Disclaimer: These interviews are not associated with A-M-V.org or its administration. The Lip Flapper is feeling rather pixelated today. D:
Welcome to the Lip Flapper! Each week, we delve deep into the community and get a look into both individual members as well as group discussions on various issues that surround our hobby.
This week, we chat with ZephyrStar, long time member, and a creator of many unique AMV projects, as well as director of his own (currently in production) anime.
Q: Thank you for joining me today. Let's start things off and have you introduce yourself to the viewers?
Thanks for having me! Well, first, my name is Chris, I'm old, and I've been involved in the AMV community since around 2002ish. Most people will know me as ZephyrStar, though the ancient...er, older generation can remember when I went by hoshinokaze on the forums. I started out by lurking in the #AMV IRC channel before I ever joined the forums.
Q: Nice to have you on today ZephyrStar. So what got you involved in editing AMVs and getting involved in the AMV community?
I got involved in the community in a rather random way actually. When I was a teen, I was a member of an IRC network called Pseudo (1993-1998ish), and had a lotta friends there. (Pseudo, incedentally, was one of the first streaming video sites on the net). Some stuff happened though, an the IRC network shut down, and everybody went their separate ways. We tried to revive the channel on other networks, but there were only a few people remaining, and it got very boring. About that time, I started college (2000-2004) and began working on a degree in character animation. During that time, I was big into video editing on the side, had a camera, and was shooting a lot of skits and "movies" and stuff. A buddy of mine from the Pseudo days, Fire_Starter, mentioned that he was a member of video editing site, and that it had a decently active IRC channel and suggested I hang out there since what I was doing was somewhat related. I took him up on his offer.
I made my first AMV in 2001, a really crappy Noir video, which I don't even still have a copy of. I also made a cheesy Nadesico vid right after that. I didn't really get into actually making AMVs within the AMV community until much later (2006ish), since most of my creative free time during college was eaten up by course work and personal projects for my portfolio. I ended up graduating in 2004, with a master's degree. At that time, I landed a job as a graphic artist, so I really wanted a way to keep my editing/3D skills as sharp as possible. AMVs were a really good way to do that. In 2006, I made my first "org" video, and that year I also attended AWA. I was absolutely blown away by the contest, and the people, and the fun times, and that sealed the deal.
I'm an AMVer for life.
Q: You have made a lot of extremely unique videos utilizing effects and original animations, such as Daydream, omgsuperluckyhappyfunvideoGO , and Kagami Eated Your Soul. How much time was involved in these AMVs, and what made you decide to use these kind of effects/animations? What kind of work was involved with this?
These videos are all experimental, and as you might guess, I wanted to make something I hadn't really seen in the community before, all the while testing out skills and concepts for other projects along the way. Daydream was my attempt at mixing 2D and 3D, all while trying to do as much justice as I could do to the sources. Azuma is one of my favorite artists, and I love Yotsuba. I could be having the crappiest day ever, read a chapter of Yotsuba, and instantly be in a better mood. The only problem with making a video using Yotsuba is that, no anime currently exists. So I had two options at that time, to either make a mixed Yotsuba manga x Azumanga Daioh video, or to create the Yotsuba source from the ground up. I think the best compliment I get on the video is "hey, I didn't realize there was a Yotsuba anime!" I believe I spent about 7 months on and off working on daydream. I had created the Yotsuba 3D model while in college as a fun project, but had not given any thought at that time to cel shading and animating it, so when I had my concept, I had to pretty carefully plan out each shot so that my jokes and concepts got across, and try to make the 3D look as genuinely 2D as possible. That's way harder than it looks.
Most anime is animated at 12 to 15 FPS, then that framerate is doubled, for the final output. For 3DCG, if I animate at 12 FPS and double, I end up with a choppy crappy mess. There were many times I had to literally re-time sequences in AE one frame at a time to try and make the Yotsuba animation match up to the Azu Daioh animation, and that took a long time. In the end, I think daydream turend out good for the efforts I put in. People love the video and that makes me really happy. I'm glad I could bring people the same feeling I get when I read Yotsuba. I have to thank Koopiskeva for the name too actually, as I never had a name in mind for the video, right up until I finished it and was talking with him.
omgsuperluckyhappyfunvideoGO was basically a "filter" test. I have a massive project idea that I've been kicking around for a few years, which I would want to have a very definitive visual style, so I needed a way to test it for feasibility. When I decided to make this video, I only had about 3 months worth of time to do it, to meet the AWA Master's deadline for that year. I asked off work for the better part of a week to get started, edited the video footage, shrunk it down, blew it back up again to pixelate it, and then literally traced and colored each individual frame in photoshop. Yes, I'm quite insane.
I looked all over for filters, plugins, methods, you name it, to try and get the results I wanted, and none of it worked. This was the only solution I came up with that gave me the visual result I wanted. I do have to say it's quite striking, even if the video itself is not the greatest conceptually. I had a hell of a lot of fun making this thing though, and proving to myself that I could get an insane amount of work done in a very short time if I needed to (more on that later, it's very relevant!). In the end, I was beaten in Master's that year by Ileia, with a very cool video she made in about 2 days, using Animatrix. I was a little disappointed (because I really want that green Master's jacket!), but again, I set out to test a visual style, and I proved that it would work, so I was fine with that. Ileia was super cool about it too. After her win, she took the mic and explained to the crowd the efforts I had put in on my video, so I got a round of applause from the audience, which was really awesome.
Oddly, the rest of my videos are all spur of the moment, "gee, let's make something silly" kinds of videos. These are the best kinds of videos, because they're a lot of fun to make and there's no pressure. Just make something fun. Good times.
Q: Can we expect to see any more original AMVs from you anytime soon?
Hmmm.... not any time soon, but down the road, for sure. I'll never be one of those "I'm gonna retire from AMVs" kinda people, and I have a list a mile long of various things I want to make sometime. I also have a pile of half finished videos sitting on my projects drive that need finishing >___> I do have one very ambitious AMV that I was planning on doing for the last AWA Master's, but it kinda took backburner to a bigger project, which I am now concentrating on 150%.
Q: Speaking of original animation, you're actually in the process of directing and animating your own original anime film. What's the process like? How long has this been in production, and how long do you expect to spend on it? Any advice who has a similar goal to you?
So here we go. tl;dr.
As long as I can remember, I've been a storyteller. Writing, drawing, you name it. In high school I discovered computer animation, and after seeing Toy Story, knew that was what I wanted to do. I went to a state university that had a budding computer animation program, and got my BS degree. Then, I had a profound realization. Computer animation is an extremely competitive field. In order to get a good job in animation, video games, film, etc., you have to #1) have a killer portfolio/demo reel. #2) have experience. I had neither. I'm not saying that my demo reel or portfolio were terrible by any means, on the contrary, I felt I was headed in the right direction, but the further I went, the louder that little voice in the back of my mind was yelling at me not to go through with it. I discovered quite suddenly that I didn't want to move to California and be so far away from my family, I didn't want to work on the latest iteration of some football game, I didn't want to spend my almost every waking hour working on some other dude's characters and stories. I have too many of my own.
The other half of my realization was that the chance of me actually being able to climb the ladder and eventually call the shots on the characters or story were really quite small. I became disillusioned and depressed, but it didn't last long. There was a glimmer of hope, which came in the form of various indie productions that were starting to pop up. Makoto Shinkai is probably the best anime-related example. I followed their successes closely, and began asking myself "if they can do it, why can't I do it?" I've always been a big fan of anime, but unlike a lot of students in programs like mine today, I was never under the impression that I would be able to work at a Japanese studio. It's almost impossible for anyone who is not Japanese to break into the industry, and the conditions and pay are really quite bad. Even then, that wouldn't really be any different from me working at Pixar. It would still be some other guy's idea and characters.
Just as soon as I had graduated with my undergraduate degree, I enrolled in graduate school. My goal was simple. Getting the MS degree would open the door to higher paying jobs, teaching opportunities, and allow me to do consulting work. I figured that as long as I could find the balance between making enough money to self-finance a movie and having enough free time to actually create the damn thing, I could do it. And that's where I am right now. Just recently I made the most expensive purchase of my needed materials, a copy of 3D Studio Max 2013. I also now legitimately own Adobe Production CS5.5, so I have all the tools I need. Over the last couple of years, I've gone through several big life changes (including moving twice across multiple states), but I've also constantly been busy with my film in one way or another. Two years ago I started writing what became the final script for my film. I have to thank my good friends (you know who you are) for their critique and great feedback of my script. Because of them, I'm confident that I don't suck!
The film has been in production for about 3 years now, if you count all the script writing and moving and new jobs. I'm working through an animatic right now, which I expect to take until the end of the year or a bit later, then I will be looking for voice talent. Once I have voice talent secured and recorded, I will begin creating all the 3D assets, characters, textures, and scenes, and then animating the shots. There's no telling how long it will take to actually go through and dress the sets/animate/render/composite the final shots, but right now the script weighs in at 86 pages, so my estimate for finished screen time is 90 minutes. Maybe...5 years to go to be completely done? It sounds like a long time, but then again, I look back on my other projects, and how long some of them took, and I realize that it's actually pretty short for what I will end up with. Hopefully the next movie after this one will take even less time. I have at least 3 more films planned at this point...
To answer the question of what the process is like, it's a constant battle. I've adopted a mantra, which has served me well. "Just do the work." Nothing can happen until you do the work. You shouldn't talk about the film till you do the work. Don't take a bathroom break till you do the work. I make myself sit down and work on the movie every day, whether it's 15 minutes or 8 hours, I make myself accountable.
The nice thing is, you may assume that you'd have to give up your social life completely for such a thing, and while that's not far from the truth, for me I've been able to strike a good balance. Most weeknights I'm working on the movie, distraction free. I come home from my dayjob, fix dinner, exercise, take a shower, lay out tomorrow's clothes and lunch, and then do the work. That leaves my weekends free, so I make sure I get out and see people and do stuff. It's a delicate balance, but it just takes a little bit of lifehacking, and now it's second nature. It's just what I do every day.
OK, so about the film itself! The film is called "Akazawa," which is the name of a fictional town in Japan. The name means "red swamp." Akazawa is a horror film with both supernatural and technological twists. I will be doing everything in 3D Studio Max, but with hand drawn textures in photoshop for a painterly, anime look. The characters will be cel shaded, however I'm shooting for a style that is not trying to look 2D, but rather is definitely 3D, but with a smooth painted look. Good examples of the kind of style I'm going for would be the Valkyria Chronicles games, or Trusty Bell. They both feature very nicely done texture work, with a basic cel shader over top. One thing I am very driven to do however, is to concentrate on facial animation. Much of the 3D anime out there has very "wooden" or "floaty" looking animation, especially in the faces of the characters. Even big budget productions like the CG Final Fantasy movies lack exaggeration in the facial poses of the characters. I will be attempting to make them much more "Pixar-like" in terms of their expressiveness. You may be wondering what exactly that will look like, but you'll have to wait for some animation tests
The Akazawa story centers around a girl who has lived her whole life in Akazawa, and a guy who has just moved to the town. The two of them are college students, and through a chance meeting, end up discussing some strange and sinister disappearances that have been taking place in the town. The girl knows a bit about other recorded events in the town's history, and shares them with the guy, who has noticed a strangeness to Akazawa, but is not fully aware of how horrifc the truth is. Together, the two of them start to unravel the town's haunted past, only to discover a hidden scientific experiment...
My advice for anyone who is wanting to try and do a big production like this is:
1) Do. The. Work.
2.) Start small. If you've never done anything original before, outline a 2-5 minute project, and create it. It doesn't matter what your skills are, do what you can with what you have, and get it done. Your next piece will be better! Make several shorts, get an idea of how fast you work, and what you can do. Then plan your masterpiece.
3.) Find a couple of friends you absolutely trust, and seek constructive criticism. I sought out constructive criticism from five of my very close freinds, and they gave me some truly excellent feedback. I had to make some tough calls during my writing process, but I feel like my story is so much stronger now because of it.
4.) Revise, revise, revise. We all have a tendency to think what we wrote is the greatest thing on the planet right when we finish it, but not so much a week later. Finish your writing, and set it aside for a week. Come back and read it again. I guarantee you'll find something you can make better.
5.) Know when to call it done. Alright, so you've been revising, you're currently on script #43. You've asked for a bunch of constructive criticism from people you trust, you've taken their advice, you have a solid product. Are you happy with it? Good! Now, call it done, and make it. (My current film had 15 revisions from draft to final form).
6.) Eliminate distractions. How many hours of TV do you watch a day? Play video games? If the answer is more than one hour, that's time you could be using to work on your film!
7.) Do. The. Work. Stay with it, just think of how awesome it will be when it is done!
Q: Outside of the world of AMVs, you've been actively involved in "The Anthology" series involving MLP:FIM. Care to share a little bit about the two projects and their developments, and perhaps if we can expect to see a third anthology?
So, one winter day, I came home from work and got myself a beer and jumped on skype. I was talking to Fall_Child42, and he added inthesto to the conference.
"Alright, stop what you're doing right now."
"We're gonna watch ponies."
At first I was pretty skeptical, I had seen all the pony memes and stuff around the net and just figured that people were elaborately trying to troll, but inthesto convinced Fall_Child42 and I that we were wrong, and that the show did in fact have substance. For me, all it took to pique my interest was the name Lauren Faust mentioned. I was a big fan of Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home coming from an animation and storytelling background, so I agreed to watch a couple of episodes. About four episodes in, I was hooked. A short time later, Fall_Child42 (aka Dr. Dinosaur), proposed that we do a pony collab.
He also proposed that I help him do a ponified version of Kanye West's "Power" video. I was horrified, because I just don't like Kanye West. I agreed begrudgingly that it would be pretty epic visually, so we worked together to create that. Over the course of a few months, we added more editors and the project just sortof took on a life of it's own. Add that to a growing fanbase, and it was a huge success.
The best thing about Anthology was that it was fun as hell to work on.
Flash forward another year, with another season of ponies coming out, and we had already planned a second Anthology. Our plans were originally quite simple, just to do more gags, more of the same, but again, the project took on a life of it's own. I knew right away that with the success of the "Power" intro for the first video, we'd have to blow it out of the water with the second. That's when I decided I wanted to use my pixelating skills again. I got it in my head that I wanted to do a sidescrolling video game intro. I tried to explain it, but Fall_Child42 and the others couldn't quite understand how it would look, and I couldn't explain it the way I could see it in my head. So, I just created the basic template for it, and started drawing sprites. As I started filling them in, I was able to show the others how amazing the intro could be. They got excited, and Fall_Child42 began helping with the sprites. I'd come home from work, and he'd have 6 or 8 hand drawn sprite loops, ready to be put in the main comp. I'd spend a day adding his, animating them, and adding more of my own, and we'd repeat the process. Overall, I'd say the intro alone took us a couple of months to finish.
We also co-oped several well known brony youtube editors to be a part of the project, combining the forces of AMV creators and pony enthusiasts. It's been really cool reaching outside the AMV community to work with other folks from different fandoms. In the end, with a massive contribution from so many talented people, we were absolutely dumbfounded to discover that not only was the second Anthology well over an hour long, but that a lot of it was custom animation and parody animation. I still look at the thing in awe. We literally made a freakin' movie. And it was incredibly fun. The only negative really is that during the time I was working on both these incredible projects, my own film suffered.
It took us almost one whole year to finish Anthology 2. I'd be a year and a half ahead right now on Akazawa had I not worked on the two projects, but I don't regret any of it. If I had it to do all over again, I'd probably push it even further.
Despite that sentiment, unfortunately I don't think there will be a third Anthology. I think we (specifically myself, Dr. D., and macchinainterna) have said what we needed to say via colorful diminutive equines. For me personally, the only thing that I am worrying about going forward is Akazawa, and maybe a fun AMV or two on the side.
Still, looking forward to the third season of ponies.
Q: You've been a member of a-m-v.org for quite a while now. How's the community today as compared to when you first joined? Anything you feel that could improve it as of now?
The community today is by far more spread out than it used to be. Prior to a large youtube community, there was pretty much only the .org, and the community here was very close-knit. Unfortunately I think that's seen a lot of times as elitism, and despite our best intentions to help new editors, or editors from other communities. That part is just inevitable I think, but I am pleased by the openness that the .org has these days to youtube editors in particular, and the outreach to them by certain members of our community. I am also loving the new contests/facebook/events we are seeing on the .org now, I feel like that can do a lot to reach out to new editors and other communities. I think with the redesign we have the opportunity to make the .org more social than it is now.
Q: You're also a member of CDVV. Care to share a little bit about your experiences with them?
Originally, I was very much a lone-wolf type of creator. I guess my biggest aversion to studios was that a lot of them seemed like they were very serious business, and I wanted to create my videos without playing into that, if that makes sense. It was only after I got to know the IRC regulars that I realized that most studios are just a bunch of friends who happen to enjoy the same hobby and seek criticism from each other. I resisted at first, but then Ileia got me drunk on donuts and cough syrup, kidnapped me, and made me walk back to Chicago from Calcutta after stranding me there with a Kitsuner and a waffle iron. After that I was CDVV for life. I love CDVV because we make stuff for the sheer fun of it, and usually for the absolute absurdity of it. I'm always impressed and amazed at the skills of my fellow studio mates.
Q: Wells thanks again for joining me today ZephyrStar! Let's end things off and ask you for any general advice/comments for the audience at home?
Absolutely, any time!
Last piece of advice...hmm... Do what you love, not what you think will please others. If you spend your time trying to please others, you will constantly be disappointed, because there will always be someone who thinks your work is not good enough. If you do what you love, you only have yourself to please.