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Curie Lu on the craft behind Spring Herald
Curie Lu is currently studying character animation at the California Institute of the Arts. Last April, Curie posted the first film she made while enrolled at the school to her YouTube channel. This 90-second video includes impressive character acting and lighting effects as well as detailed linework drawn with textured brush strokes. At the time of writing, Spring Herald has been viewed more than 512,000 times. Soon after posting the original short, Curie uploaded another video: a series of behind-the-scenes clips and time-lapses which delve into the production process. We wanted to ask her more.
This interview with Curie Lu is part of our series of articles featuring this year’s Toon Boom Ambassadors — celebrating students, educators, artists and professionals who make exceptional use of our software.
What were your main sources of inspiration for Spring Herald?
As a Chinese-American, I wanted to create something for my grandparents, who hadn’t seen any of my animation at the time. Since there is a language barrier between us, I wanted to create a cultural film with subjects that they would be familiar with.
I’ve also been interested in Chinese folktales and myths. In Chinese culture, dragons are associated with natural forces of nature, especially rain and thunder. For my first year film, I wanted to create some eye candy, as the 90-second time limit wouldn’t allow for a more complex plot.
What was the most artistically or technically challenging scene in the film? What were you most proud of?
The most challenging scene for me was the shot where it’s first revealed that the main character is riding the dragon. I’ve never animated a dragon before, or any snake-like creature, and initially it was very frustrating trying to imagine how this imaginary creature would move. Thankfully my boyfriend had animated a dragon before, was able to provide critiques, and I was able to create something decent.
When I look back on my film I see issues here and there, but I’d say the long shot of the dragon spiralling under the bridge. I did multiple retakes of that as well, and everything in that shot was challenging — the background, waterfall effects, and the animation.
You mentioned that this film took 8 months to make. What was the production process like?
Since I’m a bit impatient, I did the film shot-by-shot — finishing a shot completely before proceeding to the next. This way I could see a finished bit and have some satisfaction.
Rotating between painting backgrounds, animation, and coloring over the 8 months prevented me from burning out too badly. I tried to get the storyboard and animatic done as early as possible, as it was my first time on a production schedule and I wasn’t yet sure of my pace.
In your making-of video, you showed various stages of your cleanup and colour process. Which tools in Toon Boom Harmony did you use, and were there any tools that you learned about while working on this project?
I used bitmap layers, with a customized Colored Pencil brush for the animation and cleanup. I mostly familiarized myself with using the node view and effects, basic things like blending modes and compositing tools.
I am still struggling myself to have my animation look and feel more traditional, so I may not have the greatest wealth of knowledge to offer here. There are several features in digital animation software that can definitely help. For me, the customized Colored Pencil brush in Harmony works well enough. Over these past few years, I’ve noticed Harmony continually updating their brush system and it gets more comfortable and customizable as time passes.
Do you have advice for artists who are interested in animating hand drawn highlights and shadow?
When I made this film, I did not know much about compositing, so I individually painted the shadows for each color, which ate up extra time. I’ve learned that it’s faster to use the inverted Cutter node and paint all the shadow areas in one color on a separate layer, then export it to After Effects and give each shadow its respective color using OLM’s Color Keep. There are so many features with the node view and library that I still feel there is much to learn.
What has the response to Spring Herald been like for you?
I’m glad it’s been generally received well and that it reached audiences overseas.
A large amount of comments mention the Pokemon cameo I inserted into the film for fun. It might create legal problems if I try submitting the film into festivals, so maybe I shouldn’t have included the Pokemon, but it is just so cute that I wanted to animate it.
The response was very fulfilling and I hope I can continue to entertain and bring joy to people, if only for a few minutes at a time.
What projects are you working on next?
Currently, I’m continuing to use Harmony to create a four-minute film that will be finished sometime early 2021. It will have more action and a plot. I’ve posted a few finished shots on social media.
Originally I thought I wasn’t going to create another film based in China, but last summer I visited an ancient town in Chongqing and it greatly inspired me, so this film again will have cultural elements.