September 2004, I came back to Madrid after spending two months in Argentina. I presented "Juego Perverso" ("Perverse Game") in Mar del Plata, my hometown, where most of the film was shot. Those two months meant being reunited with my homeland and my loved ones after almost three years of absence. I really needed that resting time to reload my energy. And that’s why, completely relaxed, I dared to accept to "help" a friend with a short film.
The mentioned friend is Marco Besas, who had been wandering around for a while with a little book under his arm... its hand-made cover said "The real story of the Scarecrow". -"It’s a story for which I want to make a short film... I asked for funding, so let’s see what happens...I would like to do it as a cartoon, but I don’t know how to do that" - he said. I hadn’t been working in animation for a long time, but looking at the almost childish drawings he proposed, I was about to tell him that I could do it in a few days... I usually get in trouble when I speak, so I kept my mouth shut.
A couple of days went by, and even if it was already September, the summer heat was still noticeable in Madrid. I was spending my days in the office in front of the G5 editing a short film that I had shot in Argentina, not entirely because of loving the Seventh Art, but also because it was the only place where I could sit in the air conditioning. Suddenly Marco burst into my office yelling, "I’ve got it! I’ve got it!"... He had been looking for funding for years, and he finally got it. It was not a lot of money but at least it was enough to start the project.
He proposed to make it in Flash, a very simple job. I don’t work with Flash, so I told him I would think about it. I took the script to my apartment, and that night I started drawing. The next day I showed him some drawings. I was very influenced by Tim Burton´s aesthetics at that time, so I changed the original idea completely. At first I thought he was going to say no, however, he loved it. I was in trouble... now it was impossible to do a simple job in Flash! I opened my big fat mouth once more and said that I could do it mixing 3D animation and 2D backgrounds. I needed somebody to help me with the 3D...
Fernando Cascales arrived at the office one day with a folder. His drawings were good and he had an interesting reel, but what convinced me the most were his personal aesthetics. He had a "dark" look and it seemed that he came out from a Tim Burton film... and that was exactly what I was looking for.
Less than a week went by and I was already entirely committed to the project, trying to bring to life everything I had promised with my sketches and my big tongue. I designed a 46-shot storyboard with which Marco agreed, and we traveled to "La Mancha" to take pictures to use as reference. Once I had the pictures, I started drawing to get inspired by the story’s mood. Unfortunately Marco had to travel overseas and for the next two months, Fernando and I locked ourselves in the office.
The working mechanics were:
1. For each shot, there were layered backgrounds made with Photoshop (buildings, trees, grass, sky, etc)
2. Based on the characters I had sketched, Fernando built the 3D models with MAYA
3. A Character Studio skeleton was what we used to animate each shot. We had to adapt the proportions previously.
4. In After FX, I split the .psd in layers on the “Z” axis to create a virtual moving camera that achieved a fake 3D sensation (...one of my biggest findings ever!)
5. The scarecrow model was attached to the skeleton and replaced in every shot. The renders were made in 3D Max.
6. Bernado Casali and Gabriel Bos made many of the climate effects (smoke, dust, fire, etc) with Particle Illusion.
The most challenging things were:
The Crow: I rented several movies in which I could study a bird’s movements. How difficult... The flying is quite easy, in short, it is a loop, but when the bird takes off it is very hard to reproduce it in 3D... I didn’t have a choice but to draw it with the Wacom, on Painter. For the flying part I bought a model at DAZ and I stylized it. Animating with Poser is really tedious and sometimes incomprehensible. Maybe the newest version improved that. The Sketch effect for the renders is GREAT, unfortunately I couldn’t find anything like that for the 3D Max.
The Fire: It was made in MAYA by Fernando, but it turned out to be very slow. We decided to create the arms of a windmill in Alpha channel and make the fire in Particle Illusion.
The Dust Particles: It is Artbeats snow, showed in the negative. It worked pretty well and it provided an organic sensation to the shots.
The Scarf: We wanted to reproduce fabric, but we were delayed for our deadline so we made a waved loop on 3D Max.
After making the renders in 1288 x 988, I made a small version of each shot to be edited in Final Cut at 24 fps. The blowup to 35 mm was made at “Madrid Film”. Bernardo Casali and I tested it repeatedly to decide the amount of grain to be added to the footage, since I didn’t want it to keep a "plastic-computer look." Then I added an irregular dark vignette on the edges of the frame.
After 3 nonstop months of working 17 hours a day, "The Legend of the Scarecrow" became one of the most internationally acclaimed short films that was made in Spain that year. It was also pre-selected to the Oscars Academy Awards and nominated for the Goya Awards. One thing is certain: my mental health became deplorable. I had been sitting all day, eating hamburgers and not getting enough sleep.
In spite of all that, it was my "coming back" to illustration, an art that brought me a lot of satisfaction and that I had abandoned for a while. Animation requires a lot of effort, but it is an irreplaceable way to tell certain stories.
When Marco came back, he took charge of the final matters such as sound editing and text recordings. Unfortunately, I had to travel to Barcelona to work on a new project and could not be in Madrid at that time.
This is, in a few words, a project that I hold dear. which I devoted to completely, but that given the opportunity, I would not face in the same way.