Wednesday, 21 January 2015

My Final Piece

After many hours of animating and modelling, I have finally completed my idea:

Character & Narrative Final Piece from Alex Neild on Vimeo.

Overall I am happy with my work. I have learnt so much during the past few months about using 3D software and translating my ideas from a 2D to 3D platform.

I will take everything I have learnt on board to improve my work in the future!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

3D Modelling for Stop Motion

Due to the growing digital age, stop motion has had to compete with major 3D films that were being released around the same time. However recent stop-motion films such as 'Coraline', 'Paranorman' and 'The Boxtrolls' had a refined technique that makes good use of the modern technology which has been available during recent years.

The company behind these three films is Laika; founded in 2005, so far they have had great success with combining 3D modelling and stop motion. They create the facial expressions on a computer, which were then printed (the time it took varied with how big the face is) using their 3D printer, the printed facial panels were covered with a special white powder while in this process; After the white powder is brushed away the artist is left with a facial panel, in colour, which are then sanded, dripped in glue, tested and sprayed with a few clear coats. This is done with every single print in order to keep them consistent with each other.

Compared to 'Coraline', 'The Boxtrolls' characters have a lot more detail, such as rosy cheeks and more panels which allows more of the face to move; This shows that they are improving their work in all aspects, even within their current technology, which you can see below with the main character from each film:

Coraline's facial expressions
Norman's facial expressions (Paranorman)
Egg's facial expressions (Boxtrolls)

This process has helped stop motion practitioners achieve detailed designs that would have been hard to consistently re create had they gone through the process by hand. It has overall helped companies such as Laika make better quality films with subtle details that help audiences believe their stories.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

From 2D to 3D Animation

Traditional, hand drawn animation has been around for several decades now, through feature length film, cartoons, and short films being the main 3.

Disney have been one of the main contributes to the 2D animation industry. They created the first ever animated feature length film, Snow White (1937), which is an amazing feat in itself; With 54 feature length films to their name, they still continue to create films to this day.

Cinderella's transformation, a truly memorable moment in film

However, other animating techniques and companies have become just as popular, if not more so, than Disney.

Pixar are one of the biggest and well known animation companies in the world. Primarily based in computer generated imagery, they started out in 1986 making animated shorts for 9 years, where they demonstrated their skills to the world with a small taste of what was to come from their skilled animators.

Their first feature length film, Toy Story (1995), was an instant hit and gained them the popularity they deserve; It became the first feature length film to only use CGI throughout a whole hour and a half, which at the time excited and amazed their audience. This has since given a fresh variety of films for the world to watch, showing off technology that wouldn't have been possible during Disney's era.

Recent films such as the Toy Story franchise and Monsters Inc have shown how amazing Pixar are at creating a good story in beautiful environments (such as the image below), playing on the imagination of children and putting a new spin in storytelling. These stories were told brilliantly through the use of CGI, and would most likely have turned out very differently if they had been made with hand drawn imagery.

For example looking at the concept art compared to the final look in Toy Story 3, the computer generated piece brings the room to life and has a realistic look to it, which helps the viewers to believe that the toys in the film could actually come to life; Whereas in the drawn version, the toys wouldn't look as alive as they do in the 3D world.
With 3D characters, Pixar have created the illusion that you can pick up one of the toys right out of the screen and it would feel just like any other toy a child has. I think this is a nice concept that has never properly been achieved before, and could explain why the film became so popular.

Toy Story 3 concept art
Toy Story 3 final render

Interestingly, Disney and Pixar became partners in 2006 and started releasing films together; Disney's name appears on films made by Pixar while Disney have started making CG features, such as Tangled and Frozen. This suggests that both companies saw the advantages of the others techniques and wanted to make the most of that.

So the question is does this make computer generated animation better than traditional techniques? I think both companies have inspired aspiring animators such as myself that anything can be possible, Pixar in particular took a big leap into the new technological world, despite having competitors of a different, well established technique, and proving to many that 3D animation is possible and fits in well with the digital world.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Changes Based on My Feedback

So after the feedback I got yesterday, I have made some changes to my animation.

Firstly I wanted to add more movement in my first scene. I wasn't sure how to do this, but one good part about it is the breath at the start, so I decided to keep that same movement, but put the arms in a slightly different position at the end and extend the head movement further to emphasise his tiredness.
Once this was in place, I felt the action through the rest of the sequence should have just as much movement, so thought a common action everybody does is scratch their head. It was difficult to make the arm and fingers move smoothly whilst scratching but I am relatively happy with the final result.

Most of my feedback said to add in more follow through action with the arms; which was my main focus for the second scene. The main problem with it originally was the left arm didn't move very much so the body looked quite stiff. As the arm swings back and forth I made sure the elbow and wrist overlapped the shoulder's action slightly.
Just before the third swing I wasn't sure how to move the left arm, because realistically it should swing in the opposite direction as the right arm, so the action wouldn't have looked right if I had moved it too early; so instead I made him clench his fist as it was still in the air, whilst the right arm was still swinging around his body.

For my third scene I also wanted his left arm to move more; so I put in an extra swing when he leans forward while saying "wax" and bent his elbow slightly in places. I think this adds more life to the character and makes him looser.
I also extended his lean forward and heightened him as he says "do the laundry", which emphasises those phrases and keeps him from looking stiff.

I put all three playblasts together into one video to see how they pann out.
I think overall the feedback I received makes my animation look better than it did before! I will re render each scene and add in a sound effect on the broom and cloth as he moves.

Animation and Live-Action Combined

The development of technology within the past 20 years has allowed filmmakers and animators to extend their skills in a variety of ways.

Despite the lack of technology in the 80's, filmmakers and animators came together to create the film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' using robotic contraptions to move the props as the cartoon characters would, training the live action actors to be able to focus on certain points and react at the right times, and having skilled animators such as Richard Williams to work over the top of the film footage.

An example of the actor interacting with the cartoon

It was a big risk to take well known cartoon characters and adapt them to a live action environment, which ultimately worked out as successfully as the creators had hoped.

The technology that is used today by companies such as Double Negative would be able to achieve a similar look to this film, except it would be slightly cheaper to run and the characters could look more detailed. However in a way, it was more impressive that the filmmakers in the 80's to create a film this advanced for its time, due to their lack of modern technology, so they had to improvise and use tricks to merge both mediums.

After saying this, pretty much any idea can be brought to the screen now with the use of CGI, so there is a lot more potential in the future of film to apply those special effects and animated characters to anything.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Simpsons

One of the longest running television shows to date is The Simpsons. It tells the many stories of a suburban family who run into problems or wreak havoc in their hometown of Springfield. Just looking at the picture below you can see their different personalities shining through.

A picture of the main family
All five family members are quite stereotypical; Homer, the man of the house, blunders his way through life trying to support his family. Marge is the mother who keeps the family together, she is empathetic and takes good care of her children and husband. Bart is the troublemaker of the class, he skateboards, pulls off a lot of pranks and gets himself into detention (as seen in the title sequence). Lisa is a bright eight year old who enjoys music and gets excellent grades - the classic "geek". Maggie is the baby of the family, she is unable to talk due to her age but she seems to have a good idea of what is happening.

Homer Simpson
The style of the characters designs are reflected throughout the whole of their universe, so they seem normal compared with the background characters. Saying this their designs in particular are unique; for example with Homer, he has a big round stomach, a grey area around his mouth and a few hairs on top of and around his head.

Observing the picture, he isn't drawn with many straight lines (those next to his ear), which I believe is a tac tick to make his character look more appealing to the audience and represent his enjoyment of food and beer as he grows older.

This is the same with every member of the family; Marge's hair is blue and put up, which is unique and stands out compared to the background characters; Bart has a round stomach just like his dad, and with straight up spiky hair, suggesting his troublesome nature. Lisa and Maggie both have the same hair style, which suggests it runs through the families generic line, but Lisa's necklace shows that she has taken inspiration from her mother.

During the Simpsons episodes, the main characters come across a lot of fellow townspeople, who all have personalities in their own right and add some humour when it's needed.

There are subtle differences in the general designs of the town, such as all of the women have eye lashes, whereas the men don't, which is traditionally a feature that females take more care of. Apart from these, they have all been templated on the same visual style and colour scheme, which I believe works well for keeping their universe the same.

Feedback from my Final Crit

This is the film I presented in my final crit earlier today:

The feedback I got was mostly very good;

The grey objects on white background give my piece a tone that's quite bland and simple, which describes my character very well.
They also said the lip syncing was done quite well, and my voice acting for it also adds to the tone of the piece and compliments the characteristics of Moom.

Overall the class agreed it is a simple yet effective piece that was a great first attempt at using Maya!

A few points that I could improve are adding in overlapping and follow through actions - particularly in the arms - to loosen the character up a bit and give him more life.
I could also add in a sound effect as the cloth in the third scene is moving across the window, and turn up the volume slightly on my brush sound effects.

I can set aside some time within the next week to alter these points and make my animation even better!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Pink Panther

One interesting character that has been re-made over the years is Inspector Clouseau from the film series Pink Panther.

He is supposedly a helpful hand to the police, but his thriving confidence and clumsiness result in a series of blunders that distract and help the criminals to escape sooner than they could have. However despite these mishaps, he still manages to solve the case - eventually.

With every re make, animated or otherwise, he has been accessorised with a hat, moustache and suit, all of which assist with the portrayal of a man who is very confident with his work and his looks. This being said, it is his actions that speak loudest; his upright stance suggesting authority among everyone else, the way he handles artefacts shows how oblivious he can be sometimes, even his accent makes him sound slightly arrogant.

However it is these traits that make him an interesting character and enjoyable to watch, the audience asks themselves how can such a man become an inspector? And a good one at that.

Monsters University

How do you create a monster with a personality? Pixar answered this with their popular films 'Monsters Inc.' and 'Monsters University'. The first describes what happens on the other side of a cupboard door, visualising the theory that children see monsters in their room at night. And the second is a prequel to the first, telling the story of how the main characters got to their position in the first film.

In Monsters University, the artists had to alter their designs in order to make the prequel setting believable. It was set in the 80's, whereas Monsters Inc took place in the 90's, so it was interesting to see the subtle changes between films.

The character designs didn't change too much between the films, but "a hook" was added to the university students to make it obvious that it was the same monster but younger, such as Mike's retainer, and Sully's hairstyle/size.

Randal has an interesting character development, because at university he is wearing glasses which portray his originally nerdy personality, which kept the audience curious as to how he changed from a good student to the evil character in Monsters Inc.

Another way to keep it relatable to the audiences was to re create the stereotypical feel of the American university lifestyle with sororities and traditional campus grounds, but adapting everything to how the artists envisioned the monstrous world.

The background characters add to the atmosphere of the film; the designers created a few main types of monster to feature, then adapted each design to look slightly different, using a certain colour scheme and having a body structure for reference.

Every aspect of a film is important to telling a narrative, especially a prequel/sequel because the audience already has an idea of how it could look.

It's All Coming Together...

I've started animating on my second scene for my film 'When will my life begin?'!

I took 'test 2' as a trial run as a way for me to get used to moving Moom. I will make the first sweep arm movement start earlier so that Moom isn't standing still for too long, and the head/body will twist around more as the arm moves.

After evaluating what I did on the test above, I decided to start again and try to extend my movement further so it flows more naturally. I am a lot happier with the second trial I did because I added in a more natural twist in the upper body and foot as he turns around to sweep next to him. The left arm also swings behind him as he moves forward with the broom to try and emphasise that movement.

In my first scene I have now added head movements:

I think this looks better than my previous tests because it gives him more life, despite him being tired.

Now I will start rendering these scenes to watch them in high quality.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Progress So Far... Lip Syncing!

So far I have lip synced and animated 2 out of 3 of the scenes for my final piece.

The scene I have left to do is my longest one with the most movement of the character... I decided the first part I should move is the face, because this way it's in the same position and I don't have to think about it on top of moving the body:

I have also made progress with my third scene, with the lip syncing and body movements involved, and I have the objects in the background which I test-rendered earlier.

The next task I need to do is animate the body in scene 2.

Toy Story

The first ever feature length fully computer generated film, and still one of the best creations from Pixar, is Toy Story.

The narrative describes the life of a child's toys, and how they come to life as soon as he leaves the room.

Two main characters rival each other for most of the feature, until they realise they work better together, to re unite them with their owner after they both get lost.

The first of these two is Woody; he has been with the child since he was young and is the leader of the other toys Andy owns.

Woody is a sherif cowboy, which is made obvious by his outfit and attitude. Certain qualities such as his elbows and knees help viewers to understand that he is a toy; the textures on his face and hat also assist in portraying this.

He is a likeable character, and Andy's favourite toy, but once Buzz Lightyear is introduced he starts becoming jealous and his actions become irrational as the jealousy grows. For him to still be a likeable character, the writers of the story phrased his words so that the audience would think Woody is just making mistakes rather than being mean to Buzz. These qualities and the fact he cares about Andy all come together to make him an appealing character.

The other main persona is Buzz Lightyear; he is a birthday present for the child who is introduced into the film within the first half an hour. He is courageous, well-mannered and believes he is a real astronaut.

For the first half of his screen time, he holds himself upright, is alert and very aware of his surroundings, and talks of other planets and his mission as a space ranger.

Towards the end of the film he realises he is not a space ranger, but a toy. His body language and speech immediately change after this; He becomes more relatable to the audience as he shows his feelings of despair (at first).

Both of these characters are from different worlds; cowboys and astronauts are the opposites of each other, so it has been interesting to see how they interact with one another.

Final Rendered Scenes

After taking everything into account so far, I have created 3 scenes that will look like this when rendered:

Scene 1

Scene 2
Scene 3

Overall I'm happy with the final outcome of these renders. The white background makes everything look clean and the shadows give it a nice, soft effect.

Title Sequence

To complete my film, I will need a title sequence and credits to go at the start and end of the film. The first task I did to start this was decide a font to use. I looked at what fonts are available on Photoshop and selected 9 of my favourites:

Once I had typed them all out into one list, I could envision the sequences more clearly, and decided I wanted to use the 8th font. It has a friendly, curvy look while still bold and readable.

In my original storyboard I described having an orange background to represent the time of day - sunrise - but since having a discussion with my tutor about the background and object colours I could use, I decided to keep the background white, to fit with the rest of my animation.

I also recently decided that I want a picture of my character to feature in the title sequence. I thought this would add some humour and show that the rig has more than one facial feature.

Here are the final 2 sequences I created on Photoshop:

Friday, 9 January 2015

Glen Keane Characters

Glen Keane is one of Disney's most well-known artists. He has animated characters such as Tarzan, The Beast (from Beauty and the Beast), and Pocahontas.

I found a talk that Keane did in front of a some people about the hardest character he's had to animate. Starting from 1:48, he compares drawing Ariel with Pocahontas, saying that Ariel has a much rounder, traditionally Disney face, whereas Pocahontas has high cheekbones that face outwards and much thinner eyes/facial features. It's clear to me that a characters look can reflect their personality and background story as we make assumptions based on their looks.
For example with Pocahontas, with her much thinner and straight facial features they give the impression that she's a more serious character, whereas Ariel is the opposite with her round, happier face.

After watching a few of his rough sketches and animation tests, I can see the small details that he adds in which makes the animation even smoother. Her movement the clip below makes her look happy and dreamy - the subtle movement in her shoulders as she talks suggests that she's slightly embarrassed but happy at the same time; her tail flows in a wave which follows through from her top half, which exaggerates her feelings through her actions.

A Change In My Idea...

After a progress report to my tutor today, I realised I haven't textured my background and objects yet. He suggested to keep it simple and have a bright white background with grey objects and furniture to suggest where the walls of the room will go.

This idea is inspired by the children's TV show Pocoyo. The characters have a play-dough look, because the white background emphasises the vivid colours and shadows of the characters.


My tutor then demonstrated how to achieve this look on Maya. I think this look works very well in 3D, just having a door frame in the background shows you there's a door there without making the whole object and texturing it. The shadows also add a nice effect to the image, making it look softer.

Scene 2
I will render the rest of my film in this style, creating the illusion of furniture in the background such as the door frame.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Wallace & Gromit

Possibly two of the most loved characters in stop motion are these two:

Wallace and Gromit
Wallace is an inventor who tries to make life a lot easier for those around him, but somehow his inventions get him and his trusty companion Gromit into trouble. Their stories usually involve them both saving the day, and watching the journey of how they get to that point.

Gromit in particular is an interesting character to watch; his lack of dialogue is a large part of how he presents himself, especially since he is smarter than Wallace, so he helps Wallace in any way he can and sometimes investigates on his own. Due to his simple character design, most of his emotion is expressed through the movement of his eyebrows; The audience can generally tell what he is thinking just by his facial expressions.

Gromit angry
Gromit scared

Wallace on the other hand is a sweet, kind man who has a love of cheese. His appearance and facial expressions even suggest his love of the food, as all of his teeth are on show most of the time, playing on the expression "say cheese for the camera".

It is the overly exaggerated expressions and body language that make the films more fun to watch, and seeing them interact with each other is enjoyable too.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Understanding Jake as a Character

Jake is one of the main characters in the TV show Adventure Time. His stretchy body allows him to morph into anything (for example a chair (below)); he is perceived as quite lazy at times, enjoys food, and is loyal to his best friend Finn.

His character design has changed slightly over time; in the later seasons he looks slightly rounder, with a lighter shade of yellow. I think they made these changes to make Jake more visually appealing to a younger audience. It could also represent how much Jake has eaten and changed weight over the period of time between seasons.

First season
Design change
The use of his ears, tail and the bridge of his nose all help to identify the character as a dog, with the use of round shapes help the younger audience to understand that he's supposed to be a dog, despite his human (and inhuman) characteristics.

What I find interesting about the design is how you can interpret it to look both male and female, just by adding a few simple features such as eye lashes for a female and a tie on the male. 

The main character's parents

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Use of CGI in Films

You can use Computer Generated Imagery in various ways; filmmakers in particular have become a lot more reliant on it within the past 15-20 years.
With the advancement of technology in today's society, it has become easier to visualise and create fantasy settings which predated technology could not have handled.

Despite this, some films such as Labyrinth (1986) managed to create a fantasy setting with clever costume and make up designs without much technology.

To the left is an example of how they moulded the material around an actor to create the illusion of a monster.

This shows good use of materials for the time this film was made, but it could not have achieved computer generated imagery, simply because that advanced technology wasn't invented yet.

Ludo from the film Labyrinth, an elaborate costume

Compared to costumes, computer generated imagery has proven to be cost effective and allows the filmmaker to create anything they visualise, whereas with big costumes and make up, a lot of materials go into producing what the artist wants.
In recent films such as the Harry Potter franchise, a lot of fantasy creatures and beasts were needed to bring the film to life. The easiest and cheapest way for them to achieve sufficient images was through CGI.
An example of this is the basilisk in '...The Chamber of Secrets'. A model of the creature, roughly the right size, would be made for the actors to interact with on set, then the motion would be man made through the use of CGI.

Basilisk model
Final shot from the film

A similar technique was used in their third film '...The Prisoner of Azkaban' with the hippogriff being created as a model then animated later on. 

Hippogriff Model
Shot from the film 'Harry Potter'

A limitation to CGI could be when working with actors, they obviously can't feel the computerised creatures they are supposed to be working with on their stage, so to get the best performance out of the actors, models have to be made to interact with, which will cost the team money to build.

Even with this in mind, the high quality of the animated creatures proves that the investments into the film were worth it and will ultimately look more impressive on the big screen.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Testing My Ideas... (Loop De Loop)

After documenting my best ideas, I thought doing at least one test for my two favourite ideas would be the best way to decide which one to continue with, so I made some GIFs.

The first clip is the one I enjoyed animating the most; despite it moving slightly too fast for the action, I still think the splat and drips look good.
The hard part will be animating over facial features and giving the impression that makeup has been applied. I will also continue the animation until the goo drips off the face, in order for it to loop.

The second clip is from my idea of the tree face paint growing on someone's face, developing and withering away when it dies. This idea would be a lot easier to loop, because at the end the tree will crinkle up and disappear within itself.

Now that I can see both of these ideas forming, I've decided I prefer the first idea with the makeup goo; it's got a simple meaning behind it, which would make more sense from the audience's perspective.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Flynn Rider

The book titled 'The Art Of Tangled' contains some of the development work for the film Tangled. The part which interested me the most was how one of the main characters 'Flynn Rider' was developed and their reasons behind the dramatic change in his design.

In order to design Flynn the artists first had to answer a few questions "Who is this guy? Why is he funny? Why is he so good? Why is he the match for Rapunzel?" - Nathan Greno (Page 103)

Originally he was not meant to be very attractive, but a sweet, good companion for Rapunzel; however their ideas were all over the place, and ultimately they decided that being good looking would be a big part of Flynn Rider's personality.
They wanted Flynn to be an attractive, good looking man, so they did some primary research and asked a lot of women who they find attractive and why.
This lead to them creating the final design for their male lead, who has a symmetrical face and a juxtaposition of horizontal and vertical elements which give him an attractive look.

This story of their process has shown me how important a character is to a narrative, and how their image can make up a part of their personality; I have slightly more understanding of what a character needs in order to make their personality shine through.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Loop De Loopy Ideas

The first task to do for any project is to create a mind map of words relating to your themed brief. In this case the word is 'faces', so here's the words that first popped into my head as I was documenting:

[Image (mind map)]

From this I have made some quick sketches of some of the most appealing ideas:

[Image (thumbnails)]

Out of these I like 2 of them; the one involving the makeup splatter and the face paint of the tree. Before I can decide which one to go with I will have to experiment with techniques and see if I can visualise either idea more clearly.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Loop De Loop - 'Faces'

One of the brief's I want to partake in for study task 1 is from the Loop De Loop competition website.

Every two months, a new theme is released on their website for animators around the world to generate a short film based on; the theme for December/January is 'Faces'. This film can be of any length and in any medium they choose, so long as it is submitted in the right format. The rules are shown here:

[ (screenshot this) ]

I think this is a good opportunity to explore word association and see how one word could lead onto a number of ideas, so long as it doesn't stop being relevant to the original word.

I will go on to start documenting my ideas and see if I can develop them into fully established animations.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Feedback and My Plan of Action

After pitching my boards for 'MOO' to my classmates, we had an afternoon on thinking of questions to ask and how to give appropriate feedback to our fellows; as a class we thought of 10 questions at the start of the lesson:

[10 questions]

Then we were put into small groups so we could take it in turns to pitch our ideas to each other within a time limit. After this we were given half an hour to fill out 2 feedback forms to 2 members of our groups, so I received 2 sheets filled with feedback based on my work:

[Feedback Forms]

Overall my feedback has been good so far, they were both intrigued by my ideas and the improvements are manageable!

Now that I have another point of view to look at my work from, I can consider and improve upon these points into the next month before I have to have refined my boards and ideas, to gain more feedback at the next stage in January.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

My Pitch Boards

After finally pulling together all of my work so far for Moo, I have put together 3 pitch boards to present to my group on the 11th December:

My first board has to show my final product; what it's going to look like and the idea I'm going to produce.
So I thought my storyboard and my final designs would be the best pieces of work to show first since they both demonstrate what my idea is.

My second board consists of the layout and format I want to work in. I want to show my classmates exactly how I want this to be made and where I want it to be shown.

The third board shows every design involved in the film, and how I want them all to be animated.
I want to describe how I want each line to move throughout the advert so that my classmates can visualise my idea in motion, so that I can hopefully get better feedback on what I can do to improve my work.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Final Idea for 'Moo'

Developing from my compositions and designs, I altered my storyboard slightly and finalised my idea:

Here's the final composition of cards and designs that I will present in my pitch, compared with a photographic version of the cards I want my animations to playback on:

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Compositions (Development for 'Moo')

After the feedback I received in Responsive earlier this week, I looked on Moo's website ( to see what business cards they offer. I drew them all out onto one page to get an idea of the variety of sizes they provide (left)

This gave me a better idea of how the cards should be displayed on the table, so I was inspired to design 6 different possible compositions I could use in my final piece:

I will take them all into consideration when thinking of potential card designs.