In the realms of sci-fi selfless robots such at the Iron Giant or Johnny Five have long held a tender place in our hearts. Sure they could crush the life out of you with the slightest articulated gesture, but that’s just bad programming. Put the commas and semi-colons in the right places and what you end up with is a ridiculously cool, bullet proof friend who’s eternally loyal – batteries allowing of course. In Liam Murphy’s award winning graduation action short NO-A, a tenacious robot battles through merciless enemies in his attempt to rescue the girl who created him. Murphy tells DN how the quality over quantity approach he took on the project applied not only to story beats but also to building an effective and efficiently managed team of collaborators.
About a year and a half ago I was approached by one of my good friends Andrew Finely to direct a film called NO-A. He was a visual effects student at the school and he had this script roughly written out for a robot called NO-A going on this journey to ultimately save the young girl that created him. When I first read the script, I was very interested because I knew the project was ambitious and different from the Pixar style senior films that people had been doing at the school up until that point. So I took the script and cut out all the backstory and dialogue and just focused on the part where NO-A is rescuing this girl (because I felt that was the most interesting aspect). I also wanted to have quality over quantity. I was trying to make the film as short as possible so that we could make every frame as polished as possible. The original script would have resulted in a 20 minute film.
I started by nailing down how the robot would look. We used this, as well as some other concept art, as our foundation for the kind of quality we were looking to achieve. Me and Andrew worked tirelessly on the film. We recruited a few other people that we trusted to do compositing, FX, modelling, etc. After many long hours we had the first 10 shots done (this took about 7 weeks), but we knew that we needed to hire an external render farm because the one at school just wasn’t cutting it. We needed better hardware to cut down the time that we wasted sitting around waiting for shots to finish rendering. We then started a Kickstarter to fund the third party render farm. After about 2 weeks, we were lucky enough to get a staff pick and the funding was quickly completed.
The rest of production went smoothly as long as we kept the bulk of the work concentrated within about 8 people. I noticed that the more people that touched the project, the harder it was to manage. We allowed some classmates who asked to work on the project to take over small responsibilities that I knew wouldn’t require much micro managing. It also allowed other students access to fairly high quality assets that are normally difficult to get while in school. We were able to finish the rest of the film over the next 10 weeks with each person putting in around 70 hours of work per week into the project (on average).
The score was probably the most difficult aspect to finish. We went through 3 different composers over the course of 5 months before I felt satisfied with how things sounded. I felt that the music was one of the most important things when telling a story with no dialogue. As a director, I had to wear a lot of hats to get the film done on time. I animated about 48 of the 53 shots myself, rigged most of the characters and even composited the lens flares over the final renders. It was easily the most passion I’ve ever had for a project. I would like to think that passion comes through.