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New Technology Strikes Right Chord in SIGGRAPH 2017’s Animated Best in Show Winner ‘Song of a Toad’

After more than three years of work that carried on after he graduated from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg Animationinstitut in Germany, director Kariem Saleh now has a chance for Oscar consideration after his animated short, “Song of a Toad,” was named Best in Show at SIGGRAPH 2017.

The innovative film tells the tale of a troubled man with a toad stuck on his head. He comes to understand the toad’s the significance after recalling lost memories of his childhood.

Saleh and his team developed new technology to help make the film, which has the 3D feel of stop-motion. They designed a glove that helped move the computer-animated characters like puppets.

“We created a mechanical glove that you could put your hand into and you could do glove puppetry with it like on Kermit the Frog, for example,” explains Saleh. “That way you could very quickly create performances like you were seeing on the screen with the character doing the movements you were performing with your hand.”

The process helped the crew quickly create a rough layout of the film before moving on to more traditional animation. “It was a rough version, but it still had a lot of spontaneity in it basically,” says Saleh. “From there we moved on to the traditional animation process and refined those movements and performances.”

Saleh had dabbled with puppetry on an earlier project, “The Hedgehog’s Visit.” “On that film, I also experimented with the puppeteering approach, but it didn’t really work out in time to utilize it, so I dropped it from that project and re-embarked on it with this one.”

Even though “Song of a Toad” took three and a half years to make, the new tech helped streamline the process, Saleh says. “Some of the approaches we took technically sped up the work. They’d give you a more direct mind-to-product connection in a way. A mind-to-medium connection, which is, for creative people, always liberating.”

They also created actual sets that they scanned into the computer, which added to the 3D feel. “It was a team of six or seven people who built miniature sets and then we digitized them,” he says. “We disassembled everything and took every single part and digitized it into the computer using a process called photogrammetry. That way you would get a pure representation of the real object and could reassemble it in the computer.”

Saleh says the effect keeps things in the real world, even though the characters are highly stylized. “I very much like to stay in the real world with everything as much as possible,” he adds.

For all it’s technical advances, “Song of a Toad” is a simple story about reconnecting with one’s inner child. “The theme overall is really important for me because, you know, I always try to express myself in a way that is very childlike,” concludes Saleh. “Like doing animation or making films. It’s a very free and liberated way of expressing yourself actually.”

A behind-the-scenes video for the making of “Song of a Toad” can be viewed below.

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