Back in 2018, we talked with Brazilian animation studio Stratostorm. We caught up with them again recently to learn about their beautiful new short film ‘Umbrella’, Directed by Helena Hilario and Mario Pece on their duo directorial debut.
With character design by Victor Hugo (known for his work with Marvel and Disney), the animation has been taking the film festival world by storm, winning a lot of awards on its path to the Academy Awards (hopefully!)
We last spoke to you back in 2018 – what’s been your news since then?
Helena Hilario (Executive Producer): First of all, thank you so much for your continuous support, we appreciate it! Corona has been a great partner in our productions since the beginning of Stratostorm.
Everything at the studio is going great! We continue providing animation solutions for advertising projects and we are also creating original content, Currently we have several original IPs in development for kids and young adults.
We started the year producing the 5th season of our on-going original project Toontubers for Cartoon Network, and also creating weekly original content for Netflix.
We hit for the first time the film festival circuit with our new in-house project “Umbrella” and we are massively honored and humbled by the great response we are receiving from audiences and film festival juries around the world.
What lead to the initial idea for “Umbrella”?
Helena Hilario: “Umbrella” is inspired by a heartbreaking true event that happened to my sister in December 2011 when she visited an orphanage and little boy kept on asking for an umbrella.
In our story our main character never turns negative on the world or his life. Through the story, we find out why a simple yellow umbrella holds a lifelong fascination for him.
Mario and I we wrote the script and we wanted to make an animated short film – but we didn’t work with animation at the time. The years went by, and we ended up working in post production and animation and we knew in our hearts that one day we would be able to bring this story to life.
The message of the film is empathy for others. That one can make a huge difference in the lives of others by just being kind. We never know what others are going through or what they may be struggling with.
This story was chosen over others because it’s our personal project, and we thought that if we were able to get it right, it would put us and Stratostorm in the spotlight as a creative studio committed to beautiful and compelling storytelling.
Did you always plan for it to be a full, in-house animation?
Helena Hilario: Yes we always wanted to produce Umbrella independently. It took a few years of planning financially for us to be able to green-light the project and start a full time production at the studio.
Our small but resourceful animation team took 20 months to bring UMBRELLA to life, but in reality the project took a total of eight years from ideation to completion. Our 3D team was lead by Alan Prado, along with Hannry Pschera as the animation supervisor, and Danlo Pinheiro as the rigging supervisor.
The main character, Joseph, and six supporting characters were designed by Victor Hugo (Moana, Disney; Marvel) – what lead to him becoming involved with the project?
Helena Hilario: We came across his work and loved his style, and we wanted to invite him to be involved in the project. We met Victor Hugo at THU (Trojan Horse Was A Unicorn) in Portugal back in 2015 and I talked to him about Umbrella. He was touched by the story and we thought he would be the best artist to design our characters.
It was only in late 2017 that he came on board and the process was beautiful – Victor understood what we wanted and we gave him all the creative freedom to bring his unique style to the characters. He did an incredible job on the character design and Umbrella wouldn’t be what is today without is incredible and wonderful work.
We heard from Victor Hugo that he has started using Corona Renderer since learning about it through this project – how did the design process with him work?
Helena Hilario: When he joined the project, we handed him our concept art for the characters and told him we were using Corona Renderer.
He was in charge of the work in the all the character stages, from first approving sketches through to the look-development and grooming. He was not directly involved in the rendering stages, but after we had most of scenes rendered, we talked to him again to get some more input from him.
It took 20 months to complete the animation, can you share how that time was broken down?
Dhiego Guimarães (Art Director): After a long pre-production/preparation period, the first elements of the short film to be produced in 3D were the main characters.
Because everything would unroll around them, we started to develop the scenarios and the whole visuals of the short as soon as the main characters were close to being completed, when they were ready to begin the rigging process. At that moment, we decided all the key points involving each shot and created layouts of all the scenarios, so that all the animation could be made in parallel with the detailing of those environments.
From here, it was a very collaborative process between animation and modeling/look-dev, as the shots were taking shape simultaneously with the refining of the animation. After several months, we had all the character animations done, then we spent the last 6 months refining each shot, adding details such as the rain and falling leaves, and adding all the cloth and hair simulations to finally render the full scenes.
The animation makes extensive use of cloth and hair – What was that process like?
Alan Prado (3D Supervisor): For the clothes, we used the native 3ds Max cloth simulation, and once simulated the cloth was baked and reloaded as PointCache data. That way we could map different parts of the cloths with different simulation parameters and have smooth control overall.
For the hair, we used Ornatrix for grooming and Houdini for simulations – we sent the guides to Houdini and brought that back as Alembic to 3ds Max. The cloth shaders are quite simple actually, it’s mostly about the fine details in the textures, small parts of dirt, and the right colours to make it more believable.
What was your process for planning out the scenes?
Helena Hilario: We started by defining what the main intention of each sequence of shots was, then with the help of the storyboard we planned out the frames, the main action, and how it would be presented.
From then on, we started the creative and artistic process of creating an environment and lighting that contributed to the intention for the shot. In general, our lighting is always trying to illustrate and emphasise the emotional mood of the scene, and ends up working with the animation of the characters to achieve that emotional goal.
The colors are always chosen with the intention of complementing the scene, without making it too complex and being careful not to take attention away from the main elements of the animation such as the characters and their characteristic objects. Those important objects – such as the umbrella, the scarf, and the girl’s beanie – all have their colors highlighted slightly compared to the rest of the scene.
The music was given a lot of thought too, how was that created?
Helena Hilario: The beautiful original score was composed by Gabriel Dib after the edit was locked. We talked several times and gave him the creative freedom to put his heart and soul into the project.
He understood completely what the message of the film was and his emotional score is also an important character in our film. The music lets us tell the story and communicate the emotions we wanted, all without any dialogue. After the score was composed, we headed to Capitol Studios and recorded the score with a live orchestra – it was incredible!
What part of the project are you most proud of?
Helena Hilario: I’m proud of the story and the beautiful execution, and of the passion, dedication and tireless commitment of our small team at Stratostorm in Brazil, who worked so hard over months and months of production to bring our beloved short film to life!
The most rewarding part is to see people touched and sometimes crying over the story. I’m proud that we were able to turn pain into art and give a message of empathy, hope, and kindness.
Is there anything you learned during the project that changes how you will approach things in future animations?
Felipe Pardini (Character Design): The biggest change was the development of tools that contributed to a workflow between 3ds Max, Houdini, and Maya, both in animation and simulation changes, and helped make that as practical as possible. The use of Alembic was essential throughout the process.
For tackling this project, what aspects of Corona Renderer were the most helpful?
Helena Hilario: The Interactive Renderer was extremely helpful for instant feedback and saved a lot of time, and the LightMix helped us to configure every light in the scene in real-time, even during the rendering.
How has the reception been at the festivals?
Helena Hilario: We were very fortunate to be selected and to win awards at film festivals. As an independent filmmaker, we are also thankful for the recognition and opportunity the festival programmers have given to our film.
Winning certain festivals definitely can help get more visibility. When you make a film, you hope to get it in front of as many people as you can! The reception is better than we ever dreamed it would be! People connect with the story, feel the emotion, and they leave the room with a beautiful feeling of empathy and kindness.
If someone wanted to catch the full animation, where can they see it in the next 10 months?
Helena Hilario: We are currently running the film festival circuit until the end of 2020 – our US premiere will be in March at Cinequest in Silicon Valley, followed by AmDocs in Palm Springs, the San Luis Obispo Film Festival, the Cleveland Film Festival, the Sarasota Film Festival, and the amazing Tribeca Film Festival.
Hopefully there will be many others festivals to come. This is our first time creating a strategy for film festivals, so we literally wait for their responses about 1 month before the festival dates! So, please follow our social media to find out where Umbrella will play next, and we’ll share the news – as soon as we know ourselves!
With this project completed, are there plans for other future full-CGI animations from Stratostorm?
Helena Hilario: We have several full CGI original projects in development, from the animated series, short films, and features for kids and young adults.
Thank you for the interview Stratostorm, we wish you the best of luck on the festival circuit this year and very much look forward to seeing Umbrella released for everyone to enjoy!
Stratostorm – http://www.stratostorm.com/en/
Stratostorm Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/stratostormvfx/
Stratostorm Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/stratostorm/
Stratostorm Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/stratostorm
Umbrella Trailer – https://vimeo.com/370931306
Umbrella Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/umbrellaanimatedshort/
Umbrella Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/umbrellaanimatedshort/
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