The Pixel Crush

-------------------------------------------|Digital Animation & Game Criticism|-------------------------------------------

Friday, 11 December 2009


I'm now home for the christmas holidays. Final submissions done, Animate+ uploaded, and the marks are in.
And I am pleased. I thought the marks were fair and I earned what I got. I wish the animate+ plus project had been a little more developed at this point, the teaser I uploaded is missing frames, cuts off the end, doesn't really give anyone much of an idea of what's coming (which I suppose is the point of a teaser). Also, only after effects CS4 can render it because of RAM constraints, utterly retarded and frustrating. I spent a lot of thursday evening in the studio dividing up my 30 seconds of animation between 5 computers (6 seconds each) and making sure I knew where all the frames were going and that the PCs weren't logging themselves off. I was lead out by security at 9pm with a couple of hundred frames missing, shame. It does look beasty (yet shiny) in it's full 1080p glory though, a bastard to compress for the 64mb upload limit.

I can't wait to start projects after christmas.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Crunch Time

This week felt like things really got going, I was pretty busy trying to make sure everything was going to work out and get done on time, and it was fun, and a little nerve racking. First thing was mine and Jake's presentation on the "Representation & Ideology of Society & The Class System in A Bug's Life". This was on the the Tuesday. It went fairly well I thought. We planned it carefully with slides and notes, we rehearsed it several times, and though it could've been a bit longer, it was a very dense presentation in terms of analysis and information. I'm so glad it wasnt just me out there as having the pressure shared between the two of us meant I could talk more freely and lucidly knowing I was passing the presentation back over to Jake every other point.

Then I planned to do my 3D walk based on the footage we all shot, I wanted to base it on the second walk, the walk that expressed an emotion of out choice; I chose to try and replicate joy on a summers day.
The 2D I planned to portray my ordinary walk, though its probably not how I actually walk, but how I walk when I'm in a room full of spectators, being filmed:

So the first is the ordinary walk and the 2D. I did this in a sketchy style to try and get correct proportions and convey a sense of authentic obvservation and realism. Though I'm quite pleased with the key poses, the animation loops awkwardly with that dreaded "limp" we've all been trying to avoid which an extra couple of frames could've fixed. Still, I'm quite pleased with the result, especially considering the breakneck spead I powered through at:

The 2nd walk expressing my joy on a summer's day I thought would be a fun challenge for 3D. was a challenge...
It took me hours to get an outline, then further hours to add arms movements, head movements, refinements in the graph editor. The most sublime touch though, was offsetting the bob of the hips to the steps, this meant instead of the walk sinking into each step, it appeared to rise out of it giving the legs a nice snappy spring. Though its not true to the bounce of the source footage, it conveys similar emotions:

Now I'm going to try and devote some time to The Incident. There is not chance in hell it'll be done for the 11th, so I'm going to aim for the next deadline in March.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Incident

For the last few weeks I've been working on something for the ANIMATE+ course competition, just as an incentive to do something outside of the course assignments.
It took the form of, not really a music video, more of a song set to imagery. Porcupine Tree's "The Incident" is a very visual song in terms of its lyrics and soundscape, so I felt complelled to try and make an accompanying narrative that matches the story told in the song. The preproduction was fairly minimal, I have a sheet of timings and descriptions pinned to my notice board, thats it, so its evolving as I go. The production itself has been retardedly labour intensive, its taking way longer than I thought it would, which I suppose is to be expected given the medium I'm working with. Also I hadn't anticipated the process of creating all the assets from scratch. Here is the original car that is seen driving along a road at the beginning:

This I drew using Photoshop and my graphics tablet, using an old photo of a burt out TV for the metallic texture of the car's body. The windows are a separate layer to allow for different blending modes in the composition, the windscreen wiper moves independently, as do the wheels, and the lights are a different layer for special reflective material properties. All this is a pain in After Effects but the end result is gorgeous so...
Though I did discover parenting in a quest to simplify all the keyframes. Parenting allows one layer or more to follow the motion of a parent layer without having to all the keyframes of the parent. Still, it screws with your mind when you're having to keep track of all these lamp posts and their respective lights!

Next came the lighting, here is a test with a makeshift background; this is what adds real three dimensionality:
ooooooh motion blur ;)

Then I experimented with camera moves and depth of field which was fun, though combine this with motion blur and shadow diffusion for the lighting and my laptop is no longer up to the job of rendering a single frame at full resolution (sweet, sweet HD). Here is the depth of field:

I thought it was starting to look pretty sic at this point, though nothing has really actually happened, which is what I'm working on now. Syncing it with the song, adding traffic, signs, and starting to tell the story.
On the way I digressed into a little titles sequence that inhabits the first 12 seconds of the song, I also a some post processing using adjustment layers (another feature I hadn't utilised before) and added rain, colour balance, glow, and some film grain:

No rain in this shot though. Just nice puddles :)

I will update again soon as more material emerges, and this project continues to engross me and rob me of unhealthy amounts of time.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

One Small Step For Mankind, One Giant Leap For Me...

The walk cycle. I found this extraordinarily difficult, just the logistics of what moves where and when combined with the timing of each mmovement. Also applying the vague principles of human anatomy to the character I designed (I called him mittenman because his fingerless hands resemble mittens). So while its only 19 frames it took me a good 3 hours to fantastically inefficient, new found awe for traditional hand drawn animation all round. 3D next!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Return Of The Prognosticator

I'm now back from the bradford animation festival. It was sic. I cant wait to go to more festivals.

So I've got the festival schedule and a few tickets from my favourite events to remind me what I loved best. The first day was one fo the best, we got to see the extraordinarily high standard of student films of which several are worth noting. Bruce ended up winning the best student film award, stylistically it was slick, and it was a clever satire of the principles behind videogaming, though had a weak ending some thought. Then project alpha: a CGI comedy about the first monkey into space which was engaging and funny with a story exploring the animal instincts in all of us despite the conditioning we undergo. The highly unoriginal and cliche Catharsis was perhaps the most accomplished in aspiring to a specific style (anime), too many films about car crashes though. Operatatatata was hilarious, hyperbolic and well executed in its drama and use of music. Urs i had already heard of and was looking forward to seeing, it was really interesting artistically but a little mundane in the narrative department, though I did find myself caring for the characters in a more conventional way than any of the other films.

That night the first feature was screened- "Mary & Max". It blew my mind, the naive perspective of the child allows the audience to connect with the emotional journey of the films two main characters. Thats the beauty of animation, Mary & Max could handle the themes of mental disease in such a way that it was comic, but not mocking, and powerful, but not preachy. An authentic representation of day to day worries but displayed in the context of an entire lifetime. The narrative cleverly jumps around between the two characters and their pasts through the letters they exchange and the dialogue of each overlaid on the flashbacks. A thing of beauty. Another australian film, from melbourne this time. So many Australian animations, French too.

Coraline next, in 3D! The best way to sum it up is exquisite. Four years in the making, from the director of Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick) and the original novel by Neil Gaimen who is an excellent writer. Nice to see a reasonably mainstream stop motion film not side stepping the darker sides of the narrative. What was really interesting was the presentation by the Visual Effects Supervisor Brain Van't Hul the next day. He outlined the challenges of shooting in 3D, things like interocular distance, depth, painting out the cracks in the models faces from two different perspectives without it looking like a patch floating in front of the face. The compositing used to create the fog for the characters to interect with, each wisp having been shot at 100fps and then matched to the movements that the animators had shot. What was mildly irritating was the pretentious attitude of the director towards CGI when it came to things that would have been easier with CGI and looked indentical but he wanted it his way for no good reason. Like the mice performance for instance. pointless. Especially when they were already using Maya to block out animation for the characters faces, then using this to create resin parts for the actual models. Hypocritical? Hmm...still, inspiring stuff.

Then there was the gaming stuff, we missed most of it during our day of travel, which was irritating. But I did get to see Erik Svedäng's Blueberry Garden talk, or the second half at least. He was a little arrogent, but had some interesting ideas and reasons for making games, namely because he didnt like the games people were currently making. Flower anybody? Heavy Rain? No? still, nice to see, I will be checking out the demo.

Also was a guy from Hello Games (Shaun something), an independant studio made up guys from Criterion etc. Really interesting talk and an insightful look into the timing and processes of game development, wholy unoriginal concept though, but well executed. He talked about stuff like middleware, porting, propriortary physics sytems, animation, assets, check ins, lines of code. Some of it made sense, some of it was beyond me. What was depressing was the cowd, the average gamer, it turns out, is a completely unartistic, unimaginative and undiscerning retard. One guy asked the same question in every talk: "how much did it cost?", its irrelevant in the long run, if you want it enough, you'll just do it! I worry about the industry, perhaps as Erik does, I fear it may never grow into its potential, that people will ignore the possabilities and continue to make sequals to first person shooters forever...

Now I'm home again. and I want to do something creative more than ever.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Let The Carnival Begin...

So Bradford looms ever closer. I'm gutted we're missing the majority of the gaming talks and presentations on the tuesday due to the 10 hour drive but as Georg said: "we're going to an animation festival" games then. BUT STILL! Coraline 3D plus making of, Up, Fantastic Mr Fox(?), workshops, a tiny amount of gaming stuff, a wealth of events I have yet to discover! I know it'll be sic.

Here is some experimental cut out me Charlie and Alice did following Derek's lecture. I have to say I only really contributed to the first half though the shark and skull were mine :) and they did a marvelous job after I left:

My one criticism being the lack of motion blur ;)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


This man's vision of what games can be is exactly what I want to see realised, and create myself. Inspiring. For people who need the rules of the FPS, or the reward of collectibles, grow up! The videogame's own name has become redundant due to what it has the potential to be, their not "just games" anymore. They are carefully designed virtual experiences. Just look at the controversy over Modern Warfare 2:

People claiming that because "its just a game", its fine for the player to engage in the slaughter of innocents, for them it is no more than a murder simulator. They dont see the context (along with all the politicians and psychologists) that changes the players perspective on the whole scenario. I admire the ambition of what Infinity Ward is trying to achieve; but I think that their attempt to expose the horror of killing the powerless will go straight over most gamer's heads which is a crying shame.

Heavy Rain is a rare thing, a poineer in the battle for games as art. I will be preordering my copy now ;)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Cubey's Revenge

The animation principles that we had to include in this exercise, along with the ones already utilised, were the anticipation and overlap techniques. This invloves movements that the character makes leading up to and after the main movement. For example the character crouches down before springing into a leap, and bends to absorb the force after landing before returning to an upright position. Not particularly concise in my explanation but hopefully lucid enough that its not totally nonsensical.

This is my 2D attempt, it just went on and on, i kept having to fetch more clean paper from the cabinet saying to myself "I'll finish it in the next 20 frames..." only to run out of paper again. In the end it came in at a monstrous 58 frames. Though when i played it back at 24fps it was a little too speedy so I changed the playback speed in the software to 15fps which felt more natural. While the little Cubey moves well the larger Cubey lacks anticipation on his leap. He crouches but then he just lifts up without stretching upward first. Also it feels painfully short considering how long it took me to do 58 frames.

I thought I'd try and step it up with the 3D this week and put a lot more time into the task at hand. After my persp camera in Maya screwed itself up (probably with my help) Georg showed me how to create a new one and this lead to me animating it and creating an epic sweep to better encompass the different parts within the scene. Something I've noticed in other peoples 3D animations is the speed at which characters move, it sometimes can be a bit sluggish, so I thought I'd try and add a kind of snappy elasticity to my own animation. I think maybe the reason peoples animations are slower is because they are longer because of it so it looks like more work, the quality suffers because of this misconception. More rendering time too...
Anway here it is, im super proud of it, so before anyone says all show no go, watch the animation closely:

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Tribute to the Platformer.

For some reason I tackled this one after doing the Cubey exercise. Bizarre and illogical i know, but thats what happened. This being a simpler exercise, I found i could judge the number of frames needed a little easier than before. I still couldn't draw a perfect circle for every frame unfortunately.

Here is last week's 2D cubey animation. The principle was to animation Cubey in the same way you do the bouncing ball, and then animate his antennae according to the way Cubey bounces. This is called primary and secondary animation. I was extremely pleased with how this turned out, especially after the mildly discouraging circle morph. Cubey has a real spring to him (mostly thanks to the squash and stretch) and his antennae waggles believably.

This week it was time to attempt the Cubey jumping, secondary animation exercise again; but this time using Maya. Time to move back into the realm of 3 dimensions.
This becomes very complex when you have to keep track of each and every value and attribute in the graph editor so as to smooth out the right bezier handles to correct specific movements and timings. Also when i rendered it out i had the image files name themselves name.extension.number, this was a very bad idea as when the extension (e.g IFF or PSD) os not at the end, no progam will recognise the file. It was great fun to bring some personality to the model we were provided with. I also added a couple of pillars for Cubey to jump to and from, a nostalgic homage to the days of Crash Bandicoot...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Masterpiece

Naughty Dog have always made games of an exceptionally high quality, not only from a technical perspective, but also in terms of artistry and narrative. I have just finished playing through their new game "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" and it is easily the best looking game i have ever seen. Not only is the way everythings modelled and textured along with all the post processing exquisite; it also looks jaw dropping in motion. Which is why its part of my blog. The animation is on par with your average animated feature film, which is an extraordinary accomplishment considering the limitations of rendering every stunning frame in realtime on the PS3. According to the behind the scenes videos Naughty Dog uses a technique they have pioneered called animation blending. This involves the animators animating a character movement for every eventuality in the game and then as the action unfolds they are layered together as the character reacts to events in game creating a authentic and organic movement which is unique to every play. For example The character reloads his gun (animation 1) whilst sliding into cover (animation 2) as a bullet flys past his head and he flinches (animation 3). This kind of detail adds real personality to the character and creates a very convincing connection between the player and the virtual world with which they are interacting.

What Uncharted 2 also has that most other games lack is an emotional connection with the characters. Dialogue plays during the cutscenes, and during gameplay. Whether its just comedic banter or exposition, the player is getting the know the various characters and their relationships to one another the whole time. You can even access the protagonists journal (this is for puzzle solving but there are pages with more personal annotations which really give an insight into what motivates Nathan Drake). This game is an inspiring example of what the medium can become when it strives to be accepted as an artform, and as a new method of storytelling that does things through interactivity that no other medium has the means to achieve. Even if the average gamer doesn't discern the scale and scope of what Naughty Dog has created, they can experience the epic, EPIC game, that is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Sweet, Sweet CGI

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, finally let the Maya begin.

So we had to animate two balls in Maya for this week's 3D assignment. Each ball had to appear as though it were a different weight to the other as it bounced across the screen. We were introduced to the graph editing and the keyframing tools as well as the playblast function. Georg actually mentioned a way of creating the bouncing ball using dynamics which sounded really interesting and, while it may not be real animation, its something I'd love to learn how to do. So I animated my bouncy ball and then a much heavier one, perhaps a cannonball or bowling ball? Using the graph editor and the orthographic front view I tweaked the bezier handles on the curves of the X and Y axis. Then I got a bit carried away and added a light, shaded the balls using the phong material (green and red respectively) and rendered the whole sequence out using raytracing reflection and refraction...and some motion blur(ah motion blur).

Here it is:

Monday, 12 October 2009

In The Beginning...

So a lot of people have been posting previous work and demonstrating the different stages everyone has got to, so I thought I'd do the same and throw mine into the mix.

A campaign for alcohol awareness targetted at teenagers which i made for a media applied assignment. Perhaps the most polished of the lot:

A Intro sequence for a hypothetical science & technology program aimed at middle aged men (hence the balding and eyesight themes ). This was the most fun and my first work using both animation and live action. Involved use of a projected blue light as a blue screen, this does NOT work very well for future reference:

A very short clip I made for a friend's recycling project (with far too much motion blur [i was obsessed]) involving a plastic bag and a newspaper beating the sh*t out of each other:

Finally my epic project which was too long to fit onto youtube in one clip. This is not an animation at all but does make use of some compositing, effects and film techniques. It deals with some pretty abstract themes in pretty abstract ways so may require several viewings but I am hugely proud of the result:

Sunday, 11 October 2009


So here is my first hand drawn animation ever! It makes me want to attempt something in 24fps as, while this works, it would nice to see my animations reach that extra degree of fluidity which the additional frames would help improve. It'll be good to move away from pencil too as a strong black ink line I find far more aesthetically appealing.

I was looking at the line up for the bradford and it sounds really exciting. I saw Up in july in spain and again yesterday but in 3D so I already know what a masterful piece of story telling and animation that is. The first 20 mins alone are the most devastatingly emotional in any piece of cinema ive ever witnessed. Coraline
 is another thing I'm looking forward to as I'm a Neil Gaimen fan...well I read one his books and enjoyed it. Then there are all the speakers from the games industry. It'll be fascinating to see what they have to say. Especially the people developing for the PS3 and the guy from Bizarre Creations who worked on Motorstorm.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


So, the beginning of a 3 year venture into the depths of academia and knowledge, an attempt to educate myself in the discipline of digital animation and familiarise myself with its numerous techniques and skills.

I made my first hand drawn animation today, all 12 frames of it :) Both thrilling and humbling. More to come on this as my profiency in this area (hopefully) progresses. The animation consisted of a circle; the task being to morph it to a new object. Two eyelids appear around the top and bottom of the eye and close together, as the open again a pupil and iris are revealed. The actually motion appeared to work fine when I ran it through the line tester but some of the frames themselves were a little too roughly done...even for a draft. Maybe. I'm not sure yet where standards and lines will be drawn but just from glancing at others work I seem to be surounded by some very talented artists.

Just a little daunting.