Julia Soderstjerna grew up loving animated films, especially Tangled and Up. So when her high school, Mt. Carmel in San Diego, California, started offering computer animation classes, she jumped at the chance to sign up. In class, she and her classmates learned how to use Cinema 4D, and she remembers being hooked on the 3D software from the very first day.Four years later, Soderstjerna is a freshman at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in mechanical engineering. But she still loves animation and plans to continue honing her skills. Last summer, her third and latest film, Out of Reach, won the Best Animation award in the 2013 All-American High School Film Festival, an annual showcase for talented young creators of films and media arts. Soderstjerna describes winning the award as “an incredible experience.” That “definitely validated the time and effort I’ve put into animation while inspiring me to continue making films in the future.” (Watch the film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZLL-9iqzl8&list=PLS9lvoehrD5wAWZQyLrXyJYHp4vjDJZGW&index=11)
The Pixar Influence
The minute-long film, about a wide-eyed little girl’s precarious quest for a tempting stuffed animal, was inspired by the storytelling and animation style of Pixar Animation Studios, Soderstjerna says. A project for her Advanced Animation Class and AP Studio Art portfolio, the film took her over 10 months to complete, with Soderstjerna doing all of the modeling, animation and editing herself with advice from her teacher, Mr. Harris. Most of the work was completed at school, but she also worked on it at home sometimes, thanks to C4D’s student license. “The animation classroom became my second home during my time working on the film,” she recalls.
After finalizing the story and storyboards, Soderstjerna began drawing out and modeling her characters and settings. The little girl who stars in the film didn’t change much throughout the process of the filmmaking, but the surrounding toy store setting did.
“At first, I started with a very commercial-looking store, but I wasn’t satisfied with the look or feel of it, so I decided to remodel it to a more mom-and-pop kind of store, with a warmer, more intimate feel,” says Soderstjerna. This involved modeling new furniture and toys, as well as choosing a matching color palette and complementing textures to complete the look. “The biggest challenge was having to abandon my initial set after having put in many hours,” she recalls. “But I felt that in the end my decision was in the best interest of keeping the story believable.”
After modeling the characters and the store, Soderstjerna made morph tags for all of the girl’s expressions “to give her a lot of life and personality.” Next, she rigged the character and was ready to animate. “I considered using motion capture for my character, but I decided to go with hand-animating the entire short because I was new to motion capture and with the time constraint felt that in the end it would be quicker to animate by hand,” she explains.The hardest part, she says, was making the little girl’s movements and reactions look human, as this was the first human character she’d ever animated. In the end, Soderstjerna says the whole process taught her a lot, and she believes she’s a much better animator and filmmaker now than she was when she started. “Most importantly, I learned how to be persistent and put my all into my work,” she says, adding that she did spend a few sleepless nights brainstorming solutions to tricky problems.
After the character animation was finished, she moved on to working on the camera angles and camera animation, as well as the lighting for each of the scenes. Once everything was rendered, Soderstjerna used Final Cut Pro to edit and export the finished product.Throughout the process, she found C4D to be user-friendly and intuitive. “It is awesome to be able to work with software that is widely used in the industry,” she says, adding that as an artist, what she likes most is the “excellent results that you can achieve in both animation and modeling.”
In addition to the Best Animation award, Out of Reach won Best of Show and Best of Class for the 3D Animation Category at the 2013 San Diego County Fair. It was also nominated for Best of Category for the Future of Cinema Film Festival in Interlochen, Michigan. While all of this success has been motivating, Soderstjerna says she plans on finishing her degree in mechanical engineering while maintaining her filmmaking as a hobby. One day, though, she hopes to find a career that allows her to combine her creative and technical interests.
“I would be thrilled if an opportunity to work in animation came my way,” she says. “What I like most about animation is being able to create my own worlds and stories that may not be possible in real life.” Currently, she says she’s waiting for a good idea to come to her before she starts her next film. “Animation is a very gratifying process, and the most fun thing for me is being able to have a final product that I can say I made all by myself,” she continues. “And, of course, being able to brighten someone’s day or make someone smile as the result of my work or story is the best reward I could ask for.”
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Article by Dan Heilman
Dan Heilman is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based writer and editor.
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