A Piece of the Pi

This shot took me DAYS to set up and render. I made it for my demo reel so I could get a job at Rhythm + Hues in 2006.

R+H created Babe, Richard Parker from Life of Pi, Aslan, the Geiko gecko and countless other memorable CG characters. They recently filed for bankruptcy (a disturbing trend amongst VFX houses lately). Pi won best VFX tonight and when the rep started thanking R+H, they not only played him off stage, but they muted his mic. R+H got no mention from the cinematographer (who, let’s face it, owes many of his gorgeous “shots” to the VFX) to even the director, who only expressed that he wished VFX could be cheaper.

People are under the impression that CGI requires nothing more than a button press. Computers are a tool, just like a pen, but it still takes real artists to pull it all off. I spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours learning these skills and I consider myself to be nowhere near the caliber of the people who pulled off Life of Pi. I struggled to find work when I moved out here and was SHOCKED at what people were willing to pay. Luckily, I had other skills to fall back on, but I miss this work and would like to think that I could someday return to it AND support my family. And for my friends who are struggling to find that balance, I hope it gets better. Without the VFX artists, many of the most profitable movies would be nothing more than a couple of actors standing in front of a green screen. I hope to see a reverse in this trend and respect to the artist.

Since I couldn’t show up in person to stand with the artists, I have to settle for making a point via the internets: https://www.facebook.com/VfxSolidarityIntl and @VFXSoldier on Twitter are two great sources of more information.

Autodesk Educational VFX Package

I am one of those strange people who was able to teach themselves Maya and ZBrush.  It can be done, but it is not easy (admittedly, ZBrush was FAR easier to learn than Maya, but that’s beside the point).  That being said, if you are a student (or an employee or affiliate of an educational institution) and would like to learn about 3D modeling, animation and/or video compositing Autodesk has a GREAT deal going on right now:

For $200, you can get a 14-month educational license of Maya 2009.  But that’s not all!  Act now (actually, I think this deal will be around for a while, so don’t impulsively blow money) and you will also receive: Mudbox (a 3D digital sculpting program that is awesome), Toxik (a node-based compositing program that is awesome), Motion Builder (a 3D character animation program that is awesome) and Cleaner XL (which comes with Autodesk everything, whether you want it or not)!  If you weren’t able to gather from this paragraph, this is awesome!  Several months ago, it would have cost me more than $300 just to upgrade to Maya 2008.  With the exception of Motion Builder, I have other software that will do much of what these other programs do.  This deal, however, might be too good to pass up.

My favorite place to get educational software is Torcomp.  You can find this deal on other sites such as Academic Superstore.  The license is a few dollars cheaper and a couple months longer at Torcomp/Studica…

http://www.torcomp.com/products/product_detail.cfm?productid=57961

If you’re not a student, I’m not sure if there is a bundle like this.  I honestly haven’t looked into it because I’m not yet really making money on any of this software so I have no need to have a full license.  Some day, though.  Some day…

Comic-Con: Saturday Morning Cartoons

Turns out that missing the “Lost” panel was a good thing. It was on youtube later (no surprises there). Of course, Matthew Fox was there (drool), but he probably would have been a mere speck on the stage, so faint that like a distant Messier object, one would only have been able to see him by not looking directly at the stage. I digress.

This thing is about comics anyway, right? Sheesh. I decided to go see the “Tori Amos: Comic Book Tattoo” panel instead. I now had plenty of time to stand in line and Tori is one of my personal heroes. We share a birthday and a mutual long-term relationship with the piano.

I got there pretty early and there was no line, so I decided to sit in on the Ralph Bakshi panel. Sadly, it was pretty empty for being one of the more inspirational and interesting panels there. I probably enjoyed it much more than I would have enjoyed the “Heroes” panel, to be quite honest (and I haven’t seen it on youtube yet). This guy is one of the big “oldschool” animators. He directed “Fritz the Cat” and the animation for “Cool World.” He’s a feisty New Yorker with a serious hatred for the current presidential regime administration. He seems optimistic about the medium of animation and offered advice on how to overcome financial limitations, even arguing that they essentially make you a better filmmaker! What a cool panel!

The Tori panel was even more inspirational! “Comic Book Tattoo” is an anthology of comics. Each comic is drawn by a different artist and makes up a story for songs that she has written. One needed to purchase said book in order to get an autograph from the artists and Tori later on, but it is about 490 pages and my back hurt. I’ve never been big on autographs and there was other stuff I wanted to see. Amazon.com it is (still waiting for it).

Several of the artists were there, Tori, of course, was there- and in an outrageous outfit, to boot (don’t worry. I’m not going to offend your eyes with another blurry, bright and distant photo)! It was a very open panel, with each artist talking about their fears and struggles as an artist, even Tori. It made me want to tackle all of my projects and feel… not so insane (and not so guilty for the break I’ve taken from the heaviness lately). I can’t wait to take a look at the book.

Dope Sheet

Dope sheet for America Speaks

Also called an exposure sheet or x sheet. I prefer the term “dope sheet” because it kind of sounds dirty. This is a much simplified version of said sheet that I used for my “Obama in 30 Seconds” video (it’s official title is “America Speaks”). All I was doing was lip sync, so I really only needed a way to chart the sounds for the mouth animation. I also added some visual cues for the eye elements. For film, this sheet would have a bold horizontal line every 8th frame (film plays at 24 frames per second, so each second gets split into three sections). I just animated this one for 30 frames per second, hence the bold line every 10th frame (though technically video plays at 29.97fps, but this piece wasn’t long enough for that to throw me off).  Also, this animation only contained one level, but that’s not where you would place the action.  Actually, now that I really look at it, I’m totally misusing this sheet, but since I was the only animator and the entirety of the art department, I think it’s okay!  The point was the lip sync.

I recorded the audio and imported it into Adobe Premiere at 30(ish) frames per second. That way, I had auditory and visual cues at every frame to tell me where the speaking sounds were. First, I listened for the hard consonants. They make a distinctive click at whatever frame they start. I’d write the consonant into the dope sheet. After that, I kind of filled in the rest of the sounds, indicating their length in frames on the sheet and drawing a line through the silence.

This particular animation was done in Flash only because I didn’t have the proper setup to get everything aligned properly on paper (though all of the original drawings were done with pencil on paper and scanned into the computer). Because of this, my dope sheet became my best friend. It would appear that Flash has a habit of playing the video and the audio at different frame rates, so I just had to trust that as long as I had the “m” mouth shape where I had heard the “m” sound on the video that everything would sync up later! Luckily, it did. There’s probably a way to fix this, but I don’t have enough interest in Flash to figure it out.

In the meantime, I’m saving my money for a 2D animation program called Toon Boom. Flash wasn’t meant to be a real animation program and Adobe hasn’t seemed to catch on the the fact that people want to use it in this way (though the rumor is that they will at least be including inverse kinematics* tools in the next release of Flash).
*the short answer to what this is is that it makes legs move like proper legs rather than blocks of wood on hinges.

Obama in 30 seconds

It’s a little late to be posting this- voting closed a long while ago. I felt it was appropriate, though, seeing as how it looks like Mr. Obama is going to be our Democratic nominee. It’s also appropriate because, well, I actually have time to post it! It looks best if you click play and then the little “monitor” icon in the middle of the right hand side to play it full screen. It was drawn in pencil. At such a small size, it’s pretty hard to see.

I made this for moveon.org’s contest called “Obama in 30 Seconds.” Obama was my second favorite Democratic nominee (and no, Clinton was not my first, though I liked her too). I really do like the guy, though, and I’m happy to vote for him. Politics aside, there was a $20,000 prize (redeemable in video equipment) and it gave me a chance to play with character animation. I drew several pictures that I scanned and animated in Flash. The lip sync was a little tricky because Flash seemed to want to play the video and the audio at two different frame rates, so I just had to trust my dope sheet (I’ll try to post a page from that tomorrow and explain what it is). The animation is a little… basic… but it was my first full-blown character animation with lip sync and it was supposed to look “grassroots” (which is now an adjective). It’s really amazing to see a character that you drew come to life before your very eyes. Carl Fuermann was the voice of America.

(Note: heated/bigoted/negative political comments to this post will be deleted- sorry, but that’s what every blog seems to become these days and no one ever said mine was a democracy! I alone hold the power of comment approval! Mwa ha ha ha!)

Slusho laptop and demo reel…

Now that I have some of this WordPress stuff figured out…

I should follow up on my “Slusho Zoom” post from earlier. My video was chosen as one of the top five entries in the competition! That means:

slusho

Freakin’ sweet laptop! It also means I need to find a home for my “old” one, which really isn’t that old. They have comparable features, but the Alienware wins. When rendering side-by-side, the Slusho! laptop rendered every super complex 3D frame a full minute faster. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider that one second is 24 of said frames and that a minute would be 1440… were talking a full day!

I should also post my new demo reel:

Which I made with my new laptop. It’s my first official demo reel, so I’m excited. Makes me feel “professional” for once…I have more catching up to do, but this will do for now.