Project 7: Mouse Trap

Goal To synthesize all of the skills you have learned throughout the quarter! To create a short film with a small team of peers.

This project will be the most challenging but also the most rewarding so far. In a small group, you have approximately three weeks to create a short film from preproduction to a final rendered production.

The groups are arranged as such:

    Group 01: Phillip, Sherry, Ada (Blake)

    Group 02: Sharanya, Andy, Ellie (Ali)

    Group 03: Cassandra, Rebecca, Jose (Danette)

    Group 04: Wenjie, Claire, Dana (Brian)

    Group 05: Emily, Will, Alice (Kevin)

    Group 06: Peter, Robin, Sabrina (Cody)

Your story will be presented inside and based on the Mousetrap Board Game. Your characters will interact with the game in progress. Your goal is to present a story that is simple to understand and entertaining. The final runtime of no more than one minute and thirty seconds.

This is not a project you will do all at once but will completed in many steps. There will be checkpoints for each day we meet in class and you should expect to go through many iterations of your story, set, motion, lighting, etc. as we progress from one part of your assignment to the next. Major deadlines will be reviewed in class so be prepared to iterate according to the feedback you receive:

There is a new Mouse Trap assignments on Canvas. Designate one group member as the individual who will submit checkpoint files for each part of the project. Files will be due for each part before class at 10:30 AM each day when the project is due. These deadlines are NOT movable as we will be reviewing your progress during class, so plan to meet each of them.

Part 1: Story Pitch

Due: Thursday, 11/08

(Second iteration due Tuesday, 11/13)

Useful Documents

7 Steps and Armature

Each team will develop a story about the mice and their interaction with the Mousetrap. As an additional requirement, you will need to choose one of the following armatures and tailor your story around it:

The advanced armatures may seem simple at first, but in practice are more challenging to prove.

Basic Armatures

Advanced Armatures

The most straightforward use of the Mouse Trap is to activate it and have a character get caught in the trap. However, you are free to explore more creative ideas.

The story must involve at least two characters but under no circumstances can you justify more than three. It is best to design your story with a mouse or mice as your main character. If your story supports the design of other types of characters, please run this by your mentor. They will guide you. Please avoid adding too much complexity to your story. You may live to regret it. Stay simple. You can always spend the time needed to polish your shots if you have extra time.

To familiarize you with a more advanced rig like the ones we will use during production, we will be providing a mouse which has a face rig that allows for more finesse with facial expressions. While the classic mouse rig is still available, you must choose which mouse rig to use in your Mouse Trap, as we will only allow you to use ONE of the two rigs for the characters in your short.

When deciding which rig to use, consider what the characters need to do during your story in order to prove the armature. You may want to play around with each rig so you can understand their strengths and weaknesses.

You will be required to visualize your story in a variety of ways as the project travels down the pipeline. Part 1 will require your group to brainstorm. As your story becomes clearer you will be expected to construct 7 steps that outline your story. Your job will be to determine whether your 7 steps prove your armature.

  1. Once upon a time...
  2. And every day...
  3. Until one day...
  4. And because of this...
  5. And because of this...
  6. Until finally...
  7. And ever since that day...

Remember to turn your seven steps and armature in as a text document on Canvas.


Each group should provide a Beatsheet. The Beatsheet describes the specific "beats" or actions for your story in chronological order. It will help structure your story and help us better understand your narrative.

Turn your beat sheet in as a text document on Canvas.


Each group will draw a series of thumbnails visualizing the major story points of their film. These don't have to correlate to specific shots but it is still good to design this way. Consider how best to support visual storytelling:

Scan in your thumbnail sheet and submit it to Canvas. Remember to draw your images from upper left to lower right on your page and to number each one.

Story Pitch

You will be pitching your story idea to the class. The members of your group will be expected to act out your story. The more you like the story, the easier this should be.

In preparation for the pitch, print a packet that includes the story 7 steps, armature, and thumbnails sheet. Remember to bring enough copies for each staff member and each student in the class.

During your pitch, one group member should provide narration. The staff and your colleagues will give you feedback. The staff will be considering whether your project is feasible in the amount of time you have. write down your feedback as soon as your pitch is over in order to remember it. You will be asked to address all feedback from the staff.

Staff Check-In

Your group is required to meet with your "staff mentor" to go over your story progress and your story feedback on Wednesday (11/07) before the initial story pitch, and then afterwards on Friday (11/09) or Monday (11/12) to iterate on the story pitch. Set up a time with your assigned Mentor to go over what you're working on so we can make sure you're on the right track. It is critical that every single group meets with the staff so plan ahead. You will be glad that you did.

Second Story Pitch

You will be required to do a second, revised story pitch on Tuesday (11/13). This will be similar to your original pitch, but you will apply the feedback received during your pitch the previous week, and the feedback from your staff mentor. You will also be required to submit revised story materials in the form of a story packet. This will include your beatsheet, 7 steps and armature, thumbnails, storyboards, and character design reference.

Part 2: Animatic

Due: Thursday, 11/15

For the next phase of production each group will begin translating their 2D thumbnails into a 3D animatic, which is used to establish a film's shot composition, layout, and timing. Be sure to continue to review your 7 steps, and armature as you continue to develop your film. They will help you troubleshoot story concerns. Use your thumbnail sheet as a guide for where to place your 3 Act breaks, and how many shots to create. You may need more shots per thumbnail to express more complicated ideas than you originally thought. There are times you can compress several thumbnails into fewer shots too so continue to review as you go.

Think of the shots in your film as having their own path down the production pipeline. Each will live in its own individual Maya file, and each will have its own unique set of challenges to overcome. The animatic shot files will also serve as a starting point for most of your production work. As the project progresses you will add more refined motion, lighting, and visual effects to these shots until they slowly transform into your final production.

Film Assets

Each group will need to begin develop a list of the components or assets needed to assemble your shots. Review your story and determine what props, sets, or characters that the story will require in order to be understood. Each extra asset will take some amount of time to develop (some more than others!) so now is a good time to trim out any extra props or characters that are not needed to convey the story.

Compile a list of these assets into an "elements list" and submit it to Canvas. Name it elements_list.txt.

Next, make a pass at creating each of the items on your elements list, whether they're props, rigs, or set modifications. Prioritize! Don't spend a lot of time on modeling props that are not critical to understanding your story. Hopefully these were culled from your elements list already.

There is production space available on the network so now is the time to use it. You will find a folder already created for your group here:


Note that your group number is based on the list in this assignment write-up.

Be careful to work only within your group's folder! Everybody has 'render' access now, which means two major things: 1) You will be able to use the "render farm" and 2) You can now modify almost any file on capstone2. This will be conducive to working in a shared production hierarchy later, but remember that with great power comes great responsibility! Be extra careful not to modify or delete files/folders that aren't yours.

Your production folder setup should look something like this:

This is a more minimal version of the hierarchy you will use later in this year's capstone production. Right now you only need to worry about the assets folder, where your props, rigs, and sets go.

Later on you will be doing a lot of rendering, so we have a render farm set aside to assist you with this task. It's 20 or so "headless" machines that just sit in a dark basement somewhere and render out frames for you. There's a catch, however! These machines are pretty picky about the file paths they use - so start naming your folders and files in a way that work for them. File paths should only contain lower case letters, numbers, and underscores. No spaces. No capital letters. No other special characters. Make sure ALL of your paths meet these requirements!

Additionally, when specifying texture file paths in Maya you will need to make sure to use a network path and not an "O: drive" path. For example, the following path would work:


But this path would have problems:


This is because the O: drive is a mapping that our lab workstations use to refer to the network. The farm machines have no concept of the O: drive, hence they need a direct network path.

Preparing Assets to be Used in Shots/Understanding the difference between Referencing and Importing assets

Before setting up the shots themselves you will need to prepare your assets for referencing.

So what exactly is referencing and how does it differ from importing? Importing copies another Maya file and its objects directly into your scene. Referencing just points to another Maya file without actually copying any of its objects. The implication here is that when a Maya file is updated any scenes referencing said file will see those changes. This is a fairly handy method of automatically sending geometry/shading changes out to all of your shots at once. Both ways of working are used in productions but we will use referencing in ours.

Be warned that referencing comes with its fair share of limitations and can sometimes break stuff, so it is best to tread carefully and only reference "clean" files. To clean out and prepare a given asset for referencing make sure to look over the following check-list and address each item:

Setting up Your Shots

With your assets prepared, it's time to reference them into a new Maya scene and organize the Outliner. For each shot, you will want to bring in all the props, characters, and sets you need. It doesn't have to be everything in your entire assets library, just the ones you need for that shot.

Go to File → Create Reference..., navigate to your asset file, and click Open. In File → Reference Editor select the reference from the list and make sure that the Unresolved Name field starts with the network path "//csenetid/cs/" and not "O:/". If it doesn't, just go ahead and replace the beginning of the path and hit Enter to commit the change.

It's pretty safe to key the attributes of referenced objects assuming the above preparations, but other interactions can be a bit more dangerous. You may want to heed these warnings:

With all the objects referenced you'll want to group them in some manner for organization. Make sure that you're consistent from shot to shot. A group division that works fairly well is characters, set, props, and lights. For special case shots you may also end up adding additional groups like effects, but don't worry about that for the animatic.

Now that everything is organized there are a few other things to set up before moving on to animation:

The final step is to add some motion. This may be a good point to save out a copy of this file to use as a shot template so you don't have to keep repeating the above steps.

The animation required for your animatic is minimal. Remember, you're going primarily for position and timing. Move and rotate your characters' top cons to their approximate starting locations and orientations.

Dynamic poses may help readability of your shots but keep it minimal. Set up the key "golden poses". Animate the character as you expect it to move across the screen. To ensure that your editor has more flexibility, you must pad your shots with 24 frames on either end. Make sure the motion doesn't completely stop during the padding or the flexibility will not be there.

Frame and position the camera for each shot with your story in mind. You may find it easier to do this before animating your characters. It will most likely work for you to check the camera and animation several times until you end up with a composition that you are satisfied with. If you are considering animating the camera, fight that urge. Just make sure that any camera animation is deliberate and contributes to your narrative in a huge and meaningful way. You don't want to animate your camera motion just for the sake of camera motion because beginners tend to distract or confuse their audience, or make them naseous.

Once you've finished the shot you are working on click the playblast button on the production shelf, save an iteration via the button on the shelf, and move on to the next shot.



The final step is to edit your animatic. Create a new Premiere project in CS6 and drag the individual playblast files onto the project panel. These settings are recommended when you first create the project:

Render out and upload a first version of your animatic to Canvas. Use H.264 compression.

Part 3: Motionmatic

Due: Tuesday, 11/20

With your story coming along and animatic hierarchy set your production should be going very well. Your next phase is to develop the motionmatic. The Motionmatic is a reel that is similar to the animatic but with more advanced and sophisticated animation. It's no longer just about timing, layout, and camera composition, it's about developing character motion from blocking through to polish.

You are not required to iterate any further on your thumbnails. The goal is to make your story understandable and engaging based on the motionmatic alone. Polish doesn't have to happen yet, but you want to block in something for every important aspect of your shot (even if minimal). Before moving forward with motion, your group will need to address the feedback you received during the previous class. A guide that works is to fix things that have a broader impact on your story and then refine.

When completed, submit a copy of your motionmatic to Canvas before class on Tuesday.

Here are some miscellaneous tips to help you along:

Part 4: Rendermatic

Due: Tuesday, 11/27

In addition to developing your film's motion you will also work on a "rendermatic." The rendermatic enables us to evaluate lighting and effects much in the way the motionmatic enabled us to review animation/motion.

Most of the time in production lighting takes longer to update than motion, since new motion relies on re-playblasting while new lighting relies on re-rendering. It's perfectly fine to have two reels: 1) A motionmatic with the most updated animation and 2) A rendermatic with the most updated lighting but outdated motion.

Since this production deadline is short, you will want to start making your rendermatic the reel you review and continue to update it and not yor motionmatic or rendermatic. Feel free to copy over the Premiere file of your motionmatic as a starting point for your rendermatic (don't worry, this is the only time you'll be doing this in this project).

For your last review we will require at least one rendered shot per sequence so we can get an overall idea of the look and feel of your film. Focus on what you predict will be your most difficult lighting shots first so that you can work out problems when you have more time. Note that you will probably want to do an entire pass on your film if at all possible, even if it's rough, so you can catch any render errors now rather than have them sneak up on you closer to the final deadline.

Submit your rendermatic to Canvas.


Part 5: Final Film

Due: Thursday, 11/29 at 10:30 AM

Continue to iterate on your shots and the quality of your renders and submit your final rendered film with audio to Canvas. Ideal resolution for your renders is 1280x720. If you cannot have renders at that resolution then render at 960x540.

What is most important is that your audience can understand your story. It would be even better if they find it engaging and can "feel" for your character (s). Good luck, pay attention to the steps, iterate as best you can and have fun!