Animations | Rusalka

A 2D Animation based on the opera Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák. The story is similar to the Little Mermaid in that Rusalka, a water nymph, falls in love with a human prince and sells her voice to a witch in order to meet with him. Before she goes to the witch, she sings the aria "Song to the Moon" so that the moon would tell the prince of her love. However, even after she makes her sacrifice, the prince betrays her, and Rusalka falls into eternal damnation.


For a translation of the lyrics, click here.

Meet the Team

Michelle Ma (Director, VisDev, Storyboard, Animation, Compositing)
Miranda Jacoby (Bird Specialist, VisDev, Animation)
Nivetha Kannan (VisDev, Storyboard, Asset Design, Animation)
Swetha Kannan (VisDev, Asset Design, Animation, Font)
Soojin Sohn (Storyboard, Asset Design, Animation)
Eric Yu (Storyboard, Animation)
Emily Zhou (VisDev, Storyboard, Asset Design, Animation)
This piece was commissioned by Florida Grand Opera
Special thanks to our animation instructor Spencer Diaz
and our correspondent at FGO, Rebekah Diaz-Fandrei

Production Pipeline

Our 2D Pipeline was divided into three parts (Pre-production, Production, and Post-production), which sectioned off the work evenly from November 11th, 2015 to our deadline on January 18th, 2016. Each week, we met up, showed off what we accomplished on our Progress Slides, and then split off to work. Over break, we had Skype meetings, so no rest!
Pre-production consisted motsly of VisDev and Storyboarding and Production consisted mostly of hand animation and designing assets. Post-production, or compositing and rendering, was mostly handled by me (Michelle) in order to tie in all the different styles and elements. Each member ended up specializing on a certain scene, element, or production step, as you can see in the credits!
You can take a look at a few of our detailed guidelines and excel sheets below. There is also a screenshot of our Production To-Do List, which shows how we organized tasks.

Visual Development

Visual Development took place in November and consisted of looking up references, drawing concept art, creating a palette, and finalizing character design. We even had a group showing of Song of the Sea in order to become inspired.
It started with a sketch I did in my notebook after Rebekah first told me about the story. The main elements we decided from the beginning were the pale white skin, the hair that was also water, and the lake. We ended up changing her into a more elegant woman and made the environments more complex. Nivetha and I were mostly responsible for creating the character, and Emily and Swetha were mostly responsible for the environments. Miranda was the bird expert and helped create an intial pass on the man tree.
Below you can see our different styles come out, from drawings to vectors to painterly renderings.

Storyboards and Animatics

During the VisDev phase, Eric, Nivetha, and Soojin held separate meetings specifically for developing the story. Then they would present the storyboards at the team meeting and we would nitpick everything from story cohesion to composition. Some of the most important discussions we had centered on how Rusalka would transform from water to human form and vise versa. We also had a great discussion about where the moon was oriented, because some of the storyboards had conflicting lake layouts.


For the story itself, we used Prince Tree as a metaphor for Rusalka's delusional love in the rest of the opera. In the first few scenes, you see her yearning for a relationship as pairs of birds appear. Then, she sees the figure of a prince in the distance. She doesn't believe it at first, but then she embraces the illusion of the prince reaching towards her, so she dives into the water in order to rush for the prince. At the bottom of the lake, two fish pass by and affirms her decision to embrace the prince. She then spirals upwards and crashes into the prince like a wave. However, as she tries to take his hand, he resists. When she looks back, the moonlight reveals the ugly appearance of a tree. With this realization, Rusalka resigns herself next to the tree, but still holds his hand because she still yearns for her ideal prince. The last scene pans out to show the false love under the moonlight.


Below are some of the storyboards by Eric, Nivetha, and Soojin. The fourth is the final storyboard that we used for animation.

After the development of the storyboard, each of us claimed a scene to piece together in an animatic. Ideally, those who worked on the animatic would also be animating the final scenes. The initial animatic ended up being very rough, so I did another pass in color in order to tie all the scenes together. The PSDs used in the color animatic were then used to construct layouts for the animators and asset designers.


You can watch both versions below.

Asset Design, Key Poses, Compositing, and Editing

Spearheading asset design, Nivetha and Swetha were responsible for most of the gorgeous, vector environments, and Emily made several of the foreground assets, as well as the looping assets, including the bubbles, ripples, and light rays. Soojin also plaid a role in exploring foreground assets such as the bedrock and seaweed (edited out).


At the same time, Eric and I handled most of the key poses, and I acted as an editor in order to maintain character consistency. I also began combining the assets and implementing the parallax and transitions. One of the more complicated (and gorgeous) scenes was the underwater scene, where I layered Emily's bubbles and light rays and gave her fish an inner glow to match the light. We liked that scene so much that we repeated it in the credits.


Nearing the end of our production, all hands were on deck to complete the inbetween frames for Rusalka. Almost everyone ended up animating a scene with Rusalka with the exception of Miranda, our resident bird expert, and Soojin, who illustrated the Prince in motion. And on top of animating Rusalka, Emily did an amazing job with the fishies!


Some of the compositing and editing challenges I faced were figuring out framecounts for each scene, learning how to loop assets, using parallax, fixing frames, and etcetera, but my super awesome team made the job fun work. They were all very reliable and enthusiastic, so that kept the energy going in times of high stess.


Below are some of my favorite shots of the pieces coming together.