Animating in paradise: making The OceanMaker

Friend of fxguide and fxphd professor Lucas Martell is the director behind The OceanMaker, a rousing animated short that tells the story of a world with no seas and a pilot who looks to clouds for salvation. The film’s novel storyline is matched by its even more unique production history – Martell embarked on the indie short by assembling a team of artists to work on Caye Caulker, an island of 1300 residents off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean. Here the crew produced around half the film, then worked remotely to finish the rest.

The sea-less world of The OceanMaker.

In addition, two crowd sourcing efforts enabled completion of The OceanMaker. It has since been on the festival circuit, including a stint at SXSW, and been available on Vimeo on Demand for $1.99. But today the film’s production company, Mighty Coconut, is making The OceanMaker available to view for free. Watch it below.

The crew’s work on The OceanMaker represents significant investments in story, animation, post and music. Animation-wise the pipeline chosen involved Softimage and Maya with rendering in Mental Ray. “I’ve been using Mental Ray with Softimage forever,” notes Martell, “so a lot of it comes down to the fact that I know it inside and out. I pretty much did all the lighting myself, so it made sense to use the thing I was most familiar with.”

Plane model.

For the dramatic aerial scenes in the film, the team took detailed reference of planes and cockpits and then worked on meticulous texturing both inside and out. “One of the things we were looking at for the look was Rango,” outlines Martell, “They had some very stylized character designs and the way they fit them into the world was by having these super realistic textures on top of the stylistic designs. And then one of the reasons why we went with a ‘planes’ story on an independent model was that there were a few assets we were getting really close to but a lot of the shots, there’s only about 25 per cent of character animation, but most shots are airplanes which are easier.”

Cloth test.

In addition to May and Softimage, some cloth work was handled in Marvelous Designer and sim’d with Syflex. Meanwhile, the clouds were created with FumeFX in 3ds Max. “Having those clouds in the sky is really important,” explains Martell. “That’s how you show speed in the air. We also tried to make sure you were always seeing a little bit of the ground so that you had perspective on what you were moving against.”

The ‘Gun bus’.

“The other big thing we did to help with movement was how we approached the camera,” adds Martell. “The camera is attached to a chase plane so there’s always a little bit of vibration. The chase plane is never flying exactly with it, so you even get some of the banking – a lot of subtle things. And we used long lenses to make it feel more cinematic. It allows you to have the background moving against what the planes are doing in a way that gives you that sense of motion.”


The filmmakers also played close attention to the final color grade. “The look and color correction is not quite bleach bypass but it’s moving towards that,” says Martell. “We’re really letting the shadows go black in some places and the frame blow out to white because it adds that dirty gritty lens to it – which sells that idea of a makeshift world.”

Character model.

“A lot of animated films in the independent world – they don’t think about the grade,” suggests Martell. It’s subtle but we did have an emotional script for the color grade and it gets more intense at the very beginning. We’ve tried to make it just feel hot – it’s crunchy and we’ve pushed stuff. It gets lost in the blacks and gets pushed out. It feels like you’re in a real location.”

Martell is no stranger to independent animation. His award-winning Pigeon Impossible has over 10 million hits on YouTube. But with The OceanMaker, he sought to do something more grand – indeed, the 10 minute short is intended to be somewhat of a prologue to a feature film version. A feature length OceanMaker is a film the director would gladly produce independently, although he’s not opposed to doing it in a studio environment. “I feel, though,” says Martell, “it’s so different to the normal animation fare that an independent model would still work.”

You can find out more about The OceanMaker at the official site, where you’re also able to find a bunch of behind the scenes production videos.