UPDATED: A Closer Look at the Upcoming Animated Portal Short
UPDATE: You can keep up to date on this project from Alex Zemke's new Twitter.
The geekier side of the Internet has been fair abuzz since test shots of Alex Zemke's upcoming animated short Companionship, based on the award-winning and impossibly excellent video game series Portal from Valve, were revealed. The shots bring the protagonist Chell to life, infusing the mute, determined queen of the portal gun with warmth and humanity.
"Well, of course, the game is phenomenal, and I was obsessed with the sequel the instant it was announced," said Zemke via e-mail.
Zemke, who's had a hand in projects like the latest Smurfs film and the Uncharted games, had been looking for ideas for test animation to add to his portfolio. At the time all he was working on was facial animation and cleanup duty on motion capture. Then he ran across this graphic. The initial idea was to do a simple animation of Chell tripping into a portal and ending up caught in a constant loop of movement between them.
Right away Zemke realized that the prep work that would be involved in this was much too complex for a simple sample, and decided to expand it to what he thought would be a 90-second animated short. Then he posted his concept art in his DeviantArt page and interest just exploded.
Originally working from a borrowed model called Sally, Zemke has been able to take the short in a much more ambitious direction than his talents alone would've allowed.
"Now that there's so much more attention, though, and because time proved the Sally rig to be fraught with issues that would bog down production and lessen the final product, Chell is now in the process of a full-body makeover. Her topology's been fixed, her face is nearly done being reworked to resemble Chell (instead of Sigourney Weaver) and the next step involves her being rigged properly, from the ground up, by a feature film pro. It's been a treat to watch her transform into a truly professional-grade rig, and I expect great things from her!"
Zemke now has the help of many top technical experts for Companionship. What started as one man's project now includes artists proficient in FX, lighting, rigging, texture and other areas of production. A composer with a solid background in film, television and games recently joined the team to provide a score that hopes to echo the stellar work Mike Morasky did in Portal 2. No word on whether some up-and-coming pop songwriter will provide a quirky credit song to compare to the hit "Still Alive" by Jonathan Coulton.
Even a voice actress has joined the team, though all she will be providing are grunts, breathing, gasps and sobs. Like her video-game counterpart, Chell will remain mute throughout the course of the short. Indeed, the story contains no spoken dialogue at all. In Zemke's words, "Even the turret keeps its trap shut."