Get social with Characters Engage

CE:  Could you tell us a little bit about your professional background and what you do now?

CA: After studying graphic design and animation in Milan, Italy, I left for London to work for Amblimation, Steven Spielberg’s animation studio. I then moved to Munich, and later returned to London for Warner Brothers. In 1997 my adventure to the States began when Dreamworks offered me a job as an animator on "Prince of Egypt". Since then I’ve worked both as a traditional and a CG animator for Sony Imageworks, Disney Feature Animation, Warner Brothers and Duncan Studio.
I’m currently a story artist at Divide Nine Animation Studio in Glendale.


CE:  Who is "Mila"? What's her story? How did this project come about? Could you also tell us something about her character design and her painterly, impressionist look?

CA:  "Mila" is a CG animated short film I’ve written and am currently directing. The story of this little girl was inspired by real stories of World War II that my mother and grandmother told me, when I was growing up. Mila’s design is by Luis Grane and it really captures her character. Mila is fragile, as any kid would be in such a situation. Yet at the same time, she is full of dreams and hopes.

We’re still developing the look, and I strongly believe that CG can be pushed in a new direction. It’s possible to create CG painterly characters, in a painterly environment, with matching effects and lighting. This animated short, that addresses the reality of the unspoken casualties of War, is a great opportunity to send a strong, meaningful, and artistic message.


Philippe Brochu, Mila Modeling Supervisor

CE:  What are your plans for this project?

CA:  My main goal is to create a very high quality short film and hit the film festival circuit with something meaningful that might make a difference. It’s hard to argue against the plight of children in war-torn parts of the world. Yet few realize that what happened back then, is still happening right now... at this very moment. We allow history to repeat itself. The geography may be different, but the suffering doesn’t change. I think the story speaks to the crew and to audiences for that very reason. Everyone can relate to the loss of innocence and the desperate need for hope.

Meanwhile, our method of bringing the project together has drawn the attention of a publisher. They’re interested in creating an “Art of Mila” book that showcases not just the artwork, but also how we produced a short film with a widely dispersed crew. Thanks to the internet, we’re collaborating in real time, around the globe. The international nature of the crew also ties in well with a main point of the production. The animated short is, after all, a great medium for bringing a message to the world, a message that speaks to both children, and adults. It's an artistic way of delivering a strong statement not just to the masses, but decision makers too, across borders, with great visual power.

CE:  Tell us about the unusual production process, in terms of your team. Are you still looking for people?

CA:  The Mila team is made up of two core groups... one here in L.A. and another in the U.K.. Professional artists in Italy, Spain, France, Brussels, South Africa, Singapore, Russia and Australia also contribute in a variety of ways. In total, we’ve grown to a crew of about 100 people... a remarkable group working towards this common goal. The Italian Trentino Film Commission has pledged 55,000 Euros towards our efforts, and as you may know, animation is expensive. Despite the volunteered time and talents, the funding we’ve secured so far covers only a small fraction of expenses. This forces us to think out of the box, and cast a wide net for additional investors who would like to be part of this kind of project.

At the moment we’re modeling and texturing. We’re also working on the animatic and should be ready to start the animation phase in the spring. We’re currently looking for character modelers, animators, riggers, layout artists, matter painters, lighters, compositors and production assistants.
The goal is to finish the film by August 2013. But in order to achieve that, we’ll need more professionals to come on board.

Mila is produced by Ibiscus Production in association with Pixel Cartoon, Baraboom Studios and the Art Institute of California.


Richard Smitheman, Mila Art Director


Carousel Model, Eric Rodarte and Horses, Ricardo Velarde


Please check out the Milafilm website and the mini documentary for this beautiful, moving project:

Character Topic

This question was recently asked in our Linkedin group. The concept artist and game designer who asked the question added that there are two kinds of story telling in games.

According to him, there are games with well developed characters such as "Resident Evil", "Final Fantasy" or "Heavy Rain" and games whose characters simply constitute a means to explore the game, such as "Super Mario", "Zelda", "Sonic the Hedgehog" or "Rayman".

He even went further, saying that making a game begins with a "white version", in which a character can just be a box, sphere or triangle. Even at this stage, the game is playable, despite the lack of actual characters.

A storyboarder and animator suggested that character development for games had more to do with creating licensing opportunities than fulfilling an actual narrative need.

With regard to narrative structure an IP developer made a general point about character development for games, "The strength of interactivity in terms of engaging the player is that the player directly influences or determines the outcome. Linear narrative structure and its characters differ from such a setup in one major way... the end is set. This simple fact has profound consequences for character development. Not having a set end, but one that is influenced by the audience/players must, in my mind, also have profound consequences for character development".

In traditional media the backstories of lead characters are vital for the narrative. Do you think that this is different in games? Why not join the discussion... here.


Darnell Johnson

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