'Gloam': A Spooky Animated Journey Through a Dark Forest

With antlers, reflective button eyes, and skin like bark, the hero of Gloam could have stepped out of Where the Wild Things Are or The Lord of the Rings, but feels distinctive nonetheless. With a few simple movements, it expresses curiosity, disappointment, and wonder when it discovers a mysterious, luminous sight. David Elwell and Gareth Hughes produced the beautifully crafted short as a passion project and learning experience. The result was this polished, immersive story. The creative team discusses the making of the film in an interview below and shares a fascinating peek at the special effects in a before-and-after video.

The Atlantic: What inspired the project?

David Elwell: Last year, after seeing a friend's talk I was inspired to create a labor-of-love project that would hopefully put me on the path to a career I am truly passionate about. Having previously dabbled in VFX I had a basic understanding of its principles and with that in mind, began to educate myself in the necessary programs with the aim of creating a short film. Gloam is the product of this decision.

What tools did you use to create the piece?

Elwell and Gareth Hughes: The original plate footage was shot on a Canon 600D which was stabilized using a SteadiCam Merlin. The character was modeled and animated in Maya, rendered with V-Ray and composited into the plate footage using Nuke. Photoshop was used for texturing while After Effects created the firefly particles and the overall grade of the film. The majority of the soundtrack melodies were created in GarageBand while some of the more ambient noises were created in Reaktor.


What was the production process like?

Elwell and Hughes: Initially we discussed what we wanted to achieve with the project. Influenced by a range of media we knew we wanted to create a world bathed in atmosphere that would engage the viewer. We agreed that a forest setting would be perfect. With this in mind I started work on developing a character for the story whilst Gareth began writing a handful of scripts. Once a script had been finalized, storyboards were drawn up in preparation for filming.

We were lucky enough to live near a location that was ideal for the production. An initial visit allowed us to scout areas within the forest and plan our shots for a subsequent visit which would see the start of filming. Shooting footage of a creature that didn't physically exist was an interesting concept. However, by acting out our creature's performance first we were able to refine the camera move and framing for the actual take. Filming went relatively smoothly although we did have to revisit the forest a number of times for pick-ups.

Elwell: With a creature concept finalized relatively quickly, I began modeling our character. Revisions were made through the process until we ended up with the model seen in the film. Animating the character was a daunting prospect so by filming reference footage of ourselves this ensured that we captured a fluid and lifelike performance. VFX production has been a steep learning curve for myself. The use of tutorial sites such as Digital Tutors provided an invaluable level of expertise who without, the project wouldn't have been possible.

Not living near one another we relied heavily on IM for the majority of our communication. Owing a lot to Dropbox we were able to share a synced project folder which consistently kept us up to date with any amendments made. Whether it was reviewing animation tests, sampling new sounds or suggesting new ideas, Dropbox was an integral part of the team.

What's next for you?

Elwell: I have written to some post-production houses in the hope of joining one of their teams, beginning my career in VFX. In the meantime I plan to continue the development of my portfolio, expanding the world we created in Gloam.

Hughes: Gloam allowed me to flex a completely new skill set. I had zero experience with directing, writing scores or stories. I hope this marks the beginning for future projects with emotional stories at their core.



For more work by Gareth Hughes and David Elwell, stay tuned to their Vimeo channel.

Via Vimeo Staff Picks.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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