Ritzy is a creative animation studio based in London, who specialise in creating 3D animated content with character. They have worked with clients including DHL, BBC, and HSBC. The studio was founded by two friends and talented animators, Charlie and Dan, at the Ritzy Cinema, in Brixton, London in 2016.
Their Christmas short titled ‘RED’, has made a big splash in the run up to Christmas 2019.
YellowDog’s Jack spoke with Charlie Batho, Co-Founder and Director of Ritzy Animation, to find out why they wanted to create a Christmas short “like no other”, and how YellowDog helped them to deliver ‘RED’ during the busy holiday season.
The idea for ‘RED’ actually came to us in 2016. We wanted to take a well-known Christmas favourite but make it dark. We both love the classic anti-hero, fallen from grace, stories that have a big comeback – Rocky style – and after some brainstorming, Dan came up with the idea of Rudolph, or Red, getting ripped and ready for Christmas.
It initially started off as some thumbnails. In 2016, we knew that we couldn’t make what we wanted in time for Christmas, but we always kept the idea on the back-burner. We returned to our idea the following two years but each time we knew we weren’t ready to do it justice. This year, we decided that we didn’t want to let another Christmas come and go, so we set about dedicating some time to fleshing out the story and delivering it for Christmas 2019.
‘RED’ is a short Christmas film that shows Rudolph as you’ve never seen him before. We have taken a well-known festive tale and flipped it on its head. While we all know Rudolph as a happy, bouncy reindeer, we wanted to give him a different edge – someone who is down and out, struggling for motivation and has turned to life’s vices for comfort.
Our inspiration was based on the danger of celebrity; when icons become distracted with the lavish lifestyle, until the money, inevitably, runs out. It’s a story we see on the news all the time, the corruption of fame, and we were interested in applying it to a completely different context.
However, we still wanted it to be fun so while the premise is a reindeer who’s lost his way, it really is a story of passion and redemption. You get to see Rudolph reflect on his past greatness and set himself a goal to become the leader of the sleigh once more. He’s fundamentally a good guy who just needs to get back on track.
Modelling and rendering was done with Maya and Redshift. We used XGen for the fur work and Substance for texturing. Compositing was done with After Effects.
All of the cloud rendering was done by the YellowDog platform. The support team at YellowDog were really key in us meeting our render deadline. In the early stages of production, because we were doing quite a few new things, such as using OCIO for colour management, we were getting differences between our local and cloud renders. The YellowDog team were really good at problem solving and making sure we were getting a perfect match between what we were seeing locally and what was coming back to us later.
We were also absolutely staggered by the power of their machines. Due to the huge amount of fur, full quality local renders were taking approximately 90 minutes per frame using dual (single) 1060 cards. With YellowDog, each frame took 20 minutes. When it comes to tight production deadlines its cuts like these that make the difference between success and failure. Particularly when you consider that we could run dozens of frames concurrently. The YellowDog platform consistently found us high spec GPU on demand; this kept our render times low, our production speed fast, and maintained the price we paid at a pre-agreed rate. YellowDog is great value.
YellowDog really saved the production. There was no way we would have been able to render this short by Christmas, with the schedule we had laid out, without the support from the team and the speed of their cloud render times.
Had we rendered it ourselves, the film definitely would not have been finished to the same quality. There would have been grain and noise, and it would have been a very frustrating experience considering the length of time this has been in the making. With YellowDog, we were able to quickly iterate through our renders and get the best possible result in the time we had left.
One aspect we initially struggled with was the introduction to the story and the motivation behind Red’s journey. It was a big thing for us. We needed an elegant way of showing the driving force behind his transformation, within the short time we had. After going through a few iterations of the storyline, we eventually had a brainwave after watching an American sports documentary. It gave us a really effective and quick way of introducing his past, so we could put more focus on his “road to redemption”. Getting that right was a real breakthrough for us.
We are also really proud of the level of detail that went into the production. We put a lot of thought and time into the subtle details. We wanted them to be everywhere – from the cigarettes he smokes, to the design of his clothes. It was a real homage to sports brands and pop culture from the 80’s, with a festive, North Pole twist. Every single prop and asset had a whole research and design process behind it; we would pick out individual elements and collate them all into one final asset, so the finished result was exactly how we wanted.
There are lots of hidden details for the very eagle eyed!
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