The making of "the exigency"
By Cody Vibbart
The movie was originally titled “Sleeping Giant”. Back then, I had an idea for how the story was going to start but I didn’t know how it was going to develop. After the first 2 years, I revamped the entire film with upgraded content and software. Still, I was running in the dark. My biggest mistake was not having the idea finalized or plan in place. I spent months animating shots without knowing where I was even going. On top of that, there were countless script revisions after scenes were animated. I went back and completely re-animated them not once, but sometimes multiple times.
This project is my third animated feature-length film. The first one took a total of 8 months and the second took 18 months. My original timeframe for "The Exigency" was 2 to 3 years. Obviously, that plan failed miserably. At a certain point, I've gone too far to give up. I have given up on several animated projects in the past, but something about "The Exigency" kept me going. Overall, I wanted to create something that was fun to watch and didn't take itself too seriously.
The journey of 1,000 miles began with a single step. If someone told me in 2006 that I would spend the next 12 years working on this film, I would have reconsidered my path. Unfortunately, about 4 of those years were spent on scenes that were either deleted or redone entirely. It took an absurd amount of dedication and time to get this completed. Every shot had to be planned, lit, animated, rendered, composited and edited. It tested my patience to the max, but I was determined not to give up. Even with the help of a lot of pre-built 3D assets, it felt like I would never be done. I was digging a tunnel through the side of mountain with a spoon.
Working on scene 8 (again!) in Dec. 2017
The desire to do something original that not very many people have done alone at this scale overcame all the struggle that came with it. Despite the tediousness, the journey had plenty of exciting moments. When I was unemployed and broke during the recession of 2008 - 2009, I had all the time in the world to work on this. Sometimes I’d spend 10 - 15 hours a day animating. I would work until 3:00 AM and then roll out of bed at 9:00AM to pick up where I left off. One of the most rewarding things was seeing everything come together one shot at a time. Even spending 6 hours on a 3 second shot felt good.
About 6 years into the project, I came to a crossroad. Was I willing to invest another X amount years to get this done? Should I cut my losses and start a new project? My motivation fluctuated wildly, but there were plenty of times when I’d work on it, not because I really wanted to, but because I felt like I had to. I decided it had to be done no matter how long it took. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to divide this into a trilogy rather than investing another 12 years by myself.
The sequel is already in progress with a small team of more talented people. Hopefully, I've learned enough lessons from the first film to make this second film in a more reasonable amount of time at a slightly better quality.
The big lesson I learned along the way is to not go it alone, especially for a project of this size. Of course, I couldn't afford a large team of people, but I did hire some voice talent and some 3D artists to help out. I bought plenty of 3D environments and props created by other people whom I have never met.
Everyone who created something in some way for this movie have helped me achieve my mission. This is somewhat like having a team of people working alongside me. To say I did all of this by myself wouldn't be entirely accurate, but it's probably more like 98%. Making a movie all by yourself is nearly impossible and even if you do, it'll never be as good as it could be if it was created with many talented people. It takes a village.
Wireframe and test animations from the early days.
After working on this for 144 months, it’s not perfect, but it’s close enough for me to consider it done. After all, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. There are still scenes I could improve upon and shots that make me cringe when I watch them, but at a certain point I have to put my hands up and surrender. The graphics are outdated and amateurish, but that is okay. I’m more interested in telling a story that is fun rather than getting everything to be perfect. I’m not a professional 3D artist at all, but with literally no budget, this is the only medium I could tell this story through.
I have learned a tremendous amount from this experience. Many mistakes and miscalculations were made but they say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. The journey of 1,000 miles began with a single step and now I'm here. I think I have reached a checkpoint. The journey isn’t over quite yet...
Final composited shot completed (July 6, 2018)
Be sure to check out my 2-part interview with Renderosity about my journey in making The Exigency.