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Paper Shepherd was created as my BFA thesis project, during my 5th year at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Contained below is information about its creation.


conception My main goal for this project was to tell a complete story which expressed ideas that I believe to be significant. I've chickened out of such endeavors in the past, usually ending up with little more than light entertainment.

This time, I began by looking into different types of parables and fables, and found that a piece can be quite funny, even if it expresses something serious.

I decided to present my own story as a hand-drawn animation, because I felt that it gave me the most control over the overall aesthetic, and eliminated a lot of outside variables that may have slowed me down.

As for why it’s about living pieces of paper, I just think paper airplanes are awesome and have always had an odd affinity for anthropomorphizing household objects.

At its heart, Paper Shepherd’s story is about God’s relationship to mankind. Despite having made every sacrifice necessary to bring us to Him, He still gives us the freedom to choose our own path, even if it leads to our destruction. In my story, Chris encourages the papers to make the most of their lives within the safety of his apartment, but always leaves the window open for them to leave, or return.


I used a Wacom tablet in Flash to bring my characters to life. Ironically, I found the papers to have a lot more life in them than the humans. However, they presented some unique challenges. Since they don’t really have hands/faces/etc, I ended up inventing a lot of simple abstract shapes that I can only hope communicate their proper emotions. A few times, I rigged some real paper into puppets for reference. Even though they were acting human, they still needed to seem like paper.

Backgrounds were either drawn/painted in Photoshop or physically. I wanted to my audience to feel they could really get around in a drawn space, especially for the piece to feel cinematic. So, I built a few sets in 3D in Maya for reference. This also helped me design the spaces to relate to the characters.

Reference was used constantly, whether from clay models, my own body, or this Cutlass model, built by Justin Reed.

I auditioned 5 people to play Chris, and finally chose Brendan because he expressed the most natural compassion through his voice. We recorded lines over and over. One day, for about 7 hours straight. I even had him back to re-record things I wasn’t satisfied with. He was unbelievably patient through it all, as was Yianni, who I had a lot of fun with.

Most of Paper Shepherd’s sound effects were recorded from life with actual, real-life, physical pieces of paper! The goal with sound effects is to make you feel like you’re actually there, without sounding like they were just tacked on.

As much as I wanted to write/record all of the soundtrack myself, there was just no time. Fortunately, the band “To Be A High-Powered Executive…” came along and graciously donated their music, which fits the overall tone of Paper Shepherd and ties it together ever so nicely. Unfortunately, I had to really butcher a lot of their songs to get the timing to sync with the animation.

Hope you enjoy!
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