When I first started Paradigm Shift waaaay back in 1998 (!!), I wanted to see it animated from the very start. Because of this, I made some deliberate choices about storytelling. First, if you couldn’t see it or hear it, I wouldn’t put it on the page. I deliberately thought of the panels a little like storyboards for a movie. In fact, when I’m writing scripts, the story plays out in my mind’s eye a bit like movie. It’s like tuning into my own private TV channel (or streaming service, heh) in my mind. So, in many ways, animation is actually a little closer to what I see in my head than comics.
Anyway, I want to share with you some of the key shots and scenes where I directly used the comic as storyboards in RESTLESS SLEEP. It all started with this scene for Part Two: Agitation:
Here’s how it translated to animation:
Next, we have the werewolf transformation itself. In the case of the original scene, it starts while she’s having a nightmare about waking up in a hospital, and then the scene shifts back to her bedroom. For the sake of simplicity, I just kept the setting the same in the animated version, but used some of the same basic shots for the film as a starting point.
Now, from here we veer off into brand new territory. I added a new of new shots on the fly to complete the rest of the transformation. Here’s how Kate’s full werewolf transformation looks in the film:
Another scene I wanted to animate from the very start was the X-Files style opening scene where James Wilson meets his untimely demise. Of course, I altered the ending to have it be Kate’s beast instead of Major Bryant’s lion form. Again for simplicity’s sake.
And here’s how it appears in the film:
Next, there’s a few shots from Kate’s nightmare at the end of Part One: Equilibrium. Again, I’ve cut out the other elements of the scene, and loop back to theme of her attacking Beast form in her dreams to end the sequence.
And here’s how the nightmare turned out in the film:
The final scene begins with an almost a shot-for-shot interpretation of the final page of Part One: Equilibrium. However, I made one major change where I gave Kate a smartphone, so her conversation with Mike could happen via text. At the time, I had no voice actors lined up, so I used the texting conceit to convey the only dialogue in the film.
Here’s how it plays out in animated form:
I almost used the second part of this scene as the beginning. There’s just a couple of odds and ends shots that I pulled directly from the comic in these. First, we have Kate examining herself in the mirror:
Conversely, the opening scene where they find the body was actually the last scene I animate, since it was easily the most complicated. Originally, I was going to end the film with her finding the body and passing out. Here’s a couple of shots in the opening scene taken from the opening of Part Two: Agitation:
I had the idea for this animated werewolf transformation sequence way back while I was still working on PS Part Two: Agitation. I’d been dreaming about making an animated trailer for the series, and I knew this would be the thing that would cap it off. However, I had no practical way to try to do it, but it did serve as the inspiration for the cover for Part Three: Emergence. Later on, I also made a hand-painted version that ended up being the cover to the Volume 1 collection.
The title of the new film—Restless Sleep—actually comes from a drawing in my sketchbook that I did way back in 2002. I imagined her tossing and turning in her sleep in the lead-up to transforming for the first time. You can see it right there in the upper left hand corner.
However, with the completion of Equilibrium and the launch of ModernTales.com, I got wrapped up with working on continuing the story instead of focusing on this side project. And so “Restless Sleep” got put in the drawer, and only existed as a series of pages in my sketchbook for 20 years.
Early transformation sketches from 2001 – Page 01
Early transformation sketches from 2001 – Page 02
Early transformation sketches from 2001 – Page 03
So, when I started playing with 3D last year, knowing that I wanted to animate Kate’s metamorphosis, this story immediately sprang to mind. The project started with a smaller scope—just animate the transformation and her going out the window into the night. And set it all to some music. But obviously I got a bit more ambitious, and it turned into the final film you see today!
Here’s a quick peek at what it’s like to work on this project inside of Blender3D.
One of the things that made Restless Sleep possible was the ability to preview the final look in real time, thanks to Blender’s EEVEE engine (and some beefy GPU hardware.) This minimized the amount of time I needed to spend creating test renders and allowed me to make artistic decisions on the fly.
Animating Kate herself involved something called a character “rig” or “armature”. This was the most time-consuming thing to create in the entire project, since it had to transform into her werewolf form. It consists of several different parts, starting with the 3D objects or “meshes” that create the basic shape of the character. In Kate’s case, she’s made up of five basic objects: her body (the most complex and detailed of all the meshes), her hair, her upper and lower teeth (which are separate objects for reasons), her eyelashes (also separate for reasons). There are clothing objects as well which change from scene to scene.
Next, is an object made up of what are called “bones”. These are the literal controllers that move the objects. Each bone corresponds to some of the polygons that make up each object’s mesh, and therefore allow the character to be posed and moved around. Luckily this process was mostly automated for me, since I used the Genesis 8 character base from DAZ Studio.
All I had to do was modify the existing model to match Kate’s character design. However, for the hair, I was on my own. I learned how to “rig” with her hair.
First, I created a chain of bones for each section of her hair I wanted to animate—bangs, front, back, left, right and center.
Next, I had to “weight paint” the mesh so each bone would affect a specific part of the hair. Below is an example of the “heat map” of part of her bangs that corresponds to the bone directly underneath it. The blue represents area where the bone has no effect at all, with colors transitioning from green to yellow to red for areas where the bone has the most effect. While this can be done automatically, I ended up “painting” each strand by hand to get the smoothest results when her hair moves.
Lastly, I set up “IK chains” for each strand of hair, so I could control them by moving a target object around. “IK” stands for “Inverse Kinematics”, which is the method 3D programs use to move bones so they rotate as a group to point to a specific target. The round balls in the rig are the targets for each part of the hair. Here’s how it looks in practice
The final step is textures! Since I want to mimic the look of classic hand-drawn animation, that meant two things: cel shading and outlines. I achieved the first through tweaking the materials. Mainly, I tell Blender to do a hard cutoff between the light and dark areas of the figure, which creates the “cel-shaded” look. The shadows are then applied in a way that darkens the image map on the figure, in this case using a dark blue, which matches the shadow color in the rest of the set. Unfortunately, I had to set this manually for every new scene if the shadow colors change. For instance, the shadows in the night scenes are a deep blue, while those in the daylight shots are different. I had to implement this for every material on every object I wanted to be cel shaded. Kate’s body alone has over a dozen materials, but most of the other objects only have one or two. Thankfully, once I had one I liked, I could just copy and paste the settings into the others.
The second thing that needed to happen to perfect the look was the outlines. There are two ways to achieve this in Blender. The first one I used is called “Freestyle”, which draws outlines over the model during the rendering process. It achieves a nice, consistent look, but the downside is it’s very slow, taking sometimes over 5 minutes per frame to calculate. However, since it could only use one processor core at a time, it meant I could do other things on my computer while it rendered in the background. I rendered about half of the film using Freestyle.
The second method involves using a 3D object called “Grease Pencil” which actually creates a the outlines as an object in front of the camera when paired with a modifier called “Line Art”. Grease Pencil lines also have a number of significant advantages. First, they render very quickly. Second, they can calculate were objects intersect and draw line there. Third, they can be previewed right in the Blender workspace. The only real downside is that they have to be “baked” or pre-calculated into the scene before you can render them as a separate output layer (to be composited later), so there a few hoops you have to jump through before the scene is ready to render. Also, I didn’t discover how to use them until I was over halfway through the film, so in order to use it, I had to rework the scene, which was okay since I ended up doing that for a good chunk of the film anyway. The only other downside was that the Grease Pencils engine treated the eyes and eyelashes differently than Freestyle, so they required more touchup in the compositing stage, which was also a little annoying. But overall they were definitely worth the trouble!
Once Kate was fully set up, I could begin animating her! After creating the test transformations, I created a test scene to see how I could integrate her into an actual 3D set and animate her in a way that would be convincing, if not realistic. I chose a set I had originally created in SketchUp for the comic—her bedroom. After importing the objects into Blender, I fleshed out the room to match the comic a little more closely, including learning how to create cloth simulations to create the drapes, pillows, and sheets on bed. Here’s a quick look at the finished set:
And here’s what it looks like when the lights go off (or rather “on” since this was the actual lighting for the set.)
From this experiment, I learned the basics of posing and timing needed to create an animation. I also learned I needed to light the background and the characters separately, since the lighting that worked one didn’t always work for the other. I also figured out how to move the camera between frames so I could string several shots into a single scene. Here’s what the full test looked like:
After creating this, I knew had the tools I needed to tackle a full animated short.
In addition to the film showing, I’ll be doing live, behind the scenes demos on how I made the movie, along with a Q&A. I’ll also have books and prints in tow for a signing. Plus there will be excellent beer on tap! Back Beat specializes in English-style bitters and cask ales. I’m a huge fan!
Film will post to YouTube @ 7:30pm!
But if you can’t join us that night, I’ll be live-streaming the event on my YouTube channel, too. The film will drop at the same time we show it in person, and you can join in the demos and Q&A afterwards!