Category: Commentary

Tap… tap… tap…

Anyone here? Actually, yes! Busy as usual. And to make things even more interesting I decided to enter the CGSociety challenge. So if you want to see some of my recent work, head on over and check it out. Of course I have to do this in my spare time. The main problem is that the entire concept is foreign to me – spare time, that is… It is a steampunk challenge – which means what exactly? Maybe this will help? Or maybe this? Anyway, I’m going to try to wake up this blog since that silly Orphan Works Bill was killed (at least for now), but I think I’m going to be watermarking all my images from now on… just in case it rears it’s ugly head again. Thanks for stopping by!

Ping!

I’m still here! Nothing much to report or comment on (at least that I’m allowed!), but I thought it might be a good idea to post at least something! I have been debating on whether or not to take advantage of the XSI offer to move from Essentials to Advanced (since Essentials is going away). I’m not too happy with Autodesk and the direction that Maya has taken in the last few iterations. I’m still on 7.0 as a result. Maya seems to be a dead end, but I sure love it’s character animation workflow and Final Render for Maya is a dream to work with…but maybe it’s time to switch (which of course means more learning curves to tackle – Mental Ray and XSI). I have till the end of the month to decide.

I would be posting more images/work in progress, but the orphan bill is still up in the air so I’ll just wait it out to see what happens (I think it is currently on hold). Then, depending on how it unravels I will decide on what direction to take on posting images/samples on the internet. Thanks for stopping by!

The Animator’s Survival Kit – Animated

Richard Williams, animator extraordinaire, has now released his Master Class on 16 DVDs. I attended Richard’s class back in 2000. I had to drive to Los Angeles (about 25 hours from where I live) and pay a small wheelbarrow-full of cash, but it was one of those classes that was a ‘eureka’ moment in my animation career. I believe that his master class allowed me to move on to the ‘next level’ in my animation.

After I attended the class my head felt like it was going to explode, so much information in so little time – and all I had for reference were my notes and drawings from the class. I was certain that 1/2 of the class leaked out of my ears before they could make an impact (or even reach the notebook). During the class Richard taunted us by waving a stack of papers around which he claimed was going to be published. One year later he did exactly that and “The Animator’s Survival Kit” was born. For me, this book is an indispensible reference and, next to the “Illusion of Life”, one of the best animation books published.

Only one thing was missing, to be able to replay the master class. Even if it was 6 months later – how I wish I could have simply rewound a tape and watched it over again. For me, repetition is king. I need a pile driver to get it through my thick skull, and repetition is a good pile driver. Now, with the release of this set, that wish comes true! I can’t believe what an amazing resource this is… Dick is the link between some of the best animators in history and he’s passing that information on to us. It doesn’t get much better than that.

This DVD series is the master class and then some. It includes animations that explain the principles he expounds. The set is expensive, but so is/was going to the master class. As far as I am concerned it is well worth the cost. Even though I took the class, I have still ordered a copy – remember, repetition (and now with examples!).

Some people on CGTalk have been complaining about the cost. I guess it depends on how badly you want to learn from a master animator. There is no way you can get this kind of training from your local animation college (unless they buy a special group copy!). The internet is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately it seems to be breeding an attitude of ‘give it to me for free (or real cheap)’. This can easily devalue people’s work and achievements. So is it expensive? Yes, and so are many other things of value.

From The Illustrators’ Partnership

Edit: I removed the post (quite long) and instead I direct you to the AWN article that contains the same information.

Orphan Works Legislation

I’m not sure what I can do as a Canadian citizen, but the least I can do is let my US artist friends know about this proposed legislation that the United States seems to be pursuing. Please read this article.

Edit: Please email your local government representatives and ask them to kill this legislation. Please keep your eyes open for the final legislation. If what people are saying about it is true (make sure you listen to the audio interview with Brad Holland of the Illustrators Partnership), then email your local government representative and ask them to kill this legislation.

If this passes it would definitely mean a lot of bad news for any artist. In fact, the way that I understand it, it would be an end to self expression. It would be cost prohibitive to create anything artistic. Moreover, someone else could, without your knowing, register your own work and then if you used it – you would be using it illegally! Please, let this either be a hoax or defeated before it goes any further.

Money

So this is a quote of a quote from a book… but the source is pretty reliable, so here goes:

“We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.” Michael Eisner (ex-CEO of Disney)

You know, I’m not against capitalism, I’m not against making money (one does need to earn a living, after all), but this hit me like a brick. It’s not that it surprised me – after all, corporations are mainly trying to appease their shareholders so you would think the bottom line would matter to some degree (even to a high degree). But it’s not just ’some’ or a ‘high’ degree. It’s often the whole ball of wax. No wonder many artists are going independent and publishing their own work – creating and distributing their own properties. For those of you not wanting to be part of the machinery that is driven solely by greed… all the power to you and I hope you can make enough to make a decent living promoting your own work. Or if you stay, I hope you can make a difference.

Correction: Please see this post regarding the original quote by Eisner.

Update 2008

That sort of rhymes, doesn’t it (update and 2008)? I have trouble with rhyming… I think that words rhyme and my wife and kids laugh at me. You would think by now I would have a complex.

Anyway, I hope you had a great Christmas holiday and are enjoying a happy new year! The tail end of 2007 was really busy – as you can see I didn’t post much between September and December. I worked on a number of things, one of which was a project which involved a bunch of animations for TV commercials. That kept me on my toes. So many animations in so little time – extreme animating. It should become a sport or something.

In my spare time I’ve been programming again. I had forgotten how much I really enjoyed it. My university degree is in Computer Science and for my first 20 years in the work force I was a systems analyst and software developer. I had also forgotten how much programming is actually an art form. Maybe I’ll delve into that more in another post.

So what have I been coding? I’ve been playing around with XNA Game Studio – Microsoft’s framework for creating games on Windows and the XBOX 360. It’s kind of neat seeing your project on a console! I’m currently writing a small game I should be able to release in a couple of months. So in the process I’ve had to learn a new programming language (C#), re-learn object oriented programming, learn XNA, and learn all about Game Artificial Intelligence – what a blast!

At the tail end of last year I also completed Bobby Chiu’s Digital Painting course over at schoolism.com. It is a 9 week course and covers a lot of material. I totally recommend this class if you have the time and the funds and want to improve/learn digital painting.

Each week you get a video lesson and an assignment based on the lesson. Bobby gives you a drawing and you have to paint over it based on the lesson. There was only one lesson I didn’t have time to complete, but man, that course was awesome. This year I’ll be taking Stephen Silver’s Character Design course… it starts in a few days – I hope I’m up for it!

For Christmas we bought a Wii (Of course we had to buy it during the summer when they were available!). Pretty cool console. So now I have five consoles and a couple of hand held gaming consoles:

  • PS3
  • XBox 360
  • PS2
  • Wii
  • Nintendo 64
  • PSP
  • Gameboy Advanced
  • Who could tell I’m into gaming? Which ones are my favorites? All of ‘em! It all depends on the game.

    So here are some comments concerning the ‘big’ three (PS3, XBox 360, and Wii). It’s interesting to see and use the user interface for each of these consoles. Using only one word, here is how I would classify each User Interface: PS3 – refined, 360 – industrial, and Wii – simple. Of the three I enjoy using the PS3’s interface the most. It satisfies the artsy side of me. Anyway, the UI isn’t what ‘defines’ the console. Of the three I’d say that the PS3 is the most ‘advanced’ as far as graphics quality and speed. The 360 would come second and the Wii third.

    But that’s the gotcha – that doesn’t really matter either! Well, it does if you are into the ‘coolness’ factor, but having played games on all three consoles over the holidays, I would say that the amount of enjoyment you get from playing a game doesn’t depend on the console, but rather on the game and how it plays. I know this sounds obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said! Of course if you have great game play and better graphics or controls, well then its a lot more fun!

    Take for example the Wii Sports games that came bundled with our Wii. It has a tennis game which has fairly low quality graphics and it contains character models that are basically spheres and cylinders with disembodied hands. They are cute (and customizable so they can sort of look like you). They certainly aren’t 8k poly models that have been massaged in Zbrush by a team of artists. But the game is a hoot!

    The Wii game controller really helps to make that game a lot of fun (just remember to have some room around you when you are swatting the virtual tennis ball in your living room). The neat thing is the game was designed so that your characters are moving themselves into the best position and so all you have to worry about is the timing of hitting the ball. If the ball is within a influence zone around your character and you swipe at it – it will, 80% of the time, hit the ball – if you are a little bit late it goes a little off course, if you are a lot late (or early) you miss. So you don’t have to even worry about accuracy. The simplicity of the game and the controller add up to an enjoyable game.

    On the other hand we played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3. I must say that I’m disappointed. We were expecting a lot more from ‘Naughty Dog’, the makers of one of our family’s favorite series of games (Jak and Daxter). It has the fancy models and elaborate sets that take advantage of the graphics and speed of the PS3. But the strength of the PS3 became a weakness in this game. The visuals are so detailed that there is so much noise that often it is difficult to see the important things in the game. The texturing – especially when things were supposed to be ‘wet’ was over done. The specular reflections on everything made the entire screen shimmer and hurt the eyes.

    On top of that, the camera control drove me crazy. They switched between a camera mode where it is following you (3rd person mode) to a camera used for shooting (almost a first person view). That switch was counter intuitive. They did a *much* better job of controlling the camera in Jak and Daxter – the camera worked with you (not against you) in that game. What happened? Yes, the direction of movement of the camera is customizable, but that didn’t help. The switch shouldn’t have happened.

    Moreover, there were times that you would be watching a cinematic and it would end with the camera pointing you in one direction and then the game play would start and the camera would flip so now you were looking in the totally opposite direction of the cinematic – disorienting you totally and pulling you out of the game.

    Speaking of cinematics, the amount of cinematics at the beginning of the game was ridiculous – if I want to watch a movie, I’ll buy a movie. It was more of an interactive story than a game. They could have given you the backstory through game play, but instead they threw in one cinematic after another. Also, there were times between cinematics that you controlled the character, but it didn’t involve any game play. Almost an entire sub level where you just opened doors to find a skeleton at the end. So here we have a game with all the graphics bells and wonderful frame rates, but the game wasn’t fun.

    That’s not to say that the PS3 doesn’t have any great titles. One example I would say is Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction. Great game, nice graphics – Insomniac does it again!

    Beowulf

    Not a lot of time to blog, just a quick note about the movie. I haven’t seen it yet… but what I have seen in trailers makes me shudder. Anyway here are a couple of links. Mark says that the story/movie doesn’t cut it (never mind the motion capture debate). His title on his blog is B.O. Wulf. He he… that made me chuckle. Also, looks like some of the creators of the movie themselves understand that it isn’t animation.

    I’m baaack!

    Well, I wasn’t really ‘gone’ – but its the same old excuse – busy, busy, busy. Anyway, first things first… what happened to September? Me thinks it just sort of zipped by without stopping in for a visit. Oh well. On to October. Lots of irons in the fire. Some are heating up, and others… well, they are on the back burner. In the last three months I have finished animation for about 6 tv commercials… talk about an animation marathon. When animation has to be created at that rate you know you can’t spend ‘Pixar’ quality time on getting it finessed. Basically you have to abandon it in a sort of ‘advanced’ blocking stage. But those were the requirements and you roll with the punches. Maybe I’ll post a link to one later on.

    I have also been in serious learning mode for the last few months – really pushing my drawing and painting skills. I’m totally enjoying it. I’ve now taken two of Don Seegmiller’s painting workshops and now I’m midway through Bobby Chiu’s digital painting class over at Schoolism.com. I’m also enrolled in Stephen Silver’s Character Design class that starts in January (I’m totally looking forward to that one… I don’t think there is a similar course on the net – if you know of any other character design courses, please let me know!). I also have a bunch of Gnomon DVDs that I’m burning through (Matte Painting, Digital Sets Lighting and Texturing, Digital Maquette, and Practical Light and Color – to name a few). Some of them contain review material, some have new concepts, some are better than others, but all have been worth it.

    The creative engine needs food… so all those things help feed it. Hopefully it will help me to improve and enable me to make a better final product for my clients. I’m finding that everything informs your creativity – so if you are in ‘3d’ make sure you play around in the 2d world. You will be amazed at what you can learn and apply in the 3d world.

    When I have a spare minute (har har), I enjoy watching films. A couple of flicks stand out in my mind that I have watched recently. The first one I wasn’t expecting to watch, but based on a recommendation I gave it a chance – and I’m glad I did:

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2007 movie)… that’s right, you heard me. Now, you have to understand I’m not a TMNT fan (after all I’m 45… so Daffy Duck is more my hero type). When it originally aired on tv I wasn’t a fan. But I was impressed by the movie. The visuals, the animation, they all worked together to tell a story… a rather predictable story, but a fun one nonetheless. IMDB votes gave the movie a 6.9 out of 10, but I think I would rate it a little bit higher. I think the producers spent the right time on the right things. Anyway, Feng Zhu (concept artist extrodinaire) has credits in the movie and I can definitely see some of his influence in the designs.

    The other movie that I really enjoyed was “Surf’s Up”. If you have kept up with the blog you know that I’ve given up watching movies at the theater, so I’m always behind in these things. I’m eagerly anticipating Ratatouille (no I haven’t seen it yet). The animation in Surf’s up was quite good. There wasn’t a single moment where I was pulled out of the movie because of bad animation or boredom. I liked this movie on a lot of levels. It is definitely my penguin movie of choice. They even spoofed that ‘other’ so called animated Penguin movie at the very beginning. Brilliant. Chicken Joe was soo cool.

    Thanks for stopping by! Ok, back to work now…. lots more to do!

    Ratatouille and Mocap?

    So, apparently the final tagline in the end credits of Ratatouille say the following:

    “Our Quality Assurance Guaratee: 100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film.”

    Now, that’s what I’m talking about!!