May10
2013

By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspirationInterviews

The following is an excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 5. In this volume, you will meet some of the finest 2D and 3D artists working in the industry today and discover how they create some of the most innovative digital art in the world. Here, Mariusz Kozik shows you step-by-step how he created Charge of the Cuirassiers.

Software Used: Photoshop
Job Title: Concept Artist / Illustrator

Using the Smudge tool almost as a Paintbrush

After many years of working at the easel, I found it hard to switch to an electronic medium. My experience in working with physical materials certainly left its mark and set of habits. Learning digital methods was not straightforward. I am still not entirely at ease with Photoshop and for that reason I will not write much about the techniques of working with the program, but rather will focus on painting itself.

Fig 1

When I first took up digital art I spent quite a long time looking for a way to easily manipulate a pen on a slippery surface and discarding any “computer stiffness”. I had to get used to drawing on a tablet whilst looking at a monitor, devoid of an ability to touch the canvas and feel the paint.

Fig 2

I found the Smudge tool (Fig.01) bore the closest resemblance to working with real paint. I like to start sketches with some black spots on a white background, which I then process with the Smudge tool. If, at any point, there is a need to add a different shade, I apply these as grays using the Dodge and Burn tools. I advise only using shades of gray when sketching as using color causes strange gradient effects. In this case it is better to use brushes that leave texture; this will save time when it comes to adding textures later. For this piece, this method helped me to quickly build the outline of the cuirassier’s sheepskin saddle (a regular part of their equipment). I used the basic brushes: Linden Leaves for the Dodge Tool and Maple Leaves for the Burn Tool (see Fig.03).

Fig 3

Battle Scenes
Ever since I sat down at a tablet four years ago, I have been creating battle scenes. The most important issue for me is a compliance with historical accuracy. However, I create the first sketches, composition and color from my imagination. Towards the end of the sketching process I start using instructional materials and references, through which I can develop the historical details. Creating battle scenes in art is a hard and laborious task. I have the advantages of a good knowledge of history and extensive knowledge of weapons, uniforms, military tactics, etc.

Concept

The Charge of the Cuirassiers during the Battle of Waterloo was fought on very wet ground. After heavy rain, the earth and grass were saturated with water. I thought that light shining through splashes caused by the horses’ hooves would make a very interesting compositional element in the image. Black horses with streaks of light illuminating the drops and mud could create a very interesting rhythm in the composition. Obtaining strong contrasts would also heighten the dynamics of the frantic cavalry attack.

I wanted to use a similar effect to other artworks, as demonstrated by some of my unfinished drafts. Celtic chariots scampering through the snow was the theme of Fig.02. With Charge of the Cuirassiers I was able to realize this idea in another environment.

Fig 4

Dynamism & Movement: Diversity in Unity; Unity in Diversity

One very important factor in a scene of charging cavalry is dynamism. A monotonous group of uniformed cavalry in straight and smart colonne serre formation can cause a lot of problems when it comes to achieving the right perspective. It is important to remember that no two cavalrymen should be moving in the same way. Their movement needs to be aimed in different directions, preferably centrifugally as this helps to strengthen their dynamism.

A convergent perspective can help a lot. When the central characters are approaching from the front, the characters at the sides need to be in a three-quarter setup (Fig.03). This is one of the many possible ways of energizing a composition.

In this painting I tried not to repeat the masses, the size of spots (although it seems to me that the two horses in the middle compete with each other), directions of movement, the layout or indeed the composition of light. I did this according to the principle of: diversity in unity; unity in diversity. Dynamism can also be strengthened by sharp edges, contrast and color.

Color: Less is More

It might seem that the use of many meretricious colors, with maximum saturation, would be a good way of achieving a highly expressive dynamic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fig 5a

Getting a message across in an image is like getting a message across in everyday life. If everyone in a crowd starts to scream information, I can guarantee that you will understand nothing. The same is true with colors. Artists use colors to provide information. They create a logical world on a plane based on internal rules that should be close to being harmonious. Confidence and awareness in the use of colors is extremely important. Basic rules have to be remembered, such as the interaction between different colors and the ratio of mass to saturation. By reducing the overall saturation of the artwork we effectively expand the palette of colors, allowing us to emphasize the most important information contained in the image. This also creates a harmony between the colors. A color gains its true quality and value when it is next to a “calm neighbor.”
Fig.04 shows how a red color next to a “calm neighbor” reveals its true power.

The French cuirassiers and their environment imposed a range of colors on the painting. The most active parts were the red elements and the details of the uniforms, completed by the blue areas on the uniforms and the gold inlay of the equipment (Fig.05a).

Red, blue and gold colors in the background; a delicate sky; and dirty, heavy ground with an olive hue made for a good, solid range of colors. All of this, along with the rhythm of the black horses, streaks of light and drops of water, helped to give us an interesting effect.

Fig 5b

Why is the setting in Fig.05b good? Because the largest volume in this view is the background, the colors of which are unsaturated. They do not compete with or disturb the more important elements, the cuirassiers, who should be the focus of our attention. High contrasts, saturated colors, complex details and reflections of inlays ensure that these characters dominate the painting.
Reflections of Light on the Cuirasses


The reflections in the cuirasses and helmets are the most important elements in this scene. All the characters are shown with the sun behind them. Although each item reflects the light from the ground and other objects, the cuirasses and helmets act as mirrors and give the whole painting a high luminosity and clearer form.

Fig 6

Cuirasses and helmets are not flat and so the reflections from the environment are deformed according to the spherical surfaces of these objects. In Fig.06 it is possible to see how the surrounding objects are mirrored. The sky reflected in the metal cuirass is more saturated and darker as the cuirass reflects the darker sky behind the viewer. This is achieved using a blue color with a slightly purple hue. These mirrors introduce the luminosity of the reflected world in deep shadows.

Details

It was only at the very end of the work, once I had already established a solid composition, that I developed the details. I arranged the masses, set the light and range of colors, and resolved the sense of movement (Fig.07).
It is often the case that there is no need for excessive detail. If all the above-mentioned elements are carried out correctly then the artwork will already convey its message well. Adding detail will only serve to highlight the most important elements. Unfortunately, in historical illustrations, descriptions of individual items such as uniforms and weapons are more important than artistic matters. This is a source of constant regret for me. The important thing is that detail should not be added where it would be superfluous: in the background, shadows, etc. An excess of small details makes a painting unreadable, heavy and stuffy, especially if it is small-scale. Obviously, when working in a format such as 120 x 80cm, it is necessary to carry out work with sufficient detail. What we see on the monitor can be misleading because we do not see the complete work displayed in 1:1 scale. Well-prepared detail can jump out at the viewer when printed and once we can see the entire work in full.

Fig 7

Conclusion
After analyzing my work I came to the conclusion that it should be improved, or even started again. I feel that I devoted too much attention to the form in detail, and because of this I lost control of the whole composition. Also, at some point I stopped focusing on the lighting, which establishes the form of the painting. This work is not quite in accordance with the principles of nature. It is a well-known principle of good painting that through the manipulation of light and temperature it is possible to create good form, and therefore a good painting. Line drawings can guide you, but ultimately should be subordinate to light and temperature. I don’t feel that I fully achieved the objectives I had in mind when I started this picture. What I can say is that the best way to achieve these objectives became clearer to me as the work progressed.
I hope that these few paragraphs about my work and experience will help some of you to avoid making similar mistakes.

Excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 5 by 3dtotal.Com © 2010 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Art Masters can be purchased Amazon.com,BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

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Apr09
2013

By: admin                Categories: Interviews

In preparation for the book Ideas for the Animated Short: Finding and Building Stories, 2e, authors Karen Sullivan, Kate Alexander, Aubry Mintz, and Ellen Besen interviewed Andrew Jimenez of Pixar Animation Studios.  Andrew Jimenez went to San Diego State University. His first big break was on Iron Giant after which he moved to Sony Pictures to work on the first Spider-Man movie as a story reel editor and storyboard artist. That job led to a move to Pixar with Brad Bird to be a co-director of photography on The Incredibles. Most recently, Andrew worked on the animated short, One Man Band.

Q: How do you recognize a good idea for an animated short?

Andrew: Feature films and shorts are two completely different types of stories. When Mark Andrews and I were trying to come up with the idea for One Man Band, even when we were considering very un-fleshed-out ideas, it was clear that, OK, this idea belongs in a feature film and then this idea belongs in a short film.

It’s a strange analogy to make, but a good short film is like a good joke. It has a great setup, gets to the point, and pays off right away. And it doesn’t demand too much in terms of where the story has to go. It gets to the idea right away. You get it. Even if it takes you somewhere different than what you expected, it gets there right away too. It’s just very simple. And it’s about one idea. It can have multiple characters, but it has to be very clear, because in three or five minutes you don’t have time to really develop all these side stories and other plot lines.

To use the “joke” analogy again, if my timing isn’t perfect and I go on a little bit too long, I can ruin it. I also think it’s almost a little bit harder to tell a short film story because you don’t have the luxury to develop anything deeply, but yet it should be as meaningful.

It’s funny because so many short films aren’t short anymore. I think the biggest pitfall is that they are always the first act of a feature film, or they seem to be used as a vehicle for: “I’m just making this part of my bigger idea, but I’m using this to sell it.” I’m always disappointed when I find out a short film has done that, because it ignores what is so wonderful about making short films.

Q: When you’re building the story, how do you stay focused on one idea?

Andrew: One of the most important parts is the pitch. When your students or any new storyteller tells somebody else the idea, whoever is listening and/or the person pitching should really pay attention to how they are pitching.

I’ll use One Man Band as an example:

There’s a guy on a corner, and he’s playing music. He’s pretty good, but not really that good, and there is another musician that he is going to battle. That’s the story. That’s it. The second I start pitching and telling, or describing events to the story that sort of breaks out of that little quad that this movie takes place in, that’s the point where I start to get a little worried. The entire pitch should never break from that initial setup.

I think you should be able to pitch your idea in really 15 seconds. Even in One Man Band the film never really breaks out away from what’s presented in the first 15 seconds of the movie.

And it gets back to the joke analogy, which is a silly analogy, but I think it really makes the point well.

If I’m telling a joke, every beat of the story has to be right on the spot. In the feature film I can wander a little bit, lose you a little bit, I have time to get you back, but in the short film, if I lose you, there is no time to get you back. In the short film, if I go one beat too long, I can ruin it.

For example, if I start setting up giving too much background and explaining too much, then you, as an audience, start getting bored, and by the time I get to the punch line, it’s like, uh, OK, that wasn’t funny, because you gave me way too much information.

I keep using the analogy of telling a joke. That is not to say a good short film has to be funny. It’s just a way of illustrating how important timing is in the short film format.

Q: Is it hard to be funny?

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. I know if I’m trying to be funny, then I should stop right there. Stories are just like people. The funniest people never really try to be funny, they’re just really funny. And in story, the funniest stories come out of the situations.

The only thing with One Man Band that we started with before we created the story was that we knew we wanted to tell a story about music. There was a theme about what people do with talent and how people view other people that may have more talent than they do. Humor came out of story development but we never tried to do humor before we even knew what our characters were doing in the story. It is what the characters do—the acting—that makes it funny. Of course their designs played a big part of that too.

Everything comes out of story. Whether you try to be depressing or sad, or funny, humorous, or make a statement, I think the second you try to do that without arriving at that through your story, then it’s kind of like telling your punch line before your joke.

Q: What was the hardest part of making One Man Band?

Andrew: For One Man Band the hardest thing—it’s true for the features, too—was that after Mark and I got the green light just to come up with ideas (and we were so ecstatic about that) was to actually come up with the ideas.

There’s no science to coming up with a story. You can’t say, “All right, go—come up with a story.” So, Mark and I started having lunch every day. We started talking about things we had in common, things we liked, things we didn’t like in other movies.

I had this book I called “The Idea Book,” and I wrote down all the ideas we came up with, about 50. One of the common themes in all these little ideas was music—and competition. I have been an avid film score collector since I was a child and have always wanted to tell a story where music was our characters’ voices.

So we started developing and working around that theme. That time was the hardest part of the entire production of One Man Band—really getting that theme through the progression of the story. Because if you don’t have that locked down and perfect, no matter how good the CG is or the acting is, you’re never going to save it.

Don’t worry about your perfectly rendered sunset, and shading and modeling of the set. It’s the characters and their story. People will forgive so much if they really believe and love your characters and your story. When André and Wally B. was shown at SIGGRAPH for the first time many years ago, most people in the audience didn’t realize it wasn’t finished because they were so involved with the characters.

Q: What advice do you give to an animator making their first short?

Andrew: My advice would be: don’t over-complicate it. Just find one idea that you want to tell, stick with that and trust it. If it’s not working ask yourself why. Don’t think you have to pile a bunch of other stuff on top of it to make it work and make it longer. Students, especially, will pack so much stuff into the film to try to show what they can do and to make the amazing film. I know I learned so much more by making several shorter films in the span of a year instead of making only one gigantic opus.

I know at Pixar, when we look at other short films, the thing we respond to the most is a short simple idea that grabs us, that we get to react to, and then it lets us go.

Please enjoy One Man Band ©Pixar, written and directed by Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews.

Pixar – One Man Band from Alexandre Miotto on Vimeo.

Excerpt from Ideas for the Animated Short: Finding and Building Stories, 2e by Karen Sullivan, Kate Alexander, Aubry Mintz, and Ellen Besen © 2013 All Rights Reserved. Ideas for the Animated Short can be purchased on BN.com, Amazon.com, or your favorite online retailer.

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Jan02
2013

By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooksInspirationInterviews

The following is an excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 4. In Digital Art Masters, you will meet some of the finest 2D and 3D artists working in the industry today and discover how they create some of the most innovative digital art in the world. In this excerpt, Andrei Kashkin walks you through his creation of his own personal work, Lonely Driver.

Lonely Driver was a personal project that became a great challenge for me, because I was using some of the programs and techniques for the very first time. The idea of creating a highly detailed image of a car on a road had been in my mind for a long time, but I just wasn’t sure how to make the concept look good … After watching a movie where the main character was rushing down the highway in rainy weather, I finally felt inspired; I could feel the loneliness of the character at the time, and I understood at that moment that I wanted to create the same feelings in my own artwork.

I really enjoyed making experiments for this project, and in total I spent about two months of my free time on it. To kick the project off, I started by searching for references on the internet. It was important to find not only photos of the desert, which I wanted to use in order to underline the feelings of emptiness and loneliness, but also to find images of a certain style. In the end, I decided to go with a different kind of scene – American grassland with an old 1980s gas station, with the 1970 Dodge Challenger car parked in front of it (Fig.01a – b).

Fig 1a

Fig 1b

Modeling

I started by modeling the basic objects in low quality, in order to gauge the necessary composition early on. Almost all of the objects in the scene were made from primitives that were converted into editable polygons and then edited. Once objects displayed the correct geometrical form and looked natural, I applied chamfers along their corners and either altered the vertices manually or by way of the Noise modifier. The car, as the center of the composition, was modeled in high detail (Fig.02).

Fig 2

Bushes were created using Onyx Tree Storm. I made some different types of bushes, changing the parameters of the standard presets. I also created the dried-up stalks of the grass here, too, and for the grass arrangement I used the Adv Painter Script with different options for rotate, inclination and scale. Some kinds of grass were also modeled manually and multiplied using the Scatter function (Compound object). To place the grass in the cracks of the asphalt, I drew splines on the displacement structure; these splines were then scattered (Fig.03). The lawn in the distance was exported from Vue and multiplied with the Adv Painter script.

Fig 3

Camera

I used a VRay Physical Camera with 35 FOV. Upon its integration into the scene I tried to use the principles of classic photography to capture my image, in order to achieve a dramatic shot with good composition (Fig.04).

Fig 4

Lighting

For me, the lighting setup was a very important part of the creation process of this work. With well-established lighting it is possible to achieve tremendous results. I used the sky’s HDR, which was made in Vue (Fig.05a – b); it worked well as the intensity of illumination and its color depended on a sky texture. I therefore got rid of any wrong adjustment sources of illumination and the rendered picture looks natural as a result. I wanted the sun to be behind the clouds, close to the horizon line in order that the scene received illumination with soft shadows; all parameters were set in the Atmosphere Editor. When I achieved some nice results, I rendered the sky in an HDR fi le. I also used additional light sources: a VRay Light plane in the building and a VRay Light dome for the whole scene (this way it was possible to supervise the brightness of the scene at invariable brightness levels of the sky).

Fig 5a

Fig 5b

Shaders & Textures

For the texture creation I used photos from the internet and dirt masks from the Total Textures collections. The majority of the materials were made as VRayMtl shaders with diffuse, bump and reflection maps. Sometimes for the bump maps I used noise and smoke maps or a combination in a mixed map. You can see some examples in Fig.06a – c. It was necessary to give special attention to the wet asphalt, as there were two types used in the scene (Fig.07). As a basis I took materials from vraymaterials.de, but they did need to be altered in order for me to achieve the necessary results. Cracks on the road were made by displacing textures with cracks. Plants were textured with procedural materials (in the diffuse maps there was a noise map with different colors of grass), but because each type of grass had a separate material, it created a realistic-looking result.

Fig 6a

Fig 6b

Fig 6c

Fig 7

Particles

The weather was of great importance in terms of capturing the mood of the image. You can see the fog and the rain which were made using particle flow (Fig.08); a drip system was bound with gravitation and wind force. For the splash deflector I used the UOmniFlect deflector containing the objects in the scene (because of the miscalculation of collisions I needed lots of system resources and a lot of time, and therefore the objects that were low poly, along with the small objects, including the grass, were not involved) (Fig.09). The rain consisted of about 6000 droplets, which were rendered as spheres with motion blur. The fog was also made with particle flow with wind force, and was rendered with the AfterBurn plugin. The scene was rendered in separate layers (this way was faster, plus it was possible to regulate the color parameters individually).

Fig 8

Fig 9

Rendering & Post-Production

The scene was rendered using V-Ray, without GI in order to reduce the render time and PC resources. Standard options were used; I only changed anti-aliasing on Catmull-Rom and in the adaptive subdivision window image sampler, and I changed the value of Clr tresh to 0,0.

Post-processing work would have been easy in any program; for this image I used Photoshop. I changed the brightness/contrast, color balance and saturation for each layer, and then merged it with different opacity and blending parameters (Fig.10a – c).

Fig 10a

Fig 10b

Fig 10c

Conclusion

The searching of references is a very important stage for me in which I define the details and solve how the final image will look. Without sketches, I start work from rough modeling through to the details, and then I pass to the lighting setup and finally the shading. In the course of creating a work I experiment, using different programs and working methods to achieve good results and get lots of experience. High scene detailing allows you to concentrate on the idea and the mood, and not detract from the quality of the work.

Excerpt from Digital Art Masters: Volume 4 by 3dtotal.Com © 2009 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Art Masters can be purchased Amazon.com,BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

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Nov29
2012

By: John Gaudiosi                Categories: AnimationGamesGeneralInspirationInterviews

Simon Unger has spent the past 11 years animating big game franchises from Electronic Arts and Square Enix. He currently serves as IO Interactive’s Animation Director for Hitman: Absolution, the latest installment in the bestselling action game franchise. With the game about to launch, Unger took some time to explain how technology is pushing the game business even closer to Hollywood in this exclusive interview.

Can you talk about what drives you creatively at your job?

It may sound crazy, but so much of the creativity in games is a direct result of the constraints we’re given. Whether it’s the limitations of the tools, the specific style and art direction of the project, the gameplay elements, or the words in the script, having those lines to color between is what has fueled most of the creative innovation in game development. We’re always trying to push a little more each time to see what’s possible within those confines, but without them I think we would be a little lost.

For me also, it’s really important to look outside of games for inspiration. Too many times dev teams look only at their competition and end up missing opportunities to do something original. I draw from as much as I can; Music, movies, books, artists, random people on the street.

Above all, the biggest thing that drives me is myself. I set unbelievably high expectations that I don’t think I’ll ever live up to, but it’s been fun trying.

What’s a typical day like in your life as a game developer?

That’s the great thing about game development, and animation in general, there is no “typical day”. The only constant for me is the morning ritual of grabbing a coffee, checking emails, and planning the day as best I can. After that, depending on the stage of production, it can include meetings (many, many meetings), design discussions, solving issues, storyboarding, voice over sessions, mocap, animation reviews, and so much more. Every day is different and that’s what makes this role so interesting. I have had so many jobs in the past where you watched the clock and counted down the minutes until you got to take a break or go home. I’ve been animating for almost 12 years and haven’t watched the clock yet, even on the most stressful projects.

Can you talk about how advances in technology and the tools you use have influenced what you’ve been able to accomplish with this new game?

On the animation side, the most important thing the tech is solving is iteration time. The fundamental process of computer animation is a repeated layering from rough blocking to final polish. This is how a lot of game content is created as well. Rough assets and code are put together to prototype an idea and see if it’s good enough to continue working on. If the time between creating an animation and seeing it in game is too great, then extra layers of polish just won’t happen. This is a major reason why we’re seeing higher quality movement in games now, we can see our work in seconds and iterate on it a lot more.

The Glacier 2 (G2) engine was developed with a lot of the artists and designers needs in mind. Live editing, lighting tools, a sequence editor were all under constant development to provide the easiest and fastest process possible. It has allowed the Hitman: Absolution team to get an amazing amount of content into the game as well as allowing time to tweak what’s in there to achieve the look and feel we were after. Of course, this is only the first game to be shipped on the new G2 tech and it can only get better from here on out.

How did you work together with your team to overcome challenges during the game development process?

Making games is a team sport and communication and collaboration is so important to making a great product. The most important thing is to foster meaningful communication between the various disciplines. Programmers and animators have a tendency to circle their wagons and only speak when spoken to. Getting them up and away from their desks on a daily basis, mixing up the seating arrangements, and giving people complete ownership over a part of the game creates much more of a group mentality. No studio has this process completely dialed, but we keep trying to hone the ideas every project to find what works best. Putting a bunch of people with different personalities and skill sets together and just expecting them to create awesome stuff rarely works. It takes constant nurturing and sometimes a bit of shoving.

What are you most proud of when it comes to the animation in your new game?

If I had to pick one overall thing I am most proud of it would be the strength of the characters in the game. The animators put so much work into creating unique and immersive experiences where all of the characters feel authentic and believable, even in unbelievable situations. Everyone from a trucker sitting alone at a table to a super complex cinematic sequence with multiple characters interacting with each other, everyone put so much into making the performances as fantastic as possible.

What advice would you give to aspiring animators interested in getting into the videogame business?

DON’T!! It’s a highly competitive, unstable industry where almost none of the content you create on a daily basis can be used on a demo reel to get work in the future, which requires you to animate in whatever spare time you have left. Which won’t be much because, like it or not, there will be overtime. Also, your mom will never truly understand what it is that you do for a living.

If that didn’t scare you off, then you might have what it takes to experience something truly awesome. You will work with some of the best and most passionate people anywhere and create something that potentially millions of people will spend every free minute enjoying over and over. There is nothing more gratifying that shipping a game that gets reviewed well and is loved by the public.

As far as advice on how to get into the business as an animator, your personality and demo reel are everything. There are a lot of other factors like experience, network, resume and cover letter and so on, but it always comes down to two things; Are you good at what you do and can you work well with others. Work on your craft and be a positive person to be around. Get your stuff out in front of as many people as possible and seek out feedback constantly.

Shameless plug: An article I wrote that expands on this in more detail

What are you most proud of that the animation department has achieved with Hitman: Absolution?

I’m so incredibly proud of what the entire animation team has delivered on Hitman: Absolution it would be impossible to single out any one thing. The in-game moments, with the astounding amount of unique character performances that have been created. The cinematic sequences that were done to such a high degree of creativity and quality. The gameplay animations that needed to support so many different variables in design. The AI animations, the sheer amount of them created to support all of the different character types and behavior states. I could go on forever.

If I was going to pick one thing, and I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true, it would be the heart and passion that was put into each animation that gets played on screen. The animation team went above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen to make the experiences work and there’s a piece of each of them in the game. It was humbling to be a part of it.

John Gaudiosi head shot
John Gaudiosi
has spent the past 20 years covering the $75 billion videogame industry for top international print, online and television outlets like The Washington Post, Wired, Playboy, AOL, Yahoo!, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today Weekend, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, Forbes, NBC, CBS and Geek Magazine. He specializes in the converge of games and Hollywood. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and dogs and can be reached at JGaudiosi@aol.com.

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Nov05
2012

By: John Gaudiosi                Categories: AnimationGamesGeneralInspirationInterviews

Disney Epic Mickey marked the return of Walt Disney’s very first creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The character was introduced to a huge audience of Wii gamers three years ago in Junction Point’s game, which starred Mickey Mouse. With Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, Oswald is getting a much bigger audience (the game releases on all platforms) and a starring role (he’s playable in co-op alongside Mickey).

John Ford, lead animator at Junction Point, has been working with studio head Warren Spector and the Disney archives to bring forgotten Disney characters and worlds (from film, television and theme parks) to life again in the virtual Wasteland, an alternate universe where Disney’s past still resides. Ford talks about the new game and explains what it’s like to animate Mickey and Oswald in the new game in this exclusive interview.

What drives you creatively at your job?

The variety of challenges in creating a great game. Animation by itself is challenging, and putting great animation into a video game really ups the ante. Video games have a lot of moving parts, and every day is different. If we do it right, the end results are very rewarding.

What’s a typical day like in your life as a game developer?

A typical day starts out with emails and morning meetings where we discuss the day’s work, and tackle any issues or questions that need to be addressed. Usually, there a couple of issues that cropped up from the day before that need to be tended to immediately before the morning goes by. Afterwards, I meet individually with each member of my team, go over any notes, and make sure they have what they need in order to continue to make progress for the day. I usually also check in with other departments to make sure things are going smoothly, and that they have what they need from my team. In the afternoon, I work on animations, schedules, and emails, and usually have a project meeting or two. Near the end of the day, I check back in with everyone and see where they are at before I watch videos of the day’s animation and make notes, if necessary, for the following day. Before I leave, I wrap up any loose ends, and get a plan together for the next day.

How did you work together with your team to overcome challenges during the game development process?

We’d try to chunk problems down into manageable bits and try to come up with solutions that were as flexible as possible, because games in production are always in a constant state of change. I spent a lot of time planning, but I tried to keep the plan open enough to give us options when changes occurred. The team was really loose, and made it easy for me to switch people around and go with the flow as the project evolved. We always tried to take our work just far enough to keep progress going, without investing so much that we’d lose a lot of time when changes occurred.

Can you talk about how advances in technology and the tools you use have influenced what you’ve been able to accomplish with this new game?

Using Maya, we did a lot of work with our Character and Rigging departments to create an animation pipeline that allowed our characters evolve while minimizing any animation loss. This was a very complex project, so we developed a system that gave ourselves the control we needed to animate Disney characters, while keeping everything flexible. There were many characters in the Epic Mickey universe, and each one had a unique skeletal systems and set of performance requirements. Each animator had a lot of parts to keep track of, and having a solid pipeline was key. We used Havok Behavior as our character control system, and leveraged it with our own tools, utilizing a lot of layered animation to bring as much variety and life as possible while staying within the performance budget. Lastly, our crack technology team created cut scene tools that the animators used to script and time all of the cut scene animation, sound and effects. We could not have finished our work in time without all these wonderful tools.

What are you most proud of when it comes to the animation in your new game?

Our animation carefully followed and respected Disney history while making the characters feel right in a video game setting. It was tough at times to balance those two requirements, but the team worked really hard, and I think we managed to pull it off.

What advice would you give to aspiring animators interested in getting into the videogame business?

Focus on animation first, before getting into the game stuff. Start with working on a solid foundation in the principles of animation. Keep your ideas simple. Identify the most important part of an animation and make it shine. Try different workflows until you find what works best for you. When the process of animation becomes second nature, start exploring the technical part that is required by video games.

What’s it like working with classic Disney animated characters like Mickey and Oswald in this game franchise?

For an animator, it’s like going back to school, because Disney is where it all began. The early Disney animators paved the trail for animation. They discovered how it worked, and wrote the rulebook. Our team studied every Disney cartoon and took note of how characters moved, how they acted, and how the animation evolved over the years. We worked and reworked on our animations until we found a way to move the characters in the video game space that felt right and looked appropriate for how Disney characters should move.

John Gaudiosi head shot
John Gaudiosi
has spent the past 20 years covering the $75 billion videogame industry for top international print, online and television outlets like The Washington Post, Wired, Playboy, AOL, Yahoo!, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today Weekend, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, Forbes, NBC, CBS and Geek Magazine. He specializes in the converge of games and Hollywood. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and dogs and can be reached at JGaudiosi@aol.com.

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Oct24
2012

By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationInterviews

This is an excerpt from How to Cheat in Maya 2013 by Eric Luhta and Kenny Roy. How to Cheat in Maya 2013 covers all of the methods available in the latest version of Maya. The following is an exclusive interview with Dan Barker. Dan Barker is the Character Development Supervisor at Blue Sky Studios. He has worked on Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age: Dawn of The Dinosaurs, Rio, Ice Age Continental Drift, and is currently working on Leafmen.

Photo by Perry_Marco

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT FOR YOU OF WORKING ON IN-HOUSE FEATURE ANIMATIONS?

For me one of the most rewarding aspects is the collaborative creative environment. Early on I was really reluctant to show people my work, honestly because I thought they would think it was bad, and I didn’t want to hear any negative criticism. But what I found is that by working with other people, not only do they help you when you are struggling with something, they help you be the best artist you can be! Obviously the other aspect for me in particular is helping define how new characters are gonna act, and behave. Helping define the personality traits of the characters is an incredibly rewarding process. I love being able to speak to the director, the story team, the art director about how a character should look and behave. Then you finally get to animate them, you understand them and can hopefully make them sincere, and believable for the film. And then simply animating them. Animation is a lot of fun! Working on an IN-HOUSE feature you get to have fun for work! That in itself is pretty rewarding!

WHAT IS YOUR AVERAGE QUOTA FOR SHOTS PER WEEK?

Our average depending on complexity is about 75 frames per week.

PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR WORKFLOW FOR DECIDING ON PERFORMANCE CHOICES.

Depending on the character I would speak to the character leads. They generally will have a lot of reference and info on how the character should act, and perform, and more importantly on how he shouldn’t act or perform. I will look at the reference and the character pages first. Then I will look at the boards and the full sequence to get a good idea as to where my shot fits into the overall sequence. I try to identify what the character’s arc is in the sequence and where my shot fits into that. Once that is complete I would shoot reference. If I can’t get what I am looking for in my acting I would get someone else to act it out. Jeff Gabor is always a good guy to go to for that! Then once I have something I like I generally will do one or two drawings based on the reference, trying to push my character more. Once I have this I would show the other supervisors or the director to get a buy off on it. And then I start blocking it out.

DO YOU HAVE ANY CHEATS FOR COMPLETING A SHOT THAT HAS THE DIRECTOR’S SPECIAL ATTENTION?

Yes, listen to what the director wants. Get to know how your director works, what he/ she generally responds to, and what they don’t respond to. Depending on the director this may be taking his notes word for word, or sometimes it’s trying to decipher the underlying meaning of what he wants. Sometimes if your shot is not working a director will give you notes like “Maybe have him come in slower from the left.” And when you try to actually have the character come in slower from the left, the acting is thrown off, or the energy isn’t right, or it simply doesn’t work. In moments like this I try to get understanding of what “feels” wrong, rather than identify frame by frame what’s wrong. More than likely my whole shot is not working and I need to redo it with the right “feeling.” And other times I just need to have the character come in slower from the left. It really is getting to understand your director. That’s the secret! SO I would go to sweatbox a lot, read the notes other guys are getting. That helps you understand the director’s sensibility.

DO YOU SHOW THE DIRECTOR YOUR THUMBNAILS AND PLANNING PHASE, OR IS IT JUST FOR YOUR OWN PERSONAL WORKFLOW?

Yeah, I always try to show the director as early as possible. Things inevitably change from your reference/thumbnails to what you actually have in your shot, but if your idea is strong and clear, that remains constant, and if the director has bought off on that earlier you are in a better place. Try to show other animators as well. They will let you know if your acting is bad, or cliched. Try show them before you show the director.

WHAT SORT OF BREAKS DO YOU TAKE WHEN YOU’VE BEEN WORKING ON A SHOT TOO LONG? WHAT HELPS YOU CLEAR YOUR MIND?

Sometimes just going home and not thinking about it. Watching films, playing a sport or an instrument. Something to get your mind off your work really helps. Going to the pub and having a shot, to stop thinking of my shot! Sometime you just need to remove yourself from the shot, and more importantly stress associated with it. I sometimes would talk with the production supervisor about getting an extension if things really are not working. Reducing the pressure to perform, on something that is taking a long time helps.

After a little break, like an afternoon off, my mind is cleared and when I get back in there I generally nail it! Another thing that helps is going onto another shot if you can. Sometimes the creative juices that flow on the other shot give me the impetus to go back into the shot I am struggling with and bring it to the finish line.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE STYLE OF ANIMATION TO WORK ON? CARTOONY? PUSHED REALISM? OTHER?

I am a fan of all animation, but if I had to choose I would say I prefer cartoony. It’s a lot of fun to really exaggerate your poses and acting choices, which cartoony lends itself to. And then there is the contrast in a cartoony film where the character has to be played more straight, and sincere. I feel we get to get a good range. For me pushed realism is actually a lot harder to do. So I respect those guys a lot!

HOW DO YOU ADDRESS CONTINUITY ISSUES BETWEEN SCENES OR CHARACTERS?

It’s important to communicate with the animators on either side of your shots. If you know someone is going to be starting a shot later than you, and say the end pose of his shot will dictate all of your shot, I try brainstorm with him/her on what they would be thinking for their shot. That way continuity is generally not that much of an issue. And sometimes if I see a problem, I will go back into my shot and correct a pose to make it feel the same. Communication is the key!

WHEN YOU RECEIVED YOUR FIRST JOB AS AN ANIMATOR, WHAT ONE PIECE OFINFORMATION DID YOU WISH YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN?

Not to be afraid to ask for help, out of fear of people finding out I was a hack! I think all artists go through periods where they are confident with their work, and then they think that they are completely useless. To this day I would love to go into all of my shots and redo them with what I have learned. But the big thing I found is getting feedback from other animators in the know. You don’t have to take it all, but it’s good to get them to look at stuff and give you feedback. I think I would have grown a lot quicker had I realized that early on.

ANY ADVICE FOR STUDENTS AND YOUNG ANIMATORS WHO WANT TO WORK FOR STUDIOS THAT PRODUCE FEATURE FILM ANIMATIONS?

Be open to criticism. One of the key aspects of working at a major studio is having a well-trained eye. And if you can’t see that there are problems with your work, then your eye isn’t trained well enough to pick up some of your mistakes. Try to get feedback from people in the know. And if you feel the feedback is harsh, it probably is because your work isn’t strong enough. Don’t take it personally, just try hit the notes the best you can as you slowly develop your eye. The other advice is that there are a lot of people trying really hard to get into the studios, and they are putting a lot of hours in, days and nights. You are probably gonna have to work as hard if you wanna get considered. Lastly if you get rejected, don’t take it personally, just try get feedback as to what was not right, and then improve that, and resend your reels out. The other BIG BIG thing is not to put everything you have ever done on your reel. Keep it short and only put your best work on. Only was I started taking part in reel reviews did I realize how brutal the review process is. As soon as there is something that is not strong, or has bad polish, or the acting choices are cliched, the reel comes out DVD Player and goes into the rejection pile. So make sure your strongest stuff is right at the beginning.

Excerpt from How to Cheat in Maya 2013 by Eric Luhta and Kenny Roy © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. How to Cheat in Maya 2013 can be purchased Amazon.comBN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

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Oct12
2012

By: John Gaudiosi                Categories: AnimationGamesGeneralInspirationInterviews

Read part 1

Inside Walt Disney Animation Studios, there’s a real-life replica of the arcade movie-goers will see come November 2 when Wreck-It Ralph hits theaters. This real arcade celebrates the golden age of gaming with classic quarter-munchers like Q*Bert, Galaga, Pac-Man and even a functioning Fix-It Felix Jr. 8-Bit arcade game (designed by a classic game veteran for Disney marketing).

In order to bring this new computer-generated 3D film to life, the team at Disney worked together to blend the latest effects with computer animation. According to Adolph Lusinsky, director of look and lighting on Wreck-It Ralph, the effects work on this film dwarfs anything Disney had done in previous films.

“We had to create three believable videogame worlds in this film,” said Lusinsky. “We worked with Mike Gabriel to go over rules of each world. Niceland, which is Ralph’s 8-Bit World, uses simple shapes and repeating patterns. Sugar Rush, which is Vanellope von Schweetz’s world, is more about cartoon physics and charming candy landscapes. Hero’s Duty, which is home to Sergeant Calhoun, is all about state-of-the-art realistic effects.”

Cesar Velazquez, effects supervisor on the film, said it was important that the stylized worlds of Niceland and Suger Rush retained their unique style. A 2D animator did draw-overs of the effects, which offered a different take from what a simulator would offer.

“We wanted to maintain the charm of each individual world so that everything remained cartoony in Sugar Rush, as an example,” said Velazquez. “Sometimes there were subtle differences with how a cloth simulator brought King Candy’s curtains to life versus how animators would draw it.”

There’s a sequence in a Niceland penthouse apartment early in the film where Ralph accidently destroys a 30th Anniversary cake. The team took a real cake and dropped it and then hand-animated the way the cake exploded for the film.

“With Niceland we wanted to retain simple textures and shapes, which was actually a challenge for us,” said Lusinsky. “We want the film to have a certain amount of richness, so not being able to add details like brick textures in the 8-Bit world was tough.”

One game world that allowed the team to go all-out was the first-person shooter world of Hero’s Duty. Velazquez said this world was more straight-forward computer animation.

“Hero’s Duty is about realism,” said Velazquez. “It’s about giving viewers the sense of the fog of war. We layered a lot of effects like smoke, steam and debris to give movement and make you feel like these characters are in this war. Flashes and sparks were added later to finish off this dark and eerie world.”

One of the most important effects in the movie comes in the form of a central character, von Schweetz. Like Ralph, she’s an outcast in her game world. She’s a glitch in the program and the other racers won’t allow her to take part in the game. The glitch comes to life through a flickering effect that happens throughout the film.

“The initial timing of the glitch effect was set up by animation so that the effect would support and accent her emotional state,” said David Hutchins, effects supervisor on the film. “We mix in a slightly different pose that reinforces that. We created her geometry and built that glitch effect in that place. They added the glow and lens glare in lighting. It’s something that stayed in the 3D world. It’s not a post-process effect, so in stereo you can really feel the building blocks come apart and back together. The glitch is a reflection of her emotional state. She has different glitches depending on whether she’s nervous or very sad.”

Having seen 30 minutes of the film, Von Schweetz and Ralph really come to life thanks to strong, emotional performances from Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly. Disney had these two actors record their lines together to bring the animation to life in a more realistic manner. And coupled with the amazing visuals, it certainly looks like the process worked.

John Gaudiosi head shot
John Gaudiosi
has spent the past 20 years covering the $75 billion videogame industry for top international print, online and television outlets like The Washington Post, Wired, Playboy, AOL, Yahoo!, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today Weekend, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, Forbes, NBC, CBS and Geek Magazine. He specializes in the converge of games and Hollywood. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and dogs and can be reached at JGaudiosi@aol.com.

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Sep17
2012

By: admin                Categories: AnimationGamesGeneralInterviews

By John Gaudiosi

Focal Press correspondent, John Gaudiosi recently sat down with EA Sports Developer Jason Danahy to discuss the famed Madden and NCAA Football franchises and video game animation. Jason Danahy has worked his way up the game development chain to become the animation director for EA Sports’ perennial bestselling Madden and NCAA Football franchises. He started at EA Tiburon as an associate character animator on NFL Street before transitioning to the Madden franchise as a staff character animator, lead staff character animator and lead senior character animator.

Since 2010, Danahy has been overseeing the huge undertaking of improving every aspect of the animation in the Madden and NCAA Football franchises. With record sales for Madden NFL 13 and NCAA Football 13, Danahy took some time to talk about his job and offer some tips to aspiring game developers in this exclusive interview.

John Madden

John Gaudiosi (JG): What are the challenges of constantly needing to release a new Madden game each year?

Jason Danahy (JD): Every year we have more ideas than we could possibly implement in one game, so trying to focus in on what we think are the most important things is critical. We have so many passionate people on the team, and everyone has ideas/features that they fall in love with, so it can be hard to let some of them go or wait to do them in the future. Outside of that it is really about balancing what we are working on, trying to straddle the line of making a simulation and keeping it fun to play, while making sure that what we are adding works well with everything we already have in the game.

JG: Can you talk about what drives you creatively at your job?

JD: Watching football and playing games. It helps being a big football fan (Go Bills!) and having a never-ending supply of new things to try and replicate from real NFL games each season. Also, even though we are making a football simulation we are always looking to games in other genres for inspiration.

John Madden screen shot

JG: What’s a typical day like in your life as a game developer?

JD: It mostly consists of iterating on animations in-game. Getting something in the game and playing it, having others play it, gathering feedback, making changes, and so on. I work closely with designers and engineers on a daily basis to make sure that we are coming up with the best solutions for every new feature.

JG: How did you work together with your team to overcome challenges during the game development process?

JD: Long gone are the days where designers would ask for an animation, animators would make it and toss it over a wall, and then the engineers put it in the game. We can prototype features so fast now that it gives everyone on the team something to rally around. It allows all of us to provide input every step of the way to help shape a feature. There are far less times now where only one group can solve a problem, Everyone has the tools and ability to come up with a solution, and then we work together to figure out what mix is the most appropriate for that specific case.

JG: Can you talk about how advances in technology and the tools you use have influenced what you’ve been able to accomplish with this new game?

JD: Most of the tools we use are custom and created inside EA, MotionBuilder is really the only off-the-shelf tool that we use. ANT (short for Animation Toolkit) is our animation engine that we do all of our non-MotionBuilder work in. This year we completely overhauled our catching system in the game and added a ton of debugging features in ANT. The coolest part is being able to save any play and load it up inside of ANT, and then to be able to make changes to our animation assets and re-run the same play in ANT to see how the outcome changes. It allows us to quickly change or tweak animations in order to create the best possible outcome.

JG: What are you most proud of when it comes to the animation in your new game?

JD: We did a ton of work around catching and added hundreds of new animations. It really is great to see so many new animations playing and giving you a much more appropriate catch for the context of that play. There are some spectacular-looking diving catches. Also, watching the Infinity engine running in Madden is really great. It changes animations, adding new and more organic “wow” moments. My favorites are the gang tackles. Seeing a defender tackling the ball carrier and having another defender come in and level him is just fantastic.

John Madden screen shot

JG: What advice would you give to aspiring animators interested in getting into the videogame business?

JD: Aside from the obvious of learning the basic principles (anticipation, squash and stretch, timing, etc.), get comfortable with the idea of owning your animation beyond Maya, MotionBuilder, 3DMax, or whatever software you use to animate. A great-looking animation in Maya doesn’t mean anything if the game engine isn’t using it the way it should. Besides, who is going to take better care of your animation than you? Our animators are responsible for every aspect of the animation all the way into the game; compression, blending, controller inputs, layering, tagging, etc. So much goes into making animation look good that happens after you leave your animation software, but first you need solid fundamentals. Play games, and play lots of different kinds of games! Animation in games is more than just aesthetics, it needs to play well too. Play and explore to find what looks good, but doesn’t feel good and try to figure out why; what doesn’t look good but feels great and why, and what balances both well and how did they do it.

JD: What are your thoughts on where the game industry is today with so many new avenues of game development open now with social, casual, mobile and free-to-play games?

JG: I think it allows for a bit more freedom in the ideas people are willing to try. With the smaller budgets/teams’/development time, it doesn’t cost as much if a game/feature doesn’t work out, so people are more open to try something a little crazy. It also gives more people a chance to break into the industry and get some experience that they can use on bigger titles, if they choose to move in that direction.

John Gaudiosi head shot

John Gaudiosi has spent the past 20 years covering the $75 billion videogame industry for top international print, online and television outlets like The Washington Post, Wired, Playboy, AOL, Yahoo!, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today Weekend, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, Forbes, NBC, CBS and Geek Magazine. He specializes in the converge of games and Hollywood. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and dogs and can be reached at JGaudiosi@aol.com.

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