This is an animated reimagination of the Nian Shou myth: According to legend, Nian was a supernatural beast who descended upon ancient China every New Years to raze villages and eat children. On the eve of one formative New Years, the villagers assembled to steel themselves for the inevitable onslaught and organize a defense. Come the next night, the village frightens away Nian with firecrackers and a cacophony of beaten pots and pans, these activities henceforth becoming Chinese New Years traditions.
In our reimagination, Nian is a serpentine killing-machine that winds through the misty karsts to devour anthropomorphized watercolor kites, and the kites blow Nian out of the sky with fireworks we animated from red sequins we bought from the Jo-Ann.
Behind the Scenes
Chinese New Year Animation is an exercise in appreciating the gruelling monotony that animators endure on a minute-to-minute basis and a testament to how two highly motivated and severely sleep-deprived individuals may accomplish absurd things with $10 watercolor kits and yarn and scotch tape from the local hobby store.
Consider this: We were told to complete a short animation in 10 or 15 FPS. We experimented with recording at 24 FPS out of curiosity, and, realizing that the animation became that much more slick with the bumped frame rate, we decided to shoot in 24 instead.
Okay. That's 24 frames per second: That's 24 camera clicks, [24 * PUPPETS_ON_SCREEN] movements of articulated puppets, and [24 * TURNS] of the animation table's gears in the event that the backdrop is moving—per second worth of video.
With the incredibly optimistic assumption that each frame took about 15 seconds to arrange, that's 360 seconds of work per second of video, which means 360 minutes—six hours—in the animation lab per minute of video, give or take. This is discounting the mistakes and retakes, of which there were quite a few, or the hours we spent painting the set and designing the puppets. Total, that's 15 hours in the lab for this three minute video you see above. A non-trivial chunk of the video was padded with patterns of frames that I repeated in post-production, but I'd say that 15 hour estimate isn't far off the mark.
We were working on this thing from 8 AM to 6 AM over a few days. That's, shoot in the lab till six in the morning, nap on the couch in Wade's apartment for two hours, and go back to the lab.
The moral of the story is: Frame rate matters, and people probably went blind animating Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Have you seen The Nightmare Before Christmas? Imagine how anguishingly incremental the process of doing something as simple as swinging a single puppet's arm was; how many micro-movements and intricate nudges had to be performed to make sure the movement wasn't too fast, given the film's frame rate. Now, while you're moving the puppet's arm, you have to curl its fingers too, so it looks natural. I hope they had decent playback on the spot so they could tell whether the shot was seamless or not.