Posts Tagged ‘Project X’

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:

My Responsibilities on the Animated Short 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 went 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
3D Animation Student, Internal Public Relations, Industry News Coverage, Blog Administrator/Writer
Cogswell College

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

Beverly Hills and Newport Beach Film Fests

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Worlds Apart Crew at Newport BeachNewport Beach Film Festival (from left to right): Evan Clover, Josh Hodges, Jeron Moore

Worlds Apart Crew at Beverly HillsBeverly Hills Film Festival Awards Gala (from left to right): Josh Hodges, Evan Clover, Ivy Clover, Jeron Moore

Recently a few of our alumni attended two film festivals in southern California; The Beverly Hills Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival. Both festivals were very exciting, the gang started their weekend off with attending the screening the animated shorts portion of the Beverly Hills Film Festival and we happy with the way Worlds Apart was received by everyone. After that, they took off to the Newport Beach Film Festival to attend the Shorts for Shorties portion of the festival. The animation they saw there was astonishing in quality and said it will be tough competition.  They were invited to the front of the theater to answer questions from the audience and then hopped out to the red carpet for pictures. Finally their weekend concluded with the Beverly Hills Film Festival Awards Gala. They got all gussied up with their suits and skirts and arrived to rub elbows with other film makers and celebrities. The awards ceremony was very classy and there we tons of laughs. Worlds Apart did not walk away with an award but there was high praise among  attendees for the films high production value and story. The Project X crew was all in all very pleased with the festivals and the weekend they had.

We will let you know as soon as we hear back from Newport Beach if Worlds Apart won an award. Stay tuned!

-Zombie

Cogswell on CG Society

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

CG Society Article

Hey Everyone!

I wanted to bring you some really cool and exciting news that just came across my desk. You have all been seeing the success that the latest Project X film, Worlds Apart, has been seeing. A few of you have even seen how cool it is by having the privilege of watching the whole thing. This next bit of news is huge for Worlds Apart and for Cogswell..

Recently, a couple crew members from Worlds Apart contacted CG Society and inquired about getting the film featured on their site in some way. They never expected anything crazy, just a link, maybe a small summary on their list of animated shorts. After they send some material to the editor they couldn’t believe his response. He decided that he wanted to do a full 2 page article on the film!

If you don’t know who or what CG Society is, it is probably about time that you checked the site out. They are one of, if not the biggest, online CG Art and VFX websites in the world. They not only feature individual artists work but also professional studio work as well. They get thousands of hits on their site everyday and host some of the most beautiful cg art that I have ever seen. It is not only and honor to be featured on their site but a privilege and the crew of the film couldn’t be more happy.

If you want to check out the article and more about Worlds Apart, follow the link below.

http://www.cgsociety.org/index.php/CGSFeatures/CGSFeatureSpecial/worlds_apart

Congratulations to the Worlds Apart crew! Hope you just as much success in your coming projects!

-Zombie

Cogswell in 3D World Magazine

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Cogswell in 3d World Magazine

Recently a couple members of the Worlds Apart crew reached out to 3D World Magazine to see if they would be interested in doing a story on the making of the film. The people over at 3D World loved what they saw and were very excited to do a story. The director of Worlds Apart, Michael Huber, got in contact after and went about answering all the questions they had for him and the crew.

The article full article is on sale now and I have the link to the short version right here: http://www.3dworldmag.com/2012/03/21/short-cuts-worlds-apart/

Cogswell is really proud of the Worlds Apart crew for getting accepted into 3D World Magazine. 3D World is one of the biggest CG Arts publications in the world and it is considered to be a great honor to be featured in such a prestigious magazine. Way to go Worlds Apart! Can’t wait to see what kind of attention the next Project X film gets!

-Zombie

Day 1 at GDC – Update: 003

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Cogswell College at GDC 2012

Hey Everyone,

So today was a great day for Cogswell at GDC. So many people stopped by the booth to talk to our students and representatives. Many connections were made that could end up being potential partnerships. Also, many companies that saw Cogswell as a very special place for training the future of the game design industry. Many alumni stopped by as well took a look at our games and demo reel, every one of them commented about how great the work from the students is looking and especially things coming from Project X. I had several conversations myself with people who thought what Cogswell is doing is an amazing thing.

A bunch of the student volunteers and other Cogswell people decided to stick around for the IGF Awards to see who won. If anything special comes from that I will be sure to let you know!

If you have never heard of the IFG, click here to get the details: http://www.igf.com/

So all in all, today was a great for day on the Expo floor. We are looking forward to an even better Thursday and Friday. I will check in with you guys soon. Stay tuned!

-Zombie

Cogswell College on ABC News

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

esterday a camera crew from ABC News came and did a story on the Project X class and the films it has produced yesterday here on campus! It was really cool when a large group of us sat around the tv in the student lounge and watched when they aired it last night. Also, I just got the link for the online version! So, check it out everyone!

The link to the whole article is here:
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/education&id=8564323

The Offering – Online at last!

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Cogswell Animated Short Online

Hello and good day to you all!

I have some really awesome news for you. The first Project X film, The Offering, has made its way through the film festivals and is now finally back home. Since this fabulous animated short is all done with its circuit, Cogswell has decided to place it online for all to see! It gained much acclaim and won many awards during its run. So, I hope you will all stand with me and congratulate The Offering on its success and head on over to watch it, I am just about to for the fifth time today!

The Offering: Click here to watch

-Zombie

Behind the Scenes of a Masterpiece!!!

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Huge News Everyone!!!!!

After the long wait, the Behind the Scenes feature of Worlds Apart is finally finished! Some of the crew talk about their experience on Project X and they all have amazing things to say. I wish I could work on a movie like this!

-Zombie

Cogswell College Film, Worlds Apart, Wins Best Animation at Miami Short Film Festival

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Best Animation - Worlds Apart

The 10th Annual Miami Short Film Festival honored 12 films during its November 19 Red Carpet Award Ceremony. Worlds Apart received the nod for Best Animation. Cogswell College faculty, David Perry, was on hand to receive the trophy and extend thanks for this recognition of the hard work that went into creating the film.

Part science fiction and part cautionary fairytale, Worlds Apart explores the universal themes of stewardship of nature and the fate of humanity. Worlds Apart asks the question, “Can humanity change its ways and save itself?” The film is a production of the Project X class at Cogswell College. Watch the trailer.

The Miami Short Film Festival award recipients are determined by a jury of 28 influential personalities from the world of film and art. This year’s Festival welcomed more than 80 films from 39 different countries. Each film was judged on originality, cinematography, storytelling, use of the medium, production value, editing and film as art.

Past award winners have achieved significant success, including Grisen, nominated for an Oscar in 2009; Frankie, which won the European Film Award for Best Short; Down In Number 5 which won a Student Academy Award in 2010 and most recently God of Love an Oscar-winning short.

Project X is a one-of-a-kind, project-based class at Cogswell College that is run like a professional animation production studio using teams of skilled artists and sound designers. Students work tirelessly for three semesters to produce a studio-quality, short film. During production they are supported by a massive collaborative effort from faculty, staff, visiting artists, industry professionals and alumni.

LINKS

Miami Film Festival http://www.miamishortfilmfestival.com/