London-based Blue Zoo is one of several animation studios with an in-house shorts program, but its Christmas-themed films have quickly become a must-see every year amongst the many studio offerings.

This year, Blue Zoo has continued the tradition with No More Stuff, an action movie trailer parody, and a follow-up to their 2015 hit, More Stuff. Cartoon Brew spoke with studio co-founder Tom Box and animation director Simone Giampaolo about how No More Stuff was made.

But first, check out the short below.

Cartoon Brew: Can you talk about Blue Zoo’s history of these Christmas shorts? Where did the idea for this one come from?

Tom Box (Blue Zoo co-founder): Our studio grew from a small group of animators to multiple teams totalling over 130 artists, and that made it hard for us to keep the small studio atmosphere and the creative and collaborative ideas that come out of that. So we started an in-house shorts program to address this: a few times a year we put out a brief and ask everyone to pitch in ideas. The artists interested then present their idea to the whole studio, who then vote on their favorite. The person whose idea gets the most votes then gets to direct his/her short, starting pretty much the next day, with the full resources of the studio at their disposal.

We encourage everyone getting involved, even if it’s just a few hours artistic contribution. This allows everyone from different departments to chat to each other about the project, and do a bit of different work from their normal job. We also try and push experimentation and technical development. For instance, last year’s short was using GPU rendering; this year’s is made using GPU rendering in the cloud.

Santa design by Joe Kinch.
Santa design by Joe Kinch.

How was it conceived, boarded and planned out?

Simone Giampaolo (animation director): After the success of the More Stuff short last year, we were going to have a rest from doing a Christmas short, but people kept saying they were looking forward to see what we were going to do this year. So we felt obliged to do something. That, combined with a very busy period in the studio, meant we didn’t have much time to create all the assets from scratch, so we thought about how we could re-use the characters and sets from last year to make something new in just a few weeks, and what more fun could you have than humorous movie references! So, after last year’s Disney musical parody, this year we decided to make an action movie trailer parody that follows on from More Stuff.

To kick things off, we had a bit of a brainstorm of what the ‘movie’ would be about and came up with loads of fun movie parodies that would be cool to re-create with naked elves! We then went straight to animatic to get the timing right and recorded the narrator in our studio. Trying to be as collaborative as possible, we divided the shots up between anyone who was willing to help.

Santa design by Joe Kinch.
Santa design by Joe Kinch.

Can you talk about the general tools and techniques used?

Simone Giampaolo: The characters were modelled in ZBrush, re-topologized and UV’ed in Maya, then textured using a combination of MARI and Mudbox. The fur was created using XGen and rendered using GPU rendering software Redshift. We took advantage of YellowDog cloud rendering to render in the cloud very quickly, seamlessly operating from Deadline, so for our staff rendering locally or in the cloud was totally transparent without any different workflow needed.

What was one of the hardest things about making it?

Tom Box: The timeframe we had! We started making this in mid-November giving us just a few weeks to make it. But we designed it to be easily achievable, so once we knew what we were doing it wasn’t too bad. We used every creative shortcut and visual trick in the book to make sure it had a high-quality finish without taking long. A few new technologies were used which caused a few initial teething problems, such as using Maya XGen hair in Redshift for Santa’s long beard and cloud rendering.

Background design by Izzy Burton.
Background design by Izzy Burton.

What film references should people look out for? How did you decide what to include?

Simone Giampaolo: We thought about what would work well visually in a very short space of time, but also what would work well translated to elves, especially if they are naked! Also, we tried to find a balance between classic movie references and more recent iconic scenes. In total the trailer has twenty movie parodies crammed into it.

What else is in the works at Blue Zoo?

Tom Box: We’ve currently got a slate of feature films in pre-production which is very exciting. We’ve spent a few years writing the screenplays to make sure they work, so it’s lovely to see the visuals now come together. We’ve also got a few of our own kid tv shows in production for CBeebies and Nickelodeon, as well as some apps and a vr project, and three further short films in development – so it’s pretty busy.


Production Company: Blue Zoo Animation
Directed by Simone Giampaolo and Joe Kinch
Producers: Tom Box, Damian Hook & Lizzie Hicks
Lead modelling and textures: Pietro Licini, Gherardo Zurla
Modelling: Hannah Wong, Dane Winn, Maxime Guillemin, Mélanie Gras
Rigging: Anthony Delliste
Digital matte painter: Izzy Burton
Lead lighting and compositing: Charlie Batho, Paul Mitcheson
Lead animators: Simone Giampaolo, Dan Edgley

Ian Failes

Ian Failes is a writer covering visual effects and tech for Cartoon Brew.

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