Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Messing with the Maya

Been messing around with rigs in Maya.

Firstly I tried out the Morpheus rig which was fun to play around with but for some reason the skin wouldn't render... Two of my classmates (who are more experienced with Maya) tried to fix the problem but couldn't figure out what it was.

So I decided to stick to a rig I know and downloaded the Malcolm rig for Maya. With the help of this video I managed to install it correctly and everything seems to be working so far.

So far so good.
Now I just need to see if I can re colour him to be more mime-y.
And then learn to animate in Maya.
No, not difficult at all...

Animation Poster!

Raf put this together yesterday, it's really neat!! :D

**EDIT** Raf also made the scene for our animation:

Voice Actor, James Harris

Today, we met the voice actor (James Harris) who is going to be voicing our judge. He's a really nice guy and, when we ran through our idea with him and performed it, offered some more ideas towards it which was great!

Here is the reference we recorded today:

It was his idea to have Raf dragged off the stage at the end. James also thought that some overlap of the mimes would be good since they were going on stage one after the other and obviously saw what happened to the previous mime. We thought this was a nice idea and would help with timing, it's not difficult to do either.

James also said rather than falling down after suffocating in the box, the character could lean against the invisible box and maybe slid down, suggesting the box is still there. This idea came up in our previous recording session which we thought would be interesting. We're thinking of going out with a camera and finding a telephone box!

Psychological Gesture 2

Yesterday, our tutor touched on psychological gesture in her tutorial.

It pretty much confirmed what I thought it might have been in a post or two ago.

Actors use psychological gesture to help them get into the role of the character they are playing. They do it through exercises such as the Ed Hooks one I put in the previous post.

As animators, we tend to over gesture (I am very guilty of this) so using psychological gestures helps us tone down the animation and get the essence of the performance into it instead.

For the two clips I need for my presentation, I'm actually thinking of using one of my previous animations where over gesturing was particularly bad (as animated clip) and either shooting another reference shot of what it could have been using psychological gesture or finding the original clip that shows the acting with the audio clip I used. I'll have to find the original clip first so I'll have to ask our previous tutor if she remembers where she got it.

Mime Reference!

We've been recording reference since last week which has really helped us see the timing of our performances. Mine in partcular was running for way too long (about a minute - our individual animations should be around 30 seconds each), so the recording sessions has really helped me consider what can be done instead of this and that but still work.

Here is my reference:

After dicussion we thought it would be a better idea to keep the box in the character's hands because putting the box down, explaining what it was and then going back to it was taking too long. To explain that it is a bomb, we're going to add a 'ticking' sound effect.

It's difficult to define that there is a bomb in the box in a short amount of time but the idea will probably get changed around a lot so hopefully we'll eventually find something that works.

Raf's idea in reference:

Rachel's idea in reference:

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Psychological Gesture

Is confusing.

I've been reading/watching bits and pieces of the internet, looking through books and researching the man that coined the term 'Psychological Gesture' and it's still pretty difficult to understand.
However, I'm going to give it a shot.

It was Michael Chekhov that first coined the term 'psychological gesture. He was a Russian-American actor, author, director and theatre practitioner. He wrote a book called On The Technique of Acting in which he describes his acting techniques. PG seems to be one way of helping the actor (or actress) explore their character and act mannerisms and such with accordance. His techniques have been used by actors/actress' such as Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood and his work has influenced actors Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp and Anthony Hopkins.

Ed Hooks' book Acting for Animators explains that "Gestures do not always have to be illustrations of the spoken word. A gesture can express an inner emotional state that might even be in contrast to what the character is saying. A psychological gesture like this can be a powerful tool."
A human's sense of sight is much more sensitive (and therefore powerful) than its sense of hearing, so it is important to consider what to show the audience more than what you tell them.
Ed Hooks also says that "new animators too often create over-gesticulation because they are trying to put a gesture with every single word. This puts dialogue on a pedestal that it really does not deserve". I am completely guilty of this and I understand why my tutor thought it would be good for me to research. And I agree, I do need to use less big gestures and I think I need to really consider the subtle and psychological gestures that a character can show to enhance his performance rather than using big gestures to illustrate what he's saying. Basically I need to think about what the character is thinking and they're really feeling on the inside.

"One important question is whether the PG is ever visible to the audience. Chekhov's writings often suggest that it should be invisible, although this appears to some extent to depend on the style of performance undertaken, and Chekhov uses the term to refer to 'visible (actual) gestures as well as to invisible (potential) gestures'." ~ 'Michael Chekhov', Franc Chamberlain.

So a psychological gesture can really be anything a character does that reflects his/her wants, thoughts and feelings. It includes body language.  Ed Hooks says "Have you ever noticed  someone  who wrings their hands a lot while talking? That's a psychological gesture. A bully who punches someone in the chest with his finger? That's a psychological gesture." He mentions that Gollum from 'Lord of the Rings' is constantly making psychological gestures and that this may be because Andy Serkis (the actor that played him) is classically trained.

Here are some videos I found on Youtube that talk about Andy Serkis and his performances as Gollum:

Gollum has a lot of idiosyncrasies (peculiar behaviour of a character, could be called odd habits or quirks) and speaks with illeism (refers to himself in the third person). Schizophrenic is not quite the right description of his mental state as schizophrenic people do not have split personalities, that is Multiple Personality Disorder (or DID - Dissociative Identity Disorder). Andy Serkis describes Gollum as two personalities, Smeagol who is happy, trusting and whimsical and Gollum who is the hard survivor and makes Smeagol feel small and weak. They conflict with each other with Gollum usually winning because they need to survive and Smeagol doesn't have the strength in him to lead. Though (from what I know of, I'm not a doctor and what I say may not be 100% - Disclaimer!) it's still not quite Multiple Personality Disorder, Andy has used these influences to portray Gollum's mental distress and inner conflict through adopting some mannerisms that schizophrenic and DID people sometimes display.
In the particular scene they talk about in the videos, Gollum is arguing with himself. Or rather Smeagol is arguing with Gollum. They differentiate the personalities not only by the performance but by the camera angle too. One side is Smeagol and the other is Gollum. The character literally swings between personalities using his head which could be considered a psychological gesture as its not only showing the audience who is talking but that the character is disturbed and believing he is seeing and talking to another. The performance is enhanced by the two personalities' performances. Smeagol's mannerism are lighter and positive. His facial expressions range between really happy, upset or distressed but always gentle and his pupils are generally more dilated making him appear 'cuter'. Gollum is cruel, sharp and harsh, his pupils are noticeably smaller which gives him a fierce and piercing stare that frightens Smeagol. He usually holds himself up above the level Smeagol usually holds himself to maintain dominance until Smeagol gains confidence and therefore control.

Ed Hooks also mentioned Wybie from Coraline having a lot of psychological gestures, mostly a mix of self doubt and uncertainty:

Psychological gestures can also be verbal. Ed Hooks describes an exercise to demonstrate this:

"Consider the word 'broken' in the sentence 'My heart is broken.' If you had to non-verbally express the feeling behind that word, what would you do?... I'm talking about how the word 'broken' feels. With your hands down by your side - no gesture at all - say that line out loud: 'My heart is broken.'... Now, with no words, pretend you are forcefully breaking a stick with your hands. Can you feel the underlying impulse? do not break the stick simply because I told you to. Break it on your own, perhaps starting with the impulse that springs from the pain of a personal loss. Break it out of exasperation or frustration... Now, once again say the line aloud, breaking the stick simultaneously. Get the stick to break at the precise moment you say the word 'broken'. Notice how much stronger the line sounds, how much more powerful it feels? Now, try speaking the line aloud while breaking the stick internally. You can do anything with your hands except break the stick. The line will be stronger than it was the first time you said it aloud. Amazing, huh?"

Yes I tried this exercise myself and believe I see (or hear!) the difference. I may steal this exercise for my presentation on this subject as it might be more interesting and easier to understand.

So in conclusion, psychological gestures are effectively mannerisms of a character. They can be anything that reflects the inner thoughts and feelings of a character from a physical gesture, like covering your mouth with your hand, to subtle gestures such as someone's eyes briefly flicking away and returning to someone they've just lied to, to a verbal gesture like the one just described above. They can strengthen what a character is saying or conflict with it.

Phew! Long post is long!

Books Used:
Acting Characters: Simple Steps... Paul Elsam
Acting Characters: Essential Steps... Paul Elsam
Michael Chekhov... Frank Chamberlain

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mime idea feedback

We pitched our idea today to the class. It went down fairly well and we got a lot of feedback.
Firstly our tutor noticed something that we didn't which is that we have a bit of a theme of death running through our ideas! We didn't think of it that way but we like it so we're working with it. She suggested changing the order of our ideas so that the suffocation was the last performance, as it ends in death.
Mine (bomb) should go first as it ended with only small injury (the character should come back on the stage after some crashing noises, looking blatantly hurt but not extremely injured) and Raf's (changed from being late to reacting to creatures coming out of a box and being chased around by them - comes back on stage and collapses)

We were told to think about the real personalities of the mimes coming out at the end of their acts and also to think about the personality of the director (voice over) and how he will react to the mime acts.

We (Team RRR!) are meeting up again tomorrow to have a quick discussion of our new ideas before going to the green screen room to shot some reference.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Team Meet 2

We had another meeting yesterday to further discuss ideas. We all felt that the box variation idea was the strongest with the characters miming with a box of some description (it's open to interpretation).
The first character will do the 'trapped in the box' act and suffocate, the second character will find a small box, discover a bom in it and in an attempt to disarm it gets blown up and the last character will be late for the audition and mime a conversation with the narrator explain why he was late.

Prior to this meeting we did some sketches on the ideas we had:

And from the last sketch I did an animatic for the bomb idea:

We'll be showing the class our ideas tomorrow so hopefully that will go well.

Life Drawing 20-2-12

Some pictures from life drawing. The model cancelled last minute so we ended up having to draw each other, kinda lost the mojo for it about half hour before it was going to finish so I left early.
Typical because the model was going to be a man! I have yet to draw a man this year!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

I watched this film a couple of nights ago and to my pleasant surprise, it was better than I expected! I had to watch it twice so that I could actually write about it.

Quick Flavour!
'Cloudy...' (I'm calling the film 'Cloudy' from here on because it's a long name to write over and over!!) is a 2009 american computer-animated film by Sony Pictures Animation. It's about a man named Flint Lockwood who from a young age dreamed of being an inventor. He has had a number of failed inventions and a difficult relationship with his father who does not understand him. Flint finally succeeds in inventing a machine that can turn water into food. However, the machine starts to malfunction due to the stress of requests from the mayor and townsfolk and Flint must decide between acceptance or shutting off the machine.

I really enjoyed this film! It was based on a children's book with the same name and apparently made to be a homage to and a parody of disaster films such as Twister. Cloudy certainly felt like a classic disaster film! I actually found it pretty funny too! The jokes and funny moments were great and were used appropriately throughout the film, which allowed serious moments to be serious (unlike a certain film I bashed a while ago).

The visual style is unique and really interesting. The eyes are especially interesting because the whole eye and iris as well as the pupil enlarge, creating some extreme emotional (and sometimes borderline freaky) expressions. Some of the characters, such as Flint, are fairly 'lanky' for lack of a better word, meaning they have particularly long and thin bodies/limbs (for example, the Malcolm rig I've been using is 'lanky' because he has a long, thin body, particularly his legs). Tim, Flint's father, has an oblong silhouette with very short legs and long arms. I think this shape really works for him because it seems to give him a stiff demeanour. The way he is animated (possible with some limitations because of his short legs, can't really tell) is quite subtle which adds to his personality and awkwardness when trying to express something meaningful to his son. Swallow Falls started off being a grey place, literally. The environments were grey and unsaturated reflecting the town's economic difficulties and as a result lack of variation, in food particularly. After Flint's machine starts to work, colours (first appearing in the form of aurora borealis/northern lights) started to work their way into the town. The scenes become vivid and exciting as food becomes more varied.

The animation also has a different style to other films. The character animation has more snappy and 'toony' elements, particularly when the characters are excited/enthusiastic. I did notice some parts where a character was or seemed 'dead', as in not moving AT ALL. Two scenes come to mind. First was in the opening sequence where Flint was being comforted by his mother, just after he receives the lab coat and says it's a perfect fit he stands with his arms out looking at his mother. For a second or two he is completely stuck in that pose, I couldn't register any movement at all which made him look very weird. Second is the scene where Sam comes into Flint's lab for the first time, he has just distracted her while he built a button to communicate commands to the machine. As he's bringing it to the computer she's staring at something to the left off screen for an unnaturally long time, she does not move an inch until she reacts to Flint's comment about how it (the button) will probably explode. Other than the odd moments such as these, I really like the animation style. I think it really suits the film. One of my favourite parts are the scenes where Flint's announcing what he is doing, which he does on a few occasions:

The story is excellent. I can imagine that many a child enjoyed the original book and were inspired by it because GIANT FOOD! I'd love to see giant food! The portrayal of relationships was fantastic and clear, every relationship was easy to understand. The biggest theme in this story is acceptance, in my opinion. Flint and Sam were both working for acceptance. Flint embraced his difference and wanted other people to see it by creating something everyone loved, particularly his father. Sam, on the other hand, pushed her true self away and didn't want people to see it, trying to be accepted as someone 'normal'. The moral of the story is to be true to yourself, accept yourself because the people who matter already do. A pretty sweet sentiment.

Special shout out to one of my favourite characters; Officer Earl! Not only is he funny, his animation is crazy!

What I'm going to take from this movie is to experiment with different styles of animation. This film has more of a 'toony' element to it which some other computer-animated films don't have much of anymore. Granted, a lot of 'toony' moments but not so much all the way through the film like Cloudy..
Actually, for the mime animation, I put forward the idea of adding some 'toon physics' to one of our ideas, to enhance the humour a bit. More on that later!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Maya Quick Links

Just using this space to put up lots of Maya links for in the future, so I don't have to trawl the internet looking for them again!

Focal Press: How To Cheat In Maya

Scott's Cheat Sheet for Maya ~ (Need to be logged in Facebook to see!)

Digital Tutors Free Maya Tutorials ~ (15 Videos)

Useful Things From Autodesk

Video On Using Morpheus Rig:

Morpheus Rig 101 - "The Rig As Is" from Josh Burton on Vimeo.

Team Meet Up 1

We vaguely discussed some idea yesterday but we met up today to discuss them further. So far we've had ideas for an normal audition situation:
Three mimes audition separately on stage, there is a narrator playing the judge.
One mime auditions a real guitar vs. invisible guitar routine (invisible guitar is better than real guitar), a dance where the mime falls and swears out loud and a mime who is late to the audition and a 'conversation' takes place between the narrator and mime.

We have another idea of a mime breaking a glass with an opera voice (obviously a silent one) which would be fun but it seems to be a weak idea compared to others.

Another idea we had was circus audition where all the mimes have to perform their take on the same task (in this case, they have a box. The box can be huge or small, they can be in it or outside of it, could be something in it etc, it's up to them). Ideas for the performances so far is trapped in a box but gets out successfully, trapped in a box but doesn't get out and suffocates or something and something in a box. Possibly a bomb.

We've had a few more ideas, some combining elements of the previous ideas and a few that we thought might be too complicated for the time we have and for the assignment in general.

Over the weekend, we're all going to sketch out ideas including the ones we've got so far.


For our next module, Acting For Animation, we have another presentation and two animations to do. My presentation is going to be on psychological gestures which, when our tutor gave us the gist of what that is, sounds like something I really need actually! Watch this space for research on that!

One of the animations we are going to do is the March 11 Second Club competition which should be fun. No idea what the clip is going to be but we'll see in March! I think it's going to be a dialogue, or at least our tutor seems confident it's going to be.

The other animation is going to be a team effort about mime auditions. In groups of 3 we have to decide on a location, the stage, lighting, layout etc and animate a character each who is auditioning for a mime position of some description (could be a talent contest, screening for a kids party etc).
For the team animation, I am going to learn Maya because it's a program I've been meaning to learn (because a lot of job advertisments seem to want you to be able to use it) and my team mates (Rachel and Raf) also use Maya. So that's going to be fun...

I haven't decided whether to stick with SoftImage or use Maya for the 11 second club animation. It depends on what the clip is and if I'm allowed to use Malcolm. As far as I'm aware, there are certain rigs you are not allowed to use (if you are entering into the competition anyway, which I might because why not? haha. No seriously, it'll be interesting to see what feedback I get from the community there and if it helps me improve my animating skills then it'll be worth it!) and Malcolm belongs to AnimSchool, who have certain rules about using him, so I'm not sure if he's allowed. It's hard to find decent, WORKING rigs for SoftImage. It also depends how I'm getting on with Maya. I'll be playing around with Maya this weekend.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Inspire Me

I've been inspired a lot from Animex so I wanted to post a blog specifically about the people who have inspired me recently.

Firstly, who I'd mentioned in the previous post, is Tori 'Cat' Davis. Her portfolio is stunning! Her work is the level I want to achieve. She has done a lot of environment work as well as character work, which is something I lack. So I've made it a personal aim to draw more backgrounds and environments, starting with drawing from life as I often find I have no idea where to start when drawing from imagination.
What I like most about her drawings is that you can still see some of the sketched lines under the colour and her characters are so animated!

Karen Prell was a lovely person to talk to, she even let me be geeky for a second and signed my Portal 2 collector's guide!. I loved (and still do!) the Muppet films and without sounding like a 'Valve fanboy/girl', I really enjoyed Portal and Portal 2. I thought the games were fantastic because I love puzzle games and I think artificial intelligences are one of the scariest things in the world. So naturally, I both love and fear Glados. I also really like characters with complex relationships, such as Glados and Chell and, for instance, Batman and Joker. I believe complex relationships add much more interest to the characters and the story.
Anyway, her animation work on Wheatley was great. She showed us some pictures of the rig which I found really interesting and answered some questions I had about the way it worked!

Other people that I find inspiring but are non-Animex related:

Endling (The Starving Artist) on DeviantArt
I especially like his rough work where it's very sketchy and he's exploring either styles or a character. Here's a few links to examples of his work (I don't want to embed his images without permission):

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Glen Keane
Glen Keane is an amazing animator who has worked on a range of Disney films. I know I'm working on 3D animation right now but I will always have a soft spot for 2D. His 2D animations are beautiful.

Art of Glen Keane

Living Lines Library - Glen Keane's Pencil Tests

Animex 2012

I spent reading week (6th Feb to 10th Feb) volunteering to help run Animex 2012. It's always a fun experience and I enjoy doing it.

I love Animex because it's the perfect pick-me-up if motivation is a bit sparse or the ol' creative brain is a bit worn out. So perfectly timed after our recent deadline! Though this year hasn't been as good as previous years (on the Animation side), it's still been really great to watch and help run. I felt that this year lacked on the animation side because it was mostly about the industry situation in the UK, visual effects and the technical side of animation, such as how stereoscopic 3D works. However, there was a fantastic talk from Karen Prell (who animated Wheatley and Glados in Portal 2, she also worked on a lot of Muppet productions!) who talked about how she animated Wheatley and Glados. It was interested that they left Wheatley until the last minute because of waiting for the dialogue but they prepared by creating custom animations ready to be put together in an animation mixer!

I've made it a goal to actually show some work to people at Animex 2013. I've been going to Animex for 5 years (volunteered for the past 3) and I've never shown my work because I've never felt it was ready to show or good enough. I think this is actually mostly because I did not have the confidence back then, so instead I focused on just talking to the speakers and over the years I have become more comfortable talking to various speakers. I've noticed that this year I've gotten more confident and much more comfortable speaking to them. I've even made some friends whom I hope to keep in touch with. I managed to get a couple of business cards which I will keep a good hold of for the future!

I've been inspired as usual by Animex and there are a few things I want to do from now on. I want to draw more, much much more. I want to include environments because I have picked up a beautiful art book from Tori Davis (who has worked on concept art for Rio) and the drawings were amazing, her work is a level I want to achieve.
I also want to become a better animator. Karen Prell's work was inspiring and her level of work is starting to look more and more achievable if I work hard and really push myself.
I'm also considering looking more into particle simulation. I messed around with particle simulation (water specifically) a few years ago and once I'd figured it out it was quite fun to work with. It was mentioned that the smaller the studio, the more you're going to need to be able to do. So it may be beneficial to have a couple of other skills.
Another thing is that Maya is becoming more popular (it was already popular but lately it seems to be getting more so, even my University has recently switched from SoftImage to Maya. Which is a bit annoying actually, considering I've finished my BA last year in which I'd been learning SoftImage!). So I will have to learn that as soon as I can. I might try to do one or two of the tasks in Maya but we'll see how I pick it up!

Friday, 3 February 2012


There were some problems in the rendering stage.. For some reason certain facial controls were not rendering leaving the character expressionless sometimes. I checked softimage and I couldn't see any problems there, the controls were still there and there were no mysterious disappearances of anything. In fact, it played fine in Softimage. So I have to render a couple of times to get this right. Still have no idea why it was rendering that way... weird.

Anyway, final render of another one bites the dust :)

Another One Bites The Dust: Quick capture

quick capture after I made changes to the ending, I'll be working on the walk after this then rendering (less than 3 hours to go!)

Final lip sync task 1

Final render of the first lip syncing task. Made a change after the last feedback session. The first action was too big and it was suggested to put his hand on the back of his head, which is what I've done here:

Final render of Presenter animation

At least, hopefully the final render... so long as feedback says it's ok..

Here's the final piece. A combination of Windows Movie Maker and YouTube has fuzzed the quality a bit unfortunately but I should be able to get a cleaner one to my tutor next time I see her. Pretty happy with it though I think there could be some improvements... mostly on those holding poses.

Fry lip sync test

Quick capture after I've finished lip syncing the Fry character. Looking okay sp far. Going to render it properly with the camera cuts next and send away for last minute feedback.

Fry splines test

Just a quick capture render to see how the animation is looking after I've just switched the curves to splines, since SoftImage is playing it with enough lag that I can't quite tell. Hurray for quick capture!

His facial features are not done yet and any movement on his face needs re doing anyway as they were just rough indications from the blocking stage. Which is what I will work on now! (12 hours and 10 mins to go til Deadline!)

Holding positions - Keith Lango

Another great video from Keith Lango on holding moves. I have the problem he describes where my animation seems weightless because my holding positions SUCK! It seems I've been making them go the opposite direction thinking that would be good when in fact I should have been having them go in the same direction the character was just going in. So I'll be (super quickly) adjusting what I can in my animations before the deadline tonight (14 hours to go!)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Presenter Lip sync test: Laurie

Just rendered a quick capture to make sure the lip sync is timed right with the clip. I'm wondering if the character's moving too fast? He is meant to be drunk so he's supposed to be a bit wibbly.

Will see what the lovely classmates think.

Experimenting with Laurie

I decided to see if a change in Laurie's actions at the word 'despise' would improve the acting a bit or make it more interesting. FAIL! It didn't really work as it looks forced. So I'm sticking to the original acting.

Well, if you don't try, you don't know.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Presenter: First time Linear

Put my animation into linear curves to help me breakdown some areas and make sure no limbs go through other limbs etc. Also testing out the camera cuts with a better video quality!

It seems it's working out better with the camera cuts and my classmates agree. Obviously previously it was a big confusing visually. Though the movements by both characters were small, they were in an equal space so this helps the audience follow the dialogue. In hind sight, it seems unnecessary to have both characters on the screen all the time, so I've left both in the first shot to establish the scene and returned to the both again in the last shot with one character shots in-between.