very dominant light from above causes harsh shadows that obscure the faces of the players.
But the good thing with computer animation is the possibility to bypass the laws of physics by telling the lights to affect only certain objects. Or to have lights that don’t cast shadows.
I made good use of both possibilities: although there are ten lights in the scene, only the main (key) light casts shadows. One light only affects the walls, four others shine only for the players.
September - November 2002: Action!
After I had spent the evenings and weekends of almost a year working on the film there still wasn’t any animation. In the late summer of 2002 I was finally able to start animating.
The first ten seconds after the first figure opens its eyes were the most difficult, because it was my first encounter with character animation, plus it was a close-up of a face. After plenty of preview animations and testing the whole process of animating gained momentum and most of the match, the main part of the film, was finished in October and November 2002.
October 2002 - January 2003: Rendering
The film consists of about 4300 individual images. 3300 of these so-called frames had to be calculated by the computer, taking into account the positions of light sources and objects, the properties of the obects’ surfaces and the camera angle.
This rendering process took between 6 and 60 minutes per frame. The computer kept on calculating for days and nights. As soon as I had finished a couple of seconds of the animation I let the computer render the frames while at the same time I was working on the next scene.
January - February 2003: Editing
Actually, the film was already edited in the animation software. In order to reduce the amount of frames that were rendered but not used in the film I had to plan exactly what shots I wanted to have in the movie and how long they should be.
But for some fine tuning, for transitions and especially for the duel/goal shot there had still some work to be done. Also, the sound was added to the film in the editing software.
January 2003: Sound
I don’t own a kicker table. And to record the required sounds in Rosi’s Bar seemed like too much effort and too time consuming. Therefore I decided to become a “foley artist”. Foley artists add sounds to the film that have not been recorded during the filming.
I bought two original kicker balls and one of those metal bars that the players are attached to. Then, on a quiet saturday afternoon in my flat, I recorded all the sounds I needed by simulating them: ball rolling on ikea table, ball hitting the metal bar, ball falling on my wooden floor, ball rolling around in the body of an accoustic guitar and so on.
When I first heard the recordings I was rather sceptical whether the sounds would work. But it was a pleasant surprise that when combined with the images the noises sound like they came from a real foosball table.
Watching the animation with sound for the first time was one of the best moments during the production of the film.
February 2003: Music
When I started working on the film I had punk rock or electronic music in my mind. But somehow it didn’t seem to fit. A first try with an electronic soundtrack was rather unsatisfactory.
As an experiment I used a piece from Ennio Morricone (”Ecstasy of Gold” from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”) for the duel sequence. The result was amazing. The music from the western gave the scene a completely new quality.
A western soundtrack it had to be then. But where could I get one legally? Several phone calls with several record companies didn’t get me anywhere and I was close to composing an electronic soundtrack - since that was the only thing i could pull off by myself.
But, luckily, I had a flatmate with an extensive musical education and together we took on the challenge of composing an orchestral soundtrack for the duel sequence.
Lightwave 3d 6.5/7/7.5
Shadow Designer 2
Edition DV 4.5