Hey there RT Community! Welcome back to another Chibi Shot Breakdown! This week I'm taking a quick look at the opening shot for Season 3 Episode 6: Teenage Faunus Ninja Catgirl. A name just barely tongue-twistery enough that some of us started referring to it as "The NinjaCat One" until we'd had enough morning coffee. The proposed acronym shorthand of TFNC never quite rolled off the tongue the way it does for sewer turtles.
Anyway, Chibi Script Maestro Tom Alvarado's script for this sketch sets the scene as such:
INT. RWBY DORM ROOM - NIGHT
Blake kneels meditating in the middle of the room. She's surrounded by lit candles.
Since he'll be animating this sequence, Chibi Lead Animator Ian Kedward starts by loading the set and roughly placing a camera before blocking in the sequence with quick drawn sketches of the action. This way he and the Director can quickly revise and refine the rough timing and positioning. There's a fair amount of action in this sequence as a whole, but since Blake is meditating this opening shot is fairly static. Thus they decide to add a moving camera to give it some flair.
Next Ian animates the shot with characters and props placed. He sets up the camera to have a slow downward motion, so we'll need to render the backdrop for the full frame range, unlike in the Breakdown from Episode 5 where we could make a single still frame work for the whole shot length.
OVER TO POST
Chibi Director Paula Decanini requested the scene have a bit of an old-school samurai/martial arts movie feeling to it, with blue light shining through the window and a dramatic underlighting from the candles surrounding Blake. A pretty great starting point that gives me an opportunity to go look at some similar scenes in other films for style reference in narrowing down the look and not at all because I want an excuse to watch old action movies for official business...
The Beacon Dorm Rooms don't really have a dedicated night lighting setup for situations where the room lights are also off. In those rare cases we generally add custom lighting dependent on the needs of the script. I had done a vaguely similar setup in Season 2: Episode 6 - Super Besties but that wasn't quite as dramatic as called for here and the action took place in a different part of the room. Still it gave me some pointers on where to set lights this time around and what settings to apply to them for ideal render times.
INITIAL SET LIGHTING
First step is the exterior light which provides the main source in this shot, with Paula's requested blue moonlight shining through and making a striking reflection on the floor! We normally don't get to see the floorboards from this camera angle so the uncommon light reflection makes them look neat as things progress! I also tweak the Subsurface Scattering on the candles at this point to give them a more prominent waxy appearance with the backlight; in short SSS simulates light striking an object, entering it, scattering within and exiting at a different point as opposed to simply bouncing off of it. This helps give the object a softer appearance in things like skin and wax. The addition of Subsurface influence has been a huge boon to the cute look of the show in my personal opinion.
If you look close you can also see Blake's shadow is in the shot already too! Normally I would handle this as a separate layer to be added in during Compositing, but in this instance the shot is fairly brief, she's reflecting in the floor, and is behind AND in front of candles that are in the set layer which are also casting shadows. Thus is makes a little sense to keep it simple and just bake her shadows in for the sake of Compositing ease. That means of course if I have to make adjustments to her shadow I'll need to re-render the whole thing, so it's a shortcut best done sparingly and with purpose.
DEPTH OF FIELD AND ADJUSTMENTS
Now that we're out of lighting and into Compositing we can work in some early drama! Here I've adjusted the lighting renders to be a little darker, especially around the far edges of the frame, and added a Depth of Field blur to push the background out of focus a bit as it gets further from the camera. This will help Blake stand out when she's added to the shot.
Speaking of which...
Seems like time for our stealthy Faunus to step out of the shadows. Blake has much of the same lighting as the set, in addition to a rim light on the back of her head that helps her hair and bow stand out from the darker window frame. Things are still pretty dark and muddled right now, but our next few steps should fix that!
Step one is some dramatic light fog streaming from the direction of our moonlight. The frame of the window is going to add some neat streak patterns as it blocks the fog beams and all of it together creates a nice frame around Blake to contrast her dark core against it's brighter shape. The shape of the fog is cheated a little here to be less wide and more angled than it should be so that it reads better to camera and seems to align with the candle circle and highlight that as well.
Now it's time to light our candles. This is what led me to leave Blake so dark until now without much in the way of light fills. Now the dramatic underlights will have a stronger influence on her. I've previously placed a small light near the wick of each candle object and tailored their settings so they each provide a tiny bit of the whole candle ring contribution. To help sell their natural flame flickering, I separate the candle lights into three groups that will let me independently shift their brightness at the Comp stage, though they are perfectly steady in the original light renders.
I also take this opportunity to tint the fire color a richer orange/red, having intentionally left them somewhat neutral up until now. In general it's helpful to add richer colors to your lights in Compositing, since it can be tricky to shift deeply saturated lights when they are already influencing local colors.
All of this also really helps the floor stand out again, since the candles are so close and at a perfect angle to really resonate against the dark floorboards. Almost everybody thought I'd artificially upped the reflection levels of the floor, but this is their normal state! Saved me the trouble. :)
Finally it's time for the flames themselves. Using a Compositing tool developed for RWBY I'm able to quickly place flames on the tip of each candle thanks to some exported camera data and invisible locators on each wick. This way I don't need to manually create and track each flame, it's mostly handled for me and I can just fine-tune the placement, size and look.
Lastly I add some subtle glows to our scene and candles and a vignette to the whole image to really push the eye to Blake!
I had a lot of fun with this sequence, personally handling the first half and then splitting comp duties with the talented Alan Matthewman for the second half of Blake's smoke bomb stalker adventure. His creepy ceiling-cat Blake comp still cracks me up and also caused many a cry of terror around the office!
For the Pun Record, I really wanted Blake's unnamed Taxi App to be "RWBR" but there were a few too many hurdles in the way to make that Easter Egg happen!