There is a charming little dragon from South America that’s captured the hearts and minds of people around the world and his name is “Dragãozinho UJ” (UJ The Little Dragon). Written by Marcelo Borges for his young daughter, the book is a simple coming-of-age tale about a little dragon mocked by his friends because he can’t yet breathe fire like they do.Now, Beto Prado, creative director and owner of Lithium Studios in São Paulo, Brazil, has taken UJ’s story a step further with the best-selling e-book version he created using MAXON’s CINEMA 4D. The e-book, which is actually an 8-minute film, feels much like a 3D pop-up book might. Chapters start out with traditional 2D illustrations, but characters soon emerge from the page in 3D. As they move around and interact with each other, Prado was careful to keep all of the action on top of the book’s pages to maintain the storybook feel.
Creating this new type of animated storytelling took considerable planning. Once he was satisfied with the sketches he made of all the action, Prado used C4D for every step in the process from modeling and animating to lighting and rendering.
Prado was inspired to create the e-book after a colleague showed him Borges’ book. Lovingly written, the story unfolds as UJ seeks advice from his parents who send him on a journey of discovery. Along the way the young dragon faces several challenges, but in the end he prevails and achieves his dream with the help of a friendly wizard.
Borges’ message, from father to child, is universal: Always be courageous and strong, and act with good in your heart. Hooked by the story, and already captivated by the experience of reading e-books on an iPad, Prado eagerly began creating the e-book version of the story. It was just the kind of artistic outlet he had been looking for. After twelve years working as a graphic designer making logos and doing packaging design, he was ready to make a change and grow as an artist.
So he cut back his workload and went to school, devoting himself to the study of 3D design. It was then that he discovered CINEMA 4D. “The easy-to-use interface is a piece of cake for designers,” says Prado. With the aid of Cineversity tutorials, he immersed himself in the software.
The book’s original characters were done by Spacca, a noted Brazilian illustrator and comics artist from São Paulo. “They were very cute, but they didn’t have a CG/3D appeal,” says Prado. So he sketched furiously, changing their forms to give them a more graphic appeal. Next, he spent several days modeling the characters in C4D. It was the first time he’d used something other than ZBrush to model. “I wanted to improve my pipeline and it was a fantastic experience working with HyperNURBS and giving them their final shape,” he says.
Initially, Prado based the look of FirraFogo, the wizard, on Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings. But when he turned out looking too scary for children, he changed gears and gave him the warmth and humor he saw in the face of Albert Einstein. Using C4D’s Hair Module’s dynamics, he made the wizard look more real and inviting. The final result was a mystic character that is particularly beloved by children.
After establishing the look of all the characters, the first big hurdle to cross was to rig the dragons and wizard so that they could interact. Because he lacked character-rigging experience, and didn’t have the budget to hire anyone to help him, Prado again turned to Cineversity for help. After watching several tutorials and getting some help from his creative team at Lithium, Prado was able to accomplish the rigging. He even voiced the characters of UJ, the father and the wizard.
Animating the characters was the next challenge, and this was particularly daunting because Prado had never animated anything before. Even though he feared good animators “had to have the skill in their blood,” he once again went to Cineversity, watched tutorials and got the job done. After Effects was used for final color and shadow adjustments, and the final movie was compressed to H.264 in Visual Hub.
In all, it took Prado a little over six months to create the e-book version of UJ's story. And the results of his practically non-stop work were evident almost immediately. Just one week after release it was the twelfth most downloaded e-book at Brazil's Apple iBooks store worldwide. The English version of "UJ The Little Dragon" is available free on iTunes.
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Article by Scott Strohmaier
Scott Strohmaier is a writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and son.
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