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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Clear Silhouette - don't confuse your audience

I found this clip through this post at Cartoon Brew and if you dare to watch it, pay attention to the two characters at around the 1min mark. Yes, there are a lot of wrong things happening in this clip but I just couldn't stop laughing when I saw this:

Make sure that if you have multiple characters or one character in front of a set that the silhouette of the character is clear and not confusing. Don't have a tail wiggling on top of another character's head. :)
Often mentioned and always good is the option of hitting "7" on your keyboard in Maya so that your cg objects turn black (due to the lack of any light sources). It's a quick way to check if the silhouette of your character reads well. If you come across a section where hands for instance have to be in front of the body and you're worried about them not reading well, then play around with color silhouette. By that I mean for instance white hands in front of a black chest. Even though the hand is in front of the body it still reads well because of the color contrast. - pic source

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The Small One

The characterdesign blog has cool artwork of Mowgli... I mean The Small One. Great site in general, worth checking out.

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Can Pumuckl have a girlfriend and get married?

Ok, I doubt a lot of people know who "Pumuckl" is and really couldn't care less about this, but I just have to share this weird story.

Apparently there is a dispute in Munich going on about the idea that the cartoon character "Pumuckl" could have a girlfriend and get married.

It all started with artist Barbara von Johnson, who is drawing the character for the classic TV show, appearing on Munich's local TV channel and asking for a drawing competition which would have people come up with a girlfriend for Pumuckl. First prize would be the possibility to attend the wedding between the two.

The creator of Pumuckl, Ellis Kaut, wasn't very fond of this idea and went to court. Her argument being that Pumuckl is a ghost and because of that couldn't have a girlfriend because the Pumuckl character, who's usually up to no good, has no defined gender and is therefore a asexual.

But the court rejected the complaint. The copyright law of the creator has not been violated because the drawing competition is not a continuation of Pumuckls story as told so far, according to judge Matthias Zigann.

But when it comes to a direct continuation of Pumuckls story and life only the creator, Ellis Kaut, has the power to decide if and when Pumuckl will get a girlfriend or get married.

I agree that the creator should have final say and get consulted when it comes to expanding the mythology and story of Pumuckl. But what strikes me as odd is that you should believe that Pumuckl has no gender. HUH? The look, voice and actions always struck me as male. Anyhoo. I'm sure that people who know the show will get a kick out of this story. Everybody else just move along. :)

pic source here and here

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Subtle acting

I can imagine that most people by now who frequent the web have seen or at least heard of this movie. What cracked me up is that Michal actually pointed this clip out for acting references and it's true. To me his whole thing feels very acted and not natural but pay attention to the fingers, the hands, the dramatic pauses (03:20) and stares. Sometimes during the stares nothing is moving except the jaw, it's like an anticipation to the next gestures and movements.
If you have a guy sitting and talking, don't forget to animate the hand and arms even when they are off screen. I know it may sound like a waste of time but it adds a nice touch when you feel that there is movement, you can barely see that he's moving his hands in a gesture, but it's there. Obviously don't do polished fingers but just arms/hands.
Just turn the sound off if it gets annoying (to me it's especially the music).

And then the caricature of it (thanks jeff!):

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Sunshine Barry

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Time and effort

Here's a comment I got from the "Sounds simple, doesn't it?" post and instead of adding another comment I wanted to post my thoughts here.

I think the cruxs of the problem is that most people get into animation because they think its easy. Spend a few hours hitting some buttons on the computer and you too can have Pixar [or even ILM ;)] quality animation.

But anyone who has seriously attempted to aspire to that level knows that animation is one of the most demanding art forms to learn nevermind master. Its an old joke but there is no 'Make Great Animation' button. It requires hours and hours of consistent practice and study.

Most schools won't tell you this, but in my estimation I believe 95% of people who get into animation will not make a career at feature film level. Not because they couldn't but because they are not prepared to put in the time and effort required.

I don't know about 95% but I think too that the number is more above 50% than below.

There is certainly no magic button. To me the problem is about being lazy. And not lazy in a negative way, as in "Ahhh, I don't care." but more a "Yeah, I think that looks good enough, that should work." type of thing. Good enough is not what you should strive for. You really have to push yourself and be honest to yourself when you look at your clip. Does it move the way I really want it to move. If I compare this to other work that inspires me, is it of the same quality? If not, why not? What can I do to make it better? Did I really spend hours on each body part, making sure that it is the best it can be?

Probably not. There can be many reasons for it. Time is obviously a big factor. That's why I wouldn't recommend doing Animation Mentor and the AAU at the same time for instance. It's also hard to go to either one of the schools and have a full time job, but that's just how it is, you have to pay the bills. If possible, at least plan out your schedule so that you give yourself enough time for your animation class.

But everybody that I know who has or is working at ILM, Pixar, Sony, Weta, etc. spent long hours in the school lab or at home polishing their shots. You have to be prepared to spend long nights, sleepless nights even. Sure you will have exceptions, people that are so talented that it takes them less time. But I think the majority is working really hard and investing a lot of time in their work and you have to do the same in order to stand out from the masses.

But it doesn't end once you get out of school, it's not a walk in the park either once you're hired. I can't talk for Pixar or any other studio which has in-house productions and of course they have a butt load of problems they have to fight with as well, but what I can do is give you a rundown of how live-action feature animation can work. And I'm going to use the worst case scenario because why sugarcoat the whole thing.

You get your shot and you can just animate the hell out of it until it looks awesome, right? Nope. In live-action animation - and again I'm piling on all the bad things that can happen - you're stuck with the length of the shot due to the live-action plate, so you can't add a few frames that you need, which means that your animation can end up too fast because you still have to cram everything that the client wants into that shot.
You're also stuck with the camera move. So if you have a creature that jumps and the arc needs to go a certain way in order for the timing and realism to be right, what could happen? The creature jumps out of frame. The client is paying top dollars so you can't "hide" the $$ out of frame. This means you need to adjust the arc so that the creature is always in frame. But that means the timing is off and it looks fake. So shot length and camera, coupled with the client's requests can really screw up your animation.
But you still need to work as hard as you can to make it look the best it can be. Remember, it's not your portfolio you're working on, it's the client's portfolio.
And what if there is audio in your scene? Chances are you get a client who doesn't understand or care about our process of animating. We'd like to have a final piece of audio or at least very close to final. But what can happen is that you animate to a certain sentence and when you see the movie in theaters, the dialogue is totally different and your lipsync and body gestures don't work at all anymore. Or what if you have no dialogue at all and you're being told to just animate away and that the dialogue will get added later?
So you worked your butt off to make it look halfway decent given the above mentioned restrictions. Now it has to go through the review process. Your lead might have some comments because the animation director is juggling other things. No problem. The animation director has comments and you think that's it. They know what they're doing, the client should be happy. Nope. Let's take the worst case scenario again. Your clip is now being reviewed by the CG supervisor, another set of eyes. But what if multiple shops are working on one movie? Well then you need an overall CG supervisor who looks at the work of all the companies that are involved. So another pair of eyes is looking at your shot. Now, what if you have a first time director and the studio is not really confident in him/her? Then you might have one or two producers that will look at your shot and leave comments. After that the CEO of the studio might have a request or two. Then maybe the director. Now bear in mind that a lot of those people will have very strong opinions and give you directions which contradict everything you've learned in animation school and really doesn't pay any attention to physics and real life behaviour. But you still have to make it look real because your animation is part of a live-action movie with real physics and an audience who will probably not know but feel that something looks and moves wrong.

So imagine all those notes trickling back to you (hopefully undistorted, but probably not). So you fix your shot and this process goes on and on. Once the shot is finalled, you think you're done. Oh no. What if the character needs a lot of simulation (cloth, hair, etc.) or the action of the surrounding environment is interfering with your animation (it's always an eye opener to see your animation rendered and composited)? You need to go back and adjust your animation so that everything fits. But sometimes it's more work to fix the surrounding problems than the animation, so it gets changed in order to get what is needed, which again can screw up your animation.
Now take all those problems and add the following constraint that everybody in every company has to work with. Time. There is a deadline after all. So what if you have a shot with tons of creatures and your scene is so heavy that everything crawls? You will run out of time and won't be able to put all the love in the shot that you wanted.

And this is just for one shot.

So just like "anonymous" said, there is a lot of time and effort required, because a project is probably around 6 months long, some are shorter, some are much longer. There is also a lot of wasted effort involved because clients can suddenly change their minds and a whole sequence is gone and you have to start from scratch.

And don't forget overtime. Chances are you won't have a 9 to 5 schedule, so your girlfriend, partner, wife, husband, kid(s) and/or family won't always see you as much as they (and you) would like to. That's another "time and effort" part of being in the animation/film industry.

Are you really ready to go through all that?

Is it really worth it?



Now even though I just described what an actual show could be for months (some people for over a year depending on their position), it's certainly not always like that. A lot of times a shot can contain so many cg elements that you could extend the shot because you can replicate the plate, the camera movement can get modified to work with the extension. Your creature is moving out of frame? Well, the digital matte painting department could extend the set and you can add a second camera which follows your creature. You're given tools that make your scene butter smooth. The client is in full control and no studio will dictate what has to be done. And sometimes you actually have enough time to really polish your shot. :)

So you're sitting in your work area, surrounded by toys, maquettes, posters, fellow animators and nerds and you laugh all day. And guess what? You're being paid to do so.

Yes, it's hard work and the hard work never ends but it's so worth it. We are very lucky to be able to do what we love all day and be able to call it a job. It's a fantastic feeling.

So if you are in an animation school right now, take the time and work hard on your portfolio. If that means not going out to parties, spending a bit less time with your friends and family, being holed up in the lab or at home in front of the monitor for 18 hours a day, then so be it. Your family and true friends will still love you and understand because they will see the passion in your eyes. And when you sit in the theater, waiting for your name to appear in the credits of the first movie you've worked on and there it comes and you hear your family and friends erupt in cheers and applause, you will know it was worth it.


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

The Spline Doctors got a good post on an animation checklist you should go through for every character and shot you animate.

They make it sound easy to get good animation as long as you follow those rules :) but they are right that it is an essential checklist you HAVE to go through for every character, every part of the body. It may sound tedious but after a while it's just routine and it really trains your eye.

What I continuously see in student work are uneven and poppy arcs, which to me is surprising. All you have to do is take out your dry erase marker, draw a little dot for each spacing of whatever body part you're working on and then look at the dotted curve you're getting. You'll see uneven spacing, you'll see pops, etc. and then you go back and fix it. When I point those pops out to the students they tell me that they see it as well. So why wasn't it fixed before presenting the shot? Probably because they didn't check their spacing with the marker (or whatever tool you want to use, even though the marker way is fast and easy) or because they were too lazy to fix it (or they ran out of time...). If there is another reason, please let me know so we can figure out a solution to it.

Speaking of presenting a shot. It's also puzzling to me when I see a character doing whatever motion and the character's arms or legs are completely overextending, the kind of when you pull up your character and the IK handles stay put so that your legs for instance are completely straight and the feet point towards the IK controller. That is obviously not good and I doubt that any aspiring animator would consider it to be ok (unless this is the very very first time you've touched a cg rig in your life). So why wasn't it fixed before presenting it? It's a major mistake that needs to get addressed. So don't continue with other animation parts, fix this first. The first thing I think when I see homework presented like that is that the student thinks it looks okay. Which is troubling. Every time I ask about it though, the students tell me they know it's wrong. So this leads me to my second thought, that the student was lazy, which is troubling as well. Animation is hard work and if you won't spend a few seconds to move the controller so that your legs and/or your arms don't overextend, then you will have a rocky road ahead.

So take that time and fix it and as you move along with that in mind you'll start to fix things automatically because it's part of your process, you'll get faster at it, etc. etc.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Peter and the Wolf

Youtube has Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" spread across three movies. If you're quick you can watch them now. I doubt they will be up long, the links that Cartoon Brew provided are already down. So just do a search for Peter and the Wolf if the movies below are not working.

Besides all that, it's a fantastic piece of animation.

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