A couple of Freelance Projects – 2020 retrospective

Hey guys! It’s been a while. I mean, it’s been a LONG while! I still have “Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 3” to do, and I’ve been meaning to do that for MONTHS!

But today I’m gonna talk to you about a different subject – how nice it is to see freelance projects get released!

Now it has always been a pleasure to see something I have worked on released into the wild, and see people’s reactions to it, be that good or bad. The fact of the matter is that either way, something has been released, and I was part of bringing it all together.

What has been interesting is, as a freelance animator who prefers the shorter contracts, I have seen a couple of projects released this year, rather than waiting years for one project.

In this post I will share what I can, and talk a little bit about my involvement in the project.

Gods Will Fall – Clever Beans

This is probably the project that has inspired this post. Released a couple of days ago, this is an announcement trailer for a project I worked on as a freelance animator for the first 6 months of the year.

I primarily spent that time animating bad guys, and these are pretty sick and twisted characters, each one with a unique style and backstory – I’m not sure how far in to the lore the game goes, but the game designer created a world rich with story and lore!

It was a fun project with different characters and therefore different challenges and opportunities! it has a very intriguing art style, and I’m looking forward to it’s release!

Hercules Journey – BlackBoard Studios

After working on a game where you killed gods, I worked on a this lovely project; an in-game promo for a casual game about Hercules!

The great and difficult thing about this project was that I was the only animator working on it! I had four weeks (FOUR WEEKS!) to pull this together from layout to polished animation!

Now, for me, that was quite the feat! I am really proud with how this has turned out. Sure, the story is a little cheesy, but it works for the target audience of the game, so that’s good. And the rendering that those guys did is incredible!

I have just finished a follow-up project for these guys. This time it was a total of 5 weeks work – good fun, but pretty full-on!

Godfall Combat Trailer – The Trailer Farm

Man, games today really push the ideas that men can triumph over gods, ey? Very greek indeed.
I had a couple of weeks between projects, and was ready to sit back and relax for a little while, when I got a call from the Trailer Farm. What they wanted literally slotted into the 8 days I had.

This was an interesting project, not like anything else I had done – taking in-game animation assets, laying them out and blending them together to be rendered super slow-mo for this trailer. I only worked on a couple of shots at the start of this trailer, and one of the shots was literally 7 frames long that would be slowed down in-engine for the render.

This, along side the already animated assets, made the project surprisingly difficult. There were a lot of restraints with what you could do with in-game animations. Sometimes what works in-game doesn’t work for cinematic trailers, but due to the nature of the trailer these assets couldn’t be messed with in any major way.

Still, for a couple of days work, it was a really interesting project with a great group of people!

Old Spice – Red Knuckle

This was another 4 week project, working with a small team of people to put together a Madden-style advert for Old Spice.

Now, I have always been a fan of the Old Spice adverts – they bring so much off-the-wall humour to their marketing, so this was a a really fun opportunity.

This time, we were given a bunch of mocap assets used in an American Football game that we needed to blend together and animate on top of.

For this project I found myself in more of a Lead role. I spent a lot of time working with the other animators, making sure they had the correct animation assets, applying the mocap data to the rigs and sending them over. I also felt, due to the quick turn around, that I needed to keep on top of the organisation of the team. After a couple of moments of pandemonium (some artists having too much work to do whilst others didn’t really know what to get on with), it was really important for me to know who was working on what shot at what point. I made real good friends with spreadsheets for this project!

As such, apart from some initial layouts of a couple of shots – and a centralised run-cycle animation asset for Derrick Henry for animators to work on top of – I only really took control of one shot. I bit the bullet. And spent a lot of time on the first shot.

As you can see, this shot has two American Football teams attacking each other! That’s like 22 high-poly characters aggressively interacting with each other. It was a nightmare of manipulating mocap data to fit the interactions, adding hand-keyed poses, and doing all of this across about 5 different Maya files as my machine at the time couldn’t handle everything at once!

It was a great challenge to overcome, and though it could be polished more, I am really happy with the shot I ended up with, all things concidering!

Further Projects

Needless to say, they year hasn’t ended yet, and there are more projects to add to this list. And I will do, as and when they arrive. But for now, this is all I can share, so watch this space for more of my work.

And I promise I will get round to doing the Lockdown and Up Skill Part 3 some point soon!

Cheers!

Oz

Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 2

Hello Everybody!

So I managed to go a head and do my second write up of the things I have learned as I have tried to Up-Skill my animation game throughout Lockdown.

In the Lockdown and Up Skill Part 1, I discussed the concepts of Leading and Following body parts, Separation of body parts, and the use of reference and drawovers. I based these comments around my first AnimSquad assignment – Overmine.

I also outlined where a lot of this info has come from, with a lot of great resources for you to check out, so if you would like to know more about what I’m talking about below, some of those resources are great first places to look!

This time I would like to use my second AnimSquad assignment to discuss a couple of other concepts in animation.

Enjoy!

Rifle – AnimSquad Expert Assignment 2 – Mentored by Marlon Nowe

1 – Animators are Actors, find the emotion!

Animators, especially character animators, are Actors. If you don’t like that, you’re welcome to read on and learn something.

As animators, it is up to us to sell the performance of a piece. Sure we can sometimes be provided with a storyboard or animatic that suggests some of the key story beats, but how those story beats are portrayed as final actions is up to us (with the directors approval, obviously). And acting all comes from one place – Emotion.

If we are doing a pantomime piece, we need to figure out what the emotional changes are in the piece – is it a transition from happy to sad, bored to excited, a place of calm to a place of pain? And to what extent? Have they just pricked their finger or hit it with a hammer#? How would the contrast between calm and pain differ in each of those examples?

If we are doing a dialogue piece, we need to figure out what the underlying subtext of the text is, and where the energy is coming from. A simple example of this is thinking about the number of ways you could read this line; I didn’t take his money. How would the subtext change depending on the emphasis of the voice actor’s delivery?

I didn’t take his money. – I’m innocent, honest!
I didn’t take his money. – I’m innocent, now stop pushing me!
I didn’t take his money.
– But I did hide it somewhere…
I didn’t take his money.
– I took her money…
I didn’t take his money.
– I took his soulllll, mwah hah hah haaaarrr!!!!!

Either way, the point is this, Animators need to be in the emotional head spaces of their characters. I think I said it in my last post, but all movement is motivated by emotion.

Oh yeah, here it is…

2 – Animators are Actors, so chill the heck out!

There is acting and then there is overacting.

For this shot I filmed my own reference, but also got a friend of mine to film some stuff so I could see a more feminine take on the audio. There was one point in my reference that I really wanted to hit – a look where she says ‘came knocking’. I wanted to screw her face up, almost disgusted by the thought, but my friend went super subtle.

The thought that I had, the pose that I had created and loved, was shot down as being over acting, and Marlon Nowe (my mentor at AnimSquad) loved the subtleties of my friend’s reference.

One piece of great advice I have hear is from Jellyfish Pictures’s Arron Baker. He mentions in an AnimDojo video that an animator shouldn’t shoot reference to the text, but the subtext of a piece.

When shooting to the text, animators tend to spend more time in a headspace which screams ‘WHAT IS THE NEXT LINE AND WHAT SHOULD I DO!!!’ A performance would be stunted and less natural. Try it. Act out in front of a mirror the following line.

“What would you do if someone came knocking?”

Now try to act to the subtext, dont worry about the line, just the feeling of it.

“I’m worried that I might have to sacrifice my own safety to save others.”

Acting to subtext will open up a more naturalistic motion because you are in the emotional headspace of the character. The most difficult part of this is fitting the acting to the beats of the dialogue. This is something I haven’t quite got my head around yet, but with a more practice I hope I’ll get there!

3 – Character Separation

I say character separation, but this concept can relate to anything. Simply put, remember those shots in the Transformers films where everything is happening on screen at the same time. Well I’m talking about that. Or at least the idea to avoid that.

A game of Spot the Autobot.

Audiences aren’t stupid, but most of them only have one pair of eyes, and if you have too much happening on screen at the same time, your audience is going to be unsure where to look, or even worse, be distracted from the purpose of the scene.

In this shot, I have two characters, one reacting to what the other is saying, but my animation was so overacted and overlapping the action of the other character, that it became a distraction. The audience was only going to look in one place, and like a well trained magician (trained? do you get professionally trained magicians?), it is part of our job to direct the attention of the audience.

Simply offsetting these movements, so only one character is acting at a time, really helped the shot work holistically. The audience has time to recognise that the first character’s action is over before looking at the second character.

I had this feedback in my previous piece as well, two hands were moving when I wanted the attention to be on the character’s face. Simply reducing those movements – making them more subtle – turns them into background movements, something there to suggest life but not distracting, which was what my shot needed.

4 – SyncSketch, again.

I mentioned SyncSketch last time, and I’m gonna mention it again.

I noticed during the AnimSquad workshop, that I was getting quite strong, physically. You see, I bought some dumbbells just before Lockdown, and have them next to my desk. Every time I did a playblast of my work, I could either sit and wait, or I could stand and weight!

And I found that I was doing a LOT of playblasts!

But rather than analysing them in Quicktime (which, don’t get me wrong, is a nice piece of kit allowing you to frame through the anim), I found it easier to make notes on SyncSketch. You can watch and scrub through (with audio) and make notes and drawovers.

Again, you can do this in Maya by doing a playblast, throwing that back into Maya as an Image Plane and going at it with Grease Pencil (as shown below), but this adds another step, and is less easy than using SyncSketch.


So that’s it for this part of my chatting… have a great time, and please let me know if you find this sort of info interesting and useful!

Cheers!

Oz

Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 1

Hey guys!

I hope you are all doing well, especially through these unprecedented times. I really hope that you have all been able to be fruitful during lockdown, and as for me, I would like to share a couple of animation things that I have learned through this period.

Before Lockdown started, I had made plans to learn as much as I could and develop my skills as an animator. I had purchased Yuri Lementi’s Animation Box programme, signed up for Marlon Nowe’s AnimSquad Expert Workshop, and discovered that Ken Fountain had added a load more tutorials at Splatfrog.com.

I scoured a load of other online resources, including Sir Wade’s youtube channel, Eddie Chew’s Griffin Academy live sessions, and Blue Zoo’s AnimDojo, which had generously been free throughout lockdown.

All of these are great resources that you should definitely check out if you want to up skill your animation work!

I just want to take this opportunity to share my latest animations and a couple of insights I have gained during this time.

WARNING! This is not an animation tutorial in the sense of how to get timing and weight correct, but a couple of principles I have found deeper than that! I am also writing these down as a way to cement the ideas in my mind and use as personal reference later. If they help you, then that’s amazing also!

Overmind – AnimSquad Expert Assignement 1 – Mentored by Marlon Nowe

This animation was a super fun, super cartoony shot, and my first shot for the AnimSquad workshop. From this, I want to point out four key points.

1 – What is Leading, what is Following?

I remember an animation director once telling me that he could ‘see’ my keys when reviewing my work. What he meant was that my actions all tended to start and end on the same frames, splined together. And, man, it was ugly.

So… say you have two key frames.
These are Story-based keys (which is to say they describe the story of the piece) and not Animation-based keys (which is to say how the how the movement flows – a breakdown).

Lets say a teenage girl looking at her phone – first key. She is then distracted by something behind her and turns to look – second key. We have 20 frames to fill.
Now, if all body parts start moving and ending at the same time, even with anticipation and overshoot, this would look robotic. As humans, we don’t move this way, we tend to lead with certain body parts, getting them into position, then allow the other body parts to catch up.

And why?

Because all human movement is motivated by emotion.

So what does this mean? Well we should figure out, what emotion is motivating the movement and then separated the body parts to start and end at different times in order to relay this emotion.

In my example of the girl and her phone, how would the movement read if her body moved before her head her head moved before her body?

Well, if her body moved first, and then the head, it would suggest more of an interest on whats on her phone, and really not bothered about what’s going on behind her. She’s looking at her phone until the last moment. We would probably get the body into position by frame 5, keeping her head looking down. Then she finally looks up.

A very basic anim to illustrate a point. body leading, head following

If her head moves first, then the body, it suggests that she is more concerned with what is behind her. The head – being the describer of the individual’s attention – looks up quick, and her body then comes into position after. This could suggest she is shocked by whatever it is that made the noise.

A very basic anim to illustrate a point. Head leading, body following

This is basically the idea of overlapping actions, but in a way I had never considered before, and it really helps the movement feel good, flow, and convey emotion.

2 – Separation is a great thing!

So what we have with Leading and Following body parts is separation. And separation can be used with great effect when animating a cartoony shot.

Because of the dynamics of timing and spacing used in this shot – the fact that some movements are super chill, then super fast, then super chill again – I could really use separation to a high degree.

to show the lag on the head, and how it’s translation had been animated

There are parts of this animation where the body moves, but the head lags behind, stays in position before following. And though it might not be physically accurate, it is more appealing to see than if everything was connected – it’s more organic. It also gives us the ability to perform very quick movements without confusing the audience, allowing the audience to recognise a pose before moving on.

3 – Blocked Vs Layered

Now this is all keeping in the same ballpark at the moment. With Lead/Follow and Separation, we aren’t considering the story-telling poses themselves, but how our character is moving from one to the other. This is the idea of adding breakdown, and there are two main approaches to this: blocked and layered.

The blocked approach is the one I am used to. Your keys are set to stepped and you will key all controls on every other frame if you have to (this is called ‘animating on 2s’ – the idea that you leave nothing to chance and sculpt your pose every 2 frames).

This gives a LOT of control over your animation, but you end up with a billion keys that might not work as you had hoped when you go into spline. Therefore, you’re gonna spend a LOT more time polishing your animations, getting each key to behave how you want in relation to it’s neighbouring keys.

This is the approach I am more used to, and tools like Animbot really help here. But the Layered approach seems more fun and free.

Simply put, the Layered approach is like a mix of pose to pose and straight ahead animation. You have your two poses to want to transition between, now you animate straight ahead to get those breakdowns. Nothing is on stepped, everything is on splined, and you grab and move and twist your controls, keying them wherever you like, with no regard to the keys of the other controls.

This seemed really alien to me – and still does – but if you start from the hips and radiate out, you can create some really fluid motions quite quickly, and means that you don’t have to spent as much time in polish as you would with the blocked approach – the polishing is almost part of this method!

This is something I will be striving to incorporate as part of my own workflow, but this will take a lot of time and a lot of practice! So wish me luck!

4 – Re-shoot Reference and Draw Overs.

Let’s change the subject and talk about reference for a moment.

For the most part, reference is meant to be just that, reference. It is not meant to be rotoscoped so that each frame is matched exactly (unless, obviously, that’s what you’re going for), but is there to influence your ideas of key attitudes and little flourishes you may not have considered if you’d just animated from your imagination.

With this in mind, there were a couple of points through this shot where the animation just WAS NOT WORKING. No matter how close to the reference I tried to get it, the movement just looked wrong and ugly. I spent days trying to get one thing right and to a point where it would do, but I wasn’t happy with it.

After having the opportunity to consider what actions I really wanted, I reshot the reference to suit. I reanimated that section and polished it in no time!

It really made me think; there is nothing wrong with re-shooting reference, and would save time in the long run if you’re not happy with what you have.

Obviously there are some movements that work really well in animation, but impossible to shoot reference for. For me and this shot, it was the stylised, arcing arm movements during those fast moments.

I had a plan in my mind – had even drawn out some pencil tests – but getting them to work in Maya was a nightmare! I spent ages posing these movements in Maya, often frame by frame as they were so quick, and still they didn’t work.

an early drawover for the ending


Then it struck me – why spend so long posing when you could do a simple draw over in a fraction of the time? So I made a playblast of the section I was struggling with, got it into a fresh scene (as an image plane), and used grease pencil to sketch out how I wanted it to look. It took me a fraction of the time it would have if I had posed each frame, and allowed me to get a better sense of how the movement would look sooner.

Once I was happy with it, I brought it back into my scene and posed to the sketches.

This worked so well, and saved my so much time! I would definitely recommend doing a quick draw over, frame by frame, using Grease Pencil or SyncSketch if you are struggling with a quick and cartoony movement!

Ok! So there are my thoughts, the first part of my Lockdown Up skill blogs. I hope this has been an interesting read, and possibly helped you in your journey to up-skilling your own animation.

Cheers for reading! See you next time!

Oz

Character Reel 2020!

Responsible for all animation
00:04 – Overmine – AnimSquad Assignment
00:14 – Truth – AnimSquad Assignment
00:24 – Spiderman – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:30 – Splinter Role – Animation Mentor Assignment
00:36 – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:39 – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:47 – Rifle – AnimSquad Assignment

Wowzers, it’s been 2 years since I updated my reel – I almost can’t believe that…

But here we are with a brand new reel, and I’m so excited to share it with you all!

I have really learned a lot in the past 6 months, not only due to the amazing critique from Marlon Nowe, but just a general thirst to learn! I hope to write a couple of blog posts about my experiences and the key things I have learned soon, so stay tuned!

Thanks for watching, God bless!

Oz

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