‘If we wait for everyone, we often miss Success’. And this holds true for the young creator Alyce Tzue who created animated short film Soar which was the Gold Winner at the Student Academy Awards. She didn’t do it single handedly but admits that she didn’t wait for anyone to start; and both at the beginning and the end of the film-She was alone!
Alyce, who currently works as the director at Smule Studios, has worked at Oculus VR in the past. The idea for the film came to her when she was studying her Master of Fine Arts and 3D character Animation at the Academy of Art University (AAU), San Francisco.
Soar is a beautiful transition between Hayao Miyazaki’s style of manga anime and Disney Pixar’s essence of neat colourful backgrounds. The characters in the film are created according to Miyazaki’s style as it has crisp detailing and character build up. While, the magical backgrounds, the widespread green lands, the expanse of the sky, the sunset and the shining night sky covered with a blanket of stars are created according to Disney Pixar’s design.
How did it all start…
Though the short film was released online on Vimeo on 8 December, 2015, the film took shape in Alyce’s mind far earlier during the spring of 2012. Alyce Tzue just like any other student of AAU wanted to create a story of her own. She recollects, “I always wanted to do more; to be more generous and compassionate. I wanted to strike the emotional chord by bringing alive emotions through my stories.”
What about the script…
‘Keep it simple but effective’ is the principle that most animators prefer today as simplicity has its own charisma. But even a simple script requires tonnes of brainstorming and scaling down of varied thoughts that clutter your mind initially.
“In my storyboarding class, I came up with 3 script ideas but none of them were appreciated by my teacher. I went home that day and spent the weekend trying to come up with something heartfelt. Surprisingly, the moment I looked up at the sky and started asking ‘what if things aren’t as they seem’…that very moment the plot line for Soar started to take form,” recollects Alyce.
What’s with the idea of ‘flying’…
Like any other student who wants to make a film, Alyce too knew what her film was going to be about. She wanted Soar to be about two people meeting who have no real obligation to each other, and for them to help each other succeed in unexpected ways. Moreover, she knew the ending of the film but had no idea about the start and the central plot.
She explains her dilemma, “I knew this project would take time and a clear story was a paramount need. I had a tough time whenever I pondered on the story but then I assured myself that ‘Ideas don’t just drop out of the sky’. And bang on, I had found my Eureka moment! Something falling from the sky would be incredible and my story began there…”
The thought process behind the characters…
The film features two extensive characters mainly a thirteen year old girl named Mara and a tiny 5-inch boy named Lucas. Also, another major character that connects the two is a fantastical flying machine, the boy falls from.
On this Alyce comments, “I wanted to bring alive the chemistry and emotional bonding between Mara and Lucas who are strangers to each other bound by a single simple chord of ‘HELP’. So I needed all the props which would build up the story and enhance the plot further.”
How did you go about the creatives and the story boarding …
‘Paper and pen’ is the most predominant way to express oneself. According to Alyce, the storyboarding began as paper thumbnail sketches just to get a feel for pace and staging, and were entirely hand drawn initially.
The costumes of the characters have a 3D feel and a look of air pilots to create the whole feel of the central focus of the story. Just like an aircraft pilots, both Mara and Lucas have bulging pants, helmet like caps. The breeze is showcased with the help of pants, caps and leaves waving due to the wind. The team had to specially focus on character expressions and facial makeup to portray emotions such as disappointment, shock and joy with the help of neatly detailed hair, eyes, nose and eyebrows.
In terms of the environment, the green grass and the wide sky with surreal clouds fool the naked eye as if witnessing a real environment altogether. A glance at a Vimeo video of the the animatic of the film posted three years ago can make one think the amount of work which Alyce and her team have put to make the project what it is today. The evolution is quite evident.
Selecting the right colours to set the tone for a movie and portraying those on screen can be a daunting task. Wrong choice of colours can change the mood of the scene resulting into a blemish.
Alyce believes, “Colour played a major role as the short witnessed five phases namely Afternoon, Golden Hour, Sunset, Twilight and Night. Each phase set in an exclusive mood and the colour palette had to be used wisely. We had to bring the feel of the environment because the set of our film was an open land.”
The finished storyboard was digitally painted in Photoshop, and then edited in Premiere Pro to form an animatic. The 3D assets were generated using Maya, Zbrush was used for modeling, Mudbox and Mari for texturing, and Nuke for compositing.
“I absolutely love the 2D form, but the technical aspects of 3D fascinated me. For 3D, you work as a larger team because there are so many steps of the pipeline. And, I felt that only 3D could do justice to this film and help enhance the minute detailing of the overall look,” she explains.
And technical aspects…
For a person to pull the entire project single handedly was a task. Alyce was well versed with writing, storyboarding, animating and directing but had no clue about the rest. There was visual development, modeling, rigging, surfacing, lighting, composting, rendering, editing, branding, graphic design, music and marketing.
‘Everything falls in place if you have the determination to carry on with your purpose’… and she carried on and people started coming in to help. She came across a VFX supervisor, an editor, a music composer and a producer gradually. And the best part was, everyone was willing to work for free.
Tremendous amount of work has been done in terms of modeling and texturing, as the characters are orderly developed and exhibit the whole feel profusely. Rigging was another major part as there were movements like falling, running, pointing, lifting props and fixing the aircraft which required expert attention. And, the challenge occurred because the character Lucas was tiny and his movements had microscopic detailing. Still, the software helped to give perfection at every inch.
The music too has a sweet flow which creates a delicate feel for the entire setting. Moreover, the music changes according to the mood of the story as it personifies various emotions like sadness, hope, success and the joy of achievement.
How many hands were involved in making this masterpiece…
This film began in the spring of 2012 and went on till the end of summer of 2014. Although the core team who worked throughout the two and a half years numbered about four people, a total of over 100 students and professionals helped out with this film during different times. And, Alyce was at the helm right from start to end.
She recollects, “As students we had other projects and submissions, so our team was never constant. Students would work for few months, few weeks or even few days and then new people would come in. Anyone who had talent, commitment and could produce quality work was welcomed.”
What do you wish to portray from the film…
Alyce expounds, “Life is all about doing something for someone…be it something small! I aimed to portray how a relationship between two very different beings can change lives for better. Open eyes and open minds. If you want to do it – do it. No matter what comes your way…just go for it with all your heart and all your might!”
How has the film fared…
Soar has traversed around 20 Film Festivals across the globe and has garnered commendable acclaims. It has also received the highest honour being the Gold Winner at the Student Academy Awards for the Best Animated Short Film. And more than awards, the film has created an emotional impact on the minds of millions due to its art of storytelling and effective creatives. The young Alyce and her energetic team has proved to be an inspiration for the young folks to face all hurdles and create something of their own with utmost dedication.
Alyce conveys the views of her entire team saying, “We are incredibly happy that the story resonates with so many across the globe. People have testified that they felt emotional and could relate to the main character Mara. A parent even used the short film to teach her kids about compassion. That’s better than any award.”
Planning to pitch a feature length idea for Soar to several studios in early 2016, Alyce encourages young students to be willing to work together. “It was surprising to me that the students who ended up contributing most to our team weren’t the rock stars or with an extreme degree of talent. But they were the ones that were hard working, committed and who worked extremely well in a team,” she expounds.
A 6 minute film created by Alyce Tzue and her team has rooted a place in the hearts of over 6 million people across more than 6 regions. “Just remember, narrow-mindedness and big egos are never welcome. Talent never hurts, but is also rarely the only determining factor for success,” concludes Alyce.