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September 2015

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EDUCATION 43 POST SEPTEMBER 2015 he SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival is an ideal venue for launching an animated short film and a career. In fact, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rec- ognizes it as a qualifying festival, making the juried prizes even more valued. To state the obvious, competition at the festival is fierce. While there is a special student category, oftentimes student projects will take top prize in other cate- gories, besting the work by professionals with years of experience. Such is the case this year. The short film Jinxy Jenkins and Lucky Lou, from Ringling College of Art and Design student directors Michael Bidinger and Michelle Kwon, received the award for 2015 SIGGRAPH Best Computer Animated Short. Their film chronicles the chaotically misfortunate Jenkins and the monotonously lucky Lou as they run into each other one morning, and they find a thrilling and fulfilling change of pace as they hurtle down the hills of San Francisco in an ice-cream cart. Unlike the fictional characters in their animated short, for creators Bidinger and Kwon, it was hard work and creativity that sent them on their award-winning endeavor, with assistance from Sarah Kambara, production manager; Mason Self, score composer; Nick Ainsworth, sound effects; and Ed Skudder and Lynn Wang, vocals. In this journey, Bidinger and Kwon split responsibility 50/50, with Kwon designing the look of the char- acters and environments, and Bidinger focusing on the movement and acting of the characters, as well as the more tech- nical aspects of the project. Together, they developed the story. The story evolved from a charming idea Kwon had about two polar bears that had opposite luck and the results when their situations began affecting each other. "We drew inspiration from real life," says Bidinger. "It's interesting to think about how people can use their dif- ferences to balance each other out and make something good. We were kind of like that as a team. It definitely comes with some struggles, but in the end, we thought it turned out well." The pair began developing the con- cept for their short film in January 2013, and they finished production in March 2014. Classes for the project met only twice a week during the two semesters the film was made, so the majority of the work had to be done outside of class. BUILD A PROJECT Bidinger and Kwon followed a typical 3D animation workflow, but included some "cheats," such as matte paintings and set duplication, to inexpensively increase the size of the city. It was difficult to render such long sets and streets efficiently, but the artists were able to reduce render times by separating objects into indi- vidual render passes. While this may have resulted in some unrealistic lighting scenarios, the duo believes it adds to the "style" of the nearly four-minute film. According to Bidinger, it was difficult to make the environment feel like an actual city, though, with just two char- acter rigs. "We managed to make it feel a little more populated by adding cars and making a bunch of unique buildings through modular set building," he says. The environmental and character mod- eling was done within Autodesk's Maya. To rig the two main characters, the artists used Anzovin Studio's Setup Machine. "We tried to keep the animation style simple and clean, and the rig provided us everything needed for that," notes Bidinger. The facial rigs, meanwhile, were created using some of Ringling's in-house tools. Texturing was accomplished with Maya and Adobe's Photoshop; for com- positing, The Foundry's Nuke and Adobe's Premiere Pro. Rendering was done with Pixar's RenderMan and Maya. The soft- ware ran on HP z800 workstations. Just as Jenkins and Lou learned to let go, so, too, did Bidinger and Kwon. And things are playing out splendidly for them. "A lot of the small successes in the film were lucky mistakes or products of the process," says Kwon. Moreover, having an understanding of the entire CG animation pipeline is a positive thing to have, wheth- er working as a generalist or specialist. No doubt that experience, as well as the attention the short is getting world- wide, has helped the animators transition to the professional realm. Kwon is known as the wearer of many different hats at Jib.Jab, while Bidinger is a fix/crowds animator at Pixar. (Kambara, too, is hon- ing her skills as a production assistant at Disney Animation.) Meanwhile, Jinxy Jenkins and Lucky Lou continues to garner awards, includ- ing SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 (Best Student Project), National Board of Review (Student Grant Awardee 2014), and Hamburg (Animation Award 2014 and Audience Choice Award), among others. If luck will have it, there will be more accolades to come. Karen Moltenbrey ( is the Chief Editor of Computer Graphics World, the sister publication of Post Magazine. CREATING THEIR OWN LUCK STUDENT ANIMATORS ON A WINNING STREAK WITH JINXY JENKINS AND LUCKY LOU FILM SHORT BY KAREN MOLTENBREY T

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