The Pixel Crush

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

Saturday, 30 October 2010

What: Extended Edition

"How extended?"

"Oh, two whole brand new scenes!"

"No really, how much more is there?"

"(sigh) About 35 seconds."

We always planned to enter this short into animation festivals and competitions but not in the sorry state it was, so we all pledged that over summer we'd knuckle down and continue to work on it. But we didn't. I managed to animate and render one new shot, and there was one which we'd rendered before but not in time for the original deadline. With these new additions the runtime doesn't look quite so feeble; but as one of the new shots introduces the Detective character, the plot makes even less sense than it did before.

Enjoy. Spread the word. Don't expect to see it win anything. And please, watch it full screen and HD.

  • Dan Emmerson: Director, Animator, Character Modeller, Rigger.
  • Hugh Herbert: Producer, Animator, Environmental Modeller.
  • Olly Skillman-Wilson: Character Modeller, Rigger, Animator, Texture Artist, Lighting Director, Rendering Technician.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Emotive Change

This animation is supposed to show a change of emotion using only body language and poses, instead of relying on blatant facial expression. I'll let you watch before I explain and taint your perception of whats going on the characters mind.

I imagined a scenario where the character is anticipating the bliss of cold ice cream on a sunny day, and seems eager, almost impatient. Then as he fumbles for some cash to pay the ice cream man he doesn't pay attention to the angle at which he's holding his ice cream and the scoops tumble from the cone onto the floor. Devastated at the waste of ice cream he forlornly pokes with his foot, then as loss turns to rage he raises his foot and stomps on it violently. I'm reasonably pleased with the final  animation though it looks a little broken due to me playing with the focal something in the camera settings. Motion blur is back! (along with its good friend lens flare) and my god have I missed it ;)

In other news I'm still continuing my half life 2 play through, I have just started Episode  II and for some reason it barely runs, visually it looks about the same as episode one, and I used to play on nigh on mazimum settings, now I have to play it looking like sh*t just so it'll run smoothly. I don't get it.

When I read Extra Lives by Tom Bissell, there was a quote on the back of the book from a guy called Michael Abbot. Michael Abbot teaches a course at a university that studies readings of importance, be it cultural aesthetic of otherwise. The term readings is very broad and students on the course will read novels, plays, watch films and, for the first time, play a game. When pitching this addition to the course the game chosen was Portal. This game was chosen because of its antagonist; whose role in guiding, fooling, and delighting the player has great relevance to other texts on the course, and is also a leading example of the sophistication that is possible, but painfully absent, in contemporary games. Everyone go play it.

Michael Abbot runs a blog and podcast called The Brainy Gamer which functions to provide analysis and critique on gaming and the industry as a whole, its well worth following. Another aspect of the Brainy Gamer blog in the Vintage Games Club, a club that anyone can join that serves to bring people together for communal play throughs of "vintage" games that many gamers from this generation may have missed or never even heard of, its a great way to discover some of the best games from yesteryear and then have a whole bunch of people there to discover it with you, and discuss each others experiences. Currently they're playing Planescape: Torment, and for the first time I've joined them.

Its nice playing an old game, where conventions like cut scenes don't disrupt the game play, and heavy handed tutorials don't treat the player like a cretin. Planescape is a game where the themes are tightly woven into the gameplay, its about discovery and death/life, so when you "respawn" there's a plausible context for that occurance that reinforces the game mechanice of dying and resurrecting, you literally start in a mortuary every time you die.

Due to the protagonist's amnesia, you know nothing about yourself, so the player is free to explore, uncover memories, have conversations with NPCs that reflect who you want the character to be, and support the core gameplay of exploration. The conversations are all text based excpet for a few key lines from the supporting characters, but because of this text, the developer was able to create a world where nearly everyone has something to say and a branching conversation for you to take part in, this makes the Planes feel like a rich and alive place, though it does make for a lot of reading. God forbid we should have to read text in a modern console game.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Sorry, no motion blur, again...

This guy just looks like he should be whistling a happy tune, so I know I got something right even the the route I took to get the end result was hardly direct. This wasn't what I planned.


  • I didnt come up with the double bounce
  • His head is kind of immobile
  • No motion blur
  • One arm swings back more than the other

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Golden Pixels

On reaching my semicentennial (50th) blog post I am finally ready to post my modelled head.

Though not madnatory I really got into this assignment, it was the excuse I'd been long searching for to break out Mudbox, a high end sculpting peice of autodesk software. The process involves creating a basic model in Maya using the traditional polygonal stuff of translating, scaling and rotating stuff until it vaguely resembled the photographic reference Nigel had kindly shot for me:

Using the orthographic views I lined up the silhouettes of the models to the reference photos and slowly the face started to take shape. I was at this point only modelling one side of the face, which would later be mirrored.

To avoid an uncanny valley effect as much as possible I took this mirrored model and, using the reference photos, tried to match all the asymmetry in my face to create a more organic looking and authentic model. Apparently I have an innocent and evil side to my face, one side mirrored in Photoshop creates a maniacal sadist and the other a angel of purity.

Once this base model was made I imported it into Mudbox and began my first attempt at sculpting. I started with the ears as they required detail I wasn't willing to go into in Maya, then, due to the asymmetry, I did the other ear. Next I moved onto the hair, I detailed the fringe quite accurately and then did broad strokes for the tufts and strands on the head.

What Mudbox is really great for is texturing, It has the layering system of photoshop, but instead of painting over a UV snapshot after the unwrapping process you can paint textures straight onto the model using a projection brush which (ironically) projects an image or brush of your choice over the model and you paint away. You can even make separate bump or specular layers.

Not having reference photos for the back and top of the head I now have a pretty interesting hair style that involves pasting the sides of my hair all over the place.
 As you can see by this point I was crawling somewhere in the horrorific trough of the uncanny valley struggling to scramble up the otherside, doesn't help he doesn't have eye textures yet.

Here is the final turn around. I struggled with displacement and sub surface scattering shaders til 2am and it still looks like latex but it doesn'et matter too much. No motion blur either, epic fail.

While I Wait

While I wait for my rendered face turn around to finish exporting from After Effects I thought I'd write a bit about a game I've been playing recently.

Better late than never I purchased the Orange Box off steam a few days ago. While I had already experienced the sublime genius of Portal for free I had been meaning to play the Half Life games for a while now.

There's something about them that games today seem to strive towards whilst still falling short of what Half Life achieved 6 years ago. The first person perspective is fairly unique to gaming, and Half Life makes such excellent use of it to immerse the player in the most authentic sci fi worlds and surround them with detail and life, When the game presents the player with a moment of narrative importance, it doesn't steal the camera control away from the player, it allows them to explore the environment, interact, go right up close the other characters, do whatever while the scene unfolds. This may break the cinematic aspect of the presentation, but if the player isnt interested in the story anyway they are free to explore, but if the player is invested in the characters, plot, etc they feel more present in the scene and therefore more immersed in the story and the experience overall feels better for it. Its like the anti-thesis for the quicktime event.

Another things which helps sell the world is the fact that the puzzles are all environmental and physics based, using the game's Source engine. No longer are you pulling a lever and, like a switch, there are fantastically instantaneous and predictable results, the objects in the world interact in physically accurate ways that you cant always predict which makes for particularly interesting gameplay with things like the gravity gun. The level design is also excellent with what is essentially a linear game feeling open expansive and full of choice and variety.

Plus for a game this old its very pretty.

But its not perfect and while I am admittedly only 1/2 way through Half Life 2, not to mention the two episodes, it feels like I have few motivations as a character other than survival, I want more exposition and history to back up this amazing world, I suppose in time all will be revealed but I could do with more of that unauthored type of narrative. I dont care about any of it yet, but we'll see. I want to care.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


The 11 second club is an online competition where 11 seconds of dialogue or sometimes just a sound clip is uploaded to the website each month, people entering the competition then take this dialogue and animate to the best of their ability. Marks are given based solely on the quality of the animation.

So as one of our first assignments we will be entering! In order to hone our skills a bit first we were set a heavy weight lifting animation, to help us get back on form and re-establish the animation principles in our minds: timing, anticipation, overlap, squash and stretch, etc.

The video embedded above is my own attempt using the Dee rig. I filmed some reference using the only means to hand (cameraphone, guitar amp) to get accurate poses and timing:

I've also been hard at work on a model of my own face which I'm trying to get as photorealistic as possible. It was looking good until I tried to texture the hair on, now I look all kinds of special. I'm really enjoying mudbox, its pretty accessible once you get used to it, and to think my crafts teacher said "Olly finds it hard to make friends with the clay" or something. Who needs clay with mudbox? More on this soon.

Here is your Interesting Article for the week. A piece on "agency" in games written by Clint Hocking himself.