The Pixel Crush

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

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Pixel Prose III

I am absolutely loving this pitch project at the moment, I know the moment we have to set foot in front of an audience I won't be so thrilled but right now the limitless possibilities of creating an idea without technological, financial or temporal constraints is so massively liberating that I'm enjoying the pure creativity of it all.

So the brief is to pitch an idea for an animated/film/TV series/game to our peers and some industry practitioners, the focus being to hone our pitching skills and communicate our ideas in a concise and engaging manner, whilst allowing our enthusiasm to shine through. Me, Hugh and Dan have teamed up again for, I think, the first time since the WHAT! project at the end of the first year, seems to be an annual thing.

A quick overview of our idea:
Its a videogame, released episodically, telling the intertwining tales of 6 characters during the great fire of London in 1666. As the player takes on the role of each character playing through adventure and action moments set in the open world of 17th century London- their actions and choices effect the other characters in subsequent episodes. In this way the player crafts a unique path through the story that will adapt and shift in profound ways. That's the basic gist of it I'll go into much, much more detail when I have more to show because this idea has me really excited and some of the stuff we've come up with would take a bit of explaining.

Essentially I have got very caught up in the idea itself whilst perhaps neglecting the actual pitching side of things. I would give a summary of our pitch plan but I don't want to spoil any surprises because with my fantastic public speaking skills we're going to need the element of surprise on our side, along with some luck and a completely epic concept to pitch. We've made a habit of getting our inspiration out and about, jotting things down in our notebooks over a meal in Falmouth town, one such pitch meeting was held over a full English breakfast followed by pancakes, nothing empowers unbridled creativity like bananas and caramel!

Initial beard, no eyes.
Meanwhile the negotiated brief continues to frustrate me. I had made progress, and then that progress was unsatisfactory, so I regressed and made a second attempt at Noel's body which now looks passable in it's primitive state. I had some problems with the skin shader when I added mental ray's physical sun & sky, when the highlights blew out instead of going white they hit a kind of grey peak. After a quick Google search I found this is easily resolved by un-checking the screen composite option in the shader settings. Must be something to do with the way it compiles the different layers of scattering at render time.

Correct shader for Sun & Sky
This next render was a fantastic glitch that I think occurred due to final gather funnelling unholy amounts of light through the out glassy part of Noel's newly modelled eyeballs. Fantastic effect as the excess light scatters outwards from the eyes, looks like a wizard. 

Final Gather render glitch of the gods
I looked at some anatomy reference, a couple of online tutorials, and talked to Dan about the eyes briefly and they now comprise of an inner sub surface scattering sphere with an iris indentation and then a further indentation for the pupil. This is encased in a second, highly reflective sphere that simulates the tight specular of the eyes white sclera.
New eyes, no textures for iris or pupils yet
 Now I've moved on to the body with little success, on the right is the discarded model (just in case the new ones even worse) and the new mesh which is more accurate to the original design, but as the design was drawn from a 3/4 angle that's probably not a good thing. Still, hopefully it'll look less like a wetsuit with some textures and a sculpt full of creases and folds.
Looks like a wetsuit, sigh...
More writing? why the hell not. I actually got good marks for this one, unlike my animation analysis piece which bombed...I'm not bitter...

Literature Review III
Henry Jenkins'
Game Design as Narrative Architecture From First Person
(Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002.)

Henry Jenkins' essay alludes to some of the comparisons he draws between game narrative and spacial design even in the title, using the phrase narrative architecture. In this way he lays the foundations for his exploration of the ways storytelling in videogames differs, as well as borrows from, other narrative based media with a particular focus on, but not limited to, film.

The author begins by creating context for his argument, listing a series of quotes from his contemporaries in videogame theory, criticism, and design. He specifically draws from the opinions of a group who believe that games should be studied solely by their mechanics and systems, the procedural and interactive attributes that separate them from other media. They are labelled ludologists, a term coined by Ernest Adams. He stresses the importance of his neutrality between this group and the narratologists and takes the time to establish common ground with “some points where we might all agree” (Jenkins, 2002: 119). Here Jenkins makes the first of his many references to different media theories, though I feel he doesn't make these connections as explicit to the reader as he could have. “I understand what these writers are arguing against- various attempts to map traditional narrative structures […] onto games at the expense of an attention to their specificity as an emerging form of entertainment.” (2002: 118) This passage seems to make reference to the concept of medium specificity, and how it appears many critics and theorists under the ludologist label feel that this aspect of videogame study is being neglected in favour of outdated or irrelevant media or hypertext theory.

In order to encompass Jenkins' proposed methods of “spacial stories and environmental storytelling” (2002: 121) he attempts to expand the definition of narrative beyond a series of plot based events and into a broader understanding of story that uses theorist Kristen Thompson's work as a basis for this expansion: “Russian formalist critics make a useful distinction between plot (or Syuzhet) […] and story (or Fabula) which refers to the viewer's mental construction of the chronology of those events.” (2002: 126) This leads him smoothly into his explanations of techniques for storytelling in videogames that range from weaving the storytelling into the environment, to placing items that players can extract story from in a detective like manner. These two techniques are missed opportunities where Jenkins could be analysing the use of mis-en-scene to enhance atmosphere.

One point of contention that resurfaces a number of times throughout the essay is the conflict between player intent and authorial intent. “Game critics often note that the player's participation poses a potential threat to the narrative construction” (2002: 125). One interesting style of narrative Jenkins' appraises is emergent narrative, the story that the player crafts as they play. For example in The Sims (Maxis, 2000), Jenkins cites Murray's prognostications of “procedural authorship” (2002: 129) as allowing this most malleable form of narrative to be somewhat controlled, but ultimately providing no more than the foundations for the player's narrative architecture. Not only does this immerse the player in the story, it provides them with a great feeling of agency as they execute the story just as they imagine it. Jenkins could afford to better stress how neatly this side steps the conflicting needs of authorial intent and player freedom and agency, but otherwise he explores this avenue of narrative well, throughout the essay he finds a middle ground on which make his stand for narrative gaming which is, while broad, convincing and well reasoned.

Pixel Propaganda

This film came out of Siggraph 2010 I think, but it was only last week they finally released the full film online after its festival tour. Apparently they have been receiving job offers left right and centre after this film was released but declined all in favour of starting their own company of the back of this new found interest from the industry. Another example of the importance of our third year films I suppose. Its so gorgeous, uses some node based dynamics called ICE in Softimage I believe but I have no idea, I just read some stuff about it.

Loom from Polynoid on Vimeo.

Whilst getting Noel's skin shader just right I kept coming across this fantastic tutorial on mental ray's 'simple skin shader' in Maya, its a great in-depth look at setting up the shader's many parameters but written in very comprehensible language. Also L.A Noire came out this week, but I'll save that for another post.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Pixel Prose II

Depth of Field, rendered in camera...just because I can
After what felt like a slow first week, followed by FMX, it feels like the term is only just getting started, but in fact we're swiftly approaching June and its accompanying deadlines. The Last Trophy has now been handed in by the third years in its most advanced state of completion yet, I'm hoping work will continue on it as their team are so far in and what is finished is very pretty.

Spot the odd texture, actually the whole gun is missing a texture...
Some of the jungle scenes were getting so heavy towards the end that Nelson was struggling to render them out at all making lighting somewhat problematic, the RAM would fill half way and then Maya would crash. There was only so much I could light, though there seamed to be lots of animation reaching a polished stage, every shot had a missing texture, a floating prop, eyes that gazed into the back of the character's head. A quick once-over these shots and they'd be ready to go. Here's a clip I lit and composited, I also worked on the shaders on the blimp:

The negotiated brief seems to have caught up with me to the extent that even my new scaled down brief feels overly ambitious, so I aimed to have the head done by last Thursday, it wasn't. The tutorial was very helpful though, I went over the character design and what I'd done so far with Georg and we figured out what was accurate and what I needed to do to more faithfully re-create my design in three dimensions.

Mmmmm, waxy sub surface scattering.

I know, its hideous. My hands aren't the most obedient of tools
Since then I've made tweaks to the jaw, cheeks, nose (I will never stop changing his nostrils) and I've added ears. Its still in a symmetrical stage but it shouldn't take long to add some of the asymmetrical quirks to give the face some personality, and match Noel to his 2D counterpart. I made this basic clay sculpture to get a feel for the proportions of the skull and prominent facial features, it was a useful exercise for sure, but nothing I can use for reference.

Its time to move on whether I want to or not for the sake of reaching the production milestones I wrote down hastily a week ago. I think it will be very hard to get a convincing likeness without the beard and eyebrows, these details (the beard especially) make an important part of the character's silhouette so it should come together when I add these things. This is Noel's current visage:

Click for sweet, sweet HD largeness.
Looking at this now I've just realised his eyes aren't nearly close enough together...

Now I know you're thinking the ratio of images to words in this blog post is way off, so here is my second literature review.

A Literature Review of Chapter 4: Fiction
From Jesper Juul's Half Real. (2005, The MIT Press)

The entire premise of Juul's book is on the liminal state of the videogame and the way in which it straddles the border between perceived and imagined realities. In the fourth chapter he goes into greater depth about the fictions that games create, how they work (or don't work) with the game's mechanics, and whether games can even be narratives at all. He derives his definition of fiction from analytical philosophy lending his words greater context.

He starts by stating that the player is largely responsible for imagining the fictional world themselves. I feel this has become less true as videogame technology has developed in recent years leaving less space for interpretation of the visual representations on screen, though just as much for concepts and systems within the world, because as Juul points out: “All fictional worlds are incomplete” (Juul, 2005: 122). Videogames are unique in the way they they demand player skill in order to progress, and Juul hypothesises that this is what leads to rumour and speculation as to unseen fictional elements among players, which expands the fiction in itself in ways the designer can't possible control or predict.

One thing Juul does really well is identify different ways in which fiction is represented in videogames, he makes good use of bullet pointed lists in between lengthy explanations in order to clarify and emphasize the key aspects of his argument. His terminology for the different variants of fiction in videogames are logical and work well to summarise their unique properties. The most prevalent appears to be the “incoherent world” (2005: 132) which appears in videogames that use popular conventions like extra lives and levels, but then also attempt to wrap the gameplay in a fictional premise. This premise can be explained to another, but not without explaining the game rules too.

According to Juul videogames can be further distinguished at a lower level, “from abstract and representational” (2005: 130), though he does not state that the same videogame could potentially be either, depending on its fictional sophistication. Tetris, he says, is an abstract game, bearing no relation to any fiction to explain the mechanics. But Brenda Brathwaite's Train is a re-working of Tetris in non digital form and with a coherent fictional world that puts the gameplay in the context of a Nazi general, attempting pack train carriages as efficiently as possible. This fiction gives the game a dark theme that often alters the way players approach the game once they understand the context in which they are playing.
Brenda Brathwaite's Train

There are many ways of expanding the fiction for the player and Juul makes good use of his listing again giving a comprehensive look at different methods to do this. He makes a point about the non-interactive nature of cut-scenes that borrow conventions almost entirely from film, and makes no attempt to hide his less-than-glowing opinion of them. This leads Juul into a section on the correlation between fictional time and play time, where some videogames break the link in order to serve gameplay (speeding up time in The Sims (Maxis, 2000)) while others try very hard to preserve it (pauses while loading in Half Life (Valve, 1998) or the lack of any pause button at all in Demon Souls (From Software, 2009).

While Juul poses an argument against the value of narrative in games, stating that tragedy is perhaps the hardest to portray, he does say that the “emphasis on fictional worlds worlds may be the strongest innovation of the videogame.” (2005: 162)

 Pixel Propaganda

Here Frictional Game's (Penumbra, Amnesia: The Dark Descent) designer Thomas Grip talks about the space between author and audience where imagination and interpretation takes place. It's a speculative look at where game's should make that space and how they can use it to create more personal experiences.

I found this guy through a game that I found on a website that was linked to a publication that was discussed on a blog that I found on a weekly round up of the weeks best videogame blogging. Its like a nerdy paper trail. This talk as a brilliant insight into the potential of games as research, pushing the boundaries of what a player will tolerate, derive meaning from, or enjoy. One of their experiments in particular is an interesting experiment into how little gameplay a player needs to still enjoy a game, I recommend anyone with a copy of half life 2 tries it out for free (you need that version of the source SDK as its a mod).

GLS #5: Doing Development-Led Research in Games from itucph on Vimeo.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

FMX Chronicles: Part IV

Due to Blogger going down and me realising I hadn't actually finished writing about Friday yet this one's a little late.

"What do you mean Fish & Chips aren't German?"
Friday I arrived at the conference halls early for screenings from the neighbouring animation festival. While these were entertaining it wasn't until the Dobby & Kreacher talk at 10am that the day really started. Framestore's work on Dobby and Kreacher in the latest Harry Potter film is really stunning, to the point that (spoilers) Dobby's death is the most moving scene in the film and the CG Dobby is, obviously, an integral part of it. The fact that a CG character can now deliver a compelling performance and move an audience is a testament to the level of detail and nuance Framestore were able to capture.

This talk was followed directly but The Harry Potter Accolade, a tribute to all the studios that have worked on the visual effects for the franchise. It was like a retrospective on how some of Soho's biggest effects studios have come from small start-ups to industry giants through their involvement with the Potter films, expanding to tackle the challenges of each new film, free to take risks and invest in proprietary technology safe in the knowledge of the repeat gig that Potter was. Oh, and ILM were there.
Konig Saal
Each professional representing their studio would give a brief talk on their work in the films for the films in groups of three, and then the final two films. As one audience member pointed out in the questions afterwards: it was like a history of visual effects. What surprised me was how work was passed between studios, irrelevant of who had previously worked on what. For example ILM did Dobby in The Chanber Of Secrets, but since then its been Framestore's role. Double Negative started doing simple 2D work mostly, but then transferred to fully 3D scenes with digi-doubles and in Part 2 they're working on the dragon escape sequence from Gringotts. This was the scene we got to see a previously unreleased clip of, complete with unrendered playblasts!
The Free Elf
After lunch I attended a highly technical talk on "next generation graphics on Intel's Sandy Bridge". It was from one of Rockstar's technical leads who worked on GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, and while it was interesting to hear about the implementation of lighting in those two games, the presentation he had prepared was pretty hardcore and included a demo of a game that was the epitome of 'programmer art', it was hideous.

Next, in the same room was a talk on the look of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. I was, at this point, trying to cram as much game stuff in as possible and (perhaps foolishly) passed up cinematography at Pixar for this talk. It was great though and his focus on simple methods of achieving a great look in terms of both graphics and aesthetics was really helpful. He talked about colour correct textures and a gamma correct pipeline, focus technology where it would serve the imagery, and not just push for 'more hi-res textures'.
IBL in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
He tore apart some screenshots of Gran Turismo and then showed some side by sides of car commercials and Need For Speed screenshots- they really have done a great job at mimicking that style. They even have a realtime version of image based lighting, in order to light the cars separately from the scene to maximise prettiness, they needed to add image based lighting to help reintegrate the car back into the image, also the addition of contact shadows and ambient occlusion help really sell the car's presence in the world.

I left this talk 5 minutes early very reluctantly in order to catch 'Animation Tech In Crysis 2', in the hope it would be better than the talk Image Metrics did at the beginning of the week. Unfortunately I was already too late and the small room was full, luckily I managed to rush to the making of Megamind. Here they talked about procedurally generating their city with tools that reminded me of The Sims, or Spore's building creator. One of the most interesting points he made was in terms of lighting the glow of the city at night, one lighter though of doing an ambient occlusion pass (so darkening all the bits where buildings were closely packed) and inverting it and colouring it orange, so now all the small alleys and packed streets where filled with an orange night glow that, when combined with a height map, created a convincing city-at-night effect.

I was glad I'd caught the Megamind talk because it secured me a place for the last talk of FMX and it wasn't one I wanted to miss: 'Animating Tangled'. Here we were taken through the process the Disney animators went through discovering the characters for the film and the massively lengthy pre-production phase that ended up allowing them to make the film itself in 6 months! When I saw Tangled in the cinema I had no issues with the main character and her function as a princess archetype, but after seeing the road they took to reach the final design I feel acutely aware that the only reference they used were other Disney films, the only look they tried was a traditional cartoony look and the result now feels like an incestuous amalgamation of Disney princesses repackaged for a modern CG-centric audience. Perhaps I've been spoiled by Rango...

I feel cynical for saying it, and hypocritical because I loved Flynn who- though less incestuous, is just another rogue-ish archetype. I feel this says volumes about the animating itself though, as despite these stale and tired designs the characters completely come to life on screen. We were shown some the early tests that animators did with prototype rigs and there was one where Rapunzel hears a noise whilst sitting on her bed and jumps up to investigate. The vitality of the movement so completely resembled the euphoria of a little girl that it didn't matter that she had giant Disney eyes, a waspy Disney waste, or flowing Disney hair because I was utterly convinced there was a very alive character inside. I exited as the applause died away and questions began; to catch a screening of the film itself.
"Frying pans! Who knew, right?"

The end-of-FMX party that night was a lot of fun, new cocktails were discovered, dances were had, trains were missed, and at around 5am we all made it home.

The next few days were spent enjoying the extra sunny weather exploring Stuttgart with Kebaps and recovering in readiness for what was to be a particularly gruelling journey home (how can it take 2 hours to get from Stuttgart to Stansted, but 10 hours to get from there to Falmouth?!

The End


FMX Chronicles: Part III


FMX. Obviously
Its 8:25pm and I just came back from a panel with the best people in the industry at creating 'virtual humans'. To sit in a room with 40 others and listen to the discussion of people who created the CG characters in Tron, Benjamin Button, Pirates of the Caribbean, Terminator and Paul, is insane and it took a few minutes to dawn on me. They opened the floor up to questions and it was all a bit like speaking to deities. Topics ranged from interpretation of an actors performance, to procedural character performance, to sub-surface scattering and each member of the panel had an opinion or insight to express. They all agreed that Davy Jones was one of the first characters that really blew them away, Bill Nighy for prime minister!
"Do you fear death, Jack Sparrow-ah?"

Thursday was always going to be a slow day from what the timetable promised. This meant that the first event I attended was 'Sea Rex', which was surprisingly good in a kind of dinosaur-reconstruction-pseudo-scientific-historical-fiction-spectacular way.

Look how awake we all are

Double Negative did a talk on how they developed the alien character Paul for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's most recent film. Their facial rig was driven entirely by a massive library of blend shapes that their artists were able to model a dozen of each day, so that the rig evolved in complexity throughout production to meet the needs of the animators. The animators would use “accelerometer” motion capture suits to get a rough base for the scene they were animating and using that reference helped them speed up their work-flow massively.
Later that afternoon I attended a talk on Uberstrike, touted as facebook's top FPS. Unfortunately the guy from Cmune was part of the business side of the company so the talk focused mainly on business models of social games and how Uberstrike filled a massive gaping hole in the gaming market by catering to social gamers with hardcore gameplay that was presented in an accessible manner. Despite this less than stimulating subject matter the talk was engaging and I got to ask a question about what he thought of the Unity game engine and they're experience of using it. This was the point where he revealed his involvement in the managerial side of things and confessed to a lack of knowledge of the development itself. Ah well.
This is what I was doing in between talks :)

This was followed by the 'Virtual Humans' panel I mentioned previously. I'm so glad I went to it, after the stale and uninspired business minded talk on Uberstrike- it was refreshingly focused on what is important when it comes to human performance and communication, rather than money, or technology. There was an annoying guy asking questions in the front who stated he was from the games industry numerous times, and every dumb question he asked he got more verbally dominated by the assertive guy from Digital Domain. I wanted to shake his hand afterwards, but I didn't.
I got very lost in Stuttgart after making my way to the top of this hill.
Well worth clicking for fullscreen, its giant.

FMX Chronicles: Part II


"Where are you now?"
Nothing like a bit of Tron to start the day. I love watching the process of digitising a person's face, the scans of Jeff Bridges, from plaster casts, digital scans, all combined to create old CG Jeff, and from there they 'youthenized' him. Taking his jaw up, removing wrinkles, working from reference footage of him as a young man in his earlier films they crafted a Jeff that could play Clu in a convincing manner. When you see some of the side by side comparisons of the motion capture performance and the rendered Clu its spot on, I think its just the impossibility of a young Jeff Bridges that leads us to find flaws in the CG work when really- there aren't any. Or maybe there should be human imperfections and that's the problem?

Our luncheon spot
I left this talk very slightly early in order to secure a seat for the Rango presentation and panel. Rango is unusual because, on being queried, only a small portion of the audience had actually seen Rango in the cinema, yet this is the first animated feature from ILM: the mother of all visual effects studios. This film is devastatingly gorgeous and to hear some of the anecdotes and techniques used to achieve the very specific photographic look of an over exposed cinema-scope western was inspiring. Ed Brooks, a speaker who happened to be in the audience, claimed that after seeing the clips shown he felt like he'd just had sex; I can only imagine the people seated either side of him edging away. He compared Rango's importance in animation to that of Mickey Mouse, Toy Story and stated it pushed the bar so high that the major studios of CG feature animation were going to struggle to compete.

It was nice to hear about the directors insistence on keeping the story between him, the production director (who designed all the exquisitely “nasty” sets and creatures), and the writer; this meant that there was no corporate influence or producers giving the 'ok'. Just some guys working in a house for 3 years to craft a quirky story on a personal level- whose visual component was simultaneously hideous and utterly captivating. It was also good to hear that the whole sequence that was apparently cut from the end would probably appear on the director's cut of the Blu Rah!

So after leaving this fantastic talk on what is perhaps my favourite film so far this year, I attended 'Illumination in Renderman'. I won't even go into how dull this talk was suffice to say, there were algorithms on the screen. But the worst part was he then proceeded to explain what the algorithms meant. All I ask is that the speaker has the decency to put pictures in, for my sake.

The inside of the smaller conference building
Then, in the same room, was a talk on Katana, a piece of middle-ware that seems to function as a way to make work flow and scene assembly more efficient and less renderer dependent. Otherwise it seemed pretty unnecessary.

At the last minute I decided to catch a talk on the The King's Speech, a film whose effects are all 'invisible' meaning they wouldn't appear obvious to an audience, unless they knew what they were looking for. Things like crowd population, replacing backgrounds with historical venues, or removing crew from shots. Dayne Cowan was probably one of my favourite speakers, from Australia he moved to England in 1997 making his past strangely similar to that of Geoffrey Rush's character in The King's Speech.

Making Stereoscopic 3D on the Playstation 3: dull and full of graphical compromise. This presentation could have been so cool as well...

Being a TD in the Games Industry. Alan nudged me awake in this one and I jumped out of my skin. While it was a brilliant overview of a technical director's role in a games studio, it was more aimed at people in managerial positions (2% of the audience) rather than students looking to make this their career position (98% of the audience).

Shelley's Eye Candy was a presentation by Dreamworks' international recruitment head, comprising mostly student graduate films that she felt were of interest. It was a great selection, a couple of which I'd seen before. A couple of noteworthy films were Blackwater Gospel (fantastic visual style) and Aardman's Fly. The film that I really loved was entitled The Eagleman Stag. This film is a stop motion animation that is unusual in a number of ways, it uses a very pacey editing style that is uncommon in animation, its character's and sets are made solely from polystyrene or something similar and makes everything glow with the light shone through it. Above this it's story is layered and profound, and ponders questions that far exceed the scope of it's brief run time.
Outside the venue. Balloons? Check.

Another evening event, held at an old looking mansion decorated in ivy and graffiti. Inside the walls and floors are black, dirty, and beg the question why would anyone intentionally set foot in here? Between the drinks and music there was laughter, so it didn't matter.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

FMX Chronicles: Part I


A whole day of travel. Pretty exhausting despite the fact the majority of it is spent sitting down and gazing out of a window. Trains and planes all went according to plan and by late evening we were arriving at our hotel thanks to a taxi driver with a pretty suspicious German accent, a piece of paper adorned with an address, and 40 freshly exchanged Euros. The lateness of the day didn't stop us going next door for an enormous German beer, the 80's rock and nicotine saturated atmosphere making the experience feel all the more genuine.

FMX is a pretty big deal it turns out. Just looking at the schedule gave me some idea; but you start attending these events with 199 other people and the scope of these projects, and skill of their execution is the best in the industry, the only major VFX company I can think of that aren't there is Weta. Everyone else, they're here, and its epic.


The view from our hotel door to the tram stop on a crisp Germanic morning

This morning we negotiated breakfast and the tram system before taking a massively circuitous route to the venue itself. Unfortunately “Acting for Animators” was full and already under way, while this sounded like a great event, I'm secretly glad I got to miss out on any kind of real acting. This meant I was able to catch the Image Metrics talk on facial animation in Crysis 2. It was dry, but informative, and set the tone for what a few of the more corporate talks would be like: 'here’s our software and how to use it correctly, its awesome'. Which is fine but doesn't provide me with many general skills that I can utilise outside of that software. I could barely keep my eyes open, something to do with lack of sleep, warmth, and semi-darkness.

After chatting briefly with the woman at the Animal Logic recruitment booth (they're looking for lighters), I decided the 'look development for lighting and effects' on their latest feature Owls of Ga'Hoole was exactly what I needed to see. It was a fantastic talk, pristine active shutter 3D (its such a cohesive stereoscopic experience compared to the normal cinema 3D), emphasis on the enhancement of storytelling through the lighting of scene, or the characterization of the owls themselves. Some of the technology behind that film is the shiniest the industry has to offer, I now greatly regret not seeing it in the cinema, should've trusted that gut feeling that usually betrays me when it comes to cheesy trailers.

As we went to find lunch I had a weird sense of deja vu, after commenting on how familiar Stuttgart felt I recognised a Chinese restaurant and suddenly remembered I'd come here as part of a 'history of art' class trip when I was 15/16 years old. We ate there later that evening and it was exactly the same.
The Conference Hall

Three hours of lighting and rendering talks is like having your brain polished with chrome and then cooked in a lens flare furnace. I have a theory that too much digital realism can turn into an out-of-body experience if you're not careful, not in a spiritual way either. Rio is a film I haven't seen but the lighting supervisor from Blue Sky stressed the radiosity (don't ask, I don't know) of their rendering engine, the procedural nature of their pipeline, and how character's eyes had to have dings. Yes dings. Along with zings and stuff had to pop too.

Tangled had some neat stuff about its look, specifically the lack of hard shadows on Rapunzel, the volume scattering in the hair, and the curve based tree building tools they made. Oh, and the guy seemed to like pointing out how much they cheated by adding lights that shouldn't have existed in reality. He got a few laughs.

The length of my paragraphs is correlating to the complexity of the talks/waning stamina of myself. So ILM did some interesting stuff about shaders in Iron Man 2, except then there were algorithms... That was when I left.
Alan rides the Tram, he loves algorithms

Lastly was a talk on Black Swan I accidentally saw (it wasn't timetabled), covering stuff I'd read about their nightmare tracking, face replacing, and cleaning up Darren Aronofsky's film. A masterclass in 'invisible effects', the kind of stuff you'll never notice in the film but is crucial to specific plot points that help it reach perfection.

Then this evening there was a party in a nearby bar that gave us a free cocktail and left us to mingle, which I failed at spectacularly, but aim to be a pro at by the end of the week. This isn't something I'll make an effort to do I'm just kind of hoping it'll happen of its own accord. Though I did recognise the recruitment woman from Double Negative from when they visited Falmouth.

Feeling slightly blessed. Hopefully I can make the rest of these posts more concise, just so much to say about first impressions of everything.

Monday, 9 May 2011

FMX Chronicles

I've been writing an FMX diary type thing throughout the week we spent in Stuttgart, and the plan is to post each days writing in real time, just a week too late. I've tried (and failed) to keep them short so its going to follow a format of: "this event happened, here are my thoughts on it", nothing too in depth.

Also there will be photographs! Nothing particularly relevant to the conference itself, but a flavour of Stuttgart and my time there. Something to lure you all through all those pesky words.

Pretty clouds as word bait

Pixel Propaganda

Over the Easter holidays I fell in love with a game called Far Cry 2 which I initially hated, a game that perhaps epitomises the phrase 'slow burn' a little too well. Here's a critique of the game that lays out the reasons for my initial scepticism very well. But its actually the debate that formed in the comments section that is the most interesting: where advocates and cynics trade opinions and criticism as to the value and themes of the game.

I couldn't believe this wasn't composited live action on stop motion when I first saw it but it is in fact very pretty CG animation. Worth a look.

A deeply personal look at why games embed themselves in our lives and how they mean different things to different people in different ways.