Filmmaker Joey Jones has just shared with AWN his new animated short, How the Covid-dragon Disappears,’ produced to honor the countless brave essential workers of the 2020 pandemic. In the charming, gently tempoed CG short, written and directed by Jones, and produced by his animation and motion design studio, a.cg, a knight battles the Covid-dragon, aided by a young boy who brings to light that the knights are not alone in this fight.
Like so many other similar “pandemic inspired” pieces, the idea for the film sprang from Jones and his production team suddenly finding themselves in quarantine, working remotely from home. “We all felt a bit powerless and wondered if there was a way that a group of artists could help,” he explains. “We realized the best thing we could do, as creatives and storytellers, was to create a short story. We started ideating about a bored kid in his house who’s trying to make sense of this new strange world. The short quickly evolved into a love letter for those on the front lines, and then into a metaphorical tale about this boy’s hero in shining armor: his mom.”
Also, like most animated passion projects, work was done off hours, in and around paying client work. “From boards to final picture, it took approximately 5 weeks with lots of work at night and on the weekends while we juggled our day to day client work,” Jones notes, a considerably shorter time than his team normally allocates for CG animation production. “Typically, when we’re making a 3D, minute and half animated project for a client, we would budget 10-14 weeks,” he adds. “Since we knew we wanted this out in the world asap, we adopted a 2 ½D approach that relies entirely on 2D drawn backgrounds with 3D characters (except for the dragon) rendered to look like drawings. Once the shot’s composition, timing, and direction were figured out in the first 2D animatic, we quickly converted the backgrounds into tighter backplates and moved the characters into 3D blocking. The 3D characters were rendered out with stepped keyframes on twos to further enhance the 2D illusion. We’re Maya based, with Nuke as our main compositing and finishing package.”
Adjustments made to facilitate working remotely included replacing their normal in-office team dynamic with a workable digital facsimile. According to Jones, “Because we were not sitting next to each other in the studio producing the film together, communication and trafficking dallies became a larger issue than usual. Video conferences, email, and lots of chat threads were essential in making sure that none of us were working in a vacuum. Our background artist, Edie Jiang, was actually back home with her family in Michigan, while everyone else was based in LA. In this new working environment, no one even knew the difference.”
For the filmmaker, the pressure to figure out how to keep working safely from home, producing the film as quickly as possible while not compromising on production quality, was his biggest challenge. “It was tough pulling this off within the new work from home structure and the pressure that we need to get this out in the world as soon as we could,” he shares, “along with the enormous pressures of juggling our day to day client workload and those deadlines.”
Ultimately, Jones and his team hope the film brings a bit of reassurance to kids, and appreciation to adults of the thankless work being performed by front-line health care workers now five months into the deadly pandemic. “We hope this piece helps young kids find some comfort in these anxious times, as well as honors the essential workers who’ve been our knights the past few months. Lastly, we hope this piece inspires people to find out more about Direct Relief’s efforts to support health workers.”
For more information about Direct Relief, click here.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.