Welcome to the Road to Echo

Work In Progress / 01 September 2020


With every passing week, I have been working and improving on a story that I had begun just last year as a project I am very passionate about. Due to COVID-19, I have had the odd grace of the one thing we all have issue finding: time, and as a result, I have been able to not only flesh out this story, but also work on the key characters and preliminary environments. In having posted little tidbits or screenshots here and there on twitter the past three months, I came to the realization that I wanted a space to talk about my process in detail and how I came about getting to where I am now and where I want to be in the future in the hopes that someone that has a similar path can learn from my mistakes and triumphs.

Thus, time for a Dev Blog!

I likely won't be able to post every day on the latest improvements, as some things can span multiple days or even weeks depending on complexity, but I can try to do a weekly check-in on progress and show some of the things I've learned. That's my promise to you!

Now that all that introduction is over, if you're not following me over on Twitter the last few months, then you have likely no idea what story or characters I'm really referencing. Well, here's the cliff notes:

What and Who is Echo?

I've had this idea for the last two years to make a short film that not only talks about what it was like to grow up as an immigrant, but also to portray that idea in the simplest terms and easiest of explanations. Thus, Echo and her friends were born. Echo, as a result, is also the title of the short film itself. The reason for it is because this film is very much like an "echo" of the past. The film will be animated using Autodesk Maya and rendered using the Unreal Engine. At present, it will have no spoken dialogue. The dialogue, instead, will be music.

As of right now, there are a total of 5 major characters and 2 NPC-like characters in the film. With the exception of Echo and her mother, who are both aliens and thus lean much more on the imagination side of character design, all are going to be based off animals. Echo herself has already been shown most this past summer, again on my twitter, so the first few posts on this blog will likely be me migrating some of what I've learned to this blog to keep everything in one place.

In terms of how much of the actual story you'll be seeing on this blog, I will say you'll likely read bits and pieces, but not the full story. Likely as I begin to work on specific shots of the film, I might add them here, which will give context. However, this blog is intended to be more of a technical "behind the scenes" to help show my thought process behind environment, character design, etc. With that being said, however, story is very much at the core of this film. The setting is a small elementary classroom on Earth, where Echo deals with her first few days at school on a brand new planet.

Where Am I In Production Right Now?

So far, I have a working animatic, one major environment, 1 fully rigged and ready to animate character, 1 retopologized character in the process of being rigged, 2 partially sculpted secondary characters, and many, many, concept designs for the rest of the world. The first few posts will be back tracking the progress on these specific pieces.

Why Unreal?

Excellent question, I'm glad you asked. My background stems from both animation and game design, and in the past few years alone the concept of animated short films being done with real time rendering engines has become much more common and a new medium for artists to create with. Having been on teams that have shipped games to steam and itch, I am familiar with both Unity and Unreal and what they can do. I specifically chose Unreal due to its more robust sequencer system as well as the light system. Plus, with UE5 just around the corner, this film will undergo a transitional period at some point to take advantage of new pipelines and ideas coming from the industry, specifically Lumen (which, if you have not seen, you can see the demo of UE5 here).

Don't be surprised if you find me also posting about a cool studio using real time rendering in their pipeline or how animation will be completely overhauled in the next few years as a result of the access to new tools such as game engines. It's not just the future, it's already happening. Just look at Rogue One's K2SO, or these absolutely adorable Unity shorts that also were spawned from animators having time on their hands to experiment and play with some new mediums as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are but two examples in a constantly growing pool of animated films using real time rendering tools. 

Well, that's all for now!

I'm really excited to start this adventure and to work on this project, and I'm even more elated that you are coming to read about Echo and her friends. 

Here's the the future!