Imagination to Animation: 'A Trip on the Bronson'

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The launch of the new Carbon Chameleon bike and celebration of all the Santa Cruz staff has stirred up some old memories in Cut Media HQ recently. Our previous project with Santa Cruz saw us embark upon a Cut Media ‘first’ when we decided to create a live-action animation for the - then new - Bronson. What a project it was for our team so here is a little trip down memory lane with our BTS blog about ‘A Trip on the Bronson’.

The Blank Canvas

With the imminent release of the Bronson (not to be confused with prison and Charles here), we were approached by Santa Cruz to create a new promo featuring one of their all-time-favourite riders, Josh ‘Ratboy’ Bryceland. Famously rebellious and unapologetic, we wanted the film to embody Josh’s true personality, his incredibly natural gift for riding and very much enter into ‘his world’.

An Idea Awakens

Talent in mind, we got together to discuss ideas on how we could best represent Ratboy’s lifestyle and riding skills in a way that was totally different from any other bike promo video.

From the outset, we were gravitating towards the idea of animation. Consolidating ideas, we agreed on creating a rowdy beginning to end cartoon where Ratboy and his friends were living their crazy (normal) lives in 2D reality. We began looking into the possibilities of cartoon animation and what it would take to produce our film but sadly, it soon became clear that this style of film was probably outwith our resources and timescale. Although disappointed, we still loved the idea of using some degree of animation and were not prepared to drop it completely.

We continued to develop the idea and settled on a combination of live-action and animation where we could capture Ratboy and his live-action riding with two of his closest friends, K-Rad and Loose Dog, as animated characters of themselves, ‘guiding’ him through a day of wild riding and living life to its fullest.

First Time Animators

This was our first time embarking on an animation journey so there was a lot to get to grips with (but nothing we couldn’t handle of course!). Step one was locating an animator relatively local to Cut Media. We approached a tonne of UK based studios but eventually stuck to our Scottish roots with a recommendation from our friends at Axis Animation and collaborated with the awesome guys at Edinburgh-based 2D Workshop. This proved handy further down-the-line as we had greater control of the project and were able to speak to the guys from 2D directly, even being close enough for meetings.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was not knowing enough about animation to understand the countless options of animation style. 2D, 3D, hand-drawn, digital? We had to utilise the best, yet easiest possible method to give it that rugged, gritty feel we had envisioned but not cause problems later in the process. We opted for 2D hand-drawn versions of K-Rad and Loose Dog. This was as labour-intensive as you might imagine. Every second frame had to be hand-drawn in order for the movements of our 2D animated characters to seem part of Josh’s 3D world and there was constant concern about keeping within our timescale.

Character Design

We ran through several character designs for the guys, working towards something stylised rather than realistic, but still incorporating the look and characteristics of the real Loose Dog and K-Rad. Animated characters have universal appeal - and can be whatever or whoever you want them to be - but it was important for us to get across a true representation of the 50to01 lads. This included their partying nature, rebellious riding and general raucous causing antics.

The real guys have pretty strong characteristics, so it was key for them to be shown this way in the film. K-Rad is loved for his wild, hyperactive nature and Loose Dog for his more laid-back, hippy style but still has a reckless side. Here are the final character styles:

Technical Recce

Characters and story in place, we headed South to Stockport on a technical recce to check out Ratboy’s turf and local trails and see if what we wanted to achieve was possible and how it might change and develop our concept. We shot a bunch of test scenes to understand what camera movement and animation constraints we might incur. For instance, we had to be constantly aware we were working with 2D animation in a live action 3D space. This meant we knew one of our limitations was not to use any rotational camera movements. If we tried to rotate the camera around the animated character it would very quickly look flat and break the whole illusion of the animations being a part of real life. We wanted the camera to have a handheld feel to it, but again, we quickly discovered the more camera movement you shoot for real, the more time and resources this adds to the animation and post production process. To achieve what we wanted, we decided to keep each camera move as smooth as possible allowing us to add the handheld look in post and giving us the ability create the shots but not completely stress out our animation team!

The Shoot

All the testing and refining of the concept meant, once it came to the shoot, we all had a really solid idea of what we wanted to achieve, with some wiggle room to allow any spur of the moment creativity to have its place.

We headed into our chosen riding location armed with cameras and character markers for two days of shooting. With Josh you can always be guaranteed the riding is going to be incredible. Trying to convince him to stop riding and interact with a marker covered in pink tape or an empty space? Not so simple. This took a level of trust and patience in the idea and Josh had to embrace an acting element so that a high-five with ‘Loose Dog’ would look realistic in the film. In these instances, having the athlete’s commitment is crucial to making the whole film work. We were keen to give Josh the best possible projection of what the film would look like so we pulled together all our animation video tests and character designs to give him a real sense of what we were aiming at, but also to get his ideas and input into the project.

The first two shoot days filming the riding and character scenes amazingly went exactly to plan! Everyone was buzzing on what had been captured. However, on day three things took a bit of a surreal turn. We were at Ratboy’s house boat filming the intro and final scenes when our precious props - a bright pink flamingo lilo and inflatable lounger - decided they’d had enough of filming and would rather set sail down the active canal (trying to make them famous here and this is how they repay us?!) These props were essential to our opening and closing scenes so shoot was postponed until we had hopped in a borrowed canoe and chased down the inflatables! Time after time the shot was set up and ready to go but off they went again down the canal. All the pre-planning and testing of the animation and here we were with a blow-up pink flamingo getting the better of us.

Thankfully, we made it all happen despite the chaos of the runaway props.

Bringing It To Life

Back at HQ we were able to quickly edit a full rough cut of the film together, blocking out each animation scene with the clean frames but how do we figure out the timing and action of each animation scene? Time for some true Cut Media spirit.

We pulled out our blue screen setup, grabbed a camera and headed into the meeting room. Gav, one of our edit team and aspiring actor, acted out all the scenes and then we composited a mini version of Gav into the rough cut. Check out his debut below:

We now had the film with ‘mini Gav’ integrated, ready to hand over to the animators. There was a lot of back and forth communication with the guys at 2D Workshop, who were meanwhile digitally drawing up our characters in line with Gav’s actions. It was an interesting process of feedback on - first - the rough pencil sketch, followed by the cleaned up colour, then the handover to Gav for compositing into the video, with shadows and additional GFX, using After Effects and Premiere Pro. All-in-all, bringing the film to life took a period of around 5 weeks. Result!

Back to Reality… But whose?

We played with many different outro scenes before deciding that a comical twist would be to reveal Ratboy as an animated rat and the real Loose Dog and K-Rad waving at him from their inflatables in the canal outside Ratboy’s boat. Ratboy, as the rat, then scuttles inside his boat and past the new Bronson in all its glory. This is the first proper look the viewer gets at the bike which is why it was so important to keep the film fun and playful throughout for full impact on the final reveal.

Lots learned, fun had and pink flamingo in the bin, ‘A Trip on the Bronson’ was wrapped and we were all so chuffed with how the film turned out. Working with Santa Cruz is always loads of fun because, like us, they are certainly not ones to hold back on wacky ideas. We can’t wait to team up with them again and see what else is in store.

Eilidh CampbellComment