Sunday, July 30, 2006

San Diego Wild Animal Park

We were fortunate to have relatively mild weather for our trip to San Diego's Wild Animal Park yesterday! It's not exactly the best place for zoo drawing, since most of the animals are pretty far away. But it's incredible to see entire HERDS of animals roaming the hundreds of acres of land. It's a lot different from traditional zoos, and the animals seem pretty happy there. They're really active and hide often, so it was hard to capture them in the sketchbook! I had to settle for quick, rough drawings. Here are a few of my faves:

Baby giraffe and Shoebill

Evil-looking bird and Tiki Stilt-walker

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Zoo trip!

I finally went on a trip to the LA Zoo with Alina on Sunday morning. The weather was cool so the animals were pretty active. There were some baby animals wandering around as well! I tried Vilppu's technique of creating "scenes" by drawing various subjects in one drawing regardless of whether they were all there at the same time. This little group of gerenuks was alternating between attacking the leaves on the tree and chasing each other around the yard.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

It is done. Well, shot 24 is, anyway.


Finally finished off the secondary motion! Here's the finished product:

Had a heck of a time with the tail, as usual. I kinda wish I had made the rig with global tail controls instead of local ones, that way the tail wouldn't swing around wildly all the time. Or some kind of nifty local/global switch like we have on the rigs at work. But I'm not that smart. :)

In other news, I've been trying desperately to inspire myself to draw something, anything. It's tough when I'm not in a regular drawing class and my job and student film both keep me glued to the computer. Yesterday I forced open a sketchbook and messed around with some thumbnails until I came up with one that looked decently cool. I decided to make some "fan art" for a video game I play called DragonFable. I have a Rogue character named Caelum and thought he'd be a good refresher course for some figure drawing. I even yanked out my anatomy book for this one!

So here's the rough sketch done up in Photoshop:

He's gonna be holding some daggers in the final version. We'll see if I have enough patience to color it!

I'd like to find some web resources of dynamic figure poses (y'know, martial arts, anime, fighting, dancing, acrobatics, flying through the air, matrix-y stuff). I think they would help me visualize the body in motion and in perspective. Portfolios or photo galleries or video sites, whatever. Anybody have any suggestions?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Shot 24 - cleanup in progress

So here's that shot a week later, unfortunately it's going slow because of work deadlines and such, I don't have much time to work on it. But I moved the center character out of breakdowns and into cleanup. You can see I haven't gotten to the fingers, ears, or tail yet, but the important part was getting the torso, head, and limbs moving naturally before getting into details.

It's funny, whenever I move from stepped keys to linear interpolation, there's always some kind of timing issue. For some reason, something that looked fine in keys/breakdowns will end up being too fast or too slow when in-betweening. But it's easier (for me anyway) to fix those timing issues since I still have easily readable keyframes to adjust. After this, there's no turning back! If I have to make any major timing changes at this point, I'll just start deleting chunks of keys because the dope sheet is such a mess that it'd be almost impossible to make changes on a macro level.

Someday I'll draw again. :) Alina, when are we going to the zoo??

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shot 24 in progress

I'm working on the last character for "Shot 24" in my student film, Swing. This thing has taken quite a long time as I've been trying to work on it while also working fulltime at EALA. I'm lucky if I get to work on it for a few hours each day. But slowly it's getting finished! After this shot, I'll have about 5 more to go. Two of them are quite long, though, and involve all 3 characters, so I'm expecting to spend a lot of time on those two. On the positive side, the remaining shots are super easy!

So, Shot 24 happens right after Mack (the guy on the left) has shown off his "mad skillz" by throwing a rubber ball through two hoops (swish!). Now it's Hayley's turn. However Hayley has a broken arm, so she has to resort to... inventive methods.

This shot is pretty far along, I have most of the breakdowns in place already for the center character. You'll notice I work with stepped tangents, I find it closest to traditional animation and helps me maintain strong poses throughout the animation. But after I get the keys and basic timing down, I start doing breakdowns one limb at a time, to focus on arcs. That's when the dope sheet starts getting messy, because I add breakdowns based on what I feel the appropriate timing is for each arc. Don't want all the parts to move at exactly the same time, that would look rather silly! However it is still easy to see my main key poses, since when I hit "Select All" I can see which frame has a key for every body part.

It's interesting hearing how other people work. There seems to be no single definitive method of animating. How do you begin an animation?

I did video reference footage for one of the characters in this shot, complete with props... can you guess which? :)

Monday, April 24, 2006

La Brea Tar Pits

Tommy and I visited the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits this past weekend; he brought along his camera and I hauled out the dusty sketchbook. It's been a terribly long time since I went to the Page Museum to sketch skeletons, and I'm afraid I'm rather rusty. I used to be able to scribble out a sabertooth cat or the famous mammoth in pen, but this time I found myself erasing and re-erasing with my mechanical pencil. No way I could have pulled it off with a Prismacolor either, it would have made a smudgy mess!

The ribcage always bogs me down, so many interlocking bones, it's hard to keep straight which one goes in front of which, and what lines signify bones, and which signify the spaces between bones!

The pelvis is another mystery; the shape is not easily simplified into a sphere or box (although in the case of the cat I suppose it could be a rectangular shape, but with the sloths, forget it).

In any case, it was good to get out of the house and see how much skill I have left with a pencil. I was actually pleasantly surprised; I expected a lot worse. :)

As for those of you who had been wondering what happened with the wolf playblast... I did take it pretty far a few weeks after I posted that blocked out version, and it's been sitting on my hard drive ever since. I added the secondary character and fleshed out the scenery a bit, played with some lights, and generally made it presentable.

I know people say that the demo reel should highlight the animation ONLY, and lighting/backgrounds only serve to distract from the animation and makes it look like you're covering up a lack of skill. I suppose I could kill the lighting/BG for the purpose of including on a demo reel, but I did have fun creating the scene.

Check it out here!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Greyhound sketch

So... it's been a while since I posted stuff, so I'll try to make it up to my 2 readers by posting double in a day! This is a sketch from a recent trip to NorCal via the Greyhound bus. It was done while on the bus... not an easy task since it was bumpy! But I'm rather happy with how it turned out. I had seen a nifty looking tree on the way up that had a big hole in the bottom, and I wanted to try to capture the way it twisted around.

I'm a big fan of Charles Vess and I absolutely love the way he does his trees. Mine didn't turn out quite so lovely, a little too stylized, but ah well. I have a lot to learn.


From this article in the New York Times:

Walt Disney often made his artists prepare their storyboards with only pictures; dialogue was added at the end of the process, when they determined how few words were actually needed to tell the story. In 2001, Joe Grant, who did key story work on "Snow White, "Pinnochio" and other Disney features, said in an interview: "Walt was a great advocate of pantomime. He would stand in front of the boards and re-enact the scene. You could see the reflection of him in the film: his pantomime was beautifully followed through. Today it's all talking heads."

One of the major drawbacks of working with a typed script is that we tend to try to fill that space with dialogue. This is especially true in live action, but animation also suffers from that fate at times. There is an urge to describe every emotion that a character feels with words, when often the actions and expressions will suffice. Dialogue slapped on top of it only destroys what could be a truly magical moment.

Not that dialogue doesn't have its place. Spoken language developed as a means of communication when facial expression and body language weren't enough to convey a complex idea. However, those basic movements and expressions are the most universal, and will reach the widest audience where the cultural nuances of spoken language fail.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A sad loss...

Don Knotts passed away this Friday. In addition to his famous role as Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show, he did a lot of animation voiceover work, including T.W. Turtle from Cats Don't Dance (one of my favorite movies!). He had such a distinct voice that you could always recognize him in any animated film he was in.

On top of that he was always just a funny guy to watch on screen in live-action. His facial expressions were cartoony themselves. My sister, cousins, and I used to watch "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" and "The Private Eyes" every other week. We never got tired of them! He really knew how to make us laugh.

Don Knotts was one of the actors we grew up watching, along with Peter Sellers, Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. We spent summer afternoons at my grandparents' house watching the same movies over and over again, pretending we were those characters, putting on skits for our families... so yeah, Don Knotts was a really big part of my childhood. Perhaps I shall watch Cats Don't Dance and The Private Eyes in his honor.

Rest in peace, Don. The world will always remember you.

4 legs are trickier than 2

I have come to the conclusion that the difficulty of animation is exponentially proportional to the number of legs your character has. It's funny, you'd think the difference between a character with two legs and two arms versus a character with four legs would be less than it really is. I mean, after all, it's still 4 appendages each.

I suppose it is because as bipeds ourselves we are used to knowing how weight is carried on two legs. The weight distribution on a 4-legged animal is more foreign and requires a lot more study.

The nice thing about arms is that you don't have to worry so much about which one is the "weight bearing" one, because neither are (unless the character is on the ground or in some acrobatic position like a handstand, etc.). This frees up the hands to make gestures or swing or hang limply by the sides. But legs are always working. And if you have a 4-legged character that has to start gesturing with a paw, then you have to make sure the weight has shifted off of that paw in order to lift it up. It's all quite complicated.

So, major props to any animator who's tackled the 4-legged creature!

I'll try to post an update to my wolf animation soon...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

a little playblasting does an animator good

So I've been working on a little piece to practice quadruped animation. It's in very early stages right now, just barely working out breakdowns and such. There was a discussion a while ago about which works better for blocking an animation, splines vs. linear. Well... I use "stepped." I find it's the most like traditional animation and gives you the most control, as opposed to having the computer interpolate it all funky.

A friend of mine who used to work at EA always blocked everything out using stepped keys, and at first I was hesitant to try it myself (because I was a lousy animator back then and liked having Maya in-between for me) but I grew to like it more and more.

Not that using stepped keys makes me a great animator. :P But I figure, learn from the pros, right? Next step: finally learning to use FK! I find myself tied down with IK and I think it hurts my animation, especially with things like arms and tails.

Oh yeah, the quadruped thing. You can check it out here!

Basically the wolf is prowling and spots a squirrel in the foreground (squirrel not yet started). Oh, and ignore that music there (it's from Howl's Moving Castle, BTW). For some reason the .wmv creator I have HAS to have an audio track to work right.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A little love :)

For those of you who aren't adamantly opposed to it... Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Straight out of Star Trek

Okay, so this isn't directly related to animation, but I saw this new piece of technology on Slashdot this morning and thought of all the possible ways we as artists could take advantage of it! Check it out:

I, for one, have encountered many instances where I would have liked to have, say, two mouse pointers on the screen for accomplishing two tasks at once (color picking vs. drawing, etc.). I think the resizing/rotating idea using two fingers is pretty neat as well, it eliminates the keyboard commands or pulldown menu commands we usually use and makes it an intuitive one-step process.

I can see how this would be quite neat to play with in a 3D environment, too! It might make animating and modelling more intuitive, more like stop-motion and less like math.

What other ideas can you guys come up with?

The most promising and exciting thing about this is that Apple has apparently patented the technology. Meaning... something like this may be available in our homes sometime soon??

Friday, February 10, 2006

Oswald's back!

Well! I thought he had been lost to the sands of time, buried underneath years of history. But here he is, back from the dead, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has been "traded" to Disney in exchange for Monday Night Football sportscaster Al Michaels. Perhaps it is only a business move to capitalize on the small burst of popularity Oswald enjoyed overseas...

But then again, perhaps this is a sign that the Mouse House still remembers the importance of its roots, its own history, and the legacy of Walt Disney. But then... what IS the importance of Oswald? Why is it important to remember where animation came from? What can we learn from the old cartoons?

I mean, certainly the quality of animation we've come to expect from modern day films wasn't there yet. Can an old black and white cartoon teach a budding animator how to do proper anticipation, ease ins and outs, keeping volume the same, moving in perspective, etc. etc.? Perhaps not.

So why do we buy those DVDs packaged in tin cases and watch the old shorts? What can the animators of the past teach us today? What can we take away from the patience, effort, struggles and challenges that they faced?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Alright already!

Gosh, I just barely started this blog and already people are asking me to put artwork on it. I guess I have to start drawing more, because I don't have any new work for you to see! Haha ok, so here are some random sketches I drew during a meeting at work today:

Some little kid bein' all happy. Yeah, happy he didn't have to go to the all-hands meeting later that day... ;)

I dunno, some type of dragon-y lizard-y thing. Definitely needs to see a chiropractor.

Realism in animation

Andrew Gordon from Spline Doctors raised some interesting questions today about the future of animation and its relationship with high definition formats. Does animation need to get more detailed as hi-def becomes the standard?

After thinking about it, I guess I'd have to say that it depends on the animation. The amazing thing about cartoons has always been the range of styles, the freedom of expression that can't be achieved with live action alone. Animation doesn't have to be "realistic" to be entertaining. Just watch any 6 year old as they enjoy a Looney Tunes short and you can see that some animation withstands the test of time regardless of how high the resolution on the television gets. Does Bugs Bunny need to be modelled in 3D with all of his individual hairs showing, in order to keep being funny?

On the other hand, animation used for special effects should definitely evolve with technology. The visuals we are able to accomplish now are already blurring the line between reality and fantasy, and that line will only become more hazy with time. After all, the goal of SFX animation in relation to live action is to fuse seamlessly with actors and the "real world." If it is done poorly, the result is jarring and pulls the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief.

Of course, sometimes that jarring effect is exactly what the director wants (think Mirrormask).

So, back to the question; does animation need to be more detailed with hi-def? I think it WILL become more detailed, sure, but I don't think it necessarily NEEDS to be. I'm thinking in particular of the example of art, back when the first photography was introduced. Art kind of went two ways: those that tried to mimic the detail of photography with ultra-realism, and those that went their own route completely separate from reality all together. I think that as long as the story is strong, whatever style that story lends itself to will work, whether it be stylized limited animation or super-realistic hi-def movement.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Dinosaur went extinct

Okay, so I've heard the reasons for why Chicken Little is considered Disney's first "all CG animated feature." Dinosaur used "digitally enhanced" live-action photography for the backgrounds instead of creating everything from scratch. But is that any reason to snub it? The ad campaign for Chicken Little made it seem as though Disney had never ventured into the realm of CG before. The technicality of "all-CG" is easily lost on the critics, press and audience who overlook the "all" and think "oh, Disney's first computer film." I imagine it must be disheartening to those artists at The Secret Lab who spent years working on creating realistic looking dinosaurs, pushing the envelope of computer graphics like never before.

Let's give those guys some credit! Dinosaur is still a stunning film, even if it does follow a plot semi-similar to another dinosaur movie...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On gender roles (or the lack thereof) in animation

My friend Gloria and I were chatting late last night about The Incredibles and how she saw Edna Mode as a "flamboyantly gay man." It became a long discussion about the idea of gender in animation and how there is a disjunct between image and voice in a character, and how it is easily exploited because of style and exaggeration in the medium of animation that is not so effective in live-action film or theatre.

An excerpt from a posting in her LJ:

Edna the "character" is a female, based on the famous Hollywood costume designer (and a favorite of Hitchcock's) named Edith Head.

Edna the "voice" is male, done by Brad Bird himself (the director of The Incredibles) after auditioning several actresses and not finding any satisfactory voices to caricature Edith's outlandish personality.

FYI, Brad Bird is not gay. ;)

That being said, gender crossovers are nothing new for animation. Mel Blanc often voiced female characters in the Looney Tunes, and one could almost count on Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd to crossdress every other cartoon or so. Ranma switches between male and female with a splash of water. Nancy Cartwright is the voice of Bart Simpson, Christine Cavanaugh was the voice of Chucky on the Rugrats.

The stylization and exaggeration of cartooning and animation give rise to the suspension of disbelief, thereby making it easy to mix genders and even species. This is because visual cues are more powerful than audible cues; a drawing of a woman is more convincing of the gender than the voice behind it. And because animation has no basis in reality, it is more effective than, say, a theatre production where people wear masks.

A Sketch Blog? Not quite...

So I got myself a Blogger account mainly so I could comment on other people's blogs, but figured I could use this as a journal to post things that I find interesting about the animation field or anything related to animation. Considering the definition of animation that I used for my blog title, this presents a world of opportunities! I don't claim to be any sort of regular news blog like Luxo or I just post things that I find interesting, when I see/hear/do them. And if I ever get the time to actually draw something... well, it will be a momentous occasion worth posting for the world to see!