Creating a Dream World: Interview with Co-Director and Supervising Animator on "Poet Anderson"

Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker is an upcoming short film from the mind of Tom Delonge, the front-man of the popular band, Angels and Airwaves. It's set for a world-wide release date of December 9th in tandem with Angels and Airwave's new album. It's the second of Tom Delonge's film endeavors, however, it's the first film from his production company "To the Stars" that is animated. We we're really drawn to the artistic style of the film, and the hybrid approach of 2D and 3D. We reached out to the Co-Director and the Supervising Animator on the short film, Sergio Martins, who worked along side Tom Delonge to bring his vision to life. You can watch Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker trailer, and read the full interview below.

How did you first come into contact with Tom Delonge and why did he choose your team to create the film?

I contacted Tom Delonge with an animation test, just in case he was interested in doing animation. Surprisingly, he was already looking for artists to bring “Poet Anderson – The Dream Walker” idea into life. I gathered a team of talented artists and did a small piece of animation. Tom liked it, and we jumped into production right away.


Poet Anderson has a unique 2D and 3D style to it, what was the reasoning for taking this hybrid approach?

Well, the concept image that we received from Tom had a very 2D feel to it, which instantly directed us into a final 2D look. However, as soon as we started developing the project, it became clear that, to represent the type of fast action this story demanded; the 3D tool would be a big plus, allowing a more immersive experience to the spectator. Even though it made the production more difficult, the final result would undoubtedly be better with a hybrid approach.


Can you tell us what elements in Poet Anderson are 2D? And what elements are 3D?

Except for most of the animation on the main characters, it is really hard to separate the 3D from the 2D. It’s not as simple as saying the background is 3D and the characters are 2D. To give it justice, I would have to point out which is what on every single shot, since nearly every shot has elements of both.

To give you an example, on the trailer you can see Poet running on top of the train, on some shots the train and trees are 3D, on other shots, the train, sky, moon and trees are only 2D drawings moving on different layers, it was almost a shot by shot decision.

This is also true for the characters, sometimes we used just 2D and other times we used something like a 2.5D solution to make it all fit together. There was a conscious effort to mix both techniques as much as possible, so it wouldn’t be a shock when jumping from one to the other.


What was the collaboration like between you and Tom Delonge and how much creative freedom were you given on the film?

It was a great experience in terms of collaboration. Tom was on top of every main decision, but at the same time he really gave the artists their own space, which made the production flow very smoothly and gave our team the opportunity to push it as far as we could in terms of experimenting with new approaches and mixing different techniques or ideas. Had it been different, we would probably get stuck on minor details and not be able to get the same result. As long as we kept Tom’s vision intact and the quality of the work good, the artists had a lot of creative freedom on their own specific areas.


What were some of the biggest technical challenges you had to overcome when working on the project?

One of the biggest challenges for our CG supervisor, Miguel Mota, was definitely trying to balance the few and very outdated machines we had for rendering, with the high standards we were aiming for, in terms of final image quality. Luckily, being very experienced, he was able to create really smart and economic processes, which, in the end, given the conditions, were a huge achievement.

In the animation department, it was a crazy challenge to animate the 2D character on top of the 3D environment. Given the sharp and graphic style of the 2D drawings, there was a huge effort to make the animation feel believable and effortless as the characters rotate alongside the 3D world, which happens a lot through the film.

This brings me to one of the biggest challenges we had – blending the 2D with the 3D in a graphic/plastic sense. The crude and simple 2D style would never blend in the 3D world if it was not for the amazing work of compositor Carina Morais. There were a lot of doubts during the process on how to make it work, but she came up with amazing solutions that, not only solved the problem, but also made everything look beautiful.


I understand that your team used Softimage and Blender for all the 3D in the film, can you tell us why you chose these two applications, and how they helped you achieve your goal?

The main reason, was simply because those were the applications the artists were already familiar with, so it was about each artist personal choice and building the pipeline on top of it. In the end, the procedural toolset of Softimage XSI was great for achieving fast results.


As the supervising animator on the project, what were some of your responsibilities?

The main responsibilities were to, first of all, define a style of animation that would fit the character’s look and would respect and help tell this particular story on this specific universe. Then, to make sure every character and their personalities and their actions/movements felt cohesive from shot to shot, as if they were animated by the same person, not only in the drawing aspect of it but mainly on their attitude.


What were some of the inspirations your team had for the art style of the film?

Apart from Mike Henry’s concept art of Poet Anderson, Tom’s vision, from what I understood when discussing the initial steps of the project, was to have a Syd Mead (Blade Runner) feeling to it, with some “Tron” touches. There was also an intention of using Anime/Manga influences from classics like Akira, mixed with a more western feature film type of animation.


What was the process like in turning Tom Delonge’s basic idea for the story and world into a reality?

Overall, it was a very organic process. It all started with some discussions to get Tom’s idea and understand exactly what type of direction he wanted. From that point, the final script started to be written, also with a very organic process, with contributions from Tom Delonge, Ben Kull, Edgar Martins and myself. The ideas were always evolving and changing almost until the last shot was animated.

Alongside it, we started, from the very beginning, developing concepts and storyboards that Tom kept checking and tweaking as he felt necessary. We also made small animation tests to see if he would like the way the world would feel in graphic and kinetic terms. After working out all these pre-production aspects, and once everyone felt comfortable with what we had, it became more a process of keeping everything cohesive until the end of the production.


Angels and Airwave’s new album is being used for the score of the short film, did the album have any influence on the story, art style or direction that Poet Anderson took?

Speaking on a personal level, all of the Angels and Airwaves albums had a huge direct influence on the process of finding the right tone for the short. The mixed feeling of hope, rebellion, youth, and introspective thoughts that songs like Saturday, Surrender or Hallucinations evoke, among so many others, definitely defined Poet’s personality, even to the point of the way we would draw his expressions. Also, the dreamy, magical and starry feeling on Angels and Airwave’s music influenced a lot of the landscape choices. Considering the new album, “The Dream Walker” it did have an influence in the sense of what Tom would transmit to us, of his vision and idea, as he worked on the album and on the short at the same time.


The character animation in the film has a very exaggerated and stylized feel to it, was it a challenge to ensure the other animators working on the film stuck with this same style?

It would have been much more challenging if it was a bigger team. Working with a small team I could be on top of basically every shot and even make rough animation tests for shots I didn’t animate to help ensure everything was working on the same level and style. It also helped a lot that, the second animator with more animation screen time, is my brother Edgar, as twins, you can imagine our animation style is not so different from each other. Sometimes, we even have problems remembering who animated what, when looking at a sequence. That was definitely a plus in the animation pipeline.


Are there any plans to work with Tom Delonge in the future on a full-length feature for Poet Anderson or another animation project?

Tom has a lot of ideas and projects always going on, and I believe he is interested in keeping Angels and Airwaves a multimedia art platform, as he intended (animation included). I believe there is more he wants to do with this medium, let’s wait to see what he comes up with for future plans.