BitDepth#916 - December 17

Brett Lewis does Trinidad and particularly Tobago proud with locally animated sequences in a new historical docudrama about a pivotal battle in Tobago's history.
Animating Tobago’s history
Brett Lewis at his new office in Starlite Plaza, Four Roads. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

"This has been one of our best years and and our worst year,” says Brett Lewis, owner of Eye Scream Animation.
“We got some industrial work and some film work. Film was a minor part of it, but it’s fun.”

Lewis was reflecting on a year that brought some new kudos for his firm, which is best known for its work rendering and animating complex building models for the architectural industry.
But the young animator, his hair showing more flecks of gray among the blond locks, has always been interested in doing more with the capabilities of his company.

In 2005,
the company introduced a 3D printer to its range of services, a project that stoked staff but ultimately ran out of steam as the fledgling technology offered more problems than solutions.
This year, Lewis took Eye Scream back to its roots, revisiting the enthusiasm that drove him when he puttered about in his bedroom as a teenager doing sprite animations with Macromedia Director and falling inexorably into a rabbit hole of polygons and render shading.

It began with Project Fishtank, an effort to pull in a group of young people and share some of that early excitement with them at his office in Belmont.
For six months, he opened his office to an eclectic group of young people who populated the computers he normally uses as a render farm, gave them access to his Digital Tutors online learning account, a copy of Cinema 4D and all day in the office to learn about 3D animation.

It wasn’t entirely altruistic; he freely admits. Working in 3D calls for a lot of talent working in software and a larger pool of such animators benefits everyone, including Eye Scream.
Large projects can be sliced into smaller pieces and divided among multiple artists before being reassembled. The animation boss envisioned sprinkling work that he needed done on the surface of a virtual fish tank, with anyone interested grabbing what they wanted to do.

Lewis pitched the project to the T&T Animation Network (TTAN), which has a busy Facebook page and soon had 15 people taking advantage of the opportunity.
On most working days from January to August this year, he had at least five people in his office learning and fiddling with digital tools, some of whom proved quite reluctant to leave even at the end of Eye Scream’s long working day.

Lewis would spend around two hours throughout the day coaching and guiding their efforts and, occasionally, chiding slackers in his laid back style.
“One guy had seven Facebook pages open,” he recalls.
“I just told him that I was very disappointed and that he would regret wasting the opportunity.”

And it was a clear opportunity. The animators who took part in Project Fishtank could work on anything they wanted to, including jobs for other companies and many did.
That sense of entrepreneurship paid off for the young animators and for Lewis as well when the Tobago 1677 project came along.

The project had been bouncing around for a while until Barbados expressed interest in using their beaches as a location for the Tobago battle.
That potential humiliation kicked local interests into gear and the project began to take shape.

Eye Scream Animation was contracted along with the UK’s 422 South to work on visual effects (VFX) and animation for the project.
The local house did most of the work on land while 422 South animated the battle between the French and Dutch at sea in the final film.
“There was less collaboration than we expected,” Lewis recalls.

That didn’t stop the local animation house, bolstered by a team of young recruits hungry for a challenge, from chewing up the digital scenery. In 2009, Lewis had sharpened his chops and let anyone interested know that he was interested in VFX and digital animation with a
short for Movietowne.

According to Lewis, their work began attracting attention as it began to flow into the project, prompting the producers to ask them to slow down. The UK animation studio pulled some of their work to redo it to match the efforts of the local producers, and the competition became quite heated.

Ultimately, Eye Scream did 30 VFX shots for the final project and 90 per cent of them were used in the final edit.
“The money wasn’t life changing,” Lewis admits, “but I’d wipe my business slate and just do this, it’s that much fun.”

Lewis has started talking to local film makers to let them know that there’s a local resource that they might want to work with to add VFX to their work.

“I look to films like Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome as examples of how you can do a big film in a small room,” Lewis said.
“I think this is what I was meant to do.”

View a making of video from Eye Scream for Tobago 1677

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