Issue: Volume 33 Issue 8: (Aug-Sep 2010)


Under the lush canopy of the Amazon rain forest is a vibrant ecosystem teeming with life of all variation and size. Amazonia, as it is often called, is home to more than two million insect species, three thousand types of fish, 1300 kinds of birds, almost 400 variations of reptiles, and just as many amphibians and mammals. From the outside, the environment—wrapped in bright shades of green, from the tops of the great trees to the thick, lush jungle floor, and speckled with the rich, primary colors of its inhabitants—is playful and inviting. But looks can be deceiving, as a pair of tree frogs soon discover in the animated CG short film “Amazonia.”

Creating this green environment, along with the creatures that live there, was Sam Chen, who directed the five-minute short. Unlike the main characters in the movie, who partner on a dining adventure through the rain forest, Chen opted to embark on the moviemaking journey alone, scripting the story line, crafting and animating the characters, and building the environments. However, he did receive assistance from Jamey Scott when it came to adding sound to the picture, collaborating with his longtime sound designer and composer to add sound effects and give “voice” to the characters.

“The genesis of ‘Amazonia’ came to me while I was in the middle of a Beethoven and Stravinsky symphony concert,” recalls Chen. “As I closed my eyes and let the music transport me, I started to see images in my head of frogs running around with big critters chasing them. Then the scene blossomed into wild colors, dance, and song. I thought to myself that this must have been similar to what Walt [Disney] imagined in his mind when he first thought of doing ‘Fantasia’ back in the 1940s.”

Based on this experience, Chen decided to set the animation to music from Beethoven, and would later narrow down the selection.

A techie by education and an artist by trade, Chen graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering, though he found his passion more than 20 years ago as a 3D animator. As such, he has earned industry recognition as a veteran animation filmmaker, first with his short film “Eternal Gaze,” an exceptionally moving portrayal of the work of sculptor Alberto Giacometti, for which Chen won the top award at the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater in 2003 (see “Character Studies,” August 2003).

“One of my dreams since attending UCLA as a computer science major specializing in computer graphics was to be a part of SIGGRAPH’s Computer Animation Festival and Electronic Theater,” says Chen. Having found so much success there in the past with “Eternal Gaze,” as well as with “Piccolo’s Encore” (1999) and “Cat Ciao” (2000), Chen chose the conference’s animation festival to debut his newest short.

Chen completed the movie just in time for the festival this past July in Los Angeles, though work on “Amazonia” began in mid-2006, after he had completed the film festival circuit with “Eternal Gaze.” “At a running time of five minutes, that’s just a little over one minute of finished footage per year,” Chen says, adding with a chuckle, “I know, I’m a slacker.” Perhaps that would be true had the filmmaker focused solely on this project rather than working on it when he could between other jobs (teaching, freelancing, and so forth). This schedule, though, kept him from growing tired of the film.  

While many artists stick to a certain animation style, that was certainly not the case for Chen. In fact, “Amazonia” is at the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum from “Eternal Gaze.” While “Eternal Gaze” was dark, grungy, and set in gloomy black and white, “Amazonia” is vibrant and color-rich. “While some think ‘Amazonia’ is a big departure stylistically from my previous film, in reality, it was a return to my roots of making fun and wacky CG shorts in the style of Looney Tunes cartoons, which I devoured everyday after school while growing up in San Diego,” says Chen.  

In terms of production, Chen’s pipeline has not changed much, either. He has used the same tools more or less for the past 10 years, but because of Moore’s Law and the advancements in powerful and affordable hardware, he was able to achieve much more with considerably less. For “Amazonia,” this meant doing something that most others would not dare to attempt: creating the short film using laptop computers (see “Mobile Moviemaking,” pg. 32).

Jungle Jingle

In the whimsical, fun-filled animated short, two buddy tree frogs named Bounce and Biggy team up on a culinary quest for food through the Amazon rain forest. But things quickly go awry when the proverbial hunters become the hunted. Take all these high jinks and set them to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 8” (second movement), and you have “Amazonia.”

“It’s heavily inspired by the physical humor of Looney Tunes cartoons and the musical grace of ‘Fantasia,’ ” describes Chen.

As a one-man show, it’s always daunting and nerve-wracking when starting any new projects, Chen points out. “So during pre-production, I had to convince myself that the premise would work,” he says. To that end, the filmmaker relied heavily on previs to time out the story beats and gags, and to help him choose which piece of music to use. And to create the previs, he employed Autodesk’s Maya 8.0, along with Canopus’s Edius 3.0 for cutting.

CG animator/filmmaker Sam Chen single-handedly created the colorful CG short “Amazonia,” about two tree frogs embarking on a culinary adventure in the rain forest.  

Once Chen settled on Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 8,” he used early, non-textured models of his characters and moved them around the bare sets like chess pieces, blocking out key storytelling positions and gags. Says Chen, “The important questions I asked myself at this early point were: How’s the story flowing? How are the actions cutting? What is the pacing and rhythm as they’re layered on top of the music?”

The previs gave Chen the answers he needed, convincing him that the story was sound and the project worth pursuing.

What Characters

The short features a number of animal characters and their habitats, whether it is land, water, or air, including a crotchety crocodile, an annoyed anaconda, a bothered bee, and more—in addition, of course, to the main characters, the two fun-loving, albeit hungry, amphibians.

Before designing the characters, Chen studied quite a few nature books and imagery, building up his own library of tree frog, alligator, snake, and insect images. “The challenge was to take these designs away from the realistic and toward the caricature and the cartoony, without losing the essence of the actual animals and creatures they were based on,” he explains. “The goal was to hit the sweet spot in the middle for maximum character appeal.”

While Chen considers his character designs unique, with a signature look, he notes that they are Pixar-inspired. “I’ve always been a big fan of [Pixar’s] character facial and eye designs in the way they’re able to convey so much emotion and appeal, all the while still resembling the animals or characters they’re based on,” he explains. “Because my story hinged on the physical comedy between the two hero characters, Bounce and Biggy, even the size and color relation between them borrowed slightly from Mike and Sully in Monsters, Inc.”

To create the cast—which included approximately 10 primary and more than 30 supporting characters—Chen again used Maya. “The [previs] footage was used mainly as a timing guide for creating the shot list and to inform the editorial process,” he explains. “So almost every animation curve was redone from scratch for the film.”

Most of the characters were built using a combination of polygons and NURBS. “As someone who started in 3D using Alias’ Power­Animator, I tend to prefer using NURBS for much of my organic character modeling,” Chen says. For more complicated NURBS shapes, he found the need to stitch and attach patch surfaces cumbersome and unreliable. So Chen started exploring Maya’s subdivision surfaces, which he found to have some performance limitations, as well. As a result, Chen taught himself organic modeling using polygons, a solution he calls “fast and reliable.”

The frogs encounter a number of characters in the film, including this seething snake. All the characters were modeled and animated in Maya using a combination of polygons and NURBS.

“With Maya’s ability to polysmooth at will, anytime more smoothness was needed, there was less reason to use NURBS,” Chen relays. For some of the characters, such as the wasps and damselflies, where their thorax, abdomen, antennas, limbs, and wings were segmented and mostly cylindrical, he still found it advantageous to use NURBS for modeling because of their simplicity and their ability to be molded easily by pushing and pulling very few CVs. “One of the features I love about Maya is its brush-based sculpt geometry modeling tool, formerly called ‘artisan.’ This tool provided a quick way to mold and shape organic characters without having to jump out to [Pixologic] ZBrush or [Autodesk] Mudbox,” he adds.

In the end, most of the hero characters were given a relatively moderate polygon count—50,000 to 100,000 quad polygons—to facilitate animation and rendering time.

For texturing the characters, Chen hand-­unwrapped the UVs the old-fashioned way using Maya’s texture UV editor, occasionally utilizing projected UV mapping and relax UVs to even out overlapping UVs. Using Adobe’s Photoshop CS3, he then hand-painted the surfaces and “blend-mode-layered them” over organic textures from photographic sources. For example, the mottled look of the frog skin was achieved by using zucchini skin as the base layer.

At times, procedural 3D textures were applied to quickly add noise and shading variation to the characters. While Biggy’s skin was rather generic in its design, Bounce’s skin was closely based on the natural coloration and patterns of the popular red-eyed tree frogs of the Amazon. With its distinctive yellow stripes over bluish-purple patches, along with vast areas of green and white, Bounce’s skin texture needed to be familiar yet customized to make him appealing as an animated CG character. To this end, the filmmaker generated individual texture maps for the color, specular, and bump channels, with the occasional map for transparency and reflectivity.  The maps were limited to no more than 2k x 2k pixels in order to minimize memory issues during rendering.

Once Chen finished with modeling, he had to rig the broad range of characters for optimum articulation and performance during animation. To facilitate the rigging process, he used Anzovin Studio’s The Setup Machine, which automated many of the redundant and tedious tasks for the bipedal and quadrupedal characters, including those with tails. However, for the less-anthropomorphic characters, like the snake, wasps, and scorpions, he made the rigs from scratch and custom-skinned them to each model. For the facial rigging, he studied medical textbooks to better understand

which human facial muscles are responsible for which human emotions, and rigged the characters accordingly using mostly Maya’s influence objects as deformers. For squash and stretch, he used lattice deformers to apply non-uniform deformation to all the main characters.  

Chen simulated the characters’ breathing by using non-uniform scaling of selected bones created by The Setup Machine. He paid particular attention to engineering fine shape controls, especially for the character eyelids, eyebrows, and lips, in order to achieve the expressions and emotions required by the story. Meanwhile, he used sculpt deformers for special effects, such as when Bounce was swallowing his food and the bulge can be seen descending down into his belly. “One big

lesson I learned from making this film is that caterpillar characters are very hard to rig correctly, let alone animate properly,” Chen points out. “So, avoid caterpillars!”

Moving to the Beat

Although Chen has been animating successfully for many years, he wanted to take the process to a higher level with “Amazonia.” So, before embarking on the animation for the short, the filmmaker re-educated himself in this area, investing a good deal of time and effort re-learning the fundamentals. “I re-read Richard Williams’ Animator’s Survival Kit and focused on getting the fundamentals—like overlapping actions, anticipation, arcs, strong poses, exaggeration, timing, and appeal—rock-solid,” he says. “Most animators are familiar with these basic principles of animation in their early years of education, but it takes a lifetime to learn how to apply them artfully. It is all too common for CG animators today to rush into their 3D software and start moving characters around aimlessly because it is easy to do.”

The filmmaker spent a good deal of time in preproduction, using Maya and Edius to make sure the story and timing were on the mark, such as in these scenes as Bounce sizes up a delectable scorpion.     

By prolonging the storyboarding and thumb-nailing process in pencil and delaying work on the computer, Chen could try out rough ideas quickly and cheaply on paper first. The results were apparent. “I noticed that whenever I did due diligence and planned character expressions, poses, and gags thoroughly on paper first, the end result invariably turned out stronger and better when translated to CG,” Chen says.

One of the benefits of applying strong principles of 2D animation to CG is that the animation tends to loosen up and feel “more free,” Chen maintains. To support that statement, he points to the concept known as “breaking the joints,” which is used traditionally in 2D to give character animation more snap and impact. “Such exaggeration translated beautifully to CG when the rigs could be pushed beyond their breaking point,” Chen says. “Given the creative license to channel Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, I made sure to capitalize on any opportunity for exaggeration whenever a gag called for it. The more the rigs were pushed, the funnier the characters got.”

Chen used Maya for all the character animation, following the 80/20 rule: “Although it’s not too difficult to take a given animation 80 percent of the way, the last 20 percent can take twice as long to achieve and drive one to insanity,” Chen says. Therefore, the filmmaker decided early on that he needed to budget enough time to strive for the last 20 percent “because that’s where characters came alive and became most believable and appealing.” Alas, that translated into many long hours of finessing curves in Maya’s graph editor and lots of keyframe nudging in the dope sheet. This was particularly taxing due to the sheer number of shots Chen had to animate on his own (there are 99 shots in “Amazonia”).  

“My unwavering commitment to meeting this goal was largely responsible for adding at least one year to the production schedule,” Chen points out.

Chen also spent a great deal of time animating the characters’ eyes. Because the eyes are the window to a character’s soul, he made sure to pay a lot of attention to eye-dart animation, and ensure that eye blinks were placed in just the right spots to add life and reflect what the characters were feeling. “It’s a lot of super-fine-tuning of animation timing and spacing in order to take a character’s performance somewhere special,” Chen adds. One character in particular—Spike the caterpillar—proved especially daunting, mostly due to the inherent complexity of this bug’s morphology and locomotion. With no real shortcut to animating a multisegmented rig with a complex network of IK interdependency, Chen had to hand-animate each segment, foot, and appendage to arc, overlap, and stagger properly—“another reason to avoid caterpillar characters in the future,” he says.

For some of the sight gags, Chen videotaped himself performing the physical acting and poses, which he used as video reference during animation. He also used a Webcam to capture his own face while acting out every facial expression that the script required. He then turned this information into a visual library and chart for quick referencing during facial animation.

“Having actually gone through the physical rigor of performing the film’s actions benefited the film tremendously by helping me get into the heads of the characters so I could better channel their spirit and motivation,” Chen adds. “I didn’t merely animate the characters, I had to become the characters.”

During the past year or so, mobile computers—both suped-up laptops and mobile workstations—have made quite an impact in the professional DCC space, offering a viable alternative to desktop machines. But can they take the place of their tethered big brothers? In many case, the answer is “yes,” as animator/filmmaker Sam Chen discovered while making his CG short film “Amazonia.”

During pre-production in 2006, Chen had used a couple of high-performance Windows XP workstations custom-made by Verari, and a Dell laptop. Both were quite effective at the time, allowing him to previs his entire film with relative ease. As pre-production progressed into production and then postproduction, computers became faster, and all of a sudden, a 64-bit 4gb quad-core laptop could be purchased for approximately $1000.

“It was quite an empowering and revolutionary day for the proverbial independent CG filmmaker,” says Chen. So much so that he quickly made the switch entirely to HP Pavilion notebook computers for his entire CG pipeline—from animation all the way to lighting, rendering, and compositing, as well as final HD video editing.

Chen used consumer-grade HP Pavilion dv7-1247cl 64-bit AMD Turion systems with ATI HD3200 graphics chips as well as the much faster HP dv7-2270us 64-bit Intel Quad Core 2 with an ATI HD4650, and the newer HP dv7 64-bit Intel Core i5-450M with an Nvidia GeForce G 105M graphics card.  All the systems sported 4gb of RAM. “Not only have my electric bills gone down dramatically, but the systems ran cool and quiet in my small home studio,” he attests. “Now, when I turn on the older desktop workstations, they seem unbearably loud and hot in comparison.”

Using only laptops for the entire production pipeline has reaped mostly positive results, according to Chen. “When I suffered from cabin fever, I loved the fact that I could take my entire production pipeline to a coffee house and work there, with very little compromise.”

What was the downside? The few negatives Chen cited were the generally slower hard drives that ship standard with these systems—sometimes 7200 rpm isn’t quite fast enough for video editing. “Even with the advancements in hardware technology, uncompressed HD video editing still requires RAID and other fast, dedicated hard drives to perform in real time,” he says. “Rendering to HD 720p instead of 1080p lightened the load a little, so I could still use off-the-shelf notebook PCs with standard hardware.”

Furthermore, most mobile upgrades, such as RAM, and hard drives are more expensive than their counterparts for desktop systems. Indeed, you will always be able to find faster and cheaper parts made for the desktop, but Chen found that the trade-offs were well worth it in retrospect.  

“I have found that the HP notebook PCs are desktop-replacement systems capable of empowering the independent CG filmmaker with enough horsepower to produce professional-quality CG films,” Chen says. “I am proud that I made a CG film almost entirely using only notebook computers.  I hope my film can set a positive example and help usher in a kindler and greener way of making CG films in the future.” –Karen Moltenbrey

Environmentally Un-friendly

The environments of “Amazonia” are rife with flowers and plants. Chen modeled and textured the former in Maya using a combination of NURBS and polygons, while for certain tropical plants, he used a stock model library to save time. All the flora models were rigged with bones and Maya hair for animation, and the filmmaker set up dynamic simulation using turbulence fields. Later, he omitted the sim after determining that the leaves rustling in the wind were not absolutely necessary in terms of story, choosing instead to put the time into character animation and storytelling. (The swaying palm leaves in the beginning of the film resulted from hand animation.)

To save time while rigging the characters, Chen used The Setup Machine, which automates the process for some of the bipeds and quadrupeds. Other less-anthropomorphic characters, like the wasps and snakes, were rigged by hand.

To produce the lush, vibrant backdrop, Chen used photographic textures of real plants mixed with procedural textures created in Maya, making sure the plants always looked hyper-real rather than merely photoreal. “It was important to establish and maintain a slightly fantastical feeling of a cartoon, while providing a rich and believable backdrop to all the characters,” he explains.

To achieve a back-lit luminescence to the leaves, Chen conducted early tests using subsurface scattering in combination with projected-texture spotlighting. It turned out that a similar effect could be achieved through the careful use of the much faster translucency attribute of the plant shaders.

One of the obvious challenges of re-creating a rain forest in CG is the sheer number of plants and leaves that are required in any given scene. In order to animate in real time and render efficiently without running out of RAM, Chen carefully divided the environment scenes into categories of varying importance—from hero and midground plants, to background plants and terrain.

To create the lush, colorful environment in “Amazonia,” the artist mixed procedural textures with photographic textures, making sure that the plants looked hyper-real, not photoreal.

The scenes, meanwhile, were lit with Mental Images’ Mental Ray, integrated into Maya. “In my many years of making CG films, I learned that the key to success in lighting and rendering is to always look and aim for the point where you achieve the best-quality images without the prohibitively long render times,” advises Chen. “This is especially true for independent films without the big studio production budgets.”

Therefore, rather than choosing global illumination and photon-casting, Chen opted instead for final gathering, using HDRI for the image-based lighting. This created a soft bounced-light look by filling in the shadow areas while providing a warmth and richness, with realistic reflections, to the overall scene. He also chose a highly blurred HDRI texture of a sky and tree scene, which, after some color balancing, provided an ideal blend of light and shade for the desired rain forest look.  

After establishing the indirect lighting, Chen used mostly Maya spotlights as key, fill, rim, and kicker lights, to punch up the scene and make the characters pop and stand out from the background. He avoided any use of ambient and point lights, while occasionally utilizing area lights to quickly flood certain areas with even lighting. Hand-painted gobos and cookies were mapped to certain key lights to cast yet another layer of richness and shading to the sets. This was especially effective when characters would move about the rain forest environment and appear to swim through the projected shadows, just like in the real world.  

Chen averaged between 10 and 20 lights per scene, and these were mainly spotlights. “The ability of a spotlight to focus its cone of illumination and its falloff with a high degree of control meant there was little need for light-linking and dedicated lights, which made troubleshooting lighting problems much easier,” he explains. Spotlights were also used as dedicated kicker lights to add accents and seasoning wherever required. Shadows, meanwhile, were completely depth-map-based, without any raytraced shadows.  

“Being mindful of the old adage ‘Keep it simple, Stupid’ certainly kept this do-it-yourself production from bloating to something unwieldy and unmanageable,” Chen notes.

Post Work

For rendering, Chen used Mental Ray. But in an unusual move, the entire film was rendered not using a renderfarm, but a squadron of energy-efficient HP notebook computers. By dividing and conquering, Chen broke up scenes into foreground, hero, background, and extreme background layers for faster and more reliable rendering. “This minimized the need to halt production in order to troubleshoot memory optimization issues common in Mental Ray rendering,” he adds. Within those layers, Chen made render passes for the color, ambient occlusion, and luminance-depth channels for compositing later in Adobe After Effects.

When Chen began working on “Amazonia,” he had just returned from screening “Eternal Gaze” in theaters, and with the country moving to high def, he realized that this new film would need to be HD-ready. “From an independent CG filmmaker’s point of view, this was quite daunting because rendering at 1080p equated to almost seven times more pixels to render and composite than NTSC SD,” he says. “So I decided to make a reasonable compromise and render to HD 720p instead, and still use off-the-shelf notebook PCs with standard hardware. And the benefits were worth the trade-off: Most frames took between 10 and 60  minutes to render on two- and four-core systems.

With the imagery rendered, it was time put it all together. According to Chen, in the early days of his CG filmmaking career, compositing was either not done at all or was at best an afterthought, “as it was yet another time-consuming phase in the impossibly long and challenging CG pipeline.” However, the art form progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years, and, as Chen points out, it is now almost unimaginable to create a CG short without the luxury and freedom to make changes and to further enhance and mold a shot in post.

“Now, I design and create shots fully with post in mind,” Chen says. “I liken CG post to the darkroom of the traditional chemical film photographer, like Ansel Adams, who took a negative and, through the magic of tried-and-true darkroom techniques and his famed Zone System, was able to coax out an impossibly beautiful work of photographic art. Such was the case in my approach to creating a typical shot in ‘Amazonia.’ ”  

It’s difficult to believe from looking at the finished film, but Chen admits that the raw shots that came directly from Maya were quite flat and not too interesting artistically. However, when the imagery was combined and layered in After Effects, he was able to experiment with different looks and schemes, all without re-rendering. After individual layers were gamma-corrected and the levels adjusted, they were composited with other layers (such as ambient occlusion and other foreground and background elements) until a semblance of a shot came together. Then the fun part began.  

“At this point, the luminance-depth layer was brought in and the levels adjusted for maximum dynamic range,” Chen explains. Then he used the Frischluft Lenscare After Effects plug-in, crafting the camera depth-of-field effect using the grayscale depth information. “Being a big fan of National Geographic and Planet Earth videos, I wanted ‘Amazonia’ to have a nature-photography look, whereby backgrounds are often blown out and appear painterly and impressionistic due to the extremely shallow depth of field,” he adds.

Atmospheric haze in the humid rain forest often created areas of light bloom and glow in the brightest parts of the image, along with distinctive bokeh highlights in the background. All these effects in the Z-axis resulted in proper separation and depth between the layers, and effectively controlled where the audience’s eye should be focused. In some scenes, Chen used rack-focusing to bring the attention from the background characters to those in the foreground.

RE:Vision Effect’s ReelSmart motion-blur plug-in helped smooth out all the fast-

action sequences and bring a professional polish to the entire film. “The end  product is a testament to the importance of reliable post-production tools in helping a one-man project cross the finish line with high-quality results and on schedule,” says Chen.

Once Chen rendered and composited the HD 720p frames, he output them as uncompressed QuickTime movie clips using the animation codec. Then, he transferred them into Sony Vegas Pro for editing and mastering at 30 fps. Mastering to DVD and Blu-ray was done in Sony DVD Architect Pro. “After I switched from the workstations to the notebook PCs, I used Sony Vegas exclusively,” he adds.

Going Solo

In “Amazonia,” Bounce and Biggy benefit from their teamwork. Chen, though, had to face his challenges alone. “The most challenging part about being a one-man show is trying to stay focused and passionate about the project for four long years,” he says. “Whenever I was traveling, vacationing, or working on freelance projects for clients, it meant that zero work was getting done. There was no one to tag-team with, no work to pass along to keep the momentum going. After returning to the film even after a short hiatus meant a few days of low productivity while I struggled to regain my bearings and resume forward momentum.”

On a more practical level, whenever computer systems fried and hard drives crashed—“and there were many instances,” according to Chen—he was unable to appoint someone to do system administration. “The production would often come to a grinding halt, requiring me to switch from a filmmaker’s hat to that of a computer systems engineer, and roll up my sleeves for a day of technical troubleshooting. It was maddening at times,” he says. However, thanks to his computer science engineering degree and work experience at Silicon Graphics, the filmmaker was in a much better position to address those problems than other filmmakers would have been.

Without the support of an R&D department or tool engineers meant that Chen had to occasionally write MEL scripts to perform certain tasks within Maya. For the most part, though, he kept his solutions off-the-shelf. “At times, I improvised and created my own unique systems mainly because there was nothing available at the time,” Chen says. “For instance, my character facial rigs were composed of a system of Maya bones, influence objects, wire deformers, and lattices working together in concert to shape a given character’s facial expression. It is most likely similar to existing facial systems out there today, but I had to invent it along the way as I needed it.”  

While Chen shouldered the work all by himself, that is not what he had planned when he embarked on his jungle trek. “I believe in collaborating with artists who share a common vision and a common passion for excellence. Nothing is more exciting than being part of a world-class team producing amazing CG work,” he says. “Having said that, when I set out to create ‘Amazonia,’ I didn’t meet anyone who shared the same passion as I had who didn’t already have a demanding job creating feature animation or commercial work in high-pressure environments. A few actually expressed interest early on but gradually dropped out as the workload ramped up. So I marched onward, hoping to come across other collaborators. Before I knew it, four years had gone by, and I found myself standing on the summit of the figurative Mount Everest alone.”

Nevertheless, the filmmaker was determined to bring Bounce and Biggy to life. “As with most ambitious independent film projects, the goal of ‘Amazonia’ was merely to cross the finish line alive,” Chen says. “As my own harshest critic, I also wanted the end result to be excellent, and something I would be proud of. It might sound like a cliché, but I’ve always believed that if I set the bar extra high for myself, and I reached it, then everything would take care of itself.”

Indeed it has. A crowd-pleaser at SIGGRAPH’s Computer Animation Festival, “Amazonia” currently is enjoying a world tour of the film festival circuit (having just won an Audience Award at a venue in Europe), leaving little time for Chen to enjoy the fruit of his labor. Once that is over, will Chen breathe life into yet another uniquely styled project? “I’m excited about getting right back into creating, animating, and visual storytelling,” he says. “This time, I’m looking forward to collaborating with fellow artists on anything that catches my attention. This can either be in feature animation, turning my short into a feature, or even game animation and cinematics. I’m keeping my options open in case opportunities come knocking. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the wild and unpredictable ride.”

And just as Bounce and Biggy chased their culinary dreams, so, too, did Chen. The end result: A CG feast for the eyes and the soul.

To see a clip from the short film (with different music from the original), go to www.AmazoniaMovie.com.

Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of Computer Graphics World.