A STUDENT FILMMAKER ILLUSTRATES THAT NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE IN THE ANIMATED SHORT “I M POSSIBLE”
When searching for the subject of their thesis projects, student filmmakers are encouraged to find their inspiration close to home. And, that is what Prasad Narse did.
Then a student at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Narse – who served as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, animation and story lead, and editor – created “I M Possible,” a story about an athlete who, after spending a year in a wheelchair following an accident, is determined to play basketball again.
The topic, indeed, was a personal one. Narse’s father, a sportsman, never let go of his passion for all forms of sport, even after a tragic accident left him paralyzed. “Medically, his condition was incurable, but he had the grit to withstand it and wanted to make the impossible, possible,” he says.
Narse began writing the script for his film in the fall of 2011, and production began the following summer. He finished the first cut in September 2013, and by April 2014, had the final cut. The film was accepted into the 2015 SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival and received various awards and nominations in 2014 and 2015.
For Narse, finishing the script was one of the biggest challenges, as it was his first ever written project. “The topic was very tough to illustrate through writing, especially for a student filmmaker with what was a debut short film,” he says.
Music production also proved difficult: It took four months for him, Alex Previty (music composer), and Beau Jimenez (sound designer) to come up with a solid theme for the film. Moreover, Previty worked out of state while composing the score, making things even more challenging.
The film contains no dialog, and instead relies on emotions to drive the story. In this regard, Narse was inspired by black-and-white classic films of the early 20th century, where in the absence of color, filmmakers portrayed emotions through the use of lighting and shadows. “I tried to refer to the classic lighting setup and implemented it for the film. Even with color, I tried to use contrast,” he says.
The film begins at the darkest night for the hero, challenging him to die for his passion. He is led throughout a dream without colors, while he fights back and makes it to the bright and shining beginning in the golden of day, Narse explains. “This transition was very important for the story, to show the recovery of our hero,” he says. As for the colors and light/shadow, the animator also was inspired by the animated feature Kung Fu Panda.
Narse, who was assisted in the endeavor by approximately 20 classmates, used keyframe animation for the film. “I wanted to learn the feature-standard animation during my school years,” he says. Other than that, he focused on technologies that would enhance the look and reality of the project – for instance, a cloud simulation and a muscle system.
“I designed a special material shader to enhance the look of the character rendering. I also used Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop to enhance the final look of the film. It had a simple pipeline setup,” says Narse.
WHILE A STUDENT AT SCAD, PRASAD NARSE PUSHED EMOTIONAL, TECHNICAL, AND ARTISTIC BOUNDARIES FOR “I M POSSIBLE.”
Other tools used on the film include: Autodesk’s Maya for modeling, texturing, animation, and lighting; After Effects for compositing; Mental Ray within Maya for rendering; and Maya’s cloud system for simulations within the dream sequence, which cost an extra month of rendering time but something Narse feels was well worth the additional time.
Animation proved to be the most time-consuming and difficult, as solid emotions were required to convey meaning. “We started filming ourselves for reference, then we blocked the short in Maya to hit key poses, then finally animated those key poses with several subposes before getting a polished pass,” explains Narse.
Another technical hurdle was maintaining the look of the main character, Christopher, using cloth simulation and absolute skinning. “Our character rig became too heavy when we included the muscle system for his huge torso,” recalls Narse. “Most of the time the rig broke, so we had to solve the technical problem on each shot separately.”
Of course, the work involved a learning curve, something Narse recognizes. “We were all students, and our technical capabilities were not up to a feature standard, and everyone was learning at the time,” he says of the process while a student. “The important thing was to keep trying and not expose those issues in the final cut.”
Another student legacy was inherent in the rendering, as the group was using the school’s shared renderfarm, which sometimes took several days to render a single shot. “After days of renders, you might find a glitch in the render,” says Narse.
In addition, the filmmaker and his crew utilized other hardware at SCAD, including Dell monitors and “reasonably fast” workstations.
Initially, Narse kicked off the project with just two artists, and by the end, the team had grown significantly. “Interestingly, the crew members never worked together, and not all of them even knew the others – during the making of the film, many had graduated and, while they were unable to attend the meetings, each made major contributions,” he says.
Throughout his journey, Narse and the team experienced typical ups and downs but were never discouraged. “Technical challenges are always going to be there, but to complete a project, a strong desire is always necessary,” he says.
Narse later found work as an animator/previsualization artist at The Third Floor. He credits his work on the film for leading to that position as well as that of animation intern, which he held at Laika. He also worked at Luma Pictures and Halon Entertainment.
Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor at CGW.