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Friday, November 16, 2007

Pivot - Stick Figure Animation Software

This stick figure animation tool called "Pivot" by Peter Bone is the best thing ever!! Apparently there is a version 3 coming out soon, but I haven't found anything about it yet.
I'm really missing a previous/next frame button to check out your animation (instead of clicking on each drawing), but I also only spent a few minutes with it so far. I love it though, it's really neat. Download the freeware here.

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AAU’s Fall Animation Festival

That was in my mail box and I need to let you guys know about it:

Just a reminder…. The Academy’s Fall Animation Festival is this Monday, November 19, at 7pm. It’s happening in Morgan Auditorium at 491 Post. Animation by Academy students, fresh popcorn(!), and guest speaker Tom Bancroft (animator on Aladdin, Lion King, etc.).

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Animation Workflow

[Instead of having you guys wait until I fix my stupid computer and post the whole thing, here's what I had so far and the moment I get more I'll post it]

My workflow

First, I obviously think about what I want to do. A clip I wanted to do for grading examples was a guy crawling on the ground or climbing up a hill, so I could show details in terms of hands and fingers and physical strain reflected in his facial performance as well as how the environment gets affected by his crawling around and vice versa.
So for this demo I started with that idea and thought about adding sound so I can really nerd out and use all the sound cues to my advantage. Going through my audio library (which is getting bigger and bigger - you can find a good audio piece in most movies, start building a library yourself), I wanted an action piece with lots of sound and little bit of dialogue/monologue.
I wanted to do animate something like that for a while so I already had recordings from "Saving Private Ryan". Famous movie, so you can't pick obvious and well known parts from the movie. I just wanted firing and shooting and screaming, which "Ryan" has plenty of and I'd hope wouldn't work against me (like picking "Choose the red or blue pill" thingie from "The Matrix" - THAT will work against you because it's so well known, you will fight against people's preconceived ideas and memories of that movie and the actors in that scene). I also wanted to include that sweet spaceship model we saw in class (from your rig library). That would also help me changing the setting a bit. I don't want to make the characters and the set look like what they are in the movie, so no WWII stuff. I love sci-fi, so something futuristic look-wise will do and I can use the said space ship. Yes, I get into Starship Troopers territory, so I need to avoid that look as well.
What I also like to do is to re-edit the audio. Most of the times I cut and paste things together, to further distance myself from the original and because I also have the freedom to do so. Exploit that freedom as a student or when you do your own animation at home. Once you are in a work environment, you’re stuck with the audio, the frame range, the live-action background plate, etc. etc.
So I went through my "Ryan" clips and was looking for something short so that I can polish it and have it ready for you guys in a timely fashion. I found one with lots of shooting and screaming. I listened to it over and over and picked out a few things I could combine. There's something at the end where you can hear a faint screaming and before that, maybe a spitting? I couldn't remember what it is in the movie so I checked, which you should do anyway. If you find a piece of audio online, always check from which movie it is. If you happen to have the same ideas as the director and your shot/sequence looks like the one in the movie, people will think you just ripped it off, you're unoriginal, etc.

As you can see, it's a blow on the mirror, not a spit. Now, given the sound and words, it dictates a bit your surrounding, meaning that the clip will include shooting, screaming, probably a war type setting, etc. You could have guys playing a war type video game or something more creative and technically that’s what I should do, but I always wanted to a war scene a la Starship Troopers, so here’s my chance. 
What I had in mind is a guy crawling on his belly towards his military objective, trying not to get shot with all those bullets flying around. There’s a close-to-camera-ricochet sound and I wanted it to be a shot to the ground close to him, spilling up dirt and stones and have that hit his face (maybe he
even gets wounded a little bit). So with all that in his face he spits out the dirt/blood and continues crawling forward. Then more shot impacts close to him but this time passing by and hitting a fellow soldier in the background. In "Ryan" it's just a moan/scream off-screen, but I wanted to show the guy being hit. The main guy looks back, sees that, gets furious/panicked and starts shooting. That's it. It was about 4 seconds long, nice and short. But then again, I really liked the "Covering fire!!" part, so I edited the whole thing around and ended up with a 10sec. piece (damn it, that always happens, I never settle on something short...). So here’s the audio only:

Click here to listen to the .wave file

Now that I have the sound in place I listen to it over and over until I see the whole animation in my head. I really can't draw, so any thumbnails wouldn’t be able to reflect whatever I thought of or only in a very limited way. So I plan it out mentally until I have a clear image of what I want to do.
BUT. I would still act it out so I can get a feel of what's going on body wise and film it so I can see how I'm acting out the whole situation. So for this clip I let the sound play over the speakers and started to make a fool out of myself. I can only speak for myself but I need to do it over and over in order to forget that I am "acting". That way I get the happy accidents and the more natural spontaneous stuff.

What I imagined for the shot is still better (hopefully) than what I acted out, but there's some interesting stuff here and there that I could use.
I like the different variations of “Cover fire!”, the way I react to the bullets, cleaner silhouettes as I roll over, etc.

So to give you guys a visual idea of what I’m thinking of, here’s combination of things that I liked and elements I want to include.

Now it’s time to translate all that into Maya and a working animation environment. First a little rundown of my Maya settings and tools that I use:

- scene is set to 24fps unless told otherwise
- animation curves are defaulted to “linear”
- hotkeys are set up for nurbs curves visibility on/off & previous/next frame
- dry erase marker is ready
- autokey is on

Let’s elaborate on those:

In film you work with 24fps, so whenever I work at home, I do the same. I don’t see why I should use 30fps unless told by the client.

During my blocking phase I set all my keys to linear, no spline, no stepped, etc. because that's how I learned it at first and haven' t really liked working any other way since. That's obviously very subjective and I'm not enforcing this method in any way. I don't want the animation to be pose to pose through stepped keys, because I like to see how long it takes going from one pose to the other and what the whole thing will actually look like early on. With a character popping around I don't get that. Yes, you can just add more breakdowns in order to get rid of this but I want to keep the amount of keys to a minimum (at least at the beginning). When I'm happy with what I'm seeing I convert specific areas to spline.

Hotkeys: one great time saving hotkey is the nurbs toggle on/off move fingers around in order to access the functions, I rarely lift my hand off the keyboard. So nurbs on/off as well as stepping through frames is quick and easy. My "Undo" is also on on "u" and not "Ctrl+z". Click here for the tutorial on how to set it up and here for the previous/next frame hotkey.

Dry erase marker:
super handy tool to check your spacing. Yes, there are scripts that do this as well, but not every computer is set up for it or you get plagued by technical issues. The marker is uncomplicated and works everywhere.


[Rest Coming Soon]

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Critique - Bowling


first off, I would start with the other guys' hands off screen or at least have them come into frame, then push the guy. The reason is, I always watched it with the first frame visible, then clicked play, etc. so you see the hands and you know what's going on, but when I play it at work the clip just shows up and plays and then that action gets lost quickly. Think about if you have that clip on your reel after another one, people won't look at frame 1 for a few seconds.
After that, you have him stumble forward and kinda look around, but what is he doing? Is he checking out the bowling field or is he trying to look back? I would have him look back at the guys with a "Why are you doing this to me?" look on his face.
The walk towards the bowling balls feels weird, especially with that double step thingie at x65. It feels like he's on a cliff and slipping away. You're also overextending his legs a lot from the beginning til here. Frame 1 already his legs are totally straight, then the right one snaps into a bent position on x3 and moves until x5, stops moving while the body continues and gives you an overextended left leg at x8. x47 has another left leg overextension, same at x65. Overall those steps towards the ball are very awkward. Avoid sudden and separate movements with the body and the legs.
Around x111, as he picks up the ball he takes a little step. I would wait with that. Since the ball is so heavy, he needs all the stability and leg pushing he can get in order to pick up the ball. Taking a step won't help him. Plus the step gets a bit floaty towards the end.
From x124 to x135 his right leg takes a big slow step, plus his left leg is sliding forward. On top of that the ball goes from the edge of the ball-holder-thingie down towards his knees in a very linear and diagonal way. Imagine the ball is way too heavy for you and rolls over the edge of that holder-thingie. Gravity will pull the ball straight down and pull his hands with it. He then holds on to it tighter and the ball and his arms will swing back towards his legs. That's what the motion should be. Right now it's too soft and too slow. You also go from pose to pose with the ball and his body stopping at x133. The momentum and gravity would have the ball/arms swing back between his legs a bit, not hitting a wall type of thing.
From x105 til x202 or so, his head looks very looked, there is no drag no overlap, no leading, no strain, no nothing, so loosen it up. Grab something heavy and act it out, I doubt your head would move like that.
x213 you're overextending his right leg. Look at x210 til x245, his upper body, head, arms and ball move down and up as one unit, which makes it very robotic and there is not weight to it. Again, act it out, see how your body and arms are adjusting to lifting something heavy and how you get ready for a swing. His arms stay in that 90 degree pose til x340 or so, which is too stiff. You're also overextending your leg at x339. Unless you think that this is okay, you should not have those overextensions in your clip. If you see something that looks wrong, then fix it before you present it. And again, act it out so you get a feel of what the motions are. Take frame 339 for instance. His pose is very awkward. Grab something very heavy and then stand exactly how he is. You'll quickly realize that it is not right.
When he starts the swing, his right arm lets go off the ball at x343 and x344. If you're holding something heavy with both hands and you take one hand away, the other hand has twice as much work to do, so there will be some adjustment. In this case it looks like his left hand can easily hold that ball because neither his arm nor his hand are moving or adjusting for the support change as his right arm goes down.
His body also stops the forward translation from x343 to 345, keep it going.
His right arm stays in the same pose from x346 til x366, his upper body does not change rotation (take x354, with his left arm swinging back, that would pull his shoulder and upper body back as well), upper body with arms moves as one unit around x355, you overextend his left leg from x358 to x364 and his body moves up til x382 or so in a very slow and linear way. I know I sound like a broken record but act it out, study reference, examine each part of the body and think about the effect and relationship between each part as it moves.
Be careful to not have one frame movements like his right arm at x413. Unless it's a shaking, a high frequency tension thing, stuff like that, bigger objects like an arm won't travel big distances from one frame to another. Ants would, but the smaller the object the more believable. You also have quick movements during the kissing-the-audience part (with another overextension at x447).
The end reads more like a shock than being embarrassed, and give the acting some time, don't rush it.

You really need to study reference for movement. I just went to youtube and looked for "bowling", which is pretty broad, so I did a search for "bowling lesson" and got those:

There is good stuff in there and definitely something you need to incorporate in your animation.


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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Flipbook! Deluxe

I don't know if you guys ever played with Flipbook, but looks like Benetton has a Deluxe version, which, according to Alex Orrelle, has now color functions and duplication of the last drawing. Have fun! (And no Floyd, this is not my drawing, it's just the first image I found through google...) - pic source

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Orangina Commercial

Wow. You think that I'M crossing the line in class? Wait til you see this commercial!

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Aardman's Creature Discomfort

The team behind the Wallace and Gromit cartoons have unveiled six new characters - all with disabilities.

Aardman Animations has based the plasticine animals - including a bull terrier in a wheelchair - on those from its Creature Comforts TV series.

Read on @ BBC News

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I was able to go to an early screening of Robert Zemecki's "Beowulf" at the Metreon (thanks Eric!!). The movie was shown in 3D at the IMAX and the theater was packed. I have never been to a 3D IMAX movie event so I was very curious about the depth aspect. The 3D intro (which I presume plays in front of every movie) was fantastic, I was actually blown away and couldn't wait for the movie to start.

Unfortunately, after having seen the movie, more than half the time the 3D was not needed. It was cool at the beginning because it was the first time for me seeing something like that (I saw the Titanic documentary by James Cameron a while ago in 3D but that had huge heavy glasses and it was just 45mins, not a full on movie), but it quickly became annoying. There was some kind of a ghosting effect and the canvas was not evenly lit, overall the picture was very dark, but some areas were even darker.

WAIT! That could be because of two reasons. We were sitting a bit on the outside, not full center and sooner than later I will need glasses because far away stuff gets slowly but surely blurry. Not that I'm blind, I can still see and read everything, but it's not super sharp, so that and the seating position could affect the viewing experience.

The end battle was brighter (I could actually see something) and there the 3D effect was really cool, not gimmicky (unlike during other spots of the movie where it was downright annoying), but just there, making the experience a notch better than on a normal screen.
The story was entertaining, definitely better than most live-action "event" movies, but my problem was with the main character. He's a liar and a cheater (in every sense), so I really don't care about him. Yes, he redeems himself at the end, but that's not enough. I cared more about Grendel or Wiglaf.

The look and animation was a mixed bag. Some shots (render wise) looked absolutely breath taking, others a bit cheap and like plastic, which really hurts when it is the characters. The scenes during which you see Angelina Jolie talking to Beowulf are amazing, both animation wise and visually. Most scenes with Robin Wright-Penn are very doll like and dead, both look wise and animation wise. The shots that really worked were the subtle and quiet ones, for instance Wiglaf at the end is really well done. The ones that didn't work were the intense scenes, with a lot of emotion, shouting, etc. Zemeckis still needs to give the animators more freedom to push the performance. One shot that stood out was Beowulf looking for Jolie in the cave. At one point he shouts "Show yourself!" (or something like that). He's only wearing some loin cloth/underwear type of thing, so you see all his chest and stomach muscles. Yet when he screams, only the facial features move (not enough though), but there is no tightening of the abs or other muscles, he just looks like a mannequin. That's too bad because you know they can do it (and they do - at the beginning Beowulf gets naked and lies down, with his arms behind his head and you see all the muscles working, the breathing, etc. all really well done).

The sea creatures and the dragon were AWESOME, but when the humans are on horses, the animation quality goes down a bit (movement is too fast and looks like a cycle - towards the end of the movie, other areas were ok).

Overall, it was just too inconsistent. Some stuff was amazing, other stuff was Polar Express-y. But I still had a good time and I was pleasantly surprised at how violent and sexual the movie is. It doesn't always have to be talking animals. All they have to do is let the animators do their job and push the look. Since you are in a medium that allows you to do anything, then go for it. Have shots that are like Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now", push the lighting, give it more mood and atmosphere. And again, give the animators more freedom. Otherwise, go the "300" route and film your actors and have CG backgrounds. Especially with actors like Hopkins, Malkovitch, etc. Unless you rotoscope their facial performance, it's a waste of talent.

It should do well at the box office and will hopefully encourage other studios to produce more movies like "Beowulf".

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Monday, November 12, 2007


Pretty neat, check it out here.

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"How we met"

Saw this over @ Cartoon Brew, with more info about it here.

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Critique - Run

Looks great, nice weight to it.

His left leg is great, except frame 2 to 3, the foot doesn't move, just make the other leg the same now. His right leg got a speed up from x10 to x12, which makes it poppy and too speedy. Check the spacing (look at the toe) from x21 to x26, looks like the foot slows down. The left leg seems better in that regard, but there is something funky from x10 to x12, maybe even at x9 already. Make sure the
foot is not sliding, keep it even.

Look at x3 and x18, how the wrists are facing down, have them rotated up more, so that they drag a bit as the arms go down.

One last thing. His first belly ring. Is there a way to move that up and down on the side? I see that your hips are moving, but when you look at the front view especially, the hip does not affect the belly at all, which makes it look like the hips are not moving.

Oh, another "last thing". The guy needs some sweat stains on his shirt and sweat on his head. :)

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I hate PCs...

If there is something I hate more than the 43 Muni line, it has to be PCs. Nothing ever works the way it is supposed to. The next computer I'm getting is going to be a Mac.

Guess what happened? I was sending an email to work (with an attachment, not too big, maybe 6MB), and downloading a .rar file via FTP. Nothing huge, nothing special, done it before. But this morning I got a little treat. The machine froze up. I know, what a surprise. The twist? After it boots up and you get the "windows xp" logo with the blue progress bar it goes to black, my monitor goes into power savings mode, and nothing else happens. It's dead.

That happened to me before. A full reformat/reinstall fixed it, but what a pain. 2nd time, RAM was the culprit.

Obviously I can't access vital data right now, but most importantly for this class, all my prep work for the work-flow tutorial is on there. I have doubts that it will be ready on Thursday. I'm sorry guys, patience is required...

If anybody has any ideas as to what the problem is, I'd appreciate any pointers.

Live long and prosper.

- pic source

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