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The animation in ARTICLES OF WAR owes a great debt to the brilliant work of a Disney animator and engineer I’ve long admired, the legendary Ub Iwerks. He helped invent the groundbreaking ‘multiplane’ camera system used in all of the traditionally animated Disney classics, a system of shooting through multiple moving background paintings to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth.
I always loved the sense of movement and rich depth of field found in the best multiplane camera setups - when they’re done right, you really do feel like you’re traveling through a painting. Creating shots with multiple layers set at different “depths” felt like the perfect fit for ARTICLES OF WAR, a movie filled with demanding camera moves and ambitious action. Considering one of the ‘stars’ of the movie was a B-24 bomber, I pushed for shots that would not only sell the speed of powered flight, but also showcase the scale and depth of the environment, from vast Allied airfields to the sun-drenched skies found in a pilot’s point-of-view. I wanted a true sense of depth and an ability to move forward and backwards through the different two-dimensional layers of artwork.
I animated ARTICLES OF WAR using Adobe AfterEffects, a software package that let me to manipulate and composite together many individual layers of artwork. Wikipedia describes the software as “Photoshop for video” it was originally developed for broadcast design and motion graphics but animators and visual effects artists have been using it as a relatively inexpensive digital camera stand and compositing tool for years.
I used AfterEffects to animate shot #149 by setting keyframes that controlled the position, scale and rotation of dozens of different layers, simulating the sweeping camera move described in my script. I also added a variety of effects, from the smoke and fire in the foreground frame to the rippled surface of the water that reflects the belly of a B-24.
Sound designer Joe Pleiman and composer Ryan Shore both worked miracles for me on a previous production, A LETTER FROM THE WESTERN FRONT, which won a Gold Medal for animation at the Student Academy Awards. Both are back for ARTICLES OF WAR, and they’ve spent months creating an amazing soundtrack for this new film.
Joe created a library of original sound effects and Ryan wrote an original orchestral score to support the visuals (for an in-depth look into the music, check out the article I wrote about our experience recording at Skywalker Ranch).
I’ve rendered the animation as a high definition digital file, which a film lab will use to make 35 MM prints for exhibition. For a taste of the movie in 1080p high definition, check out the trailer.
It’s A Wrap
I’ve always known that no matter what, ARTICLES OF WAR was always going to be two things:
#1. An animated film.
#2. A long, long time in the making.
I chose to make ARTICLES OF WAR an animated film because even though it’s not the most obvious choice, I believe animation is a unique medium capable of telling a wide variety of stories… even historical dramas set during the Second World War. For an independent production armed with big visuals and a small budget, animation was the only way I could affordably realize the images that, once stuck in my head, I absolutely had to see on the big screen.
Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface on what it takes to make a film like ARTICLES OF WAR a reality, and I hope to share more about the production process in the future. I can’t guarantee replies, but if you’ve got questions about the production, I’ll try my best to answer them in my blog.