Color?

How do you know, when viewing an image, if you are seeing the right colors on your monitor? We have 8 monitors in our studio and each of them can show the same image with totally different colors. Ack. So what do you do? How can you better ensure that you are seeing a web page or an image on your screen that is closer to what the author intended? There are hardware devices and even specialized monitors that can help in this area, but what can the regular user do to help better calibrate their monitor? If you have a monitor and video card that have the right adjustment features (gamma, brightness, contrast, color temperature and so on) you can calibrate your monitor to better represent colors on your screen.

Animation Mentor

I’m a firm believer that you never stop learning and that the more you can assimilate the better. So in that mind set, from March to September 2005 I enrolled at Animation Mentor taking their first two character animation classes (Basic Foundations and The Principles of Body Mechanics). I had some of the top names in the industry as instructors and as mentors (my two mentors were Jeremy Cantor (Insomniac) and Victor Navone (Pixar).

If you are interested, I recently put up a somewhat lengthy post over at Strut Your Reel about my experience at Animation Mentor and here you can find my completed assignments from the first two sessions.

Corpse Bride

When I was growing up, along with millions of others, I watched the Looney Tunes, the Walt Disney classics, Flintstones, Thunderbirds, Muppets and Davey and Goliath (among many other shows) on TV. As a child, Saturday morning cartoons or early morning programming here in Canada were (for better or worse) a part of my routine. These shows and movies used all sorts of different styles to tell their stories – from 2d animation to puppetry and as I look back at all those styles I found that certain styles seemed better at suspending my disbelief as a child than other styles. For example, I was totally taken in by 2d animation. Or take the Muppets, though very simple, they totally drew me into their stories. The one style that never really suited me was stop motion. For some reason it was never successful in pulling me totally into its world. I mean it was cool and everything – but it still didn’t quite work for me – and it still doesn’t quite work for me. I even remember seeing Sinbad for the first time and the skeleton fight scene – it was cool, but there was something about it which pulled me out of the story.

I’ve been animating for about 5 years, most of which has been 3d animation. I’ve recently started playing around with 2d which was a total thrill (check out my first 2d animation, a flour sack, on my site, under animation!) and so I decided to play a little bit with stop motion – to see if it gave me the same buzz as playing with a new medium like 2d… It didn’t. In fact it was almost a total turn off. Not that I couldn’t get something ‘presentable’, I mean it looked like it was believable motion, but it just didn’t do anything for me. So when I hear people raving about stop motion (or a specific stop motion film) I can’t seem to connect with them. I don’t understand the hype, even when it is very well acted and very well animated stop motion. I totally get thrilled by good 2d or 3d character animation. But stop motion… fizzzz… pop.

Recently Tim Burton’s, Corpse Bride, was released and the animation community seems to be in a bit of a dither. Lots of excitement, lots of ‘you gotta go see it’, ‘it was amazing’ and so on, but I can’t seem to connect. First, it’s stop motion – well you know by now that as an animation style it fails me. Second, it is the same artistic style as Burton’s other work “Nightmare Before Christmas”. One synopsis of Corpse Bride starts this way: “Corpse Bride carries on in the dark, romantic tradition of Tim Burton’s classic films Edward Scissorhands and the Nightmare Before Christmas.” Dark is the operative term. It’s the ‘dark’ that I don’t like at all. I actually find it repulsive. So even though it may have some cool technology to manipulate the models, even though the acting performances may be good, even though it may have amazing animation, I just don’t have any desire to see it. So there.

Robots

Ok, I admit it… sometimes I wait for the release of the DVD instead of going to the theatre when an animated feature is released. It helps me to skip the hype, teaches me patience and saves me a ton of money (I have four teenage daughters – when we all go to the movies it costs me a small fortune!). So when Robots was released – I waited (it was soooo hard) – I waited even though I helped in modeling and rendering the 3d title for the logo! I would have loved to have helped animate for the show, but… ahem… I have yet to convince Blue Sky to accept remote freelance animators! Blue Sky – are you listening?!

Anyhoo, just a note to all those that worked on this film – “Great Job!”. I totally enjoyed it. Yes, there were shortcomings and opportunites missed, but overall the story was good (the second act worked for me Keith), there was decent character development, it was totally entertaining, and the animation was well done (there were a couple of bad walk cycles, but hey – we know the deadlines don’t we!). To those who said the animation/acting choices were a bit too ‘cliche’ – I beg to differ… I think that this is one time that it really worked in the film’s favor. Aside to self: I so totally need to animate a character to Robin Williams’ voice…

Throw it away…

Having been in the technical field for over 10 years (software development and system administration) and having been in the artistic field for the last 10 years (graphic design and character animation) I have, among other things, had the opportunity to see some similarities between the two fields. One similarity that stands out in my mind is that I have had to throw away a lot things I have created in both fields. I have had to throw away bad code that I have written and I have had to throw away bad designs or bad animations I have made. That’s not to say I’ve arrived and can now code, design or animate perfectly, but suffice to say that when you are being creative (technically or artistically) you will have to throw away things that you have created. Bad code needs to be tossed in favor of good code. Bad designs needs to be tossed in favor of good designs. Bad animation… well, you get the picture.

In the process of learning it is a given that you will create something and it will be destined for the garbage pile. You will do a sum and get the wrong answer. So you will have to start over and try again. To draw a nice straight line you will have to draw a lot of crooked lines that will need to be erased or drawn over. To animate believable movement you will have to animate a lot of bad movement. It’s about that ‘thing’ your Mom always told you when you were taking piano lessons – “practice, practice, practice”. How many bad notes on the violin did that instrument belch before you got one right? So the point is, you will – guaranteed, have to throw things away. They will be bad, ugly, horrible, terrible, stoopid, dumb…. sigh… now you feel like giving up, don’t you? It all depends on how you look at it. It’s all about the destination, right? Sure it is. You want to draw well, or animate well, or play that violin well. But it is also about the journey to the destination. The process of getting to the point where you are doing ‘well’ (or at least better!).

Chuck Jones (aka Bugs Bunny et al) quoted one of his instructors that said to him: “All of you here have one hundred thousand bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone.” Get it? If you think about the bad drawing or the bad animation as a stepping stone to the good one (or better one), it makes it a lot easier to throw it away and move on to the next one.

The ‘gotcha’ is perserverence. Take, for instance, someone learning to draw. Let’s say that they are ambitious and decide to draw something fairly complex on their first try. Obviously they will make a mess of things and it won’t look good (okay, there may be a rare case, but generally speaking – work with me). After their abysmal failure they have a choice to make. Do they go on or give up drawing? 99.99% will give up because they don’t have the passion or perserverence to keep at it. The same is true for animation. If you have just created an animated piece and it sucks, don’t fret. Throw it away! Learn from your mistakes, and step onto the next stepping stone. It takes time, practice, hard work and perserverence so hang in there. Oh, one side note – if you’ve been at it for 20 years and you haven’t improved, maybe it’s time to try something different ;o)

2d Dead?

So, if you haven’t already read this interesting article, hurry on over to the NYTimes and check it out. If anything, it is an interesting read. So is 2d dead? As I heard one animator put it… “It’s not dead, it’s just sleeping.”

Simplicity

For those who have been following along I’ve updated the structure of the blog a bit. I’ve added a ‘recent updates’ section in the sidebar. Hopefully this will help you to see if there is anything new at a glance. I’ve added another book in the Reading List and a note about keeping things simple in the Art Notes page. I even include a quiz so you can test yourself to see if you tend to make things more complicated than you need to! Lastly, to motivate myself to draw more I added a ‘Sketch of the Day’ page.

Growing…

The blog groweth. More pages have been added (I’m sure I’ll think of more), one that deals with video training or documentaries and another that has a list of tools that I use in my daily work. I’ve also updated the book list and more links. I’m going to work really hard on updating these pages as often as I can, so please check back often and please let me know if you think of something that you would like to see added.

I’ve discovered that this blogging is not only fun, but also helpful. It’s not just for your benefit, but also mine! It makes me remember things I’ve forgotten (trust me I’ve forgotten plenty), helps me to think about my craft, and I really love to share what I know. So if you think that anything on these pages is bunk, feel free to take what helps and discard the rest!

Reasons

I have created a new page called “Art Notes” (see link on the right). My first ‘art note’ is about having reasons for what we do in our art. Art is a tough thing to describe, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t just about emotions and self expression. It also invloves the intellect.

Dual Core

Once upon a time an old man built himself a workstation. He had previously enjoyed the benefits of a fairly fast dual processor AMD Athlon, but he got lured into the 64 bit world. Succumbing to the temptation to have the latest and greatest toy – err… realizing that he needed an upgrade to his existing workstation, he demoted his dual Athlon to the render farm (for you non 3d types – no it has nothing to do with dead cows) and built himself a brand new, shiny 64bit workstation. For awhile, the old man was very happy in the 64 bit world, with his single processor. It was faster. It was bigger. It was cooler (literally – the heat generated was bearable). It played Battlefield without a hiccup.

Then summer ended and work began in earnest. Behold the single processor had much to do. Too much in fact, bringing it to it’s sorry little knees – thus causing the old man much consternation and agony. Trying to open Photoshop, Maya, Lightwave and Outlook Express made the old man cry. Sigh. Having had enough of this state of affairs, the old man decided not to just cry, but to see if he could do something about it. Thus the research began. It took all of 20 minutes and behold, the internet brought great tidings of comfort and joy!

Unbeknownst to the old man, he had made a very wise decision (is it wise when it’s an accident?) when he purchased his 64 bit motherboard, for the motherboard (Asus A8V) supported the new dual core Athlon 64X2 processor! People who knew the old man said that they had never seen him grin so wide. :)