Infinite Journeys

:date: 2022-02-27 19:56 :tags:

You may recall that last year I participated in a computer graphics animation event run by a semi-popular YouTube guy. At the beginning of the month he announced another one called Infinite Journeys. In this one the premise is that you get a camera looking out a side window (or whatever I guess) of some vehicle. Here is a "behind the scenes" look at the untouched contest kit.


I say behind the scenes because that orange thing is the camera and it is  —  in theory  —  immutable. The camera and everything except the checkerboard floor is keyframed to move to the right at some constant velocity. Here's the thing  —  I can get rid of everything but the camera and put whatever I want in front of the camera in whatever way I want. So the restrictions are not really well thought out in my opinion. Still, it seems clear that the organizer wants to limit you to this terrible camera angle and a shot that looks pretty much like this.

I say terrible because from a cinematography standpoint, this is a very awkward shot. I feel that looking at a side window so squarely like this is generally avoided in movies.


And for good reason. By shifting the camera even slightly you get a much better shot. I immediately thought of the thousands of Harry Potter train videos I'd be watching and wasn't sure if I really wanted to do anything with this contest at all. The organizer was also very vocal about discouraging collaborative efforts  —  probably the main attraction for me to do the last one.

But this weird perspective did remind me of one cool scene. In fact, it is the coolest scene out of all cool scenes ever  —  the B17 sequence of the 1981 film Heavy Metal. (In the last contest I was shocked no one used this film as a theme since it should be well known to animators and, exactly like the contest format, it features a sphere as a main character moving repeatedly from one disparate animated scene to another. Maybe I just wanted to give the film its deserved consideration.)

Have a quick look at the fantastic B17 scene. The entire scene is cool but I was focusing on the first 90 seconds.

I remember watching that for the first time (on video a few years after it came out) and I was as amazed by the bomber scene as anything I've ever seen in a movie. I appreciate the rich possibilities with animation that are not possible with live action and I enjoyed all of the different segments of the entire film, even the silly ones. Definitely some of the segments were very much "fantasy" as commonly described by reviewers. But the B17 scene, at least the first part of it, was not fantasy. It is actually one of the realest scenes in movie history. To really understand my perspective, you have to remember that I spent my childhood watching Scooby Doo and He-Man and other insipid awful cartoons like that.


To this day I still refer to "the G.I. Joe School Of Marksmanship" when describing bad movies where the heroes are being shot at by hoards of assailants and yet are never hit. Imagine my astonishment watching Heavy Metal to see, not the fantasy of magically avoiding bullets, but the harsh realities of real combat horror laid out with blunt accuracy. Such things may not be so astonishing to modern audiences. Today you can watch all kinds of great animated films. This short film is very impressive and perhaps inspired by the Heavy Metal scene. Or you can watch very cool pieces in shows like Netflix's Love, Death + Robots, a show that explicitly was inspired by the Heavy Metal movie.

I decided to see if I could recreate a stylistically compatible bit of fan fiction that would not look out of place in that movie. I like to think of it as what transpired on one of the other B17s shown in the scene. Given the contest setup, I would be focusing on the waist gunner position. Now after spending a couple of weeks studying B17s and their service history in extreme detail, I'm even more impressed with Heavy Metal's attention to historical accuracy. One of the best aspects of this event for me was getting an excuse to study this scene in such detail; upon much closer inspection it is even more impressive to me. (The only flaw I noticed is that the waist gunner's window is open on the interior shots, but not in the exterior shots where it is from a differently configured plane. But generally, they really did a good job with the accuracy of this!)

Ok, I had four seconds to develop a complete combat scene shot from a single awkward angle in the aft fuselage section of a B17. My goal was to match the art style of the original rotoscoped animation as closely as I could.



To see what I came up with, let's not play games with YouTube's economizing  —  download my 4 second video file directly since it is only 3MB.

It's best to play this in a proper video player at 1920x1080 (or larger) but maybe your browser can do a good job with it. There is a lot of detail packed into it that is easy to miss in such a short clip.

This will probably be the last of these events that I do (alone anyway). The problem is that I developed assets that easily could have sustained a very cool 5 minute animated story. And yet I had to pack it all into 4 seconds. There's something that seems kind of senseless about that. Still, it did give me the motivation (only barely) to do some animation project that I probably wasn't going to otherwise do. As with the last animation project, I definitely learned a lot and improved my skills quite a bit. I may write a separate post later discussing the work that went on behind the scenes to make this clip.