Monday, 15 December 2014

Making of Rabbit and Deer (Nyuszi és Őz)

"A stunningly directed and beautifully crafted play on the universal conflict of emotional incompatibility." Jonathan Hodgson (BAFTA winner animation director)

Rabbit and Deer is my graduation film from MOME Anim in Budapest, Hungary and it took me a year and a half to make it with the great help of my friend Attila Bertóti. Since I finished the film in 2013 it has been screened in 63 countries at more than 300 festivals and won over 120 awards. People's reactions to the film have been just wonderful and I'm grateful for all the kind words and support I have had.

     In this making of post I will go through the whole creative and technical process including the question of 'how should I promote my film after I finished making it'. 
I hope you'll find it useful. 


1.1. Finding the right story
When I started my graduation project I had no idea what kind of animated film I was going to make but I tried really hard to figure it out as soon as possible because I decided to stick to the one-year deadline (at MOME you have the chance to extend your graduation by a year and in animation people tend to do that).

collection of ideas for the story
    I collected different ideas that fascinated me in general and one of those was mixing different animation techniques. I was really curious about how puppet animation could interact with 2D drawn animation whilst telling a story with them. Even though it's an exciting idea by itself I was still missing the essence - what kind of story was I going to tell and who would be its heroes…?

the first illustration of Rabbit and Deer
    After a month of searching finally I found my protagonists. They were right in front of me the whole time...
Have you ever had the feeling that your friend looks exactly like an animal? Well, once my friend said I looked like a deer, which started a funny role play between me and my ex-girlfriend who looked like a rabbit. I started making illustrations with these two animals based on moments we shared together and soon Rabbit and Deer became independent characters, separate from their creators.

I found my two heroes but the story was still a big question mark. I started thinking about why I could relate to these characters and I realized that it was 'their' happy moments and silly fights, inspired by our everyday life, that made them so special. I quickly began to collect all these little details and turned them into sketches.

1.2. Developing the story – 2D and 3D
    After Rabbit and Deer came on board as the main characters I soon decided that I would use/mix two animation techniques to tell their story. I chose puppet (stop motion) and hand-drawn (2D) because of their contrast and because I love working manually.

sketches for possible interactions between the 2D and 3D worlds

The idea that one of them gets obsessed exploring another world came from the use of different techniques and became the core of the whole story. At this point I started to collect as many visual ideas as I could for the possible interactions between the 2D and 3D worlds. This exploration was one of the most exciting and fun parts…

1.3. It's good to read inspiring books

    I'm more of a visual person but whilst making Rabbit and Deer I was also writing as I was trying to discover more about the two characters' personalities and feelings (often just lying awake at night).
Robert McKee - author of STORY
During this process I started to read Robert McKee's STORY which is a great book explaining the principals of storytelling and scriptwriting whilst referring to the greatest films of all time as examples. It gave me many ideas to find the best way to tell and form the story of Rabbit and Deer.

In the meantime I also had to write a longer thesis for which I choose Henry Selick's body of work in relation with the history of puppet animation. I read many great books on stop motion, and the making of his films (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, Coraline…) which inspired me a lot from both story and technical point of view.

1.4. Who is the target audience?
    So… I was asked by my consultants at film school the question: who will be the target audience of this film? Children or adults? I never liked this question… Everyone who has feelings and emphathy is my 'target'. I'd like to believe that I can make films that reach people's heart no matter what age they are.
Nevertheless I still had to decide whether the characters were friends or lovers. In the beginning I planned on it being a relationship but I couldn't find a healthy balance so I decided to simplify things and turn it into a friendship which worked better. In the end I believe it became a delicate mixture of the two which leaves more space for people's personal interpretation.


2.1. Designing the two worlds and its characters
Rabbit and Deer's 2D world is set on a paper plane that stands on the edge of the 3D world. It's like a slice or the projection of the three dimensional universe. For the sake of the story and the world's authenticity I really had to simplify the look of the 2D world which meant that there couldn't be any perspective distortion or overlapping objects.

first sketches

final design - poses and facial expression for Rabbit

color sketch for the 3D world

2.3. A great help and companion on the long journey
    When the story's main plot was set I knew it was going to be too big of a project for me alone. I needed someone who could help, someone who would understand all the aspects of directing animation and someone who could be there even in the hardest moments and say 'it's not good enough'. I was very lucky to have Attila Bertóti as a classmate and who's work (Ariadne's Thread) I respected very much and who said yes when I asked him to join me. Attila started to work with me on developing the animatic and helped all the way till graduation. 

with Rita Domonyi & József Fülöp
I also had a lot of help from the lecturers of MOME Animation department; Rita Domonyi, Zsolt Richly, Judit Czakó and József Fülöp, director of MOME who produced the film and got around €6000 of funding for the film's production and ensured a studio space and equipment in the university building.

2.4. Animated film inspiration for directing, style, visual look and music
I love The Gruffalo by Studio Soi. It has beautiful design and style, every detail is perfect and the characters are loveable. The magical music from René Aubry makes the whole film very special. My other big favorite is Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. A unique piece of puppet animation from a live-action director with an amazing soundtrack. For the 2D part of my film I would have loved to have achieved something as delicate as the style of Patrick Doyon's Dimanche or Caleb Wood's Stay Home has but I had to simplify things… still, I love those films. As for Deer's puppet and the 3D quality, I got some good ideas from Johny Kelly's Chipotle advert.

inspirational films from different directors

Whenever I got stuck I tried to re-inspire myself by watching these films and analyzing the use of music, design, animation, characters, colors and storytelling.

2.5. Working with a team
I always tried to develop the whole project in unity because each part defines, forms and inspires all the others. It's a constant conversation between the different elements of the film (materials, characters, acting, sound, music…etc).

I realized that I couldn't very well ask for help until I knew exactly what I needed help with. If I didn't figure out and plan every little detail before handing out a task, my project would loose its authenticity and it would have been a painful waste of time. That was the hardest part because after a while I needed help with all the different aspects of the film (animation, set and prop design, coloring, sound design, etc.) to be able to finish on time for graduation.

3) PRODUCTION - Making the actual film

By the beginning of March I had a rough, 12-min long animatic. I had four months until graduation which was a bit scary but also challenging...

animating Rabbit (replacing the cut-out paper poses frame by frame)

Making the Deer puppet
     The first challenge was to transform Deer's simple rectangular body into a three dimensional puppet that still looked like the 2D version of him. After I drew some sketches I made two simple prototypes to figure out how it might look and function before making the more sophisticated and time-consuming final version.

First visual test putting 2D and 3D next to each other
    I sculpted the body from styrofoam and covered it with car repair putty to harden it, but probably now I'd use Sculpy which is great for sculpting and also bakeable. For the arms, legs and neck I used 1-2 mm aluminium wire covered with heat-shrink tube. Inside the body there is an inner structure with brass tubing (K&S) and screws so that I could replace the limbs if the wire broke whilst animating a scene. The two halves of the body were joined by a strong magnet which made it easy to open it and change things.

a rough animation test with the very first prototypes

transformation from 2D to 3D

2nd prototype
technical drawing for the final puppet

      For the head I decided to use replacement mouth shapes to animate his facial expressions – the same techniqe used in Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline and Laika's newest feature films. Every mouth shape was modeled in 3D software and printed out as real objects by a high-res 3D printer. To attach and replace the mouth shapes I inserted a magnet in the head and glued little metal pieces to each mouth. For the eyebrows and eyelids I used plasticine.

3D printing the head and the mouth shapes

cleaning the additional support layer

painting the final elements

The finished puppet Deer

And this was the very first 'animation' test I made to see how it works in 3D space...

Building sets and animating
   The film's first 2D part was animated entirely in computer using a Wacom tablet with Adobe Flash and colored in TV Paint software.
The puppet sets were more complex and complicated but a lot of fun to work with. For the puppet animation I used Dragonframe software and a Canon 60D camera.

After Deer cuts Rabbit from their 2D paper plane world she also became a 'puppet' but instead of one she had a print for each posture of her movement which I was replacing frame by frame as the animating went along.

animation sequence cut-out frame by frame

the studio in MOME

    Music is as important for me as the image, although it works differently. It supports the emotional part of the film because it has an immediate subconscious impact on us whilst processing the visual part is more of a mental task. I love the music of René Aubry so much that I decided to use one of his songs Dare-Dard for the opening sequence for which fortunately I could get the rights cleared.

Máté Hámori composing the music
    From the animatic till the film's first rough-cut version I mainly used already existing songs and film tracks to have a basic set of audio mood. After the whole film was animated and edited we could focus on composing the film's original soundtrack and create an accurate sound design both made by the talented Hungarian musician Máté Hámori. It was great to work with Máté because he believed in the film and he was opened for discussions which is very important for me. He added so much to the film with his precise and creative work.

MK / Mahdi Khene writer of the song Listen
    As for the ending song I used The Marshall Tucker Band's Can't You See for almost a year but I couldn't clear the rights for it (due to the record label's passive communication) which led me to the fortunate act of asking Mahdi Khene (a musician friend of mine) if he'd be up for writing one instead. He basically sent me 'Listen' the next day, a beautiful song inspired by and written for the film itself. I'm very happy with it. 
(If you like the song make sure you check out Mahdi's freshly released album Something Like That.)


5.1. Making the website and facebook page
     I wanted to be as professional as possible not only with making the film, but with promoting and distributing it as well. When we create something, we tend to believe that finishing the creation is the end of the process but if you want to make a living from what you do you must communicate about it.

winning a Crystal in ANNECY
From releasing my previous film Streamschool I had already experienced sending my film to festivals as well as releasing work on internet. For Rabbit and Deer I made a website and Facebook page before sending it to festivals. It's good to have a nice overview of your film with all the basic information in one place (trailer, stills, making of images, festival screening dates… etc.)
I use the film's Facebook fan page to share news, updates, artworks and to interact with my audience which is very important for me.
Looking back now it's quite unbelievable to see the hundreds of pictures, illustrations and videos I made in the last two years for the different events...

5.2. Festivals - take it seriously
     Even though I knew people liked the film from previous screenings I had no clue how would it do on festivals. Ideally we wanted to get the film into one of the major festivals like Berlinale or Cannes but they didn't select it for their competition. It didn't get me down because I knew there are so many others and in the meantime I won my very first award the Hungarian Film Critics' for Best Animation which was fantastic and reassuring.

Hungarian Film Critics Award

self-made packages to festivals
 So I started to send it to festivals. I wanted to do it as professional as I could. I made personal business cards and postcars with the film stills printed on them. I also designed and created the DVDs and their packaging one by one. In the beginning it took me a long time to find the right festivals, fill out submission forms and send the packages with the DVDs but soon I realized there are so many online platforms (shortfilmdepot, shortfilmcentral, reelport, WAB, ) from where you can send your film much easier spending less money on it. It still took me a year as a part time activity to send it to more than 500 festivals...

I even made a little short film on my way to the Annecy film festival (inspired by one of my exemplar Juan Pablo Zaramella who did a short pixilation the previous year).

5.3. Awards and recognition
with one of my favorite award from Se-Ma-For Festival
     I'm very happy and grateful for having such an amazing reaction to my film in the end. But winning over 100 awards isn't always easy to process. I had to learn to take them and stay down to earth, grateful, without feeling guilty or having any other weird feeling. With time I slowly understood that they are not shiny glorious badges but each of them is a 'word' of appreciation, love and a wish to share it with other people.

     Throughout my many travels to different countries and festivals I had some wonderful moments which I will never forget. Once I was at a big Spanish festival where I presented my film personally. After the screening I was trying to go through the crowd when a woman suddenly appeared in front of me gently grabbing my arm, kissing me on my cheek and leaving without a word. I just stood there and felt very happy and honored.
Other times older people came to me with warm smiles shaking my hand strongly or children with wondering eyes looking at the puppets and asking for autograph for which I always add a nice drawing and a few kind words.

Illustration for the children in Seattle.

It's just magical to see people from different countries and from all ages being inspired and happy all because of a 16 minute shortfilm that I made with love.

Making of written by Péter Vácz
English edited by Joseph Wallace


  1. I just discovered your 'Rabbit and Deer' film (thanks to the io9 blog) and I enjoyed it very very much, it's really nicely done! Congratulations! :-)

    1. Thank you, I'm glad you came across with it! Best

  2. I love animation and wish I could do half of how you have achieved in this work. Well done! If you're visiting London get in touch. It'd be a pleasure to meet with you for a drink and talk about animation.

  3. So glad you published this! I always wanted to know how it was made.

  4. Your work is beautiful and lovely! I will share it with my grade 3-4 students. I am sure they will love it.

  5. Its just incredible! Im from Chile, South America , so far away from you and still Im able to watch your work, love it and learn from it. Its so great that you write in english!! and i just wanted you to know that this is how far your work can get and inspire <3

    1. Dear Camila,

      thank you for your heartwarming feedback from Chile. I'm glad you enjoyed my film.

      All the best,

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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