Nick Crockett

Fire Underground

Software Animation, 2018-2020
Overview    Video + Screenshots    Research    Preproduction    Demos + Artifacts


Fire Underground was produced during my MFA. I worked around semi-regular critiques with my classmates. It is unusual to do a single large project in that context, and it shaped a lot of how the project worked:
  • Early on I used critiques to show short snippets and demo scenes
  • Later I shifted towards a chapter based or episodic structure for the whole piece. This allowed me to include poetic chapter titles to frame and clarify the narrative, but it also allowed me to show individual chapters in critique and exhibitions as standalone pieces.

Winter / Spring 2018
Historical research
  • Library / background research
  • Traveled throughout West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to see more historical sites firsthand
  • Connected with the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan, WV
  • Watched documentaries and films like Harlan County USA, Matewan, Goodbye Pauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, and more
  • Listened folk and country music, like merle travis, jean ritchie, and nimrod workman
Early pre production and prototyping
  • Testing and iteration with photogrammetry and sculpture processes, including characters and props
  • Early crits and shows; created 'disneyland dark ride' type sidescrolling scenes to test out mood and environments.

Summer 2018
Writing and planning
  • Started by identifying key characters and visual motifs, and the historical narrative about the mine wars that I wanted to reproduce
  • Took over a room in my shared apartment and used sticky notes to organize the narrative outline
  • Also storyboarded specific scenes
aesthetic / production experimentation
  • Took breaks from the writing and planning to iterate on human characters and props in my studio - developing the techniques I would use to creating different physical art assets and practicing photogrammetry

Fall 2018
Technical Preproduction
Focused on building a handful of the more technically challenging scenes first to develop my process
  • Model railroad ('clockwork automaton' idea)
  • Midi banjo scene (ragdoll puppets with animations driven by a midi file)
  • Transition of nimrod scene (first scene with pre-scripted camera cuts, more conventional cinematic language. Timeline was just being released around this time, I didn't use it for this scene but for others I did)
Also around this time I got a grant to hire Sarah Louise to help produce original music for the piece.

Winter 2019 / Spring 2019

As my deadline approached, I entered more focused production:
  • Started to build out small tools and practices to make things easier: tools for sequencing events, controlling character animations with a modular system, etc
  • Relied a lot on the storyboards, but working with a game engine (real-time animation) made iterating and experimenting with different camera angles much easier than in pre rendered animation. There wasn’t  much difference at that point between making an animatic and making the final scene.
  • Bug / task management primarily using trello boards.
  • I still tried to give myself some space to improvise and play with the materials quite a bit. Many weirder/ more improvisational scenes made it into the final cut at the last minute

Since the thesis show, I have done a little bit of polishing things up but haven't made any truly major changes to the piece.