Sunday, December 02, 2012

A rather involved birthday present

My mom turned 60 this year and I spent the better part of 2 months on a gift for her that I'd had in mind for a while.  A long time ago she wrote a children's story and I've wanted to illustrate it.  So what better incentive to get off my lazy butt and draw?  Of course, my timing could have been better... crunch at Sony is wearing me down.  But it was nice to come home, even late at night, and do something different.  Here's the first page I took through layout into color:

Mom's always been fond of Little Golden books, and has quite a large collection of them.  I went with a simple design and soft pastel palette, similar to many of the stories from the 1950s.  Also managed to track down the font they used to use!  I'm no good with watercolors though, which was a typical medium back then.  I used a rather odd combination of media to get this book done - Maya for image composition, traditional pencil/paper for cleanup and character design, Photoshop for page layout, and Artrage to simulate pencil/pastel in the final color pass.

Why not just use actual colored pencils/pastels, you may ask?  I do enjoy coloring with real art supplies, but I have a few reasons for going digital: for one thing, I have several sets of supplies and still can't find any pencils or sticks with a decent flesh tone.  What's up with that?  Rather than spending a lot of money at Utrecht trying to find all the hues that I need, I can draw in the computer and get whatever darn color I want.  I'm also rather fond of layers and the undo button, and as I'm on a tight production schedule, I don't have time to make mistakes on paper that necessitate starting over.  As an extra plus, I'm saving trees!

ArtRage is a bit tricky to get the hang of, but once you get used to it, it's rather fun.  The brushes react whatever canvas you've chosen, and the color blending works pretty well.  It's really all about finding the right brush settings for your particular art style.  I didn't like the default oil paint tool and was tempted to dismiss it all together, but the right brush helped me really enjoy painting the cover for the book.  I definitely want to paint more in the future.

Mom loved the present, which is exactly what I hoped for!  But what I hadn't expected was the interest from other people at the birthday party as well.  She and I are now wondering whether it's worth trying to self-publish through something like or Amazon.  We'll see...

Saturday, December 01, 2012

How important is the face?

I just saw this interesting article on NPR about human facial expressions and how they can be misleading if taken out of context of the body pose:

Check out this picture from the article:

Can you tell who is happy and who is upset?

As an animator I spend a lot of time tweaking a character's facial rig controls into something resembling the emotion I want to portray, but I wonder, just how important is it, compared to getting the body motion working?  It may seem a little backwards, since I've been told that people look at the eyes and face of a person more than everything else.  There have even been studies done that track where an audience is looking during any particular shot of a movie:

Lots of focus on the face, though obviously in this scene there isn't a whole lot of action going on.  I'd be curious to find another example with a lot of full body motion happening.

Still, I suppose the main point is, getting a strong pose may be MORE important than getting the facial expression working.  The audience may not be directly focusing on the curve of the spine or the position of the legs and arms, but they "feel" the pose subconsciously and know when something is off, even if they can't quite put their finger on it.

Of course, that's not to say that the face is not important at all.  It all works together.  But just think of some examples of characters where the face is very simplified or missing all together, and you can still make out their emotions: WALL-E, Luxo Jr., Aladdin's magic carpet, Jack Skellington (no pupils), Gromit (no mouth).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Instant feelings

I've been chuckling over various Tumblrs and blog posts lately, the ones that just collect a bunch of random animated GIFs to represent how the author reacted to certain things (news, a celebrity faux pas, a silly forum comment, etc.). I find them fascinating because they are able to convey a feeling in just a few seconds. I want to start studying GIFs more and analyze what it is about particular snippets of videos that capture the essence of an emotion.

Here's a good one to start:

It features a change of emotion; he starts out pretty neutral, perhaps even a bit bored. His eyebrows are relaxed, his eyelids drooping over his pupils, and his mouth hanging slightly open.  Then in an instant you see his brows furrow and lower, his eyes open and dart to the left, then back to focus on the speaker.  His whole head tilts a bit in disbelief before freezing in position, facing slightly away from the other guy.  Definitely a "WTF?" moment.

There's a lot going on in such a deceptively simple gesture, but breaking it down helps me understand how and a bit of why it works.  Unfortunately it also kind of makes it less funny, which I find troublesome.  What if I need to animate a funny scene?  If I break stuff down to the point that I no longer find it humorous, how will I know whether it's working or not?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 8

Day 8 is "favorite animated character." I could rattle off my top 20 list easily, but in terms of which character had the most profound influence on me as a budding animator, I'd have to go with Timon.

When The Lion King came out, I was 13 years old and I'd already known for about 10 of them that I wanted to be an animator.  Something about Timon's squashy/stretchy body and face really appealed to me, and when I got my hands on the VHS, I popped it into my parents' VCR and frame-by-framed every scene he was in, trying to master his hand poses, facial expressions, line of action, and attitude in my trusty sketchbook.

Looking back on it now, Timon was probably one of the easier characters to draw.  Maybe I should have challenged myself more.  I tried drawing Simba and Rafiki a few times, but kept coming back to Timon.  Of course had I kept up my drawing, maybe I would have gotten good enough to draw any character I wanted!  Sadly I'm still not at that level of skill necessary to keep characters on model, do turnarounds,  come up with appealing poses, draw from imagination, etc. etc.

When I took an class at the Animation Guild in Burbank, I realized just how much I have to learn if I ever want to become a decent 2D animator.  I struggled with every class assignment and was never satisfied with any of my pieces.  What would my 13-year-old self say to me if she saw where I was today?

This evening, I popped in The Lion King and sketched out frames from a Timon scene in my sketchbook, just like old times.  It's never too late to get back into it!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 7

Day 7 is our favorite word.  This one conjures up so many different and wonderful images in my brain...

Adventure on the Atari 2600 was one of the very first video games I ever played.  The graphics were so rudimentary that we couldn't really tell what some things were without the instruction book.  Keys and castles were easy enough, but... was that a dragon or a duck? Do you kill him with... an arrow?

Seriously, for about 25 years I'd been picking up the sword the wrong way.  You can kill the dragon with either end of it, so I just figured it was an arrow since that's what it looked like to me when I was 5 years old. I don't see how that's any more nonsensical than a plumber eating mushrooms and stomping on turtles.  I just had to incorporate that silliness into my artwork. :)

The graphics may have been simple, but for me, it truly was an adventure.  It had mazes, secret passages, hidden rooms, terrifying enemies popping out of nowhere, keys to unlock castle gates, and shiny treasure to discover.  To this day I still love to play it.  I've discovered new games in the interim, one of which inspired the top half of my picture.  Sword & Sworcery gave me that same sense of wonder as I took control of the Scythian and got lost in the mountains of Mingi Taw.

Of course, I love going on real adventures too!  I have fond memories of growing up and going camping, tidepooling, fishing, and travelling to all sorts of places with my family.  Nowadays it's a little harder since I don't get summer vacation anymore.  But Tommy and I try to take at least one vacation somewhere new each year.

Ultimately, to me, the very word evokes the discovery of something new, of stepping outside one's comfort zone and being open to experience something that could change your life.  It involves risk, sometimes small, sometimes large.  I generally prefer the smaller risks.  One can have adventures without being reckless, after all :)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 6

"The enemy's gate is down."

Day 6 is my favorite character from a book that hasn't been made into a movie yet.  This is soon to change, since Ender's Game is finally being adapted to film after many years of development shenanigans.  I figured I'd better draw some fanart now before all the images in my head get warped by the movie.  That is, if I decide to see it instead of boycotting it.  But that's another matter.  Anyway...

So this is the famous zero-gravity battle room.  Salamander Army (green-green-brown) has not quite adapted to zero-g, and is attempting to keep themselves oriented the way they were facing in the corridor outside.  Meanwhile Ender, decked out in the grey-orange-grey uniform of Dragon Army, has easily reoriented to the position that makes the most sense strategically, throwing himself "down" towards the enemy gate and tucking his knees up to shield him from oncoming blasts.

This image was quite complicated and took a lot of planning and research, but in the end it was quite fun to make.  I looked at photos of astronauts, motorcyclists, Tron costumes, and other Ender's Game fan art. Here's some WIP stuff:

Modelling the background in Maya.
Planning out Ender's pose with a temp model. Why does she have such freakishly long legs?
Sketching Ender with drapery reference photos. I don't own a spacesuit so I made do with snow pants and a jacket.
Rotating the canvas to sketch in Salamander Army.
Inks. Had to pull out my tablet laptop since I hate drawing clean lines on a Wacom. It's much more natural to rotate the canvas than to twist my arm.
Flat color. After that it's just making stuff look shiny. :)

The funny thing about Ender's Game is the minimal amount of physical detail given for characters and places - the majority of the book revolves around thoughts and actions.  I re-read the book for the zillionth time to see if I missed anything prior to starting my piece, and realized that there wasn't much to miss.  I tried my best to compile all the details that I could piece together - red and white buttons on the guns, army colors lighting up the corridor, handholds in the battle room, etc.  I wasn't about to draw all 40 kids from both armies though!  It was interesting to see how other fans interpreted the book.

The next challenges will not be nearly so involved.  But I had to do Ender's Game justice.  It helped me get through a difficult growing stage.

Friday, June 22, 2012

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 5

Took a short hiatus to work on a Father's Day card and to visit Cars Land at California Adventure (which was awesome, BTW).  We shall now attempt to return to our regularly scheduled program!

Day 5: Best Friend -

Well, I had to go with Tommy, obviously... I wouldn't have married him if he weren't my best friend!  We love to go on adventures together, usually out into nature like Sequoia or Yellowstone, or in this case one of the little canyons north of Malibu to try to catch the Quadrantids.  You know you've found a keeper if he's crazy enough to sit on the hood of the car with you in the middle of winter at 3am to watch for shooting stars.    It turned out Malibu wasn't quite far enough away from the city to avoid the light pollution (which you can see glowing out behind the mountain silhouettes, haha)

I was originally going to try to use a simple drawing style for the two figures, something like Pascal Campion does with his work.  I don't know why, but it does not seem to come naturally to me at all.  Simple design is deceptive!  It takes a great eye for line and flow and shape.  I guess I need to work on the basics a lot more.   Perhaps tomorrow?

Not too happy with the leg positions... I miss Vilppu's figure drawing class.  Maybe I will pick up some of his DVDs.

The interesting thing about this challenge is that it gets me thinking about what my strengths and weaknesses are.  As I try different techniques, I start to figure out what areas I want to delve more deeply into, to try to explore and hone further.  I think this gets back to my earlier blog post about style - it's difficult to develop a style if you don't first know what you want.  Must keep drawing and discovering more about myself!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 4

Day 4 and we're on to "Favorite Place." The choice was easy for me, but picking my favorite part of Disneyland is almost impossible!  So many amazing things to do and see.  I think what I love the most is discovering all the little details that the casual visitor completely misses.  For example, the Evil Queen who occasionally peeks out from behind her curtains, surveying Fantasyland. Even more ominous at night time. :)

I pulled out my pastel pencils for this experiment on black paper.  I'm pretty much a newb when it comes to using this medium.  I love looking at concept art books and seeing all the beautiful pastel artwork.  I know I'll never be as good as them, since I focus the majority of my creativity on animation.  Still, it's fun to play around with.

I am so lucky to have a husband who shares my love of the "Happiest Place On Earth."  For us that title is especially true, since he proposed to me on the ride right across from the Queen's lookout, Peter Pan!

Got black pastel all over my hands while making those window beams.  I love art :D

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 3

Day 3: Favorite Food -
My mom's side of the family came to the U.S. after WWII; prior to the Japanese occupation they lived in Hong Kong.  Before that my ancestors came from Macau, which was a Portuguese colony with Chinese inhabitants.  We have mostly Portuguese genes, but culturally feel closer to our Chinese roots.

Because of that, dim sum is a big family tradition; we go out for holidays, birthdays, whatever. When we were little, my sister, my cousin Jas and I would giggle at the funny Cantonese names for each dish that our parents and grandparents would use to order. Instead of "char siu bao," we would say "char siu POW!!"  Ha gow became "hot cow."

Wacom and Photoshop for this one.  I also pulled out my handy dandy special effects reference guide, "Elemental Magic" by Joseph Gilland.  SOOOOO much good stuff in there.  I flipped to the chapter on liquids for ideas on how to do the soy sauce bursting out of Kikko Man's head.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 2

Day 2 is "favorite animal." I had a little trouble deciding between the Okapi and a funky bird called the Hoatzin.  They're both fascinating creatures!  The Hoatzin chicks actually have claws on their wings and remind me of Archaeopteryx, which is freakin' cool.  I'd love to travel to South America and see them hanging out on the riverbanks.

The Okapi are just as strange and wonderful - with those awesome stripes on their hindquarters, they look like a cross between a zebra and a horse.  But they are actually most closely related to the giraffe, which you can see from the shape of their head and that long tongue.

I went with my traditional fallback of sketchbook and ballpoint pen for these.  Of all the tools I've tried when going on location to sketch, the ballpoint pen seems the most useful to me. They don't need sharpening, you can get light or heavy marks with pressure, the ink is permanent so it doesn't smear on the pages when you're done, and they're cheap so if you lose one out of your backpack or pocket, it's no big deal.  I suppose they're not very "professional," but I like them.

30-Day Drawing Challenge: Day 1

My friend Michelle started doing the "30-Day Drawing Challenge" a while back, and I thought it was a really cool idea.  Didn't have time to start it myself until after my iAnimate classes were done, but now that they are, it's time to draw!

Day 1 is "Draw Yourself." Kind of a toughie for me.  I'm pretty self-conscious when it comes to staring at myself in a mirror or taking photos, etc. So I opted for a simplified portrait and focused on the things that I like to think define me as a whole: my interests, hobbies, stuff I've done, and of course the shirts I wear.  I could start a whole blog just about my t-shirts and what they say about me. :)

So for those who may not know me so well, the first three outfits should be pretty self-explanatory: I like video games, I like making art, and I like taking pictures. The fourth outfit with the snazzy green helmet is reminiscent of the typical work gear from my trip to Costa Rica with folks from Playstation and Habitat for Humanity. Finally, the dress is the old uniform from the UCLA and Angeles Chorales, which I used to be a part of before my work got too hectic.  I think I've sung Handel's Messiah at least 5 times with them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Getty Sketching

I brought my sketchbook to the Getty yesterday and tried out my rusty quicksketch skills while waiting for my friend to arrive.  These were some people waiting in line for the tram (click for larger image):

And a slightly longer study of one of the busts in a gallery:

It felt good to be putting pen to paper again.  Clicking a mouse doesn't make me feel like much of an artist, at least not in the way that sketching does.  I wonder why it's so hard for me these days to open my sketchbook and just draw.  Maybe I'll try the 30 Day Challenge that's been circulating Facebook, once my iAnimate class is done.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Different Kind of Animation

I've got this subtitle on my blog that says "Running commentary on anything that moves or gives the illusion of movement."  Animation to me is more than simply adjusting sliders in Maya or sketching on paper.  It's not just about moving things, it's about getting to the essence of things that move you.  The best animators are able to boil down the complexities and subtleties of life and people into a focused state, and infuse their work with that essence.

Last week I experienced something that moved my soul.  It was animation in the very rawest sense of the word: liveliness, spirit, energy.  I haven't yet figured out how to translate it into my artwork, but I am hoping it will find a way.  In the meantime, I've resorted to the more mundane medium of writing and chronicled my trip to Costa Rica at my other blog here:

I hope you will take time to read it, and reflect on it, and let it animate you!