LOVE ON THE EDGE
Animated Short (2023)
Visual Development, Background Art & Compositing
‘Love on the Edge’ is an Animated Short. In it we follow Mira, who in a fit of jealousy, starts a wild and dangerous climb through the city. Whilst Doenja follows her in the hope to reconcile.
I joined the development early on in the summer of 2022. At that time director Anselm Oettel was looking to make a film noir inspired short. He partnered with production company Spotted Bird and writer Patty Stenger. They worked on producing a pitch for the ‘Ultrakort’ (Ultrashorts) fund. A competition organized by the Netherlands Film Fund for the realization of animated short films (under 2.15 minutes). These shorts will run before feature films at certain cinemas.
I contributed concept art for how the backgrounds might look. The setting was to be a city, as we follow our main character climbing it. At this point we considered an almost pure black and white look, with maybe one gray color and a little bit of post-processing in the form of a bloom effect.
Early concept art for the Pitch
In September 2022 ‘Love on the Edge’ was selected as one of the 5 Ultrashorts to be funded. Afterwards we pivoted the visuals towards a more realistic look. Still very much film noir inspired, with a high contrast grayscale palette and strong graphic cinematography, but with more room for nuance and atmosphere.
As the storyboard was being developed, it became clear that there would be a high amount of shots – there was quite a lot of story to cover in just 2.15 minutes. At that point I started looking into optimizing the background workflow as much as possible. Using a 3D base became the obvious solution. Especially as the setting of the story was a city.
The main function of 3D was to provide a perspective template and selection maps for the different elements in the background. The ability to select, for example, all the window frames, and paint within their borders was a huge boon. At the same time we kept artistic control over the image by manually painting in all the textures and lighting. Painting was therefore still the main part of the process.
Early 3D to painted background art test
The look of the city itself was an odd mix of Dutch, New York and Art Deco inspired architecture. We really wanted to add the feeling of verticality and height as our protagonists climbed through the city. Though we were limited therein due to the short nature of the film – no way our protagonists could climb hundreds of stories, so the tallness of the city is most obvious in the skyline.
In January 2023 I worked together with character designer Saverio Wielkens to make a final style frame (below). That would function as the definitive style test and quality target of the movie. At the same time the storyboard was being finalized. 46 shots where needed.
Production started with blocking out a 3D set. With input from the director Anselm we designed a small town square and the main buildings that our protagonists would climb. Another welcome benefit of 3D was the ability to sit together with the director and frame camera angles. Due to the amount of shots and the comparative high quality of the backgrounds there was simply no time to do a proper layout phase. So after framing the shot in 3D I went straight into making the final artwork. At the same time the animators could use the 3D camera angles as a base for their animations. Making a parallel production still possible.
3D to final background art
What followed was a few months of intense production. I was not able to work fulltime on it, so the process of making all the backgrounds continued to close to the deadline of 31st of May.
During those months I drew a lot of bricks, rooftops, windows and cobblestones. On shot got scrapped, so I ended up finishing 45 backgrounds.
Final background art
During the later part of the short, our protagonists were going to be climbing and running around on tall buildings, with a view of the city in the background. We decided to paint one big skyline for this view, making it large and varied enough so that we could adapt it to different angles and perspectives.
Making the skyline was for me the icing on the cake for this project. I spent around 5 days near the end painting it, this time without 3D. It was designed to have 3 smaller “compositions” within. One to the left, one to the right, and a central one. Giving us a fake 270° city view.
Replacing the rough value sketch within the other backgrounds, with the final skyline painting, was very very satisfying.
Close ups from the skyline
After a great effort of a small team, and quite a bit of crunch, the short movie was finished on the night of 31st of May. (I ended up helping out with compositing as well.) With some additional grading and sound finalization done during the first few days of June.
‘Love on the Edge’ premiered on the 24th of September 2023 at the Netherlands Film Festival. Below you can view the trailer and check out some of the wonderful people I had the pleasure of collaborating with.