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Tony Idarraga and Ellen Wang on purrducing Nyan to Five
Ever wondered what your pets get up to while you were away? Tony Idarraga and Ellen Wang explore the workday from a kitten’s point-of-view in Nyan to Five, the thesis film the duo created in 2019 while studying animation at the California College of the Arts. Hijinks littered throughout this short include fast cars, hostage negotiation, caramel macchiatos, imaginative character designs, business formal attire, hostile takeovers, ska music and lunar travel.
We asked Tony and Ellen about the concept, planning and process that went into this ambitious student film. Watch Nyan to Five below, and be sure to paws and reflect before scrolling down to read our full interview.
What was the production process like on Nyan to Five?
Ellen: We mostly divvyed up tasks based on our respective strengths. It just worked out really well that whatever one person wasn’t terrific at, the other was. We split directing jobs between the two of us. Tony did all the storyboarding and laying out the keys in the boards, which I cleaned up in production while directing the rest of the animation.
Tony also handled the video editing, color keys, and backgrounds, while I was in charge of sound design and character design — except for the human character, which was Tony’s.
Are you pet owners? What were some of the other sources of inspiration for your film?
Tony: I am! I own two dogs currently but at the time of making the film, I had a cat named Slime, who was the inspiration for the film. One day I drew him in a suit on a school whiteboard out of a whim and then it sparked the idea for the film!
The photo below on the left is Slime and the photo on the right are some of the drawings I made before the film was conceived. These were a few doodles I made on a cheap Daiso sketchbook I bought in 2018.
Photo and sketchbook drawings provided by Tony Idarraga.
Which scene was the most complex or artistically challenging? How did you approach it?
Ellen: There are at least two scenes where a character walks away from the camera in perspective, which is challenging for me. It took everything I learned about creating a walk cycle — everyone only taught me how to do it from a side view — and rotated it 45 degrees to the right.
It’s one thing to animate a bouncing ball in perspective, and quite another to have to juggle all the moving parts of a biped humanoid-ish character walking thataways. I did manage it in the end, and I learned a lot from it! But it took me a quite frankly embarrassing amount of time to make it look natural.
Sample character designs provided by Tony Idarraga and Ellen Wang.
Were there features in Toon Boom Harmony that you learned about — or found particularly useful — while working on this production?
Ellen: The feature where you can move all your frames at once saved my whole life more than once, especially once we plugged in the backgrounds and I suddenly figured out that a few figures were in a slightly wrong place. I also found out about the ability to save color palettes on this project, which was incredibly helpful once we got to the coloring stage so we wouldn’t have to go back and eyedrop every individual swatch on the same character.
Tony: Oh, and the ability to right click on your stylus to paint fill was a huge life saver, as well as customizing hotkeys to your own workflow and being able to control the camera for our shots. I had some experience using Storyboard Pro prior to us working in Harmony and that helped a ton. I’m very happy with how Toon Boom keeps its software set up in similar ways so that production is more streamlined.
Also, the fact that Ellen worked on a Surface Pro and I worked on a Cintiq attached to a PC and we ran into no issues in terms of running Toon Boom on both of our work stations away from our school’s computer labs was also great.
Sample storyboard panels provided by Tony Idarraga and Ellen Wang.
Was there anything about the production that surprised you?
Tony: Not really! We prepped extensively so that we didn’t run into too much trouble and we scheduled in buffer times just in case we ran into issues — which we did!
The only thing that surprised us is just how strong we both came out as artists after the project. Making a film is such an incredible process.
Do you have advice for other students who are working on their senior films?
Tony: Layout everything you’re planning to do and make sure you have your original goal in mind, but make sure that you have a Plan B and a Plan C. If you find yourself running short on time, you’ll have to cut a lot from your film. If you find yourself in that situation, you definitely want to make sure that your film still makes sense with those cuts.
Ellen: Do not underestimate sound design. I feel like a lot of people leave sound to the last minute, thinking that it’ll be easy, but I had do ten passes at it before giving it to Tony to plug into the final edit, then we had to edit it three more times because some of it didn’t sync up quite right — or part of the mix was too loud/too soft when played up on a bigger sound system. We dedicated a few weeks to it, and it almost wasn’t enough!
Rough animation samples provided by Tony Idarraga and Ellen Wang.
Was there anything that we didn’t ask you about that you would like to say?
Tony: I want to give a huge shout out to the amazing Jeremy Hunter, aka Skatune Network, for the music for our film! We think that their song really brought the film together. Thanks Jeremy! You can visit their YouTube channel and reach Skatune Network on Twitter and Instagram too!
Ellen: Give Jeremy your money!
Feline like following Nyan to Five’s creators? Tony is currently organizing a reanimated project for Popee the Performer, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram. Ellen shares art on Tumblr and you can visit her portfolio for more.