Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Isolation inspiration: Erick Oh

I discovered the artist Erick Oh whilst looking for animations that might be similar in style and atmosphere to our Isolation film. I was instantly drawn to his painterly style which includes some surreal elements to express symbolism and emotion.
" My art isn’t about pretty lines or nice colors. It’s the healing process for wounds from my youth and current daily life. Furthermore, aside from my personal story, I just can’t ignore all the tears and pains in our lives.., religion, politics, history.. There are so many tragic things we just don’t see. Yes, I fight racism. I fight for  the minority. My hope is that viewers can hear my calm but clear whisper through my creation, and be consoled to gain some energy and inspiration for the lives... "

His images often feature lonely, simplistic characters existing in surreal little landscapes and worlds, and I was instantly reminded of our animation. With his use of a near-black and white colour scheme and a watercolour texture effect, Erick has really managed to capture a dark sense of isolation and melancholy in his work and I hope we can achieve similar effects in our film. 

Through his blog I accessed his website and found some beautiful animated films he has worked on. In particular, this trailer for his 2010 film "Heart", which again similarly utilises mainly monochromatic colour scheme, a grey cloudscape as a background and wonderfully focuses on the actions and expressions of the bizarre, featureless characters. 

Heart (trailer) from Erick Oh on Vimeo.

From these pieces of artwork I think we can take ideas for shot composition and framing, and of how to position the character in it's vast scene. There are a wide range of cuts and shot styles, similar to a live action film, as opposed to the animation taking place in a single shot. Considering this is a film module and not an animation module we do need to really take into account how we utilise different shots so our animation has a cinematic feel and is relevant in film analysis.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Little and Large - settings and test animations

I've been working on the settings that my animation is going to take place in. My film has two distinct settings: a cartoony, vaguely fantasy/medieval area, and a mundane desk where the Sackboy "toy" actually lives.

For both areas I wanted to keep it really simple, as I need to be focussing my attention on the animation rather than the modelling.

With this in mind, I constructed the fantasy land out of a cube and edited the vertices to give the appearance of hills. I initially wanted the clouds to be on strings, similar to Littlebigplanet, but it looked a bit out of place so I decided to abandon the strings. I also added in the simple tree and castle models to give an impression of the "medieval knight" theme. The animation will be taking place much closer to these so they will be more obvious.

All the textures are simple one-colour lamberts to keep it clean and colourful. 

And the desk. Lighting was an important aspect to consider here as the lamp will be switched off, so I need to ensure the area is still lit enough so that you're able to see what's going on. I also used more realistic looking textures here to contrast the other setting.

With lamp:

No lamp:
This is possibly too dark...

And my first try at a walking animation. I'm not particularly happy with it yet, it looks very controlled and inexpressive (although I added a blink in there to make him look a bit more lively). I used bending deformers on the arms and legs, but something still isn't quite right...

There is a fan-made Sackboy walk cycle on Youtube which looks much more characteristic and believable. I might have another attempt, using this as a reference.

I also quickly experimented with a couple of expressions. My Sackboy doesn't have a mouth, so I'm relying on head movement, gestures and eye movements to express how he's feeling. (These videos are very short, apologies...)



I think these are okay although I haven't incorporated the body movements. It seems a majority of emotion can be shown in the eyes, particularly on simplistic cartoon characters, so I'm hoping it'll work effectively in my final piece.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maya: Lighting and rendering

A general rule for effective lighting is:

- A key light, which represents the main light source.
- A fill light, which lifts the shadows created by the key light. It is typically set at a much lower value, and is placed directly opposite the key light.
- A back light, also "rim light", which highlights the edges of the subject.

I came up with this composition of lights, using spot lights as they are more defined and obvious. I've named them respectively for reference:

I decided to make the overall lighting quite dark in this instance, just to make it easier to distinguish between the different lighting options.

Key light:

Fill light:

Back light: 

And all together: 

It is easy to see how the fill and back lights make the model appear much more three-dimensional and realistic, and make it "pop" out from the background.

I also modelled the basic objects that will be used in the background and as Sackboy's prop. I will show them before and after lighting, to highlight the importance of high-quality rendering. 

Desk lamp (I used an image from Google as reference):

Pen pot:

Tree (I used an image of a tree from Littlebigplanet as reference):

When I smoothed the tree it came out looking a bit lumpy around where the trunk is made of different parts. If I have the time I will look into how to seamlessly merge different polygons in this area.


Sword (again, I used a quick image from Google as reference):

Now... time to put everything together and begin animating!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Isolated" Animation - finished background concept art

The finished product, waiting to be composited into After Effects and animated.

I added some stylised "curls" onto the clouds to give an overall more cartoony effect, and spent time making sure that each layer was fully individual and moveable without any edges appearing. 

My only concern is that this is a large file, and viewed at 100% it is easy to see all the brushstrokes and slight flaws in the painting. Depending on the distance that the background is placed behind the animated scene, it might be too visible and distracting.

I will have to sit with the others in my group when everything is being placed onto After Effects to see how it looks, and to determine how large the elements will be.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Film - "Outline Your Implications" shooting

Last Monday was spent shooting for the first part of our film module. We decided to shoot in York as opposed to Leeds, which in the end was the better option as parts of the town are very picturesque, which fitted the happy atmosphere we were trying to express. We also got extremely lucky with the weather - who knew that mid-January we'd have an entire day of clear skies and sunshine?

Although I didn't have a direct role on shoot, I worked with the camera operators to try and find effective shot compositions and to offer different approaches to shooting a scene, and to generally give a second opinion on what footage we were getting. Also in some ways I acted as a producer, as I suggested and planned the location for the shots. As I'm from York myself, I knew some more idyllic-looking settings. 

This part of the film was meant to express happy memories. We didn't really plan specific shots or scenes, so we ended up doing quite a lot of it spontaneously depending on what we could find in the city, with the intention of selecting and editing the best parts later.

We began in a park, where the weather created some beautiful light effects through the trees. 

We were trying to create a realistic sense of love between the two characters, not over-dramatised, so many of the shoots were just of them talking,  walking, smiling and generally enjoying each other's company as any couple would.

Worrying that too many of our shots were of "walking and talking", we went through town and stopped in a cafe to capture a scene of them having a coffee together. This one was slightly problematic as it was reaching lunchtime, so the cafe was busy, and the one table we were hoping to film at wasn't available until a few hours later... but we prevailed and managed in the end!

We experimented with some different shooting styles, including a "handheld" style to give the impression of a homemade film.

By the time the sun set, we'd managed to get plenty of options for the memories.

We shot the final scene of her returning to her house (which is set at night time) at my own home, but sadly it came out too dark and needed to be re-shot. We filmed this, as well as the second part of the film featuring them in the city and going their separate ways, in Leeds the following Wednesday. (we didn't get any photos of this)

All-in-all, although I haven't properly watched our footage on a larger screen, I think we managed to get some great shots, and although at first glance it might appear to be potentially "cliche" I think with effective editing it will turn out as desired. I'm really looking forward to seeing them as a final product. 

"Isolated" Animation - background concept art

I've been creating some concept art for the backgrounds of our animated film based on a poem expressing isolation. After we'd settled on a style for the character and it's surroundings - monochromatic and minimalistic - I couldn't help but think of the stylised platform game Limbo. In this game, a player controls a lonely and nameless boy as he searches an eerie forest and city for his lost sister. The game uses it's black and white colour scheme and lighting to effectively convey a "creepy" and isolated atmosphere, taking influence from film noir and German Expressionism.

The clean and simple style of Limbo is certainly a similar sort of look to what we're going for in our film, so I studied the backgrounds and concept art for inspiration.

I created some different drafts with varying levels of detail and contrast to get a general idea of what would fit best with the film.

I added in the main scene and character that were made by Alex and Ryan so I could compare the difference between the two. I debated whether or not I'd made the background too painterly and shaded, as it is very different to the clean and graphic style of the character and it's setting.

There was generally a positive reaction, and I was given feedback. It was decided to get rid of the hills and replace them with clouds so that the two "islands" are entirely divided and disconnected, the mist between them creating a sense of mystery and the unknown.

This was the final "test" image I ended up with. All the elements are on different layers so that the clouds can be animated. All that remains to do now is organise them on a much wider canvas size (like the image before this one) so that there is more freedom for movement so that each film shot, hopefully, has a different background.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Just some drawings!

A handful of my recent sketches, in terrible quality. 

I still have a habit of filling up sketchbooks with drawings of faces... I really need to work more on full figures and colouring in Photoshop.

Film: "Isolated" animation

We have begun work on the second poem we are to interpret. We chose a relatively simple one which meditates on a feeling of isolation inspired by Ilkley Moor. After facing some difficulties in finding actors etc. for our other film, we decided we possibly wanted to do something that would just involve scenic shots.

by Zenam Bi

Isolated like the emotions I have held for many years.
The cold weighs hard on my bones.
As the dark clouds begin to gather,
quiet surrounds the air.
The rural space echoes with stillness.
The picturesque image engraved in my mind.
Like a single tree embedded in a field,
The wavy grass hangs around to help ease the loneliness it feels.
The sheep wander aimlessly in this desolate sphere. 

After some chatting we decided we'd like to have a go at an animation. The poem evokes quite minimalistic images of large fields and skies, of a lone figure wandering a space. I was reminded of the film I wrote about in a previous post, here.

For conceptual as well as practical purposes - we have only two weeks to finish these - we're doing the animation in a very simple and monochromatic style. 

I drew up some initial ideas and storyboards.

I thought that the figure would have no detail, or even a face, it would be almost like a doll. This would draw attention to the fact that isolation is something many of us feel, and we'd be more easily able to project our own emotion onto a blank, featureless figure as opposed to one rich with characteristics. 

When coming up with the environment for the character, we were drawn to the line "Like a single tree embedded in a field,". We imagined the character living on a small, lonely hill with only this tree keeping him company. 

(these drawings look really rough, apologies)

For my initial idea, the figure is on a hill, alone, when the tree suddenly grows a light like a fruit. The light floats down and the figure is happy that he may have found a companion, however it then flies away. The figure tries to follow it, but the hill is too steep; he nearly falls. He sees the light floating around with many others on another hill in the distance. He feels even more lonely.

This was a very rough draft at a narrative, I mainly wanted to get a few ideas down I'd like to include: that he is isolated on this hill which is too steep for him to leave.

Alex drew up another set of storyboards, and in the end we have decided to use those as they feature more of a solid story.

My next job will be to create some backgrounds. We've considered using watercolours to add some texture to this very minimalistic film.

Film: "Outline Your Implications" ideas.

We are making progress with our films.

In terms of the first film, in my group's discussions we experimented with various ideas, including a more conceptual approach which would be filmed in a studio and feature plain background with all the focus being on the characters. Alex showed us this video, which has two characters who grow to love each other, but who are eternally separated by a pane of glass. This theme actually does relate to that of our poem, so we thought we could do something like this.

However after further talking and from viewing the other videos I've written about in my previous post, we decided we'd like to shoot on location so it's more like we are following the memories and lives of these two people.

Inspired by what I'd gathered from the other short films we watched, I came up with these rough storyboards. I essentially "mashed up" all the ideas and inspirations into a film that features shooting on a set, with one scene also more conceptually in a studio. The narrative is in reverse, with the beginning being melancholic and showing us the characters as they feel following their separation, and the ending reflecting on their happy memories.

(apologies for the terrible scans)

In our group there's two of us who are drawing storyboards and concept art, and we ended up combining both of our ideas. We liked the idea of the majority of the film being a montage of the happy couple's memories, and only at the very end do we realise they can't in fact be together.  

Alex's work and the final storyboards can be found here:

He has also created an animatic of the storyboards so we can get a general idea of the lengths and framing of the shots. This was also necessary so he could send it to his friend who will be composing a soundtrack for the film, as he will need a rough edit to know when the atmosphere changes so the tone of the music can alter with it.

Animating! "Little and Large"

I've been planning in some detail my very first 3D CG animation which I will be making in the upcoming weeks. As opposed to the toy cat I was originally planning on modelling, I decided to use my Sackboy model because I thought his shape would give me a good opportunity to practice the basics of animating humanoid figures and walk cycles in a more simplified form.

The concept for the film, which will be around 30 to 45 seconds long, is "Little and Large". I couldn't help but immediately think, obviously, of LittleBigPlanet and all the delightful worlds that are part of it.

As lovely as the detail in these screenshots are, this is my very first foray into computer animation so I'm going to keep it as simple as possible.

A lot of the worlds seem to give the impression of being toy-sized or miniature places in the human world, for example the world set in a giant kitchen. This gave me the idea of my Sackboy character living in a human bedroom or other room, thus being "little" in a large world.

However I wasn't quite sure what narrative to include to draw attention to the contrast between his size and the size of his surroundings. So I played with an idea of him being a part of an imaginary fantasy world and then abruptly coming back into his reality.

For now I have settled on an idea of him being a "heroic knight", but when his lamp's power cuts out we realise he is simply play-acting.

During this part of the process I began to realise how much time I would need to spend modelling the decorative props, and that I needed to focus more on the animation of the character as opposed to the models. However I still liked the idea of including LittleBigPlanet-style decorations. 

I found this image of a level that features a somewhat medieval-style themewith the castles and buildings being simple flat cardboard-cutout-esque shapes. I also fancied the idea of having clouds hanging on strings. I thought that these wouldn't be too difficult to model, as for the buildings I would - theoretically, judging my currently limited experience of Maya - simply need to use the edge loop tool on a flat plane then alter the thickness slightly, and for the clouds a similar method would be used, making sure to use the smoothing tool to ensure rounded edges. 

So after taking all of this into account, I have finalised my first complete set of storyboards. These may change later on.

I've also sketched an idea of the props and settings I'll need to model. There will be two "locations" needed: a simple hill, with the castle and tree "cut-outs" and clouds; and a desk with a lamp, notes, books etc. on it to suggest the toy belonging to a human.

We showcased our ideas in a crit last Thursday and received feedback. The biggest concerns for my animation were the complications in animating a bipedal figure as there are many aspects to take into account, even in a simple walk cycle one must consider the arms and how the body will characteristically move.

There is also the fact that my character is Sackboy, an already widely recognised and well-loved character, and I will need to ensure that I make the character "my own" so that I'm not simply copying directly from an existing source. However I will probably use LittleBigPlanet as a main reference for how he is going to move.

The second concern was lighting. My film will be quite clearly separated between daylight and night-time. Although there will be no clear light source, the dark room will still need some light so that the action is visible. I'll need to spend a lot of time experimenting with this to create the desired effect.

Finally, I will consider the sound and music I can use for comedic effect.

The most important thing though, is that I demonstrate the principles of animation, and make good use of timing, easing in and out, squash and stretch, having action following arcs, and the rest.