Posts Tagged ‘student project’

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

Scoring a Film

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Unlike my previous projects, today I am going to talk about a future project I am somewhat excited of doing. This project is for my Desktop Audio Production course, in which we are given a scene from a public domain movie and we are to score the soundtrack, and put together the sound effects to the picture. The movie is a Sci-Fi title and we are to score the music as if the movie was a serious fil not something that was “cheesy.” This might be a challenge as a lot of public domain movies are edited very abruptly, so creating something that flows with the picture can definitely be a challenge.

For the project we are to put together the project and delivering it in a Logic session. As of right now I have some ideas as how to approach the musical composition, but as for the sound effects, I’m thinking I should try to design some sounds of my own, or use some sounds that are in the Cogswell sound library. I will probably end up using some of the samples from the library, and trying to make a few sounds of my own.  Sound design is one of the elements of the Digital Audio Technology program where students can really be original.  I am looking forward to having some fun with this project!

-Jared D.

Programming a binary search algorithm

Monday, April 11th, 2011

My newest software engineering project consisted of writing a program that would write a binary search algorithm. In my previous project, I had mentioned that I avoided using arrays, but in this project I had to use arrays. An array is an arrangement of objects, but in this case it would be an arrangement of integers. The binary search function should look into the array and find the index where the value is being held.

For this project I decided to take an extra step. I was to assume that the data pool size was given and the data was sorted. However I took the approach to figure out how to dynamically allocate an array in my C programming course during run-time. This means, that the program would ask the user for the size of the array, rather than having a fixed sized. This part wasn’t too difficult. I needed to allocate space in the computer’s memory in order to be able to create an array that will fit in the allocated memory.

So now that I’ve set up my array at run-time, I now gave the user the option to enter the data pool. However I had to make sure that the data was sorted, as the user may input the data in no specific order. This was tricky, as I have not worked with arrays before, I searched online on how to sort arrays, and I found out a sorting technique called bubble sort. Bubble sorting consists of looking through the array and comparing adjacent value and swapping them if they are in wrong order. This type of sorting is somewhat slow, but in my case, I’m not expecting to sort throw large pool of data. Great, so now I have established my dynamic array and I have sorted the array, now I can focus on writing the binary search algorithm.

The idea behind the binary search algorithm or half-interval search algorithm is to compare two values (the first index and last index) to the middle index of the array, if the values are equal, there value has been found, if not, it will take a new set of values and compare the middle index again until the values are equal. The comparison is done with by size comparison, is the middle index greater than or less than the search query.  For this part I tried a few methods and I wasn’t getting quiet what I was expected, so what I decided to do, was to visually see how the algorithm worked and for that I did an example on paper and pen. After I saw what actually needs to happen, I could then write the algorithm so replicate that process. I found out that writing the algorithm down in paper helped a lot as I was able to solve the algorithm after 1 single try after writing it down, in comparison with 2 of my previous failures of just thinking of the algorithm.  This is how I went about completing my software engineering project for my C Programming course. I enjoyed working on this project mainly because I did most of the work without getting extra help

-Jared D.

Programming a website

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Over spring break, I decided to try to use some of the knowledge I’ve learned in my software engineering class and try to apply it in other projects.  I found out that the programming language PHP which is used in web based applications, is very similar to that of the program language which I am currently learning, C programming. I finally found a side project to work on that would also help learn another programming language.  The project would consist of making a website that would allow the user to register and login to view the member only section of the website.

In my previous blog, I spoke about “for loops” and these loops also are used in similar way in PHP, lucky for me, I had some experience working with for loops. I was amazed in the similarity of the two languages. It seemed like I was coding in C with slight syntax changes, but the overall experience is very alike. Function calling in PHP is just like function calling in C, which helps organize the code so that you can read the code nicely.  I had to use a function call to display the country option in the register page, so that when the user puts in their info, they can also select what country they are from. Although I got the basic pages down rather fast, it took me some time to learn how to error proof the registration page, as I haven’t spent much time doing this. I had to make sure that when the user was asked to input some information that the field was not left blank or that if we ask for a first name, it wouldn’t allow the use of numbers, but would allow certain special characters that might actually be used in names.

Overall this project was interesting, although it is not completely finished, I completed a large section. I learned that material learned in class can be applied to other projects that don’t necessarily need to be of the same type, some skills are transferable and a lot of what I am learning are the building blocks for other programming languages.

Programming Pascal’s Triangle

Monday, March 14th, 2011

After long hours of studying and trial and error at Cogswell’s programming lab, I’ve finally completed my software engineering project.  The project was to re-create Pascal’s Triangle in C programming.

Sure, it may look easy, but I’ve stumbled across multiple problems with this project.  First I needed to decide how I was going to approach the problem, and how to create a formula for the program. Luckily, Pascal’s Triangle is a well known problem. There are plenty of examples online explaining how the triangle works.  After I figured out the formula, I then had to write a function so that the computation could take place and the output is printed to the computer screen. This is where I encountered the most difficulty, writing a function that prints the output in a triangular form. To achieve this, I had to use all the resources I had available to me:  the internet, tutors, and the professor of Cogswell’s software engineering program here. I decided to look online for examples of the same program.  Fortunately, a lot of examples online involved using methods that utilized arrays or the examples were just too sloppy, which meant that the project would be a good challenge for me. I thought to myself, surely there is a better way of making the program without utilizing arrays, and sure enough there was.

My solution to this problem was to make use of the “for loop,” a conditional statement where if all the statement are true, it will perform the indicated piece of code, or if the statements are false, it would proceed to a different set of instructions. At this point I thought I’ve finally finished my project, and all I had to do was to write the “for loop.” Sure enough, this is the point where I stumbled across the issue I mentioned earlier.  I had to figure out how to make the output print out in a triangular form.  The method I used to approach this was through trial and error with help from the debugger. The debugger allowed me to figure out where and when the program was printing the output, which allowed me to change the code to make the necessary adjustments so that it printed out correctly.

Finally I finished my project. This project may not seem like much, but I did get to learn valuable lessons from it. What I really learned from this project was how to use “for loops” and how to successfully use the debugger in order to find out where the problem is located. These tools are essential for any programmer to learn. The “for loops” are an important part for programming and can be difficult to understand as a first time programmer. Next time I am asked to write a program that uses “for loops” I can be assured that even though I may run into some problems, I will always know how to debug the program.

Student Project Makes A Difference

Monday, March 1st, 2010

DeanSala

Cogswell College prides itself in providing students with the practical real-world learning opportunities and skills they need to be successful in industry. An innovative spirit is critical in the digital media and engineering industries and Cogswell focuses on preparing students to problem-solve and think as an entrepreneur. Cogswell graduates are unique in their ability to address the needs of society and employers by using a blend of science, technology and art.

Dean Sala graduated from Cogswell in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering. He returned to Cogswell and completed his second degree in Electrical Engineering Technology in 2009. He represents what Cogswell’s programs are designed to do – enable students to turn their dreams into productive careers.

Following, he describes his senior project:

1. Briefly describe your project.

My project is a portable solar powered generator that tucks away into in a small brief case. When you open it up, there is a large solar panel inside that can be unfolded to an 80 watt sized solar array. The device includes an AC inverter, 12volt DC power, LED indicators and power switches.

2. What was the inspiration behind developing this particular project?

Well, I have always had a passion for solar energy. I am very fascinated how light can be converted to electricity.  But my inspiration comes from long camping trips that my family and I go on every year with friends and where there is no grid power. I have a camper with 12volt batteries and it’s a challenge keeping them charged when out in the wilderness. You can start the vehicle’s engine to charge the batteries thus producing noise and eating precious fuel. I solved the problem when I installed a solar system I developed. I guess you could call it a mini, off-grid system. I thought why not build a small portable version of this system.

3. What challenges did you encounter in bringing it to a marketable stage?

We are still being challenged with the marketing stage. It is very difficult to know if your product will sell. You get caught up trying to decide whether to purchase more materials, put them together and take a chance that you can sell the product. How many should we make? How do we find customers? How useful is our product really? These are hard questions. I am an engineer not a marketing professional. But I am steadily becoming better at it. Luckily my business partner is better at this then I.

4. I understand that the project started as your Cogswell Senior Capstone project. Did you originally plan to sell a product based on the technology?

Yes, I actually had the product idea before I came back to Cogswell. I guess you can say this was an incentive to finish my second degree. The fact that I had already figured out a lot of the technical details before starting Senior Project I made the process easier but not simple by any means.

5. Tell us a little about the company you and your partner have formed and your plans for the future.

We are now about one year into this. Our company is in the business of providing portable solar power solutions and perhaps solar panels themselves. We can make our own custom high quality solar panels. I think these solar panels are our greatest asset.  They are different because they do not use glass. Instead, the panels use a special Teflon front sheet that is better than glass.

For now, we have taken a step back and decided to make a small product to get us off the ground quickly. We are currently producing a small, 5 watt, folding solar USB charger. With special circuitry, we have been able to charge many USB type devices like phones, GPSs, etc, including the iPhone and iPod!

Our big goal is to make small to medium-sized portable solar power generators that could be used for a variety of applications. One of which is disaster preparedness.

6. How do you feel running your own company?

I have been a software engineer for many years working for a big corporation. There have been good and bad times working in the industry. Although, our company has not made any money yet, I am very motivated. Failure is not in my vocabulary. Over the years many colleagues of mine have always discussed new ideas and products that could potentially form a new company. I am finally doing just that and loving it!

Please visit Suntactics for more info on the company’s future products.

-Bonnie Phelps, Dean of Institutional Advancement

What do Comic Books and Dragons Have in Common?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Dragon Mural

They are both elements of a new mural at Cogswell College – the result of a creative effort between 5 student volunteers and faculty member, Reid Winfrey.

Cogswell’s President wanted something on the wall leading to the Dragons Den – the room where the majority of the College’s events are held – that would attract attention and give visitors and students a reason to pause, reflect and experience imaginative minds at work.

(more…)