Three years ago, eight-time Staff Pick alum Eric Power captivated the Vimeo community with his paper-animation prowess in the short film “Path of Blood.” Fast-forward to 2015, and he’s released his first feature-length film by the same name, exclusively on Vimeo On Demand.
This made us wonder: how many minuscule cuts did Eric Power suffer while making a feature film entirely out of paper? We decided to ask him that very important question (plus a few more for good measure).
How long did it take you to make this film? How many hours of actual animating?
I began production in October 2011 and finished the film in October 2013. I spent about three weeks before the film was released doing last-minute fixes. The film didn't necessarily take 2 years to make, however. I had to take about six months off to take on freelance gigs in order to fund completion. Waiting for festivals accounts for the rest of the time. As far as hours actually animating, to be honest I didn’t count. Time disappears when you get into the nitty gritty of animating.
As I understand, you worked alone on this piece? Was that by choice? What’s your ideal crew setup?
The fact that I worked alone came down to budget. In an ideal world, I would have a small group of artists, animators, a professional sound designer, a skilled writer, and an editor. I believe if I could make Path of Blood the way it is by myself, I'm pretty sure with a talented team something really special could emerge.
Walk us through the process of animating a scene. What materials and software do you use? It’s all paper, right? Or do you use other animation techniques?
Everything starts with paper and glue sticks. I have huge amounts of various foliage, trees, buildings, and miscellaneous details cut out. Often, the background would be laid out and a glass layer placed over it in order to hold down all the elements. This way I could reuse props for multiple scenes, instead of gluing everything down, which is how I used to work. Some scenes were pretty straight forward and could be shot completely in camera, others involved combining multiple layers of animation, wither with panes of glass or green screen. For instance, I shot a walk cycle for a character on green screen, then composited it with a scrolling background. This technique gets really interesting when multiple background and foreground layers are needed.
Do you end up creating multiple versions of the same characters, or just use the same one throughout? I imagine normal wear and tear would take a toll on the little guys over the course of making a feature!
I definitely have several versions of the characters. Ideally, I would have had even more. My hope for future animations in this style is to have all angles accounted for. This way I could have characters rotate in all three dimensions. In fact, I'm working on a test of this right now!
And what do you use to cut everything out?
I use Scissors and Xacto blades to cut the paper. I used just one pair of scissors for the entire production of the film. Xacto blades I go through like candy.
Ok, and the question we’re all dying to know the answer to: how many paper cuts did you get making this film?
This sounds surprising, but I never suffered from a single paper cut! The card stock I use is thick. Xacto blades are another story — I probably cut my finger at least a dozen times on those suckers. Ouch!
How do you put it all together in post? What software and processes do you use?
At what point in the process does the audio come into play? When do you record the voices?
I tried to budget for a professional sound designer, but couldn’t afford it. I ended up tackling it myself, which was definitely a learning process.
Also, the music is great, tell us about the process of adding the score.
I was very fortunate to work with John Dixon on the score. John is very familiar with the chanbara genre, so working with him on the music was a natural process. The music is such a highlight for me. I love it!
How did making something feature length differ from making a short?
In every conceivable way! A feature film is a totally different story. “Path of Blood” was my first attempt at writing a film of this length. Getting a sense for the pacing and trying to lay out the beats of the story was a real challenge. The sheer scope of how much animation was required was intimidating.
What did you learn from working on this project?
My skills as an animator were put to the test during production. By the end of the film, I had a much better handle on the medium. My limitations on cut paper are completely gone.
Can you elaborate on that?
During production of the film, I discovered new techniques in animating with paper and new ways to achieve more dynamic shots and camera movement. An example would be the replication of a tracking shot. Shots that pulled focus between foreground and background are another good example. I had previously only shot animation completely flat, with foreground directly on top of the glued down background layer. With either planes of glass or green screen, I was able to play with depth in new and exciting ways. Knowing what I’ve been able to achieve so far, I am confident there’s very little I can’t do within cut paper animation.
I was going to say, there’s a surprising amount of depth here for a paper animation. Can you explain how you achieved those shots with shallow depth of field and even racking focus?
For the depth of field shots, I often blurred the background in post and composited the animation on top. For some shots, however, I used multiple planes of glass at different levels from the camera. The mantis was shot this way, as well as some of my earliest animation for the film. I ended up switching to the composite technique, since I had more control over level of blur — and sometimes shooting with glass planes was problematic due to glare on the glass or dust and fingerprints causing inconsistencies.
Did anything unexpected happen during production that you had to adapt to or learn from?
My greatest limitation was my budget. After a year into the film, life events took place that forced me to halt production and drained my cash. Being unable to focus solely on a project of this size was very difficult, but determination saw it through.
What was the greatest challenge in creating this piece?
The animation was tough, but putting it all together was a greater challenge. Wearing all the hats of production required my mind to be in a bunch of different places at once. Putting the puzzle together was intense. Time was a constant pressure.
What was the greatest reward?
Knowing I actually pulled it off! Now, I definitely have the confidence to take on new challenges.