Human Insult – Animation

After a long day of work, and an hour and a half commute home, the last thing you want to do with your evening is do more work. So I did this during my lunch breaks.

Wow. It’s been a while since I have posted a new animation on here… In fact the last animation I posted was this post from July last year! Does this mean I have been slacking? well… yeah… I suppose so.

A lot has changed over the last year, and I tend to want to do something other than animate in my personal time – hence the posts about writing and illustrations and such. The fact is, when you animate all day, you want to explore over avenues of creativity in your spare time. That is, at least, when you are not exploring in Breath of the Wild or dying in Fortnite.

I’m sure you know how it is.

I have done a couple of animation tests, some dialogue, some body mechanics, but nothing worth showing, just mess-arounds, really. But then I decided to kick my arse into gear and do something new. And it only took me three months to finally get round to finishing it.


I’m a huge fan of the 11 Second Club website. It is a great place to go to test your animation skills and push yourself to do something new. This piece of audio was taken from a show called ‘The Good Place‘ – I haven’t seen it before, but it looks pretty good!

I have wanted to animate something other than the ‘Malcolm’ rig, which tends to be my default for these sorts of things, and this dialogue (the ‘Human Insult’ line in particular) lent itself nicely to trying a new character.

So I searched for any interesting Maya rigs, and found the Cody Dog by Ahmed Elmatarawi and Conan Rig by Tri Nguyen. Both are really great and versatile rigs, so go check them out! I also downloaded a Dog Cage, which is actually nicely rigged, but I cant remember where I got it from!


Here I have included a little progress reel, simply showing the four main points during this workflow. As I have already mentioned, I only spent the occasional lunch break on this, 45 mins here and there, which is why I took me the better part of three months!

The first step was to decide what I wanted to do with the dialogue. I had my initial idea of a dog talking to a man trapped in a cage, but hadn’t figured out staging or anything at this point. So I trapped myself in a small meeting room and awkwardly filmed a quick reference that hit the main acting points; the roll of the eyes on ‘Oh spare me…’, the piousness of the ‘Actual friends…’ and the bite of ‘Ya Basic’. As you can probably tell, I messed the lines part way through the reference, but it was goon enough for the exercise.

Next was the blocking phase – my personal favourite – blocking in the main poses, getting the timing right and making it feel good. However, my main subject of the piece being a dog, and having no reference for such, I had to spend some time online and eventually found some rough, passable references for the motions I needed.

After blocking all of the main poses in, I went through and added as many in-betweens as possible – I’m not the sort of guy who likes to leave the motion to chance, and if that means posing every other frame, then so be it. The only problem with this is when it comes to the next phase – smoothing.

Taking all of those nicely posed, stepped keys and changing them to smooth splines really points out how dodgy some of your keys really are, and to be honest, at this point I very nearly gave up on the piece. In fact I moved onto another exercise for a little while before picking it up again. The smoothing phase is the long task of going through the motion one section at a time, ironing out the keys, pushing the poses and timing and follow through, eventually turning a wild jungle of mislaid keys and erratic movements into nicely slowing animation.

Smoothing takes quite a bit of time, but once I was done, it was time to add a bit of polish, add a bit more life, and an ounce of texture. I also really needed to sort my camera and staging out!

This was all done using an additional animation layer, tweaking the movements and poses in large chunks without disrupting the mess of keys in the original animation. Admittedly, there was a lot of back-and-forthing, tweaking keys on one layer and then the other before I found the sweet spot for the motion I wanted.

When I was happy with the piece, I posted a playblast in a couple of places online, and got some nice feedback, mainly about the ears, tail and hind legs, and once I made these amendments, I jumped to render.

The rendering itself is very basic – literally just an AO pass and block colour pass with no additional lighting or shadow. Comped together with a couple of adjustments, I think it looks quite nice.


And there you have it. The first animation post for almost a year! 😀

I hope you like!

Cheers Guys!

Oz
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Paper Drawing

On May 6th, 2017, I made signed a contract between myself and a lady named Kate which stated that every thing I owned was hers, and everything she owned was mine. That she would look after me during health and the lack of it, in return that I would look after her also. That we would forsake all others, and keep each other till the death parts us. She gained my surname, and I gained a wife.

That was a year ago, and it feels like both a lifetime ago, and last week.

Anniversaries are important things, especially the first, and the major milestones throughout life. They are things that should be celebrated, even if it’s only for a few hours in an otherwise stressful life. and the First year anniversary is dubbed the ‘Paper’ anniversary.

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Wedding Invitation – Ceremony

Now, you may have seen some of the illustrations I created for the big day on the ARTWORK page. This style seeped into every visual aspect of the wedding, from the invites to the table plan to the cake toppers. As such, a year on, it made sense to do another illustration for our Paper Anniversary.

Below are a couple of sketches and studies based on a few favourite photos from our big day. As you can see, the illustration style is a lot more lifelike compared to the illustrations for the wedding.

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And finally the end piece, set in a nice simple frame with a little inscription. I kept all of the other sketches and reference photos and placed them inside the frame as well, just so when our grand kids find it, they will have something else to look at!

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Kate was very pleased by the piece, so I suppose a week of learning how to draw her payed off!

Cheers

Oz

 

DREAD at Nightham Dale

Hey guys, I have been silent for a while, but I feel it is right to give a bit of an update on a couple of things that have happened over the past few weeks. So  first I’m going to start with a game of DREAD I hosted….

DREAD

It was my birthday recently, and as part of this I decided to get a couple of friends around to play an RPG called DREAD. DREAD is a horror-themed tabletop Role Playing Game by a chap called Epidiah Ravachol which is, at it’s core, Jenga with a story.  This is one of the simplest RPG mechanics I know of; tell a horror story, and if your characters want to do something that has a chance of failure, they pull a block from the Jenga tower. If they succeed, guess what – they succeed. If they tumble to tower, their character either dies or goes insane (or some other sort of consequence relevant to their situation). I tweaked the rules a little bit in order to fit my story. There were a few times when I needed to know pull orders, so I added a few d20 rolls to figure out initiatives.

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One thing that is beautiful about the game is that it tends to be a complete one-shot, as most people tend to wind up dead. Because of that, the Games Master has complete control over the rules of the world’s setting and the general narrative. You also have a bare minimum on your ‘character sheet’ – you can get by with nothing but your name and your strengths and weaknesses. Typically, however, because it is less of a combat game and more about intrigue, it’s nice to add in a backstory and any secrets the players may know. In order to facilitate this, and to encourage the players to have ownership of their characters and a slight element of influence over the story, the GM would send out questionnaires regarding player’s characters, with some generic questions for all characters (name, apprentice, character traits, strengths/weaknesses, fears) and some specific questions aimed at specific characters (what do you know about the recent murders in the area? What is it about the hidden ruins that terrifies you so much?). The answers to some of the more specific questions may influence the worlds setting or overarching narrative. This makes DREAD a truly collaborative storytelling experience.

The Characters

I had a number of friends I wanted to invite, mostly just to get an idea of who would be interested. I sent a message out to about 12 people, assuming most of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. 8 people were interested. 8 people wanted to play, to spend a night exploring a silly story and playing Jenga. Now, I am not an experienced GM, and 8 imaginary people in my imaginary world is a lot to keep control of.  And then, part way through the week, I had another friend who wanted to join.

9 players. 9 characters. 9 questionnaires.

I wrote up a springboard for each character describing what has led them all to the same place at the same time. This little piece of prose is intended to set the scene, set the tone and establish connections to the area of the game; Nightham Dale.

Below I have a link to a document that outlines the springboards for each character. These initial ideas changed slightly as the players filled in their questionnaires, but the basis stayed the same into the game.

Nightham Dale – Character Springboards

The Story

The story behind my DREAD game isn’t particularly new or groundbreaking; it involved a ghostly attack on a tavern, a race through the woods, the discovery of an ancient ruin, and the betrayal of a party member. All of this against a backdrop of unexplained murders and the sense of a local cover-up.

Due to the one-shot nature of the game, and the time restraints on the night (not to mention the fact that I had given myself under a week to organise it all), I chose to try to direct the players as much as possible, whilst still allowing them free reign. The issue here is that the story must reach it’s intended conclusion in one night, it cannot run over into ‘the next session’ because there wasn’t one.

It was best that I divide the night into three acts, allowing moments for cliffhangers as we have toilet and drinks breaks. Below I have added a link to the story notes and hope to follow it up with a short account of what happened on that night in Nightham Dale.

(it is important to note that I allowed the Betrayer to choose ‘the song’ that plays when an enemy is near – All I can say is that I really appreciated their choice, and through out the night when I started to sing it, the players all panicked. Great times!)

Nightham Dale – DREAD Session Notes

The Response

On the whole, the evening went well. There were no real mishaps and the characters tended to do what I had expected, with the exception of one or two, who went in completely the wrong direction, and, despite any encouragements to move them back to the group, refused. One lady almost got her face torn off by the ghastly enemies, and two had to be saved by an NPC, and eventually thrown out of the troublesome area.

Due to these mishaps, I had to speed through a couple of sections of the story in order to get them to the final encounter; fights against ghosts as the master of the ghosts is being born into our world via a statues yawning mouth. They also managed to solve the puzzle to defeat the master just before it was fully in this world – after each turn I rolled a d20, this gave me a percentage increase of how far the master was out, once it reached 100% it was Game Over.

I’ve got to admit, some of the people playing were not RPG people. The idea of playing a game inside their imagination was something brand new and, some may say, a little scary. However, even these people got into it after some time, making choices for the group, arguing points and playing their characters well in the situations they found themselves.

The game ended, everyone relieved that they won. Or relieved it was over… I couldn’t tell. They all seemed to have a good time, and we spent a good few hours talking through the games and the characters each player had created. This, to me, was a sign of a good night.

One issue I did note, however, was that one or two players felt as though they didn’t have the space to explore their character’s back story. The reason for the back story was for player’s understanding and ownership of their character, not necessarily to be explored within the game. If I gave 9 players the opportunity to do that, we would need a lot more than one night. Some other players felt as though they were in the back seat for most of it, though I tried to include everyone with their own personal piece of the puzzle.

Still, this sort of thing is to be expected when you are doing a one shot with a high number of player. Next time I will make sure there are only 3 or 4 of us!

Anyway, I have rambled enough for now! Cheers for reading,

Oz

Short Story – The Gambler

Hey guys, it’s been a while since I have written anything, and I know, I have to finish The Climber story, but I have been busty with other projects. One of which is the short story below – The Gambler. It is a story about death, and what could happen beyond. I have written it for an event in Leicester, the theme of which is Life After Death. I will be performing a reading of an abridged version at the event, and also hope to expand on the story, looking deeper at the main character.

Enjoy, and let me know any feedback!


She deals him two cards, face down. The table is dark and cold, but he can see well enough to play. The only problem is, he cannot remember how he got here.

The other players must be hidden in the shadows. He can’t see them, but he can feel their eyes watching him. It’s unsettling, but he straightens his shirt collar and leans forward, hands clasped, elbows on the table. Poker is a game of bluffing; portraying an air of confidence at all times. He knows this too well.

He looks to the cards, face down on the table, then back to the Dealer. She wears a cute slight smile, unchanging on a porcelain face, her eyes cast in black shadow from the light above. She motions to his cards with a white-gloved hand, a well practiced movement, smooth yet sudden. He leans back with a stretch and a smile, glancing around him, cool as could be on the outside, trying to take the measure of the place on the inside.

Eyes back to the dealer.

Right hand on the cards.

Thumb up the corners.

See what he’s got.

The shock on his face is hard to disguise.

He raises the cards more.

On the faces of the cards are no Spades or Diamonds, no Clubs or Hearts. There are no numbers or faces, just a single word on both; ‘Nothing’. It is not the word itself that troubles him, but the terrible feeling that came from seeing it. It fills him with emptiness, as though sucking any joy or any sadness or any life from him, as though his memories are being erased, as though they are worthless. As though he is worthless. The card shows him everything that nothingness is; dull and unfeeling, devoid of life or meaning or consequence. It is the essence of absence; an awful thing to look at and a cruel thing to consider.

“What is this?”, he tries to say. But he makes no sound and the Dealer simply looks at him with those hidden eyes and that painted, unmoving smile. He shrugs it off with a glance either way, the feeling of being watched, of being vulnerable to those violating eyes in the dark, multiplied.

The white-gloved hand starts with a jerk, and hovers smoothly over to the deck. Drawing a card, she glances at it before placing it face up in one of three markings on the table.

The card glows in its place, shining with living shades of luscious greens and rich oak browns. He looks closer and sees an interconnecting tapestry of circles rotating like cogs and gears, each one made of a mix of nature – tree branches turn to reptiles which turn to man which turn to beetles – constantly shifting and winding. On the card he reads the word ‘Reincarnation’.

He looks up at the Dealer, puzzled. Then, from the shadows to the her left, a hand of bone holding two cards catches the light. Behind, a death-head obscured by the inky darkness but there nonetheless, watching and grinning a hidden grin. The thought sends a shiver down his spine.

He thinks he gets it now.

He looks back to the Dealer. He doesn’t know much about reincarnation – that has something to do with Karma, right? Do good things, get good things. Do bad things, have bad things done to you. Something about death and rebirth? But he figures he is safe, that he is, or at least was, a good person.

The Dealer taps the card and the living colours shift and slide, they clear and reform in the image of a small, round pig.

Unamused, he blinks. Twice. Then looks to the Dealer. There must be some mistake. He doesn’t deserve to come back as a pig! He was a good man, he never did anything wrong! Not compared to some of the others he knew – they were scum! He was a saint in comparison with them!

The Dealer holds her hands out, both clasped tight. She opens her right, and reveals two small nuggets of gold, humble but beautiful against the palm of the while glove. Memories flood his mind; beautiful memories of those times he had loved, laughed and truly felt alive. But as she opens her left hand a torrent of black ash and dirt and all kinds of filth wells up, flowing over the palm and seeping between her fingers. He looks to the card and the picture clears and the colours swirl and reform, revealing the image of a worm, small and insignificant, wallowing in mud.

He sits back, dismayed. The judgment is hard, he wants to argue, he wants to shout, but he has no defence. To his left the death-head lets out a chuckle, the sound of rattling bones.

The dealer draws a second card, placing it face up next to the first. This one is glowing like the other, but where the first shone browns and greens, this one shines with brilliant shimmers of gold. As he looks closer to the card, the light warming his face, he loses himself for that moment in a peace and happiness unlike anything he had experienced before. He doesn’t need to see the word written upon the card to know that it reads ‘Paradise’.

He rests back in the chair, his eyes closed, feeling peace flow through him like molten gold, soothing his muscles and calming his nerves. He takes a deep breath, savouring the moment. Who would have thought it? Paradise, heaven, a place of peace and warmth. He had always thought it a fairytale. But then, he supposed, no one could ever truly know what is on the other side of death, except those who have witnessed it first hand. Everything he had seen, everything he had known, was from one perspective, from one side of the veil with no glimmer of what was happening beyond.

When he opens his eyes, he is met with the dealer’s painted smile. She reaches out and presses an index finger to the glowing card. A shiver of dread washes over him. The card starts to spin violently. The yellowy-gold glow of heaven turns to flickering reds and oranges. To accept that there is a heaven is to accept that there is a hell.

At first he goes cold, feverishly so. Small beads of sweat forming on his chilled face. The fiery glow of the card suddenly blots out to a perfect black that seems to draw him in. His ears hear no noise, but his mind is racing with a whirlwind of terrible screams, unspeakable murmurings and the cries of those he once loved. He screws up his eyes, hands against his head, trying to stop the voices, stop the horrible thoughts, stop the disturbing images flashing through his mind.

It was not a physical pain, but it was unbearable nevertheless; an awareness of unending fear – his fear – that fed the card, allowing it to grow larger and larger. The voices grow louder, whispering hidden things into the centre of his mind. Hidden things that he wishes he could unhear. He tries to call out for help, but the Dealer’s faces is awash with images, as though projected from some unseen source, flickering too fast to take note. But he recognises each. All those times he cheated, all those times he argued, lost his temper, lied. Got violent. Hurt people. The black void grows larger, the card now all consuming, dragging him close, sucking him in as he teeters on the edge. He stumbles.

And then it stops. And the death-head unseen in the shadows chuckles again, the sound of cracking of knuckles.

He looks to the dealer. To the two cards on the table. The worm that he could become. The blackness of hell. And it hurt him. It hurt him to know that if either one of these realities were true, then this is the punishment he deserved. All of his life he had been betting on this moment. All of his actions accumulating a debt which must be paid in full if there is any consequence in death.

He looks to his own cards – Nothing.

This is what he had believed.

This is what he had placed his bets on.

And after seeing the alternatives, he hopes like hell that he was right.

But he has two ‘Nothing’s. Two of a kind. He’s got a good chance of winning.

The terrible sound of the death-head’s mocking laughter catches his attention and from the inky shadows two cards hit the table, sliding face up into the light. One reads ‘Hell’, the other ‘Reincarnation’.

Then there is a draw. Two of a kind all round.

The dealer’s shadowed eyes stare directly into his as she slowly draws the next card.

The final card.

The card to win or lose the game.

The card to win or lose his soul.

Please, God, let it read ‘Nothing’!

She raises it.

Reads it.

And the Death-Head chuckles.


Due to the dark nature of the story, the abridged version that I will be reading out at the event has been edited, in collaboration with my wife, to make it more accessible and keep a sensitivity to people’s different circumstances. After all, the aim of this provocative piece is to get people thinking, not to condemn or hurt people. For this reason we have added a foreword and afterword written below. I also wanted to keep it neutral; not ignoring grace, but choosing not to speak of it, as it is not my place to do so, in the context of the story, anyway.


Why do people choose to believe certain things about death?

Is it easier to believe that there is nothing, than to consider something worse?

The following is a piece of written fiction exploring this question.

What would you place your bets on?

It is indeed a scary thought to consider that we may be judged against everything we have ever done. If we were then told that the standard we were to be judged against was the highest possible standard, and that all will fall short, it leaves little room for hope.

On a similar note, to accept that God is real and that the Bible is true, and therefore accept the existence of heaven and of the spiritual realm, in turn means accepting less desirable truths regarding the existence of hell itself.

With this in mind, it may be simply easier for people to pretend none of it is real and that we merely cease to be.

We should also consider that for some, the prospect of eternal life is not a good one. For those who have had struggles in their life, whether physical, emotional or mental, it may be that they simply want life to stop. For them, there could be an anticipation of a peacefulness in there being a complete ending and absolute nothingness at the end of a difficult life.

But what’s the real question here?

If those with faith in God are wrong, and there is no heaven or hell, then they lose nothing. Those without faith gain nothing either but we are all in the same boat, we are all in the same place. However, if those with faith are right, then question stands; what is the consequence of our choice?


I am considering extending the piece, talking more about the main character in his life. I hope to almost double the word count, and then enter it into a few local short story competitions.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy! Have a great day!

Oz

365 CREATIVE WRITING PROMPTS – DAY 6 – HELIUM

Day 6. Another short story. May have got a bit… weird… this time. But all in the name of good clean fun!

6. Eye Contact: Write about two people seeing each other for the first time.

I didn’t quite stick to the brief, but was inspired by, as I had been the other days.

Enjoy.


Helium

Jon can remember the first time he saw him; those big, brown, puppy dog eyes, that wagging tale. He can remember how his heart sank with a weakness that comes from pure, heart breaking love. He was so small, so innocent, so perfect. Jon just wanted to pick him up and squeeze him tight and never let go! He was so agonisingly cute! And Jon’s sister was correct, he would make a perfect replacement for her.

‘May I?’ he asked Mrs Cudgleson as he reached down to pick him up. Mrs Cudgleson nodded her approval. Jon picked up the small, brown puppy and lifted him up above his head, a smile stretching from ear to ear as the puppy hung within his grasp, not fussing, not struggling, not really sure what to do.

Now, readers must be warned – this is not the ‘happy’ part of the story. What I mean by that is that you should be surprised if the puppy survives the first page. I’m sorry. But don’t get too sad; all of  this is just a build up, a background story to help ground you in what happens next.

Mrs Cudgleson’s dog, a purebred of some description (Jon didn’t know about dog breeds too well) called Arianrhod, had a litter of puppies. Jon always considered it rather cruel that a puppy would be split apart from his brothers and sisters from such an early age, but when he saw the tiny creature now in his hands, his heart melted and was overcome with a sense of burning jealousy – if he couldn’t have him, no one can!

‘This one!’ he said to Mrs Cudgleson, a tear welling on his lower eyelids. It was meant to be a request, an offer the he would like to purchase this particular puppy, but it came out rather… rather blunt. ‘I want this one!’

He snuffled his face into the puppies underside in a loving, playful manner, much to Mrs Cudgleson’s disapproval. ‘I shall call you Mr Scruffles!’ Jon spoke triumphantly but with a childish highness in his voice. He continued to fuss and play with his new best friend. ‘Yes I will, Mr Scruffles! Yes I will!’

Mrs Cudgleson gave a loud ‘tut’.

He was right. Mr Scruffles was the perfect replacement for her. The years past and the two were inseparable, as far as work and social events would allow. Mr Scruffles grew into a strong, happy and playful dog of some description (Jon still didn’t know about dog breeds), and where women came and went and relationships crushed Jon just a little more, Mr Scruffles was always there to pick up the pieces.

And so it is understandable that, after five years and seven months together, when Mr Scruffles was crushed under a bin lorry, Jon fell into a deep and pitiful depression. His sister couldn’t cheer him up, the £3,000 compensation received from the council couldn’t cheer him up. He was a mess.

It took him a while before he could face stepping foot outdoors. At first he had no appetite. His sister would bring him food and prepare it in his flat, but he couldn’t bring himself to force it down (no judgement here, either, Jon’s sister was a terrific chef if you considered a frozen pizza in the oven for 20 minutes to be terrific chef-ing – and Jon did). Yet his appetite was not there, and during this period he lost quite a bit of weight.

Weeks passed and he started to consider food again – just picking at it. About a month after and his sister, practising the ‘hard’ sort of love they use in the military or Bond Villain facilities, decided she would help him to help himself by not helping him at all. This didn’t quite work. The food he had was stale and mouldy, but he made of it what he could because he could not force himself to step outside.

As a result of eating the gone off food, he was ill for a week. He lost a bit more weight. Eventually he had nothing, and he needed to (and I mean absolutely needed to) to leave the flat.

He put on some now-ill-fitting clothes and blew out the candles and incense sticks which decorated the Mr Scruffles Shrine, grabbed his wallet and keys and stepped out of the flat.

The sun burned at his face, and he stumbled his first few steps as his vision turned from out of focus (everything is a glaring blur) to a 1980’s style glamorous soft-focus (everyone is slightly more attractive than usual), eventually to a full, crisp 4K vision (life is stained with blemish and detailed imperfections).

The shop was a five minute walk away, but when you haven’t walked for three months, not to mention being practically starved, a five minute walk takes fifteen minutes and feels like two hours. As he approached the storefront, however, Jon stumbled under the weight of a terrible shock.

A child of around 10 years old stepped out of the shop, his mother leading in one hand, a red helium balloon attached by string in the other. In a thick black marker, a face was clumsily drawn on the stretched surface of the balloon, clearly markings of the child’s own creation.

The hair was a mess of scribbled ink, the lips looked like two smiling bananas stretched out, the nose was nothing more than an ‘L’ shape. The eyes were the shape of rugby balls with large circles–

Jon’s heart broke.

Those… big, brown… puppy dog eyes.

The boy and his mother walked past the malnourished Jon, who had stumbled to his knees and stared hopelessly towards the balloon. The boy’s mother tightened her grip and hurried her son past the poor man.

For a short moment Jon pondered the wisdom of following a small boy to ask for his balloon, especially in his current state, which he appreciated looked less than friendly. But the thought that the soul of Mr Scruffles, his dog and best friend, was somehow trapped, imprisoned, within the child’s helium balloon just made sense. He pulled himself to his feet, and followed.

The mother and son combo made their way through the streets to a large and busy high street, passing by pedestrians and shoppers alike. They stopped at the bakers to buy the child a sausage roll (Jon was getting quite hungry now), and another time to look at the books in the window of a charity bookshop.

Jon stayed behind, keeping his distance, but keeping them in sight. He was trying to formulate a plan, but instead his mind was creating crackpot theories as to exactly why the soul of his poor, crushed dog was captured in the prison cell that is a helium balloon. How could this have happened? What did it mean for Mr Scruffles? Too many questions. Jon lost sight of his target. If Mr Scruffles was trapped within the balloon, then the balloon was stopping him from reaching the afterlife, doggy-heaven. Jon spotted a big red face bobbing above the crowd and he made a move.

The soul – Mr Snuffles – for him to be at rest, truly at peace in doggy-heaven, he needs to rise from this world, and that damned balloon was the only thing in his way! That damned balloon was the one thing keeping Mr Scruffles in this world, or even worse – doggy-purgatory!

And then it struck him. A realisation of a deep truth, intrinsically plaited into the microcosm, a vital fact of the universe forgotten or ignored by mankind, a revelation of such power that Jon himself was overcome with the dizziness of it all. That he had been chosen to house this truth, that he should share it with the world.

The doggy-souls long to go to doggy-heaven, which everyone knows is far above the clouds. Their souls rise to that place of peace and eternal joys. Balloons also rise, but only when inflated with helium. Could it be? Is it true?

His voice shook as the words escaped his lips.

‘Helium is made from… souls?’

Jon stumbled under the shock and exhaustion of it all. Yes! It was the only viable answer, the only thing that made sense!

‘Helium is made from souls…’

A little louder now. The people around him were taking notice.

‘Helium is made from souls!’

The truth needed to be know, and Mr Scruffles needed to be released! Take the balloon from the child by any means necessary! Release it into the atmosphere! It will eventually pop and so release Mr Scruffles to doggy-heaven!

Screaming like a madman, Jon ran through the crowd, pushing people out of his way until he got to the child and his mother. The two looked terrified. The mother knelt and shielded her son. Jon wouldn’t hurt the child, or at least that wasn’t the plan.

‘Helium is souls’ he pleaded with here. ‘I need to set Mr Scruffles free! Please, give me the balloon!’

She looked at him, the fear in her eyes made Jon’s heart fill with sadness. This wasn’t what he wanted. Panicked, she gave him the balloon, and in one steady motion, he threw it into the sky shouting ‘Be free, Mr Scruffles! Be free!’

The balloon rose and rose. Then stopped for a moment. Then started to descend. No. Mr Scruffles was a good boy. He deserved doggy-heaven! Then Jon noticed a weight at the end of the balloon’s string – a little pink plastic weight in the shape of a smiley face. It had just touched the ground, the balloon floating above it. Mr Scruffles’ soul longing to be free.

Jon grabbed at the string and tore off the weight. The balloon ascended, ascended. Jon cried out in his pleasure! Mr Scruffles was free!

In all of this commotion, Jon had failed to notice the crowds part. He had failed to notice the sirens as they came closer. He had failed to hear the officer’s warning, and so the pain of the taser came as somewhat a shock.

The questioning cell was dark and cold. Or at least Jon thought it was cold. It felt cold. The walls were grey. The table was grey. The chairs and tape-recorder, the CCTV camera in the corner and little teapot on the table, the stack of Earl Grey tea bags – all grey.  A large mirror set into one wall reflected more grey. Jon had seen enough ‘Hollywood’ to recognise this mirror was not for his vanity. After ten minutes of waiting, the grey door ahead of him opened up, and a suited man entered.

Silently, this stranger took a seat opposite Jon, maintaining eye contact behind shades. As though the room wasn’t dark enough… why would anyone need to wear shades!? Something didn’t feel right to Jon.

He took sight of the strangers right hand. It was clothed in a white latex glove. The sort a doctor would wear when performing a physical. Jon clenched at the thought. But the glove looked somewhat puffed up; inflated.

Using his left hand, the stranger fished a remote control from his jacket pocket, and clicked it towards the grey CCTV camera. The grey blinking light next to the lense went dark. As he did this, his right arm started to rise. The stranger placed the remote on the table and brought the floating hand down with his left.

‘Jon. I assume you know why you are here?’

Jon looked at him with wide eyes. He didn’t. Well… not fully. This was a little extreme for stealing a kids balloon, surely?

The stranger’s right arm started to rise again as he pulled out and flicked through a very thin profile folder. He pulled out a little pink plastic weight in the shape of a smiley face and slipped the connecting ribbon around the ring finger of his right hand. The arm lowered and settled on the table. ‘Excuse that,’ he said, ‘old war injury.’

Jon stared at him. Now he was very uncertain of his mental wellbeing. This was beyond a joke. He looked at the man’s face, imagining sharp, piercing eyes scrutinising him from behind the shades.

‘Jon, My name is Mr Haffleton.’ the stranger spoke in clear, confident words. ‘I represent the Haffleton Latex and Helium Company.’

Jon shuddered. His brain exploded a little bit. He was right!?

Haffleton removed his shades.

Jon wet himself.

Mr Haffleton’s eyes were nothing more than the markings of a thick black marker pen; two eyes crudely drawn onto a smooth, stretched latex skin.

‘We need to talk.’

 

365 CREATIVE WRITING PROMPTS – DAY 3 – The Unicorn.

Now this is what I’m talking about. Short story time. Sorry, but this is a little longer than both my previous attempts put together. It’s not strictly keeping to the inspiration from 365 Creative Writing Prompts, but is definitely inspired by it.

Here you go… Day 3!

  1. The Vessel: Write about a ship or other vehicle that can take you somewhere different from where you are now.

The Unicorn

So, it was a Thursday. Two weeks ago. As far as I knew, it was a Thursday like any other. I was going to get it in the neck from my supervisor that day, and so, yeah, a Thursday like any other.

When I left my flat I was half asleep, not because i’d had a late night or anything, it’s just hard to motivate yourself to get out of bed and walk to the train station when you hate your job.

Now, the houses on the other side of the street are big. I mean massive. And fancy. And in the morning they get all of the sun. I was walking to work in a suit (I mean come on! Who needs to wear a suit to a call centre?) and so stuck to the cool shadows on my side of the street. And that’s when it first caught my eye.

Outside the gate of number twelve, surrounded by bags of recycling and a deconstructed cot, stood a small unicorn rocking horse. It must have been around three feet tall, painted a very light pink with a golden horn and golden base. It’s mane seemed to be a synthetic golden hair of some sort, and on its backside, a love heart was painted in a deep red. It’s eyes were painted too, large and glossy with exaggerated eyelashes.

Then it winked at me.

I could have sworn it. But I told myself it was a trick of the light, a reflection of the sun hitting me at just the right angle, so I walked on.

Leicester Train Station is fairly central to the city. To get there I have a twenty or so minute walk through the spacious Victoria Park and down New Walk – a pedestrianised road with yellow gravel leading between a row of large Victorian houses, most of which have been converted to office blocks or student accommodation.

As I walked along the path between the trees of Vicky Park I smiled my regular morning hello to Mr Bald Man With Dog, tried not to stare at Large Breasted Blond during her morning jog, the same for Brunette With Nice Arse, who followed shortly on her daily exercise. I watched as the squirrels scrambled their way up the trees and into the litter bins. Standard morning routine. But then I stopped and stared in disbelief: in the children’s play area, partially obscured behind a roundabout that slowly squeaked to a halt, almost as though it had been hiding, a small, pink unicorn rocking horse with big, painted eyes and a red love heart on its backside.

Well… needless to say, I was pretty creeped out by this. I shot a glance around me, nothing out of the usual and no one waiting around the playground. It was a coincidence, I convinced myself, nothing but a coincidence. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me walking with a little more urgency.

Halfway down New Walk, a small bridge goes over Tigers Way – a short dual carriageway gridlocked at this time in the morning. On the bridge, a litter bin stands proudly next to a bench which is usually surrounded by homeless or alcoholics. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you, the damned unicorn was stood on the bin, facing up the path, looking at me.

I saw it from a way off, stuttered my walk for a brief moment, but resolutely walked on, keeping it in the corner of my eyes at all time.  As I came closer, a bead of sweat trickled down my face. It was the same as before. The same pink. The same eyes. The same love heart on its backside. I tensed and rushed past, half convinced it would attack me if I got too close.

A moment later I glanced over my shoulder and a shuddered. It was still there, but now facing down the path. Towards me.

Never before had I actually wanted to get to work fast!

Fear took over. I legged it. By the time I made it to the train station my heart was pounding in my ears and I struggled to breathe. I removed my jacket and unbuttoned the top of my shirt. I glanced at the timetable. My train was due any moment now.

I dared not look around in case I saw the unicorn here. I made my way through the turnstiles and onto the platform, taking deep breaths to calm my heart and myself. Who could it be, I wondered, surely this entire thing was an elaborate prank set up just for me! I laughed at the idea. This was ridiculous!

I glanced along the platform as the train arrived. At the end, a small, pink unicorn rocking horse stood. A cold wave of dread rushed over me, but I forced myself to laugh. There was another one here, I told myself. Whoever was behind this must have hidden them all over the city. It must have taken ages. Must have cost an arm and a leg. I shook the fear from myself and, with a smile, got on the train.

The train to Nottingham takes around 30 minutes. I found a seat and within seconds had fallen asleep. The morning had worn me out; the fear, the running, the ridiculousness of it all! I was out cold.

I only woke around 5 minutes from Nottingham Station because an employee of the train line came to collect litter. With blurry eyes I adjusted to my surroundings and came back to my senses. Not soon after did I see the tuft of golden hair peeking over a seat a few rows ahead of me.

You have got to be kidding me.

The object behind the chair continued to slowly rise. A pink head. A golden horn. Those large painted eyes. Looking directly at me.

The train came to a stop. Enraged, I stood and marched to the seat where the unicorn had been.

Nothing.

I shook.

I ran.

I did not stop until I was at work, seated at my booth. I saw it five times on the way, but I did not stop. I sat with my head in my hands, breathing quickly and shallowly. I was panicked but I was safe.

He must have said my name three times before I realised he was there. Mr Foreman, my supervisor stood over me. He was a little weed of a man, a few years younger than myself, sleazy and greasy to look at.

‘Henry! You’re down on your quota for the third month!’ One moment he had a hand full of papers, the next they were thrown in my face and scattered on the floor around me. ‘I look at these figures and I think why do we even–’ he paused and looked at me. ‘You alright?’

‘I’m… I don’t know, Mr Foreman… I have just been–’

‘Anyway,’ the prick cut me off and gestured to the papers on the floor. ‘I look at these figures and I wonder why we even pay you! You, Henry, are worthless to us right now. Worse than that, you’re costing us money and we are getting nothing in return!’

People started to notice now. Colleagues stood to look over booth walls, agape and watching. Embarrassed, I looked away and caught sight of the window. I almost threw up. There it was, that bastard unicorn on the other side, perched on the windowsill. How the hell did that happen? We are on the tenth floor!

I stood, eyes wide at it, speechless.

‘Look at me when I’m talking to you!’ Mr Foreman continued, ‘You’re an expense, Henry! And one we could do without! If you don’t get your act together and start showing us some figures, you’re out!’ I didn’t react. ‘That’s it! You, in my office. Now.’ Then he leaned in and sneered in disgust. He took a deep breath through the nose. I was wet with sweat. ‘You stink.’ he said as he straightened himself. ‘Sort your life out. And pick up those papers.’

As he left, I turned to the window. It had vanished.

‘Where is it? Where has it gone?!’ I shouted. My colleagues sunk their heads into their monitors, ignoring me. ‘The unicorn! It was right there a moment ago! Where did it go!?’

No answer. I fell into my chair and wiped my brow. I folded my arms on the desk and rested my head. I forced myself to breathe deeply, to calm myself. Then, from behind me, I heard a noise.

‘Psst…’

The sweet and innocent voice gave me a fright! I jumped around and cried at what I saw. There, in my very cubicle, was the pink unicorn rocking horse. And it spoke to me in naive, stuttered words.

‘D-d-don’t worry, Henwy.’ it said. A tear of terror fell from my eyes. The unicorn rocked slightly as it spoke in its soft candyfloss tones. ‘I… I ‘m here to h-h-hewp.’

Quickly I glanced about the office. Everyone was hard at work, eyes at monitors, headsets on. I looked at the– the thing in front of me.

I leant lower, not wanting to get close..

‘What… are you?!’ my voice was shaking. So was the rest of me.

‘I’m y-your way outa h-here, Henwy!’ It gave a rock and shook its mane. The golden hair flowed in an appealing way and settled into position. A slight smile escaped me.

‘What?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know what you mean. What are you going to do?’

‘You know that… that p-pwace you dweam of? W-with the grassy fiewds and the f-fwowing wivers? You cawl it Dandwia?’

I stared in disbelief. Dandria. It was indeed a land I visited in my dreams.

‘I never told anyone about that… How do you know about that?!’ I struggled to keep my voice down, then gave another check around the office. Foreman was glaring at me from across the room. I turned back to the unicorn. ‘What are you talking about!?’

‘I know you, Henwy. I know awl abowt you. I am fwom Dandwia, the land in your dweams, and I can take you there, now!’

This was impossible. I looked over, Foreman was making his way towards me and he looked pissed!

‘Now!’ the unicorn said, ‘Henwy, we need you! You must do exactly as I say!’

In a confused panic, I agreed.

‘G-g-good! Now hurwy, get on my b-back. I need you to r-rock me, hard! The quicker you rock me, the faster the m-magic will work!’

I did as it asked, I sat on the three foot unicorn’s back and started to rock. Ahead of me I saw Foreman start to run in my direction.

‘Hawder, Henwy, rock me Hawder!’ the unicorn cried out. My colleagues were starting to move now, they all stood in shock at what was happening.

I sat on the little unicorn and rocked harder, and harder! ‘It’s not working!’ I called out. Foreman was on me now, shouting at the top of his lungs.

‘M-mr Fowman is in the way! Get rid of him!’ the rocking horse shouted, ‘Use the bin!’

I stood from the Unicorn with my waste paper basket in hand and with a smooth sweep brought it down hard on my supervisor’s head. It connected with a crack and a cry, and the gasps of my colleagues. They called out for security.

‘Now rock me, Henwy!’ I sat and rocked the rocking horse as vigorously as I could. ‘I-it’s working!’ it yelled. And with no better timing. The elevator doors had opened and two burly security guards stepped out. One colleague stood pointing at me, and as soon as they saw me, the guards started to run.

I rocked harder.

I felt… I felt the magic. And then…

And then the security guards tackled me. They wrestled me to the ground and pinned me there until I stopped struggling. Eventually they picked me up and lead me out. As I passed the window, I saw the pink unicorn swaying pleasantly outside the office window. It was laughing at me! The little prick! It somehow managed to mouth something obscene at me and continued to laugh as I was escorted away.

‘… and that was how I got fired.’

The receptionist looked at me, disbelievingly. She held my resume in her hand.

‘Don’t you think you need to… you know… get help?’ she asked.

I laughed. ‘That’s what my last place said, but the shrink found nothing wrong with me. I think the most confusing part about it all was that later, everyone in the office agreed that they had seen the pink unicorn rocking horse, but no one knew how it got there or where it went after I was tackled by security.’

‘So,’ said the receptionist, ‘you mean to tell me that this… this really happened?’

‘Yeah. oh… and the next day I got a letter through my door.’ I withdrew a folded piece of skyblue paper from my bag. It had the naive design of a sunny day over grassy fields and flowing rivers. I passed it over to the receptionist, her long, bright red fingernails scratched my skin as she took it from me.

She unfolded it and read out loud. ‘Henwy, you should probably get yourself checked, I wasn’t wearing protection.’ She looked at me. ‘It’s signed with a red love heart.’

(c) Oz Durose 2017

 

Haha! Fun times! I was thinking about that all day! Glad I got it out. Once again, it is not edited or even re-read, so sorry if it is all over the place.

Let me know what you think!

Cheers,

Oz

Character Design – Spies!

Hey guys! So recently I have really enjoyed coming up with ideas for children’s animated TV series.

Developing ideas, characters and narrative is something I can really sink my teeth into. Not only do I love the literary work, but as an animator and illustrator, I love designing the characters as well!

Below are two characters from my second pitch idea for 6-12 year olds which is still in development (send me a message if you are a producer or commissioner and would like to see my first pitch). I thought I’d share the design process with you guys!

Bro_Sis - Copy

This is Josh and his AI counterpart Sally. Together they are a dynamic team of stealthy cyber-security spies. Josh is a school-boy coding genius who can hack anything, Sally is his programme, who can enter the cyber-world and defeat threats there.

Josh

So with the purpose of Josh’s character, I wanted someone like a teenage Sam Fisher from the Splinter Cell game series. I spent some time looking at similar sort of characters in modern entertainment – I took reference from Spiderman (especially the Humberto Ramos designs), Hiro from Disneys Big Hero Six, Car Noir from Miraculous, and Tracer from Overwatch.

I had in mind how I wanted him to look roughly. The body type, the look of the face. I also knew that this guy needed a visor, and so I started by throwing out several faces and body styles, designing the hair, visor and costume.

Josh_01_Face
Face types, hair exploration and visor design sketches.

Josh_02_Body
Various body designs, looking at a range of ages and cartoon styles.

Once I had explored a couple of style options, I settled on a bodytype and developed a couple of the sketches.

Josh_03_Develop
Three developed ideas

Settling on the last guy, I got down to finalising and colouring the design.

Josh_05_ProcessA

From the base sketch, I drew the lines, added the base colour, then a couple of lighting layers including directional and back lights, and went through adding more detail. including some geometric/digital details on the visor.

Josh_06_Final
Josh Final Design

Sally

I went through a similar process with Sally. She is quite a sociable personality and would be a popular girl in the real world, but I didn’t want to make her too sexualised. She’s kinda like a bossy older sister to Josh, who gets annoyed with her from time to time. She is very superficial, but an effective fighter. Once again, I had a body type in mind, and loved the idea of wild, frizzy pig-tales.

Sally_01_Face
face types and hair exploration

Sally_02_Body
body, personality and costume exploration

As you can see from above, at this point I wasn’t sure whether to take her down a programme or personality focused character. Whether to dress her in a basic dress, as a normal teen, or as a spy.

I loved the idea that she is not just support for Josh’s spy endeavours, but an active part of the anti-virus team, and as such, she needed to be as active as a spy as Josh.

Sally_03_Develop
Three developed ideas

Full of action, full of attitude, full of cool abilities and gadgets! The only question was if she had a warm and kind personality, or a cold and determined one. She needed to be both, but for this image, I wanted to capture her happy side.

Sally_05_ProcessA

So I started the process of finalising the design. I cut and pasted the sketch image from the three different designs I had developed, and worked out the lines. I knew I wanted her to be that stereotypical digital green colour, but with different values pointing out different parts of her suit. I also wanted splashes of colour to break up the wall of green. after all of this, I tried out an Ambient Occlusion Pass, as she wouldn’t need shadow, added a few glows, and finally added digital details, like subtle binary and hologram lines.

Sally_06_Final
Sally Final Design

Final Thoughts

I have loved creating these characters, and cant wait to develop the rest of the world and their story. Eventually I will create a pitch bible and try to get the animated series made. But that’s for the future to decide.

For now, I am enjoying the process.

Any questions? Any comments? Any contacts to the heads of major animation production companies who would like to fund development of my ideas? Feel free to give me a shout.

cheers

Oz

Many Apologies… and a couple of pictures

Apologies

So first I have to apologise. It has been far too long since I have worked on my webcomic Mr Think. I posted page 16 a couple of weeks ago, and I am halfway through page 17, but it has been months since I have regularly posted. I am looking forward to finishing the 21 pages of the first issue I have promised myself, but I have been distracted of late.

The reason being? I’ve been working on something else in my spare time.

Pitchin’

As an animator, I love watching cartoons, and it is a dream for me to work on a fun, well received children’s animated series. Even more of a dream for me is to be able to create my own.

And so that is what I have done. Well… started on the journey towards anyway.

Over the past few months, my evenings have been consumed by constant drawing and writing. Recently I have finished what is known as an Animation Pitch Bible – a short document outlining the series, the characters and potential episode springboards. I have also written a 35 page Speculative Script for the first episode, which, to be honest, I’m quite happy with!

Now I’m not having a false sense of grandeur here – I know it will probably not sell. I know that producers see thousands of Pitch Bibles each year, and that out of them, very few are chosen to be developed. This is my first attempt at something like this, and I have learned a lot on the way. I have really enjoyed myself during the process, and so if this idea gets picked up – Excellent! – if not – no worries. there will always be new ideas and new pitches, and with each one I am certain to learn something important!

Still. It would be amazing to get this up and running!

For now, though, I’m gonna keep the series hush hush.

Critter Deck

CritterdeckOzd

So, in case you haven’t seen from my previous blog posts, I listen to Critical Role, a show where nerdy voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons. The ‘Critter’ community is massive, and my twitter feed is constantly buzzing with fan-art of the show. One watcher decided to create a ‘Critter deck’ challenge – where critters draw themselves as DnD characters.

Here is my portrait of myself as an Orc. It took me a couple of hours over a couple of lunch-times to do, and i realised how out of practice I am with the whole digital painting thing, but I’, happy with the result.

 

Other Stuff

Here are a couple of pictures I have done over the past couple of weeks. A couple superheroes, a lemoncello and a couple of fantasy images.

 

What’s next?

Well it’s been a while since I have done any prose, and I have a pretty cool idea for a short story I want to write out properly. I’m going to get back onto Mr Think and finish this issue and get round to writing the rest of the story (I’ve had so many ideas for this guy, I wish I could do each page faster!).

The thing is, I have really enjoyed writing the speculative script, and if I could get on board with some freelance work writing episodes, that would be amazing! and from what I can see, the best way to do this is by writing speculative scripts for pre-existing shows.

That originally sounded like ‘Fan-Fiction’ to me. And to an extent, it is. But something with a bit more weight behind it. So I’m going to see what I can do and try to get it out there.

Thanks for reading guys, I hope you enjoy my illustrations, and if you have any comments, or if you are a producer of animated series and want to see the pitch, please get in touch!

Cheers

Oz!

 

PRODUCTION DIARY OF [CENSORED DUE TO NDA] – WEEK 4 – Smacking Ones Head Against UE4.

Calamity Joe, the smart git, chose to do all of his Cinematic work directly in UE4.

I mean, ok, he is a young intern fellow, full of optimism and willingness to learn. So the opposite of myself. I have over 8 years experience in the animation industry. I am used to animating every detail in Maya (or 3Ds Max) and rendering it out from there. I am used to the standard 30fps, some room for editing and tweaking things in post.

Great stuff.

Do I know games engines? No.

Or at least I didn’t.

Not until about 6 months ago when I was rudely dropped into Animation Blueprints and a whole world of ungodly foulness that felt like playing with lego, blindly in the dark expecting something magic to happen when you turned the lights on. And now something completely different: Sequencer.

BluePrintA
An Animation Blueprint. This sequence of nodes tells the character to do something, apparently.

BluePrintB
Another Animation Blueprint. This sequence of nodes tells the character to do something else.

Now I have to admit, after a little while of pretending to be a Technical Animator (that is to say someone whose job it is implementing individual animations into a game), I managed to learn quite a bit, though I still wasn’t sold on it as a career direction.

Unreal Editor’s Sequencer

In UE4, the Sequencer Editor gives the user a way to create and edit in-game cinematics. You are given a simple timeline within which you can import “Shots” – other timelines which hold any information specific to that shot. In these “Shots” you would have any actors you need (and in this case actors means anything doing something – ie, characters, cameras, particle effects, ect), and manipulate them as you wish. Each Actor is represented as a new layer in the shot’s timeline, and you can add any property belonging to that actor as an animatable “Track”. By means of an example, say your actor was a light that you wanted to move into a certain position and blink. You would add a ‘Transform’ track, which holds all of the translation and rotation information, and a ‘Light Intensity’ track to control how bright the light is.

Sequencer
The sequencer with a few Keyframes. Censored due to NDA, Obvs.

With these individual tracks, you can now scrub your way through the timeline, stopping where you want something to happen, add a keyframe with a click of a button, and boom, you’ve got your simple animation, you lucky devil, you!

Now this is all pretty basic from an animation point of view. Sure, it is really impressive to chop and edit shots with other shots without having to shift a bajillion keyframes from one place to another, and yeah, the addition of its own curve editor makes it really easy to manipulate the flow of each animation track, but that’s just like playing with After Effects, only fully in 3D.

Sequencer_Curves
The curve editor, showing some of it’s tasty curves.  This is actually better than the After Effects curve editor, if you ask me.

When it comes to character animation, though, it is definitely worth doing all of that in Maya or Max. Do you’re little walk cycle, or little fight sequence or whatever, and export each character’s animation as you would for normal games animation. You can then add this whole animation as a block into one of the shots. In fact you can add two animations as blocks into a shot! Screw it! have as many animations as you want, coz you can blend between them! Want your walk to turn into a fight scene? Simple, blend it! Don’t like where your actor is walking? Fine, animate it’s transform track and deviate his movement. The more I think about this, the more I am impressed by it and consider it a great tool for getting together some quick and easy animations.

Issues

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that, not for me anyway. Being well established in my ways, there were things I wanted to do that I couldn’t. Or I could, but the entire thing was hacky or clunky to use. Simple things like making the viewport show you EXACTLY what you’re render will see, setting up and locking a frame dimension that won’t scale weirdly as the viewport changes. Getting the viewport to show me the Field of View on a per-shot basis was my biggest frustration. I had a lot of shots that worked well in Maya, with the camera position and field of view set up. However easy translating that info into UE4 was, scrubbing through just seemed to stick with one FOV. It was only when I rendered the sequence that I realised this wasn’t the case.

I had it on occasion when certain actors not placed into certain shots would find their way in there anyway, standing T-posed in the middle of the action. Once again, this would not come up in the viewport, but render only. To get ride of these, I had to turn the actors invisible.

Lastly, due to the nature of games engines which run in terms of seconds rather than frames, there is a slight motion blur flash when actors step from one position to the next. This is most prominent on the cuts, where the master camera is moving from one position to the next. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to troubleshoot this issue, and so will have to throw the rendered video into Premier to edit them out.

Post Effects

I have to admit, however, one thing that I have really enjoyed is the ability to create post effects live on a 3D scene. Typicaly if you wanted to render out depth of field or change the scene’s lighting, you would have to re-render entire shots, or render out a separate pass (a layer that would be used in compositing/post production phase). With the in-built camera effects, Post Process Volume assets, Atmospheric Fog effects among other things, you can do pretty much anything you could in After Effects directly in engine, in REAL TIME!

Shocked Face.

Colour correction, camera shakes, even adding particle effects like explosions or gunshots are as easy as dragging and dropping the required effect into shot and attaching them to the required bone or socket.

Now I’ve got to say, I have only experimented with this, using the basic presets and not delving too deep in how UE4 can be used as an effective and time saving tool for Previs, Cinematics and animation production. I havent even looked into integrating sound effects! But when I look beyond the flaws I have found and learn to use it as it is intended (rather than trying to shoe-horn a Maya scene and workflow into an engine), I think this has a lot of potential, and look forward to delving a little deeper into what UE4 has to offer visual storyteller.

 

Anyway, that’s it for this little four week experiment. Hopefully next I’ll get round to doing a bit more fiction. We will see.

Have a WONDROUS weekend, Y’all!

 

Oz

PRODUCTION DIARY OF [CENSORED DUE TO NDA] – WEEK 3 – Mocap to Character, Previs and Mistakes.

Let me start by saying this.

Directing a mocap shoot is fun. It’s tiring – I mean it really took it out of me – but it was fun.

Sifting through all of the data, trying to find the best take is not fun. It’s just tiring.

I suppose it is like sifting through hours upon hours of film footage, watching the same shot again and again until you have decided which take you prefer. In fact, that’s exactly what it is.

Luckily I had my trusted spreadsheet. I had made a couple of notes here and there to help me know what I was looking for, and which takes I preferred during the shoot. Though I have to admit, I ignored this once or twice, choosing other takes over the ones I had previously suggested.

From Mocap To Maya

It took me a couple of days to export all of the takes I felt I wanted. In MVN Studio, exporting an fbx is easy, and when brought into Maya would either be shown as a HIK (HumaIK) skeleton, or a bunch of Locator nodes in a hierarchy (depending on your export settings).

Transferring the data onto the character rig using HIK is as simple as creating two character definitions, one for the character rig and another for the mocap, and setting the character definition to be driven by the mocap definition. If I set this up with the character and Mocap data referenced into a file, I can replace the referenced mocap with a new one, and the whole thing would work nicely, without having to set up the definitions for every file.

When working with a character that has its own control rig, all you need to do in addition to above is parent/point/orient (depending on any hidden or frozen channels) constrain the controls to the HIK rig being driven by the mocap data.

Finally you can bake the Mocap data onto the HIK rig it is driving, move those keys out of the way (the data I was dealing with tends to like to start at frame zero, and referenced keys dont like to be shifted, so shift them out of the way, usually sub-zero), replace the reference with the next load of Mocap data, bake to rig, shift it, replace mocap, bake it, and so on and so forth.

Now I know this may all sound like a confused blur, especially if you are not familiar with Maya. but that’s fine. I’m happy for you to gloss over that bit. The truth is that all week I have been working with mocap data which has been slow and quite irritating to work with, and now I am tired and fairly desperate to get away from the computer for the day! I’m literally writing this, not as a tutorial, but as a way of covering the bases.

One this is for sure, I miss key-frame animation.

Previs

So Layout, in case you’re not aware, is basically the term used for placing cameras, whitebox environments and characters in place, creating a scene that will eventually feed through to the final piece.

Myself and our Intern, Calamity Joe, decided we would do the layout in two different ways. Calamity would get everything into Unreal Engine as soon as he could, opting to use the Sequencer to create the layout. instantly he has the animations, and can seamlessly blend from one to another if he needs to edit them. He can place the characters on a per-shot basis, with great looking lighting and atmosphere effects at the click of a button. He can choose to edit his scene in the Sequencer Timeline as simple as pushing shots around in and editing software.

I, on the other hand, decided to be old school and do everything in Maya.

Big mistake.

On top of that, I chose to do everything on a per-character basis rather than a per-shot basis, meaning I am compiling the entire sequence of shots in one maya file for Hero-A (name changed due to NDA) and a second maya file for Hero-B (name changed due to NDA), opting to reference the Scene file (which has the camera work and prop layout in it) and any other files I need into the files I was working for.

Now I know that doesn’t read well. I reads as straight forward as the process feels.

Bangs head against the wall.

And Why? why bother doing it this way and give myself a headache? Well, my background is in hand-keyed animation. When doing layout with hand-key, you have full control over timing, positions, movement. You can tweak as you go if you’re not happy with something, but when you have mocap data to deal with, especially mocap data that doesnt fit with the timings you’re after, it’s really not that simple any more.

But do you know what? Despite flipping from file to file, chopping up motion and roughly sticking it together, despite spending ages waiting for keys to shift or scale, I’m quite happy with the outcome; the layout looks like the storyboard, and though I know certain motions need to be cleaned up, or transitions need to be made smooth, as proof of concept, the piece works.

An Iterative Process

My favourite element in all of this has been sorting out the cameras. I love being able to  frame what the audience will see, to tell stories with how action is framed, and also use tools like focal length to draw out different feelings in the shot. I know the camera work will need to be recreated in UE4, and that’s fine, but all of the creative work is done, and the because of this, the layout works.

Now you cant animate the cameras before you have the characters in, otherwise you are not sure what you’re shooting, and you cant finalise the characters until you have a decent camera pass. As such, this was a very iterative process, getting the rough estimations down, planting where the camera could be, then playing with the characters, tightening up the cameras, then tightening up the characters. Going back and forth until I had something more polished than it was before, seeing things that weren’t working suddenly look good.

And after all, isn’t that what the creative process is all about? Start off messy and sculpt the lines. My old tutor, he’s not on our project, so I have no need to give him a false name, but I like to do that anyway so lets call him Harvard Tewkesberry, once told me that animating is like making a cake – you have to get the cake down first – that is the main bulk of substance – before you do the icing – that is the detail and polish. And for me, making a cake has always been a messy affair.

Still, I am encouraged when ever I see something go from being a complete mess to being a cake. Something of substance. Something that looks good, and has potential.

And that’s where this project is up to now.

I am going to do some tweeks and get a playblast into Premier Pro, where I will try to tighten the edit, make it look and feel better, I will then make any changes required in Maya, and get things ready to throw into engine next week.

Sleep time now.

Oz Out.