Behind The Story


Originally I created the Griffin as a sort of test dummy for a fur plug-in within Lightwave 3D. That was all. With all the character animation our studio had done for clients over the years, Griffin seem to be for something different. At our shop, frogs, ducks, and bears usually extolled the virtues of conservation, or warned of dangers around water. Griffin seemed to whisper that we needed to go on an adventure together.

Griffin fur test
3D bear fur test

I rigged him for movement, built a friend for him, then came up with a little idea. This would be a two-minute film whereby I would do all the things I usually passed off to those in my employ. My first approach involved two bears attempting to perform a scene from Macbeth. One bear was a serious thespian, while the other was a loafer who took a phone call in the middle of the scene and couldn’t get his one line right.

Bears performing Shakespeare
Bears performing Macbeth

Amusing, but it lacked the hook that would hold my interest over the months it would take to complete the project. Watching some footage shot inside a subway car as it prepared to embark, I imagined my frustrated bear diving for the doors in absolute desperation. It was a start. What if he had to catch his girlfriend before she left him for good? What if he made it, only to find out he got on the wrong train? I could work with that.

Clay sculpt of the bear character
A quick character study in clay


I watched Buster Keaton’s The General and was struck by how brilliantly he staged his scenes. Without a sound, they read instantly. His characters would pause and appear to think. This idea of clear staging and slowing down to allow Griffin to think excited me.

Harold Lloyd on a train cattle guard
Buster Keaton in The General

As a result, I purposely set up some long 10+ seconds takes to see what the bears would do with the time. Much of that experimentation ended up getting trimmed out, but there are a few performances that surprised me.

Griffin at railing
It took a month to get Griffin over that railing!

As I worked out the storyline that would become Catching the L Train, I wrestled with the question of theme. It was 2 in the morning when the entire project clicked into place. I asked myself, “What am I willing to endure to get where I want to go?”

Sketch of Griffin with flowers
Griffin thumbnail

Suddenly, this little film wasn’t about catching a train or trying to get the girl. It was about forcing myself to work late at night and on into the morning – every night. It was about spending a month on one shot to solve the blocking and performance challenges in the right way. It was also about seeking out constant critique from others and learning to see my work with fresh eyes.

Griffin in a booth

I admit this sounds a bit corny, but it’s what I needed to see the project through and hopefully, make a film worth 6.5 minutes of a viewer’s time.

-Eric Raingruber