Shroud is a 2D animated short film by Naomi Edwards, which explores the private battles that we face in our minds. The film was part of an in-house shorts program by Mercury Filmworks; a studio located in Ottawa, known for their work on projects which include Kid Cosmic, Centaurworld and Hilda.
The program was launched by Mercury as an initiative that would give their artists an opportunity to work with the studio’s development team to create their own original animated short films. The program has launched with four shorts, each directed by a Mercury animator: Rebecca Kartzmark, Shane Plante, Melissa Lyn, and Naomi Edwards.
When the program was announced, Naomi pitched a fresh idea for a film that would explore how a person can be their own worst enemy. Her pitch was accepted, and over the course of a few months, she created Shroud with the support of Mercury. The resulting short follows a protagonist, an air surfer, who has to battle her own doppelgänger in order to survive an incoming storm.
We caught up with Naomi to learn more about her animation career so far, the inspiration behind Shroud, the Mercury Shorts program, and the process of making her short film.
Could you start by sharing with us your journey into animation, and your career so far?
I’ve always loved drawing, and I’ve been doing it since I could first hold a pencil. When I was a kid, I would draw my favourite characters from animated shows I watched. It wasn’t until I got to high school that someone suggested to me that animation might be a good career path for me. From then on, I was sure it was what I wanted to do. When I was in grade 10, I learned that Sheridan College was the top school near me for studying animation. And so I made it my goal to go there.
When I applied to Sheridan, I didn’t have any formal training. I was just self-taught. It was nerve-wracking to apply because a lot of the program’s applicants came from art schools that had helped them with putting together their portfolios. But I got in! And I loved the program. I really enjoyed being able to focus entirely on art and drawing, and it solidified for me that animation was what I wanted to do. I finished up the program with my 4th year film, which is when Mercury Filmworks came along. They saw my film, and I went in for an interview. I got the job, and I’ve been with them ever since.
What was your inspiration for Shroud, and what story does the short tell?
When the shorts program was announced, I came up with an entirely original concept. Shroud is meant to be a metaphor for the mental battles we all face in our heads. I based it on my own personal experience of finding myself in my own head a lot. I wanted the film to represent a visual of what the internal battle looks like.
A storm was a good metaphor for our mental struggles. Having a clone of the main character, I felt, would be a good way to show how we can be our own worst enemies. The clone represents our own self doubts and fears. I really vibed with this idea at the time. And so it felt like the right story to pitch, and then to go ahead and make.
You developed Shroud as part of Mercury Filmworks new endeavour, Mercury Shorts. How did you end up selected to participate in this initiative?
This in-house program is for people actively working at Mercury. It provides an opportunity for Mercury to invest in their employees’ creativity, outside of their daily work. The program was announced to the studio. Everyone working at Mercury was welcome to apply with a pitch that included a description of the concept and some artwork to support the idea. I put my quick pitch together in just a day, submitted it and hoped for the best. I was selected!
The production process was definitely eye opening for me because it was condensed. We were given 4 full work days across 2 months to work on our films. Other than those days we had to use our spare time to develop the projects. Working full time, along with commitments outside of work, made it pretty tight to budget out the time to work on Shroud. I had to learn to balance my time well in order to complete the film within the timeline.
How did Mercury Filmworks support the making of Shroud?
Mercury provided support in a couple different ways. First, there were 4 paid full workdays that were given to me and the other artists for making our films. They also provided support in the form of production members. I was able to work with artists from other departments of Mercury on the aspects of the production process that I was less familiar with. For example, I worked with a background artist from Mercury to help with one of Shroud’s largest backgrounds. Since finishing school, Shroud is the most independent project I’ve ever done. Since it was so hands-on and condensed, I really appreciated all the support from Mercury in making it.
Can you tell us how you developed the visual style for your short? How did the visual style impact your process and the finished film?
The style I was going for was mostly what I generally like to draw in my spare time. When I first started drawing, anime was my first ever inspiration but other influences like Disney have added to the style. Over the years it’s grown and developed and I think those initial impressions still show up in my work. I do try to go with a more mature style and not as cartoony. For Shroud, I did try to simplify the look a bit, since it is action-heavy.
In making Shroud did you learn any new skills, whether in Toon Boom Harmony or for animation in general?
Making Shroud definitely helped me become way more comfortable with some of Toon Boom’s features, like the drawing mode and node view. I knew those features, but hadn’t relied on them in-depth before.
Another learning curve for me was making the backgrounds for the film. I made six out of the seven backgrounds for Shroud, which was a challenge because I don’t paint clouds often in my day-to-day work. I had to learn different techniques for painting the clouds, for layering them interestingly, and using filters, that I haven’t used before. In doing the backgrounds I learned how to colour really quickly!
For the final shot, which used the seventh background, I had help from Bonnie Badour. That was a huge background that I didn’t have time to do, so her contribution was super appreciated.
There are a lot of effects in Shroud, for example the lightning strike. What went into the effects for Shroud?
The effects in Shroud are all thanks to the small production team from Mercury that helped with the film: Darren Bird worked on FX, Allen Tam helped with compositing, and Babin Sakthithasan worked on the film’s lighting.
I was so grateful for these guys. They worked on the aspects of post-production that you don’t think about when you’re an animator in the production flow. Their final touches were absolutely genius, and made Shroud look even more incredible than I had envisioned.
I also really appreciated how supportive Darren, Allen, and Babin were. They loved the idea of Shroud, and wanted to contribute to making it. It meant the world to me that they were so invested in the short.
Another notable feature of the short’s aesthetic is your use of parallax backgrounds. How did you use parallax backgrounds in Shroud, and how did they contribute to the overall feel of the film?
They were separate layers, for example for the clouds I had individual pieces painted that were exported as PNGs. I then was able to z-depth them in the top view in Toon Boom Harmony. And then with camera moves I was able to create an atmospheric and in-depth feel. The last shot was definitely the trickiest one because it was a vertical pan followed by a horizontal pan. That was all one background with many layers on top of it to make it the perfect shot.
What was most challenging about developing Shroud, and how did you overcome that challenge?
The biggest challenge was definitely the sheer amount of work that went into making the short. It ended up being one of the busiest times in my career so far, because I was balancing my full time job at the studio while making Shroud. Along with a collage of other life responsibilities.
It also was a mental challenge. In my dayjob, the pressure doesn’t get into my head as much because I’m not working on a project that is so close to me. I found that with Shroud, I had more opportunity to be intentional, but I also had more moments of self-doubt. I would worry about whether the meaning of the film was coming across. Or if the style would end up reflecting what I’d imagined. It’s funny because my self-doubt in making Shroud paralleled the metaphor of the short itself.
Making Shroud was a really great learning experience for me. I learned that not everything has to turn out absolutely perfectly. It’s just as important to persevere and finish the project.
What advice would you give to artists who want to break into 2D animation?
Have fun with it! There are plenty of strategies for getting into animation, from courses to networking. But it’s important to stay true to the true joy of the craft. Animation is a career that you need to have passion for, so be sure to always follow your gut and enjoy the process of creating art. I always think to myself how lucky I am to have made drawing my career, which is why I think it’s so important to never forget the fun of it.
Do you have any upcoming personal projects, and do you have advice for artists who want to work on personal projects?
I have some upcoming projects, but for now they are staying under wraps! In terms of advice for working on personal projects, I think the key is to just set aside time for it. I know from my own experience how easy it is to skip working on your own stuff because you feel tired after work. But if it’s something you love, you have to make sure it’s a priority in your life. Even if you can dedicate just 15 or 30 minutes a day, it’s worth it. I often spend part of my lunch break doing some drawing.