Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crit feedback

The other week we presented our project to our class to get final feedback before the deadline. I wasn't really looking forward to this because I know I have a *lot* to do and I was worried that my animation in it's current scruffy state would be a little muddled and unclear.

I've had a thorough read of the feedback, and I'll sum it up below, and I'll add how I plan to rectify the negatives.

Positives

Good drawing / visual style
Characters are well designed with a sense of personality - their differences are put across in both their design and their movement.
Fitting music, brings out mystical side of animation.
Emotional story that is left open to interpretation (not necessarily a love story)
Some excellent shot framing
Dynamic and flows well
The scene where they interact with each other works well.


Negatives

Not going to be able to finish in time / have a lot to do - This is my own fault, but I'm hoping to have it done to at least a presentable standard for the end of year show.

Should have dedicated less time to the intro so the rest of it would have been more completed. - True!

Sound effects? They'll help tell the story - I plan to add sound in, and I do have a version of the intro sequence with sound which I'll find for submission. Again, this is something I'd like to have for the year show rather than the deadline.

Isn't made clear what happens to the witch (she sort of disappears) - I'll maybe add a bit of extra narrative about her in the text section before they've grown older.

Maybe not clear how/why Photogen gets 'attacked' by darkness in the forest. - I think this will be made more clear when the art is fully drawn and it's more hallucinatory/nightmarish.

Not much conflict - I can't really do much about the story now as I've squeezed as much narrative into as short a timespace as I can. I'd love to do a longer version where I explore the conflict between the Witch and the kids more, but that will have to happen after deadline/year show.

Not clear that the hunter is Photogen, and also that the time had passed from when they were children - maybe due to the fact Nycteris looks too similar as a kid to when she's grown up. - Again, this will probably be clearer when it's fully drawn and in colour. As Photogen is bright orange, I think it'll be clear that the hunter is him!

Maybe establish the world/setting more at the beginning with some held / slowly panning shots. - I'd like to do this. I do think the setting of her cottage isn't really established.

Story possibly works without the childhood section / it's not necessary - I thought about this a lot, in the end I kept it in as a way to establish the fact that the witch wouldn't let Photogen see shadow or Nycteris see light. This would inform the audience of what they're like before they escape/meet each other. But maybe it wasn't necessary and I'm underestimating how much the audience would pick up on themselves!

Put a title screen at the beginning - The title screen comes after the introduction, so I'm a little confused by this comment.

The feedback from my tutors in regard to the submission was to aim to have one section fully polished, I'm hoping to have achieved this, even if it's not to the standard I'd like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Principles of animation

I came across this video which succinctly describes the principles described in the famous The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. It's nice to see these little visual indicators showcasing them.


The illusion of life from cento lodigiani on Vimeo.

I have been struggling with balancing my project, I've been so focussed on telling the story and planning out the shots that the actual animation has been suffering despite knowing what the principles are. I hope to polish it more and animate more mindfully following the deadline when I can work on it in my own time.

Animation techniques

As I haven't animated before I considered different ways to achieve it, I originally wanted to do fully traditional-style frame-by-frame animation where I drew the key poses and inbetweened them using the onion skin and timeline feature on Photoshop. This is pretty much what I did in the end, but I have used a couple of little tricks and shortcuts to make it a bit easier.

One thing I did was duplicate the frame and then use the lasso tool to select parts and move them slightly, this was quicker and looked a bit less 'shaky' than completely redrawing so was useful for scenes with minimal/subtle movement. So far I've mainly experimented with this technique on Nycteris' scene:

video video

However I think it also made it look a little lifeless. I know you can combat this lifelessness with a 'wiggle' effect which I may look into, I'm not sure if Photoshop has this feature.

I have found frame-by-frame drawing to be difficult, the frames tend to jump around a lot and look quite rough. In my art my lines are always a little rough and sketchy which can be seen as an aesthetic choice or 'style' but I was hoping to achieve a more cleaner look - the jumpiness can detract from the character and the story. However a completely clean look would take a very long time to achieve and would require careful drawing of each frame.


video

I particularly have been struggling with animating a simple shot where Nycteris walks towards the curtain/door. I ended up rotoscoping some film footage I quickly made of me walking across my room. This was problematic as my room is small and doesn't have much walking space, and I don't have a tripod/any way to freely position a camera, so it was difficult to get the right angle. I'm not too fond of the overly 'rotoscoped' look and can think it looks a bit uncanny, especially when highly stylised characters are moving in a rotoscoped manner.

I think the rotoscoping did help me to establish key poses, but again, I've found it difficult to refine the sketchy draft into relatively clean looking animation. I've used a handful of different techniques, including using the pen tool to draw a clean line and then moving/animating that (see first gif below), but that didn't work and seemed to just draw attention to the 'off' movement. Of course the arm on here is animated wrong, but I found that using the pentool was actually much more time consuming (and less fun) than drawing the lines myself.

So I'll probably go back to drawing, though animating convincing dress movement has been very tricky. I'm aware that it's difficult to judge how the animation will look when working on a very rough, thumbnail background with no colour - I think this type of drawing will work and look much better when it's coloured and finished.







video

Monday, May 12, 2014

Music

Making the music for my film has been a bit of an adventure. I'm a big music-lover and find it as moving, inspiring and generally awesome as I do visual art, and personally I find it the most powerful artform for evoking emotions. For this film I knew it would play a crucial role as there's no dialogue, so I wanted a soundtrack that would compliment the character's actions and help 'sell' their personalities and motivations.

As I've dabbled in the past in making music digitally I originally wanted to have a go at seeing if I could do it myself, obviously not expecting anything amazing, but I thought if I kept it simple and didn't aim for a full-on orchestral-style soundtrack I might be able to achieve something quite nice.

These are the drafts I made for the first two scenes.

(The first 20 seconds are particularly bad, but I quite liked the rest of it)



Nycteris' scene:

 

Eventually I realised I was being a bit silly / ambitious considering I have no real knowledge of music-making and had to focus my time on the animation.

I advertised through Leeds College of Music and got in contact with Declan Bell  who has gone on to make an excellent soundtrack which makes me feel very grateful I never stuck with my original plan...

Here it is in draft version on my progress presentation, I do have the final mastered version but will save that for when the film's more finished. We communicated a lot during the process and Declan was very open to my suggestions and wanted to ensure the music fit what I was wanting, whilst also offering a lot of his own creative input which was great.



I wanted the overall tone of the film to be quite whimsical and enchanting, and for each character to have certain themes/instruments associated with them. I took inspiration from a couple of my favourite animated films which similarly use music to express a darkly fantasy atmosphere, especially Danny Elfman's work for Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.

For Watho we referenced Dr. Finkelstein's theme from Nightmare, which is on this track, notably at around 0:48. The clarinet is often used to express something mischievous and a bit sinister whilst sounding slightly comical, and we thought it would work well to establish her character in the introduction. It repeats at around 2:40 to indicate that Photogen is keeping an eye out for her in the cottage.

For Photogen, it was a little more difficult to pin down inspiration but generally we wanted him to come across as a happy, energetic little kid who grows into a strong, stubborn, typically masculine guy. We decided a lot of energetic strings and a bit of brass (this is more audible in the mastered version) would work well. The music which plays when he's hunting the deer is very energetic and I think does a great job of shaking up the pace to the overall film - it sharply contrasts the slower, more thoughtful music on Nycteris' scene beforehand.

For Nycteris, we thought a lot of harps, flutes and glockenspiel-type sounds would suit her gentle, curious character. Her theme plays at around 4:02.

Luckily for the entire composition process we were on the same wavelength and had similar ideas/sounds in mind, so the process all ran smoothly despite me being a bit disorganised whilst making the animatic.

I'm very happy with it! I think it definitely heightens the emotional impact of the story.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Animatic references

Some animatics I found to be good reference when creating my own. Mainly to see how they use different angles/distances for cinematic effect.


The dynamic sequence when she's on her broom was really impressive, you definitely get a sense of the camera 'moving' after and around her.



This one has nice exaggerated character movement and expressions which are used to great comedic effect.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/video/2014/mar/28/frozen-deleted-scene-disney-animation-video

The above link is for a deleted scene from Frozen, I actually really like it and feel it'd have been nice to see in the final film. It shows a more light-hearted side of the dynamics of Elsa and Anna's relationship and their personality differences. As the focus is on the dialogue, the camera movement is kept limited with a focus on the character's expressions and gestures.

Vaesen


Vaesen from The Animation Workshop on Vimeo.

I've been on the search for 2D animated films that I find different, interesting and experimental, in the hopes that it'll help broaden my mind to the different ways the medium can be used. I was immediately struck by the visual style of the short film Vaesen, it recalled for me the illustrations of Aubrey Beardlsey, Harry Clarke, etc. which I've loved and been inspired by for a long time - it actually looks like a living illustration you'd see in an old fairy tale book. The backgrounds are incredible and really lavishly detailed, they look like covers off a 70s prog-rock or metal record, which is fitting as it also happens to have awesome prog-rock style music which really sets it apart from other films I've seen. I took note of how the artist separated the backgrounds across separate layers and moved them so that they had depth. Although the characters are flatly coloured they fit in seamlessly, and often dramatic lighting and shadow is used which helps cement them into their surroundings.

Narratively, there isn't a great deal to go by upon the first viewing - it seems quite open to interpretation, full of folkloric references and symbols. Which makes it all the more compelling and atmospheric in my opinion. It feels like a world which I want to explore and learn more about

I really love it, I feel like it's a combination of everything I like, artistically - high fantasy, Aubrey Beardsley-esque illustration, rock music, a general eerie, ambiguous atmosphere. These may not apply to the film I'm making at the moment, but it is still very inspiring.



EFECTO LOBO from sunshine animation on Vimeo.

This little video has a nice break down of stylised 'swirly' animation, it's always useful to see indications of how other animators work, although I don't think I'll be able to achieve something this crisp and neat-looking it's good reference for how to achieve that Hercules-type flame/smoke effect which I hope to include in my film.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Presenting my portfolio, cont.

As already mentioned previously I'm a bit haphazard when presenting my work and don't really have a good innate 'eye' for clean, organised ways of putting together my drawings and paintings. I also don't really know the 'do's and don'ts' of graphic design, as shown by my tutor's reaction when I suggested that Arial and Helvetica 'are pretty much the same thing'.  But this is all definitely something I'm working to change. I feel like if I want to work as a visual designer of any kind, I should at least have a good grasp of graphic design.

The first thing I've decided to do is find a good font to use across all my portfolio and branding materials. (Although for presenting individual projects I think I'll use fonts that suit each project, for example a more cartoony project like Iron Heart would have a slightly more cartoony font). I didn't want to use something standard, I wanted something with a bit of character and charm whilst still being clean and legible.


Tested out on my Tabitha concept sheet. I added a reflection underneath the 3D model to make her seem more grounded. (I don't actually have my Wordpress set up yet but I plan to use it as my main site.)


I think I like this next one more as it doesn't have the very slight italic. 

Still needs lots of tweaking. We'll see how it looks when they're all put together as a portfolio.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wacom Cintiq

I'm aware that the Wacom Cintiq is generally what all the professionals use, to the point where some job advertisements wish applicants to have previous experience with the hardware. I've never thought seriously about getting one yet as they are very expensive, but I spoke briefly with my tutor about it after I complained how I couldn't sketch animation frames as well with a tablet as I could on paper. He suggested I consider investing in a 12 inch Cintiq. I did a bit of research and found the 13HD which sells for around £600-700. I read some mixed reviews about the 12WX, artist Sam Hogg has written about her experience here saying how the screen colour was so desaturated it didn't match up to her other monitors at all, no matter how much she re-calibrated and changed the settings. In the end she had to return it.

I'd already had doubts about working on such a small screen, so this planted some serious questions in my mind whether it's worth getting any Cintiq other than the 22 - 24HD editions. But even these ones have mixed reviews, which is very concerning considering their price. Users comment on the screen resolution, which in comparison to the HD monitors you'd become accustomed to as a creative professional, are apparently 'dismal'. Although all-in-all it's an excellent product - and as I'm certainly not very fussy when it comes to hardware, I'd probably be more than happy with it -  it seems that it's a bit too far out of my price range at the moment. I'd rather wait until I have an income and invest in a 24inch version as I think this will be more suited to illustration and digital painting than the smaller-screened models. Until then, I'm happy with my Intuos5.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some background progress

The introduction scene is the most lavishly illustrated as it's the only bit that doesn't have frame-by-frame animation. I wanted to present the introduction in a motion comic-style that would set it apart from the rest of the film and help establish the style and atmosphere of the piece.  

I would have really liked to have done something more involved and creative, such as having them appear as living illustrations inside a fairytale book. I may see if I can adapt them in the future to be like that. 

I haven't ever really painted backgrounds/environments to the extent I have in this film so it's been a bit of a learning curve figuring out what brush styles work best. To create the soft, ethereal atmosphere inspired by the artists I've previously mentioned like Tyrus Wong, I worked mainly with the default Photoshop brush set to very low flow and opacity, slowly building it up in layers before adding definition with a higher opacity setting. I tried to only use a high opacity/flow brush sparingly to define stylistic touches like the twirls on the trees, and also to draw the eye to the focus of the scene. I then played a lot with adjustment layers to create an atmospheric sense of lighting. 

As I'm not brilliant with colour yet (I tend to colour everything far too flatly and desaturated) I played a lot with the colour balance and brightness/contrast settings to really bring out the light and shadows. I then filled a layer with a pinkish, orange colour set to Overlay to pull it all together a bit more.



In this image I only really defined the chest as that is the focus of the scene. The rest gives the impression of the rest of the environment without going into too much detail as it wasn't really necessary and could be distracting for the viewer.





I do need to work on my drawing/colouring of interior environments in particular, this is far too flat and sparse (in fact I'm only realising now how this one lacks any sense of dynamic/interesting composition). This isn't satisfactory for me as the Witch's lab is meant to be full of strange little objects, experiments and gizmos to really give a sense of her reclusive, eccentric character. 


(um, excuse the temporary text)



I tried to gradually transition the colour from a soft, more tonal palette to something more vivid and unnatural once she starts doing the spell, to emphasise how unnatural it is. I think I could have done this more subtly.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Favourite Artists: Revisiting (cont)

All of this information was found on Loish's FAQ.

I've posted about my admiration for Lois van Baarle's work before. She has been freelancing since her graduation in 2009, so I decided to go back and see what she had to say about this method of working.
2.3.3 Promoting myself online
I've been very active with posting my artwork on the internet ever since I started drawing digitally in 2003. Besides drawing on oekaki boards, I posted all my work to Deviantart and maintained a personal website. Over the years, I kept doing these things as well as branching out to facebooktwitter, and numerous other websites. Much of my online following is the result of actively promoting my work online for over 10 years now. For those seeking advice on how to promote oneself on the internet, I recommend staying active and keeping people up to date on your progress. Keep a blog next to a gallery site and stay in touch with people who start following your work, preferably through popular websites such as facebook and twitter as well as a personal website.

3.1 Work
3.1.1 Current work
I've been working as a freelance animator/illustrator in the Netherlands ever since I graduated in August 2009. I’m also working on producing two animated shorts which I am financing myself (for more info visit theTrichrome website).
3.1.2 Future plans
I have the long term ambition of being able to live purely off of my own artistic ventures, but for the time being I am really enjoying the commercial work I am doing and the learning experiences it offers! Next to these freelance projects, I want to release an artbook and finish my personal animation project, which is forever at the end of my to-do list but I am very determined to finish them nonetheless.
3.1.3 Making a living off of art
I often get asked whether it is possible to make a living off of art, usually from people who are about to choose that direction in life and are worried about their future. Your ability to live off of your art depends enormously on what you do, where you live, and what your options are. I am able to live off of my art because of the exposure my work gets on the internet, the possiblity of being able to work from home, the fact that it's relatively easy to register oneself as a freelancer in Holland, and my ability to do work in both the animation and illustration field.
3.1.4 Finding work
People sometimes ask me for tips on finding work, building a portfolio, etc. It’s important to keep in mind that the commercial art industry is different from country to country and the workings of the industry in your location might be completely different from how it works in the Netherlands, where I work. If you're looking for specific advice on what your portfolio should look like or how to approach clients, it is wiser to seek this advice from people who work in the specific location and industry that you want to work in. As for my personal situation, I've found that online exposure has been the key to my career so far. Because I promote my artwork online, it is seen by potential clients who contact me personally. In this way, I have been able to build my client base and work on a variety of interesting freelance projects.
3.1.5 Commission tips
Commissions are paid requests, usually non-commercial in nature (i.e they are intended for personal use by the client). Commissions are commonly offered on art community sites like Deviantart. I've frequenlty been asked for tips on how to price them by people who want to start offering commissions. Personally, I started out offering very cheap commissions and then gradually raised the price as the demand for my artwork grew. But looking back as a professional freelance artist, I have to say that most of the commission prices I see on Deviantart are absurdly cheap, and far below industry standard – including the ones I used to offer before I became aware of how art is priced in the professional world. However, due to the wide availability of cheap commissions on the web, many people have come to expect and even demand these very low prices. If you decide to offer commissions, do not let anyone convince you that your price is too high – this happens a lot and is completely unacceptable. Be aware of the fact that there is a difference between the price of a product – such as an art print – and the price of design, such as an original drawing made in your own style. Design is always much more valuable and therefore more expensive. The best way to approach your pricing is to estimate how many hours would go into each piece, and to figure out how much money you feel an hour of your time is worth, and then do the math. For the rest, I would advise you to:
  • Agree on the deadline in advance, and stick to it.
  • Ask for your payment in advance, and if you can, use Paypal as the payment method.
  • Agree on what your payment will be if the commission is cancelled halfway through the process.
  • Show your client the rough sketch and a rough color version before proceeding to the next step, to ensure that the client is happy with where the image is going.
  • Establish with your client how many modifications can be made to the artwork based on the client's feedback, in order to avoid a situation in which you might have to completely re-do your image.
  • Be dependable and communicate well with your client. Your reputation as an artist is incredibly important
I had a look on her website so see the sort of work she had produced for commissions. Lois is at an advantage as she is able to sell her animation skills as well as her illustration skills. I can see that she has produced commercial work, and her style definitely has a widespread, commercial appeal. I have often dismissed the idea of working for commercials, but her approach to it has made me think twice; I can see that she has put her personal touch onto every piece she's made, so it is possible to work for a range of clients whilst still retaining a sense of ownership over the art.

The fact that Lois has been able to support herself from her art alone for so long gives me a lot of hope. She has a presence on most art and social networking sites which no doubt helps advertise her work, and has been a prestigious artist since her graduation (her graduation film won her awards), so this no doubt gives her an edge. But I'm sure with enough determination, and with the help of the advice that her and so many other fantastic artists give, I might be able to reach a similar level someday.

Collaborating

An important part of working as an artist is being able to collaborate with others, take on board their ideas, discuss them and then give their ideas physical form.

I recently worked with Siobhan on her extended practice animated film creating some concept art for her character, Kirby the Dragon.

This was actually a relatively easy and very fun bit of concept work. Kirby is a young, naive and stubborn little dragon who can't fly very well and enjoys eating. I had various ideas rolling around my head where he looked a bit like a cross between Slowpoke the Pokemon and Stitch. We decided to give him some slightly bulldog-like characteristics, with a flatter face and square-ish limbs. I kept his head and eyes relatively large and gave him one rounded tooth which sticks out of his lip to make him look quite young and cute.





I sent Siobhan some colour variations and she decided she wanted a cross between B and D, so I went with a bluey-purply colour, adding some small scale details to give him a little texture. 


I think this final turnaround lacks a lot of the charm and roundedness of the concept art. This might have just been because I lacked time, or my choice of brush, but in the future I want to try and keep the energetic, lively sketchiness of my rougher art in my more measured and defined turnarounds. 

Final Animatic

This is my final animatic. I wanted to make sure I established the backstory, the characters' upbringing and how they first experience the day/night. It could have probably been cut shorter, but I wanted to have the opportunity to experiment with showing their development as individual characters before they meet for the first time. I tried to apply everything I've learned about shot composition so far, including the use of the rule of thirds, dynamic compositional lines that aren't parallel to the frame, and overall consideration of how the environment is shaped, etc.

In some of the later scenes when Nycteris is dancing through the woods I used more movement on the camera itself so that it isn't just static all the time, however I think I may have over-done the zooming in/out a little on the last scene, so I'll amend that when I've animated it.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Job Opportunities

I regularly check Indeed.co.uk for possible job opportunities. This is making me more aware of the lack of concept art/illustrator roles in the UK, especially for any company that isn't large-scale. Some of the advertisements are downright shocking, this one is asking for "dozens of characters and scenes to be painted digitally" for no pay. 

Some of the other adverts for bigger companies make me realise where my skills as a concept artist would be lacking. Here is one for a AAA game company which requires 5+ years of experience in the industry, and also asks for architectural and industrial knowledge. I'm aware that especially in more realistic games, having an understanding of mechanics and architecture would be very beneficial as a concept artist. I suppose my skills are more suited to stylised and cartoony games, but I have to wonder if I should spend time learning some draughtsmanship skills, even if it doesn't really appeal to me.

Jagex are looking for artists for their Runescape games. I have heard of Jagex having extremely high standards and a somewhat gruelling application and interview process. This seems intimidating as a first attempt at applying for a job, but again, browsing what they expect from applicants is useful as it allows me to compare myself to their ideal candidate and see where I do and don't match up.

I'm still interested in this position at Barnstom games but I really do need to create some more work for my portfolio first.

Rockstar North are looking for environment artists. Again, this is a position that requires highly experienced practitioners and is something to work towards rather than to apply for straight out of uni.

Mediatonic are looking for a  2D artist. Again, requires 2-3 years experience. They also ask for an understanding of usability / user interfaces and the technical aspects of art production for digital platforms. Something to keep in mind.

There seem to be quite a few opportunities for user-interface artists, despite the fact I've no experience of this side of design maybe I should consider it so that I'm able to broaden my CV and contribute more skills. I've already mentioned how graphic design would be useful for me in general. This is something I will dedicate time to exploring after graduation.

I think it's likely that I won't apply for jobs straight out of uni, at least, none that are for an animation/game company. Unless I do luckily happen across a position that is happy to take on inexperienced artists, or some kind of internship. But I think I'd rather train and build my skills more, take on some freelance work, and then look for more permanent roles.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Favourite Artists: A revisit

I recently had another look at some favourite artists, this time with a focus on how they seem to have developed their career and made a name for themselves.

And also some process gifs because these are always inspiring, and make me feel like I could be capable of producing artwork like this.



This is Luke Mancini, also known as Mr. Jack. He works as a full-time concept artist and illustrator at Blizzard, and managed to land a position there after the StarCraft art team found his fan art. He had already applied for a job there but had heard no response, and it was only after the StarCraft team kept seeing his fan art online that they decided to look him up and subsequently realise he'd already applied. Since then he's worked on Starcraft, Heroes of the Storm, the World of Warcraft TCG and Warmachine.

I suppose in this case we are reminded of the importance of keeping artwork updated online, as his job application wouldn't have progressed anywhere if the team hadn't found his art through other means. Luke doesn't even appear to have a personal website, instead favouring DeviantArt and Twitter. Even then, he doesn't seem too active on Twitter, though it is linked with his other medias so that when he uploads artwork, a tweet notifies his fans. I suppose as he's working full-time he doesn't really need to concern himself with this sort of thing too much, it's likely that the sheer quality of his work alone has attracted his considerable fan-base.

He described his workflow. "Sometimes the design team will come along with a strong idea of what they want. Like, they might have a new StarCraft unit, and they'll know they want it do perform a specific function, so we'll then sketch things based on that. I've been doing lots of work on campaign stuff, though. They might have a jungle planet, and they'll say, okay, we need aliens that look like they'd live in a jungle, so I'd sit down and do a whole bunch of illustrations. We have a lot of leeway when we're doing that kind of environmental stuff." (source)

A background of his education: "When I finished high school I didn't really know what I wanted to do; I only knew I wanted to do something art-related, so I applied for some design degrees, as well as a game art course at RMIT," he told me. "I decided that the graphic design degree was a bit broader, so if I came out at the end of that, I could still go and do something else, whereas the game art degree was a lot narrower."

"It was not 100% relevant to what I'm doing now, but I really enjoyed the course. I wasn't too stressed and I could take some time out doing my fan art on the side," he recalled. "I could just spend time developing my skills, plus I think there's a lot to be said for the design sensibilities I picked up during that course. A lot of it is about ways of thinking, so while the typography and layout design I did isn't really relevant to my job, when I'm doing an illustration, it helps me with my design, layout, and composition."

I suppose this has made me think more about whether I want to aim to go freelance or work for a company. It seems that working for somewhere like Blizzard would be a lot of fun, despite the stylistic limitations, and I certainly wouldn't complain about making sci-fi and fantasy art for a living. There would be much more financial security as well as the opportunity to explore other artistic avenues on the side. However you'd have to be very good to get picked up so quickly by such a large company.









Organisation & Productivity

'We are at a critical point in human history where those that lack any active self-discipline will be eaten alive by the deluge of distraction that grows with each day.' (source)
This might be a bit of a preachy, 'self-help' post but these are qualities which are integral to succeeding and building a skill to any sort of professional level. Working as a freelancer requires being your own boss, and that requires a great deal of self-discipline and organisation. (I think it's important to delineate between the two - a person can be organised but still not get anything done, and a person can be self-disciplined but extremely disorganised. Unfortunately I struggle with both.)

Willpower definitions:
The ability to control or reject unnecessary or harmful impulses.
The ability to arrive at a decision and follow it with perseverance, until its successful accomplishment.
It is the inner strength that enables you to refuse to indulge in unnecessary and useless habits.
It is inner power that enables you to overcome inner and external resistance and obstacles.
It is the antidote to laziness and procrastination.

Self discipline definitions:
It is the companion of willpower. It gives you with the stamina to persevere with whatever you do.
It is the strength to withstand physical, emotional and mental hardships and difficulties.
It stands for perseverance and tenacity.
It is the ability to reject immediate satisfaction, pleasure or comfort, in order to gain something better, even if it requires effort and time to gain.

If you lack these, you can find yourself in the same, self-destructive ruts, such as :

1.) You feel overwhelmed
2.) You procrastinate
3.) Work piles up
4.) Go back to 1.

or

1.) You feel uninspired and demotivated
2.) You don't manage to achieve work to a standard you are happy with
3.) You feel unhappy with your work and want to get away from it
4.) Go back to 1.

Neither are at all good mindsets to be in, but it can seem very difficult to escape them.

There's lots of self-help gurus on the web right now who make a living writing about all these amazing ways to 'change your life' and your habits. I spend a lot of time reading up on them, but in the end it's a matter of consistency and putting into practice everything I read.

Here are some links to a few to keep in mind in the future. Each guru usually has their own 'style' and approach to the topic - some are more intense and unforgiving, others more sympathetic and relateable. All include great points to consider.

5 Simple Ways To Get More Self-Disciplined:

11 Proven Ways to Increase Your Willpower and Self-Discipline

7 Simple Acts of Daily Self-Discipline that Will Make You a Better Artist / Ninja
- this page has great advice on ways to compartmentalise your day so you can work and play in a focussed, efficient, pain-free manner.

The Art of Self-Discipline (and why it's actually easy) 
- I really liked this article as it views self-discipline as an act of 'letting go' rather than this struggle to overcome distraction. 'Self-discipline is the art of choosing what to be attached to and what to be detached from.'
Some examples of letting go in action:
    • Someone succeeding on a diet lets go of his “need” for unhealthy foods.
    • Someone succeeding in writing an annoying research paper lets go of his perception that it’s a dreadful project.
    • An athlete who surprisingly made it to professional sports has not only chosen to let go of everyone who said he couldn’t do it, but he’s also chosen to let go of his own internal voices that said he couldn’t do it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Social Networking

Social networking is a key part of succeeding as an artist nowadays - rather than depending on publishers and agents like in the past, social networks allow you to advertise, sell your craft and communicate directly to your fanbase.

I have been trying to expand my experience of social media, I've been a member of Twitter for a while but I just have no idea how to get started. I'm not really the sort of person to enjoy updating the internet about my life, though I can see how it's great to pick up on opportunities that are available and to quickly chat and share with other people. No doubt once I start creating work I'm happy with I'll start to use it more regularly.

I more recently signed up to Behance, I quite like Behance because it makes me feel more inclined to post finished projects rather than occasional sketches and WIPs here and there. It also appears more professional than some other online art sharing sites. I'm in the process of adding other projects to it, though again, I feel like once I graduate and have time to develop my art in a more focussed manner I'll share more. I've also got a LinkedIn now, I feel that this'll be more useful in a more commercial and company-based setting rather than the freelance route I seem to be gravitating towards. I still update my Tumblr and I plan on making a Wordpress as my personal website when I have a more polished portfolio ready to show.

Speedpainting and Drawing Groups

There are quite a few sketch groups on Facebook which I would like to become more involved in. Currently I'm a member of 'Daily Spitpaint' where each day you're given a selection of topics and you have to complete a drawing/painting of one in thirty minutes. This is a great, quick exercise and a good way to practice if you're struggling with thinking of what to draw. There's a large active community on this page meaning that people are always quite open with critiques and comments. They especially liked my Sniper digital painting and the expression I managed to capture on her face.

'Deathbed'


'Sniper'

'Sniper' - with another half hour added

The site is also great for discovering other artists and seeing how they work - some of the more popular ones post their personal Facebook/site link below their spitpaints and no doubt attract more fans. A little trick I will keep in mind when I create my Facebook artist page.

I've also been introduced to Illustration Friday which I would like to actively participate in as well.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Portfolio and Presenting Work

I know that one of my biggest weaknesses is presenting my art. I've always had a bit of a collage-y, mishmash approach to putting my work together, which is probably fine for physical sketchbooks where you can explore a large range of ideas and get a feel for the texture, but not for digital art which should generally be clean, minimalistic and neat in presentation.

Examples:
Don't have different shades of white!

I also had a habit of displaying images without any descriptions/context. I've put a simple template under this series from the Savage project, these are just drafts and the font could be a lot better, but it gives an idea of one way to keep the images looking consistent and contextualised.




I took inspiration from this artist Sam Hoggs, she works in a variety of styles and genres but her work is always presented with that extra level of polish and professionalism. Her illustration portfolio is here.  Some examples of her concept work and how she presents it:

For these character variations she's used a gradiented grey background to suggest three-dimensional space, which really makes the character feel more grounded and 'real'.

This is a realistic environment concept she made for a games company. She used a simple, black bar across the bottom with a neat, clean font. There are no distracting borders or anything - all of the focus is the artwork itself. 

I'm considering ordering some books and generally brushing up on graphic design, I feel like a crucial part of being a digital artist is understanding subtle colour shifts, resolutions, font, layout, etc. yet I've never really had the opportunity to learn about it in detail. It would also be very useful to understand how to prepare images for print. 

At this point it is good to remind myself about this post last year I made about Chris Oatley's portfolio advice. Read the page again! Need to remember to put this into practice.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

$100 a Day and other Noah Bradley advice.

I mentioned this before in my Chris Oatley/Noah Bradley post, but it seems like a useful and simple way to understand finances when you're a freelancer. I'm terrible with numbers, so I sort of dread the day when I have to manage and plan my income and outgoings, but Noah's advice seems a good starting point. (Although it doesn't really convert well into GBP) He says that understanding your money in this way makes it a lot easier to understand your work's worth - a $700 (£415) is a week's worth of work, $3000(£1700) a month, and so on. It also makes it easy to split your income to your various outgoings - tax, savings, food, insurance, etc. $100 a day is the base-level income, nothing glamorous, but it is a good minimum to aim for when you're working as a freelancer.

It seems Noah has a lot of great advice on freelancing available through his online class, The Art of Freelancing. He also generally has a lot of great articles and advice on his blog. Definitely worth going back to.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Animation Research

I've picked up a number of well-known books by Disney veterans and have been working my way through them in order to expand and develop my animation understanding and skill.

These include:

Drawn to Life, 20 Years of Disney Master Classes volumes 1 and 2 by Walt Stanchfield.



Walt Stanchfield was one of the artists who trained the new wave of animation talent that entered the Disney studio in the 70s. Amongst those he taught were Brad Bird, John Lasseter, Don Bluth, Joe Ranft, John Musker, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, and many others - it seems exciting to me that some of the same advice and training given to such prestigious artists is readily available for complete beginners like me. I knew I had to absorb everything he had to say in his book.

The first thing that struck me about these books was that they are not organised in any particularly chronological way, instead there are in the first volume 149 short chapters (originally 'handouts' given to the artists) on assorted topics that can be read independently of each other for quick guidance or inspiration.  These range from tips on how to draw and animate specific body parts to chapters that explore the concept of creativity and how an animator must think as well as draw. I find these chapters especially interesting as it gave an insight into the creative process itself - understanding that on a deeper level will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on how I draw.

In the first chapter, Enthusiasm, he mentions: 'psychology there is, and it cannot and should not be ignored. Your mental and emotional processes are you,' and goes on to write about the importance of mental/emotional processes for motivation. I haven't really seen this kind of advice given, at least not to much of a level of depth, in other animation books. It's an important reminder of how closely our mental/emotional states effect us creatively.

Anyway, the second chapter gives details of the principles of animation, which he says 'should appear in all scenes, for they comprise the basis for full animation'. There are many more written here than the usual twelve principles I find or hear about, and he says there may well be more. Although many of these at first need to be used consciously, they should become second-nature. Knowing how to apply these principles is also necessary to enable an artist to animate intellectually, logically and artistically as well as emotionally, as we can't always rely on our emotions to fuel our drawing. For future reference, I'll write them below:

  • Pose and mood
  • Shape and form
  • Anatomy
  • Model or character
  • Weight
  • Line and silhouette
  • Action and reaction
  • Perspective
  • Direction
  • Tension 
  • Planes
  • Solidity
  • Arcs
  • Squash and stretch
  • Beat and rhythm
  • Depth and volume
  • Overlap and follow through
  • Timing
  • Working from extreme to extreme
  • Straights and curves
  • Primary and secondary action
  • Staging and composition
  • Anticipation
  • Caricature
  • Details
  • Texture
  • Simplification
  • Positive and negative shapes
  • Opposing force
There's tons of really valuable quotes, advice and observations from Stanchfield in this book. He really challenges my perception of drawing as a medium, on how to really work on crossing that bridge between an image being 'just a drawing', which can be technically brilliant but never transcend that status, to something imbued with feeling through gestures. All gestures are certainly more than their parts. 
He likens this to looking at a piece of sheet music - it means nothing until it has been performed in a way that evokes feeling. Parts of a figure must be put together so that they portray the meaning of the pose, not just the pose.

I could write a very long post about what I'm learning from this book, but I'll save these for when I start animating and really start applying his teachings - particularly those about specific aspects of drawing, like drawing fabric or how to overlap lines to create depth.

As a quick bit of practice though I've tried to draw the characters in some poses which express something clearly.



Story structure

For structuring the overall plot, I've been searching on how stories are generally structured. There is a lot of theory and research on this, going all the way back to Aristotle's writing on the Three Act Structure in his work, Poetics. The structure he describes which was applied to ancient Greek drama basically includes a beginning, middle and end. This later was adapted to include two more acts, these were defined by playwright Gustav Freytag as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement/resolution/revelation/catastrophe. This is seen visually as 'Freytag's pyramid.' Although this was written in relation to Greek drama and not for modern drama, it is still an essential part of storytelling to think about. 



'You’ll need to have a beginning, middle and end to your screenplay, which may not mirror the book. Most novels have diversions, back stories and deep character development. These don’t serve any purpose in a screenplay, but you should be intimate with them as you shape your story. My analogy has always been steam cleaning a rug in a room. You take all the stuff out of the room, clean the carpet, and then only put back what is necessary. The rest you can put in storage.' (source)

I have become very familiar with the original fairytale now, which is helping me to figure out the character's actions/emotions and plan out the story for the film. But a
s I've never actually created an original finished piece with a narrative, I have relatively little understanding on how to tell a good story.

An important part of storyboarding is figuring out how well the narrative is working and 'feeling' - is it structured evenly, does it make sense, does it satisfy the viewer or leave them feeling confused? After finishing my first set of storyboard (seen in my previous post, video titled 'old animatic') I decided I wasn't happy with how the narrative was (or wasn't) working, the pace of the whole thing felt completely off to me. I wanted to clarify it and make it feel more well thought out.

My breakdown / treatment of the story can be read here, for presentation purposes I plan on adding storyboards with each paragraph to illustrate what I've written, though I made the writing very descriptive in itself to try and paint an image in the reader's mind.

Anyway, I feel that I've simplified the tale and have parts of the plot which can fall roughly into the different parts of the pyramid.


Exposition: The witch finds the scroll and makes the two beings. There is a montage of them growing older which establishes their personalities.

Rising Action: The titular characters sense that 'something is missing' and hesitate with the option of leaving their comfort zones to experience darkness/the outside world for the first time. Nycteris begins to ascend the staircase from her chamber. Photogen steps deeper into the forest as the sun starts to set.


Climax / turning point / crisis: Photogen has his intense scary experience in the forest while Nycteris is overcome with wonder.

Falling action/denouement: 
 They meet. There is the revelation, shown through the amulet, that they are related. They overcome their fear of each other and turn to face sunrise together.

As it does end somewhat on a cliffhanger showing the rising sun and suggesting that Nycteris is about to face it for the first time, there isn't really that much of a conclusion, but I hope that the general idea of them being reunited and the overarching moral of 'learning to be unafraid' is clear. 


Animation Practice


So far I've been spending most of my time working on the narrative, aesthetics and design of my film. Obviously animation is a huge part of it too and as I've never done it properly before, I have a lot to learn.

After experimenting with different softwares at the start of the module, I accessed Photoshop CS6 and it's improved animation timeline. I followed this tutorial on the basic functions of setting up to animate using video layers. Whereas before, animating in Photoshop meant you ended up with hundreds of layers that you had to manually make visible/invisible on each frame, the new video layer feature and timeline easily allows you to draw and edit each frame of a single layer. 


It's taken me a while to set up keyboard shortcuts and get used to navigating/organising everything, but I managed to create the below walk test for Nycteris. This was an exercise in using the software and creating basically  consistent-looking movement, there is a lot wrong with it on an animation-theory level and I'm currently doing a lot more research and learning on animation principles and process in preparation for starting the final piece. I did try to experiment with a bit of overlap/secondary movement with the dress and hair, but it needs a lot of work. Her hips/head should be bobbing up and down with the movement, her dress isn't behaving as a real dress would, and I need to apply a lot more principles like overlapping action, arcs, rhythm and squash and stretch. 





Whilst working on this I had this gif of Glen Keane's test work for Tangled in the back of my mind (I've only managed to find it again now). There are a lot of sketchy tests by Keane online, looking at them is a useful insight into how drawings are made from the very roughest stage. However I would like to research other, older Disney animators, such as the 'Nine Old Men', to get a broader understanding of the Disney approach - a lot of students tend to focus on Keane, which, although he is obviously talented (I particularly admire how he captures dynamic movement in such a loose, broad way) causes people to disregard other amazing animators who work in different styles.








Lines, Shapes, and Composition

This Gamasutra article has a lot of really good information on composition and design, but I found this section about character shape vs. environment shape really useful to consider as much of my story revolves around characters finding themselves in unfamiliar environments.

Character Shape Versus Environment Shape

A character's surroundings are a key part of dynamic composition because the environment normally takes up much of the visual frame. (Please note that environment here also includes secondary characters and enemies.) We can respond emotionally to characters based on their shape and animation alone, however it's only once we see characters in an environment that a narrative emerges.


The illustrations above represent a character (purple) in an environment (green). A circular character in a circular environment (top-left) exhibits a sense of harmony because the character's shape is echoed in its surroundings. The echo gives us a sense of home -- suggesting that here is where the character belongs. We also get a sense of harmony if both the character and environment are square, or triangular (lower-right), although the change of primary shape gives us a different aesthetic sensation.
We get a sense of dissonance when character and environment shapes contrast each other. A circular character appears threatened when placed in an edgy environment (top-right); while a triangular character appears the threat in a soft and rounded environment (lower-left).


These concepts of harmony and dissonance can be seen in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, where we have the good-natured Hobbits on one side of the shape spectrum of emotions. Everything about them references the innocent, youthful circle: from the curl of their hair; their rounded shoulders and shirt buttons; to the round Hobbit holes; and even the curves of the landscape. At the other end of the shape spectrum we find Sauron, who is aligned to the aggressive triangle: from his sharp fingertips; to the triangular volcano on the landscape.

This contrast of primary shapes allows us to reduce the story of Lord of the Rings to an abstract visual narrative using basic shapes, which sees the round Frodo and Samwise leave their round home to journey to a threatening, angular landscape, before returning to the safety of home.


I could definitely apply this to the composition and design of my environments. To express how Nycteris has been trapped against her will, I could use opposing shapes in the design of her chamber - lots of angular lines and triangles to contrast her roundedness. The forest will be a combination of rounded, stylised trees and pointed branches and plants, the pointed/triangularness will be exaggerated when Photogen becomes lost in the forest to express his fear and the dissonance between him and the oncoming night.

You can see these rules applied to existing films, for example Snow White - her rounded, youthful look sharply contrasts with the creepy, spiky forest's surroundings.



This isn't necessarily related to this rule, but these shots from Sleeping Beauty are very inspiring for me when I need to refresh my mind on how to compose my environment in an aesthetically effective way using dynamic compositional lines.