Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Word on Creativity... from John Cleese

Oh... hello internet. I have again neglected you. As much as I hate using this blog simply as a vehicle for re-posting interesting things that I find, occasionally I will stumble upon something that is too good to ignore. Such is the case with John Cleese's lecture on creativity.

I have been involved in many discussions regarding the idea on whether or not creativity can be forced, or whether one can will their way to inspiration. While I am still personally undecided on the matter, I feel that it is a particularly pertinent issue to those who work in a creative field -- specifically those who deal with clients and strict deadlines. There is the ever-present expectation that they will continue to push the envelope artistically, but there is also the mandate that they do so on within a set time restriction.

Enjoy this fantastic (and absurdly funny) scientific dissection of creativity.



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"...sewing machine" Notes on Character/Setting

Though this post is a part of the whole "...sewing machine" series of posts, I would like to make it a reoccurring bit -- where I give my thoughts on the development of character, and character arc in animation -- if for no other reason than for the practice of effectively communicating these ideas.

"...sewing machine" is a dialogue exchange between two characters. Only one of the characters is mentioned by name, "Joe." For simplicities sake, I will call the second one "Bill." Both characters are married. Below is the transcript:

-Bill- What'd you get Anne?

-Joe- Stationary set-- some paper and envelopes-- leather binding...

-Bill- Joe, you'll never learn...

-Joe- Why? What's the matter?

-Bill- No woman wants a stationary set. Get her something personal!

-Joe- Well, it's got her initials on it...

-Bill- No, no... You want something more sentimental, Romantic!

-Joe- What'd you get Faye?


-Bill- Sewing machine.

I began thinking about the dialogue, who these characters are, where they come from and where they could be talking. The exchange is extremely casual -- "small-talk," if you will -- and struck me as an exchange between two men at work. While my initial thought was of two construction workers talking over a boxed lunch, I felt like I had seen this idea on many occasions, and that it doesn't fit the flow of conversation. I also toyed with the idea of really playing on the unexpected, and having the two characters be non-human (talking frogs, etc.). Though this has the potential to push the humor of the piece, I want to dial things back a bit and see how much I can pull from a simple situation, and simple interaction. This exchange could take place on any given day in these character's lives (provided it's a gift giving time), and as such they should be doing something that they could be doing on any given day. In the end I let my psychological imaginings of the characters determine the setting.

 Note -- A character design professor of mine got us into the practice of scouring Google to inspire our character design. We would choose a random image of someone, often absurd and unexplainable, and use it as a jumping off point to imagine who that character was. I will use the same technique to illustrate my thought process (it's also an excuse to add some color to an extremely wordy blog).

I picture Bill to be an aging salesman who is extremely good at his job. He is not used to being told no, or even questioned. Accustomed to delivering smooth and eloquent pitches, he struggles with "turning off the charm." Bill knows how to work a room and is rarely for want of friendship. Born to a working class, he privately rejects luxury, but is known to enjoy a fine cigar in the presence of company. His dress is modest, and his success as a salesman can be attributed to his ability to empathize with a diverse demographic of customers. He is very competitive by nature.

He has been married to Faye since college. They were high school sweethearts. She is one of the few people that capable of telling him no.

For some reason I couldn't help but think of Joe as a gardener. He is the like-able guy who has nothing but nice things to say about anyone. He is the first to work and the last to leave. He enjoys relative success, yet does not aspire to rise any higher on the corporate ladder. Though he means well, his intentions are often misplaced, as he will often just miss the point. Never-the-less, this doesn't deter him from trying, and he is always striving to please those around him.

He got married to Anne later on in life, and struggles to try and be the perfect husband. He is a family man through and through, and makes sure to be attentive to her needs. He tends to be a home-body.

The two men are insurance salesman at a small company in the Southeastern US (this last choice stems from my mother working as a secretary for insurance salesmen a few years back. My imaginings of0 Bill are partially based on them). They have worked together for years, and their common ground of being married men has fostered a friendship between the two. They make it a habit for one couple to host the other for dinner at least once a month.

I pictured this conversation taking place at their office's breakroom. Joe has just finished wrapping his gift to Anne, and is enjoying a cup of coffee, hoping to escape the busy holidays. Bill, still hard at work, enters to refill his mug and, seeing Joe, takes the excuse to take a short break.

I then worked out a quick model of an generic office set (8 hours).



It's all fairly generic, but will be more than sufficient for this clip. My hope is that the blandness will keep the focus on the characters. I was careful to think of where I would be placing the cameras, and how the room would be shot, to avoid any unnecessary modeling. Once the animation is done, I may go back and add a few "holiday decorations" to add another dimension to the set and drive home the scenario, but for now it's serviceable. All that is left now is to add the hero props (coffee mugs, pot and gift), and get down to animating. More on that tomorrow.



Total time spent: 26 hours

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"...sewing machine" Thumbnails

What do you know? Another conspicuous absence from the internet. At least I can blame this one on the holidays. Between running errands, and various trips, this blog has again fallen into neglect.

I have, however, been able to continue working when I found the time. So I will attempt to catch the blog up over the next several days leading up to the New Year-- when my schedule will (hopefully) mellow into some sort of consistency.

That being said: Thumbnails!

With the lip-sync complete, I began thinking about who the characters were, where they were, what their relationship was, etc. I settled on two salesmen in an office break room enjoying a cup of coffee (more on this tomorrow).

My next step was to thumbnail like crazy. I kept them extremely rough, limiting myself to a few seconds a sketch. Iterations were more important to me than detail, especially as these are mainly for my own reference. I wanted this clip to feel more polished than the typical 'medium-shot-of-characters-talking-in-front-of-a-matte-painting,' so I am also exploring my shooting. This gives me an opportunity to see how I would film a complex character piece, having never worked with dialogue before. The drawings are rough, yet I feel that I was able to get a general idea of where I want to go with this.

Another benefit to quickly generating thumbnails is the opportunity to time them to the clip. I have only done this a few times before, but I find that it makes it easier to keep things organized-- something that is crucial in animation. It is also much quicker to shift timing around in premiere than to shift keys in Maya. My instincts are that the original clip is a little rushed. While it works for its original format (radio), I feel that the clip can be re-timed to better suit a visual medium, and allow more of an opportunity to show the characters' thought processes. I will illustrate this point below.

Here are my thumbnails using the original timing of the audio (~8 hours including thumbnailing/shot planning):

...and here is my adjusted timing (1 hour):

With the timing of the shots and general acting locked, I am free to focus on pushing poses and the emotions of the characters in Maya.

Up next:
-Notes on characters and setting
-Blocking 1 and reference footage
-Full blocking 2



Total time spent- 18 hours

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"...sewing machine" Lip Sync Breakdown

Living up to the promises of my previous post (for once), here is my process for animating lip sync.

I decided to use the "Malcolm Rig" (courtesy of AnimSchool) for this piece. I mainly wanted to try out a new rig. I have been looking for a new rig that balances appeal and functionality, as Norman is beginning to feel dated, and I think that Malcolm may be a wonderful rig to play with.

I'm curious to see how well he holds up to a little customization, but that will come later on in this shot (so for now, enjoy two dead-eyed, identical Malcolms!).

On to the lip sync-- I usually will animate lip sync first, with the character in a default pose (sometimes, if I'm having trouble getting a feel for it, I will pick a single pose that conveys the primary emotion of the clip and work from there). This gives me an opportunity to get a feel for the clip from countless playblasts and timing tweaks. It's works better, for me, than to sit with headphones on doing nothing, listening to the clip on loop over and over again... feels more like progress. I also find that subtleties in the way a character forms the words, or holds his/her mouth gives me better ideas for the overall performance (more on this-- and how it relates to this particular piece-- later). For this clip, I chose to animate the lip sync in 4 separate passes (including a quick polish pass).

I also want to keep track of the number of hours I spent on this clip, as it is right at 20 seconds, so I can keep track of my potential footage output. I have a decent idea of the speed that I work, however, I have never carefully logged hours. It is also interesting to give a more exact number to friends and family who always ask. I will list the hours spent between each playblast and a running total at the bottom of the post.

Pass 1: Mouth opens and closes (3 hours)

Pass 2: Mouth narrows and widens (2 hours 30 minutes)

Pass 3: Lip curls and additional jaw movements (3 hours 30 minutes)

Edit: I ended up doing polish on this pass. I got pulled away from it right as I was about finished, so when I got back I just went ahead and trucked through some polish. Only added about an hour of work-- subtle things-- smiles, frowns, jaw nuances, asymmetry of the mouth, etc. Also, added some tongue movement on the hard "L"s. Overall not perfect, but plenty good for now.

Pass 4: QUICK polish and basic eye expressions ( hours)

Once this piece is done I may come back and elaborate on each pass in greater detail, however, I think that they pretty much speak for themselves. I will be working on staging/blocking 1, shooting reference and attempting to flush out as much performance as I can get to tomorrow. I will also briefly set the stage with my imaginings of who each character is and how I will attempt to bring that into the performance in my next post.



Total time spent- 9 hours

I Return-- Wiser-- and with the Promise of New Animation

The holiday buzz has calmed down around the house, and the halls are sufficiently decked. My holiday season began with me earning my degree in animation from SCAD, almost a year early (hooray high school credits!). While I will always be grateful to the university for all that I learned, I have to say I'm happy for the (temporary) free time to really focus on personal projects that I want to work on-- not to mention the chance to get a full night's sleep...

My senior year in a nutshell.

That being said, I am not thrilled with any of the dialogue tests I have done, and don't deem them "reel-worthy" so I decided to challenge myself to a new dialogue piece with two characters (my first time attempting this). It's relatively poignant, with the holidays right around the corner, but-- more importantly-- offers up some really nice opportunities for subtle animation-- which I really enjoy.

Enough rambling-- Here's the clip:

I am currently testing out a new workflow, and am animating lip sync in passes (similar to the method outlined in Stop Staring). I will post the completed lip sync later on today and blocking one/thumbnails tomorrow.

Stay tuned,


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A New Day, A New Film

Having somewhat settled back into a working routine in regards to film-making. The remainder of my summer will be spent working on my undergraduate thesis film "Do Not Disturb

As a result of an overlap in the productions of both of my films, I feel that the quality of this film suffered a bit, as I consciously set it aside because the deadline was much further away. Now is the time for me to bridge the gap in quality and ensure that the film lives up to my original vision.

Head on over to the production blog, where I will be documenting the entire process. As I am doing the bulk of the work myself, documenting the process will show me where my weaknesses lie. In the meantime, this blog will continue to be updated sparingly, as I focus on the film.



Edit: my failure to update even one blog made my "goal" of staying up to date on two blogs laughable. I hope to get to a breakdown of my film process later on, but for now will simply post the trailer once it is complete.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pretty Dead Trailer

As alluded to by the last post, my near-six-month absence from the internet has been a result of the work I have put into my directorial debut-- Pretty Dead. Myself and a team of 7 SCAD undergrads managed to complete a 3 minute film with four characters in just over 10 weeks.

Though complete, the film is not quite to the point where we would like it to be for festival submissions. We will be spending the next few months polishing it and prepping it for a winter festival run.

At some point I will have to post on here a write-up documenting the process of making the film, but for now I will stick with the trailer:

In the meantime, feel free to check out the Production Blog to follow our progress and view iterations and in-process work.