Animator Joan Borguñó was kind enough to answer a few questions about the development process for his PolyWorld series.
Hi Joan! Can you provide any background info on the PolyWorld series?
This started as my University Final Project at CITM. It was my test to determine if 3D animation would be something worth pursuing as a career.
The problems began as soon as I started producing the project. At first, I wanted to create a single short film about the story of a low-poly world and its different regions: landscapes filled with a variety of animals, and a world to get lost into. The concept was cool, but the execution was a ton of work, especially for a single person.
For a solo project, it’s very impressive how you managed to model, texture, and rig everything, in addition to animating and rendering.
As you can see, animation is not the strongest point of the first episode. That is because this was the very first time I laid my hands on 3D rigs and character animations. For instance, the fox trot was my very first cycle.
I learned a lot of post-production techniques in a specific subject class. Also, I currently work as a CGI Generalist/Animator, so I am used to the production pipeline and its techniques.
Did you have any prior background experience in 2D animation or game design to make the initial process of adjusting to 3D animation software slightly easier?
I studied “Multimedia,” so from my first year onwards I was used to dealing with all kinds of software. I learned the basics in 3DS Max, and later on I was taught the animation basics in the same software. The subject barely scratched the “animation world” surface, and because of lots of headaches due to technical problems, I ended up hating 3DS Max and quit it.
While at CITM, I was taught 2D animation too, as well as various design topics, and also game design on the last year.
On the fourth year, I was introduced to Cinema 4D. I immediately fell in love with the software, and later on I decided this was the program I wanted to use for my final degree project. I know Maya would have probably been a better choice industry-wise, but I did not want to learn two types of software at a time.
Rigging and animation are pretty complex subjects, and not normally something one tries to learn simultaneously in the final semester of college.
The final semester was not as stressful as I thought, I’ve got to say. However, I preferred to delay the project one year so I could approach it more relaxed.
Any idea how many hours you spent in front of a computer working on this?
The project began on October 2014, approximately, I finished my degree subjects on June 2015 while still working on the project. I found a job as a CGI Artist, and in my spare time worked on finishing the first two episodes to reach the University deadline, which was around May of 2016, if I recall correctly. On July of the same year I presented the first two episodes as my final degree project, and finally graduated. Since then up until this past March, I worked on the third episode.
The entire series took an estimated total of over 1,500 hours, It is the proof that perseverance beats talent – it doesn’t matter if you suck at first. Just keep doing it. And I assure you it’s 100% worth it.
The low-poly aesthetic would work really well for a video game. Was that considered as a possibility?
Let me fill you in the details here.
Originally, what I wanted to do was to test if animation was my thing, or if I should go for game design. These two were the topics that I enjoyed the most whilst studying for my degree. I thought it would be wise to mix the project with other things I learned from my degree, so that is why I decided to create a 3D environment and animated animals that could run on the Unity Engine.
I wanted to walk across my polygonal world and program the animals so they would react to my presence. I started modeling the assets in no particular order. The Arctic penguin scenery was actually my first model on C4D. As soon as I had some of the assets ready, I realized this was going to take a huge amount of work. Right away I scrapped the Unity idea, and decided to focus on animation.
I also struggled a lot to determine the art style of the series. The low poly can be rendered in multiple ways, and I liked most of the styles. This video called Giants by School of Motion helped me to decide which art direction go for.
Did you always intend to merge the scenes together into a giant open world map, or was there ever an overarching story?
At the time I had not thought of a plot since the goal was to create random animations (idle, walk, run, etc.) and program them within a Unity environment.
I had to come up with a story with the assets I already had, some of them being the fox, the deer, the dragon, the penguin, the sea lion and the jellyfish. This last one was modeled and animated from a tutorial. Rapidly, I thought of how to connect these animals and their environments, and in the end I decided I would create a single video that featured everything in it.
Did you use any references for the animation? The animation in the last episode is very fluid and natural, especially considering how many models there are.
Indeed. Reference is key for animators. I might upload a making of video of the third episode that shows what references I used in most of the takes.
Was there a reason why you chose to create the episodes in the order you did?
Funny enough, when the first episode was starting to shape up, I realized this was still a ton of work. So I decided to cut the video into different parts so I could finish them separately without worrying about needing to have everything finished to reach the final degree deadline.
In that moment I still wanted to create five worlds: the forest, the desert, the cave, the arctic and an underwater world.
When did Jose García Baños get involved in creating the soundtrack?
Jose is a friend of mine from the same degree program. We were classmates, and close friends. He’s very talented and learned music on his own, and he gladly agreed to compose the music for the short. As soon as I had the animatic ready (a 3D rough render of the entire episode) I scheduled a meeting with him and gave directions of what my thoughts were regarding the music lines.
How does one edit a soundtrack for animation?
In most of the episodes I had an idea of how the music should be in terms of mood and energy. However, most of the instruments were picked by him, and he also convinced me to change the music on some specific parts. For instance, the part when the giant worm stands up in front of the nomad, I originally wanted the music to be shuddery and surprise-inducing. His approach made me change my mind.
He’s a very talented and avid 2D artist and game designer too. He does not have a website yet – as soon as he creates one I will link it to you.
What is the story behind the dragon and Yeti?
Given the fact the dragon was the creature that stood out among the others, I thought it would be cool to have a sort of “enemy” within each world, so this way I could arrange a better plot. This is why I created the Giant Worm and the Yeti on later episodes.
This also explains why the first episode is the weakest regarding storytelling. I had to come up with a story using the assets I already had, whereas in the other episodes I created the assets thinking of the plot behind them.
The second episode is pretty different from the others, The narrative has more of a science fiction vibe to it.
The thing with the second episode is that it was the last one I modeled. I did not have an exact idea of what I wanted it to look like – so that is why I looked for sources of inspiration. The primary inspiration for the short was an indie game called Phoenix Dawn by Eric Trowbridge of Twogether Studios.
How much content ultimately had to be cut?
The forest, the desert, the cave and the arctic were the ones I had more assets ready for, so I made the decision to erase the underwater world, as well as blend the cave and the arctic together.
From that moment on, I (finally) stuck to the plan. The three worlds are up and rocking!
An underwater world with Jellyfish would have been so cool to see.
Here I’ll show you some of the assets that were cut. Five worlds were reduced down to three.
First off, some of the assets I had of the underwater world:
Secondly – this next image was the third take of the desert. I was not very convinced of how it looked. One day, while showing the renders to my mom, she said, “Hey, why don’t you add a boneyard somewhere – it could look cool!” And so I did. I cut this shot and added the skull. Thank you, Mom!
Remember when I said I wanted to make a single video? Here, I’ll show you a gif of how the transition between the first world and the second was going to be made. The black floor in the end is the sand.
And to shift from the desert to the cave, instead of having the camera face the nomad eyes before they turn blue, originally I thought of having the camera “hide” in this cave as the worms were approaching. This cave, a few shots later, was going to be the cave of the third episode beginning.
And last but not least, here you have an early render of the first approach of the cave.
The last world – the underwater world – was going to appear right after the end of the current third episode.
Do you have a favorite episode or a favorite 3D model in the series?
The third episode is my favorite because it is the one that was born after learning from my mistakes from previous episodes, and also it is the best example of how much I achieved in animation via self-teaching.
I personally like most of my models, but I am slightly prouder of the Yeti, the Giant Worm, the Nomad, the Penguins and the Sea Lions.
Would you ever want to revisit the series and create more episodes, or is the series finished?
I do not plan on releasing a new episode. It took me too much time. It became an obsession – every time I had free time to spare, my mind made me feel guilty if I was doing nothing. Working eight hours and going home to animate every day was a bit much.
I would gladly produce another episode if I somehow got the project crowdfunded. I do not think I’d need a lot of time (or money) if I can work on it three months straight, eight hours a day, for instance.
Special thanks to Joan for providing extra insight and details into the development process. You can check out more of his work in the links below.