Archive for the ‘Concept Art’ Category

Project X’s Driven – Partial Team Retrospective

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Recently, we touched base with some of the team members/Cogswell Students that had worked on the Project X short film, Driven. Given that no press has been generated other than a short blurb on the Cogswell website, we decided to reach out and hear what some members of the team had to say about working on the film.

The following text is direct from each person specified, and may or may not feature edits done in order to provide a smoother reading experience.
    

From Taylor Hodgson-Scott:
    

WHAT I DID ON DRIVEN!

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

I was the Lead animator on Driven, responsible for a heavy share of the 3D Animation. This involves making the characters and vehicles/bicycles move believably and have the characters emote in a way they can connect to the audience. As the lead, I also headed up the other animators to make sure their shots were consistent with the shots around them and the motion style we were targeting. Ultimately, the director had the final say, but delegating some animation critiques to me allowed him some time to allocate elsewhere in the production, and allowed other animators quick feedback.

I also compiled the reel, taking all of the latest animations/rendered shots and editing them together to view internally, and allow us to see the flow of the film and if each shot flowed into the next fluidly. Editing is important for capturing a feeling we need to convey- especially in the last third of the film when things are amping up, quick well-timed cuts are necessary for the feeling of speed.
    

PROGRAMS I/OTHERS USED!

3D Animation, Modeling, Rigging in Autodesk Maya 2011
Edited the film in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5
Texturing and Matte Painting done in Photoshop CS5
Rendered using the Renderman plugin for Maya 2011
Compositing was done in (Eyeon) Fusion (6)
    

DEVELOPMENT TIME:

About 4 months in Pre-Vis (Pre-Visualization), which included storyboarding and low quality animation to roughly time the film out
About 18/20 months in Animation/Rendering
    

FOR OTHERS HOPING TO MAKE A FILM!

This is more of a general mantra than a step-by-step. Production Pipeline is much better cataloged than what I can explain in this e-mail, but here’s a few rules of thumb that may be more helpful than the gritty process.
    

1) You need a story that you really want to tell. It helps if it comes from a personal feeling, because that will help drive the story and performance as you flesh your film out. It can also come from wanting to tell a series of gags or just having good times, but if you don’t care about the story it will fail and be painful to work on

2) You need to seek out and employ constructive critiques from others, inside and outside the film production. This is not about using other people’s ideas and make their version of your film, but rather taking their input to improve your work. Sometimes you need to instead take the spirit of a critique when making changes, but people are perceptive and pick up on problems that you’ll be too close to see.

3) Do as much planning in the early stages as you can, it will pay off tenfold down the road. Sometimes you’ll have to destroy an entire storyboard sequence and build it up again to do it right, but if it’s gotten deep into the animation stage already it will probably be too late to economically fix and meet deadlines.

4) Communicate with your team. So many students and (bad) professionals alike forget to do this, and it is key on getting stuff done. If you’re making a change that affects someone else, don’t leave them out of the discussion if you can help it.

5) Love it! If you love what you’re doing, you’ll be able to stick to it. Finding even the smallest thing to get excited about in a film or a scene can help carry you through the tough times.

    

From Peter Mo:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

    

As Lighting Supervisor on Driven I was responsible for ensuring consistency and maintaining a quality standard for the lighting department. Lighting is at the tail-end of the 3D production process (Composting and Video Editing come after, but they deal with 2D), so lighters often run into problems that go unnoticed through the 3D pipeline. Render crashes due to Maya nodes created during production, problems with topology or object placement or animation that only appear when you see how they interact with light, crashes and loading issues from referencing other scenes are just a few examples.

Troubleshooting was a big part of my responsibility because technical problems, ranging from little nuisances to show-stoppers, would arise on a regular basis. A lot of my early work was assessing what we could do with our available resources in terms of computing power, people-power, and streamlining things as much as possible.

We used Autodesk Maya 2013 and Renderman for lighting. Renderman has advantages over Mental Ray in a 3D animation pipeline: fast and high-quality motion blur, fast displacement rendering, and Renderman’s Deep Shadow system. Mental Ray’s raytracing capabilities are better, but we would use reflection mapping to fake glossy reflections.

We also used camera-projected textures in the 3D scene to better control the look and style. We rendered all frames in 32-bit/channel OpenEXR image format, which allowed us a lot more flexibility in color correction without worry of color banding. We rendered out many different passes per frame to allow us to adjust different lighting elements independently, such as diffuse, specular, reflectivity, and more, before combining them together.

Unlike the two previous projects in which I was working with students who had taken lighting class, I was working with a team that had little or no prior lighting experience. Lighting and rendering took place over 2 semesters, including a lot of training in the beginning. Even after lighting was mainly complete, re-rendering of certain things went on until the very end if changes were needed or if a problem could not be fixed in compositing.

We used render presets and light rigs as a way to keep things consistent across the shots at different times of day. We had a pre-dawn and sunrise setup for Acts 1 and 3 and an afternoon setup for the flashback portion in Act 2. The light rigs were updated and improved as needed and everyone would reference one into their scene to use as the primary light sources, for moon, sun, and sky lighting. Additional lights for characters were added on a per-shot basis and setups that lighters create that worked well were shared for others to use when appropriate.

For compositing, we used Eyeon Fusion 6. It is a powerful node-based compositing program which allowed us to quickly change or fix visual elements which would take much longer to do on the rendering side. Making certain parts of the composition modular and reusing them in each other’s scenes reduced the amount of redundant work we’d need to initially perform in order to build up a composite from scratch.

Useful effects and techniques that individual compositors came up with were also made modular, such as color correction nodes for shots that had been approved, or a heat-distortion effect that worked well. All monitors used for compositing were color-calibrated to ensure the closest possible image when viewed on any of those monitors. In additional to traditional 2D compositing techniques such as color correction, rotoscoping masks, and paint fixes, we also incorporated 3D techniques directly in Fusion.

To save on render-times for a lot of the vegetation in the environments, we pre-rendered various sprites, generated point clouds of their locations, and then imported 3D cameras and the point clouds from Maya into Fusion. The vegetation sprites would be attached to points on the point cloud and rendered from the 3D camera and placed over the 2D shot, all in Fusion.

Compositing took about 2 semesters worth of work with a few dedicated compositors and a few more that were splitting time between compositing and other responsibilities. An additional month could be counted for training since none of the students had ever used Fusion before. We had a Digital Tutors account and students studied many of their Fusion lessons. I also gave some lessons based on my experience using Fusion on previous projects.

For the first time on any project, we used our own in-house render management software instead of commercial software. It was customized to our needs and the developers were very responsive to our suggestions for improvements and additional features. Commercial render management software we’ve used in the past was not reliable and we couldn’t get the type of support we needed when problems arose. It definitely helped us all maintain our sanity–without it we’d pretty much have to take shifts around the clock to babysit each render job, especially at crunch-time.

Thinking back over the events during the production of Driven, I admit I was concerned how everything was going to come together at the beginning; however, the technology we used ended up working well enough and seeing how far the initially inexperienced team had come by the end of the project was very satisfying. I’m very proud of all the students who had sacrificed so much of their time and energy to making the film the very best they could.

    

From Steven Chitwood:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

Steven handled the VFX on the short, “All effects were done in Maya 2011, specifically. I used Maya fluids, particles, nParticles. Types of effects were fire, smoke, dust, explosions, and liquids. All effects were either rendered with Mental Ray or Renderman.” he says. Other programs used in the making of Driven included ” ‘Zbrush’ for 3D sculpting of characters and some environments, ‘Renderman for Maya’ (the Rendering engine used for the film), ‘Eyeon Fusion 6′ for Compositing, and finally ‘Mel’ and ‘Python’, for scripting.

To manage the team, a combination of verbal communication, along with email and other means were used to provide both official and unofficial ‘check in’ updates. “We used Google Docs for documentation including tasks for each departments, deadlines, and milestones. We did keep track of everyone’s hours and their tasks so we could accurately predict of where the project was going.” says Steven.

On the project pipeline, Steven said the following, “I was not in PX (Project X) during the beginning, I jumped in almost mid-way through but here’s my take. We first start off a pitch that Mike had and we discussed things of what did work and what didn’t for the story. Concurrently, we started create to concepts of the film while the modelers and animators were developing the layout of the film, also, the riggers were doing some RnD (Research and Development). Once some of the concepts were starting to be officially approved, modelers would start to make the final assets and create textures for them. Once assets, textures, and animations were done, those shots would be handed off to the lighters.

Lighters simply then light shots and render them and bring them to the next stage: compositing. Compositing is where we bring all the images together to make the final shots, making final tweaks to make the shots the way we want it. Keep in mind, when animators are done with shots and the assets are created, we also hand off those shots to the effects department (me).

There, we create the fire, smoke, dust, etc and then render those effects as well in separate images, just like what the lighters do. We then bring those also into the comp to finish the shots entirely. While we are doing this film, we are also doing an ongoing edit for the film. Towards the very last stages of the film, we edit the film and see what ever else changes/fixes we need to do.”

Lastly, in short the pipeline process is as follows “story->concept->look development->layout->modeling->rigging->animation->effects->lighting&rendering->compositing->final edit”, also “We decided to create our own render-farm. Our render-farm was used to expedite the rendering process.”

    

It’s very clear that a lot of work wen’t into making the short film, everyone that worked on the project had a part in making it all possible. Fantastic work everyone!!

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

Juan Rubio
Cogswell College

The Leviathan

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Art by Jim Murray, creature design by Jordu Schell

The Leviathan is a short which has been making the rounds on the internet lately. Made as a proof-of-concept by Irish director Ruairí Robinson, the short features stunning visuals and fantastic animation. Robinson created the short as a pitch to major movie studios in hopes of having it become a feature length film. It was created with the aid of the Irish Film Board and Jim Uhls, who wrote the script to ‘Fight Club’.

The story is set in the 22nd century, where humans have colonized many worlds. Faster-than-light travel has been made available, however, the only viable fuel source for this kind of travel uses exotic material from the eggs of the largest species humankind has ever seen. Those who go out to hunt the animals are mostly voluntary labor.

I’d love to see the short turned into a full length movie; perhaps they could delve deeper into the back story. How was interstellar travel developed? How did they figure out space whale eggs were the perfect fuel source and is there really no alternative?

See the film at the following link: https://vimeo.com/122368314

Virtual Reality Sculpting

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Screenshot taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnqFdSa5p7w

Have you ever thought about sculpting using Virtual Reality technology? A new app called VRClay shows us how to do just that by allowing us to create 3D sculptures in VR. Using the Oculus Rift headset and a motion controller such as the Razer Hydra, we will be able to sculpt 3D figures using motions such as push, pull, drag and buildup. While the traditional method of using computer screens would still be ideal, a VR workspace would give us the ability to walk around and inspect the physical manifestation of our work. There is still no release date for the Oculus Rift, so it looks like we will have to wait a while before we can try this app.

Peter Gazallo

CTN Animation eXpo 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Creative Talent Network Animation Expo

If I were to describe an experience as life-changing, this would be one those experiences. Talent from all over the world was concentrated into a single, weekend-long conference at the Marriott Hotel in Burbank, California. Thousands of artists and animation enthusiasts gathered to participate in workshops, visit artist booths, have their portfolio reviews by industry professionals and make connections. Animation legends like Glen Keane and Eric Goldberg were there. More than once, I walked by a short, older man in a Hawaiian shirt and realized I’d just passed by one of the greatest names in animation. While I never got the chance to talk with Eric Goldberg, it was thrilling just having seen him in real life.

Sierra Gaston with Dice Tsutsumi

Sierra Gaston with Dice Tsutsumi

I participated in seven workshops, many of them concentrating on character design. A particularly useful one by Ty Carter, a visual development artist at Blue Sky Studios, focused on how to get a dream job right after college. Ty Carter made it very clear that a lot of hard work was required—and that if any of the workshop attendees were as good as the artists currently exhibiting at CTN, we would definitely get into the industry.

I had around four portfolio reviews; two by Nickelodeon from their Artist Program and Interactive Content Development departments, one by a professional (and very exhausted) character designer, and the last by an extremely talented character and design artist who actually volunteered to look at my portfolio and gave me feedback. Portfolio review is so extremely important—while getting invaluable critiques on how to make your art work better, you are also making connections and getting a really good look at what the industry standard is. There’s a certain degree of fear in what others will say about your work, but I was mostly eager to see in which areas I was succeeding and which ones I needed to work harder at. The reviews were very positive, and I left with a clear vision of what I needed to work on before application dates rolled around.  I also gained a possible lead working with Nickelodeon.

Sierra Gaston with Tom Moore

Sierra Gaston with Tom Moore

In addition to workshops, book signings, and meeting artists, I got to see a screening of Song of the Sea, the newest animated feature by Cartoon Saloon in Ireland. A story about selkies, humans that are part seal in nature and can transform when they put on their coats, Song of the Sea is breathtaking in its 2D traditional intricacy. It’s wonderful seeing a traditional animation studio from Ireland making waves in such a 3D animation-focused industry.

CTN is an absolute must for any serious student in any area of animation. The connections are invaluable, and it is a privilege to be in the same room as some of the artists that attended this year. It’s a dose of reality to be around industry professionals of that caliber—while in school you’re in a completely different environment, but once you’re actually talking and interacting with people you’ve only heard about your entire life, it makes it that much more real. A weekend in Burbank among people in love with what they do is the perfect tool for inspiration and personal growth.

Sierra Gaston, Digital Art & Animation Student, Cogswell College

Cogswell student group ready to go to CTN Animation Expo 2014

Cogswell student group ready to go to CTN Animation Expo 2014

About CTN

The CTN animation eXpo
Nov 21-23, 2014
Burbank Convention Center
800 604 2238 | 818 827-7138
www.ctnanimationexpo.com

The only event of its kind presents a unique opportunity that brings together the top professionals from both the traditional and digital worlds of animation. Hosted by the Creative Talent Network, this six year event has captured both the industry and local community’s attention as a resource for education, employment, inspiration, business opportunities and most of all FUN!

While the Expo has a very broad appeal, it is focused specifically on “THE TALENT” from the animation and surrounding communities. In an intimate setting at the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center thousands of attendees meet the faces behind the fantasy from yesterday, today and tomorrow over the course of 3 days. The event presenters include contributors from some of the highest grossing animated films of all time and are targeted to empower professionals, educate students and entertain the general public.

Of particular interest to attendees are the Live Demonstrations, Networking Receptions, Master Workshops, Panel Discussions, Business Symposiums, Recruiting and the Professional Exhibits offered throughout the Expo as well as the signature One-On-One Personal Consultations with creative professionals from top studios and educational institutions both local and international all happening during the first city wide proclamation of “Animation Week” just for this event.

With a demographic that includes both students and professionals it is our pleasure to work closely with each of our sponsors to ensure that every agreement is tailored to address your specific marketing objectives. Together we can make this event a memorable and successful one that will bring the community together as well as raise awareness for the animation medium each and every year.

“…AMAZING … ONE OF A KIND … BETTER THAN EVER … SO NEEDED IN OUR INDUSTRY…”

- See more at: http://www.ctnanimationexpo.com/axAboutUs.php#sthash.4zihYqnp.dpuf

OM3D – 3D Manipulation of 2D Photos

Friday, November 14th, 2014

When it comes to editing photographs, Photoshop reigns supreme. But what if there was a better approach to editing a photograph? What if you could take an element within a picture and have full manipulation control over everything about it? Better yet, what if you could do it for free? Researchers over at Carnegie Mellon and the University of California found a way to do just that – through the announcement of a new, free, suite of 3D manipulation software. Their software, titled OM3D, allows a user to take an object within a 2D photograph and turn it into a 3D model. That model can then be manipulated and moved around the photo however the user desires. It also allows the users to adjust the lighting and texture of an object in order to blend in with its surroundings. The software achieves this by utilizing vast libraries of stock photographs and 3D models, and compares them to the two dimensional object the user wishes to shape. It then merges the attributes from the library of stock photos with that of the 2D object to create a 3D model that is viewable from every angle. Once the model is created, the photograph can be freely edited.


Demonstration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipTyCJi0t1Y
Download: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~om3d/code/OM3D_1_0_0_source.zip

Cogswell Presents: Nye Warburton

Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Cogswell College Presents: Nye Warburton
Cogswell Presents: Nye Warburton
Tuesday, November 11th
12:45 – 1:30
Dragon’s Den

Students!
Do you find yourself starting projects that never get finished, or find yourself swimming in awesome ideas and never do anything with them? Come see Nye on Tuesday to learn how to…

Finish it! How to take your creative ideas and finish the project.
Tips from the industry. How to go from idea to final film, or final game, or whatever you are building. A little bit of project management, a little bit of creative advice and a little bit about the business and how to get your work out there.

About Nye:
Nye Warburton is an animator, cartoonist, game designer and artist. His graduate thesis film, Magnetism, landed him in the Los Angeles animation industry in 2004. He spent a decade at studios like Electronic Arts, Sony Imageworks, Fox, Blur, Proof, Digital Domain and  The Third Floor. He has worked on 30+ high budget films including Monster House, Thor, Battleship, Men in Black III and Oblivion. He has had development deals with Fox Animation and Comedy Central, as well working on several independently funded animation and game projects.

Nye currently works as a creative director for start ups, out of his office space in downtown Los Angeles. Visit him online at http://nyewarburton.com

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

Cogswell Student’s Artwork Featured On Kotaku!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Matt Bard

Dungeonesque Walls

One of our students, Matt “Bardler” Bard, had his polycount rock formation featured on Kotaku as, “A rather magnificent-looking, somewhat dungeonesque wall from Bardler”

Clicker here for the article!

Awesome job, Matt!

An Inside Look at Creating Digital Art

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Listen in as Cogswell Digital Art & Animation student, Jennifer Hicks, talks about her creative process and what her art means to her.

(If your machine does not support flash, please view the video here.)

SuperGenius – One Company’s Journey into the World of Outsourcing

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

SuperGenius is a new generation of game art studio. A full-spectrum art and animation support studio for video game developers.

SuperGenius started out like many small game companies – with a dream. They wanted to outsource their talent and work with the best game developers in the world. They quickly discovered that someone else would always work for less so had to figure out a way to compete that would allow them to earn a living.

In this article in Gamasutra, Paul Culp, talks about the studio’s first attempt at being an amazing art asset producer and the lessons that helped it become the company it is today. “By taking a more holistic approach to the art and animation, and making sure it worked properly was immensely valuable to our clients. We stopped focusing on mass asset production and instead focused on completion, wrote Culp.”

One of the first lessons they learned was who they did not want to be. Another lesson was, “if you are going to spend a huge chunk of your time doing something, it better be something you believe in. Any endeavor, no matter how profitable it is, will eat you alive if you don’t like who you are while doing it.”

If you have tried to sell your art assets, what lessons have you learned?