Friday, October 21, 2011


I've heard this so many times in my animation life. Lately, I have been hearing it during my critiques, "Keep it simple." I always want my animation to look really great, but the really good ones are really simple as well. It seems I had a tendency to put so many things in one shot, and it turned out "too complex". Simple animation is not easier, actually it is difficult because we need to tell a story within the poses. Tom us "Simplicity rules all." Let's seek for quality and simplicity in animation.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Together Everyone Achieves More

As Sean discussed in his last post, being the crew on a film is very much like being the crew on a ship. We have grown closer and stronger as a crew as we muscle through each of these storms. One of the things that is great about our crew is that we all come from different backgrounds, and we have different strengths, we have different specialties, which makes us stronger as a whole.

I myself studied Fine Art and Computer Animation in undergrad, where I made a short film by myself. Sean has been studying hand drawn animation since high school, and then went on to continue his education at Cal Arts, where he made several short films. Justin studied Computer Graphics as a generalist in his undergrad, and has now moved onto specialize in Texturing and Lighting. Ryo studied Media Science in college in Tokyo.  Moos worked in a small production company working on motion graphics for commercials and music videos. So we come from many different backgrounds and we have different strengths, and the great thing about working together on this film is that we all want to share our knowledge with each other, so that we can all become better artists. 

One of the first times that this crossover between backgrounds happened was when we started to work on the mods for our characters. Sean with his background in hand drawn drew the turnarounds of our characters. Justin with his technical knowledge of Maya started to test out the process for modding “Morphy,” after which he showed the process to me.  With my background in modeling in Maya, I took both Sean’s turnarounds and Justin’s modding process and started to create our characters in 3D. I worked for a long time modeling the meshes to get them to look the way we wanted them, and then Moos was brought onto the project and he helped me finish off the final steps of the modding process. 

While the modding process was going on, Sean was teaching us about hand drawn animation, about posing and timing, and what animation looks like when it’s done right. Which lead us to look to the past, and study the best hand drawn animators at Disney; Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, and Marc Davis. Studying the films on which they were the Directing Animators, such as, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book has been an eye opening experience for me as a 3D animator. Now we can start to understand how the Nine Old Men did what they did with hand drawn animation, and how we can learn from them, and use what we learn in our film today.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sailing Through Storms

I've really grown to like the simile "Being the crew on a film is like being the crew on a ship." When everyone does their job, the ship safely sails to land. The reason the ship comparison has really stuck with me is because just like a ship may have to sail through storms and rough waters, a film goes through conflicts and challenges in a similar fashion. You can see the storm brewing before you reach it, the water starts to get rocking, and before you know it, it's all-hands-on-deck! This week on the film, we had to weather another storm. The details of this week's storm are unimportant, but to sum it up, it was like a small hurricane that hit us out of no where. This storm stuck out to me from the others, though, because I noticed a change in us as a crew; we had grown and it was visible. In the past, we would panic, at times even turn on each other. But now, we stayed calm, cooperative, and ready to adapt. I'm really proud of the whole crew after this week, because it's clear to me now that we've all grown our "sea legs" and I'm more confident than ever that we'll make it to shore.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'd like some TD madness with a side of help from my crew

Through-out the production, I have experienced many technical difficulties. Being the most technical of the crew, it is often my job to troubleshoot/solve these difficulties. Our first and largest issue to date was our characters... we have 14! At first I thought "I am just a texturing and lighting TD, what do I know about character modding?!?! Oh no!" haha, but I knew that my team needed me, and like any captain (co director in this case), I would rather go down with the ship then see my men drowning in the sea. After grasping a basic understanding of how previous mods were done on other projects (Norman in our case), I started studying the process a bit, doing a few tests, and then I was ready to move on. Next I had to get somewhat familiar with the standard Morpheous rig (Had some help with the animators/director on this due to my lack of animation control knowledge) Thanks Sean, West, and Ryo! The next step consisted of watching all of the videos that Josh Burton (Creator of Morpheous) posted about the rig on his website. These videos are a must watch if you want to use Morpheous to its full potential! Now it was time to move onto modeling. After some trial and error, I was finally ready to pass my knowledge onto my eagerly awaiting crew. The torch of modding lead was then passed onto Andrew West who at first struggled a bit, but is now a morphy modding maniac! West later teamed up with an outsider to the project named Daniel Moos who has recently became part of the Just Looking family, now working full time on the project. Between these two guys modding became unstoppable! So I feel the need to take this opportunity to thank the both of them for completing the majority of the character work. Thanks Guys!

After much thought about pipeline, I decided to switch over to using Vray for maya instead of Mental Ray for this project. This is due to the shear scale of this film. At 4 minutes and twenty seconds (80 shots), there is a good chance that there will be multiple lighters working on this film. Vray provides simple and intuitive render pass options that are simple to use and the fact that you don't have to litter your shading networks with gamma correction nodes is also a plus! Therefore if junior lighting artists who are looking to build there skill-sets and get some good looking work for their portfolios want to join the project, it wont be an issue to get them caught up on using render layers and passes. Also I have to admit that I am a sucker for Vray's photometric lighting! Hopefully they create a better workflow for volumetrics in the future though. As far as I am concerned, they are a bit unintuitive right now.

Characters are also being surfaced right now and will hopefully be completed in a month or so. The Vray SSS2 material seams slightly complicated after using the Mental Ray SSS_Skin material, but after many texture/color variation and many many button click, I will eventually figure it out. :)

Blocking and the Battle for the Top Shelf Badge

As it has been with the whole film so far, starting animation has been a huge learning experience for our team. Quite a few members of the film have previous experience with working on individual animated shorts, but coordinating a team to animate a 4 1/2 minute film is a completely different challenge. We animated the first sequence of the film, which is a tiny montage, and learned that we charged into animation without planning it out properly. We regrouped, talked out the acting beats for the entire film as a team, and attempt to make a quick first pass on blocking for the entire film. A bit over zealous but we learned a lot for it. 

We've now shifted the schedule and are beginning to animate small groups of shots at a time. We chosen to animate the shots in continuity and are each working on different sequences that are from different sections of the film. A divide and conquer strategy. Some animators are working on character introductions and others are working on the gags. It's fun discovering these characters and triangulating their personalities until their alive and tell us what to do. 

And to kick the motivation into the next level, we've also added a friendly competition into the mix. We now have the TOP SHELF badge, which is essentially employee of the week, that will go to the top animator of the week. The badge will be given out to one of the animators on the team by Tom Bertino, during dailies on every Wednesday, and the animator's picture will be post to the right of this blog.

Gentlemen, the TOP SHELF is in play.  And in the words of Ryo, "My badge."
(Watermark is to preserve authenticity)