Daniel Savage’s “Igneous” is a cathartic journey through the rocks and rolls of life.

Did you know the tendency of seeing faces in everyday objects is called “Pareidolia” and it is believed to be a primal survival mechanism? 

I grew up in the deserts of Arizona at the base of a big red, Fraggle Rock-looking mountain.  I was somewhat of a loner or a “quirky bird” as labeled by my dad (weren’t we all in some way or another?). Every day in the passenger seat on the drive home from elementary school, I would obsessively look for pre-discovered faces in the mountain, each one christened with a friendly name. So naturally “Igneous” had me at the first frame – the sandy foreground blending into the rose sky with rock shapes morphing into creatures.  This felt personal.  I needed to know more about what inspired this majestic and emotional piece.




“Told through the feeling of looking out the window while on a road trip, Igneous is an attempt to capture the emotional weight of dealing with the unexpected death of a parent.”  ~ Daniel Savage

Q&A with Daniel Savage

I’m assuming  “Igneous” is a personal project and not funded by a client, correct?  Can you speak to needing to take time to make work that satisfies your creative instincts/interests?

Yes, self-initiated. I don’t see any difference between the two (client/personal), it’s all part of the job description for me. It’s just a basic survival need, haha. I always thought the desire would fade as I got older, but it hasn’t yet.

The Press Release mentions “Igneous” is about the sudden loss of a parent.  Without getting too personal, what sparked the “road trip” aspect of the piece?

It’s impossible to not get too personal, which might be weird for an animation design blog, but I actually lost my father during a family road trip when I was a kid. Recently I was driving through the southwest when this idea finally came together. I never knew how to express this feeling visually. I’m still not sure if I got it right. It was especially difficult as a kid. I ditched all my art classes and turned to music. It’s easier to get your frustration out on a set of drums.

In just over 1 minute, the viewer goes on quite an emotional journey.  Can you talk about your storyboarding or outlining process?

I was sketching during my trip, literally daydreaming and looking out the window. Or when I was driving, I would ask my wife to occasionally jot down notes for me as they came. Back in my studio, I pinned up index cards to figure out how to connect all the ideas. I enjoy this process when there’s no looming deadline.


Daniel’s road trip sketchbook

Did you have a particular inspiration for the design style?  

The landscape of Arizona / Utah.

Color plays an important role in telling the story.  Can you talk a bit about the color choices weaving in and out of color into black and white/greys? 

Yeah, it kind of follows the emotion of the experience, denial, shock, anger, all that fun stuff. But the specific colors were inspired by the colors of the landscape.

Color script

How long did the piece take to complete?

2 to 3 months I’d say. In the spring Yoon Su Lee, a CalArts student, asked me if I took interns. I had been sketching the film at this point and her work fit the aesthetic perfectly, so I brought her on for the summer to help out. Honestly, I wouldn’t have finished it without her. She’s fast so, there were weekends when I was scrambling to get things ready for her to work on that Monday, haha.


First animation test

Walk-cycle and texture test

Can you explain the collaboration process with your sound designer, Ambrose Yu?

Ambrose is the best and everyone knows it. I’m so happy to know him. I feel like our process is “hey I have this weird idea wanna do it”, he responds “uhhhh… ok I guess so” and then the magic happens. Below is a chart I gave him to help map out the ebb and flow of the sound. It’s a great way to make sure we’re both on the same page.


Daniel’s chart to Ambrose to map out the sound timeline

Your work is described as having a “visual rhythm”. Any animation or design tips that are particularly used in “Igneous” that you would like to share with the Motionographer readers?  Or any smart thing you’ve incorporated into your workflow?  Or anything you’ve had to learn the hard way?

The best tip is an obvious one but can’t be said enough. Find inspiration outside of your bubble. It’s possible to be inspired by nature, or literally anything other than an Instagram post. But the best design tip I have is to save for retirement, don’t be stupid.



[ (ig-nee-uhs) ]


Igneous rock, or magmatic rock, is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. The magma can be derived from partial melts of existing rocks in either a planet’s mantle or crust.


Daniel Savage: Direction, Design, Animation
Yoon Su Lee: Animation
Sound: Ambrose Yu