Thursday, January 30, 2014

Digicel Flipbook Trial

After some research I've discovered some 2D animation software that seems to be frequently recommended.

Digicel Flipbook

Flipbook seems to be a good, simple piece of software with some nice features that really help with efficiency and adding that extra level of polish. It apparently has been used on everything from Disney's Enchanted to The Simpsons Movie to the Wild Thornberries, and there are various videos of well-known animators - including Don Bluth - recommending it. After watching a couple of tutorials to get a general idea of how it works, I can see that it is potentially a good choice for me.

I have downloaded a trial from the official site. My general impression of it was quite positive, it has a nice and simple interface and there's no overload of extra unnecessary tools which is what I find annoying on other software. My only gripe was that for some reason despite it being pixel rather than vector based, I find it hard to draw as well on anything that isn't Photoshop - a possibility would be to draw the frames in PS then transfer them to FlipBook to sort out the timing and colouring. There's also a tool for scanning in paper-based drawings. I'm aware in a professional environment I'd be expected to adapt to new software, so I'm willing to practice getting used to it.

Pros:

- Short leaning curve
- Pixel-based rather than vector-based so allows a more traditional look
- Allows you to draw with a tablet or scan/capture traditionally drawn frames
- Drawing allows pressure sensitivity, and you can choose between free drawing or 'smart' drawing which smooths out curves
- Includes vertical timing sheet, with each row being a frame and each column being a layer
- Allows the addition of sound tracks, which is especially useful for lipsyncing
- Extensive colour selection, and when you change a colour this change automatically applies to other frames
- Can easily organise and edit timing of frames

Cons:

- When seeing examples of work produced in FlipBook, I noticed it tends to be very clean and flat, though I suppose that's more to do with artistic preference than the program. I would be able to add texture and other artistic effects in After Effects.

- Lack of brush choice

- Something that kept happening was a small moment of lag when I tried to draw, so at times it was very difficult to sketch roughly as it kept 'sticking'. Also, sometimes it wouldn't detect the pressure at all so I'd have to keep trying to draw the same area. I'm not sure what the cause of this would have been as it sometimes would work fine, but it definitely would be difficult to draw good sketches with this repeatedly occurring.


(ignore the terrible drawing)

There seem to be a lot of positive testimonies about projects produced in this program so I'll consider it an option, I'm mainly concerned about not being able to produce as good quality drawings as I maybe would on other programs or on paper.

Animation Inspiration

Despite 2D dramatically decreasing in popularity for big budget animations, there's still a huge interest and love for the medium as evidenced by the many fantastic short films that are around the net. I've been looking at a lot of them to try and study some of the different approaches different artists have taken, and to see if I can find one that would fit my project. One that has caught my interest is a film called Wolfsong by Toniko Pantoja. Although the drawings themselves are somewhat rough and sketchy, the poses and movement are very expressive and 'fluid', and with the added motion blur effectively convey dynamic action and tell the narrative. The 'roughness' does not take away from the emotional impact of the film at all. There isn't much behind-the-scenes info for the film, but it appears that the everything has been created digitally.

 
Wolfsong from Toniko Pantoja on Vimeo.

I think this style fits the dark, visceral feel of this film, and it has shown me that the frames don't have to be flawlessly drawn to look impressive; but seeing as my story is quite light-hearted I'm thinking something more delicate would be more appropriate in capturing the subtle emotions of the characters. However this type of hand-drawn line with flat colour and some light/shading effect is definitely one of the styles I'd like to consider.

Another film I've found is Seedling by Lee Tao. This was apparently animated in Photoshop and composited in After Effects. The result is highly detailed and illustrative.



I think that this one doesn't have individually drawn frames like the previous film; I imagine the artist behind this made more use of 'tweening' and moving the individual sections of the character within Photoshop, so there was no need to re-draw every single frame. This prevents you from losing all the lovely detail, but can mean you are a bit more limited in expressive movement, however I could certainly use some of these techniques to make my workflow more efficient.

Pros & Cons of Animating in Photoshop

I have tried to use Photoshop before for animating, but found it a bit clumsy to do as of course it is not primarily designed for that purpose. However I am drawn to practicing this as I am already familiar with the interface and would probably take to it quicker than I would an entirely new software package. Photoshop allows me to get that painterly and 'traditional' feel in the line drawings which I have found difficult to capture in other programs.

I found a Youtube tutorial about how to set up Photoshop for animating efficiently in a similar manner to Flash. He suggests creating action keys to allow quick switching between frames and for creating a new frame. I followed the tutorial and found the action keys certainly made it easier, and created some experimental movement to see how I felt with the overall approach.


Photoshop CS5

Pros:

- Nice 'feel' to the brushes, can get that pencil-style flow with pen pressure effect in the lines. This allows illustrative, painterly style animation.
- Wide range of brushes to use
- Already familiar with software interface so I will work quicker
- More focus on the drawing - felt more traditional, rather than having to use loads of different tools/settings

Cons:

- The main thing that was really irritating was the visibility of layers. For some reason, when you create a new layer for a new frame, by default it appears visible on every single previous frame and you have to manually go and disable visibility. I've looked online and can't find a solution to this.
- Poorly optimised for the process - you end up with dozens of layers mixed up together that are awkward to navigate through, and this was just for a simple line drawing... backgrounds and other elements would further complicate it.

Apparently CS6 Extended has a new style of layer called 'video layers' which allow you to create frame-by-frame animation. This seems to have streamlined the process a little by not having frames be on a load of different layers. As I don't have access to CS6 at home I haven't had the chance to experiment with this yet.

All-in-all I am not ruling out Photoshop as an option but as it is so inefficient with managing frames and layers I will still be investigating other software. 

Planning my Project

One thing I really want to improve on this module is organisation. It has effected almost every module I've done so far in that I've never quite managed to achieve the standard I'd like to simply due to not understanding how to organise my workload.

I created this Gantt chart on an app on my tablet - the app was useful as it made it very easy to add in all the tasks and organise them. Having it on my tablet means it is easily accessible and portable, and I can edit it if needed. I will also be making a day-to-day schedule.

I began by listing all the different parts of the animation that will be needed. These include, for now:
  • Storyboards
  • Animatic
  • Layout / Staging planning
  • Concepts for all the environments and characters
  • Background matte paintings
  • Model sheets
  • Animated footage
  • Sound and music
  • Compositing the elements together
  • Post-production editing/effects
I estimated the ideal length of time for each part of production. I need to leave plenty of time to do the animating itself, as I haven't done it properly before and will need to do a lot of self-teaching. However as you need to have a strong foundation to work from I need to put equal time and care into the planning of movement in the animatic and the animation testing.

I have left perhaps a bit too much time for some things like the animatic but it's always better to leave too much rather than too little. There is also time after the 8th to finish it if needed. I thought by aiming to have it done in advance, that extra time leaves room for any unforeseen errors.

**edit** I'm probably going to add all the sound effects when I do the storyboard/animatic, so that it's all planned and sorted before animation begins. This means I'll only have to worry about the music afterwards, which I'm considering composing myself with the help of a friend which will remove the need for finding a collaborator. 



This chart was created with a digital approach in mind. I was previously unsure if I would be drawing the character movement with pencil on paper; although I'd really love to try it, as of yet I haven't been able to find much information about good methods of colouring scanned/photographed frames. Usually paintbucket-type tools or eyedropper tools in After Effects don't do a very clean, neat job and can look bad near the lines of drawings. For this reason I've been looking into different programs that allow traditional-style animation with easier methods of colouring, most often using combinations of vector and bitmap layers. I'll be writing more about software in a future post. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Extended Practice Introduction & Proposal Feedback

For my Extended Practice project I would like to take the early development of my Day Boy & Night Girl project from my CoP module and re-do and define it with a focus on the capturing the movement and personality of the characters rather than composition of scenes (though this is still an important aspect). This will be planned in a detailed storyboard/animatic which will break down the story of the scenes, and then I will create one fully-animated sequence using a hand-drawn method complete with backgrounds, sounds, music and effects (but no dialogue). It will hopefully last around 30 seconds. I may also have rougher test animations for other sequences depending on how confident I feel with the process.

We got some feedback for our proposals from our tutor, I will summarise some of the key points for future reference here:
  • As CoP materials can't be assessed twice I need to ensure that I work on redrafting and further designing the storyboards and breaking down the script and other elements I created for that module. There should be a focus on animation testing and development of animation as the final product.
  • Select a chapter to focus on to make the most of design and animation for one part of the story (rather than trying to encompass the entire story).
  • Research and development - identify pipeline and processes to be involved, software, different approaches, which are most efficient, etc.
  • Early testing of style and timing is essential.
  • Perhaps try some rotoscoped animation as a means of studying and drawing human movement.
  • Utilise layout in the animatic and establish key poses. Aim to have a finalised test of one or more sequences with sound design and music.
  • Plan!!!
He also recommended I pick up The Animator's Survival Kit's video tutorials. 

My main worry with this project is overestimating my own ability and having too high expectations, I'm going to try and abandon all that sort of thinking and focus on researching and learning the 'correct' technique and fully understanding the principles.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Intro to PPP3, Skills and Entry-Level Job Roles

This year's PPP is all about understanding our practice in a professional context. This includes:

  • Understanding how those who are working within our practice become well-known and successful and the features of their work that set them apart from the 'crowd'
  • Understanding what opportunities are available to us after graduation and how to create opportunities for ourselves
  • Developing a presence online and a range of promotional materials such as business cards, social media profiles, showreels and portfolios
  • Communicating with relevant audiences in a professional manner.

The main aspect of this that has been hindering me has been wondering what route to take in the industry upon graduation. My strong suit is my drawing/design, but I hope to develop a range of other skills (see my last blog post about skills I want to develop). Nevertheless I've been thinking about the different job roles available within the animation/games industries that have drawing as a prioritised skill. I've become more interested in storyboarding for animation, as I feel that this would be a relatively easier way to get into the industry rather than hoping to go straight into conceptual design.

As I'm still very interested in 3D modelling/texturing and animation and would like to have a range of skills to offer, I know that when I graduate, I will have to invest in high-quality online tutorials to learn more about the technical aspects of drawing for design, modelling, rigging, etc. I will be writing about this in more detail in future blogs.

On a personal level, I have had a look at the SWOT chart I created and have unfortunately realised I still have many of the same problems, especially with organisation. I'm not sure what it is - I just seem to naturally be a very haphazard person no matter how much I try to change it. This is something I really need to change before I work in the industry as I'm aware that organisation, time management and professional presentation is really important. I would like to look into learning on a more detailed/formal level about these skills.

Entry Level Jobs

Storyboard Assistant

I have spent some time browsing the web to find out more about the wider range of roles available in the animation industry. The Skillset website has a good rundown of different roles and requirements for each role. The 'storyboard assistant' role is described as being entry-level, and they are sort of the 'clean-up' artists for storyboards. They don't require a particularly advanced skillset - having the ability to demonstrate drawing skills in a range of styles and a good understanding of visual storytelling and film theory seem to be what they look for the most in candidates. This seems like a realistically achievable role for me considering my research in COP3 into the use of film technique in animation.

AnimationCareerReview.com writes of how competitive the animation industry is, especially for those wishing to be actual animators. The role of a storyboard assistant can extend to the gaming, live-action and advertising industries as well, which somewhat broadens the range of potential opportunities. A key fact to consider is that there will be more demand for storyboard artists/assistants with advanced computer skills and advanced knowledge of the latest software programs used in the industry. This is something I'm keeping in mind, and I have already downloaded a trial of Toon Boom Storyboard Pro which I will use to get an insight into how storyboarding is done digitally. I will write more about software in a future post.

I am aware that despite my research done for COP3, there is still a lot about storyboarding - specifically, how to draw the camera movements - that I need to learn.

Concept Artist

Skillset also says that concept artists can be entry-level with the appropriate portfolio and skills. The only thing that concerns me about heading down this route is the requirement for traditional colouring/drawing skills which I haven't quite achieved yet, such as perspective and painting to a realistic level. These are skills I wish to learn via tutorials upon graduation. I'm also aware that it is an extremely competitive role as many people aspire to work as a concept artist. 

Chris Oatley, who I have mentioned on here before, is a character designer who has a website full of advice and information for aspiring artists in this sort of role. He has defined the '2 Secrets of Success In Animation' as being great work, and being great to work with. So energy spent fretting over things like layout, captions, logo, etc. is, although certainly valuable in showcasing your work well, ultimately NOT as important as energy spent honing your craft. I can't help but find this reassuring as I've just mentioned that presentation is one of my weaker points, and I do spend a lot of time worrying about how I will showcase my work, how I will network, how I will advertise myself... when really, at least for now, I should just be worrying about developing the work itself. 

Elsewhere in the comments other professionals describe how canditates who appear to be the 'right fit' and easy to work with often win over their potential employers better than those who have good work but doesn't connect well. One commenter says: "Being a nice person, having talent and also possessing a healthy amount of persistence seem to be key. These were all factors that helped me get into Aardman and beat the other hoards of other applicants."  

However it goes beyond just being friendly. Chris says: "Just don’t think that “being great to work with” is ONLY about attitude. It’s about making regular, generous, contributions in the small things that are so small nobody else wants to do them and in the huge things that are so huge that nobody else wants to do them. It’s about anticipating the needs and problems of your colleagues and supervisors and doing everything in your power to provide for those needs and solve their problems. It’s about going the extra mile and then the extra ten miles and then the extra hundred. It’s about becoming completely indispensable to the studio.
Having a good attitude is step one." 

It is here that my personal obstacles become apparent, I will often not do 'extra' due to my lack of confidence, though in my mind I feel myself to be the sort of person who would be happy to go the extra mile without being asked. 

He has a page named 'The Concept Artist's Career Guide'  which holds a range of very valuable advice with links to other pages giving more detailed insights into the industry. I will look at these pages in more detail and write about them in another post, relating them to my personal situation. 


Monday, January 13, 2014

Before I had begun learning more about composition through my essay, I created these rough concepts for Watho the witch's castle. Although I tried to work from larger shapes to small details as has been recommended in all the books I've read, I struggled to find a concept that fit Watho's character, especially considering I hadn't fully developed the characters themselves yet.

I eventually abandoned the castle idea as I felt it was too grandiose for one eccentric experimental witch - I thought a ramshackle hut with some kind of elaborate underground laboratory seemed more fitting.

Studies from various castles/buildings





The furthest I went with designing her environment was this below piece. After being inspired by the work of classic Disney concept artists like Mary Blair, I experimented with simple, stylised clear shapes for the foliage and tried not to get caught up in detail. I lack a lot of knowledge about designing buildings and houses, and this one certainly needs a lot more to it as it does nothing to indicate Watho's personality.


The first little piece I did for designing Photogen and Nycteris was the below sketch. The idea of using colour as a strong signifier for their contrasting personalities was really important to me. The fact that Photogen embodies all that is sunny and warm, whereas Nycteris represents all that is nocturnal, offers many potential ways of exploiting imagery associated with dawn and dusk to add extra layers of narrative depth to the design of the film. 

If I was to actually create this animation I think colour would definitely be one of the most powerful tools for telling a symbolic narrative. 


I did draw some ideas for what they might look like, but I'm not too sure of the style I have used here, particularly for Nycteris. I feel her withdrawn but curious personality hasn't been captured in these drawings. But I like some of these directions for Photogen, of him being rather 'stocky', and seeing as how he lives to do nothing but hunt, he'd probably be a bit naive (but would try to cover it up at first by being 'macho')