The Climb

A Heroic Tale For The Ages.

 

Clinging to a frosty mountain side, a lone climber faces the elements while battling his inner demons. Will he survive? Will he reach the summit? Do you even care even at all even?

A film that examines the burning question of our time: when life presents challenges, how will we respond?

I made this short in collaboration with my very talented friend Preston Gibson at 90 Degrees West. Scroll below to hear some backstory and figure out what the hell is wrong with us.

Role: Concept, Co-Direction, Character Design, Animation

 

The Story

 

At FITC Toronto in 2015, I attended a panel with artists Ash Thorpe and David O’Reilly. I had an opportunity at the end of the talk to ask him how he kept the fire of his ideas alive through the laborious process of design and animation to which he responded: “Every time I have a really weird or interesting idea, I write it down in a notebook. If I keep thinking about the idea months or even years later, I set the time aside and make it.”

At that moment, unbidden, an image emerged from the fog of my subconscious...

A tenacious climber clings to a perilous mountain face. With grit and determination, he pulls himself to the summit, striding forward in full confidence towards the center of the peak. Triumphant, he thrusts his fists in the air and bellows “I HATE MY LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE!”. As the echo dies out, a look of defeat washes over his face. He walks off the mountain.

I scribbled an abridged version down, not exactly knowing what the hell to do with an idea like that.

 The initial idea dump. Ignore my terrible handwriting. It can't be cured.

The initial idea dump. Ignore my terrible handwriting. It can't be cured.

Two years later, I was still turning it over in my head. Why? Who knows. Is it pointless? Yes. But it kept coming back. So I sketched this:

 (what in God's name is wrong with me)

(what in God's name is wrong with me)

It was around this time that my co-worker Preston saw the sketch on my desk and pressed me for answers. I told him the idea and my plan to execute it in 2D.

"This has to be 3D. It just has to. And not just basic 3D; Seriously overdone, photoreal, Pixar-level 3D."

Why not? So we set to work. I drew up a character schematic and he began the process of modeling him out while I sketched out and cut together an animatic.

This project pushed both of us well out of our comfort zones. Instead of a one-off punchline, we collaborated on a mini-narrative and got deep into every aspect of the story, silly as it is. Technically it was even more challenging. Preston's rig was extremely flexible and well-built, which meant I could get hyper-detailed about the animation. To top it off, I chose to animate the character on 2s to give the movement a stop-motion-like feel. It was laborious, but I think it paid off. Meanwhile, Preston was going absolutely bananas on look development at every single level.

Check out his website to see a more detailed behind the scenes of his 3D process. 

We roped in 3D whiz Jim Roberson to help out with Rock and Smoke dynamics and 90 intern Hieu Vu Duc helped with the giant matte painting for our Michael Bay inspired hero shot. 90’s sound wizard Mark Bartels cooked up a score worthy of a Christopher Nolan film and crafted an expansive soundscape to boot.

 
 

Early Process Bits

 
 My Character schematic. Preston took this into Cinema 4D to build out our hero.

My Character schematic. Preston took this into Cinema 4D to build out our hero.

 
 
 Initial buildout *(all 3D Modeling, rigging, and texturing by Preston Gibson)

Initial buildout *(all 3D Modeling, rigging, and texturing by Preston Gibson)

 Early walk cycle test

Early walk cycle test

 
 

Shot Breakdowns

 
The-Climb_Process_S01_Comp_small.gif
 
The-Climb_Process_S03_Comp_small.gif
 
The-Climb_Process_S05_Comp_small.gif
 
The-Climb_Process_S07_Comp_small.gif
The-Climb_Process_S02_Comp_small.gif
 
The-Climb_Process_S04_Comp_small.gif
 
The-Climb_Process_S06_Comp_small.gif
 
I-Hate-My-Life-Main.gif
 
 
 

But why, though?

 

Countless late nights, weekends, and stressful render crashes later, we had finished the piece. Months of our lives, poured into a minute long animated short that exists solely as a delivery mechanism for an absurdist punchline I half-imagined three years ago. I’m proud of our ability to persevere against logic and good sense.

A day after it was posted, we were awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick. Vindication! I felt relief, identifying just a little bit less with our Mountain Climber.

 
 
 

Credits

Co-Direction, Concept, Character Design, Animation: Alex Deaton

Co-Direction, Modeling/Rigging, Texturing/Lighting, Compostiting: Preston Gibson

Music & Sound Design: Mark Bartels

Smoke & Rock Dynamics: Jim Roberson

Shot 6 Matte Painting: Hieu Du Vuc