Ornaments started out as a simple Christmas tree. I modeled it for fun during winter break of my junior year at college, using the tree in our living room as a visual reference. After much trial-and-error, I made a decent looking tree that rendered fairly quickly on my 200MHz Pentium.
After all that work, I figured I should probably do something with the model I'd just made. I sat down and sketched out a short script about a tree ornament who comes alive and tries to get at Santa's milk & cookies. The whole thing came to about two pages and took less than twenty minutes to write.
What followed was much more time-consuming. I began to draw concept sketches and storyboards to define the environment and the action. I chose to set the story in a perfectly typical living room with a quaint, rustic style. By the time I had gotten this far, winter break was over and I headed back to school.
At the end of junior year, I immediately dove back into the project. I built a new computer just for Ornaments, with faster processors and more ram. I also spent a lot of time choosing the background music, which was to mesh perfectly with the action.
After determining what 3D models would have to be made, I set out to a local furniture store armed with a camera and notepad to take photos of couches and tables that might make a good match for my animation. Since I was trying to create an environment that was timeless and warm, I did a bit of research in antique stores as well.
Once I had selected the most appropriate lamps, couches, and tables from the stack of photos, I returned to the stores and took careful measurements with a tape measure. I also collected furniture catalogs for reference.
Thus began about a month and a half of modeling couches, tables, and everything else that appears in the animation. I chose to model everything from scratch instead of purchasing pre-made objects. I was even able to hang a few pictures of my family onto the walls of the living room.
After the props were modeled and placed in the scene, I tackled the lighting scheme. Although you only see two lamps in the room, it took more than twenty lights in the 3D environment to get an acceptably nuanced image. The Christmas tree had its own set of dedicated lights, and I also added extra lights for subtle effects like moonlight through the window and shadows in the corners of the room.
With the scene set, it was finally time to start animating. This is the process of creating keyframes to make the character, camera and props move. This was the most time-consuming phase of production, and it took the rest of the summer, winter break of senior year, and six months after graduation to finish.
After graduating I took an advertising job in New York City and spent my free time completing the movie. By November the principal animation was done, and it was time for editing. Since I had coordinated the action and music from the beginning using low-resolution copies of the video, all that remained was to add sound effects, render, and do some minor tweaking. While I was at work during the day and sleeping at night, my computer rendered the thousands of frames of video, a process which took about twelve days.
With the video completed, I went to a local post-production house and had tapes made. Finally, Ornaments was ready to be submitted to film festivals!