Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Feature Spotlight: Modeling Toolkit

Friday, November 7th, 2014
Autodesk Maya 2014 Modeling Toolkit

Autodesk Maya 2014 Modeling Toolkit

Before Autodesk’s 2014 version of Maya, trying to find the mesh editing tools you needed within Maya was a bother. You had to go through a cluttered UI (user interface) just to find that one tool that always seemed important enough to have its own tab. You were also limited to having one component tool active at a time: face selection, vertex selection or edge selection. Often times I’ve wondered why Maya couldn’t have cleaner functionality like its counterpart, 3DSMax. After all, both programs are made by Autodesk and 3DSMax is far less technical and more forgiving.

Suddenly, from what seemed like out of nowhere, Autodesk introduced the Modeling Toolkit with their 2014 release of Maya. It is a 3D modelers dream! All of the most commonly used tools are now set up right in front of you, in one click of a button. Gone are the days of rummaging through the 3D modeling program, just to find one primary tool.

Need to have all component tools active at once? No problem, just click multi-component.

Need to work on two sides of a model at once? It’s as simple as selecting a center edge, and clicking symmetry.

Thank you Maya for making this modeler’s life easier!

Peter Gazallo

Concept Art Process for Award-Winning Short Animated Films

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Kong Vang, Cogswell alumni and Art Director of two short animated films

Kong Vang, Cogswell alumni and Art Director of the two short animated films “Driven” and “Worlds Apart” – both created in Cogswell College’s Project X class – shares his process of creating character concept designs and more.

While working on the films created in the Project X class, I learned that it takes a very dedicated team to make a short film in four semesters or less. Many of the students on this team are attending classes full-time in addition to contributing their talents towards making an awesome film.

Here’s an overview of what happens during the production process of a short animated film: First the script and storyboards are completed and approved, within the first semester. Meanwhile, the concept team begins creating concepts for characters and environments.  Approved concepts are sent into the modeling pipeline as soon as they are approved where our artists create 3d models. As each model is approved by the Director, they are sent into the texturing and rigging pipeline. Technical artists create animation rigs for each model and prepare them for animation testing.  Animation is a long process so it is important to get the rigged 3D models to the animators as soon as possible. Animation takes almost a year to get all of the shots approved.  After the animation is polished, the first test of the film timing is created, approved, and sent off to the sound effects and music score team.  Also during the process of animation, approved shots are sent to the lighting team for light set and test render. When the finalized lit shots are rendered out, they are sent to the compositing team for the final clean up. After the composite shots are cleaned up and finalized, they are sent off to the film editor who creates the final cut of the film and music score.

On the latest film ‘Driven’, each member of the team wore different hats depending on which stage of the production pipeline the film was in.  For instance, initially I started out in the concept design pipeline, then moved to the animation pipeline and finally to matte painting for the final stage of the film.

One of my jobs as a concept designer was to collect the approved designs from the other artists and finalize them. Because most approved designs are from different artists, each with their own distinct style, the finalization process ensures a consistent look and feel. After finalizing the look and stylization of the characters, I would render each character in 2D using Adobe Photoshop so that it would represent its 3d counterpart.  This allows the Director to easily visualize how each character will look before it gets passed along to the modeling team.

Digital media is the fastest way to work and Photoshop offers the perfect tools and work flow for this demanding field. With infinite tool presets, custom brushes, and limitless iterations, it allows me to work more quickly and easily compared to traditional mediums like paint or ink.

To block out the initial character’s silhouette, I like to use a standard round brush, which I adjust into an ellipse shape, then angle it 45 degrees. This style of brush setup creates a line weight that flows much more nicely than the standard round brushes. Once the silhouettes and internal shapes look good, I create a new layer in Photoshop and start to block out the forms with one color value. At this early stage, I prefer to work in black and white.  It makes it easier to focus just on values and form rather than getting caught up about the colors. My preference in digital painting is to work from dark to light values, or shadows to highlights. It has been my experience to get results much faster using this method than trying to paint from light to dark.  I push and pull (lighten and darken) the values until the character forms are clear.  During this process, I maintain a wide range of values to create depth and realism.

Once the characters have been sketched out, it’s time to experiment with color palettes. I like give a slight color tint to the values before painting on top of the black and white image. The tint layer acts as a color wash so none of the black and gray value show through later. I create a new layer and set the Layer Mode to “Color”. I start by painting over the character with the color palette that the team agrees on. By using multiple layers, I don’t lose my original black and white image – and I can test out different color schemes.  Once I’ve added general color blocks to the characters, I use a new layer to start painting in details. For the final detail stage, I use textures and custom brushes to polish the look of the characters.

The development stages from concept to finished product vary from character to character; it all depends on what the Director is looking for. For example, secondary characters may be approved before main characters. Main characters are often challenging as they have to be visually pleasing and have the right visual attitude. On the other hand secondary characters have far less restrictions, allowing flexibility for designers to explore their creativity.

The concept team spent almost an entire semester designing characters. After four months and multiple iterations, all nine characters were finally approved. Once approved, I took the concepts and started finalizing each character’s look. It took me roughly four or five hours to render out the first pass of each character to show the Director.  One character in particular – the adult Biff cop – took almost ten hours to design.  After multiple small changes, the final designs were approved.

One of the most surprising and challenging characters to design was the Jet Bike that the main character rides.  Its importance in the film is equal to the character that rides it. Although there were many great concept designs shown to the Director, none of them were approved. That’s when I was given the tough task of designing the bike. After fifty designs, we started to narrow down the concept. Once the main silhouette was chosen, I mixed elements from the best three designs together to get the final jet bike concept. The process for this single ‘character’ took three or four weeks, from start to finish, working with traditional mediums like graphite and paper.

This is just the front-end of the production pipeline for a short animated film. It takes a strong team and lots of man hours to complete the film. In the end many people had come and gone, and lots of talented people contributed to the film. We were all so glad that the film was finally finished. It took the PX team about four semesters and two summers of hard work to accomplish the short film, Driven. The Project X class has given me the best hands-on experience possible. It has definitely changed my future and life for the better. Thanks Project X!

Kong Vang

Thoughts from Inside the Star Thief Studio Project Class

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Star Thief Studio Logo - Animated Short Film Project

For two semesters, I was part of Star Thief Studio (formerly Studio E) – a project-based class that creates an animated short in an on-campus environment that mirrors an industry studio production pipeline. When I first started out, I had a very general idea of what I’d be doing, but in truth I was heading into the project pretty much blind, and hoping that I’d be able to perform on the same level as the other artists. During the first week, we were separated into different groups: pre-visualization (pre-vis), production, and post-production. The pre-vis group had duties including concept art, color keys, layout, and animation blocking— mostly preliminary planning and design. Members of the production group started on animation, character modeling and painting backgrounds. The post-production group was tasked with polishing, texturing, lighting, and general effects that would make the project visually appealing.

As a general painter and designer, I helped out in several different areas. My first group did design and layout, followed by texturing and painting.  I moved onto several other areas as well, helping out wherever needed, as phases of the production cycle started and ended.

Star Thief Studio Character Model

Star Thief Studio Character Model

Our studio’s pipeline used a structure where we tackled one shot at a time. First the storyboards were completed and handed off to a layout artist, who created a 3D scene in Autodesk Maya, based off of the storyboard. In addition, rough color keys were created to determine an artistic direction for the background elements. Preliminary animations were blocked out, based on initial layouts, and later replaced by polished animations with the finalized characters and completed backgrounds. The process concluded with a combination of polishing, re-assembling, and finalizing texturing and lighting. Because of our unique process, each group within the studio was constantly involved.

My day-to-day process started with talking with the team to find out what was needed and then picking up tasks to help complete a scene. Often, I took 3D models that our artists created, imported them into Mudbox or Photoshop and painted them.  I would then re-import everything back into Maya. The models were then placed into a scene to create the background.

Star Thief Studio - Oak Tree Model with Animated Leaves

Star Thief Studio - Oak Tree Model with Animated Leaves

By the end of my time at Star Thief Studio, I had experienced modeling, rigging, and background animation in addition to the painting that I was already doing. Working within the studio has shown me that you get a broader experience when working on a large-scale project.  I found myself juggling tasks I didn’t expect, and it was an interesting experience. It pushed me to grow my skills in certain areas which have helped me to become a more roundly-developed artist.

Whether or not I will actively use the skills I’ve gained on this project once I start my career, I do not know.  But, as a once very traditionally-based artist, I’ve definitely become more technically nerdy. What I do know is that by doing a little bit of everything, I understand more about the roles that comprise a studio.  This will help me in the future to understand the needs of everyone within a studio and allow the pipeline to run more smoothly.

I hope that everyone will enjoy our film when it is released, and perhaps will have an opportunity to understand and appreciate the multi-layered process of creating an animated short. This team has truly created something extraordinary.

Sierra Gaston

Animation Show of Shows – The Student Perspective

Monday, October 6th, 2014

On Thursday evening, the 25th of September 2014, Cogswell College was given the privilege of once again being host to the Animation Show of Shows. A collection of the most intriguing (and at times perplexing) animated shorts of the year from all over the world, the 16th Annual Show of Shows demonstrated a diverse number of contributors, ranging from studios like Disney and Pixar to small indie production teams.
Prior to the show, the two shorts that were easily the most anticipated by students were titled LAVA and Feast, from the studios of Pixar and Disney respectively. Feast followed the technique of an earlier short by Disney called Paperman, using 3D animation with the appearance of a 2D medium. With Feast, more concentration was placed on the language of shape and color in contrast to each other.

Feast by Disney

The story follows a stray puppy that is saved from the streets and given a home. The puppy is very lucky indeed, because his new owner is the kind of person who enjoys cooking for their pet on a daily basis. Consequently,

the pup is showered with bacon, eggs, spaghetti and meatballs. (At this point, I was feeling rather envious and really wishing I was the dog instead of a college student who doesn’t have time to cook.) Suddenly things change for the dog when his owner finds himself a girlfriend! *Gasp* Much to the dog’s horror (and to mine, being raised in an especially carnivorous family where meat takes up the top three food groups), his meaty, greasy diet is replaced by sprigs of parsley and brussel sprouts due to the girlfriend’s health-conscious influence. I won’t detail out what happens next, as the ending should be saved, but the resolution was pretty satisfying and it was easily one of my favorite shorts in the whole collection.

Other shorts in the program were more figurative instead of having an obvious plot (at the end of one, a friend turned around to me and whispered “What the hell did we just watch?”) and some in particular were on the depressing side and made the audience question life in general. One distinctive short was titled We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, which was simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking as it followed the story of two astronauts who were as close as brothers.

The biggest impact of all was made by the short titled Hipopotamy which the show’s curator, Ron Diamond, saved for last because – in his words – we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on any other shorts after we’d seen it.
Hipopotamy, by Piotr Durnala, framed humans in a light as if we behaved like hippos—the reverse of the concept of anthropomorphism. What we didn’t expect was that every character in the short was pretty darn naked in the most blatant sense. It was also disturbing as we found out that the humans behaved with extremely animistic instincts—children were not spared from violence, and women were subjugated to open force. It was a raw outlook on perhaps how similar humans’ behavior really is comparable to that of animals like the hippopotamus, and could be interpreted as a statement about things that desperately need to be changed about society.

After going to the Show of Shows last year, I was hooked and eager to see the presentations again this year. I definitely was not disappointed—I walked away inspired and feeling just a little bit different. It’s a refreshing perspective to see things from someone else’s eyes, and Ron Diamond’s collection achieved that for me once again.

by Sierra Gaston, Digital Art & Animation Student

Photos:
Feast by Disney
Ron Diamond (left), curator of Animation Show of Shows with Cogswell College Dean (right), Jerome Solomon

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” Great for CGI – Bad for Bay…

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Director Michael Bay is getting slammed with reviews on “Transformers: Age of Extinction”. The majority of which criticize his directing skills for an amateur in story line, a flopped plot-development, and an overabundance of product placement.

In his recent review, Boston Globe columnist Peter Kenough noted that it was “all shot and edited as if by a Cuisinart. In short, the cinematic equivalent of being tied in a bag and being beaten by pipes.”

This is the first installment of the Transformers franchise that we won’t be seeing resident protagonist Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LaBeouf. Instead we get the Hollywood star power of Mark Wahlberg, however his performance is also highly criticized. “Wahlberg spends a lot of time looking with awe and terror into the blankness of a green screen, later filled in post-production by Bay’s monumental, juvenile special effects’, critiques Kenough.

However “monumental” and “juvenile” the special effects are, one can’t help but step back in awe at the advancements in CGI animation and digital special effects. Shots of giant alien spacecrafts, a prehistoric dinosaur extermination, cityscape battlegrounds, giant robotic aerial dogfights, and rumors of a robotic Oreo cookie.

According to his review (embedded above) Mr. Sunday Movies says, “The special effects cannot be faulted… They should almost be called VERY-Special Effects.” Cogswell offers programs in Digital Art and Animation designed to prepare students for exciting careers throughout the entertainment, media and art industries. Special effects are key in producing summer blockbuster hits, especially those directed by explosion king Michael Bay.

Do you think Bay’s a CGI-Genious, or a bogus bomb of a director? Are you planning on seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction? Are you Team Optimus, or Team Bumblebee?

Source: The Boston Globe

Disney Turns to Digital Technology to Fuse Animated 1959 with Live-Action 2014 Maleficent

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

On May 30th Disney fans will get a first look at the live-action retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty from the point-of-view of the story’s renowned villain Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie. Producers were posed with the challenge of sticking true to Walt Disney’s original 1959 animated version of the villainess, while introducing her in live-action to a 2014 audience that demands high-tech illusionary entertainment.

Digital art and animation teams worked to produce cartoon-like aspects while keeping the “real-life” feel. In the trailer we see Maleficent engulfed in what has been deemed by bloggers as “cartoony” green flames, harking back to the original animated signature evil powers. We also see computer-generated pixies, tree creatures, ravens and the infamous fire-breathing dragon, all adding to the live-but-animated feel.

Sound design took a different spin to create a more modern and gothic feel for the remake. The famous Disney classic “Once Upon a Dream” was recomposed as a haunting rendition by singer Lana Del Rey. The trailer also reveals the use of strategic sound bytes, mystical swoops, swishes and swacks all fashioned by digital audio designers. Dark crows and caw sounds add to the gothic haunt factor, all the while harking back to Maleficent’s original 1959 pet raven Diablo, recast as a shape shifter named Diaval in the live-action remake.

Will you be seeing this early summer blockbuster? Do you think the digital art and animation effects will be enough to allude to the original? Does Lana Del Rey’s rendition give you the creeps? Let us know in the comments!

Images Credit: Disneywikia.com

Links:

http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Stand_Back_you_fools_-_Maleficent_-_kmp.PNG

http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Maleficent?file=Maleficent-%25282014%2529-54.jpg

From Rocket Scientist to Animator

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

So how do you go from being an engineering student to an animator? According to Cogswell student, Robert Mariazeta, you identify and then follow your dream. Since coming to Cogswell, Robert started the Animation Club, is working in Studio E and was one of the 5 Cogswell students selected by Disney to attend their 2013 Inspire Day.

In this short video, Robert talks about the journey that brought him to Cogswell to major in animation, his love of the field and why he thinks it’s important to be a ‘T’ shaped worker.

Visit Cogswell’s website to learn more about our Digital Art & Animation degree program.

Backstage Lists Six Great Digital Art Schools

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Student team working in Studio E where they are creating a short animation based on a story along with an interactive book version for mobile platforms to deepen the reader’s experience and further immerse them in the story.

An article in Backstage advises actors that developing their ability to create content is a must.  Cogswell College is one of the 6 schools the publication recommends.

With Cogswell’s focus on collaboration and project-based learning, plus strong programs in animation, audio and digital media management, the College is a great fit for performance artists wanting to build their content creation toolkit.

Behind the Scenes of the Lego Movie

Monday, February 10th, 2014

If you played with Lego blocks as a child – or even as an adult – they don’t miss “The Lego Movie.”  Filled with beautiful animation and great voice actors, according to review, this film is sure to grab your heart.

This short video takes you behind the scenes and let’s actors, Liam Neeson, Chris Pratt and Will Ferrell, talk about the experience of seeing their ‘Lego’ alter-egos come to life. The clip is a fascinating look at how the animators took the actors’ expressions and superimposed them on our little plastic friends.

If you’ve seen the movie, let us know what you thought.

An Interview with Tim Heath, New Director of Cogswell’s Project X Studio

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Tim Heath, Director of Cogswell's Project X Studio

Question:  Tell us a little about your background.

Tim:  I earned my Bachelor degree in Business Administration and an Art Minor from James Madison University. After graduation I was in marketing planning to focus on the creative side of advertising but when I did an internship at an advertising agency in Richmond, Virginia, I felt more comfortable with the production side of things – posting commercials and doing a little bit of effects work.  After graduation this led me to a company that was doing this kind of work. They were all Silicon Graphics – really expensive machines and state-of-the art software – but it was for government entities, three letter words basically, and while really interesting work but with security clearances none of my work was going to see the light of day. I met my future wife in college and she was from New York. My goal was to get into film or television and more opportunities existed in New York so we moved up there.

Question:  So how did you move from advertising to film?

Tim:  I did some freelance work for ABC and eventually landed a job with Post Perfect, a big post-production house. Still all the film work was mostly being done in California and I figured that was where I eventually wanted to end up. However, life doesn’t always go in a straight line. I got my first film-gig job with Square Pictures in Hawaii where I was Lead Animator for “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” When that studio closed, I got my chance to move to California. I got a job with Electronic Arts as Animation Supervisor.

Question:  That’s still not film work, so how did this help you achieve your goal?

Tim:  Well, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first feature film I worked on; I then worked on a short film for the Wachowski Brothers’ Animatrix series before Square Pictures closed. It’s also when they were trying to do a lot of film work in video games, trying to push the technology in games themselves and trying to push storytelling in games. I have game credits for Lord of the Rings and The Godfather.

Question:  When did you get your film break?

Tim:  From Electronic Arts, I had the opportunity to go to ILM and work on “Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest,” as one of the senior animators but it was a huge crew. So I just kind of came in and did my shots and it was a great experience because that’s exactly the kind of movie I wanted to work on when I first got into the mix. Back when I saw Jurassic Park, I thought, “That’s what I want to do. I want to work at ILM.”

Question:  Why did you leave ILM?

Tim:  After that show, one of the short films I had made entitled, Lagerheads, while I was on my own caught the attention of some guys at Nvidia. They we remaking some rendering software and asked me to come on board to make short films for them using their rendering software.  To me that was like the dream job part two where you go in and you get to make whatever you want, within reason, whatever you want and plus I was with some of the brightest guys in the industry doing rendering. That’s what I would like to eventually do at AMD where I am now – to make short films.

Question:  So what made you decide to teach at Cogswell College?

Tim:  It hasn’t gone that way just yet at my day job but I have this bug of still wanting to make short films and the chance to do that is one of the reasons that brought me to Cogswell.

Question:  Tell us about your work with the Project X Studio at Cogswell.

Tim:  As you know, this will be the fourth film to come out of Project X. Two did quite well in the film festival circuit and the third, “Driven” is just getting started but I’m sure it will do well too. I’m working with a team of about 18 students right now and I think we’re going to be able to get something really nice done. The goal is to have the film ready by early 2015 – about 1 year from now. The students are all very eager to work hard to make something incredible. While I brought a story, I’m also involving the students in helping develop the story. I brought the characters and an outline of what I think we can accomplish. Right now we’re going over story beats and revising it. We have a little story team of four or five of the students and we’re pounding it out and adding things and taking things out and making it better together as a group. I’m also not the only faculty who is mentoring students. David Perry is animation lead, Kong Vang is lead concept design and Rob Garcia is overseeing the pipeline, rigging and modeling issues. Richard Schimpf is consulting on the story development. Finally Julius Dobos will lead the audio portion of the film when we get to that point but we’ve consulted with him to give him a frame of reference for the eventual music and sound effects we’re going to need. I’d like to utilize all the great talent we have at Cogswell.

Question:  So what is it like to be a student working in the Project X Studio?

Tim:  Even though we just got started, you don’t walk past the Project X room without seeing people in there working and diving into it. Because we are using different software than previous films, they’re learning new software.  We’re rendering with V-Ray and composting with Nuke. They’re also learning fur technology. The goal is to push the look of the film we are making.

Question:  Any other plans for the project?

Tim:  As we develop the story and are a little further into the production pipeline, I’d like to be more open about the project and let everyone know what we are doing. I think it would be fun for everyone on campus watch it develop. Maybe we can even put up a production blog so people can follow our progress.

Question:  Any final thoughts?

Tim:  I’ve led teams of animators but never led a team of students so this is really exciting for me. I want us to learn from each other and produce a film that we will all be proud of. Given the amazing work done by students in the past, I think we will create something incredible together.

Learn more about our Digital Art & Animation degree program.