STUDENT SPOTLIGHT | “Leading With Story: The Making of ‘The Ostrich Politic’” by SIGGRAPH Conferences

Above photo: GOBELINS. Production still from “The Ostrich Politic”.

The lead creator behind “The Ostrich Politic” discusses how he overcame challenges—technical and otherwise—when making his film. Hear the story in a recent blog.

In SIGGRAPH 2019 Computer Animation Festival Electronic Theater selection “The Ostrich Politic,” Ostriches learn that burying their heads, once believed to be an instinctive behavior, is no longer a necessary behavior for the species to engage in, thanks to a research advancement from phylogeneticist Dr. Kays. The film aims to point out similar, proven-false beliefs for humans in the hope of provoking audiences to reconsider what they know. Read on for an exclusive interview with the creator, Mohammad Houhou, who developed the film while a student in at GOBELINS in France.

SIGGRAPH: Talk a bit about the process for creating “The Ostrich Politic.” What inspired the idea for the film?

Mohammad Houhou (MH): Well, we [as humans] have a tendency to privilege typical misconceptions over facts. We acquire lots of information without questioning the source; we simply accept it. An obvious example would be the common misconception of ostriches burying their heads when in fear. We went on to create all kinds of films, ads, and phrases, such as “The Ostrich Policy,” all from a false observation. Why didn’t we question it at first? And, even more carelessly, why do we spread it?

SIGGRAPH: How big was your team? What kind of challenges did this create and how did you handle them? Did you face any extra roadblocks being students? Did you work with any mentors?

MH: Unfortunately I wasn’t working with a team, I started off as the only member; however, I received several helping hands during the production of the film. Some artists helped me with visual development, others helped with 3D modelling, animation, rigging, shading, or lighting. This was very difficult to manage since it was mostly done from a distance, and based on my friends’ free time, so scheduling things was tricky. A funny story is one animator, Pratik Purkayastha, moved in with me for one month during the animation phase so it would be easier for us to work. We lived in an 18m2 flat in Paris, shared a narrow desk in half, ate some delicious biryani all month long, and worked on the film.

I never thought that many types of [we experienced] roadblocks [could] exist. I still face roadblocks [today], after the completion of the film. Regardless, I accepted all the challenges and believe it has shaped me very well.

I worked with some AWESOME mentors. One thing that really pushed the film forward was that I was getting feedback from professionals on topics not only tied to their specialty. For example, Head of International Students at Gobelins Cecile Blondel gave me a lot of feedback on the poetry. I started pre-production really late, the screenwriting professors had already left the school by the time I began writing. So when the storyboarding teachers came in, they first gave me advice on the script. When they left and the visual development mentors arrived, they would give advice on the animatic, since I barely had any designs ready. Animation professors gave me feedback on the character design, 3D modeling, etc., before we got to animation. I even had an animation professors providing feedback on the poetry, too. Although this isn’t the usual workflow for working on a film, I felt there was something special about this approach. In addition, we were very fortunate to have Guillermo del Toro as the patron of the 2018 class at GOBELINS Master of Arts in Animation.

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