He's the master of Gifathons, bringing us a new animated gif every day for 30 days, focusing around the theme of one city. Now James Curran is back and this time he's gone 3D.
Looking through his popular self-initiated series, Curran has picked out 30 gifs from New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, but giving them a more three-dimensional edge.
What sparked it? "I'd been thinking about doing a new Gifathon in a new city, but I wanted to try something different," Curran tells Creative Boom. "I actually started to learn 3D animation in Maya about 15 years ago, before I switched to a mostly 2D style. My main reason for focusing on 2D was that it's very quick to produce, which made creating Gifathons possible in the first place. I knew this wasn't the case with 3D animation, so my initial concern was if it would even be possible to create a new 3D animation every day."
Because of this, Curran thought it would be a good idea to experiment first, remaking 30 of his earlier Gifathon animations. "If Disney can remake all of their 2D animation in 3D, why can't I?"
How did he make it happen? "The first thing I knew I'd need was a very solid rig for the main character. It needed to be versatile and completely customisable so that I could put him in the wide variety of costumes needed for a full Gifathon."
Curran had some experience with rigging but wanted to work with an expert, so he asked Martin Gunnarsson to help him out. "He did an amazing job and we ended up with a rig that I think even surprised Martin with how far I was able to push it with different character variations."
The other challenge Curran faced was rendering. "With After Effects, what you see in the viewport is pretty much what you get in the final render and the renders take maybe a few minutes at the most for even the most complex of my 2D Gifathon animations. But with 3D, particularly when rendering on my MacBook, one render can easily take several hours so I had to look at other options. The solution was using cloud rendering, which isn't free, but to reduce an animation's render time from around nine hours down to about 20 minutes, the relatively low cost was definitely worth it."
Is he happy with the result? "Yes. I'm surprised by how much I already knew about Maya and 3D animation. I've gradually learnt little bits over the years but had never taken the time to use all that knowledge in one project, so it was quite satisfying to see it all come together. With each animation, I pushed myself to do something that I hadn't tried before, from simple things like using different types of lights, experimenting with render layers, or incorporating dynamic effects such as particles."
Was it easy choosing which GIFs to remake in 3D? "I have a lot of favourites, so it wasn't easy to decide which ones would make the cut. I often pick animations based on the costume the character is wearing, as the dressing-up part was where I had the most fun."
Curran's side projects are always popular on Instagram. In an interview with Creative Boom, the animator champions self-initiated projects as the reason for his success. "I'm beginning to get requests from clients for 3D work now, which is great," he adds.
While Curran will continue to produce work in 2D, he's excited to be venturing into the world of 3D, too. And he already has plans for a new 3D Gifathon for 2020. Watch this space!