New Year, New Career, New Website

Happy New Year, Everybody!

I hope that 2020 brings you all many blessings and much joy, coz – let’s face it – it would be wrong to start a new year holding on to any negativity caused by the year just gone.

The start of 2020 heralds in a large change for me. At the end of 2019, (and I mean the very end), I made the decision to quite my full-time, permanent position to pursue Freelance work. This effectively meant that I dropped any form of job security to do the 2 weeks worth of work that I had lined up for January.

Oz has gone full FREELANCE!

Needless to say, this has proven to be quite a worrying decision. Not only for myself, but for my wife. That being said, it has been something that I have wanted to do for a long time, an idea that has been burrowing away in my head for what feels like ages, but I had never had the confidence to do anything about it. I kept telling myself that I just didn’t know what was involved, how to do taxes, how to seek out new work, how to promote myself. All of those concerns battled with the longing to go freelance, and proved a significant stumbling block.

The announcement video I made when I joined NSCC for the second time

So then the question would be: What’s Changed?

First off, I want to say that I love the guys at my old studio. NSC Creative are a really talented group of artists, and friends. I have known some of them for around ten years, and when I re-took my job with them at the start of 2019, I knew that it would mean a step back from continuous animation and into more generalist lines of work. This was a situation I was happy to place myself in, I had my reasons, and I feel like my time there served me well.

However, whilst I was doing some non-animation work (that is, experience design, narrative ideation and other cool stuffs), I found that I kept getting approached by companies asking if I was available for work in, like, two weeks. These quick and urgent jobs seemed to come at me quite regularly, but the urgency meant I had to turn them all down – two weeks? No! I have a four week notice period, and no matter how much I would love to work with you, I simply cant!

So with all of this stuff running around my head, the fact that freelance work seemed to find me rather than me seeking out work, I started to persuade myself that dropping everything and becoming a freelance animator was a good idea. And the more people I spoke to about it, the more encouraged I got. It seemed that people thought that now was the best time to do it (not too sure about that – thanks Brexit), that I would kick myself silly if I didn’t do it (yeah, probably… maybe?… I dunno), and that I had nothing to lose (wasn’t too convinced by this last one, either).

Nevertheless, it all appealed to me, and after I signed my first remote contract for two weeks worth of work at the start of 2020, I wrote up my resignation letter and handed it to my boss at NSCC.

Needless to say, this was a step in bravery for me, but the fact was this – I wasn’t planning on moving away from Leicester. I was going to be around,the corner, so if they needed me, I would be there. Personally, however, I needed to allow myself space to pursue other job options. My boss was understanding – swore at me under his breath a couple of time (which proved a source of amusement for myself) – and, recognising the value I had been on the projects that year, struck up an understanding that, should the need arise (as well as my own availability), they could get my on board for a couple of weeks or months.

On Friday the 20th December, 2019, I silently slid through the doors of the National Space Centre, ending my time there.

you can’t spell Office without Office Plant.

Do I now know how to do Taxes? Do I now know how to seek out work or promote myself? Do I know what I am doing when it comes to the business side of my work? Well, no. Not yet anyway. But if I didn’t try, I wasn’t going to learn. I knew that with ten years experience, finding work was going to be easier than when I first left uni, but there are no certainties in that.

Nevertheless, I have my home office all set up, and we will see how it all works out. After all, this is only my first week of doing this stuff!

Work Finding Me

Now I don’t want to sound naive or big headed when I said that the freelance work was finding me – more that I wanted to state that, at that time, I had a few opportunities open themselves up to me, and it was this that really persuaded me to change my career.

At the same time, somebody at my church prayed for me and – though they knew nothing about what I did or what I was planning – told me that I was going to have a career change and that I was worried about it, but that I should not be. Instead stand firm knowing that God has planted in me an entrepreneurial heart that He will bless. Take that as you will, but as a believer it was a sign that God was with me in this – as excited for me as I was.

But the truth of the matter is that I know that I cannot rely 100% on work finding me. I recognise that this is going to be hard at times, and that I must push myself to get the work I want or the work I need. I have already been speaking with recruitment agencies, contacting companies who are advertising on Artstation and similar sites, and I have also poured a bit of time changing up my website.

A New Website

With a New Year and a new career, I needed a new look. My website had gotten a bit tired, and so I whipped it up. Great news: I now know how to use WordPress better!

The new look works better for me and my purposes and though I am sure that I will be adding and tweaking bits for the months to come, it is feeling a lot better. I have been able to un-clutter a lot of things, make it all a bit more streamlined, and focus on the purpose of the website – to promote myself as a freelance animator.

In Other News

I have got together with a few local animation professionals and started a regular meetup. The Leicester Animation Meetup is a small group of like-minded individuals who want to sit around and talk key frames for the night. We have our second meetup at the end of the month, where I will be giving a short talk about the importance of effective poses, but this is all a story for another time!

For now, thanks for reading!
God bless
Oz

Merry Christmas! – 1 week animation challenge

So last week I had a bit of time to devote to a quick little personal project. I wanted to put something together to celebrate Christmas, but knowing that I had a relatively short amount of time to get it done, I didn’t want to get too bogged down in creating a new character.

So I did everything as balls.

Amending the simple Sphere Rig I created for the Dracula Piece, I modeled a very basic Santa, Sack, Reindeer and Sleigh, and got to animating.

One of the most fun challenges I faced whilst animating this piece was how I would convey character and weight to something that is literally a ball. I know this is a fairly common challenge, but one that I haven’t attempted in quite some time.

Again, knowing that I didn’t have a vast amount of time, but that the snowy footprints would be important, I chose what I considered to be a clever and simple solution; manipulate a simple torus object with FFDs. This gives a surprisingly effective result!

One of my favorite parts of this project was adding the sound effects. Finding snowy footprints, swoops, bells, engines and hoof noises was easy enough, and editing them together to meet the animation was a complete joy!

Finally I decided to add a few particles. Using tyFlow, I put together a couple of simple systems to bring some snow and Christmas magic to the scene.

All in all, it’s not a bad piece for a 5 day project. I’m quite happy with it, and use it to share the Christmas joy to all!

Merry Christmas!

Oz

Spooky Animorsels Animation! Pt3 – The Bats of Animation

… And a Page full of Gifs!

Tonight I have the pleasure of revealing the final animation, for which all of this work has been building up.

Three ways to watch

The first way to watch is to watch as intended. Click the YouTube video below on your smartphone (or other device) and get the VR experience. If you have something like Google Cardboard, I am sure you can check it out in that, otherwise just moving your device around will show you what is intended.

The second way to watch is to watch me watching it. The video below was captured from the Oculus as I tested the 360 video out. Unfortunately that means that the video is quite shaky, and the framing can be quite off (larger field of view in the headset compared to the screen, so it seems).

The third way you can watch is to simply enjoy the animation. In order to keep an eye on what I was animating, I created an action camera – one that would follow the main point of action. If I was happy with the animation from this point of view, I would be happy with the 360 renders.

So let’s talk about Animation.

So I chose to split the animation into three main sections. The first section refers to Dracula as a Ball – the second; Dracula as a humanoid – the third; Capes.

Dracula as a Ball

From the off, I knew this was going to be a highly stylised piece. I wanted to have the mysterious character appear on the Haunted House, then jump off, past the camera and strike a Bat-pose before landing. I chose to do all of this using a simple ball rig (described in Part 2) for two reasons.

  1. It feels so much better when you have a single block shape performing large sweeping movements than when you have a detailed character doing the same. Having a full character could be good, but I didn’t want to over burden the viewer’s mind with needless detail. After all, simplicity is elegance, right? I think somebody said that once.
  2. A ball is much easier to animate than a humanoid – far fewer moving parts!

One key in designing this animation was that I didn’t want it to feel two dimensional. The character is moving from a high place in front of you to a low place behind. Therefore there are only two axis needed to achieve this movement; the Up/Down and Front/Behind axis. Adding in the third axis – Left/Right adds so much more interest for the audience.

So I created a simple spline to guideline where I wanted the character to move. I knew that there was a need for arcs and loops to make this feel good, so I designed the motion before I designed the timing. Splines are great for this sort of thing, but I would definitely avoid constraining the character to the path.

As I started to pose my Drac-Ball along the spline, I realised that in order to get the look I was going for, I would have to sway away from the spline, when it came to smoothing my animation curves I realised this further. But in exploring these movements (rather than being constrained to them) I was able to create something I felt worked a lot better.

So having three dimensions in my motion helped appeal, what else would? Well, Timing. We all know that a bouncing ball moves fastest when it is filled with energy (either when coming in to land or bouncing away), and moves slow at that zenith where there is a conflict between forces (top of the arc as the upward force is overcome by the downward). This shows that movement is not always a constant, but demands dynamics – if the bouncing ball moved at the same pace throughout a bounce, it would look reeeeeeal odd.. trust me.

So to keep things super interesting, I played around with the timing (and spacing) a LOT, stylising the holds before before a fast movement. Just look at how he seems to pause in the sky having just jumped from the roof, or how the Bat-pose lingers just a little too long before falling quite heavily.

Dracula as a Humanoid

This (obviously) came right at the end, but required the most effort – an old friend was known to say that everything was a Bouncing Ball, and with a human figure you have many moving parts to get looking right.

Dracula transitions from a Ball into a person over a couple of frames, and trust me, I am surprised at how effective that was! There was no more a trick to it than simply positioning and timing. The poses which he and the ball strike as the transition happens also helped make it look so smooth, but it was simple replacement animation, nothing interesting or fancy.

My animation process is always the same. Block out your major poses in a rough timing, then add breakdown upon breakdown until you have something you’re pretty much happy with,

Then change all keys to splined and watch as all hell breaks loose.

Calm yourself, order a replacement keyboard and apologise to the cat. Then reassure yourself that you have to get through this Daniel Bedingfield style.

Spend the next waking hours smoothing, adjusting and readjusting poses and timing until it looks good again.

This was a simple sequence of movements, going from the land, into the pose, into the prep and finally the attack, but that didn’t mean the animation could be lacking. Again, focusing on appeal, I looked at the dynamics in timing to give a sense of weight, and utilised the idea of adding arcs to everything to make it feel more fluid.

And then there is the end pose, as Drac attacks. I wanted a head surrounded with bats, and so that’s what I created, stretching his head practically off his shoulders in that last movement.

The Bats

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the thing that makes VR unique is the thing that makes it challenging. That is the agency given to the audience to decide where they want to look.

I found that people didn’t want to look at the top of the house, but instead explore the frame, and then missing the animation as a whole (one colleague commenting on my work said ‘yeah, that’s really good, but when are you putting the character in?’).

Because of my set up, I didn’t want to use traditional visual methods of directing focus – Light, Colour, Focus, ect – and couldn’t use spacial sound design (I didn’t know how to), and so I had to use something else to draw the eye – and I am not too sure how successful this is yet.

The Bats were introduced to gather the audience’s attention and draw it up to the top of the house.

Now, I had mentioned in a previous post that I am particle wizard, but that was what I needed. Using TyFlow again, I created a system slightly more complex than that used for the rain. This required new events for each section of animation, wind forces to gather and expel, and turbulence to make it look manic. I wanted the figure atop the house to be formed as they came close, I wanted them to flutter behind him as he flew, and I wanted them to disperse as he stretched his wings before falling to the ground.

And I think I achieved what I was going for.

On the whole, these three elements come together to create something that, I feel, looks really good!

360 Rendering

You cant just animate in 3Ds Max and expect it to look good in VR. This takes a lot of time and tests to make sure everything feels good, and even now there are some elements I wish I had changed.

It is important to render and re-render everytime you have an iteration. You are looking at how close or far things feel, how fast you need to move, from what position to what position. I originally had it where the render cam was facing the house, and therefore the moon was full-on behind you. This worked for the start of the animation – seeing Drac appear right in front of your, but made the speed by which he moved past quite awkward, especially when you had to turn 180 in your chair to see the rest of the animation.

Simply changing the angle of the render cam worked wonders for this piece, and though it means exploring and finding the animation, potentially missing it, this is more favorable than viewers breaking their necks to see what happens!

Lastly, each frame was rendered with VRay, 2048×1024 pixels, spherical with a 360 field of view. It was comped with the thunder render in After Effects and I added royalty free sound effects, edited together in premier.

To get it to work nicely on YouTube, I used the Facebook 360 Director tool to encode it to work as a spherical video.

And now that this is all out of the way…

… I am going to present it at Animorsels tonight! It will be the first time people have seen the original 20 seconds (I mean, come on, even the So Solid Crew had 21), and I am looking forward to seeing people reactions and recieving feedback.

I do hope to get round to adding the lizard characters in there, maybe bulking the piece out to a 1 minute loop, but that will be for some time further down the line.

As always, cheers for reading guys, and give yourself a pat on the back for making it to the end!

Tata for now!

Oz

Spooky Animorsels Animation! Pt2 Character(s)!

Good Morning all!

So in my last post I talked about setting the mood and the atmosphere for my Animorsels piece, This included a lot of modelling, lighting and rendering, as well as a jaunt down particle lane. I cam up with something I was really pleased with, but this scene, as a single package, was not the aim – the theme was ‘Monster’ and as of yet, this was something my scene was lacking.

Lacking Monsters

Animating for 360

The great thing about 360 video – in fact the sole unique element of 360 video – is the freedom by which the viewer can choose what they look at. They have agency over their viewing – it’s like handing over the directorial to the audience and trusting they will have a good time with it!

There are two potential ways to accommodate this agency given. A third if you’re dealing with real-time.

The first is that you litter the place with interesting elements. Not one single piece of action is the key piece of action – it all works at an even keel, The audience can look wherever they wish without feeling distracted, but discover different things through their own exploration.

The second is to direct the audience’s attention to certain areas of the video. This can be done in many ways, but should act to attract attention without forcing it – the audience still have the agency to look away if they wish.

The third – real-time – is to only start a sequence of action when the audience look in a certain direction. they have the freedom to explore, but when they look in the right direction, the animation is triggered.

As the last option was not viable for me, pre-rendering a 360 video rather than working it real-time – my options were stuck to the first two. And as such, two ideas for the character part of the animation were developed.

The Ranger

So some of you may remember these little animations –

These are little animation tests from a couple of months ago – a rig I had created from scratch called Ranger (because he was loosely based on a Power Ranger idea!).

Well Guess What! you can now BUY this little guy and animate him in 3Ds Max yourself! I have added this rig to gumroad, you can find the RANGER RIG HERE.

I put a lot of time into designing this rig, giving it all of the strange, non-standard stuff great rigs have. Limb correction bones, stretchy IK and knee/elbow pins to name a few.

Animertion says Hi.

Because this was a tried and tested rig, one that I had personally created and knew worked in 3Ds Max, it made sense that I use it for this animation. The only problem is that he is a good guy, not a monster. I had to change that. So I did.

The Lizard Folk

My first thought for the scene was that it would be non-linear, or at least looped, with stuff going on all around the viewer. I had the idea of many small creatures climbing around the scene, little lizard folk scuttling across rooftops and along walls.

Changing the Ranger Model, amending the rig

So I created this little fella, and posted a picture of him online. And the very moment I did, I felt somewhat ashamed of him. I knew that it looked, well… goofy. But if there was a number of these guys scuttling around, coming up to the camera and darting away, it could be ok? Right?

Goofy…

Well… I decided I wanted to try out something different. Time was getting short and I want happy with this guys. I didn’t have time to animate many versions of him. Instead, I would have to focus on my second idea, this time focusing on one character but with better animation.

Dracula

So I had a couple of key action beats in mind:

  1. I wanted the viewer to see a mysterious, cloaked character on the top of the haunted house as lightning crashed around him.
  2. I wanted the figure to swoop down and past the viewer, once again, abstracted from view.
  3. I wanted them to appear as a silhouette of a bat in front of the full moon.
  4. I wanted the character to land, revealing itself as Dracula.

With all of this in mind, I began tweaking the Ranger model and rig to fit the Dracula I wanted.

Funky Dancing Drac

The design was easy enough, sticking to a very natural style for me. the next step was to design a cape. I did not want to use cloth – I have done so in the past and found it quite difficult to control. I mean, that was almost a decade ago, so I am sure this sort of thing has got better, but I wanted something that I could control with a simple rig.

So I set up a sequence of bone along some splines and cheaply skinned the cape object.

Wiggle Cape

Knowing that I wanted the character to be an abstract sphere as he swoops down meant that I had to create a small and simplistic rig for a ball. All this is is a Top, Middle and Bottom control which drives an FFD. The FFD deforms the sphere and the controls are linked to a master control.

Drac’s Ball

I also hooked up a system by which to switch the parenting of the hat and cape.

Final Character

So this is the final character I decided to go with. And do you know what? It feels and looks really good! Come back next time when I talk about the animation process and reveal the final piece!

Lots of Love! Oz

Spooky Animorsels Animation! Pt1 – Ambiance and Setting

Hey guys!

So recently I have put the finishing touches to a short animation I have been working on over the past month or so. Or at least, that is, the first 20 seconds of it. You see, the piece is entered as part of an Animorsels challenge, and they only want to see 20 seconds of work. My aim is to make the final piece about a minute in length, so yeah, still got a lot to do on it.

That being said, I am really pleased with what I have been able to create – from scratch – and am raring to show you guys what I have been up to.

But first a little background.

You see, I work in fully immersive content creation. That’s basically a fancy way of saying I produce animation for full domes (or planetariums) and VR. My desk at work has an Oculus Rift set up so that I can test out bits and pieces, be those real-time experiments using Unity, or 360 Animated Videos rendered out from 3Ds Max.

With a good knowledge of rendering 360 spherical renders, I figured that for this particular Animorsels challenge – MONSTER! – I wanted to place my audience in the middle of the scene, fully immersing them in the ambiance and setting I was to create.

On making a creepy street.

I would be the first to admit that I am not the best modeler in the world.

I would also be the first to admit that if I was to model something, it would probably be organic, and nothing to do with architecture.

But I really wanted a spooky street and haunted mansion (I have been playing a lot of Mansions of Madness and learning how to play the Call of Cthulhu RPG, so pretty much had a set scene in mind), so I decided to get over myself and give it a go.

I started by creating a series of standard pieces – mainly bits of wood, which I could then kitbash together to make one building with each of it’s four walls having a different design.

Using this as a basis, I started throwing together new bits of geometry, creating something that resembled the traditional Hauted house look that I was after. Knowing I would only see it from one angle gave me agency to create only what I wanted to see, not needing to bother about the back side. I surrounded it with craggy trees and boarded up the windows.

With these models in place, I assigned some very basic VR Materials to them, and started to assemble my street.

FFDs are marvelous things.

And here’s why – you can duplicate a single cobblestone many many times, and twist them all together, shaping irregularities to make a more natural looking cobblestone road. Now I am not claiming that my cobblestone road looks natural, as such, but you get my point. Maybe ‘interesting’ is the word I should use.
In addition, you can use the same building again and again, using the glories of FFDin’ to create variety, allowing for a more interesting looking street.

I drew a couple of circles in Photoshop and placed the very moon in the sky! I threw in a few lights (which was interesting to consider for a 360 view of the scene) which can be seen in the pictures above. But there was something else I needed to give this beaut the atmosphere I desired – A heavy downpour.

Now, in the same way that I would be the first to admit that modelling (especially architectural modelling) isn’t my thing, it would be wrong of me to forget to mention Particle Systems in the same breath. So I suppose up to now I have been pushing the boat out a bit, experimenting with a few new things, which is nice.

TyFlow is a surprisingly elegant particle system within 3Ds Max. It works similarly to PFlow, but with a couple of distinct differences. Or at least that’s what a colleague of mine told me – he knows these things, i don’t, so I trusted his judgment.

The set up is a simple one – produce many stretched-out oblong particles over the course of the animation. when they collide with a rough floor/building geometry I built, turn into a spherical shape to give a little splash effect, then kill the particle. I gave the whole thing a translucent material with a fall off to avoid it raining through the camera (near), and muddying the view of the distance (far).

Finally I wanted some lightning.

Lightning at it’s fullest extreme.

I found some totally free to use Heavy Rain and Thunder sound effects online, and designed a soundscape, editing it together in Premier Pro. Using this sound as a template, I animated the strength of one flooding light from nothing to an extreme, shifting the light from position to position as I went, as though the storm was all around us.

When it came to rendering, I realised that the stark black and white effect I wanted for my lightning wasn’t something I would get in one render. So I rendered the street in full colour on one layer, and the lightning on black geometry on another. I brought them into After Effects and played with some values to get the stark flashes and distant illumination I wanted.

360 Video Tests

Here is a link to the minute-long thunder test. if you get the chance to watch this on your phone, have a good look around. Better yet, check it out using a headset like Oculus or Google Cardboard. I dunno how you’r do that from YouTube though…

In order to get it working as a 360 video on YouTube, I found that Facebook has a great 360 Director tool in which you can upload a spherical video, and download it encoded to play as required.

On the whole, I was really impressed with the scene I had set up. It took me far longer that I had hoped, and so was really looking forward to doing some character stuff in the scene!

But I will talk about that next time!

If you’ve made it this far, good on you! Thanks for reading!

Oz

Animorsels, NaNoWriMo and some Drawings

Hey guys!

So it has been a little while since I have added anything to this blog… well, let’s just say it’s not because I have been lazy.

NaNoWriMo

After a while focusing on spending each morning animating, I then turned my attention to a bit of writing; spending my early mornings doing some writing exercises. But at the moment my concentration is focused on one thing; NaNoWriMo.

For those of you who do not know, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, in which writers (pros, students and hobbyists) are encouraged to write 50,000 words throughout the month of November. I have tried to do this once or twice before, but always had multiple other projects on the go, so no time to really prepare or devote to it. And let’s just say this isn’t the sort of thing you would go into unprepared.

As such, I have been spending September and October doing my research and planning a story I have in mind. I have a decent road map laid out, as well as a few key characters prepared, but you never really know what is gonna happen until you put pen to paper on that first page.

Wish me luck, guys!

Animorsels and the Leicester Animation Meetup

In between these little fancies of being a writer, I keep get drawn back to animation. Something happens, I see a challenge that I like or an event I want to go to, and my concentration goes there for a little while.

Animorsels is one of those distractions (or encourages, depending on your viewpoint). It is a termly meetup in Nottingham, where a load of animators come together to encourage each other and talk shop. It’s a great community, though I have only been along once, with a bunch or really interesting and welcoming people.

Each term they have a ‘Micromorsels’; an animation challenge to be completed however the artist wishes. The last challenge was to animate to a set piece of sound design, to be interpreted as the artist thought best fitting. This was a great challenge for me, and bellow is the piece I created.

As you can see, it is quick and dirty. And I Love that!

Very occasionally I will have an idea of something I want to animate, but it requires a lot of work beyond simply animation. In this case, a load of modelling and strange FX.

So what’s the point in over complicating something? It will likely never be done. I can quite easily consider a personal project too much hard work before I get started.

The idea, therefore, of making it super stylised has helped me out here no end. Rough shapes, terrible modelling, but at least the animation is done, am I right?

So if you’re reading this, I would totally encourage you to do the same. Do something rough, fast, you have no time to over think it, just get it done. You have no time to ask ‘is this acceptable’ or ‘is it too weird’, just do it, and enjoy the ride!

ASTRO-FAM

A little while ago, I was asked to design a number of characters for a potential animation project. These characters needed to appeal to all ages, though primarily children between the ages of 5 to 10, and needed to be astronaut-related.

I had a great time researching some of the current animation trends, as well as some of my own personal childhood favorites. In the mix was greatly appealing shows like True and the Rainbow Kingdom and Noddy alongside The Power Rangers and Voltron. Unfortunately the project fell through, and as such I am free to share the designs with you! Below are a few of my favorites.

Anyway, that’s all for now! So until next time, take care!

Oz

Early Morning Cartooning and Other Animation Tests

Hey guys! How’s it going?

So as I think I had mentioned before, I am trying to do a bit more animation in my personal time. Now, I am sure I am not the only person who finds it difficult to spend an hour or so practising your art after a full day of work. Well why not do it before a full day of work?

Well that’s what I have been trying to do.

Luckily for me, my wife needs to leave for work an hour after I do. And, fortunate or not, I wake up when she does, giving me regular time to do some animation practice!

I call it my Early Morning Cartooning sessions.

As a way of forcing myself to do this work, and not default into sleeping in, I have decided to start filming myself as I work, and posting these videos online.

You can find the Early Morning Cartooning playlist here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyNqmOj9Q_854nH4FMev9JcQlgC9zpmmC

So I have only done two EMCartooning runs as of yet, and I have just started my third, but in addition, I have added another short animation test to this blog.

The ‘test flight’ animation is me throwing a couple of days testing a rig I had built in 3ds Max. The model may be basic, but I tried throw as much complex stuff into the rig as I could think! Stuff like IK/FX switching, stretchy bones and adjustment controls for curvy limbs. Elbow and Knee pins, with space switchers and orientation controls.

It was a really interesting puzzle to wrap my head around, but more than that, it was a really fun rig to animate with.

So below are a few new short animations I have been playing around with. I hope you enjoy!

Family Holiday One Page RPG

So this past week I have been on holiday with my family. It was a really great time with my parents and sister (and bro-in-law). We ate some amazing food, drank some amazing wine and saw some amazing sights.

And, like all family vacations, it had it’s fare share of conflict.

It’s true to say that every family member has their pros and their cons, their quirks and their virtues – I am no exception. I am sure I annoyed my sister as much as she annoyed me.

So I made a game about it.

DOWNLOAD BELOW

The game is a one-page, one-shot role playing game in which you play members of a family on a vacation. Every player has their positive traits and their negative traits, and a limited amount of patience.

Now this has been a fun little exercise for me, having designed a couple of short games before. So I might continue exploring new game ideas. I will also try to add another file shortly with some more detailed rules (if needed).

But for now, I hope you enjoy!

Cheers

Oz

Quill VR Tests

A Photo from a Friend

SumoDesk

So the other day, a good friend who worked with me at Sumo sent me a photo of my old desk, empty and deserted, screens blank, wacom un-loved. It was a kind gesture, one that said ‘we miss you, dude’, a sentiment that I share.

NSCDesk

And so I sent him a photo of my desk at NSC Creative, with my Intuos, Cintique and… Oculus Rift headset.

This, not surprisingly, sparked off a bit of a conversation. You see, NSC Creative work in fully immersive mediums – primarily making content for digital planetariums (fulldome shows), but branching into other media like interactive exhibitions, 4D experiences and VR/AR. As such, every artist in the studio has their own headset.

However, truth be told, I had never really got into VR. I had tried it a couple of times and was – on the most part – quite underwhelmed. But I had heard of one tool that I was quite interested in.

A Quill in VR

Quill is a VR painting tool. Chuck on your headset and use your Oculus Touch controls to do a lovely little painting in 3D. Lovely. It’s bright and colourful, and gives a really sweet, calm feel.

Then you start to paint. In a 3d space. And it feels good and intuitive until you move and see that the little picture you have made is messed up from any other angle. You see, instead of painting on a surface, or a flat plane, and you strokes being constrained to that plane, you’re painting wherever your hand goes in space.

Qill-Painting

This is something that will definitely take some time getting used to, but for now I wasn’t bothered about painting a lovely scene. No. I was interested in another feature – the animation feature.

A Rough Jump

Quill_Jump

By all intents and purposes, the animation tool is quite basic. It is similar to any 2D animation software with keyframes along one track, you can choose to paint each frame from scratch, or duplicate frames and make amendments. There are no tweens, so everything you pose or draw is what you have. And for this reason it felt like a mix between 2d and stop motion animation.

My first test, shown above, wasn’t the most interesting animation I had ever made, but for 30 mins in a programme I didn’t know, I thought it was ok. What this test did do, however, was spark curiosity. I was interested to see what could be done if I spent a bit of time figuring it out.

The Acrobatic Sausage

So the next day I figured I’d give it a bit more of a go, and I spent a little while learning the ropes of navigating, painting, selecting and tweaking strokes before going into full animation.

I really loved how you could simply select an object, grab it and pull it and break it, manipulate it in any way, so I set to a more ambitious animation.

Arcs

I started out by drawing a bunch of arcs, showing where I want my character to go, then on a separate layer created one, thick sausage shape. From there it was just a case or grabbing it and deforming it however I wanted. The onion-skin tool was very helpful at this point, if I felt something needed a bit more time on it, or a clearer breakdown, I would just duplicate the next or previous frame and tweak it, seeing clearly where my spacing would be from the the two frames either side. Sometimes I had to copy the original shape from frame one because I had over deformed it and needed to reset, but in all honesty, I tend to do that when animating in 3D anyway…

Quill_WallJump02

On the whole, I found the entire experience highly intuitive, it felt much more hands on than animating in 3Ds Max or Maya, but I’m not sure why… maybe the physical act of actively manipulating an object right in front of you. It seemed like a very quick and dirty way of animating; laying down simple and basic poses with simple and basic timings. Either way, it looked and felt great, though my shoulders hurt for a while after.

My Little Red Guy

Red

So by this point I was now so confident in Quill that I felt like a pro. I figured I would create a little block guy (simple cuboid lines put roughly next to each other in a roughly humanoid shape) on a new layer and animate him to the little sausage.

Admittedly, this was what I wanted to do from the start, but it felt good getting to this stage.

So now I have my little guy and my basic animation. I did a first pass, keeping the red guy in his standing pose, I animated his whole body along the guide. It looked so stupid – like when characters in a game suddenly go T-Pose. But once I had the main movement down, I was able to go in and properly pose the lil’ fella.

WorkingInVR-01

This was, once again, a very intuitive process. You see, instead of being able to grab and stretch and manipulate the character as I had done with the sausage, this guy needed to be posed like a stick figure – the blocks didn’t like the other way. And because there was no rigging involved, these separate limbs could be placed wherever I wanted.

I only used one tool – the select tool. Simply grab the piece(s) you need and put it where you like. It was that simple. Finally I added another layer to animate some (very) basic vfx, this was more to cover some points where I had stretched the little guy too much, but also give a bit more emphasis and flow to some movements.

Quill_WallJump04

It took me about 5 hours to do the full character animation. The initial Sausage had only taken me a couple of hours. So on the whole, I was really impressed.

Final Thoughts

So. VR. Quill. What do I think? Well at the moment it’s hard to say. I can see the potential as an art tool and an animation toy, but it’s something I need to try more. I need to experiment with the medium and the software. There is no doubt about it – this is some powerful stuff – but do I ever see it being used on a larger scale? I’m not sure. for quick animation sketches, this is incredible, but for anything larger than that? we will see.

HOWEVER, this little test has opened me up to an entire community of VR Animators, using different tools and animating in different styles. Sketchfab (see above), has countless examples of amazing VR animation, modelling and art in general. It is a place of inspiration for sure.

Seeing some of the incredible work other people are doing in programmes like Quill only feeds my excitement and gives me a greater urge to play in this medium.

And I use the word ‘play’ aptly.

Quill is fun.

It just is. At first I found it frustrating, as exploring any new software can be, but once you pass that first hurdle and you are pushing and pulling blocks and verts like the best of them, then you get drawn into it.

I did. It sucked me in and i just wanted to do more. And so I will. I think I am going to be spending a lot of time in VR over the coming weeks/months/years, and I am really excited to see what I can come up with.

As always, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy my work, and please feel free to share this blog with your friends!

Cheers!

A Whole load of New and Old

Well shucks, it seems that I haven’t posted anything on here since October… and that’s because a lot of stuff has been going on. Specifically a LOT of stuff going on during the weekend bridging January and February. Unfortunately very little of this stuff is good old animation, but let’s go through it.

Special Announcement Number 1: I bought a house.

So my wife and I have been blessed enough to buy a house. After a long while of saving and looking, we found a house that we loved, and are now paying through our teeth for it! We completed at the start of February, and over the past month we have been slowly moving stuff over, cleaning and decorating as we go, until recently when we have finally fully moved in.

The house is great, but it would have upped my commuting time to work at Sumo from an hour and a half to almost two hours each way. Now I know that there are people who do that with joy, but that aint me. I just don’t like having early starts and returning home late. I needed to find a way to balance my work life and my home life.

Special Announcement Number 2: I left Sumo Digital

It was a hard choice to make. Sumo have been a great company to work for over the past two and a half years. I have learned a lot and made some great friends.

I first started Sumo working on Crackdown 3 (which has finally come out, see my credit bellow :P). It was the first AAA game I had worked on, and sure, it has received mixed reviews, but on the whole it looks like a hell of a lot of fun!

However, commuting all that way weighed too much on me. And with a house in the mix, I decided to make a move.

Special Announcement Number 3: I have a new job.

At the start of February, I started a new position working at an old studio. NSC Creative were the first studio to hire me out of university. I worked for the studio as a CG Generalist (specialising in Character Animation when I could) for a period of six years. During that time they grew from a team of 8 to a team of 20+. However, I knew that I wanted to develop my skill as an animator, and felt I needed experience with other studios to help me develop. As such I moved on.

Now, three and a half years later, armed with a load of experience, I am back at NSC Creative. It is strange, it feels exactly the same as it did, with the same faces and the same space-themed work. Though my title is as a Lead Animator, the actual Animation part of the job is currently quite limited, but this is something I was aware of before re-joining.

Concept1

The thing is this; as much as I enjoyed animating for games, I found it a little repetitive – the projects I worked on tended to need the same animations done time and time again. However, at NSC there is a wide range of skills needed and used. As well as the occasional animation work, there is modelling and rigging to do, compositing and 2D animation. I have the opportunity to write, develop storyboards and create concept art. And though I will miss animating everyday, I will be practising other creative outputs, which I have really enjoyed in the past.

Additionally, the choice has brought down my daily commute to around twenty minutes! That’s a saving of over two hours a day!

Special Announcement Number 4: I gave a presentation.

Ok, so I am going to spend some more time on this at another point, changing the presentation into a short video.

So on the second of February, two days after I left Sumo, one day after I picked up the keys to the new house, and two days before I started at NSC Creative for a second time, I was asked to give a presentation about games animation at an industry event called Interactive Futures.

The talk was primarily centred around my understanding of what it means to be a game-play animator, or rather the difference between animating for interactive and non-interactive media.

The talk went well, though I am not sure what percentage of the crowd actually had an interest in animation…

Anyway, they are the main reasons I haven’t posted in over 4 months. I hope it wont take me as long before I post next, but the house is priority at the moment.

Have a great day, everybody!

Oz