by Lee Montgomery
One of the fundamental principles in traditional animation is “Squash & Stretch,” which is used to show the change in volume and weight in organic or flexible objects. Without squash and stretch, organic or flexible objects and characters will appear lifeless or rigid.
To achieve the effect, traditional cell animators must draw the change in shape of an object or character to suggest the shift in volume. Traditional cell animators new to Disney were originally given a couple of tests to measure their skill at representing squash and stretch on organic objects including a flour sack and bouncing ball.
Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston explain how the principle applies in the real world in Chapter 3 of Disney’s book, The Illusion of Life:
‘’Anything composed of living flesh, no matter how bony, will show considerable movement within its shape in progressing through an action”
‘’Only the wax figure in the museum is rigid”
‘”Through the test we learned the mechanics of animating a scene while being introduced to Timing and Squash and Stretch’’
Squash and stretch is sometimes over-exaggerated in cartoon cell animation for added effect. Stylized cartoon characters often deform beyond their natural limits when squash and stretch is used in the animation.
In 3D Animation, we can use a number of different tools and techniques to re-create the squash and stretch principle on organic objects and characters. In Maya, some of the solutions we can use include:
* Skin and blend shape deformers to animate deformations and change in volume in 3D models.
* Dynamics, soft-body deformers, and the Maya Muscle system to accurately simulate squash and stretch as it would apply based on the forces and gravity in the real world.
Blend Shape Deformer – Squash & Stretch:
The Blend Shape Deformer in Maya allows you to blend from one model to another. The models need to be exact duplicates and the Deformer allows you to blend in the weight effect of one object on another. Blend Shapes are typically used for facial animation in Maya, but can also be used to correct skin deformation or simulate muscle effects. For facial animation, there is a lot of squash and stretch motion in the skin when the mouth, jaw, and eyes open and compress. This makes Blend Shapes ideal for Lip-Sync.
Blend shapes in 3D Animation could be considered analogous to traditional claymation used on stop-motion features (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_animation)
In claymation, duplicate models are made from flexible material such as plasticine or flexible clay, with sculpted duplicates being made for each expression. The sculpted duplicates are swapped in at different frames to create the effect.
In Maya, we have the benefit that the deformations between the models are smooth as the software interpolates the blending between the models in real-time.
Setting up effective Blend Shape targets is primarily a modeling task. For the setup, targets can be set up for localized areas on the face such as the eyelids or corners of the mouth and the blending will be evaluated in parallel alongside other model blending.
Once set up, the target shapes can be blended through the sliders in the Blend Shape window in Maya. The blend shape window in Maya looks similar to a mixing desk’s sliders in a recording studio and can be bewildering.
For animation, control objects can be set up to control the blending–this provides a more visual interface for the animator to control the animation with the setup being done through the Set Driven Key window in Maya to make connections between the control objects and blend shape influence.
Skin Deformation – Squash & Stretch
Using a simple joint rig setup in Maya, you can also get convincing squash and stretch through manually animating the scaling of joints that are bound through the Smooth Bind Skin Deformer. For extra control, you can look at using control objects with constraints or a more complex setup using expressions to automate the scaling.
If you were scaling the joints manually to create squash and stretch, the process is fairly straightforward and can be applied to Disney’s Flour Sack animation test in 3D in Maya.
For squash: Scale the object downwards (typically in Y-axis) to compress, then scale the other two axes (typically the X and Z axes) outwards to maintain the volume in the shape.
For stretch: The joints scaling would be opposite to create the effect. Scale the object upwards (typically in the Y axis) to compress then scale the other two axes (typically the x and z axes) inwards to maintain the volume in the shape.
Maya Muscle – Squash & Stretch
The Maya muscle system is a full muscle setup and simulation system included with the software. It allows you to set up muscle objects for characters that act as influence objects and deform the character mesh.
Basics of the setup include creating and connecting the muscle objects to the character skeleton. Once set up, joint motion such as the curl of the forearm to meet the upper arm create a natural squash in the muscle, which mimics the flex on the muscle.
Once the weight influence is painted for the muscles on the character mesh, you can get some really nice, convincing squash and stretch deformations. The nice thing about the setup is that, because it’s a full dynamics system, the muscles react to real-world forces to create the effect—so it’s automated. The system also includes additional control through the muscle attributes for advanced effects including jiggle and sliding on the muscles.
Lee Montgomery is currently a Senior Technical Support Specialist at Autodesk. He’s worked within the 3D animation and VFX industry for over 9 years. Prior to joining Autodesk, he was a Senior Animator and Artist on a number of AAA video game titles for well-known studios. His projects have included Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt for Rockstar North. Lee is currently at work on a Focal Press book on applying the rules of traditional animation in Maya.
by Anson Jew
I spoke with my brother Benton Jew about his experiences working as a freelance storyboard and concept artist on feature films. His impressive resume includes credits on The Phantom Menace, The Incredible Hulk, Men in Black and MIB 2, Ghostbusters 2, and Terminator 2 and 3. We talked a little about the advice he would give to storyboard artists just starting out.
What skills do you think are important to have going in to working on films?
I think you should have a good eye for film and know how to tell a story dramatically. But also I think you have to have a really good ear. You have to be able to listen to what a director says and what he means by it. And what questions to ask, to draw what he wants, and be able to translate it on paper. A good grasp of drawing—you should be able to draw anything and draw in perspective. You should be able to draw clearly and cleanly. Be able to see things from any angle that they might ask you to do and have an idea of what that actually looks like without a lot of trouble. It just means you have to know how to visualize things very quickly and confidently.
What are some of the typical problems that come up and how have you dealt with them?
You just have to be adaptable and clear. I’ve been in situations where the script doesn’t make any sense or the director isn’t sure what he wants. Or things that they want are contradictory. I’ve been in situations where I’d be asked to do something where the guy is driving and at the same time he’s punching somebody while talking on a cell phone – and you can’t do that because you don’t have three arms. You have to point out little logistical things that don’t make any sense and work your way around them.
Oftentimes you’re put in a situation where they want a lot of work in a short amount of time or they haven’t prepared the materials for you. You don’t have enough time to get stuff done in the time that they want.
What do you think is the most important thing that they’re looking for?
They want speed and accuracy. They want as much stuff as they can in the shortest amount of time possible. That only makes sense.
What’s the one best piece of advice would you give to students just starting out?
Work at your craft. Be as good as you can, but be as flexible as you can. Enjoy what you do. Learn to draw. Learn to draw really well and learn how to tell a story.
I’m asking all my interviewees to give two tips. First one that’s more a techie tip—a technical trick that you’ve learned that’s helpful.
One of the things that I like to do that makes things easier is to—if I’m assigned a sequence— lightly thumbnail the whole sequence out from start to finish as quickly as you can and make sure that it works right. Make sure that’s done before you start any of your drawings. Make sure that it’s designed correctly first as opposed to doing it one storyboard at a time. Because if you just inch along like that, you’ll never get it done. I find that if you do quick hen scratchings, that gives you the basic idea—the design of each frame and that will give you a guideline. So the rest of the boards you can just do. Just turn off your brain and just draw. Just draw, but make sure you have all your duckies in a row first.
Any tips that are more general, business related or philosophical?
It’s good to have good artist hands, it’s good to have good artist eyes, but it’s especially good to have really good artist ears and listen to what is being asked of you and execute it.
Anson Jew is a storyboard artist in Los Angeles, CA. Following a 9-year stint as an animator at LucasArts, he moved to Los Angeles in 2002 to become a freelance storyboard artist. His credits include Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Anacondas, Prince Caspian, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Scooby Doo! Mystery Inc.
image by Tim Brown, and from 3D Automotive Modeling
by Andy Gahan
Getting into the games industry can be a difficult process, so I’ve put together some helpful tips to get you pointing in the right direction.
Firstly, try to decide what role you think you’d like to start off with. The roles are broken down into a few broad categories…
For this guide, we’ll have a look at the Junior 3D Artist role. Just to be sure that we are all of the same understanding, in this guide a Junior 3D Artist is the 1st role that most artists will get in the industry and it will involve basic modelling and texturing, file conversion, collision volumes, adding nodes to assets and any other job that the other artists would rather not do. It’s the simple stuff, which is the perfect training ground for any budding artist.
Step 1 – Educational goals
OK, so you’ve set your sights on 3D modelling. If you’re still at school or college, you’ll want to structure some of your course choices towards art and possibly 3D or games, depending on what’s available. If you’re not currently a student of any kind, you should still do the same. Find a life drawing class or something in your area, that you can do once a week to help you to improve your drawing and visual communication skills and also your observational ones. If you’re lucky enough to be on a university course – see what’s available, and sign up.
If you are enrolled university course, make sure it’s the right one, and make sure that you’ll get everything you need out of it. What I mean by this is that there are a great many different courses out there. Take a look at the 3rd year students work and degree shows – if what they are producing isn’t what you’re looking to produce (great skills, killer portfolio) find out why, if you’re on the wrong course, and if you are in the wrong course, see if you can switch to the right one – there are some great ones out there. I personally know lecturers at Derby and Bournemouth University – if you’re not sure, go and see what they’re doing and you’ll see what I mean.
Step 2 – Quest for Knowledge
Whilst you’re studying on your courses or whilst you’re working in the evenings, make sure that you are looking in the right places and reading the right tutorials. One of the best places for advice and help are forums, there are a great many out there including…
Polycount – http://www.polycount.com
Game Artisans – http://www.gameartisans.org/forums/index.php
CG Society – http://forums.cgsociety.org/
I even founded one myself which can be found at http://www.3d-for-games.com/forum/ which is specifically aimed at helping people from all over the world to get into the games industry.
Once you’ve found the right forums, log on, say hello, and introduce yourself. Get involved and see what’s going on, make your favourite one your home page and keep on top of the latest news and views, and start living the dream.
Step 3 – Skills
Once you’ve seen what’s out there, you’ll want to get started with the software, if you haven’t already. Take a trip to www.Autodesk.com and click on the Products tab and it’ll take you to the products page. There you’ll be able to click on 3dsmax or Maya and download a 30 day trial copy. You can also check out the free software options at http://students.autodesk.com
You’ll also need to get a copy of Adobe’s Photoshop – which is the industry standard for games artists. Adobe can be found here at http://www.adobe.com
OK, so you have your software, now you need some decent tutorials. As you’re already an active forum member by now, you’ll have some buddies and they’ll point you in the right direction – If you kinda skipped part of step 2, get yourself on a forum. If you can’t choose, come and talk to me on http://www.3d-for-games.com/forum/ I’ll be happy to help you out.
Part of self study will probably mean that you’ll buy some books and DVD’s or people may ask you what you want for xmas and birthdays, so seize these opportunities to get some great materials.
Amazon is a great resource for books, check out http://www.amazon.com (or whichever is specifically for your country) and type in some searches for 3dsmax, or Maya. You’ll find that there are simply hundreds of books out there, and unfortunately, they’re not all great.
The 3 main things that you need to focus on are
a) What is it teaching?
b) How well was it reviewed?
c) Is it supported?
What its teaching is important as you want a good understanding of the basics, along with a few more advanced tutorials in there to challenge you once you’ve found your feet. For example, you’ll want to avoid rendering in Mental Ray, until you’ve got your modelling skills up to scratch. You’ll probably want to avoid the 3dsmax bibles, as you can find all of that information for free by pressing the F1 key from within 3dsmax or Maya.
How it is reviewed is a good indicator to what other people think. If it has 20 reviews that are 1 star out of 5, than it’s probably one to be avoided, on the other hand though, if it has 20 reviews that are 5 stars out of 5, then it’s probably well worth a look.
If it’s supported, it’s a fairly new concept as authors and publishers have now started to support their books with video training, websites, and forums. Read through the back cover and reviews to find the best ones.
There are also some other good resources for video training which can be a lot easier to digest. For beginners, Focal Press has just released a number of great professional videos in bite-size chunks which can be bought 1 at a time, which can be found here http://www.focalpress.com/eresources.aspx. There is always www.youtube.com too but these are usually much lower quality. Try to avoid the high end Gnomon series for now as they are aimed at the seasoned professional, at least until you’ve mastered the basics, they can be found at http://www.thegnomonworkshop.com if you want to see what’s available.
Step 4 – Portfolio
Finally, we’re on to the portfolio part of the process. The bottom line is to include only your very best work. If you have only five good pieces of work, then that’s all that should be in your portfolio. Padding your portfolio out with everything you have ever done not only reduces the overall quality of your portfolio, but also advertises every single mistake you’ve ever made—not what you want to be doing.
So, be strict and include only work that you believe to be flawless. Ask yourself, “Is this the best I can do, or are there any small improvements that I can make?” If there are, do them; it’s really important not to rush getting this together.
A rushed portfolio can hold you back for many years. If you’ve included only your very best work so far, you may have only a few renders. As you flick through them, the small number of pieces may be the catalyst you need to buckle down and produce some more work. If not, it should be. If your portfolio is brimming with everything you’ve ever done, you won’t feel the same sense of urgency, so try to be aware of what you really have, and what you need to do about improving it.
If you’re sending your work in to studios via email or disc, or if you’re compiling a printed portfolio, you must put your very best work first. In a lot of cases, a reviewer might look only at the first couple of pieces, so you have to blow them away with the very first piece. If you don’t, you’ll be in the trash—it’s as simple as that. You can organize your work as simply as a set of images, or a movie, but keep it simple. Finding and downloading strange codecs to view someone’s work really puts me off. A lot of people present their website portfolio, but clearly labeled folders of JPEGs work just as well.
Then, show it to your forum friends, they will help you to improve your work, offer suggestions and give you the confidence to step out proudly with your finished portfolio and apply for all those jobs.
If you have any questions about this or anything else, you can find me at http://www.3d-for-games.com/forum/ just log on and ask away – everyone is welcome.
Good luck – Andrew Gahan
Andrew Gahan is a leading industry authority in next-generation consoles and digital gaming. He is an expert in all gaming tools for commercial game development, including: 3ds Max, Maya, Photoshop, XSI, Gen Head, ZBrush, Mud Box, and Poly-boost (as well as other 3ds max plug-ins). He is also the author of 3ds Max Modeling for Games, editor of Game Art Complete, and creator of the 3ds Max in Minutes and forthcoming Maya in Minutes video series.