Going it alone

3D animation does not have to be a costly process involving the latest high-end software. ITP.net meets Brian Taylor a man changing the face of animation from the comfort of his own home.

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By  Marcus Webb Published  June 26, 2002

I|~||~||~|Two years ago, Scottish graphic designer Brian Taylor set out to prove that he could make a computer-generated film of the highest quality with minimal resources. Armed only with an outdated Apple Mac G4, discontinued software, and a fair amount of talent, he began working on Rustboy — the animated tale of a tin boy who comes to life when he's struck by lightning.

Taylor's work proves that top quality results can be achieved using modest, affordable home software without the benefit of high-end 3D packages usually associated with films of this nature. Rustboy is being created entirely on a PowerMac G4 867Mhz using the now defunct software package Infini-D, for 3D modelling, animation and rendering alongside Photoshop for compositing, blurring and other effects. "I think people find the fact that I use Infini-D pretty odd," says Taylor. "It's a pretty cheap, pretty old programme, which doesn't even exist anymore, but I just know it so well it's difficult to move on to anything new. It does the job and it does the job well, so why change just for the sake of it?"

Taylor has always had an interest in animation and filmmaking but it was not until recent developments in computer technology that he had the resources he needed. "I was always playing around with cine cameras and such like as a kid," remembers Taylor, "but it wasn't until I got into computers that I had the means to make the film I wanted on the budget I had."

The character of Rustboy began life many years ago as a simple 2D image, the result of Taylor "playing around" in Photoshop. "This image just came out of nowhere really," says Taylor. "It was just a sketch at first and I was thinking of an illustration for a children's storybook or something like that. As time went on I kept returning to it and playing with it until I came up with the 3D version and Rustboy was born."

The character obviously struck a chord with Taylor and he began working on the animated film of Rustboy in his spare time, charting his progress online as he went. His site, Rustboy.com, is an exhaustive online documentation of the production and soon built up a cult following on the Internet.

"I couldn't believe how quickly the site took off," says Taylor. "I would have been happy with twenty people a day but we have an average of 2,000 a day now, going up to 10,000 on a good day."

The site contains weekly updates, concept art, streaming video, and a making-of section that serves as an animation primer. Particularly striking is the intro sequence clip, which features a Danny Elfman-like score by New Yorker Erik Nickerson and helps to illustrate Taylor's digital layering technique.

The interest generated from the site helped Taylor secure private funding for the project, allowing him to give up his 'proper' job as an illustrator and work on Rustboy full time.

Vital to Taylor accepting the deal was that the money did not come from a large company or studio that would try and influence his work. "It was important to keep the project as independent as possible," stresses Taylor. In fact the cash came from a local businessman who Taylor has known for years and "just puts money into things he really believes in." Taylor approached the entrepreneur as Rustboy started to take off, "I offered him the chance to invest and he took all of five minutes to convince," says Taylor. "Now he is basically paying me for the next two years to complete the film."

Perhaps a reflection of his punk roots, Taylor remains wary of the big players. "I had the opportunity to work for some of the big studios but I don't want to go down that route," he says. "I've actually had e-mails from other animators warning me that I could become just a puppet if I get involved with the big studios. If I can keep it as independent as possible and fund it through private money then that's definitely the way to go as far as I'm concerned."

Other than allowing Taylor to concentrate his efforts, the money has had little effect on the animation process. "I haven't used the money to upgrade equipment or anything like that," says Taylor "I'm just continuing the same as I always have."

Taylor's work should serve as an inspiration to animators around the globe, particularly in the Middle East where there is little formal training available. "I've had no training whatsoever," says Taylor. "I've never been tutored in computers or formal animation techniques. I got where I am purely through playing around, and I think that's the best way to learn really."

Taylor envisages the wide availability and the dropping costs of software as having a profound effect on the animation industry. "I can certainly see it becoming far more feasible for small independent projects, such as Rustboy, to get off the ground," he says. "It's kind of us little guys against the big boys. There are a few big studios that dominate but there are more and more individual projects, which are doing very well."

As for advice to young animators in the area, Taylor has a few simple words. "Get your work on the Internet," he enthuses. "I've spent many years working away in obscurity but the moment you put it up on the Internet the whole world is your audience."

Taylor certainly has big plans for Rustboy. Discussions are already under way to air the finished film on television and Taylor plans to release the film on DVD, complete with a host of 'making of' features. Alongside finishing the animation he is also working on a coffee table book, The Art of Rustboy and there is even talk of creating a series of Rustboy action figures!

Even devoting all his time to the project, Taylor is still some way off completing Rustboy. "I don't know when the project will be finished to be honest," he laughs. "I was aiming for Christmas 2003 but it is a Hell of a lot of work for one person working on their own. It's really important to me that Rustboy is done as well as I can do it, so if it takes a bit longer then so be it. That's the beauty of being independent: you have no one to answer to, and I can ensure that I am a hundred percent happy with it."

Taylor's work is visually stunning - especially when you consider that he is working on relatively modest equipment. Hopefully in much the same way as punk's DIY ethic helped rejuvenate a stagnant music scene in the ‘seventies, the work of Taylor and others will encourage a new breed of animators to create stunning and worthwhile projects of their own.
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