"We Are the Strange"

Since the start of the movie industry back at the end of the 19th century the biggest stumbling block has been the cost of production.

When even a short film could cost tens of thousands of dollars for film costs alone who, except for the big production houses, could even consider making professional-looking films? In this digital age however, with a relatively small outlay for off-the-shelf equipment and software, even the home videographer is free to put out movies with a level of quality and polish that has never before been possible. The democratization of filmmaking has truly arrived with the modern age of digital production and nowhere is this more evident than in the field of animation.

One such Independent filmmaker is M dot Strange who, after years of making short live-action and stop-motion films, has graduated to a full-length movie called 'We Are The Strange'©, which he hopes to unleash on the world in the very near future.

Mr. Strange started making films right out of high school with a borrowed video camera. Filmmaking became his passion and after graduating college he kept plugging away at his art, eventually making a living at a combination of shooting commercials and web design. His personal films started out as small, live-action skits. After a few years he moved on to animation, starting like a lot of beginning animators with stop-motion claymation. But like many animators, he soon discovered the limitations of clay: Things like lighting turning the clay into slag, or material stress causing limbs to fall apart in the middle of a scene. So he started searching for better ways of doing things. First, by building armatures out of aluminum, then getting into more complex model-based puppetry, and recently graduating into full CG animation using MAXON's Cinema 4D.

'We are the Strange' is an interesting combination of stop-motion, 8-bit game-style graphics and full CG done in Cinema 4D, all melded into an original look that Mr. Strange has dubbed "Str8nime".

As far as the scenes themselves go, virtually every scene in the film was rendered in Cinema 4D. Not owning any match-moving software, Mr. Strange used a bit of ingenuity to keep all his various elements aligned in compositing.

"Let's say a scene has a stop-motion character and a 3D character. I go through and look at the storyboards and I pre-render the backgrounds with the camera moves and a basic character with its visibility turned off for the render. This figure moves the way I want the stop-motion figure to move through the scene. I put a little light inside of it with brightness [set to] 0 with XPresso, which I call the tracker, which makes sure that [the light] follows the figure precisely. I go through and pre-render all these scenes and I generate After Effects files with those. When I open the background scene in After Effects I have the rendered 3D background and the little tracker. Then I shoot my stop-motion against the green-screen with my digital still-camera. I then bring it in and key it out in After Effects and turn it into a sequence with an alpha channel. After this it's as simple as dropping the sequence into my scene file, copying the position data from the tracker onto the character, and adjusting the lighting to match the character and the scene. Then I can add dust or other effects in front or behind the stop-motion layer to blend it more into the scene."

Mr. Strange credits Cinema 4D's ability to integrate so well with After Effects for making the process so easy for him. And now, starting with Cinema 4D, one does not even need to use the light trick as Cinema 4D can export not only position but also the scale and rotation of any object. This creates far more tracking options in After Effects.

The CG tools that Mr. Strange relies on are Cinema 4D for his 3D work, After Effects for compositing, and Final Cut Pro for editing.