Michael Sieber's diploma film THE MARVEL, which he made between 1998 and 2001 at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, tells the story of the wondrous creation of a mechanical bird that is supposed to keep its lonely inventor company, but instead feels the desire to discover the outside world among its own kind.
The plot of THE MARVEL still inspires today. However, the technical realization of the film could hardly be any more exciting as well! Michael takes us back to a time within the industry when numerous innovations in the context of digitalization have conquered the field of animation. Enjoy!
For animation, the nineties were the decade of the technical revolution. Disney had released THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER in 1990, the first feature film to be completely digitally colored and rendered. The animation phases were still all drawn on paper, but the coloring and all the camera work was done digitally. The result was stunning – and it became clear that this technique would be the future of animatic production.
Until then, I had drawn my two prior film projects on transparencies and on paper, respectively, and laboriously colored them the traditional way. However, when Filmakademie actually introduced the digital technology, I felt like I was in a land of milk and honey. The fact that the coloring work suddenly became so much faster and easier was almost a minor matter. Much more exciting was the possibility to colorize not only with flat colors, but also with color gradients or with animated textures, thus overcoming the classic "transparency look".
Perhaps even more spectacular was the ability to use the virtual camera to create any conceivable movement and follow the characters completely spontaneously. No big deal today, but before that, camera movements were always limited by the mechanical possibilities and the physical limitations of the camera table as well as, for example, simply by the size of the transparencies.
These limitations had been in place for well over 50 years and had shaped the aesthetics of the medium. Now, they suddenly no longer existed! Once within the digital world, there were also the possibilities of 3D animation and compositing! I really wanted to try and learn these techniques, I wanted to make a film that combined all of that.
Looking back, I think it is crazy how intensely I dug into the technical aspects, and how haphazardly I stumbled through the narrative. I did not have an animatic at any point, always just a bunch of storyboard drawings. It made the film way too slow and excessively long. It took an endless amount of time to make.
In an animatic, the drawn images of the storyboard are strung together in a cinematic preview. In this way, various aspects of the film, such as timing, coordination of sound and image, and camera movements, can be tested with relatively little effort.
Today, it is as clear as day that you have to work intensively on an animatic before the actual animation in order to test and improve the flow and timing of the narrative. However, this way of working only developed at the time when non-linear editing software became executable on normal PCs.
I learned this part of the animation process at Studio Soi after I graduated. Today, we work primarily for children's television – at the moment, mainly for DIE SENDUNG MIT DER MAUS. We try to tell a story as clear and as focused as possible and distribute the budget sensibly between storytelling, design, animation, compositing and sound. Our ideal is to calculate the amount of work needed for a six-minute episode as close to the day as we can.
Michael Sieber works as a technical director and director at Studio Soi.