My first animated cartoon featuring my character, Father Gabriel, an Orthodox Christian Priestmonk, who walks to church and begins the Litany of Peace.

This is the first of a series of animations that I am creating for my character, Father Gabriel. The purpose of my animations is for Orthodox Christians, and of course anyone else, to enjoy family friendly short animated cartoons. I created Father Gabriel and the surrounding environment completely in the Blender animation software. Video editing was also done in Blender.

The character of Father Gabriel began when I had a plan, actually a dream, of creating a family friendly animated cartoon series for Youtube. I wanted this series to be fun and yet inspiring. Being Orthodox Christian, I felt the best way to do this was to create a character based on a Priestmonk (aka Hieromonk).

picture of Greek Orthodox monkI wanted this monk to have a very special look to him. Like any monk, I wanted him to be full of love, joy and peace. So to get inspiration, I searched Google for days to find an image of a monk that caught my attention, until one day I came upon this photograph of a Greek Orthodox monk. This was perfect! If Father Gabriel was a real monk, he would look like this!

Sketch of Father GabrielMy next step was to start doing sketches of Father Gabriel. For the most part, I prefer doing all my sketches on my Galaxy Note 3. I wanted Father Gabriel to be a short and stubby monk, so after a dozen or so sketches, I came up with this. I used my sketch of Father Gabriel as a template for modeling the character in Blender. The modeling was a long a process, but a lot of fun.

Picture of in-progress Father Gabriel's head in BlenderI usually start modeling using a geometric shape such as a cube, and eventually shape it into my desired shape, in this case Father Gabriel’s head.

Picture of in-progress Father Gabriel's head in BlenderThe head and the face, for me, is sometimes the most difficult part of modeling the character. The head and the face is where the model becomes alive, without life emanating from the face then it’s just a lifeless digital puppet.

So I took great care and attention to the face until I got it to where it started becoming alive…at least to me. As I looked upon the face I saw Father Gabriel’s gentle and humble complexion staring back at me. At this point, I felt it was time to move on to the rest of the body. As I completed the torso, arms, hands and legs, I had to give Father Gabriel his cassok and hat (aka Kalimavkion).

The next step was adding color to the model. Orthodox Christian monks always wear black, which indicates spiritual poverty and is a symbol of mourning and death. Here is a quote that explains this further:

Moreover, black is a color of mourning and death for the priest, the symbolism is dying to oneself to rise and serve the Lord as well as giving witness of the Kingdom yet to come. Black is associated with sorrow but in the case of priestly robe this color has another symbolic meaning. A black cassock is to remind a priest that he โ€˜dies to the worldโ€™ every day and immerses in eternity. Blackness also symbolizes giving up bright colors and thus giving up what the world brings, its glittering, honors and entertainment.

Source from Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church

In spite of the deep spiritual meaning of the color of the cassock, unfortunately I couldn’t go with black because I felt it wouldn’t have appeared very well in most lighting conditions in my scenes. And so I made the cassock a dark navy blue. I also did the same for the hat and the shoes.

Render of Father Gabriel in Blender

After I completed the modeling and texturing, I did a final render of Father Gabriel. I was very happy the way the model turned out, it was pretty much what I had imagined Father Gabriel to be. A short, humble, sweet and loving Priestmonk.

Rig of Father Gabriel Model in BlenderThe next step was to apply bones and rigging to the model. Bones are what an animator uses to control the movements of the model such as arms, legs, fingers, eyes, etc. Unfortunately, rigging the model is the most difficult part for me, and after a year of using Blender, it is still a learning process for me and as of yet I still haven’t even scratches the surface yet. But after a long and painful process, I managed to create a workable rig to the model, giving me the ability to move and animate the body and the face. It’s not a perfect rig, but it will due for now until I improve my skills.

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church AntarcticaNext I needed to create an environment for Father Gabriel to live in. When creating an environment in a 3D application such as Blender, you’re pretty much creating a movie set. You need buildings with windows, doors, furniture, etc. And outdoor sets need trees, rocks, sky, clouds, stars, etc. In Father Gabriel Goes to Church, Father Gabriel obviously needed a church to go to, so while doing Google searches to get inspiration, I came upon this lovely photograph of the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Antarctica. I was simply amazed at this church, so beautiful and yet so simple and humble.

Render of Father Gabriel's chapelObviously, I didn’t want to create an exact duplicate of the Holy Trinity church, I did however want it to have similarities. I wanted Father Gabriel’s wood cabin chapel to have both a Russian and Greek Orthodox architectural features, so I took features of both into my final model. Creating the interior of the chapel was a lot of fun. I created little models such as the above lamp light, incense lamps, the podium where Father Gabriel prays, as well as the icons of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary Mother of God, as well as a couple of other saints.

Render Trees and RocksIn addition to the chapel, I created a forest with hills, rocks, trees and a sky with stars. Creating the trees and rocks and placing them in the forest was such a joy. Maybe I should go into digital landscaping ๐Ÿ™‚

Now that all the models and sets were completed, the next major step was the animation. Animating is a whole different animal. There are artists who are excellent modelers, but not very good animators, and vice versa. In my case, I don’t think I am a very good modeler nor animator ๐Ÿ˜€ But being that I love both modeling and animation, I had to do my best, and doing my best helps me learn something new each time I model or animate.

So being that Father Gabriel walks to church, I had to make Father Gabriel…you know…walk. I have animated before in the past, so animating a walk cycle wasn’t anything entirely new. The mistakes I had made in the past with walk cycles I had corrected with Father Gabriel, and at the same time made some new mistakes along the way which I plan to correct the next time around ๐Ÿ™‚

An excellent source of reference that I used in my walk cycle was The Animator’s Survival Kit, a book by the legendary animator Richard Williams. If you’re an aspiring animator, then this book is a must have! I can’t stress that enough!

Obviously, not everyone walks the same. We all have our different ways of walking. A short person may walk differently than a tall person, a chubby person may walk differently that a thin person, and etc. So I wanted Father Gabriel to have his own unique way of walking; carry some wait; to walk slower than the average person, as well as have a very subtle limp. So in addition to the book, I had my wife take a few videos of me walking the way how I wanted Father Gabriel to walk, and I used the footage as a reference to animate. I cannot stress enough how important it is to do this, after all an animator is also an actor, and using yourself as a reference is so much more helpful than simply relying on your imagination. This was incredibly helpful when I had Father Gabriel open the door of the church, walk and and close the door behind him. Without using footage of myself opening and closing a door, I could have never animated a this scene. In addition, I did the same when Father Gabriel was in church, opening the prayer book, crossing himself and finally chanting.

After finally completing animating and rendering, I had to come up with the audio for the animation. I thought it would be a lot of fun if I created some of the audio of the animation. So my wife and I recorded sound effects of opening and closing doors, turning on lights, and even opening a book. I even recorded my own voice praying the Jesus Prayer in Greek as Father Gabriel is walking to church. But I am no singer or chanter, so as Father Gabriel is chanting in church, I used the chanting voice of Monks from the Saint John Maximovitch Monastery in Manton. You can find the Eyes of All Look to Thee with Hope (CD in English).

Creating my first animated cartoon was such a joy. I cannot express that joy enough in this blog. But it was a truly a dream come true. But more is yet to come, so stay tuned…