Achoo is a fantasy tale. This is the story of a little Chinese dragon that can’t breathe fire because of his allergies. He overcomes this weakness, using it as a strength, to be able to participate at the Chinese New Year’s parade. Six students from ESMA worked on this project on their final year at school, with the help of their teachers.
The project was to make an entire short, nose to tail, exploring the entire cinema process. Our class already started writing many stories one year before the production. Then teachers selected the four best stories and divided the students into groups.
The benefit of this kind of ambitious project is that you learn how to have a good overview of the main lines and not to lose yourself in the details. “You have to work on everything and in the same time to specialize yourself !” highlights Maoris.
Everybody wants to make their best work, but at a certain point you have to make choices in order to finish on time. That means to be able to do some sacrifices, to stay focused on the important things that serve the story and try to optimise as much as possible technically.
“We know our film is not perfect but working in group was very interesting, everybody learned a lot for sure”, says Camille “The secret is to always stay calm and have fun !”
It took around five months to do the pre-production. That’s almost half of the time we had to create the movie! It was the decisive part of the project because it was the film armature. It’s difficult to modify it later during production. The hardest thing about this part is to have everyone agreeing on the story, as we are all co-directors, and also to keep it simple enough to make it possible to finish.
The scenario was important, but the storyboard and the editing part were a very crucial part too, because this is how we express the feeling visually on screen.
The character design serves the story as well. Every aspect has to contribute to the characterisation to make deep and believable characters: the design, their colours, the way they move etc. This gives the viewer an idea of the character’s behaviour and personality.
During the production we had to specialize a bit more, choosing between animation, lighting, modeling, rigging, fx, texturing shading etc. Despite this, we had to stay open to the idea of working on different parts of the pipeline each day.
“In one day I could work on character modeling, then work on the code of the asset manager I programmed to make it easier for us and other classmates. The day after I had some rigging to do and then I could watch software’s tutorials in order to find a solution about the fx we needed.” says Lucas.
The set was another challenging part. We had to optimise it as much as possible because it was one big temple where all the cameras were placed at different positions. Pierre created it from scratch.
“I first did so sketches from many references I found, ones my idea was clear and approved by the group and teachers I could start the modelisation and texturing. One set for all the shots, one temple, a big one. It took me months to finish it, it was the biggest asset I ever did!”
Since Chinese temples are usually dark places without many windows, the lighting was tricky. “For the inside shots our little dragon looked green at the first try because of the combination of blue skin and candle’s yellow light!” tells Maoris. “And even after finding a solution we still had a lot of color grading to do in post-production”.
For the outside shots as well it was tricky, because we made a technical choice of using a sunset. As the time runs, the night arrive therefore shot after shot the lighting evolves from light orange to dark blue.
For the animation we took different animals as a references combined to animate an imaginary creature. Tiger, snake, suricate and even geckos! With one rig we could make quadrupeds walking, jumping and flying!
“I was so excited when I heard that I was going to work with dragons for a whole year as I love animating creatures !” explains Charlotte. “When I realised that we were going to direct Achoo, I was so happy and at the same time…. so worried. How are we going to make it? I thought !“ confessed Elise laughing.
"We had more animation fixing to make than we thought, even with the amazing work that was done on character modeling, blendshapes and rigging. We had to use little tricks on the cache to make some unfortunate glitch disappeared around moustaches, chest or hairy shoulders for example. We tried to keep a harmony between the different animations from different animators. Everybody has his own style and that shouldn’t be visible in the entire movie” concludes Camille.
Again, we would like to give a big “Thank you!” to everybody that helped us on this adventure : the school, the teachers, the sound designers, the voice actor (Benoit Allemane) and everyone who made this project happen."