Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The CG Story: Computer Generated Animation & Special Effects - Book Review

I was generously given a copy of Christopher Finch's "The CG Story: Computer Generated Animation & Special Effects" for a review and here are my impressions:

As you can see by the picture below, it's a pretty big book and it's fairly heavy as well (to be specific: 13.3” tall, 11.5” wide, 5.5 pounds), but the main impression you get from it is quality.

The book is protected by the colorful slip you can see above and once you take it off you're left with a very nice and understated cover I actually prefer:

I can't emphasize enough how nice the book is. As you start paging through the beginning you're shown full page color images of Madagascar, Peter Jackson's King Kong, Brave and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Given the size of the book it makes for a very impressive intro and sets the tone for the rest of the book. I'm a big fan of behind-the-scenes material and in the case of King Kong, you actually get a photo of Naomi Watts on a green screen set held by a physical version of Kong's hand (all green as well, full of green tape and match move markers), followed by a page showing the final CG render of Kong and Watts. These types of before-and-after images are sprinkled throughout the book, either showing motion capture actors, set images and then final renders (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Polar Express, etc.) or concept drawings, wireframes and 3D models (Cars, Chicken Little, etc.). It's a nice touch and supplements the written content well.

The main content is divided into 15 chapters, starting with Chapter 0 "Prologue: Virtual Realities". The prologue briefly outlines the early beginnings of CG in the commercial and feature film world with an early emphasis on how Toy Story changed the world of animation. Something that stood out to me was this piece of information (p.14): "The CG pioneer Ivan Sutherland concluded a famous 1965 paper, "The Ultimate Display", with these sentences: The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in... such a room would be good enough to sit on." Describing Star Trek The Next Generation's holodeck in 1965? Love it.
It's overall a nice intro chapter, although I'm curious about the line "... it was relatively easy for anyone skilled in traditional hand-drawn animation or in stop-motion techniques to retrain as a CG animator." (p.18). I always hear stories about how difficult it was, no? Same with the line where it talks about animators as "... gifted individuals who had the ability to "act with a pencil"...", which is a fine description for 2D animators, but then it talks about CG animators and how they're "acting with a joystick". Joystick? I know I'm being picky but since the book covers CG animation and effects, shouldn't it be "acting with with a mouse and keyboard"? All that research and it gets the main tool wrong? Unless I'm totally not aware of how CG animators used to work or a chapter in the book that covers the usage of joysticks.
The rest of the book is divided into:

Chapter 1 "Punch Cards and Paradigms"
Chapter 2 "Moving Out"
Chapter 3 "Early Days At Pixar"
Chapter 4 "A Species Moves Towards Extinction"
Chapter 5 "Toy Story"
Chapter 6 "New Worlds"
Chapter 7 "Battle Of The Bugs"
Chapter 8 "In The Matrix"
Chapter 9 "An Industry Comes Of Age"
Chapter 10 "Heroes And Superheroes"
Chapter 11 "Improbable Developments"
Chapter 12 "From Pandora To The Gare Montparnasse"
Chapter 13 "Franchises And Fantasies"
Chapter 14 "It's Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before"

It's a lot of fun to read through the history of computer graphics, mainly because I'm a nerd, and each chapter does a really good job of giving you the most important information without being needlessly wordy or boring. Now, if you want to really nerd out on early CG history I recommend Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution, which is very detailed but only covers the early days, whereas The CG Story geeks out up until Life of Pi and Wreck-It Ralph.
The book covers all the major milestones in terms of movies that advanced digital technology and the geniuses who made it all possible, starting off with Star Wars (Chapter 2), motion-controlled cameras, George Lucas, John Dykstra, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Edlund, etc. moving forward to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and Tron. Basically my childhood. It's also nice to see that Bill Kovacs gets mentioned. I was lucky enough to attend one of his Physics for Animators class at the Academy of Art and half the class time consisted of stories about the production of Tron. I loved it and he was really entertaining.

(All Following Images Courtesy: The Monacelli Press.)

Some chapters are fully devoted to either a company (chapter 3 for Pixar) or movie (chapter 5 for Toy Story). Chapter 4 does put a special emphasis on Jurassic Park but I was hoping for a more expanded dissection of this, dare I say, game changing moment in CG history (... I so hate this term).

Same goes for Gollum and Davy Jones. The movies they star in do get mentioned but those two characters really pushed the VFX for digital actors and again I was hoping for more ink devoted to them.

Other than that, as mentioned earlier, a lot of major VFX movies get mentioned and credited for pushing the envelope (even though in some places the movies are mentioned yet not the companies responsible for the VFX (Transformers, as well as Inception and other movies for instance, which is odd since most of the material, credits and references are very detailed).

It feels like there is an emphasis on animated features and companies, especially Pixar, throughout the book (I highly recommend The Pixar Touch if you want a good book about that company and/or The Pixar Story if documentaries are more your thing; I really liked them both), but to go into detail about every major VFX movie would have doubled the size of the book.

There is a small portion devoted to non US productions regarding animated features towards the end of the book.

As a whole, I highly recommend this book if you want an interesting and beautifully presented overview of the history of CG animation and effects, not just content wise but also in terms of physical quality and presentation.

[udpate]: more images can be found at Martin Venezky's site (the designer of the book).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Demo Reel Tips

This was a lot of fun to do! Thanks Hans and Lana for setting it up!

Return of the Jungle

11secondclub - November Winner

Last month's 11 Second Club winner is pretty cool! I like the simple setup where the focus is purely on her acting. The timing on the gesture for "stick around" and how she moves her hand over her leg I like as well. Overall really solid. Nice render too. Congratulations Nikolay Vanecyan!

James Baxter - Notes on Acting for Animation


Animators are the ones that throw the switch; the ones who make an audience forget that they are animated characters. The most important thing is to try and find the truth. But you can’t do this by “method” animating. You can’t be in the moment for the length of time it takes to complete a scene. Actors do, while animators describe. Best note of the day: You don’t have to do improv classes (Yeah!) When you act out a scene, it’s important to remember that it is your body you are acting with, not your character’s. Your character can do things your body can’t (and is probably better at them as well). Bill Tytla was the first animator to take acting in animation seriously.

There's a ton more, so head over to Flooby Nooby for all the details!

Monday, December 2, 2013

41st Annual Annie Awards

Check out all the nominations here!

Outstanding Achievement, Character Animation in a Feature Production
  • Thom Roberts - Epic
 - Blue Sky Studios
  • Jonathan Del Val – Despicable Me 2
 - Universal Pictures
  • Jakob Jensen - The Croods - 
DreamWorks Animation
  • John Chun Chiu Lee - Monsters University
 - Pixar Animation Studios
  • Kitaro Kosaka – The Wind Rises - 
The Walt Disney Studios
  • Tony Smeed - Frozen
 - Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Patrick Imbert - Ernest & Celestine
Outstanding Achievement, Character Animation in a Live Action Production
  • Jeff Capogreco, Jedrzej Wojtowicz, Kevin Estey, Alessandro Bonora, Gino Acevedo - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Gollum
 - Weta Digital
  • Dave Clayton, Simeon Duncombe, Jung Min Chan, Matthew Cioffi, Guillame Francois - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Goblin King
 - Weta Digital
  • Hal Hickel, Chris Lentz, Derrick Carlin, Steve Rawlins, Kyle Winkelman - Pacific Rim
 - Industrial Light & Magic

Outstanding Achievement, Animated Effects in a Live Action Production
  • Jonathan Paquin, Brian Goodwin, Gray Horsfield, Mathieu Chardonnet, Adrien Toupet - Man Of Steel - 
Weta Digital
  • Ben O’Brien, Karin Cooper, Lee Uren, Chris Root - Star Trek: Into Darkness - Industrial Light & Magic
  • Dan Pearson, Jay Cooper, Jeff Grebe, Amelia Chenoweth - Star Trek: Into Darkness - 
Industrial Light & Magic
  • Michael Balog, Ryan Hopkins, Patrick Conran, Florian Witzel - Pacific Rim
 - Industrial Light & Magic

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CUBE Showreel 2013-2014

Art tips by Aaron Blaise

Boxtrolls - New Trailer

Head over to Apple Trailers and watch the new trailer. So crazy to see all the detail and work that goes into it!

Being insecure: Tomáš Jech at TEDxExpressionCollege


Honest talk about his insecurities and how he rose above it. My initial comment was about the unfortunate competitive environment at studios. That's my own interpretation of the beginning of the talk talking about his internship.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stop worshipping animation companies.

Everybody has their own favorite company they want to work for. Each student is different. I see and hear it all the time through my teachings, from AM, to the AAU and in my workshops.

But there is one consistent problem.

As long as you worship your favorite company you won't question teachers who work for that company enough, if at all. You end up being a drone.

Fanboy-ism has always existed and that's fine. I'm guilty of this as well. But there comes a point where it's not helping you. For example. Last week in my class, a student showed me work from another class and I asked what the notes were for his shot. The student recited what he was told to change but when I asked why he had to make those changes, the student didn't know what the reasons were. And that's the problem I see over and over again. Students blindly following what teachers tell them, without asking why.

Is it fear of questioning the wisdom and authority of your teacher? Is it fear that by doing so you might ruin your chances of getting hired at your favorite company that teacher represents?

Teachers don't know everything. They can also be wrong.

Not everything you hear is holy scripture, especially when it comes to performance related advice, since a lot of it is based on a subjective preference. Technical notes you should really follow though. But either way, ask why if you don't understand the notes.

It's okay to question things. How else will you learn? If you don't understand the notes, then the teacher is just animating through you. And the next time you start a similar shot, you will either make the same mistake or ape the notes you were given without understanding the reasons and principles behind it.

As a student you are paying for classes and the teachers are there to help you. Don't just blindly accept every note. That's a waste of time and money.


pic credit

My latest animation: "I'm walking here!"

I'm helping out with a short called "Curpigeon" at the Academy of Art and this clip is a rig test to see what works and what doesn't work with the current rig version. It was a lot of fun though to combine creature work with an audio performance (and it's good to have that on your reel for variety).

There's also a youtube and quicktime version as always. And for the technical questions people always ask, the first shot took 8 hours and the second one 9 hours, all in Maya. The audio in the 2nd shot is from "Midnight Cowboy".

Hope you guys like it!


Top 5 Essentials of Animating Creatures

I wrote up a post for the Animation Mentor blog regarding my thoughts on creature animation. In short, the reasons why I think it's important and what you should look out for:

1. Most companies feature creatures in their movies.

2. Diversity in your reel.
3. Root the performance in reality.
4. Get the weight right.
5. Interaction between creatures.

Head over there to read up on all the details. I hope it's helpful!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Successful Animator

I've only followed Successful Animator for a day or so but the output is crazy. I don't know how much gets repeated and how automated those tweets are but it's very interesting to read through and there are a lot of tips, not just quotes. Worth going through and reading:

- found via Clay Kaytis

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tarzan 3D - Trailer

I don't understand why the facial anim is not being pushed. They lost me right at the beginning when the kid is "scared".

 Fitting Avatar trailer music for the "Avatar-ish glow worm-y thingie sequence.

Tarzan - Trailer #1 [VO|HD] by addictomovie

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hyper Light Drifter Fan Animation

After seeing the Kickstarter for Hyper Light Drifter (and loving everything about it) I couldn't resist and had to animate something related to it.

This is my fan clip:

There's also a Vimeo link and the Quicktime file.

The main inspiration was this picture:

And I wanted to incorporate this set, which also has the spiders, and the little puff clouds when he runs, all seen here:

The flash speed run is also really neat, which I tried to replicate as closely as possible:

This is technically only the first half of what I wanted to do, but now I'm not sure if I will continue. As always, finding the time is tricky and I kinda like how it ends now. I started with the continuation, which you can see at the end of the last shot:

Regarding the music, the Kickstarter says that Disasterpeace will be doing the music for it so I was trying to find a track of his that would fit tempo wise. The track I chose is "Prologue" from "Rise of the Obsidian Interstellar".

Other than, the Drifter is a modified Norman, the spiders are modified Spiderbots.

Animation was all done in Maya, using one day for modding and planing and one day for animation.

I think that's about it!


Regarding the cape: it's a separate piece of geometry that I skinned to a few joints and the movement is keyframed:

The skirt is another separate piece of geometry that I wrapped deformed around the thighs.

As for a playblast, it's what you see in the above animated gif. The lamberts are set with incandescence all the way up. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again

Nicely done, but holy moly. Clear example that whatever is going to come out, that guy won't be happy with it. There is no way you can satisfy "everyone".

Frozen - Trailer

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ten steps to a great game animation demo reel

Check out all the tips at gameanim.com!

How To Overcome A Creative Block

I usually tend to look at other people's work that inspires me (at work or movies or clips online in general). There's always a great idea that makes you go "Nice! That's cool! Oh, wait! What if I do that in here? Tweak it like that? Oh, here's a new idea! Oh yeah, that works!" etc. Not very scientific, but inspiration from other other people's work helps me a lot, more so than taking a break (unless you talk to someone else about your shot). :)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Animation Article Database

Over at Monstro is a huge list of animation related articles regarding animation principles, acting, character development, demo reels, etc. etc. It's huge and well worth a look.

Thanks Anand for the tip!

Roadkill Redemption

Friday, August 30, 2013

Reaction - Facial Reference

This was floating around work (sorry, don't know who to credit and what the source link is).

But the different facial expressions are really funny to see: