Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sample Render

This is a sample render using Mental Ray with Final Gather. There's no GI... it won't work with the skin shader. I don't think it's necessary though. I'm in the middle of rendering and doing touch ups, and will hopefully have the final render in a week or so, ready for sound design and music. I'm not a fan of this rendering stuff... takes way too long. I'm rendering at 720p with pretty high settings, and it's looking at about 10-15 minutes a frame on my laptop. Granted they're mostly all done now, but there's so much sitting around. Now if only I knew how to texture well I could create cool characters from scratch...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Current status

Wow, it's been a while since I posted. Guess I should document what's been going on. I finished the 1st attempt of Juggles for my final semester at CMU. I played it for the first time for a mass audience for our final presentation. I think it was pretty well received! 5 months of work paid off, I guess. Since then I've kind of been off it, doing other stuff I suppose. I just started back into working on it about a month ago in hopes of getting it into Siggraph for 2007.
I spent much of last month working on lighting solutions. I know it's pretty simple as it is -- it's just a boy and a mirror. I want to light it as best as I can though. The previous solution was straight up Maya 3 point setup. No GI, no final gather. Simple shaders. I'm still sticking with the simple shaders for the most part, though. Lamberts for the clothes, and I'm pretty happy with the hair. I'm rerendering in Mental Ray though, and it has a wonderful shader for skin that looks like it'll be a viable alternative to what I'm currently using.
I looked into GI, but it won't work correctly with the fast skin shader, so Final Gather with HDRI is going to have to be the solution. And I can't complain -- it's a vast improvement over what I was using before.
Anyway, hopefully this will be done soon. And with any luck, I'll get some original music to go along with it for the Siggraph submission.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Now to finish it off (at least for now)

I just finished the (temporary) lighting, and am now going to go back to clean stuff up. The lighting's a little blown out... for some reason I have that tendency. I think I just like bright colors. As far as animation, there are many places I just forgot about, and I didn't realize until I started doing reflective renders with the mirror... You can see the entire other side of the boy! So I have to go back and make sure those look right from pretty much all angles.
I say this is temporary because it's specifically for the R&H computer graphics competition. The final, final render of this film won't be done at least until the end of summer. I still have to materialize/light/render the room, plus figure out what I'm going to do for audio. Right now I'm going to have to use temporary stuff.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Other fun stuff besides animating

I'm starting to add in the little touches that help with animation now, mainly dynamics for the hair, shirt and pants. I'm trying to be careful though... I don't want to add it in just for flair. I'm trying to hit the point where it complements what's already there vs distracting from the animation.
I'm also having a little fun with the hair shader... I'm not one much for shader network stuff, but it's nice messing with the pretty colors. Nice break from animation too. Quick post for reference:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

And so the Polish Phase begins...

Now that animation's complete, it's on to polish. Since I'm pretty much the director here, I usually know exactly what I want, so I'm able to polish pretty heavily as I go. Hence, there's not an overwhelming amount to clean up. Lots of camera fixes for things that just aren't making sense cinematically (such as the boy falling out of frame). There are animation things I've noticed that I've always just been saying 'Yeah, I'll get it in polish', which, I guess is what I'm doing now. I have a list of about 15-20 things I need to tackle, which shouldn't take too long.

I think overall doing this short was a good idea. It's a good indication of my current skill level, and doing it has also shown me that I have a long way to go. It will be a while before I do another one. I'd like to focus more on short dialogue pieces for a while, and really break down what makes a good performance. I value that this was a silent piece -- it's helped me realize how to show a character's thought process without the use of dialogue.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Juggles is Animation Complete!

Well, 1st pass, anyway... but still... major milestone!
There's still tons left to go back and polish, which is the next step. I'd like to be able to do some preliminary renders so I can submit what I have to scholarship competitions before I'm out of school.
This is finally starting to come together. I can't wait to see how it comes out in the end.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ice Age 2

I just saw Ice Age 2. It's amazing what those guys can do. I hear the film was done in under 8 months. I see things in their animation that I haven't even attempted to do yet. At least I can see it, I guess.
There's an exercise I've always wanted to try... take a really, really good piece of professional animation and just try to duplicate it, frame for frame. Though it'd be completely worthless as a reel piece, it might get me to sort of get in the head of what the animators were thinking when they did it... we'll see. One animation at a time.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


People talk a lot about arcs. At first, I was like, why? What the hell do they have to do with animation? Isn't animation just an imitation of real life? Where do arcs fit in? To some extent, I still wonder that, at least, for realistic animation. If the intent is to simulate real life and the real life motion doesn't arc, then why animate using arcs? If I can make it look real enough without caring about arcs, why the hell should I start?
I think the whole arcs thing trails back to traditional 2D animation. I haven't studied this stuff, so I'm hypothesizing, but I'm beginning to see the value of it in animation. It's just more visually pleasing. Seeing someone move in arcing motions is just more appealing than seeing linear interpolations. The question then becomes, well, what do I arc? Keith Lango has a good tutorial on this, and he says the most important part is the hips. I think I agree. If you arc the hips, you indirectly arc everything that is attached. From there, I think overlapping through time adds more, as well as paying attention to your appendages - the arms, legs, and head. I tend to pay particular attention to the wrists, since I think a lot of the time people keep their eyes on the characters' hands... what are they doing? So I focus a lot on that. Plus there's a lot of negative space around the arms so if they're moving fast, the eye is naturally drawn toward them.
It's funny... the more I pay attention to arcs, the more anal I get about them. This is a good thing, I think. I wonder if you can overkill on them...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Juggles Pace is Slowing...

It's not a bad thing. I'm spending time with family. I've kind of decided to not kill myself anyway. The animation is very close to finished, actually -- I only have about 10 more shots to animate, most of which are facial closeups. There's only one technically challenging shot left, and I'm on it right now. After that, smooth sailings :) I wanted to get done with the animation completely by the time this semester's over, but it looks like it's just not going to happen. I'm going to have to tweak the facial structure of the boy (he just looks creepy when he smiles), set up dynamics, textures, lighting, sound... there's just no way. Better to take my time with it and make it really solid than to rush it. I'd still like to try to submit it for R&H's animation scholarship, though. That's not due until May 16th or so, though.
I worry about the story... I think I worry more about my sense of humor and that people will buy into it. I hope it's well received. I also hope that everything -- the animation, the style, the textures, the lighting, the sound -- will make this piece add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Once the animation's finished, I'll post a playblast of the 1st animation pass (sans cloth/hair dynamics and additional cleanup).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

And the hardest part is.... Blocking!

Blocking is so hard. You wouldn't think so, because basically, it's just crappy animation. I'm referring to thoughtful blocking -- blocking that is detailed enough to the point where you can see all the intricate details in your head, they're just not there yet. It's hard because I think it's where I tend to put the most thought. If I screw up this phase, the rest of the animation may not be as good as it could have been. And I hate moving forward until I think I have my blocking just right. I find that when I'm doing an animation where I just don't care how it turns out, I block quickly, hence I animate quickly. On the other hand, if it's an animation I genuinely care about doing the best I possibly can, I block very slowly and thoughtfully, so the animation takes forever. But then I wonder if the outcome is any better than if I did it quickly. I can't tell. Sooooo.... what's the moral of this story? I dunno. Maybe it should be to block quickly and then think about what you've done. Reevaluate if necessary. I think it causes procrastination more than anything else. I need to just bite the bullet and dig in more often. Or just stop caring about my animation, I guess.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Random Maya Animation Tip #347

Don't be a slave to the 'snap-to-frame' option in the graph editor. Yeah, sure it makes nice, clean keys. Use it most of the time. All I'm saying is, that when you're adding in overlap and that kind of stuff, consider turn it off so you can fine-tune the look as you're shifting keys left or right. Get real-time animation playback if you can, and see what's going on. I just tried this today for adding overlap in the neck/head, and... viola!

Word of caution: Whenever I give any sort of animation tip whatsoever, use caution: I'm quite sure I don't know what I'm doing half the time.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why is it so loooooong...?

As I animate this short, the time keeps creeping up and up... it's now clocking out at around 3:50. Originally, it was 3:00. It just seems like the scenes get longer as I progress, like I naturally have to add more time. I guess this is ok - either it's genuinely needed, or I'll cut it in the editing phase. We'll see. In any case, it's lowering my morale, because it seems like this thing is never going to get finished. I just want the animation pass to be complete. Then I can take a mini-vacation :) If only.
Guess I should just keep cranking... it's at about 2:40, by the way. It's spring break right now, so this week I should be able to push out a lot more than I would normally. If only I could have it done by April...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Animation Techniques For Different Styles

Something I've been thinking about... As of now, I've done mostly realistic, humanoid animation. I guess The Big Surprise wasn't really, but I didn't really know jack about animation when I was working on that short. I was using what I guess is the layered technique. Essentially I would start by animating the root node, then work my way outwards until the entire character was finished. I find this method provides more realistic (physically accurate) results, since as you move down the chain, each bone dictates how the next bone will move. Consequently you end up with animation that, if you do it right, will look "physically" correct. For the most part, I used this technique on Tombraider: Legend as well.
I've found, though, that using this method limits the complexity of your animation. "Cartoony" animation tends to be very complex, I think... jumping from one pose to the next, sometimes with only a frame or two inbetween. You can't do this with the layered technique. Plus, doing cartoony stuff, you often throw anatomically-correct physicality out the window.
I'm trying to strike a comprimise between the two methods. For the short I'm working on, I'm trying to use pose-to-pose as a guideline -- essentially, making sure there are a few specific poses I hit, and layering from the root node out as I go. I think it's working pretty well, especially for the more complex scenes.
I'd like to try something in a more cartoony style after this, strictly pose-to-pose and see how it goes. Never really done it before.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Need Some Dialogue!

I'm itching to get back to animating dialogue. The short I'm working on has no speech - everything is communicated through body language. While this is quite an exercise in itself, I think doing dialogue opens up an entirely new area within animation to explore. Seeing some of the stuff out there really inspires me to try to push my abilities past where they are now.
I've seen that lots of people use video reference of themselves to get acting ideas. I've kind of always shied away from this (I think because I hate seeing myself on camera), but it's probably something I should start doing. All those little details become clear when they're recorded, and those details inspire more ideas. Plus it's a good starting point for blocking. Ha, I really feel like I suck when I see things other students (that are FAR YOUNGER than me ;) are pushing out... Check out if you get a chance... That kid's gonna go far.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


I've often wondered about the correlation between drawing and 3D animation. I've heard so many people say so many different things - the traditionalists swear by it, and I hear some people even draw out every frame before they even think of taking it to a computer. I've also heard some people say that the best 3D animators they've seen have never even had to pick up a pencil. I don't know which camp to believe. I've mentioned that I can't draw, and I consider it one of my biggest professional faults. I plan on remedying it regardless, but I often wonder how much good it'll do.
I can see it being valuable in the prototyping stage, especially when expressing my ideas to others. I remember one time at Crystal I was animating a creature whose movement we were still trying to define - our director asked me to do some quick sketches of how I thought the movement might progress, but I couldn't. It was a horrible feeling.
I still find that when I get to a computer, though, the ideas just flow, even without penciled prototypes. I'm generally able to find poses I like and create the motions I imagine, without the aid of a paper and pencil. Still, I think if I want to progress from my current skill level, to give my animation the detail I want to achieve, I need to take this step. At the very least, I need to get proficient at quick sketching - capturing the main ideas behind what I'm thinking in a very quick pose sketches.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Animation Inspiration

Thought I'd take a post and just talk about some of the stuff that's inspired me over the years. There has been tons, for sure. I grew up watching cartoons. I remember when I was young, I'd try to draw stuff I'd seen on TV - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Simpsons, X-Men, Garfield, all that stuff. I was pretty crappy at it, but hey, it was fun! Then I kind of put that stuff aside and focused on math and science, which I didn't mind. I wish I'd developed those core art skills though, because it's biting me in the butt now. When I got to college I actually tried being an art major for while. I took 2D design, drawing, art history, all that stuff. Then I switched over to computer science. Why? I'm not sure. I guess at the time it seemed more 'safe'. I still loved to watch movies and play games, though. I was really into games, moreso than I was into movies (I actually still am today, I think).

Unlike most people, it wasn't Pixar / Disney / Dream-works that was my initial inspir-ation. I think I'd always admired them, but I wasn't focused on that kind of stuff so much back then. It was actually SquareSoft. When Final Fantasy VIII came out, I remember being floored by the emotion brought through those characters. The CG was absolutely beautiful for the time... I think it still actually holds up well today. But at its core this was a love story. I don't remember many CG features that had touched on this element beforehand, and I think this is one of the reasons this game was so inspirational to me. Looking back on my work, I can see it's been influenced heavily by Square's style.

Nowadays it tends to be more traditional/acting-type animation that inspires me. The three I mention above, of course, plus all skilled animators I come across on the internet. It's funny how once you learn what animation really is, how your influences are significantly reshaped. Anything that will make me feel something, I think, is inspirational.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Scoping Shorts

After this one, I probably won't do another one for a while. Why? Because they take sooo damn long to do. I was even cautious of scoping when I started this one. One character, one environment. I still went too far. I guess the problem is I couldn't come up with a story that would fit under 1 minute 30 seconds. I also did something that required multiple cameras. I think for the next outing I'm probably going to stick to something drastically simpler, so I can focus solely on animation. The short Bathtime by Carlos Fernandez is a good example of something I might aim for, or Cameron Miyasaki's S.O.S. Either that, or just stick to 10 second club entries and other short animations I can use on a reel. I find myself subconsciously trying to rush this, which is not a good thing. I'm working on it full time and it's still probably going to take me until mid-April just to get the animation portion finished.

I'll post progress on it once the next major section is animated.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Animation Mentor (?)

Everyone I've talked to about this says it's amazing. I think I want to try it. Unfortunately right now I'm trying to finish off one (really expensive) degree so I may have to wait until I'm settled somewhere working. I think the feedback alone would be invaluable -- it's one thing getting feedback for your work in the forums, but I think it'd be entirely different getting feedback from industry vets. Plus there's so much about the basics of animation that I've skipped over... so much of the time I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing.

That, and drawing. God, I suck with a pencil. Once this short is done I'm drawing at least 2 hours a day -- no exceptions. It's just something I've always neglected... too busy programming in the past. But I don't want to lose my ability to code! ...Man. Life is hard.

Facial animation

Sometimes I wonder if the subtlety I put into facial animation gets noticed. Granted, I'm not the best at it, so maybe it's a good thing. Seeing some of the work done online has me curious though... Cane-Toad is an excellent example where the subtleties push the boundaries and really make the characters feel alive. Right now I feel that it's hard for me to simulate this effect, either due to my inability to analyze and apply those subtle details, or due to the limitations of my rigs, or both. I hope I can achieve that kind of mastery with my work someday. There still many things I feel like I'm not paying enough attention to as well, like arcs in the face, specifically with the mouth, plus squash and stretch. It's an area I have yet to explore. I'll probably try to dive into it after this short's done.

Friday, February 24, 2006

More on Juggles

So Juggles is an animated short I've been working on, pretty much exclusively since November. It's come a long way since I've started it. It's essentially about a boy who teaches himself how to juggle -- well, not exactly, but sort of... his reflection teaches him. The exercise here is to try to successfully pull off the brain switch test -- using the same character, create the illusion of two entirely different personalities. (Click the image to view what's currently complete -- 10 megs, divx. I'll probably start posting in Quicktime once I figure out the best compression/streaming scheme).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Listening to Music

Something I'm not sure if animators have talked about -- does listening to music while you animate degrade the quality of your work? Non-lipsync'd work, of course. I've often wondered this. Typically, I try not to, unless I'm animating something that's based almost entirely on the physical properties of something else (or is otherwise easy to animate). For example, the wrist and fingers. When I'm figuring out timings and placements for the core parts of the body, I'm too scare to. But man, it gets boring otherwise. I have to listen to something!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I'm kind of frustrated with animation. I wonder if most animators are. There are so many times where I'll spend so long on something, just to realize that it's crap! So i wipe the keys and start over. I guess it's good in a way. And I have that luxury since I'm working on a personal piece right now.

The piece I'm working on is a 3-minute short called Juggles. I started it while I was back at Crystal Dynamics in the fall (the modeling and rigging). I've been animating it since January 1st (yes, January 1st) and I'm at about the 50% point. I guess that means I'm working at about a pace of 2 seconds a day. When I was at Crystal we were doing 10-15 seconds a day. I think there's only so much you can do with a given amount of time, but we did our best. Now I'm trying to do something to the best of my ability... I hope it turns out as I'm hoping it will. I learned a hell of a lot while I was there, and I am so thankful. I didn't know what I was doing before then... maybe I still don't...

I have good friends that are helping with stuff. Basically everything I can't do, or do craptastically - texturing, lighting/rendering, sound design, and music composition. I really respect these guys, and I'm sure they'll be masters in their fields one day. I was never trained formally in this artsy-fartsy stuff, consequently I don't draw, but I made some storyboards that pretty much only I can dissect. Pretty bad. From this though I figured out timing, camera placement, and all that blocking jazz. We'll see how it goes.

P.S. If you haven't already, go play Shadow of the Colossus. Best game ever made.


Never done this before! No doubt will be interesting. I've always wanted to try starting some kind of journal just to document what I'm thinking and my thought processes... Guess it's finally going to happen. This is probably just going to be me dumping my mindless gibberish on a webpage for personal reflection (since I honestly have no idea why anyone what want to know what I'm up to :), but it'll be a good exercise. Most posts will probably pertain to character animation, since it's what I do, and I'd like to see the evolution of my methods as (if) I get better at my craft. I'm damn busy these days. Let the chaos begin!!!