Monday, March 19, 2018

Sketch Club 03/08/2018

Mo picked out the mark for the week. She was crossing the street and in a hurry. I relaxed her a bit and left off her sunglasses. There are lots of details I've left off but it's supposed to be a sketch..

These are a lot of fun to do. You have to steal time here and there to put it together. A bit like working on a puzzle where you place a few pieces a day until the whole picture is assembled.

ZBrush for the sculpt, Maya for the assembly, Xgen hair, Substance painter for texture, Arnold for the render and a slight tweak in Photoshop.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Demo Reel 2017

It's surreal to condense 20+ years of work into 3 1/2 minutes. There's a mix of vis dev animation tests, code and production work all from my time at Sony Pictures Animation. This is only a fraction of the work I've done, many projects cannot be shown as they are either in active development or retired without becoming a feature film. Such is the life of a development artist.

Most of the work in the reel is done on a condensed timeline with a few artists. The old saying "Fast, good or cheap. Pick two." is very relevant for development. The execs tend to want fast and cheap. Expectations are that we make everything look high quality as possible.

Reel Breakdown:

Note on supervision: You'll see that I list "sup" on each piece. That means that I: bid the work, scheduled artists, kept execs and producers informed of the progress, managed day-to-day tasks for the artists, tracked down tech issues, gave feedback to artists, presented work for review with the directors and was responsible for quality and on-time delivery.

Gargamel - Smurfs: The Lost Village, which at the time we made the piece the film was untitled. Typically we create work very early in the film making process. Here we knew that the design aesthetic was to go back to the original comic book by Peyo. Since our crew is small and often on multiple projects at once, we tend to wear a lot of hats, which is why you'll see that I do a lot of tasks on most of the work in the reel. Here I supervised, made the anim rig, textured everything, did the cloth sim, lit and comp'd.

Cheesepider - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Talked about this in the previous post. We could pull this off in a short time period because I had already rigged and textured Barry and the Pickle. Supervised, textured and rigged Barry and Pickle, lit and comp'd.

Tim and Pickles - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. The fourth and largest piece for this film. This is just one shot. If I recall I spent only two days animating this shot, including addressing notes. Even though I supervise and give notes to the other animators, we ultimately need to make the directors happy, so I receive revision notes as well. Supervised, rigged Tim and Pickles, textured Pickles, animated, lit and comp'd.

Smurfy plowing into glass cake cover - Smurfs. Sup'd the live action shoot as well as the cg. The whole piece was large enough and under a tight timeline that we were able to get additional help. This crew was double our usual so I could concentrate on managing a larger crew. I had done the rig for earlier tests. Supervised, rigged and textured Smurfy. I animated and lit other shots that are not in the reel, an earlier post has the full piece.

Wave Test #2 - Surf's Up. When we make an animation test, it's intended only to be viewed internally. Most often they find their way outside. Our first test was so well received and subsequently played so often, that we were asked to create another piece. Our wave rig prototype had been sent to Imageworks after the first test, for this piece we tested the first production rig and give some early feedback on it. Directors and execs liked the surfing in this enough that they had Imageworks re-create the animation for the film. I supervised, rigged and textured Cody and animated.

Gene - Emoji Movie. This was very early in development, and we threw a lot of ideas into this piece. There is a subtle voxel ring on the edges of Gene's head/body, it looks like compression artifacts on YouTube. I had to make the face rig very flexible since we had to be prepared for Gene's mouth to stretch all the way across his entire face, or that his mouth might end up anywhere inside the sphere. Supervised, rigged and textured Gene, lit and comp'd.

Corn Disaster on the Great Wall - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Part of a longer piece. I talk about it in an earlier post. This shot came together very quickly, couple days in total. Had to texture, rig and animate in a couple days. Supervised as well.

Barry - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Walk / run cycles are normally our second phase in development. After the director(s) and character designers sign off on a design, we'll rig, texture and animate the main characters. Supervised, rigged and textured Barry and lit the shot. We tend to skip a comp for cycle test and do everything straight from the render.

Flint, Sam, Tim and Pickle Dance - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Part of a longer animation test. Flint, Sam and Tim are Imageworks assets from the first film, but because Imageworks and SPA use separate pipelines ( long story ), we have to re-rig, re-texture and re-do the hair. Fortunately Imageworks is very organized so the re-texturing process is fairly easy, but I had to write a lot of code to transfer all the data and prep it for our use. Supervised, modeled some bg pieces, re-rigged and re-textured Flint, Sam and Tim, rigged and textured Pickle, animated everything, did the cloth and hair fx, lit and comp'd.

Big Z - Surf's Up. One of the earliest animation tests we did. We were still finding our footing as a department. Visual development had been done for years, but doing it in 3d was very rare. 3d was thought at the time to be too cumbersome, too long of a process to be done in a fast pace and rapidly changing environment. I knew it could be done and was constantly championing the group and setting out to prove that it can be an integral part of development. This was a test that began to cement that notion in other people's minds. Supervised and rigged.

Pickle  - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Another phase 2 walk cycle. If I recall, there was only one or two days to rig and texture, which is the norm for vis dev. I also added this because I like the blink, hard to see in this, but his eyelids close like a camera aperture rather than a clam shell. Supervised, rigged, textured and lit.

Hefty - Smurfs: The Lost Village. This is a voice test, which is our phase 3 for main characters. If you cast an actor to star in your live action film, you'd have them perform a few lines to see if this is indeed your star. We do the same. Supervised, rigged, textured, lit and comp'd.

Cal - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Part of a larger piece. Talked about this in an earlier post. Supervised, rigged and animated.

Code - Spa Shop. What is shown is a custom UI that I built to house hundreds of tools we've made over the years, some of which dates back to my Imageworks days ( 20 years... ). I'd estimate that I wrote about 90% of what's in the UI, Omar Smith wrote the rest, save the one that was written by Dan Kramer. The code that survives are tools that have been written and improved upon as needs or Maya changes. We use the tools interactively and in everything from rigging, lighting and pipeline scripts. Most are MEL but these days I tend to use Python.

Code - Spa Rig Character. Another custom UI. The tabs and buttons are created by parsing the rig script for hash tag mark ups. Depending on the tag, it will build a tab or button. Utilities and the main "run" section have special handling and their own unique tab. The rigging code itself has evolved over years. I can create a fully functioning rig and passable deformations in about an hour.

Columbia Logo - Hotel Transylvania. Sometimes I do production work for our films. It tends to be mostly logos. SPA and Imageworks are separate entities as far as pipelines and union vs non-union, both of which have their challenges when it comes to sharing work. I spent years at Imageworks before SPA, so I know the pipeline. The Columbia logo comp itself has been around Imageworks for a long time, but each time I do a logo the whole thing has to be rebuilt ( long story ). I supervised, re-textured the Mavis Bat, did the fx, lit and comp'd.

SPA Logo. This is SPA's second logo. Justin Thompson, Dave Bleich, and I re-designed the logo. I did the concept, modeling, rigging, texturing, animation, lighting and comp. We had done a bunch of concepts for this. The execs liked this one and had almost no notes through the whole process.

End Credit Cards - Open Season 4. This was a quick and fun project. Our direct-to-dvd films have small crews and very tight timelines, but they are a lot of fun to do as you get to try ideas and find quick solutions. Dave Feiss drew the characters, Sean Eckols designed and painted the cards, I took his Photoshop files and animated as many of his layers as I could. I think it was about a week from concept to completion for these.

Barry - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Marketing. If we have time between projects, we will team up with our marketing department to do short, fun promotional pieces. This one is Barry celebrating 3 million likes on the Cloudy Facebook page. From concept to delivery was about three weeks  if I recall correctly. I did everything except the animation.

Columbia Logo - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. We love to mess with the Columbia lady. Supervised, re-rigged and re-textured Barry and Banana, did the fx, lit and comp'd.

Cloudy 2 Logo - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. The super talented Glenn Harmon did an early pass on this. I took it as a jumping off point and kept adding and improving until I ran out of time. I did everything except the original concept.

I've left off work from my time at Sony Pictures Imageworks since that was over 15 years ago. While I was there I did everything from modeling, rigging, animation, fx, lighting, comp and supervision in 7+ years on lots of feature films.

Music: Liquid Blue by The.Madpix.Project — Provided by Jamendo

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 Test #1

Cloudy 2 test from 2012.

It's best to focus on answering the big questions when you spend the time to do an animated piece. "Can this character carry our film?", "Does the design match the emotional tone of the film?", "How do we do this thing no one has done before?"

We had done previous tests with Barry and the Pickle before we made this test. Everyone was happy with the cute strawberry and the goofy pickle. The big question for the film was, "Will the predatory food be too scary / scary enough?" Finding that line was tricky, not just for this test but also for the film. From this and a subsequent test we discovered that it's the character's reactions to the threat that increase or decrease the scare. As long as we make Barry cute and Pickle goofy, we can get away with a lot.

This came together fairly quickly, four weeks in total, largely due to the fact that Barry and the Pickle were textured and rigged from a previous test. Omar Smith modeled all the characters and rigged the Cheespider, James Battersby textured the Cheespider, Chad Stewart animated and I rigged and textured Barry and Pickle and lit.

Emoji Movie Animation Test #1

A good example of a typical voice test. This was early 2016.

After we hit diminishing returns on a character sculpt, we try to have them perform, similar to a live action film. If you think this is your star, go ahead and have them act out a scene with some dialog. Lots of issues are spotted with a test like this, both good and bad.

SPA does not have a single design style that carries over to every film. That's a great way to avoid stagnation, but for development that means we have to custom craft every rig. For Gene, I spent the most time on the face rig ( he's 75% face ). Even though he looks simple, a lot of r&d goes into it.

Each iteration of a rig is not 100% complete. I get a working version in my and the animator's hands quickly. We assess, suggest changes/additions/etc. Then I go back for round after round until we're satisfied that the rig can perform well enough for this task. It's a very similar process to agile development, just on a very small scale with the stakeholders and customer rep are the same person. Development in a small team requires flexibility and objectivity.

Three artists worked on this over three weeks. The character design went through a lot of iterations before we landed on what you see above, and that's not counted in the three weeks.  Those iterations were months of work. Omar Smith sculpted Gene, Troy Saliba animated and I rigged, textured and lit.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Smurfs Animation Test #1

Better known as "The Cupcake Test" circa 2009. Our first hybrid test.

You'll notice that this Smurf is closer to the original Peyo designs and the 2017 film compared to the hybrid films in 2011 and 2013. As confusing as it sounds, this test came first and green-lit the live action films even though the look for those films is different.

We typically start with original material if any exists. That's the case for the Smurfs as it was for Popeye ( can't show the Popeye development though ). A faithful representation is a great comparison tool because we can refer back to it rather than imagine how it might look in 3d.

This doesn't exactly nail the Peyo look, but time and budget sometimes win over asthetics. We picked up from this point and refined it further for the 2017 film, just as we would have if the decision was to go this design route for the first two films.

By the way, the dog was a PRO. The handlers would put a drink coaster on the ground and run through the performance once or twice, then pull the coaster for the take. If we needed another take, they told him to go to his mark, which he did almost to the exact spot. For position adjustments, they would say "move right/left/back/etc" and he would take one tiny paw step to his right/left/back/etc. They used a treat on a stick to get him to appear as if he was eating the cupcake, which we later replaced.

The whole test was done in about 20 weeks, including the live action shoot. Six SPA 3d artists and four SPI animators worked on the test. Omar Smith modeled Smurfy, James Battersby helped with the live action shoot, textured and lit, Ernie Rinard textured and lit, Sungwook Su textured and did fx. Chad Stewart, Spencer Cook and Kenn MacDonald animated, unfortunately I don't recall the names of the other two. I supervised the live action and cg, modeled, rigged, animated, textured and lit.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Animation Test #2

This piece is from 2006 or 2007 when Phil Lord and Chris Miller were on board to direct.

It was the most ambitious project we had attempted. Flint and Sam were in active design revisions, the design of the world only existed in Justin Thompson's head and two new directors were retooling the project. This test green-lit the film and led to further development where we created the look that you see in the feature film.

For the feature, the design of Flint and Sam changed, the look was refined and the animation improved. All of these things are expected in development. Production has hundreds of very talented artists and a long process ahead to create the highest quality possible.  Early development leans toward speed and low cost at the expense of quality. Quality is improved over time. The largest jump, both in cost and quality, is when production begins.

What's surprising to a lot of people is that 3d visual development does not make the assets for the film, nor should it be required to do so. If we get a design approval, then production only has to make the asset once. There's huge cost savings in having a large team with a very specific, unchanging goal. It's best to think of what we do as a concept or prototype similar to how an auto manufacturer creates a concept car with a team of designers before the production version is made.

There were six 3d artists who worked for about 20 weeks on this test. Takao Noguchi and Omar Smith modeled characters, Ernie Rinard and James Battersby modeled, textured, lit and did fx and Sungwook Su did fx. I supervised, modeled, rigged, textured, animated and lit. Justin Thompson was the production designer.

Surf's Up Animation Test #1

I think we did this in 2004 or 2005. This was the first large scale piece ( we call them sizzle pieces ) that the 3D Visual Development group had assembled.

We try to answer as many questions as possible if we'll be spending lots of time on a test. For this piece, no one had done a crashing ocean wave before, there were lots of rolling swells done at that time, but nothing that had a tube and crashed. We were also experimenting with sports-like cinematography.

The wave rig was a prototype that we handed to Imageworks, who in turn built a rig that suited their needs for the film. With only two of us animating on a handful of shots, we can make a very specific rig rather than having to make something very robust for scores of animators working on hundreds of shots. We're free to try things you'd never dare try to support in production.

It was suggested to us that we simulate the waves. As in: make a giant body of water, make a sloping ocean bottom, put 1000 fans and blow them over the surface thereby creating waves. We knew immediately that would be the most expensive, time consuming and inflexible method possible, so we set out to rig the wave as if it was just another character.

Since all of us have a production background we could put ourselves in the future animator's shoes. "I bet the director will ask to change the shape on the top of the wave." -or- "It would be great if we could see the wake and trail as we animated." -or- "The animator and director should see texture flowing over the wave to get a sense of how fast or slow the wave is moving." We could cobble together a lot of ideas very late in the process, sometimes days before delivery.

The directors brought the test and their outline to the executives. They showed the test first and the execs green-lit the film in that meeting.

There were five artists working for about 16 weeks ( including the wave rig prototype ) for the entire piece. Takao Noguchi modeled and textured Cody, Shawn McInerney animated and helped with the wave prototype, Ernie Rinard and James Battersby textured and lit the waves. I supervised, rigged Cody, made the wave rig and animated. The boards were done by Richie Chavez and Marcelo Vignali.