» Interview: The Children of the Night Team

Children of the Night is a new My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan animation in development based on the song Come Little Children by James Horner from Disney’s 1993 film Hocus Pocus. Joining the ranks of other fan animation projects, CotN focuses its lens on the events that formed Nightmare Night. With expressive animation and art direction, the project impresses even in its nascent state.

We asked the two talented creators, partners Spiritto and Lionheartcartoon some questions about the project and their interests, which you can read beyond the cut.

First, the basics – who is your favorite pony (or ponies?), and how did you both get into Friendship is Magic?

Spiritto: To me, Discord is best pony! A classy villain is so hard to find these days. How did I get into FIM? Well, I was watching some videos of G2 (Generation Two), when my husband mentioned to me that there was a new G4 going on. I was more than skeptical when I saw the first episode, but then I watched the second, and the third… and now I am here.

LionHeart: My focus on ‘favorite’ pony shifted as time went on. At first I saw a lot my myself in Twilight, discovering a new environment and all, but what made it shift was the episode Stare Master. That’s what made me like Fluttershy as #1 pony. She’s cute and all but, it’s Sweetiebelle’s singing in ‘Stare Master’ that really got me in FIM. Just so much fun!

How long have you both been into art, and how does it factor into your personal and professional lives?

SP: I always wanted to enter the animation industry, so I oriented all my educational curriculum towards that goal. After my graduation I freelanced for a while and eventually got my first job in a company. I love so much of what I do that I cannot picture myself doing anything else.

LH: I’ve been drawing actively since 1993 with a goal to get into an animation studio… which lead to a fruitful career of 10 years in the video game industry that spanned a few companies and studios. Like most artists, we both enjoy what we’re doing even when at home, hence how we started our current projects and share our knowledge. [Editor's note: Bronibooru has a pool of images relating directly to Children of the Night.]

Background art of Canterlot from Children of the Night

 

Besides ponies, what other animated shows are you following, and how do you compare them to Friendship is Magic?

SP/LH: We often follow the same shows as we both enjoy much of the same things, like: Thundercats, Gravity Falls, One Piece, Avatar (Last Airbender cartoon and Legend of Korra) and besides following cartoons, we have quite a few classics to draw inspiration from like: You’re under Arrest, Lupin the 3rd and The Mysterious Cities of Gold to name a few. As far as comparing goes, they are all different AND have their own charm but all of them along with FIM are quality-based and have great story-telling.

If you could work on any show, or comic, which one would it be, and why?

SP: Past, present or future? I sure would have loved to work on Casper, Friendship Is Magic, of course, Animaniacs, Looney Toons, Tiny Toons and most of the Disney Afternoon series.

LH: Oh my… Sam and Max tv series would have been great. The humour was really neat AND I kinda dug the characters. Kim Possible is a show I would have loved being on, FIM is the most recent one that really got me as a savior of tv animation and there are a few movies too, like The Incredibles, How to Train your Dragon and Ferngully The last Rainforest. All of that just because I love to draw and they seem like they would have been great experiences!

Given that you’re both artists, how much of an influence are you on each others’ works?

SP/LH: Even if we have specifics tasks in the animation we always keep an eye on each other’s work to ensure freshness. Sometimes, when you look at something for too long, you get drunk from the picture and you pass on mistakes that a fresh eye would not. That, and we learn from each other since we both have our different strengths. We don’t always notice it, but gradually we improve upon what the other is good at through constructive critiques and a second pair of eyes looking at the work in progress.

Who, or what, are some of the influences in your art and style?

SP: Uh..oh.. TOO MANY! If you look at my bookmarks, there is nothing but art blogs of people who I admire and learn from. Sabrina Alberghetti, Miyazaki, Sam Nielson, Jeremy Vickery, Loominous, Paperwalker, RAD how to, Don Bluth… those are a few that I could mention, but there are many, many more.

LH: I’ll point above. There are quite a few in there that influence me too. But the artist that has influenced me the most is André Franquin. A Belgian comic artist that fueled my childhood comic love. Granted it was mostly in French, but that’s not a problem for me. I also admire Richard Williams for his great work in the animation industry.

Children of the Night

Why did you choose a My Little Pony project?

LH: It’s important in any project to feel a passion with what you do and to choose something that motivates you. Even if just a little. With us both being in the fandom and with the multiplying pony art in our sketchbooks, when the idea struck to do a project we didn’t have to go far to pick My Little Pony. That way, both of us would enjoy it!

What about the song Come Little Children inspired you to create a full animation to accompany it?

SP: The song was the catalyst for us deciding to jump into this project. I mentioned to Lion that it sounded so much like Luna. Time passed and we both started to develop images in our heads that went with the music and the time came in which we took a breath and jumped into the storyboard, which lead to the first animatic.

Animatic (animated storyboard) for Children of the Night

You’re using Flash and AfterEffects to produce your animation. Can you walk us through your workflow and methodology behind constructing your animation?

LH: It starts in Flash, where I take the audio and put it in its layer, like one is supposed to. Of course, thanks to the animatic, I have a precise framecount and frame to start as well as finish. I also have the lines from my freehand animation that was in the animatic to test over everything in lineart form so that I constantly have my guides to help get the cues right. Cues being things like accent, mouth shape, and hooves position. Animating is what takes the longest time as there are many factors to take into account: Character speed, weight, emotions, eye positions, wings… it’s something. Not to mention I have to create new symbols as I go. I can prepare a few in advance, but none will work one hundred percent till it’s done for that precise point in time.

Color adjustment, lighting, extra shadows and shades take place in After Effects

Once I spent the better part of a 24 hour period animating a few seconds of animation, then it’s off to After Effects where it all comes together. This is where I get to see the fruits of my labor look more and more part of the scene we intended for it. Color adjustment, lighting, extra shadows and shades, background animations and special effects are all done in there. Not one shot of the project will escape from this place. ;) All that’s left after that is to render the composite images and import them in Adobe Premiere where the final editing takes place.

Partnerships are often complex. Both of you handle specific roles, but how do you mix things together without stepping on toes?

LH: Communication is key. Knowing who does what is a sure way to not be a hinderance to the other. But in our case, along with that, we both do what we know we’re best at doing. Which is NOT what the other is doing, Spirit masters colors, mood and composition. I’m the master of perspective, timing and animation. That gives us defined areas where we can work in tandem without problems.

Making a scene; rough draft (left) and final lineart & composition by LionHeart, final paint render (right) by Spiritto

You’ve said that you two are more than halfway done with the animation. Have your goals or direction for the short changed since you began?

SP: Not really, we’re pretty much following the original plan but it sure is a lot of hard work.

LH: It’s been my experience in studios that changing direction while in production is a huge de-motivator AND demands a lot of energy. But we got lucky, our direction never felt like it was wrong. :)

Have you overcome any legal hurdles in the production of the short, like licensing the music or with Hasbro? How was that process for you?

SP: We really hope we won’t have any legal issues with Hasbro or with James Horner, original compositor of the song. We made sure to make a G rated project, respectful to the FIM standards, we requested and have been granted permission by Kate Convington to use her version of the song and also we have been insisting a lot in the fact that we are not making a single penny out of this project, since it is for portfolio purposes. Given all this, we hope to be fine.

LH: The process itself was pretty straightforward: Ask permission. Of course, the music not being the object of the fan art was the important part, but like she said, we’re doing it for the fun of it.

A lot has been mentioned about the animation, but what about audio editing and features? Do you see yourselves casting additional voices?

LH: It’s mainly a video clip, not a full episode or anything like that. So all we really needed is what we already have, audio-wise. Plus it’s much easier to manage that way.

The Future

What do you see yourselves working on after CotN finishes?

SP: I wish I could say “relaxing under a palm tree”, but I have a certain Heaven’s Light to finish.

LH: There’s always something at the back of my mind.. but no doubt I’ll be helping her with Heaven’s Light a little as I love working on music videos like that.

A well-earned rest before another big project

What would you like to see in the upcoming season of Friendship is Magic?

SP: MOAR DISCORD! (yay chaos!)

LH: Just the same witty humour, awesome animation and cool stories they have been gracing us with since the beginning.

What’s your opinion on the burgeoning production of fan animations? Groups now are producing full episodes, and not just snippets. Do you think Hasbro will be more likely to take these down than other fan works?

SP: I think it is fantastic that the show has inspired so many people to give their best in order to create new things. It takes a lot to stir imagination that much and even more to give the momentum for fan animations. I cannot think of a reason for Hasbro to take the fan animations down since they are gathering more and more fans for the show itself.

Anything in particular that you would like to plug?

LH: Just that if you want you follow the project’s development, you can do so at the project’s blog: www.firstnightmarenight.blogspot.ca

There are already quite a few entries pertaining to production as well as pre-production which go into much more detail! Hope to see you guys there!

We thank both Lionheartcartoon and Spiritto for stopping by and answering our questions. Please make sure to check out their dev blog for more information. 

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