Among the many animated projects debuting a SIGGRAPH this week is Samurai Frog Golf (or SFG), a charming short created by director Brent Forrest and the Marza Animation Planet team in Tokyo. We recently had a chance to chat with Brent about his new project and his plans for his samurai-infused golf adventure story:
Animation Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the short?
Brent Forrest: Even as a young kid, I remember my dad being obsessed with golf. Golf jokes, golf stories, golf lessons, they were drilled into me from childhood — almost every house I lived in growing up backed onto the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto. I’m a huge fan of samurai serials, I love the hero’s journey, I love a good adventure, and the funny thing is that there are dozens if not hundreds of parallels between the way of the samurai and the Zen of golf. Think about a golfer lining up to take a shot: The silence, the balance, the combination of power and precision … Does that remind you of anything?
When I started thinking seriously about putting this film together, one of the greatest sources of inspiration was paying a visit to David Bull’s Japanese woodblock print shop, Mokuhankan (mokuhankan.com) in the Asakusa neighborhood in Tokyo. I went there early on with my creative partner, Tobi. David taught us about the history of woodblock printing and gave us a quick hands-on lesson on how to do it. I became obsessed with the story behind the art form, and while I made the decision early on that we were not going to make a “moving ukiyo-e print,” we would draw heavy inspiration from what we’d learned. David graciously opened his shop to us a second time when the studio production team came to get a quick lesson.
When did you start working on in and how long did it take to make?
The earliest drawing I made for the project was around 2016 when I did this sketch of a fat frog samurai for the Character Design Challenge on Facebook. I started putting the boards together in 2019 around the time we were finishing up with Like and Follow, and the project really started in 2021 when the studio agreed to get behind the idea and produce the short. When that happened, things accelerated in two stages: First, we had to make the proposal to get the government subsidy — that didn’t take too long, maybe a month. Then when we were approved, we had four months to put the entire three-and-a-half-minute short together from start to finish.
How many people worked on Samurai Frog Golf? Which animation tools were used?
There were about 30 people on the crew all told. Our animation, modeling and rigging package was Maya 2020, we rendered in Arnold, and we made heavy use of Marza’s proprietary tools the Time Filter and ShapeMeshing 2.0 for the special effects.
Can you describe the visual style of your work?
Yes I can: Ukiyo-e meets Van Gogh with a DeepDream twist. It was expressed early on that we not simply mimic the woodblock print style; however, it was important that the crew understood the methods and techniques. That’s why the trip to the print shop was one of the first things we did.
What did you enjoy most about working in the short format?
That’s tough to put into words. Making films is my favorite thing to do — and shorts are probably the best way of getting that work done. I think most of us in this industry like working on projects that are creative, exciting and not built strictly around selling toothpaste or hypnotizing toddlers. Features can be a soul crushing experience with 10,000 artists working on a few dozen pixels of the final product; commercial work has its utility; series work I kind of like, depending on the project — but shorts are a pure expression of the craft. What isn’t to like about making shorts? Finally, the music: Working with my friend David Arcus (davidarcus.com), who wrote and composed the score to this and two of my other animated shorts, was a joy.
What were the biggest challenges? What was your ballpark budget?
Lighting, Comping, Render were up there. The reams of paperwork involved in procuring the government subsidy, that was a monstrous task taken on by our production management team. Finally, promotional work and marketing continues to be a huge challenge. It’s amazing how much of the challenges of making an animated film have nothing to do with animation. The animation itself was the smoothest part, but that’s because this is Marza. Our budget was about $200,000.
Who are your big animation heroes?
To name a few: Andy Knight, my first boss and mentor; Brad Bird, John Lasseter, Rebecca Sugar, Robert Valley Bill Peet and Wolfgang Reitherman.
What are some of the other projects you’re currently working on?
I have a new film in the early stages with Tobi that doesn’t have a title yet — we’ll be getting the boards and music sorted on that eventually. I have an adventure game I’d really like to make a demo for one of these days. Besides that, my focus has been entirely on doing meetings with potential coproduction partners for the SFG animated series.