Environments: Light and Color


Color by Hikari Kobayashi

Hello again!

While I’ve been waist-deep in character animation, two friends have pitched in to add color and light to the environments. As of last November, all environments for Merge are complete! Many thanks to illustrators Hikari Kobayashi and Alexandra Badiu; we could not have completed the environments to this degree without their hard work and expertise.

There are two types of environments that appear in this film: 2D static, and 3D animated.

2D static environments are painted in Photoshop, and exported as 2D plates for compositing.


Color by Hikari Kobayashi

They can be divided up into foreground and background layers to create an illusion of parallax, and they work well for shots with simple camera motion (like zooms, trucks, or pans).

However, several shots in the film require more complex camera movement. For instance, the camera may fly through an environment, and rotate! For these shots, I had to find a different strategy using 3D animation.

The 3D animated environments were painted in Photoshop, then mapped onto a three-dimensional dome and animated in Maya.


The resulting video can then be used as a background, with 2D animated elements (like characters and flying debris!) superimposed on top. I hope it works with the animation… we’ll find out soon enough.

Alexandra and Hikari handled color for the 2D static environments (which account for most of the environments in the film).


Color by Alexandra Badiu

Alexandra Badiu is a Romanian children’s book illustrator, who has done visual development on many animated shorts. She worked primarily on the indoor environments for Merge. Alexandra has an amazing sense of mood and storytelling with light! You can check out more of her work here:



Color by Hikari Kobayashi

Hikari Kobayashi is an illustrator from the east coast, with a background in sequential storytelling. She worked on the outdoor landscapes and abstract dreamscapes of Merge. Her exuberant use of color and expressive textures helped bring these environments to life! You can find more of her work here:


Animation updates are on the way. Thanks for reading!


Cicada Hunting

I haven’t updated in a while, since things have been very heavy at work.  There is a big deadline approaching on Halloween for a separate project.  Merge production will pick up speed again after October 31st–then it will be animation time!


Since the last update, two friends have joined the crew to color backgrounds for Merge.  They are both incredible artists, and I’m grateful for their help.  Background production is almost complete–more on that soon!

This summer was a major cicada year for Atlanta!  I was hoping to record the cicadas for the film, but kept putting it off.

By mid-September, the weather had been getting cooler, and Atlanta was bracing for tropical storm Irma.  The cicada songs that had once been deafening in the woods outside my apartment had dwindled considerably.  Who knew how much longer the cicadas would be singing?

So some friends and I went on some trips to record the last cicadas of summer.


Luckily, we were able to find cicadas at Morningside Nature Preserve before the storm arrived.  The recordings we made should be useful for the Merge soundtrack, since high quality, royalty-free recordings of Cicada Hieroglyphica are surprisingly hard to come by (go figure).

Here is a sample of what we recorded:

Thanks to Marisa Tontaveetong for helping me acquire an audio recorder, and Yu Ueda for showing me around the nature preserve.  Also, thanks to Deandra McCord for helping me search for cicada shells!


I’m still looking for an adult cicada, so if you have one, please send it to me 😉

More soon!



Environments: Line Art and Tests

With the onset of early summer weather, my apartment was extra hot and gross this week!  The perfect conditions for drawing some sweltering desert environments.


My goal is to finish the line art for all the backgrounds, then recruit a friend to help color them while I get going on animation. So far, I’ve completed line art for a little over half the environments.



In other news—the first environments test with the coffee textures from last month is finally finished!


This pipeline works well for shots that have simple camera motion (or none at all).  However, a few scenes have camera motion that is too complex for this workflow!  I’ll be working out a pipeline for these shots next.

More soon!

Model Sheets!

It took two weeks to refine and finalize April and Grandpop’s character designs.  Here are the results:




Grandpop needed a full redesign, since his original appearance no longer matched his character, following some important story updates.  SO GLAM NOW.


More soon!



Watercolor Textures for Environments (Pipeline Test)


This past weekend, I started the first pipeline test for environments!  The goal is to find the quickest way to incorporate analogue paint textures and line-work together with digital color.

The first step was creating some physical watercolor textures that could be used for environment art.  I experimented with some watercolor and guache, as well as some coffee staining techniques.  Pretty messy.


Final results will be on the way soon.

Greenlit! Project Management Tools for Production


It’s been about two months since Merge was green lit for production!  There are literally hundreds (possibly thousands) of tasks to complete before the film will be finished.  But it can be done!

These days I have been splitting my work time between two different productions.  Merge is one of them—the other is a long-term freelance project set to be finished this year.  With these two major deadlines approaching, I’ve decided to take on some new tools to help me manage these productions in tandem.

The first program I’m using is Toggl.


Toggl is a free time-tracking program that helps monitor where my time is going across multiple projects.  This way I can keep track of how long production tasks actually take to complete, and then use that info to make more realistic schedules for future tasks.

The second program I’m using is Asana.


Asana is primarily for project management, and it allows me to create tasks, assign deadlines, and check tasks off as they’re completed.  It also allows me to schedule multiple projects on the same calendar, and monitor how much of each project is complete, vs. how much is left to finish.  This is extremely helpful!

I’m currently working 40 – 50 hours per week on these projects!  It is satisfying to be able to track progress.

More soon!



From Storyboards to Animatic


Hello again!

This month I resumed full time work on my thesis, after wrapping up a yearlong contract at the lovely animation studio, Primal Screen.  I had a great time working there, and learned a lot!

Since the last update, I’ve been working nights and weekends to complete storyboards and a third draft of the animatic.

To keep storyboarding quick, I worked small to discourage getting bogged down with details.  Each panel was the size of a literal thumbnail.

bitsy storyboards

I mapped out complex motion and perspective changes in single extended panels like these:




Using these rough boards as a guide, I began constructing the animatic in Toon Boom Storyboard Pro.  Today, I completed Draft Three!


This animatic is the first version to incorporate the associative imagery I explored almost a year ago, during the image board phase.



I will be meeting with my thesis committee soon to request feedback, and hopefully tighten up the story.  The current run time is almost 5 minutes (!)

More soon!