“Dennis” Animation Process Work

Dennis from Christopher Levin on Vimeo.

Bad Drivers: The problem

A few weeks ago I took a road trip down I35. The scenery was beautiful, from the colors of the changing leaves, to the rolling hills which slowly transform into the foothills of the Ozark Mountains (my final destination was Ozark, Arkansas, home of the Sonic that employed Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie on “The Simple Life”, but that is another story). Not only was the drive a visual feast, but the food, particularly a pulled pork sandwich in Ozark, and ribs in KC were amazing. One thing I noticed, though, was how poorly traffic would flow based on people’s driving behavior. The more people tried to tailgate, push, and get around others no matter which lane, the more traffic congested, and the more frustrated everyone became. On the other hand, when people kept right except to pass, left following distance, and generally showed common courtesy, traffic flowed better (like delicious bbq sauce over heaping piles of pulled pork).

A Public Service Announcement: My solution

I knew something had to be done. As a motion designer, I had to make an animated short. I started brainstorming a project that would encourage people to take it easy, leave following distance, and let faster cars through. Everything I came up with ended up sounding condescending or preachy. I knew the idea needed more development. Eventually I had a storyboard with some potential, so I ran it by a few friends. One of them encouraged me to work on more of a storyline, and the other suggested looking into a paper material for the low-poly look I was going after.storyboard

Coming up with a story: Making it relatable

I created a few characters, including a love-to-hate-him villain named “Dennis” who drives (what else?) a big SUV that looks suspiciously like a Hummer.┬áIn order to move the story forward, I decided to employ my old friend irony by adding tension between the voice-over and the onscreen text (the voice of reason). Thanks to Creative Commons licensing and an old friend named Fred, I was able to find an affordable solution for voice-over talent and the song I had wanted for background music.

  • Vehicle based on a Hummer
    Vehicle based on a Hummer
  • Vehicle based on an AMC Pacer
    Vehicle based on an AMC Pacer

Animation and design: The delivery method

My next challenge was modeling and animating. I wanted to create a motion design piece that incorporated Cinema 4D, without relying entirely on 3D animation to tell the story. I created a square of freeway, as a stage for the action. The key was to rig up stationary objects along a conveyor, and keep them moving, while keeping the cars in place to create the illusion of driving. It urns out Cinema has a slick solution for this. It can be done by making a spline the target of a matrix object, setting a velocity on the matrix, and then targeting these as the objects of cloners whose children are road signs, lane markers, etc. All of this was inside a plane effector with a spring delay to provide interesting motion as the objects bounced onto and off of the little square of freeway.


Finishing touches: After Effects

Once I had all this set up, it was just a matter of choosing camera angles and rendering out specific image sequences to be cut together in After Effects along with the text and audio.

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