In 2013 Athena Studios optioned a terrific Christmas picture book called Auntie Claus from award-winning author and illustrator Elise Primavera. The book was a perennial favorite of Athena Studio's founder and his family. Athena planned to turn it into a feature-length, stop-motion, musical adventure that taught children about happiness, giving and the magic of Christmas.
As a part of the pitch package Athena planned to shoot a three-minute animated sequence to give studio executives a feel for the look of the character design and animation. Athena ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund the production of the animated short.
Victoria working on the elevator
Behind the scenes of Auntie Claus
The first step of the animation was to pick a scene from the book. We decided the pick the moment that the young heroine Sophie sees a mysterious elevator in her Aunt's penthouse and realizes that there is more to her Aunt than she previously realized.
We storyboarded the shots and planned our production timeline for the short. We created a fully articulated, film-quality puppet that was designed in Maya, 3D printed, then cast and molded. Small clothes were made to keep her look faithful to the source material but looked better on screen. Facial expressions and mouth movement were accomplished with over 40 3D printed removable faces. A large set and three elevators were created for the short scene. One elevator with breakaway walls was made for the interior shots, another elevator was created for exterior shots and a smaller, ΒΌ scale one was built for the end flyover of Manhattan.
A significant amount of visual effects were added including practical snow, smoke and other elements. Digital effects were added to enhance in-camera effects. Artists digitally painted out rigging and cleaned up seams on the replacement faces. The elevator blast off scene required the most work and required very complex green-screen work and compositing. Some of the visual effects work can be seen on our post-production page.
Behind the scenes of Auntie Claus
We cast two wonderful actors to play Sophie and our belligerent elevator. A scratch track was created with final sound design being done at LucasFilm's Skywalker Sound by Academy-award winning sound designer Ben Burtt.
The short created a tremendous amount of attention and became an Official Selection of the New Media Film Festival in LA. The pitch package also included character designs, maquettes, set designs, musical treatments, story treatments, and much more. A top director, producer and over 50 talented artists and technicians had come together to create a charming children's film full of heart and soul. Unfortunately there were creative differences with the book's author and the film was abandoned in August of 2016.