Can Rudolph, now a fallen hero, will himself back to former glory as the leader of Santa’s reindeer team?
From our friends Dan Edgley and Charlie Batho (remember their 32-hour Halloween Animation Challenge?) and their team at Ritzy Animation comes their latest animated piece, Red, a fun, offbeat tale of hubris and redemption that perfectly captures the holiday spirit.
The U.K. studio decided that this year, they’d try to resurrect an idea for a Christmas-related short film they’d hoped to produce last year. “We'd always wanted to make our own short film and with Christmas just around the corner, decided to go for a festive one,” Edgley explains. “Having seen lots of happy, cheery, and cute shorts, we decided to break the mold and go for a darker approach by depicting Rudolph as a fallen hero who needed to get back in shape. The idea evolved quickly, and we soon had a big list of ideas for deer-related exercises and gags that we wanted to include. Unfortunately, as the scale of the film grew, we missed our 2018 deadline, but it meant that we could give the film the time it deserved; our character and story became much more developed for a 2019 Xmas release.”
The project took just over a year to complete, with a team that reached 10 artists devoting as much time as possible in between their commercial work. According to Batho, “We probably spent the best part of six months on the storyboard and animatic, trying to finesse the start and end of the film. The reason for Red losing his place at the front of the sleigh was a constant battle, and the way we revealed him reclaiming it was also really tricky.”
In all, the project saw 34 different animatic iterations. “At one point our hero was Blitzen and it was Rudolph he was trying to replace at the front of the sleigh,” Batho adds. “We also had tons of different gags that never made the final cut, such as Red using a sack of presents as a boxing bag and doing chin ups to a dangling carrot.”
While they decided early to produce the short in 3D rather 2D animation, there were discussions on the possibility of employing a more stylized CG design. “We decided on 3D quite early on because we were keen to create a CG beast with fur and all the trimmings,” Edgley reveals. “However, at one point we did consider a more stylized painted look for his skin to try and push the film through quicker. In the end, we decided that the more realistic our Rudolph was, the more it would reflect this alternative universe where he was making his comeback! Nevertheless, he went through a few different versions and we sketched multiple options for heads and muscles. We also heavily researched all of his surroundings and props before modelling them, and opted for an 80s aesthetic because of our deep affection for films and sports from that period.”
Finding a funny opening sequence that properly setup the story was one of their biggest challenges, outside the usual time, complexity, schedule and budget. “Story-wise our biggest challenge was getting the audience to understand Red was a drunken recluse who had lost his place as leader of the pack,” Batho notes. “We did this by using a short comedic documentary to open the film, but we considered newspapers, flashbacks, postcards, and even an arch enemy by the name of Blitzen!”
“Technically, the amount of rendering we had to get through as a small studio was daunting, but with the help of cloud-based renderer YellowDog, we got there in the end,” Edgley adds. “We wanted to push our studio forward with the fur, and spent a long time in XGen working on the groom to make him feel believable.”
In sharing their labor of holiday love with AWN, Edgley and Batho conclude, “It was a pleasure seeing our beloved reindeer come to life and we hope that everyone admires those beefy, hairy, arctic muscles as much as we do!”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.