Monday, 31 October 2011

Framestore time!

I start my animation internship at Framestore today! I'm working in VFX department which is really exciting for me because I love films. Here's to a new experience in the film industry and I hope to learn loads from the amazing animators here!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Some Personal Work

For the last 6 weeks I've been working on and off on a personal project. It's a trailer parody for Valve's newest game - Counter-Strike: Global Offensive which is coming out in 2012.


I would like to thank everyone who collaborated with me on this project:

Jonas B. Ingebretsen for Music and Sound Design - This is my first project where I've had the opportunity to have a music specifically composed to fit to my animation, as well as excellent sound design to push the standard sounds into something so much more professional sounding. Something that's quite new for me :) 

Fernando Zamora for Voice Acting - Fernando, in case you didn't know was also the voice actor for my short film, Self-Conflict. He voiced the narrator and also the character voices and screams in the animation. Some of those character screams still make me laugh.

Aran Saunders for Additional Animation - Aran volunteered to animate a few shots for me and he did very well (maybe too well?) at adapting to the style to fit the rest of my animations.

And I did pretty much everything else! Overall, I am very pleased to have worked with these guys and very grateful to them for helping out.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Some work from Cubic Motion

I can finally post about some of my work at Cubic Motion since it's now released as samples for the website.

This here is an example of capture-driven animation:
This type of animation specifically requires strict adherence to the video reference capturing every subtlety made by the actor. A lot more time consuming to clean up and get right. I was responsible for the animation and lighting.

This one shows the capture-driven animation being transferred to a stylized character rig (Morpheus rig by Josh Burton):

A fellow animator started the facial animation and I finished it off, cleaned and polished the rest, including the body animation. I was also responsible for the character customization and lighting setup.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Driver: San Francisco is out now!

Check it out guys! This is the game I worked on while I was at Ubisoft Reflections from 2009-2010. It was great to be a part of the animation team and I learned a lot from everyone.

The game is out today (in the UK). If you've played it, let me know what you think!

P.S. This is also my first credited game! :D

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Obs: Comfort Zones

What do you do when you can't figure out what your character should be doing in a scene? Well, the most important thing is knowing what the character's objective is. Everyone knows that.

But let's explore something more global, something that affects us in all scenarios and pretty much all the time. Today's observation is about comfort zones. This is something that should be considered on-top-of our character's objectives. Take for example, our character wants to eat some pie but there are spikey obstacles in the way. Our character won't be running across it to get to the pie if it's going to hurt him or cause him discomfort. Ok, that's quite an extreme case but this can be really effective if used in more subtle ways.

In the biological sense, our body is always finding ways to use the least amount of energy possible and to be as comfortable as possible. Say you're at home and sat down watching TV. A few minutes later, you'll find that your body is completely slumped. And if you get any lazier, you'd fall asleep. Biologically this makes sense because we need to conserve energy for when we need it - in the case of danger. Similar reasons to why our heart beats faster when we're afraid, to make sure our body is ready to flee or fight. So the next time you're animating a character doing an action, it's useful to think about how "comfortable" they are. It helps add that bit of realism to your piece doing things that people naturally do.

We also move in reaction to our comfort zones. When someone we don't know or don't like moves too close to us, we move away. This is best observed at the bus stop. When there are few people at the bus stop and you're stood on one side of the bus stop and another person comes up right next to you, chances are you'll feel very uncomfortable. The funny thing is that your comfort zone is adaptable depending on the situation. If the bus stop was packed with a lot of people, and you are sandwiched between others, it becomes acceptable because everyone else is in a similar situation. 

The more we understand about what makes us or our characters comfortable or uncomfortable will help make our character's interaction with others in the scene a lot more believable. So the next time you make your animation poses, ask yourself if it looks comfortable in etiher a) as a normal balanced pose or b) comfortable in the situation.

Apart from the main objective that our characters are going through, do remember that there are also a lot of subconscious things that our bodies will do naturally to support our actions. The more we observe the nonverbal clues of body language, the more we can accurately display genuine actions for our characters. I used to believe secondary action is something you add to your animation for extra awesome sauce. It's not. It's something you consider before-hand and apply consciously throughout your animation for all the right reasons. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

First Class Honours!

I just received my degree results from my University today.

I got a Bachelor Of Arts in Digital Character Animation With First Class Honours! Can't be more pleased about this. It's time to celebrate with some sushi.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Anim Test: Bucky

Found this Buck Kid rig and decided to have a play with him. Just an animation test done in 2 hours.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Obs: Blinks

Have you ever spoken to someone about something and for some strange reason, you are able to tell when he/she starts getting confused/don't-have-any-idea-what-you-are-talking-about? Apart from the obvious confused look on their faces, and their stillness in their body language and/or pause in their activities, notice that they will also stare at you blankly. By this I mean they will stop blinking. Weird isn't it?

There are a lot of reasons why and when we blink but I think this one is quite interesting in it's own right and I'd like to talk a little about it. Seems blinking is also an activity linked with absorbing information. To me it's the nodding of the eyes. When you're listening to someone and you are in agreement, you tend to nod at them... and blink too! I know this seems odd, but try it for yourself. An example is when I am in a lecture hall and listening to a very informative and interesting lecture, I would catch myself blinking a lot. I mean a lot uncontrollably.

I believe the same is true when you stop agreeing. This is why it's quite shocking how we are able to tell when someone is lost while trying to explain something to them. It's easy to tell because we notice a change in behaviour or a break in a pattern. While the listener understands what you are talking about, they will often be blinking, nodding, etc and suddenly as they get confused, our brains are able to detect that change in behaviour, a different action performed out of the normal, even as subtle as fewer eye blinks. Try it and see for yourself!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Started work at Cubic Motion

Today was my first day working at Cubic Motion. It was great. Lovely place, people and atmosphere. And already a lot of work to be done. I think I'll be very busy the next few months! Wish I could talk about the exciting projects I'm going to be working on but it's top secret.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Obs: You look at what you want

Observation: You look at what you want. For the most part, this is very true - where your eyes are looking will determine what is currently in focus or of interest. You can pick up many things from looking at people in the train station, bus stops, etc. Most people who travel alone like their own space and mind their own business. Many will resolve to mp3 players with headphones plugged in or reading books. These people tend to have their eyes down and away, often signifying their desire to not be disturbed and left in their own little worlds.

Then there are others who are without any media distractions, travelling alone with nothing to do. Observe them. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at where they are looking. If their eyes are constantly scanning the room, their brains are active, they are receptive to their surroundings and are alert. Perhaps hoping to meet the gaze of another interested individual. Generally, if you're looking around you or at people, you're opening yourself up for conversation and subconsciously inviting friendly talk. If your gaze is down and away, it's the eye language equivalent of "leave me alone". Of course these are all variable depending on the situation but I'm just talking about general observations here.

As I was travelling in the train one day, I caught myself becoming a victim to this observation. I'm usually either reading, scanning people, reading them or when I'm tired, look away in a corner and try to fall asleep. What was unusual in this instance was that I needed to use the toilet. First thing I did was try to identify where the nearest toilet was without getting up. It was at the end of the corridor. Next I determined whether or not it was vacant without getting up so I studied the light switch above it. I couldn't really tell if it meant vacant or not.

What I did notice was 2 other ladies sat uncomfortably near the toilet with quirky movements. It told me they were waiting for the toilet. Soon I realized I was no longer doing the things I would normally do, lie in a corner or falling asleep. I was constantly checking for the toilet to be available, scanning the area, seeing if the ladies had already had their turn. So much so that my body had tilted itself to a unusual position, my head leaning to the side  giving me full vision of the situation in front of me. This got me thinking. Would I have been in this position if I hadn't needed to use the bathroom? No. It was an uncomfortable position, with my head tilted to one side and heck why would I be staring at the aisle in front of me for? At which point, I got a little subconscious because I thought the ladies in front caught my eye and they must be thinking the same thing, "this guy needs the loo". Hah!

Naturally I tried to fake it and look away returning to a more comfortable position. But it was difficult to go back to doing something more casual when you really needed the bathroom. I soon found myself back to the original leaning position, with my eyes on the toilet scenario.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and suddenly their eye darts to something behind you and eventhough he/she is still talking, you know they are now focussing on something else? More often than not, you'd be so intrigued by what has intrigued them that you too will turn and see for yourself. Our eyes can be so revealing sometimes.

This ends my observation for "You look at what you want". Your eye looks are directly connected to your brain and will look at what you are currently interested in. So I guess this is why we look at people's faces when talking to them (mostly eyes) to read them because it is shocking what you can find out with their gaze and direction.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Watery eyes part 2

Ok, I wrote the last post in a bit of a hurry and have had some time to reflect on it since.

I think I'll format these observation posts in a more meaningful manner next time, starting with my main point and then elaborating on it based on my experience.

Here we go!

General observation: Some elements of emotional state can come from the design/look of the character and does not always rely on the animation itself.

Specific observation: Watery eyes/redness is a powerful tool that can be used to make your character appear sad/in-tears.

As an animator, I've always had to rely on my animation skills to push the emotional state of the character and to find ways of making him connect with audiences through movement. The truth is, this skill - as valuable as it is to an animator can only be taken so far. The fact is there are also a lot of contributing factors that can help make the character/scene more convincing.

Take shot layout and camera movement for example, the primary factor of how we connect to an audience is surprisingly overlooked by many animators. A well placed camera and/or controlled movement can have more of an impact than you think. A slow zoom into a character often helps the audience connect to the character better, often used when the character is in deep thought for example. The animation could be the best in the world and incredibly subtle perhaps, but if the camera is in a full body shot or a long shot; the effect is completely changed.

Colour design and theory will also add to how we feel about the characters/scene. The scary thing is how our brains pick up these clues so unconsciously that we take them for granted. This is certainly an area I would like to explore further when possible.

Following the colour design, lighting also plays an important part. Having a character very well lit or not can mean so much in ways I can't even describe. There are many examples out there of how good lighting affects the mood and atmosphere that you can probably look up.

Character design helps tell us who these characters are that we are animating. With just a generic default character rig, it tells us hardly anything. Why is this important? Surely a well animated character can shine without fancy designs. That may be true but again, as I mentioned above, there is only so much you can do with animation. These are plusses, bonuses, add-ons, icing on the cake, if you will to not only make your animation stand out but more importantly help the audience connect better with your animated character. A good design will immediately establish a good understanding of your character before he is even moving. Is he a cowboy? Is he a waiter?

The generic rig tells you very little about the character
Customized rigs tell you more about the character and their personality

I suppose the goal of every shot is to immediately tell the audience the story, the scenario and what's happening in just the scene layout/designs itself. That way, when the audience watches the animation, they spend less time figuring out who these characters are, where they are, what time it is, etc and spend more time concentrating on what's important - what's actually happening in the scene.

Ok, I appear to be drifting off topic now. OH yes, back to my main point, the watery eyes and the impact! I guess this new found discovery made me realize a new factor that can contribute to the performance!

I'm not actually sure what category this will fall in to be honest, maybe under character design? It's just additional things we can do to make the performances more convincing. In 3D, with good rigs, we can often use squash/stretch, rotations, translations and even scale to deliver our performances. Now that I've discovered this watery eye concept and how much it affects the character's looks, it really got me thinking just how much more of these little details I've missed out.

I know this isn't anything mind-blowing or new in 2D, because I've seen many great examples of 2D animation where they include a ton of details but a lot of which are only possible due to the nature of the art form. 2D is great because you can make anything happen, a transforming character, deformations, eye pops, explosions and what not all limited to just your imagination. With 3D however, it is a lot more work to get those results and as such 3D characters tend to have that rigidness.

Can you think of other examples of what we can do to push the characters designs further apart from maybe changing the colours of the eyes?

Watery eyes

So I only just got up a few minutes ago, and as my eyes got a little watery from the morning wake, instead of wiping it off with my hands, I squeezed my lids shut. When I opened them (while in front of the mirror), and as my eyes and its surrounding areas become moist, it almost becomes inevitable that I had to blink a lot more and it stung a little. I do like to act in front of the mirror sometimes, and in this case, I pretended to shed a tear or be sad.... what I found was shocking. It took such little effort to sell this emotion when you have watery eyes!

When your eyes are watery, it seems you'd naturally blink more anyways and that adds even more to the whole sad/insecure emotional state. I tried a couple of different things like smiling and wiping a tear and the result was spectacular. It was all on-top of the in-tears emotional look which I could not hide regardless. Seems the watery eye look is just that powerful. As much as I tried hiding it, it just appeared as if I WAS consciously trying to conceal it but still appearing sad.

I think I'll try this again in future to see what more I can get from this!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jobs and Summer plans

I will be working as an animator at Cubic Motion in Manchester, UK from June to October 2011. Then I'll be starting my animation internship at Framestore in London, from November onwards.

I have also officially finished with my final year at Teesside University studying BA Digital Character Animation. Over the last 4 years of education (including placement year), I have been very active in improving my skills and practicing. Often so much so to the expense of my social life which is a little sad. It has however paid off with jobs and fantastic opportunities :). I want to take it a bit easier this summer and make up for lost time. Go out a bit more, enjoy the sun, meet new friends, spend less time in front of the computer for a change!

Of course this doesn't mean I'll stop learning or being productive - no no. If and when I do have the time, I would like to return to the basics of animation and start nailing those animation principles down to the core to strengthen my basics. I have been tackling a lot of advanced acting and performance related animation recently and as much as I love doing those, I feel I've been neglecting my basics a little bit. So you can expect some mini animation exercises and tests in future. I'm also keen on tackling some creature animations in preparation to my time at Framestore.

Quite recently I've joined Linkedin - click to see my profile and add me if you know me!

I'll try and post a bit more as well. I have many animation questions, theories and observations that I've been meaning to post about. Until next time, keep your heads up and happy animating!

Monday, 25 April 2011

CCA Animation Complete!

Watch in 720p HD
Watch in 1080p Full HD

Above is my completed animation for my Creative Character Animation module at Teesside University. The cool thing is it only took me about a week! You can follow the development blog for this here. Big props to Josh Burton for the amazing Morpheus Rig! Love the facial controls on this one, very extensive!

Monday, 18 April 2011

I'm going to Framestore!

This news is actually about 3 weeks old... but all this time I was waiting for the University to update their website with some sort of video or news or something, but hey... they sure are taking their sweet time. Long story short, I won the Animation and VFX Award at Expotees on 6th April 2011 and won myself a 6 month animation internship at Framestore, in London!

I had to hand-in my trophy for my name to be carved on it so am still waiting for it to come back to me... which is kinda why I delayed this post for so long. I wanted to post it with some pictures of the trophy and certificate. But it's been so long so I thought what the heck... people ought to know!

Yeah! So I am super excited about this opportunity and cannot wait to start. There are some pretty amazing animators over there!

CCA Blog

As part of my Creative Character Animation (CCA) modules at University, I have to create a development blog and record my progression. So hey, if you're interested in seeing how I get a shot done from blocking to final, go check it out!

The exercise is to animate a lip-sync piece to a pre-recorded sound clip. This animation I'm working on now is actually rather interesting. Why? Because if you thought my short film was subtle, then this one is even more so! It almost seems like I'm getting into even smaller details with every new animation and underplaying everything. Could just be I really like the subtle details and find it challenging...

But hey, I'd like to try for more extreme cartoony styles sometime in the summer to flex my animation muscles in a different direction for a change.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Self-CONFLICT Released!

Hey guys,

My short film is finally done - go check it out and tell me what you think! I will post more THE MAKING OF stuff in future so please bare with me.

AAH! I'm so excited about the release :)

Here's a bunch of people I'd like to thank:

Matt Seligman - my good friend who's pulled through with me on this project with the modelling and texturing side of things. Looks great man, and thanks for working with me on this.

Fernando Zamora - the voice actor legend. Thanks for putting up with all my re-recording requests and under such short notice. Your flexibility and availability is much appreciated.

Tim Bolland, Albin Nilsen, Martin Davies and Ben Klimmek for render advice and post-production tips.

Penny Holton, my project supervisor.

Everyone at the Teesside Animation and Games Society (TAG) at Teesside Uni for watching and giving me weekly feedbacks.

Everyone at Animex Festival who I had the chance to speak to and got constructive feedback from.

And of course all of my friends who have supported me and kept me sane. Ha ha.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Friday, 18 March 2011

FYP Animation done!

8 months of hard work and my short film is finally coming to a close. I can't express how excited I am about this. The animation portion is finally declared done. I just need to spend a day or two finalizing the lighting and camera animations and then it's off to render. Post-production is expected to take a week or so.

Will post images and posters nearer to the time of release. Awesome!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

FYP Update

It's been a while since the last update. My short film is going great! It's been about 6 months since I properly started this project and I've been working on it non-stop, practically full time. The animation is mostly there now, I'm just doing all sorts of tweaks here and there to finesse the details and adding the final touches. I'd say it's about 85% complete by this stage, I want to spend a good 15% of the time to really clean up and polish the hell out of this piece to really push it to the next level. That means about another month of animation tweaking, I know it sounds crazy but I am a true believer of doing the best I can and love nothing more than a wonderful polish. 

From what I gather, most students get to around this point of 80% complete and call it finished mostly due to lack of time and possibly even being sick of the animation by this point. No one really spends quality time cleaning and polishing their animations these days! 

It's at this animation stage where tweaking to get better animation is also incredibly satisfying and rewarding that really boosts motivation! Yeah, this is me being motivated to keep going! Go go go :)

You can expect a finished render near the end of March and if I'm still not done by that time, you can start sending your hate mails. 

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A Systematic Approach

There are many times during animation where I'd get frustrated and exhausted by the complexity of the scene or character, when the animation just isn't looking right or when there is just too much going on for me to handle. Often when this occurs, and I still continue animating, I'd quickly burn myself out and end up animating blindly and hoping for amazing results. More often than not, it ends up with poor animation, possibly adding keys all over the place, making the organisation a lot worse than before and just plain messy/bad animation. Did I mention you'd also burn out really quickly? So it's a lose-lose situation, things just get worse if you go on like this.

Things start becoming incredibly complex when you start worrying about too many things. For example, I'm trying to do animation tweaks to my character and I have a few many things to watch out for:- 1. Entire body animation and how it affects movement, checking which parts lead and which follow, 2. Needing to add keys for moving holds in between 3. Comparing current animation to video reference 4. Worried about translation and rotation axis on the hips and how it affects the position of the arms. And that is just one shot, as I move on to the next shot, new problems arise and I may be focussing on different things like facial animation and needing to re-pose some key poses that aren't working as well. When all that comes into play, trouble is at hand and my brain goes into panic with all the information it has to manage in real-time. And if you're working on a full scene with many shots continuously like I am, you can see just how complex and varied the tweaks and considerations are going to be like as you go through it.

The solution to this mess is in the workflow I believe. If you approach the scene systematically, or in smaller parts/chunks, it becomes a lot less to worry about, a lot easier to handle and is also a lot more rewarding and motivating when you get that small chunk done. The task no longer feels like infinity miles away when you meet smaller deadlines and go at it step by step - you can see the progress being made and it keeps you SANE and saves your motivation from drowning.

You can approach the animation in a few ways, but the key is doing it ONE STEP AT A TIME. I can either split my scene up into shots and work on them on a shot-by-shot basis and crossing them out one at a time or I can approach it in smaller passes. By passes I mean focussing on one object/idea at a time throughout the whole scene. For example, I can do a hips controller pass whereby I look into the graph editor and clean up all my curves for translation and rotation. Or I can attack my tweaks one problem at a time, if I need to repose some keys, then I should work on those first before attacking the moving holds. Basically work on one idea at a time and tweak them in passes so it's a lot more organised. That way you don't forget what you're animating and you apply the same amount of effort and care into your work and have consistent animation.

Did that make much sense?