‘Long Live MoGraph’ is a joyful, meticulously crafted 3D/2D adventure.
Using Cinema 4D for modelling and creative development, alongside Photoshop, After Effects and Arnold, the 93-second show intro brings together hand puppetry, cel animation, VR sculpting and generative AI. “We’re constantly pushing to expand our skill set and have hired new animators and Flame artists,” says Flavor Executive Producer Kate Smith.
Ever since Maxon featured Flavor’s “Weird Science” titles for AICP 2020, the collective of designers and visual artists has grown, matured and found plenty of opportunities to develop their talent.
“Long Live MoGraph,” was a creative collaboration across Flavor’s six locations, as well as Cutter Studios; Dictionary Films, who directed live-action puppetry; and Another Country who handled the sound design and mix.
“The Half Rez guys are all old friends of ours, so when they approached us about working on the opening video, we knew we’d be able to create something special,” says Flavor Associate Creative Director and Lead Animator Brad Backofen.
Entrusted with complete creative freedom to create a show opener tuned into the event theme “MoGraph is Dead. Long Live MoGraph,” Backofen and Executive Creative Director Brian McCauley began fleshing out the narrative and creative approach.
Knowing the annual event has played a major role inspiring motion graphic artists to venture beyond their comfort zones and embrace new ideas and ways of working, the team wanted the main character to go on the same journey and find their creative voice. “Which can honestly sometimes feel like eating the fruit of forbidden knowledge,” McCauley explains.
Once this core narrative pillar was in place, it was just a matter of finding the right story beats to create something meaningful—but at the same time, silly, weird, trippy and memorable.”
Real Puppetry and Cel Animation
The idea to use puppet characters was inspired by Backofen’s experiments with motion capture hand puppets in C4D. “We loved the idea that puppets aren’t something you’d immediately think of when considering an animated short in Cinema 4D,” he recalls. “But as a creative tool, it allowed us to do things that would otherwise have been impossible to do practically.”
Having locked down the narrative, character design and story beats, it remained to decide which techniques could bring the history and future of animation to life. Backofen says one of the highlights of the project was allowing several artists to contribute their own unique ideas and techniques to the animation: an approach that led to some fun and expressive pieces of animation.
The origins of animation were acknowledged using hand puppetry and cel animation. To create a cast of CG puppets, the challenge was not simply to model, texture and light objects realistically, but to make them move and animate believably. Drawing on Backofen’s motion capture experiments, the team placed tracking markers on a hand and filmed it doing a series of puppet-like movements.
Taking that footage into After Effects, Backofen tracked the position and rotation of the markers. “Once we had that data, we brought it into Cinema 4D and, after experimentation with XPresso setups, had a really nice, realistic feeling puppetry rig that let us animate by hand in 3D.”
“We all love frame-by-frame, hand-drawn animation and we knew that several of our artists would be able to create really striking visuals using it,” he recalls. The result did a great job of breaking up the continuity of the CG to really sell the idea of our character being pulled every which way down this corridor of creativity.”
To enhance the 3D puppets, objects and environments, all the materials were created from scratch, using Arnold for Cinema 4D to render. “One thing we knew we had to see was the tiny fur-like hairs on the cloth of the puppets,” says McCauley, explaining that they used C4D’s Hair object on all the puppets’ felt pieces and created different Arnold hair materials for each one.
Once characters and objects were in the scene, all the backgrounds were hand-painted by Senior Art Director Mack Neaton in Photoshop before applying specular and bump maps to mimic the look and feel of backgrounds used in vintage children’s television shows.
To represent the future of motion graphics and animation, the theme “MoGraph is Dead. Long Live MoGraph” inspired artist Adam Kohr to use his personal VR setup to sculpt a trippy psychedelic environment for the camera to fly through.”
“We gave him an FBX with our puppet model and pointers for the camera angles so he could see in first person what our scene camera was going to see,” Backofen explains. Next, Kohr went on to painting and sculpting a huge series of objects to fill the space. Then, it was just a matter of rendering out the sequence with some Toon shaders, bringing it into After Effects and applying some more psychedelic effects on top to make the final shot one of the more standout visuals in the piece.
AI-generative art—a hot topic at Half Rez—was arguably the most experimental technique used for the project. Associate Creative Director Colby Capes had been experimenting with Disco Diffusion and took lead on creating visuals.
Backofen concedes it was a learning process, and required more work than expected to achieve the right look. “This method can give you something that is uniquely generative and cool, but it’s certainly a niche look that needs the proper context to be applicable.”