One stormy night, a man is awoken by strange noises downstairs and soon finds himself facing off with a TV-loving poltergeist.

Animated films have become much more accessible to create over the last decade or so, but it will always take talent and passion to create a memorable film. ‘Grump in the Night’ is an animated short film created by Kris Theorin in just over four months – which is incredible given the end quality. With the use of motion capture (see the hilarious making of clips at the end of the film) and lots of loose movements, Kris was able to bring classic animated features within a very short timeframe. We caught up with Kris who gave us a little more insight on the film.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

The story is based on an idea my brother came up with back in 2017. Originally, we had wanted to make it a 2D short film, but when I came back to it at the end of 2021, I realized that I was at the point where doing a fully 3D film could be achievable. The design of the short allowed for it to be done by a single artist since it had a limited cast, a few locations, and animation that could be done using motion capture. Not only that, but the story itself was something I had never really tackled before. It was certainly far more emotionally resonant and sweet than some of my earlier animations, which are more focused on action. All in all, it was a great way to further my experience both in 3D animation and as a filmmaker.

What are the tools you used for this project?

I used a number of 3D programs to bring this film to life. First and foremost, I used Noitom’s Perception Neuron 3 to do all the motion capture animation. It’s just a great suit that can take a lot of the crazy movements I throw at it with minimal animation cleanup work needed afterwards. I sculpted all the characters in Zbrush (starting from a base mesh to save on time) and textured them in Substance Painter. After that, I rigged and animated them in Cinema 4D and finally rendered it all out using Redshift. From there, I just did a bit of compositing (adding film grain and other imperfections) in After Effects to finish the whole thing off.

Tell us about your process from storyboarding to final edit.

It started with taking the short, one paragraph description my brother Nik wrote back in 2017 and expanding that into a fully realized script. My other brother Kurtis took his idea and added a whole middle portion to the film along with expanding the ending to make it more cathartic and emotionally resonant. I then took this script and made a basic animatic using simple stick figures so that I could see how the film flowed (since pacing was crucial for this sort of short). Having this animatic also helped me know how long I should hold on each shot when it came time to animate. From there, I went through the whole 3D workflow I mentioned earlier. So doing all the sculpting, texturing, set design, animation, rendering, and compositing all by myself over the course of several months. Once that was all done, it was a far simpler task of taking these final, rendered shots and putting them into the edit to see how it all flowed. The whole time we had our awesome composers, Adam Kromelow and Dan Rufolo working on the score so that once I had the film rendered, the music would be ready to go. After that, I took four days to do the sound design for the film (adding all the footsteps, vocals, and other effects) and that was it!

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

The most challenging shots of the film were at the end where the entire family is doing a crazy tug of war with the ghostly presence. Since I was doing all the motion capture, I had to play the part of all three family members. I had to make sure that the rhythm of the tug of war was consistent for each character so that when I lined them all up in my 3D program, the animations would look right together. Of course, I had to do some 3D animation trickery to get the characters to fully match up with each other so that, in the end, you won’t even realize that they’re all just played by the same person!

Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers?

If you’re interested in doing something like 3D animation, you always want to start small. I’m mostly self taught when it comes to 3D animation, so the way I learned is by doing these short animations. They weren’t anything special or terribly complex, but over time, I would gradually increase their complexity. I added new techniques that I wanted to learn and pushed myself to apply them to the shorts I was making. So after doing these films for several years, I was able to accumulate these skills and apply them to bigger and bigger projects. With 3D (and other mediums) it’s always important not to bite off more than you can chew. Starting out with something small and achievable is a great way not to get discouraged, which will gradually prepare you for the larger projects to come.

What are your favorite short films?

Oh wow, there are definitely a lot to choose from there! Some good ones that come to mind are a lot of the Oscar nominated shorts I’ve seen throughout the years. The Lady and The Reaper is a great short that really inspired this film! It too draws on the more cartoonish vibe of older animations and is just such a funny film! Other ones such as Garden Party or most of the Pixar short films are also up there with some of my favorites!

Which films you can say directly inspired this film?

Well naturally, The Lady and the Reaper was a big inspiration for sure. The whole cartoonish rivalry, back and forth, tug of war concept was something I drew upon a lot for this short. And it’s just such a staple of older 2D cartoons that this film really wanted to evoke. While I can’t name any specific Pixar shorts that directly inspired this one, I think it’s safe to say that this short gives me a lot of Pixar vibes! The emotional ending with the characters finding a mutual understanding of each other is just such a Pixar staple so I can’t say that Pixar didn’t have any role in inspiring me to make this short.