I. Overview and Story
This short animation is taken from the folklore of gingerbread people. It tells the story of a young, small, but brave gingerbread man who defied the isolation of the cookie box that has been imposed over his people for ages by the evil cookie making industry. It was the first time that an audacious gingerbread man broke this siege and opened the cover of his cookie box to discover the outside world, and spread the message of peace the gingerbread people have always embraced. Although he never managed to walk more than few steps on the mainland, his sacrifice remain a beacon for the next generations of the gingerbread people, and his bravery shall never be forgotten.
The setting of the story is a large square wooden table on which there are: a cookie box, a handful of closed toy boxes, a jack-in-the-box , a small train, and a Mr. Potato Head. Our gingerbread man opens the cover of the cookie box and jumps out of it. After some stretching he starts walking around the table to discover it. He stumbles upon a strange looking box which happens to be a jack-in-the-box. The gingerbread man is curious about what the box might contain. The box pops open and freaks out the gingerbread guy who starts running crazily. Upon realizing it was a toy, the gingerbread guy returns back and seems a bit amused. Shortly after, a huge strange looking shadow lurks from behind. It's a cookie monster! The young, naive gingerbread guy does not seem to be intimidated by the monster. After all, this is the first time he gets to see the outside world. The cookie monster doesn't waste time, and move on quickly to eat the gingerbread guy. The end.
Here are some storyboards that I did while conceptualizing the story. In the beginning, I wanted to do a less-violent animation with a happy ending by having the gingerbread guy run and escape from the cookie monster. But that would have made the animation longer and significantly more time consuming, so I eventually settled on this slightly grim ending.
II. Characters and Models
|Gus: our gingerbread guy|
|Mr. Potato Head:
|Cookie Monster: this character appears in Sesame Street|
|Holiday Cookie box|
III. The Making
ModelingModeling was done in Blender. Gus' model was done according to the first tutorial. The cookie monster took about one day to complete, and was based on modeling the character of the 2nd tutorial. Mr. Potato Head's body was a bunch of spheres, the nose was a bit challenging. Textures where created using Photo Shop.
The gingerbread armature is very similar to the one presented in the first tutorial. However, I have added additional bones to control the hands, spine, and head.
The armature of the cookie monster is more complex. This is needed to control the finale sequence where the cookie monster bends down to eat Gus.
Key-framing and Blending
This process took the bulk of the time. The animation was divided into several sequences (jump sequence, stretch sequence, etc...) which where created with the help of the Action Editor. The sequences are then blended together with the Non-Linear Animation (NLA) editor. This allows blending multiple sequences together for smooth transition from one sequence to another. This is also useful when editing periodic sequences (such as Gus walking) where the repetition can be specified in the NLA editor and the whole resulting sequence can be easily scaled and translated (in time) to achieve the desired result. The Interpolation (IPO) curve editor was used to control the absolute position and rotation of armatures.
IPO curves controlling Gus' armature
Action Editor showing the cookie monster finale sequence
Portion of the sequences blended together in the NLA editor
However, I found a fundamental limitation in this approach. Action Editor sequences are essentially separated from IPO sequences. For example, the movement of individual bones in the jump sequence is controlled with the Action Editor, whereas the absolute position of the whole armature is controlled by the IPO curve editor, and the two are essentially separate, which means that changing the timing in one of them does not propagate automatically to the other. Although one can see key frames belonging to both editors in the NLA editor, and both can be manipulated by multiple selection, this process becomes increasingly difficult as the number of objects being animated increase, and it becomes challenging to visually look for all key frames that are logically linked.
IV. RenderingI took advantage of Blender's command-line capabilities. This significantly reduced rending time. It also allows specifying the number of rendering threads to use, so one can set this number to the number of available processor cores. Rendering time was about 25 minutes with 4 rendering threads running on an SMP machine with 2 AMD dual-core processors clocked at 2.6Ghz. The rendering command I used was:
$> blender -b tale_26.blend -o tale-final-mp4 -x 1 -t 4 -s 1 -e 1960 -a &
The soundtrack, titled Le Chenille, is courtesy of Evan. I used Audacity to edit the soundtrack so that its length is appropriate. I also tried to synchronize the tone changes in the soundtrack with events in the animation sequence (Gus jumping, Jack-in-the-box popping, ...), though this didn't turn out to be perfect, but it's ok.
The rendered movie was imported into Apple's iMovie where it was mixed with the soundtrack. Additionally, some transition effects where added, along with the credits at the beginning of the animation.
Final production with iMovie HD