A-Tota-So – ‘I Am’

When my friends in A-tota-so approached me to ask for a music video for their new single, I jumped at the chance as soon as I heard the song. I am is a beautiful melodic piece that meanders through emotive episodes that wax and wane into a climactic eruption of distorted guitars, strings and powerful vocals (provided by Aisling Whiting of the band Sang Froid).

Initially, we discussed creating something simple, possibly modular that could be put together quickly. Perhaps an extension of the 3D art I’d been experimenting with before. But the more I played with the idea, the more it grew into a major animation piece that explored nature, life, death, change and magic.

Inspired by Simon J Curd’s stunning artwork for the band’s upcoming album, I experimented with an idea revolving around a well in a forest; a single point around which the seasons, cycles, trials and tribulations of the forest play out.

Early scene development

Working in Cinema 4D, I experimented with various toon shaders before settling for Octane’s GPU rendering speed – something quite critical when dealing with thousands of tree branches, leaves and blades of grass, with some scenes containing over 500,000 polygons!

A 3D render of a deer watching a glowing sprite floating through a summery forest scene.
A deer watches a sprite floating through the forest.
A 3D render of a crow flying through a autumnal forest scene.
A crow flies over an autumnal forest scene

As I continued experimenting, the video eventually developed a subtle story that follows the dynamics of the music. The forest breaks out of a bleak autumnal scene into a vibrant summer, before falling into a dark and stormy night. Throughout the piece, small sprites explore the forest, lighting up their surroundings, performing their dances around the well, bringing about change, life, and ultimately destruction.

A 3D render of a fox watching a glowing sprite floating through a forest at dusk.
A fox watches a sprite floating through the forest as the sun sets.
A 3D render of glowing sprites descending into an old well in the middle of a forest.
The sprites descend into the well as darkness falls
A 3D render of a deer in a forest. The deer is a glowing ghost surrounded by glowing sprites and glitter.
In the darkness, the sprites turn red and strike the animals of the forest, turning them into ghostly glowing versions of themselves.

This project was far more extensive than anything I have worked on previously, especially in 3D. I’m very much still learning the process, and this job was a huge learning opportunity for me. For example, character – and especially animal – animation is very difficult! And I definitely could have made the process easier for myself with better project management such as using layers and incremental saving, and I suppose more advanced planning along the way!

Here’s a little more of a behind-the-scenes look into animation process: