Animating the Grad film

Throughout the process of creating my graduation film I’ve developed a few new ways of how I animate.

The most helpful thing I’ve been doing as I animate is generating a playblast of my animation, watching it back and writing notes on what needs to be changed. I do this at every stage of animating (block-in, in-between, breakdown etc) at least once. It’s a simple thing, but I’ve found reflecting on and critiquing my work as I go to be extremely helpful. It just helps to streamline the process and gives you something to focus on.

I had 50 shots in my film and I decided to tackle them in waves, first, second and third pass. First pass is the block-in stage, just getting the basics down, the second pass is the in-between stage and the third pass is polishing and refining (which also seems to take the most time and consideration). I tried to do it so that once all 50 shots were blocked in I would then move onto the second stage and so forth. This kind of worked, but inevitably I got into some shots more than others and would keep going past the block-in stage.

Lastly I tried to prioritise. I would look at my character and work with the actions that were most crucial first like the head (for facial acting) then work down to the eyes making micro movements – just flicking around every now and then, or say a nose flaring when the character inhales.

Cell Division animation

A little while back I created a short animation of cell division in Maya. I did so by going into the FX menu and created some nParticles, I created two nParticles for each cell I wanted to create (one particle is the nucleus and the other is the outer layer).

To control the nParticles I used cluster deformers. To do this I selected a single particle, then went to the deform tab and clicked on cluster deformers.

To make the particles into spheres I selected nParticle in the outliner and then went to the modify tab and then selected convert, right at the bottom of this menu there is an option to convert nParticles to Polygons.

After I completed this step it looked like nothing had really changed. It turns out that the blobby radius in the attribute editor of the deformed nParticle needs to be increased.

For each cell there was a large sphere and a small sphere (the nucleus). I positioned the smaller sphere inside the larger one and then combined the two so they would move together.

Centring the nParticles so that it appeared that the cells were multiplying from a single cell was strangely one of the more difficult parts. Having looked online it appears you can write a line or two of code that can create a button on your maya shelf that automatically centres an object. I tried inputting this code and created a few variations of my own, but after a number of different attempts it didn’t work, so unfortunately I ended up manually putting each particle to the centre (which is of course not ideal).

After this I proceeded with the animating, texturing and lighting.

Watch the final video here: https://vimeo.com/338718139

Britains Youngest Football Boss

To help inform by graduation film, which is based on a girls school football team, I began watching Britain’s Youngest Football Boss

It is a documentary on BBC 3 that follows the life of 18 year old, Jack Sullivan, (managing director of West Ham United women’s team).

The documentary explores the highs and lows of women’s football, and how an 18 year old tries to overcome the obstacles that him and his team are faced with. 

The main struggle that the women’s team faced, off the pitch, was funding and exposure. Unlike the men’s football team most of the public were unaware of the West Ham ladies team, this is almost certainly because women’s football has much less airtime than men’s. In fact most of the matches that Jack could not attend in person he would have to live stream off of Facebook.

Due to a severe lack of funding  women’s football is nowhere near as glamorous as men’s football, some of the girls have part time jobs alongside playing professional football. Because of this it is easier to see the raw passion they have for the game.

Each of the players are interviewed and we have access to how football affects their home life. Something that was particularly interesting was watching a couple who were both professional footballers and played for different sides, one girl played for Chelsea and the other girl for West Ham. As soon as they stepped on the pitch their dynamic changed, it was clear they were competitors and were very much disappointed if their partner was to score for their team. It’s interesting because it’s something that isn’t really seen as much, if at all, in men’s football. It was great to see how these women could be in a happy relationship and still compete against their partner under fairly high pressure circumstances without it hugely affecting their home life. 

Having watched mainly men’s football growing up it was massively beneficial for me to watch this documentary to inform my own film about how women play football, how they interact with one another, how they behave on and off the pitch and ultimately to see the passion each and every one of them had for the sport. This documentary helped me inject some life and personality into how I animated the characters.

Ahh (or ARGHH)…The Graph Editor

The graph editor in maya could be compared to marmite, you either love it or you hate it.

I love it (just like I love marmite). When you actually get to thinking about it, the graph editor can make your life so much easier. The graph editor can help you to block out the overall movement of an animation in a pretty elegant and efficient way.

You can begin by creating the arc of the movement, and then you can go in and tweak here and there on a key by key basis afterward. You can have a combination of spline and stepped keys (amongst others), you can adjust the rotation and translation on the x, y & z axes with ease, if a section of animation isn’t in quite the right place you can select any amount of keys and move them easily; in short the amount of control you have over it is amazing. It visually shows you exactly why something is not working, “hmm, why is the hand of my character jumping up like that?… ahh, because there is a huge spike in the graph.”

You can isolate areas of the graph so that you can just focus on the translate x graph or whatever it happens to be. You can look at the overall movement and you can go in and look at the minute details too. The graph editor is something I’m pretty new to, but I see there is a huge benefit in mastering the graph editor to help create animations in a quick and more efficient way.

The Graph Editor, Maya 2017.

Graduation Film – Why the Topic of Teenage Cancer?

My graduation film is about a young girl who has just returned to school after receiving cancer treatment.

Cancer is something that has, most likely, affected everyone in some way. In most cases cancer is more likely to occur in older people, and although childhood cancer is very rare, if it does happen it is very frightening and confusing for both children and parents.

When I was twelve one of my friends from primary school was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. After two years of struggling with cancer, at the age of fourteen, she died. I was devastated, confused and angry. I was so convinced she was going to pull through that I didn’t even consider the possibility of death. It seemed beyond unfair that such a young life should be taken.

It was of course very difficult for me at the age of fourteen to process this. It must have been even harder for my mum to firstly come to terms with it herself, and then to have to tell me. For adults, talking about cancer is difficult, but to have to talk about cancer to a child can be a pretty distressing task.

My main hope for this short film was to act as an aid for parents to talk to their kids about cancer. Although within the timeframe of a 3 minute short film I couldn’t go into as much breadth and depth as I would have liked, I still hope that it may open up the channels of communication between people and make them feel more at ease discussing cancer.

Georgia was my first best friend, and will always be someone I look up to. The main character in my film is based on her, exceptionally bright and sporty, stubborn, kind, and determined.

Going through cancer or knowing someone who is, can put a massive amount of stress on someones life. There are some great organisations that can be of help and support, here are just a few:

www.macmillan.org.uk

https://www.cclg.org.uk/

https://www.teenagecancertrust.org/

Random42 – Intercellular, A VR Experience

Random42

Random42 is a medical animation company specialising in scientific communication. They produce visually stunning animations for a variety of pharmaceutical companies.

Intercellular VR

Random42 have just launched their first ever solely educational virtual reality experience and it is both beautiful and informative. Education is, for me, the most important thing you can give to yourself and to others, and to see that animation can be a vehicle to provide education to anyone around the world is something that is truly exciting and important.

‘Our team of scientists, artists, animators and programmers have collaborated to intertwine the worlds of science, art and technology. The result is an impactful storytelling masterpiece, using detailed and stunning imagery.’ – Random42 Website

Some of the aspects of this experience that I thought were most effective were the use of labelling next to certain models and the narration. This is important because it provides the viewer with a more comprehensive knowledge of the subject, and enhances the communication that is being conveyed visually.

On top of this the animation is visually engaging, the cinematography leads the viewers eye to exactly where the most crucial information is, something which I imagine could be quite a challenge in VR. Lastly the music completes the experience by adding some drama which makes the animation even more engaging, all while not distracting from the narration.

‘We wanted to create an experience that was visually stunning, immersive and educationally invaluable. We believe that virtual reality is the perfect tool to assist in medical education and training, and we want to leaders in this movement.’ – Random42 Website

Websites 

VR Showreel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embarking on my Graduation Film

For those of you who are not familiar my graduation film, which will be ready in June (I pray!!!), will be about a young teenage girl battling with Cancer.

Image from ‘Cancer Australia’ Website.

As I am in the very pre-production stage of the filmmaking process, I want to address a few concerns I have about making this film. The primary thing I want to figure out is how to explain cancer in a way that is empathetic yet honest, simple but not patronising, and to find a way of giving as much information as possible, without overwhelming the audience.

The film is supposed to be roughly three minutes long, and in this time a number of things need to be addressed. There are two parts to this film, in my mind, the first is the story of this fictional character and the second is the explanation of cancer.

For the first part I need to show that this character is suffering with cancer, she is a young teenage girl and has just returned back to school after treatment. She is struggling with keeping up physically and mentally at school. She is sporty and is exceptional at football – she is captain of the team. The majority of her teammates do not understand cancer and therefore act in a slightly odd manner around her. One friend does, however understand it and explains cancer to her friends.

The second, and most important, part is addressing what cancer is, why it occurs, what the treatments available are, and how to check your body for any early warning signs of cancer.

Upon looking at sites such as MacMillan and Teenage Cancer Trust it became clear that some of the things that concern young people the most about cancer is that they may have done, thought or said something wrong to cause it, (typically these children are under the age of 10). Children also worry that cancer is contagious. Cancer is a difficult and sensitive topic in itself, but to have to explain it to a young person can be incredibly difficult. The sites I mentioned earlier have good tips on how to talk to your child about cancer. The things they noted was to explain what cancer is, what the name of a certain cancer is, and how it can be treated. Using simple language but also being specific with the explanation can be really helpful. Talking about it seems to be the best solution to ease children’s fear when facing cancer, or when a parent or friend has cancer. I hope that this film can be a tool to help people talk about it to their friends, family and children.

Lastly I am in the process of figuring out how to weave the cancer explanation seamlessly into the rest of the story. (Ideally) The film will be engaging (and actually enjoyable to watch!), I hope to achieve this by creating a strong narrative and creating an appealing and cinematic environment. It critically needs to be informative and correct. Content is King! And without accurate and correct information then no matter how good the story is, the film will fall flat on its face. SO in the next few weeks a fair amount of reading and questioning and analysing needs to be done to ensure the content is accurate.

Will keep you updated with my progress, and if anyone has any tips or ideas of how to better this film or how to talk about cancer please feel free to comment!

Thanks for reading!

Websites

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer

https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/talking-about-cancer/talking-to-children

https://www.teenagecancertrust.org/node/1623/done?sid=49004&token=5fd6c4247f3b02c62f6f7d7451c8070d

Images from: 

https://childrenscancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/where-find-support/support-children-cancer-and-their-families

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/149674387590993278/

 

A critical analysis of my role on a film for the English National Opera

 A critical analysis of my role on a film for the English National Opera and how this role compares to the equivalent role in the animation industry.

In this essay I will be critically analysing the role I had as an animator on our 90 second film for the English National Opera (ENO). I will be comparing this role to the equivalent job within the animation industry, by analysing the cultural values, hierarchies and working dynamic created in our team and in the industry.

The short film we created is based on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, and focuses on the love story between Marcello and Musetta. In our film all of the characters are birds. Marcello is the main character, he is a kingfisher and is in love with another bird named Musetta. Unfortunately for him, Musetta enjoys to flirt with other birds and desires to be the centre of attention at all times. We were commissioned by the ENO to create a short film to advertise the operas that are currently being performed. The ENO have a strong ‘belief that opera of the highest quality should be accessible to everyone.’ Therefore it was important for our team to create a promotional animation to generate interest in the opera, La Bohème, amongst seasoned theatre goers and new audiences.

Our film focuses on Marcello’s love for Musetta and shows the story of him trying to win her heart. The story begins with Marcello offering Musetta a leaf, she rejects this gift and begins to fly around the tree, where they live, showing off to the other birds. Marcello dejected, but determined, flies off on a mission to find the most magnificent gift for her. After travelling for months he finds a beautiful pearl and returns with it to Musetta. Intrigued by the shiny new object Musetta delightedly picks up the pearl, looks deeply into Marcello’s eyes, and flies away leaving poor Marcello behind. Although he has been rejected once again, his character has evolved by his journey.

Whilst the intention of the piece was to advertise the opera, this project differs greatly from working in an established studio that creates commercial content for larger companies. This is because we did not have a large production team and therefore we were able to see the production all the way through from start to finish, whereas in a studio an animator would have only been able to contribute to one aspect of production. Unlike a studio working for a large client we did not have a budget and therefore were limited in what we could achieve. Thankfully the artisan style we adopted lent itself well to the opera we were animating for, and therefore a large budget wasn’t essential for this project.

We had to check in regularly with the client in the initial developmental stages. If we were to change anything in the story we would email the client to inform them of the modifications. This kind of client interaction is similar to that of a studio, perhaps the only difference being that our clients were able to give concise notes on what they wanted for the animation, as they have an artistic understanding and are deeply knowledgeable and appreciative of the music in each opera. Whereas in a studio environment clients may not have this degree of artistic knowledge and may be unaware of what they want.

A culture was created through values and attitudes that naturally developed in our group. The main attitudes that were developed included reliability: ensuring that people were on time and were realistic with deliverables, quality of work: as this was a project that each team member had equal stakes in, and fairness: it was important to ensure that no one was suffering with more work than others.

The main value that was essential to a successful outcome was communication, without this it would have been difficult to decipher what had been done, by who, and if any issues had arisen. We began by creating a WhatsApp group, a Google Drive account and a live spreadsheet that the team had access to. This meant that we could communicate freely and keep each other updated on what was being done. Any queries that we had could easily be solved by a quick discussion on our group chat. As well as this type of online communication we all resolved to come in to university and meet in person as much as possible. This was important as we could act things out to each other, question certain parts of the film, and ultimately solve any problems we were having.

Similarly in animation studios these values also seem to naturally materialise. After discussing the culture of a studio environment with pre-vis artist, Prakash Mohanty, it became clear that our team culture closely matched that of a studio. Mohanty, who currently works at Third Floor Inc. expressed that the main values in a studio are communicating effectively, positivity, and thinking outside the box. After working on this film I now understand the value of creative problem solving and the importance of letting go of certain ideas. In the beginning stages the three of us remained very loose with the story, asking for feedback from various tutors and students. In these initial stages the story changed as a result of the feedback, and ultimately the story became a lot stronger. Once the story was consolidated, and the animatic had been tested on multiple audiences we were ready to move on to the next stage, animation.

There were only three of us working on this film, and therefore there wasn’t necessarily a strict hierarchy of roles. The only distinct roles that we had were animator and director. Other roles that are distinct in animation studios such as storyboard artist, editor and junior animator (responsible for smaller animation tasks) were largely shared amongst the three of us.

As the director of the film was responsible for the idea of the story and art aesthetic, it allowed the rest of us to purely focus on specific tasks assigned to us by the director. For the most part this task was animating, but the other jobs, which included story development and editing, were also important tasks that the director needed assistance with.

Prior to this project the only film I had worked on was one that was almost purely my own, as the idea, the direction and the animation were all mine.
When one works on their own idea and on every aspect of production, the whole thing can be stressful and at times narrow sighted, with the lack of a fresh pair of eyes the project can at times feel stagnant and tired. In contrast whilst working on this project I felt quite detached from it, although I was invested in the art and the story, I was able to cut things out and change things readily. A independent animation artist named Veljko Popović commented ‘When you have a project from a client, you really have all of it laid out (and it is less demanding in terms of investing your personal self)’ I found this statement to be particularly true on this project. Having a client and a director meant that most things were already prescribed and all that was left to be done for the animator was to create animated scenes that closely fitted the desired outcome of both the client and director.

This process closely mirrors the studio environment because each individual is tasked with focusing on a specific component in the production line. There is a long list of roles in an animation studio and each role reflects the knowledge, skill and experience of each individual. At the entry level there is trainee animator or intern, the next level is junior animator which progresses on to mid level animator to senior animator and eventually leads to more leadership roles such as team leader, assistant supervisor and supervisor. Each person in these roles have creative input, but the amount

of creative input increases as an animator’s experience and ability grows. At each stage the animator is responsible for an individual part of the production and so no single person has complete ownership of the film.

In conclusion the animation for the ENO provided people in our group with an opportunity to experience something close to that of working in a professional studio environment. The main similarities between the roles we had in this project and the comparative roles at a studio were culture and values. The cultural values that were created within our group mirrored almost exactly that of an animation studio. We communicated particularly well with one another, which after interviewing Prakash Mohanty, was an apparent critical component in a studio dynamic along with fairness and creative thinking. In both a studio situation and our group project these values naturally materialised.

The main difference between the role we had and the comparative role at a studio was that we had to participate at every moment in the production process and therefore experienced a greater level of ownership over the film than we would have working at a large studio.

Bibliography

Kroustallis, V. (16 December 2016) Creating Your Own Boundaries: Interview with Veljko Popović. Available at: https://www.zippyframes.com/index.php/interviews/creating-your-own-boundaries- interview-with-veljko-popovi (Accessed: 4 December 2018)

Available at: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/la-boheme/ (Accessed: 3 December 2018)

Tschang, Feichin, Ted and Goldstein, Andrea. Production and Political Economy in the Animation Industry: Why Insourcing and Outsourcing Occur. (2004). DRUID Summer Conference, Elsinore, Denmark, 14-16 June 2004. 1-21. Research Collection Lee Kong Chian School Of Business. Available at: https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/lkcsb_research/2853 (Accessed: 4 December 2018)

Interview with Prakash Mohanty. Interviewed by Jessica Galvin, 25 November 2018

Sound Design for our ENO project

This week we had a meeting with a sound designer to help create atmosphere in our film. Initially we found it difficult to decide if we wanted any sounds at all, as the film already felt very complete with the music from the opera. We were afraid that any ambient sounds may not fit with the music and may even potentially distract from the music.

In order for the timing of our animation to synchronise with the peaks and troughs of the music we delayed the start of the music for a second or two after our animation had begun. The only issue with this is that it gave the initial impression to the audience that the audio was not working. To rectify this we decided to insert some ambient sounds of wind at the very beginning to give a sense of the winter environment, before the music starts.

The sound designer added this for us and then faded the sound so that it could just be heard under the music from the opera. This really worked and encouraged us to be slightly more adventurous and try a few more sounds to put softly under the music. There is a scene where the main character, a kingfisher, dives under the water and retrieves a pearl. For this scene we added a few ambient sounds of water splashing and I was amazed by how much this enhanced the scene.

The sounds that we inserted made the characters feel like they were in a real environment, suddenly the film had a lot more weight and texture to it. We only added a few sounds that we felt were most crucial, for example the wind at the beginning to set the scene, a heavier gust of wind when Marcello is battling against the elements, water sounds when he retrieves the pearl and wings flapping when Musetta deserts him at the very end.

It is interesting to note that we only inserted four ambient sounds all at the most crucial moments in our film; the beginning, the obstacle in his journey (difficult weather), the moment he finds the perfect gift, and the final verdict ( Musetta rejecting him once again). This was not a deliberate choice to only pick these moments to add sound, these decisions were made purely on where we felt ambient sound would work most appropriately.

I was really surprised by how a few sounds placed at the appropriate time really elevated the whole feeling of the piece. The characters feel much more grounded in a world and the whole film feels more real, and therefore we as an audience feel more engaged and invested in the story.

The sound designer used Adobe Audition software to put this together as he said it was a much more intuitive programme, and one that would be easy for us to use to change the timings if we needed. He also mentioned that this software worked very well with Premiere.

This was the first time I have worked with a sound designer and I found it to be really beneficial. The session we had really opened my eyes to how important ambient sounds are for an animation, and demonstrated just how much sound can elevate a story.

Dress Rehearsal for the Opera La Bohème

On Saturday I went to see the dress rehearsal of La Bohème. The story begins with two men in a cold apartment in Paris. The two men are struggling artists, Marcello is a painter and Rodolfo is a poet. They can barely keep themselves warm in their freezing apartment and in a desperate attempt to warm themselves they throw Rodolfos’s poems on the fire.  A friend then walks into the flat, he is a musician and has just been hired. He brings wine and food with him and is celebrating getting paid, he tells his friends that they should go out and celebrate in the evening. Later Rodolfo is alone in the apartment, finishing some work and is about to join his friends for drinks when, suddenly there is a knock at the door. It is a young woman named Mimi and she is looking for a candle so she can light her way home.

Rodolfo and Mimi speak for a long time and tell each other about themselves, they instantly fall in love. Mimi accompanies Rodolfo to the bar to meet his friends. At the bar a singer named Musetta charges in with an older gentleman carrying multiple gifts (we assume for her). Musetta is the centre of attention, she is loud and is clearly pining for the attention of her ex lover Marcello. Wise to her charm and tricks to allure men, Marcello tries to ignore her flirtatiously parading around the restaurant. After many attempts Musetta finally succeeds in seducing Marcello and the two begin dating again.

Mimi is terribly ill, she has a fierce cough and Rodolfo is aware that she hasn’t got much longer to live. Afraid that he cannot provide the best care for her on his meagre living, and fearful of her being taken from him, he decides to try and break off the relationship. The two have a dispute and decide that they cannot be apart from one another during the winter and, decide to split up when spring arrives.

The men having separated from Mimi and Musetta are carrying on with their lives, it is clear that both still miss their former lovers but are trying their best to carry on as normal. Suddenly Musetta bursts in with urgent news that Mimi is very sick. The men help carry Mimi into their apartment and Mimi and Rodolfo have a moment together singing about their love for one another. The opera ends with Mimi sighing her last breath and Rodolfo clutching her in his arms.

The orchestra were fantastic, the atmosphere they were able to create was sensational. Whilst this opera is about love, death and the struggles of an artist there was still a lot of humour which certainly lightened the tone and showed the comradely the artists had with each other. The set design was really beautiful and portrayed Paris in the 1930’s very convincingly. The transitions of the scenes were also very dynamic, cast members who played people in the crowd would turn the set to reveal a new scene. I found it very beneficial to go and see the opera we are animating because it allowed me to deepen my understanding of the characters. The most helpful aspect for me was to see the scene that we are animating, to see how the characters move and interact was very informative.