Archive for the ‘Project-Based Learning’ Category

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

Sound Design Student Brings Animated Clip to Life

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Sound Design student, Maya Rybold, left her culinary arts dreams for Cogswell’s Digital Audio Technology degree program. We asked Maya to talk about her creative process while adding sound to an animated clip for a class project. Watch the video below for a peek into what it takes to bring an animated clip from the movie ‘Ratatouille’ to life with the implementation of music and sound effects.

Have a comment or question for Maya? Submit responses below.

2014 NCIIA Papers Feature Cogswell Authorship

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) supports technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education, and has a membership of nearly 200 colleges and universities from across the country. This 17-year-old national nonprofit organization engages with over 5,000 student & faculty entrepreneurs each year, by helping them to commercialize their concepts.

The NCIIA is holding their 18th annual conference from March 21-22, 2014, right in Cogswell’s backyard in San Jose, California. It is an intensive two-day conference for practitioners of technology entrepreneurship in high education. Conference sessions explore policy, programs, funding and insights into what is happening in higher education today; and how that will impact tomorrow.

Cogswell Polytechnical College is proud to share the 2014 peer-reviewed papers written by our very own Christopher-John Cornell & John Duhring! Topics include Project-based Learning Kickstart Tips, The Metamophosis of Business Plan Competitions, and Crowdfunding: More Than Money Jumpstarting University Entrepreneurship. Follow the links for the full publications.

Visit our website for more information about Cogswell’s Master’s Degree Program in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, the Immersion Program for visiting students and entrepreneurs, or the Kauffman Fasttrac Program.

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.

Student Entrepreneurs Open Student Store

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Dashiell Sarnoff and Jeffrey Efting talk about their student store project.

While Cogswell makes sure our students understand the theory and fundamentals behind what they are doing, its main focus is on giving students the opportunity to put that theory into practice through project-based learning. Dashiell Sarnoff took the “Basic Building Blocks of Entrepreneurship” class and decided his class project would be to open a student store called, “The Cogswell Armory.” After Jeffrey Efting took the class and became a partner in the project.

From its humble beginnings in a corner of the Associated Student Office, then relocated to a storage closet, the store now has its own room. Listen in to this short video as Dashiell and Jeffrey share what they learned in the process in this short video. Listen in as they talk about the decisions they made to take the store from a tiny corner in the ASB office to a room of its own and the things they needed to consider to make it work.

Check out the Armory’s Facebook page for the latest news.

Get Your BEAT On in the Electronic Music Competition

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Cogswell Digital Audio Technology student, Daniel McFarren, has put together a unique final portfolio project – a competition designed to spotlight the very best electronic musicians in the Bay Area. The final field will consist of five artists who will complete challenges to inspire creativity and innovation.

From on-the-spot creation of interesting loops to full-on song production, to live performance in front of a club audience, artists will have the chance to prove themselves as worthy beatmakers. A panel of leading industry judges will put the artists to the test, critique their work and scrutinize their style. The ultimate champion will have the chance to headline at a Bay Area club event.

When asked, why this particular project instead of something else, McFarren replied,

“There is this vast population of talented musician/DJs, just waiting for their chance to get up on stage and show everyone in that club the cool stuff they figured out through many sleepless nights in front of a laptop, hunched over a MIDI controller. The creativity of these artists came from the disparity between their musical inspiration and the lack of of technological resources available to them. It is, in fact, the non-optimal conditions of music composition that drive the creativity that fuels the evolution of Electronic Music. This, I believe, is why we are seeing such a flourish of unique EM music from ‘bedroom producers,’ who scrimp and save the meager income from their day job to get he very basic tools needed to make the music that drives them. With the help of my good friend and Co-Creator for the show, John Buell, we have made an attempt at translating this evolutionary drive into the form of a competition, where those artists who have that creative spark get the chance to be noticed, and possibly jump up on stage next to that headliner that helped inspire them in the first place.”

Submissions must be in by March 3 and interviews will be held during the week of March 9 at Motiv Nightclub in Santa Cruz to select the five competitors.

For additional information and submission details, visit BEAT.

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.

Cogswell’s Game Studio – The Joy of Bringing a Game Concept to Life

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Listen in as Cogswell students Sean Langhi, the Engineering & Design Lead and Bugi Kaigwa, Art Lead for the Prairie Rainbow project, share their excitement about the work they are doing in the Game Studio. Access the video here for a sneak peek into a game development team at Cogswell.

Prairie Rainbow develops board games and teacher and parent guides to help students learn math. The Rainbow Math Models are designed to engage tactile learners who need to build a physical model, image learners who need to create a representation of a mental model, and language learners who need to hear, read, or write a number model. This Game Studio project is taking the company’s board game concept and turning it into a unity-based action puzzle game for mobile devices that will not only support the different learning methods but will add another dimension to the user’s experience.

“One goal of our Game program is to offer students real-world learning opportunities,” said Jerome Solomon, Director of Cogswell’s Game Design & Development degree program. “This partnership gives students the chance to not only design a math learning game but to test the prototype in local schools.”

Under the supervision of faculty and industry advisors, Cogswell’s comprehensive project-based learning focus gives students the chance to work on teams that mirror real game development teams of artists, engineers, animators, game designers, audio specialists, and management. Our unique system of Studio classes offers students the opportunity to experience the entire production pipeline from concept through shipping in the process of delivering a professional-quality product.

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.