Catch of the Night

Role

Creative director, visual development artist, storyboard + artist, 2D illustrator, animator, compositor,  texture artist, sound designer

Team

1 Narrative Director, Writer

2 3D Animators, Modelers, Riggers

1 Developer

1 Motion Capture Director, Writer

1 Producer / Project Manager

Client

Trickfilm

Duration

Ongoing (12-week timeline)

Catch of the Night is an interactive short film in collaboration with Trickfilm, a streaming service, focused purely on animation, which empowers creators to broadcast their work and to sell merchandise directly to their audiences.

Tools

Unreal Engine, Substance Painter, Procreate, Toon Boom Harmony, Adobe Audition, After Effects, FL Studio, Clip Studio Paint, Clip Studio Modeler

Overview

I worked with Studio Fabrica to create an interactive, real-time rendered, animated short in Unreal Engine 5. The piece revolves around a cat and a chef’s battle over the final fish of the night. It is cute, fun, and vibrant with a mock-violent twist.

Catch of the Night was born out of our collective goals with Trickfilm to:

  • Produce an animated, interactive short built-in Unreal and uploaded to the TrickFilm platform

  • Include elements of interactivity in the piece such as narrative branching or mini-games

  • Document the team's process for future TrickFilm creators

  • Advertise the piece, the team, and TrickFilm throughout the production process

  • Design customizable content such as skins, accessories, and/or environments for sale on the Trickfilm platform

  • Provide all metadata associated with the project to TrickFilm

  • Create customization or load-out screen in Unreal for users that precedes the film

Plot summary

A budding Chef works overtime to feed a high-profile, late-night patron at their restaurant but a furry unwanted guest proves relentless. Desperate to feed its family, a feral cat is intent on stealing the final fish of the night, ordered by the restaurant’s prestigious guest.

Will the cat feed its hungry family? Or will the Chef satisfy their illustrious guest?

Only a battle of paw and spatula can decide.

Storyboards

Storyboard (V1)

In the first iteration of the storyboard, my vision was a fully executed 3D animated short in Unreal Engine. However, due to time constraints (this is a 3-month project), the team agreed on doing a 2D-animated bit for the biggest fight sequence. (That's where I will come in!) This would allow room for some anime-style VFX as well which would not have been easily executed in Unreal given the timeline. This brings us to V2 of the storyboard.

Storyboard (V2)

To further simplify the 3D animation, the cat would turn into a Sonic-esque ball during quick movements. To make the changes in execution make sense, I added a side window to the front of house where the 2D fight sequence will happen. (This will all make sense in the animatic, I promise.)

Process + Animatic

Visual Development

The Cat

The selected default cat design was the Calico cat, as the team collectively agreed that it would look more striking. As for the cat's movements, we decided to have him be able to move on two legs and behave in a human-like manner for the sake of exaggeration during action sequences where he would be fighting the chef, as shown in the animatic.

The Chef

Initially, I had a sushi chef in mind for the chef's design, and experimented with various types of Japanese restaurant uniforms, from high-end omakase, to modern outfits. However, due to constraints, I ended up going with a simpler design that was efficient for the 3D artists to take on in a short amount of time. The chef was eventually revised to one who works in a Cantonese kitchen, with a typical Chinese chef's look and feel following the general consensus - the plainer the outfit, the better the food.

The Kitchen

In its earliest phases, I toyed with the idea of an omakase-style kitchen, vs a back kitchen with an island table. After drafting the rough storyboard, I decided upon a large back kitchen with an island table to accommodate interactions between the cat and chef and maintain the battle as an epic one that goes largely unseen by the guest outside. Doing it otherwise would mean a significant narrative alteration to include the guest. Just to confirm the layout, I made a floor plan of the area and mapped all the movements of the chef, cat, and launched projectiles.

The Restaurant Exterior (Front and Side)

The overall look and feel of the film is cel-shaded and stylized. Therefore, I illustrated the front and side of the restaurant in a similar style to how the shader would look like in Unreal, so that it could be projection mapped. Here's how things look comparatively (pre-texturing).

Layout & Texture

Based on the floor plan, I mapped out in even more detail the action choreography throughout the film to establish which areas would be used for which scenes. The busiest areas were the chill area with a radio, where the chef is on break, and the kitchen island table. The front of house was fully built and animated in 2D.

Animation, Compositing, & SFX

I animated using a combination of a bipedal cat rig and hand-drawn animation, to ensure the cat can fight the chef in a human-like way, while maintaining natural cat-like movements like running, leaping, landing on all fours.


Later, the fight scene as well as establishing shots were composited against artwork that I polished concurrently. Finally I added VFX and SFX, along with some colour grading. Because this is an interactive film, the final track was cut into 4; one track for the beginning up to the interactive sequence, two for each outcome of the mini-game, and another one for after the win/lose conditions, up until the end credits.

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And now, without further ado, please enjoy our film!

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