Rayner produced and directed “My Big Brother” – about a boy sharing a room with his gigantic sibling – while studying animation at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The short, which was his senior project there in 2014, was presented with an Annie Award (celebrating accomplishments in animation) for Best Student Film.
“The Annie Awards were a fun, great experience. The student award was announced first, and then they ushered me backstage to wait for photos. The next winners came back, a guy from DreamWorks and then someone from Nickelodeon, and they said they thought [my] story was great and were charmed by it,” says Rayner. “It was fantastic to meet so many people there who I look up to.”
An animation fan since his youth, Rayner, who grew up in Pennsylvania, honed his skills at SCAD in the requisite foundation and craft-centric classes. The concepts class, a requirement for all animation majors, would prove very helpful in the endeavor, as did the character animation courses, which Rayner calls “crucial to my development.”
With his senior film looming, he struggled to find a concept. “I was told to make it relatable to me, and I wanted to push myself in terms of storytelling,” he says. During the summer leading into his senior year, he began sketching a boy with a brother who was a giant.
The idea was a familiar one: Rayner has two older brothers. “I was the quieter one and looked up to them. I seemed to be in the shadows of what they were doing all the time,” he adds. And with that, the concept for the film was born.
Upon returning to school that fall, Rayner had to turn his concept into an animatic, build the assets, create the animation, and then do the necessary postproduction.
At SCAD, students have to create their own individual short film but can enlist fellow classmates with certain skills to assist them. Some choose a technical theme, while others are quite ambitious and more story-based. Rayner’s fell into the latter category. “I really benefitted from help by other students who were a little more adept at rigging, scripting, lighting, and texturing,” he says.
For instance, a friend at school developed an auto-rigging tool and used it to set up the rigs for the “My Big Brother” characters, whereas Rayner then weighted them. “I had a lot of help with lighting, too, from others who knew more about it. Good lighting was the main thing I knew I needed but didn’t know how to accomplish myself.”
Rayner mainly used Autodesk’s Maya for the work on the short film (materials, lighting, animation, rendering), doing a good deal of character and environment modeling in the open-source software Blender. After all, he was most familiar with that program, having started using it when he was 11 years old.
Roald Dahl’s book The BFG served as a conceptual inspiration, while Rayner referenced illustrations from Matthew Lyons and other low-poly 3D artwork for the film’s overall aesthetic. He used flat materials while texturing, for a paper-like look. “It made the process quicker and simpler, and it worked with the style of the film,” he says of his texturing choice. Compositing was done with The Foundry’s Nuke.
The characters and objects in the short have a hard-edge, jaggy, blocky shape. This made it easier for him to animate on 2s and 4s, a decision resulting from the looming deadline. “I didn’t have time to do smooth, polished animation in every shot,” he explains. “It worked well with the look of the film, too – I wanted it to look like an illustrated storybook – and it was a huge time-saver! It was also more fun to work with that rough style of animation anyway.”
Looking back, Rayner didn’t expect that writing a story would be so hard. “I had a lot of assistance with it from my friends and professors, who helped me work on the structure and narrative,” he says. “And I couldn’t believe how long animation takes. The short film project took three-quarters of the year, which included the initial writing over the summer.” This was done amid Rayner’s schoolwork from other classes.
Among the more valuable lessons Rayner learned as a result of the project was to make the process enjoyable. Also, he learned quickly that he could not do it all by himself.
Creating “My Big Brother” was a motivating experience, according to the young filmmaker. “It definitely raised the standards I set for myself and encouraged me to work harder,” he says. “I am hoping it will be a boost to my confidence.”
The experience gained from “My Big Brother” helped open doors for Rayner in the industry. Upon graduation, he began working as a freelance animator and illustrator at Encyclopedia Pictura (San Francisco) on music videos. Meanwhile, “My Big Brother” is still making the festival rounds. “I would love to keep making short films, and I am tossing ideas around in my head,” Rayner says.
Still, Rayner understands the huge commitment and assistance that another project like “My Big Brother” would require. “It was such a huge learning process. There is so much that goes into making something successful. Scheduling and producing a short was a major eye-opener, and I am so thankful to all those who helped me – classmates, professors, family members who I constantly bounced ideas off of.” And, lastly, the influence of two older brotherson Rayner’s earlier and, now, professional life, which was more impactful than he could ever have imagined.