Through his mother’s teachings, Amaru Zeas finds daily inspiration in creating meaningful stories through art. As writer and director of animated short Picchu, he highlights the educational challenges and beauty of his native Ecuador.
The project was brought to life by creative studio FuzzyPixel – a real-world production testbed for cloud-based content creation tools led by an internal Amazon Web Services (AWS) team.
Cartoon Brew recently spoke with Amaru about the project. Read on to learn how he imagined Picchu as a reflection of his own story, and how a small remote team created the short in just nine months. You can also check out Picchu at the 2022 SIGGRAPH Conference in Vancouver August 8-11. Free show registration can be found here.
Cartoon Brew: Tell us about Picchu.
Amaru Zeas: Picchu tells the story of an Andean girl named Mayu and the unconditional support of her mother. Her path is not easy. She must rely on her determination and her mother’s teachings to overcome fears and doubts to fulfill her destiny. It’s a story that many children around the world can relate to, and my goal was to capture that experience in a film that is both beautiful and purposeful.
Why did AWS produce this project?
Zeas: FuzzyPixel is an internal creative studio at AWS. We create real-world productions using the cloud and our experience helps shape the development of AWS solutions. We’re often the first users testing new tools and features. Picchu is the second short created by FuzzyPixel, and our technical focus was to use Amazon Nimble Studio, an end-to-end creative pipeline on AWS, and open source software Blender as the primary creative application. For the creative, the entire FuzzyPixel team was encouraged to submit concepts and ultimately the one I put forth was selected and moved into production.
What other creative tools did you use?
Zeas: In addition to Blender, we used Autodesk Maya, Foundry’s Nuke, Pixologic’s ZBrush, Adobe’s Substance Painter, Blackmagic Da Vinci Resolve, and SpeedTree. We selected tools based on the style of each scene, and the elements they required.
How big was your team?
Zeas: We had 23 people working on the project over nine months. This includes our artists and animators, as well as our production designer, composers, creative director, and producer. The team worked remotely from the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, Costa Rica, and Spain. We were able to stay connected using a chat-based system on Discord. We also did daily review sessions via video conferencing. Since Amazon Nimble Studio was our foundational infrastructure, we could all collaborate on shots in a shared environment on the cloud and just log in from our setups at home with login credentials. Our voice talent and musicians were in Ecuador and my mom actually voiced Mayu’s mother.
What was the biggest challenge of working on the project?
Zeas: I’m from Ecuador, and authenticity was important to me. The team embraced that and I was able to draw from my own experiences to help achieve that realism. We also studied the native plants at different elevation levels in the Andes and looked at embroidery details on traditional clothing. The three character’s voices are natives from my home town, Cuenca, keeping the language in Spanish and the entire soundtrack was produced by local Ecuadorian musicians utilizing Andean instruments. We wanted it to be as much of a creative achievement as a technical one.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Zeas: Creating Picchu reinforced my belief that anything is possible if you believe in yourself, have passion, commitment, consistency, and a purpose. I take pride in helping to develop technology that allows artists to work more efficiently. Our team always wants to raise the bar in terms of quality and complexity to make art in the best way possible. With Picchu, I think we did that, and we were able to tell a beautiful story dedicated to all the children around the world.
The making of Picchu will be featured by AWS at SIGGRAPH 2022, among other special presentations and an AWS Innovator series being held Wednesday, August 10. For details and free registration, click here.
To learn more about Amazon Nimble Studio, check out: AWS’s Nimble Studio site/ or visit AWS at SIGGRAPH booth #602.