An Amazing Book
My father had gifted me a copy of the Word on Fire Bible and as I flipped through it, I was comepletely taken by the quality of the book. Every 2 pages there would be a reflection from either an ancient or current writer, or a beautiful artwork accompanied by an essay. It took an approach to presenting the Bible that was to me both approachable and rich with content.
At the time I was intent on doing some personal work in the form of a short film of some sort and so the Word on Fire Bible became my subject matter. After a rough idea (and lots of self-doubt and hesitation), I pitched the idea to the Word on Fire team, hoping that their approval would lead to access to high resolution images of the pages that would make creating the textures a lot easier! To my delight, they were more than interested to collaborate on the project.
Starting with Music
It can feel like cheating to me but whenever I can, I like to start with music. In this case, I started combing through the library in MusicBed.com. Doing this allows me to piggyback off of the event archs that the composer thought through when making their piece: the beginning, the build-up, the crescendo, the conclusion, maybe some tense parts that add interest. I'm also able to cycle through many different moods and see what matches with what I see/saw in my mind when conceptualizing the piece. I finally settled on Lux by Ryan Taubert.
Next is the process of getting what I saw in my head into actual drawings that could be used to relay the "story" to someone else if I had to. These are often so low resolution or crappy looking, that its easy to feel like they're unnecessary. But it feels like every micro-decision that's made with a sketch brings a particular shot closer to reality. The abstract idea of "papers flying around" becomes "papers taking up about 60% of the screen are flowing in a spiral from the top left to the bottom right of the frame."
Seeing the first sketches also allows me to flesh out how to give an initially attractive idea an equally attractive visual execution, or to decide whether it was an idea worth presenting at all. Maybe it was an idea that I thought needed its own visual beat/shot but it ends up being more of a mood to be baked-in across the whole piece.
I'm not thinking of these specifics or verbalizing these thoughts while sketching. I'm just trying to draw and redraw. This isn't a sexy part of the process so I'll often have the mood music playing in the background
This is when, based on the gathered references, I try and render something that the final output might look like. This could be made with photos I take to find an angle, blocked-out with viewport renders from Cinema 4D, or just developments from the chicken scratch sketches either photobashed or painted to look closer to the mood of the final piece.
This is the board that I ultimately presented to the team at Word on Fire. My fear was that if I pitched my chicken scratch sketches they'd be scared away and cancel the project.
Layout, Test Renders, and Animation
Some of the layout work was partially done because of how useful it was for composing the style frames, but some of these had to be cleaned up or remade from scratch.
The test renders were done mainly to bolster my confidence in a shot by showing myself that the end-product would be promising. I would jump between animating a show and lighting and texturing it to see if it would look good. This was ultimately inefficient, and towards the later shots, I had gained enough confidence to focus on animation before moving on to texturing and rendering.
Animation was probably the biggest mystery to me before jumping in to learn 3D software, but at it's simplest level it really is just setting two points and guiding the software's interpolation to what you want it to be. Cinema 4D also allows you a few useful tools guide the movement of objects in an "array" of some sort.
Final Renders and Compositing
The hardest part about rendering is finding the right settings for a good mix of reasonable render time and a quality product. A couple things were further engraved in my mind after this project. The first is that I deeply appreciate Redshift's Unified (automatic) sampling, where it basically sets up all those nitty gritty settings for you. The second is seeing how much you can push a render in compositing and color-grading.
I'm learning more and more about proper render settings, setting up AOVs and specific render passes, but at some points in this project, I also allowed myself to pull up my bootstraps and do what had to be done to just get a good looking image out.
For color-grading, I employed the services of the very talented Toni Gozum-Ticsay to really make the whole piece pop. Toni really brought a depth to the piece that I couldn't have, having only dipped my feet in color-grading.
Direction, Animation, Rendering, Compositing: Carl Graham
Color Grading: Toni Gozum
Baby-Wrangling and Emotional Support: Kim Tomacruz Graham
Music: Lux - Ryan Taubert via Musicbed
Senior Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries: Rozann Lee
Page Textures of Bible based on Designs by Nicolas Fredrickson and Michael Stevens