Since this is a very long article, I have split it into sections. Feel free to use the bookmark links below to skip to any section that interests you.
Building the 3D world
Putting It All Together
Working on this cartoon for the past year has been a great challenge! And a learning experience! After finishing this cartoon, my wife told me that my skills as an animator and 3D artist had improved considerably since my last cartoon, Father Gabriel’s Chapel. As I look back at my previous Father Gabriel cartoon, I realized that my wife is correct. My skills have improved and this makes me very happy!
I remember three years ago when I first came up with the idea for this cartoon. I was exploring ideas for future Father Gabriel cartoons when suddenly I remembered an old episode of Mr Bean called the Bus Stop. This was a very humorous short skit where Mr Bean and other characters are waiting at the bus stop. The situations that occur in this episode are very inventive and humorous!
Obviously, Father Gabriel is not a humorous cartoon, but the idea of the “bus stop” stuck in my mind and I thought it would make the perfect setting for a story. So I started brainstorming on different story possibilities, and as I was doing so, there was one very important element that I wanted in the story: more characters. Up until this point, my Father Gabriel cartoons have always been very simple: Father Gabriel walking to a church/chapel to pray. But this time I wanted to do something different and a lot more challenging. I wanted each character in the story to have a motivation for appearing at the bus stop. Being Orthodox Christian, I wanted that motivation to be something relating to the Orthodox Christian faith. So as Father Gabriel is waiting for the bus, other characters appear to get a blessing from him. It is customary for Orthodox Christians to bless each other out of spiritual love for each other. The laity also receive blessings from priests or bishops.
A good story also needs a little drama right? So that’s when I came up with the idea of a business man who appears at the bus stop and notices Father Gabriel. The business man lives in a cold and dry world, so seeing an Orthodox Christian priest is very unusual for him, and something he hasn’t seen very often. He doesn’t give too much thought to Father Gabriel himself, but as he sees Father Gabriel bless and show so much love to those who approach him, the business man is touched and his cold heart begins to melt. The business man also yearns for a blessing, but his fear, uncertainty and pride becomes a stumbling block to him.
So after I had a good idea of the story and the characters, I went ahead and created a storyboard of the entire cartoon. My storyboards are usually very simple, sometimes consisting of simple stick figures with notes around the panels explaining what’s going on in a particular scene. But later down the line when I actually began animating the cartoon, elements of the story evolved and changed. Most of the time when I decide to make changes like this, I either create notes or just keep them in my head rather than create a new storyboard. This way I have more freedom to keep on evolving and improving the story.
( View a sample of the storyboard )
Time and Place
From the beginning I always knew that I wanted this to take place sometime in the past. While I will keep the exact year of this story ambiguous, it does not take place in the present where technology is everywhere. So for example, you will not see anyone using mobile phones, or anything of the sort.
And while not obvious, my idea for the location of the story was to be somewhere in Greece. I’ve always had a love for Greece and it’s culture, and even Father Gabriel himself is of Greek descent.
I eventually decided on four other characters to accompany Father Gabriel, which meant that I had to create 3D models of each character and animate them individually and give each a distinct personality. This also included creating a new 3D model of Father Gabriel. When creating the models, I did sketches of a basic look and feel of the characters. I wanted all the characters to have a child-like quality to them. I remember when I was a kid I loved to play with action figure toys, and back then the toys had an innocent child-like quality to them. The figure’s proportions were exaggerated, having larger heads, hands and feet…much like a child. So for my characters, I wanted them to have that quality of those old action figures.
Father Gabriel is an Orthodox Christian priest-monk and as a monk, he has devoted his entire life to Christ, to asceticism, and to the loving of others. For more information on the creation of the character, read the description of Father Gabriel Goes to Church cartoon.
In this cartoon, I decided to make Father Gabriel a little younger than I had depicted him in past cartoons. He is possibly in his late 30s or early 40s. I have never considered myself a very good 3D modeler. I am constantly improving my skills, but this time around I decided to start with a pre-existing base model to create all my characters. So I decided to use a free open source software called Make Human, to generate a base model. With Make Human, I generated a basic adult male model and brought it to Blender, which I modified and fully developed into Father Gabriel, complete with hair, beard, cassock, colors and textures
( View a render of the 3D model )
( View a render of Father Gabriel wearing his beanie )
Doug – The Business Man
Besides Father Gabriel, there are four other characters in this cartoon and the focus mainly is on Doug the Business man. I would say that Doug is the emotional backbone of the story. I think anyone can relate to him. All of us at one point or another are faced with pride, fear and uncertainty which becomes a stumbling block for our faith in Christ. But with God’s grace, we are drawn to the faith and have courage to approach Christ. This is what happens to Doug.
( View a render of the Doug 3D model )
In Father Gabriel’s Blessing, I wanted several people to approach Father Gabriel to ask for his blessing. The first person to approach him is a very old woman named Gladys. I wanted Gladys to be a small and gentle woman and full of love and respect for Father Gabriel. Her and Father Gabriel are well acquainted and when she sees him waiting for the bus, she was compelled to approach him for a blessing. After Father Gabriel gives his blessing, he asks how she’s doing and lets her know that he’s always praying for her.
( View a render of the Gladys 3D model )
After Doug witnesses Gladys approach Father Gabriel for a blessing, he is moved by their love and respect for each other. Next, I wanted two children to approach Father Gabriel for a blessing. Children are very pure and innocent, and I wanted Doug to be especially moved by their love for Father Gabriel as they give him a loving hug after he blesses them. I wanted this to be the moment when Doug realizes how empty his life has been, and how by reaching out to Father Gabriel for a blessing can give some meaning to his life.
( View a render of the boy and the girl 3d model )
Originally, Sharon was also going to be someone to approach Father Gabriel for a blessing. I wanted a young woman around the same age as Doug to be a motivation for him to also get a blessing. But I realized that this wasn’t necessary for the story and that it would drag on too long if too many people came for a blessing. But I did manage to include Sharon in the cartoon. You can see her towards the beginning as the camera pans down from the sky to the city. You can see Sharon walking on the sidewalk. You also see Sharon on the bus.
For the Sharon 3D model, I simply used the previous female base model I had generated in Make Human and brought her into Blender for modeling and texturing. She turned out really well and I was very happy her. It’s too bad that I wasn’t able to use this model for Father Gabriel’s Blessing, but you never know she may appear in a future cartoon.
( View a render of the Sharon 3D model )
Building the 3D World
Creating a world for this cartoon was essential since the characters needed to exist and interact in an environment. Since my plan for this cartoon was to mainly take place at a bus stop, I had to obviously create a bus stop. But it was also my plan for the end of the story to take place inside of a bus, so that meant I had to create a bus right? But it doesn’t end there. As the story was evolving, I wanted to have a title intro sequence that takes place in the clouds, and pan down from the sky to the city, and then zoom to the bus stop where Father Gabriel was standing. I knew this was going to be challenging, but sometimes you learn a lot from challenges!
Since I’m building everything in a 3D world, I wanted to build everything to scale. Meaning a 100 foot (3048cm) building will be a 100 foot building. A bus will be the actual size of a bus, and a person will be the actual size of an average person.
( View buildings collection in Blender )
( View the Geometry Nodes for the city )
In addition, I also created a road where the bus will be going, and a sidewalk where the characters will be walking. I also created some random objects such as trees scattered across the streets (using geometry nodes to duplicate and scatter) and a bus sign where Father Gabriel, Doug and the other characters will be appearing.
Lastly, I had some random small objects such as potted plants ( plant 01, plant 02 and plant 4 ) to give the city a little life and personality. These potted plants I imported from an online source called PolyHaven. This website is a free public asset library and has a lot of useful assets for 3D artists that I frequently use every now and then.
Now came time to model the bus. I knew the bus was going to be challenging and time consuming because this was not going to be just a prop that appears in the distance, but the interior was going to serve as a virtual set for the final act of the cartoon. I began by modeling the bus using references from online, but as I spent hours and hours modeling, I realized that I do have a deadline to meet (August 16, 2023 was the deadline date for Byzanfest film festival) and I would not meet this deadline if I had to model every single object in this cartoon from scratch. PolyHaven did not have any model of a bus in their asset library, so I had to look elsewhere.
So I began searching online for a bus that matches the look and feel of what I was looking for, which was just a generic bus that looked a little like it was from yesterday with a little touch of today. And finally I found it on a website called CG Trader. This was a Mercedes-Benz 1989 Coach Bus and it was perfect! After downloading the bus, I realized that I “bit off more than I could chew!” Meaning, this was not a model that I could use out of the box. This seemed to be 3D scanned and had endless amount of imperfections and problems as far as I was concerned.
( View a render of the bus 3D model )
Next I had to create a sky and clouds for my environment. For the sky, I could’ve simply used an HDRI (a panoramic photo) from PolyHaven and be done with it, but I actually wanted to create it from scratch in Blender using procedural textures. This was definitely challenging and time consuming, but I knew it would’ve been fun and a learning experience. So I went for it! I think I spent almost a week learning and experimenting with different texture nodes in Blender. My idea was to create a morning sky with clouds, some stars and mountains in the background. The end results turned out pretty well and I was very happy with it!
Afterwards, I had to create a separate sky environment for the intro title sequence. For this sequence I wanted a parallax effect as the camera pulls down to reveal the titles, at the same time you can notice the clouds and the sky slightly moving. For the sky itself, I decided to use an HDRI for this sequence simply because I found a particular HDRI photo on PolyHaven that was absolutely perfect for this scene. The HDRI photo that I found was of a clear morning sky, which I complimented by modeling some puffy and cartoonish clouds that turned out perfectly!
It has been a life long dream of mine to create animated films. As a kid I remember creating flipbook animations of my favorite cartoon characters and bringing them to life through my drawings. It was such a great feeling, flipping through my flipbook and see my drawings walk, run, jump or even do cartwheels! So when my dream finally came true when I started IKONiMATION and created animated films, I knew that I had to become a better animator otherwise no one will watch my animated cartoons.
I knew without a doubt that if I couldn’t breathe life into my characters, this cartoon would not have worked, no matter how good all the 3d models looked. In order for these characters to look alive and act with personality, I had to put myself into each character and act how I would act if I was in their situation. So you will see a lot of my own personality reflect through these characters. When animating scenes with the characters, on many occasions I had to act out the scenes and record myself as reference. This was a lot of help!
Since this cartoon has no dialog, it was very important for these characters to speak through body language instead of words. A very important aspect of this was the movement of their eyes. I knew that this was the key to make these characters believable. So most of my concentration was the expressiveness of the eyes and the eye brows. Subtle shifting of the eyes and movement of the eye brows during moments of expressiveness made such a huge difference! If you look very carefully, especially inside the bus sequence, you will see subtle movements of Doug’s eyes and eye brows that express emotions of uncertainty and insecurity.
Giving life to objects is just as important as the characters in a animated cartoon like Father Gabriel’s Blessing. These objects may seem unimportant or mundane, but they can compliment the scene or character greatly! For example, when Doug first enters the scene, he is holding a briefcase that shows that this character is a business man and he’s headed to work. The briefcase itself had to be animated as Doug was holding it in his hand. This was a simple and unimportant object, but it played a big part of Doug’s character as he was entering the scene. I actually intended for the briefcase to appear inside the bus scene in the final act, but I had to remove it out of view since it might have interfered with Doug as he was moving around his seat.
The bus was an object that had to be animated because it played a big part in this cartoon, especially in the final act. The bus model itself had to be rigged for animation, so luckily there was a vehicle armature addon for Blender available online that I used, so I didn’t have to create it from scratch. The vehicle armature allowed for realistic movement of the bus, so when you see the bus moving in the streets, it acted like an actual believable bus.
( View the screen projections inside the bus )
For the first half of Father Gabriel Blessing, my plan was for the camera to remain still at the bus stop as the characters were being animated. I wanted the entire scene to be one take without any jump cuts. Just a scene that concentrates on all the characters at the same time.
However, to create depth, personality and drama, the camera needed to move around at times, and I thought that was necessary during the inside the bus sequence. Obviously, the character’s movements and expression creates most of the drama, but the camera moving away, panning or cutting to a different angle complimented the characters and the story.
The music for a film can have such a great emotional impact on us that can stay and resonate with us for the rest of our lives. I have always loved movie soundtracks, and some of my favorite soundtracks I have been listening to over and over again for so many years. I just never get tired of them. Music and moving pictures (films, cartoons, etc.) go together so well, like a match made in heaven!
That’s why it was so important for me to find the right music for Father Gabriel’s Blessing. For this cartoon, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want any dialog. I wanted this to be like the old silent films where the visual imagery and the music tell the story.
Earlier on as I was working on the storyboards for this cartoon, I had heard “A Quiet Thought” by Wayne Jones from Directory.Audio. This is a library consisting of royalty-free music to be used by content creators. The music is license under the Creative Commons License. I loved this music very much and thought it would be absolutely perfect for the bus stop sequence. My original intention was to use this music for the entire duration of the cartoon, repeating when necessary. But as the story was evolving and the duration of the cartoon expanded to almost ten minutes, I realized that I needed a few more songs. That was when I discovered Pixabay Music.
After extensive searching, I decided on the following music for Father Gabriel’s Blessing:
- Soft Day Dream by Evgeny Bardyuzha ( From Pixabay Music )
- A Quiet Thought by Wayne Jones ( From Directory.Audio )
- Soft and Emotional Chamber Piano by Roman Senyk Music ( From Pixabay Music )
Putting It All Together
After Rendering all the animation sequences and gathering all the music, it was time to put the whole thing together. Blender has always been my go to tool for animation and motion graphics, and as awesome as Blender is, it gets even better with it’s built in video editing tools.
( View screenshot of Blender video editor )
So after a year of planning, 3D modeling, animation and video editing, Father Gabriel’s Blessing was finally complete! It was very challenging and at times grueling, but a lot of fun and learning experience. In the end, I came out a better animator and filmmaker!
ByzanFest is a yearly Orthodox Christian film festival. The festival showcases ( both online and live in Australia ) films which reflect Orthodox Christian themes, beliefs, culture, values and inspiration. I have been submitting my cartoons to ByzanFest the past couple of years, and 2023 will be my third year submitting my short film to the festival. The festival gives my cartoon the opportunity to be viewed my many people from around the world, and also allows me to network with other filmmakers. It’s always a great joy being part of the festival, meeting other filmmakers and viewing their wonderful films.
The deadline for this year’s festival was August 16, 2023, and I finished work on Father Gabriel’s Blessing a week before the deadline. I have already submitted my cartoon to the festival and, as of this writing, I am still waiting to see if my cartoon will be selected. Whether I win any prizes or not, I am always happy and joyful to be part of the festival, and as long as I create my cartoons, I will be submitting them to ByzanFest.
Update – September 14, 2023
I was informed by ByzanFest by email that Father Gabriel’s Blessing has passed the first round of the selection process.
As of this writing, I already have an idea for my next Father Gabriel cartoon. It is tentatively titled “Father Gabriel and the Orphan” and have written a basic outline of the story. Whether this will be my next project or not I haven’t decided yet. I have also been wanting to publish my own graphic novel. I have the story and script for it completed, I have yet to begin illustrating it. This may or may not be my next project. Only time will tell.
Thank you very much for reading this article and I hope you found it informative and fun to read!