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2016 Reel September

This updated 2016 reel has more of my work from my time at Alt.vfx. It showcases my hand-keyed animation as well as cleaned motion-capture and facial-capture data.

My co-workers at Alt were very supportive of my future endeavours and secretly updated my reel for me as a departing gift.

Here you can see my demo reel breakdown:

drb_stephanietomoana

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I’m Working at Dneg!

That’s right! Not only did I move from Brisbane to Vancouver but I got a job at the exact company I was aiming for – Double Negative Visual Effects!

I’ve been interested in working for them ever since I saw their work on Inception (2010) and then Eva in Ex Machina (2015).

Click here to see what is in production currently.

Currently I’m in my third week there working on a film (oooh mysterious!). It’s a much bigger facility than I’m used to with about 400 employees in the Vancouver office but everyone I’ve met there is totally lovely.

They’re teaching me how to use Linux and how to handle viewing my shots on a bigger screen without cringing.

Bit by bit, I will teach them about my punny sense of humour. I don’t want to PUNish them too quickly.

Animating A Fight

Down time. It’s what you get when you have a break between ads (isn’t that ironic?).

The by-product is you’re itching like a flea-ridden woolly jumper to do something that keeps you on your toes.

A little while ago when I had down time back in Brisbane and was hunting around with my itchy jumper on, I came across this series of videos from Animation Mentor called “Anatomy of a Fight”. I watched them all and found they were fascinating body mechanics to study.

I’ve loved UFC for a while now and always admired how they can create so much force with a strike. If it weren’t for the fact that I need my money makers (my hands), I would actually take up MMA as a hobby. But never fear! As an animator, we have a tool called the computer that will let you try out your hobbies risk free!

Well, RSI and obesity caused by a sedentary lifestyle aside, practically risk free. So why not save my hands in the short term and just punch something digitally?

SKETCHES

Per usual, I started my study with thumbnail sketches of fighters in action.

sketches_fighting

I was pretty happy with them. Fighters can be as graceful as dancers I found.

STRIKE

I decided to start with a punch or strike first as a test.

I found an elbow strike that I really liked from this video. I chose it because the camera was fairly still, the movement was quick and it looked like the striker wasn’t holding back too much in delivering force:

strike_post

Source: Youtube.

Using the lessons I’d learnt from the videos, I tried to convey the power in the reference while animating. I used the gorilla rig at work from the Vellfire ads to animate my strike along with the reference.

playblast_strike_plate

As you can see the animation follows the timing of the video but exaggerates the poses on some of the extremes for more impact. Like a lot of realistic animation, if you don’t wind up the poses and just follow the reference exactly, the animation feels quite vanilla.

You can see above that most of the exaggeration involved twisting the torso more and changing the angle of the shoulders.

And here’s how it looks from the front with my grease pencil notes.

playblast_strike_notes

I couldn’t see the feet so I assumed there could be a step for a weight change and made sure to capture the snap in the hips.

I never realised how important your core is for driving the slingshot movement of a hit until I watched that series of videos I mentioned earlier. Dr. Stuart Sumida said (basically) for punches:

Your arm isn’t actually where you get the most power. If you just used your arm to punch, you’d look like one of those kangaroo pens with boxing gloves. *Which are awesome in their own right. Hours of entertainment on a writing utensil? Yes please*. Nor is your shoulder the actual base of the power.

It all starts at the root of the chain. So if you can whip the root of the chain around first, your secondary links (your core, your shoulder, your fist) will also follow through like a whip, delivering more force for you to whip it good. *Dun na na na nah! Dum, pshh, dum, pshh.*

KICK

Then after that test I started thinking about kicks.

A great reference for kicks (or any fight sequence for that matter) can be found in the movies of the legendary Jackie Chan. This video not only explains how he achieves such perfect action-comedy fight sequences physically, but how he films them as well:

I decided to focus on finding a kick of Jackie’s that I like with an extra gorilla in there for the sake of showing impact and found this one:

wb_post_kick

Source: Youtube.

I liked it because it has the little hop before the kick where his screen left leg scrunches up and then POW! snaps out.’

Using this video reference I planned it out with thumbnails.

sketches_sidekick

Then I used the video ref to create help with the timing of the stepped blocking and came up with this:

wb_playblast_blockingkick

With a bit of re-timing and polish, I finished with this:

wb_playblast_kickpolish

Not perfect (even now I can see potential tweaks) but it was an exercise so I’ll forgive it.

Luckily my lead animator Chris was on hand to give me tips on the timing and how to make the impact of the screen-left gorilla hitting the wall jolt more realistically. Really throwing the head back and then jolting it forward two frames later makes the impact feel more intense. I did a bit of that on the legs too, making them have some rebounding action off the floor.

With the screen-right (SR) gorilla, it was hard to not make him feel too snappy when he extends that leg for the kick. I had to slow down the SR arm by a frame or two so that the spacing wasn’t too far and the arm didn’t whip back and forth like Willow Smith’s hair.

What Dr Sumida (roughly) said about kicks is also true:

wp_hiptorque

Guess when it comes to finding power in fighting you could TORQUE about hips all day huh? AHHHHHHH *badum tsshhh*.

SEQUENCE

I ended my experiments with fighting there but if I could keep going in my spare time, I would aim to do something like this:

https://gfycat.com/ifr/EverlastingLinearAtlanticsharpnosepuffer

This is one of Steve Weebly’s animated loops (you should totally check out his website for more).

They’ve been travelling around the internet so you may have seen this already but all of his animated loops are AWESOME.

I liked the choreography of the fights so much that I actually sent him an email to ask him how he does it.

To paraphrase his answer, he talked about scribbling down all the ideas he would like to see come to life in the sequence, selecting the ones that work best. Then once you pick the first move, it’s just a matter of figuring out how many of those actions you can fit in so that it finishes somewhat similarly to the first move. After that, animate away!

The whole method sounds like figuring out the steps to a dance (which could be a little complicated for Miss Naturally Clumsy of the Year over here). Yet the idea of trying out a whole sequence one day sounds really fun.

Hopefully someone else reading this might decide to try it too!

Happy animating!

That’s My Purple Hair in the Newspaper!

An article was published this week in the Courier Mail about how the Pepsi Momotaro ads in Japan (recently starring Jude Law) have helped Alt.vfx to increase our clientele.

They pulled up a few of us artists to pose for a photo with Oni figurine that features in all the ads.

That’s right, one of Alt’s creatures is a figurine sold by Pepsi.

And they needed someone holding white to hold the Oni so yeah that’s me!

wp_post_newspaper

The article can be found here (with a subscription and sometimes you can view it on Google Chrome):

http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/altvfx-has-won-big-deals-and-new-clients-after-momotaro-commercial-in-japan/news-story/870d7836216338b3803f7f37af90218

And the fourth episode of the ad they’re referring to can be found here:

Pepsi Strong – Momotaro Episode 4 from altvfx on Vimeo.

I did some very basic tweaks to the Oni and the animated bottle at the end (best bottle turn ever) so full credit goes to the rest of our amazing artists who worked on it.

Great work team!

10 Gems of Knowledge You Should Know Before Directing

This past weekend I attended a short course through AFTRS (Australian Film Television and Radio School) called ‘Introduction to Directing’. The host was Ian Watson, an Australian director who has directed on various successful TV shows including ‘Underbelly’.

Let me tell you I did not have high hopes. All I was hoping for was at least 1 new piece of knowledge and that anyone sitting next to me would wake me nicely if I drooled over their elbow.

I was ecstatically wrong. There was a wealth of knowledge and my eyelids remained snapped open (despite the fact that I’d had only 2 hours sleep).

Instead of wading through this Scrooge McDuck wealth of knowledge, I’ve decided to pluck out the real gems that made my ears prick up. The ones that you could make some giant earrings out of and still have some left for a set of grillz.

Here they are:

1. Make the premise as short as possible.

Every scene, every script, every beat has a premise, a concept that it is trying to convey. Figure out what it is and make it short. For example, you could be wanting to drive conflict by telling actors the premise for a scene is:

DirectingGems-Premise01

OR you could achieve the same result by saying:

DirectingGems-TheKnife

Nicer huh?

2. Don’t micromanage in small teams.

There can be a tendency to want to control a lot in a small team. You have to trust that everyone knows what they’re doing. Let them do what they’re there to do.

3. Every time we cut, we break tension.

This is something that made complete sense when I heard it, but I had never actually considered. It’s possibly why the infamous “long take” shot in Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) makes me feel so uptight. In this shot, I feel as if the world is incredibly fraught with danger for Clive Owen’s character because you never get a break from following him, you aren’t offered another perspective and everything happens in real time. It’s a relentless way of forcing the audience to stay within the moment.

That being said….

4. Use cuts to punctuate beats.

One of our exercises was to physically direct a short scene in a script consisting of about 5 beats. One person wanted to shoot the whole scene as one shot.

This choice was completely fine but it meant that any changing beats were not defined by cuts. It could read like theatre, as if we’re just recording the action. Even if you as a director can “feel” the beats being played out using one shot, the audience may not. Adding cuts punctuates these beats.

If you’re going to do away with cuts, than you will have to find other ways to define the beats.

5. Directors must be like builders.

Another person in the class pointed out how incredibly involved we were becoming in the minutiae of the scenes, the beats and the premise. Is this involvement with all the small details actually getting through to the audience? Would they recognise these details?

Ian gave us an analogy about builders, something to the affect of:

DirectingGems-A builder

What Ian was saying was that by being involved in the minutiae, you can make sure that a story is coherent. An audience won’t see all the thoughts that have gone into the foundations like the premise but they will understand the story overall. And even if they can’t articulate why they feel this way, they will understand that the story has been told well and maybe they’ll say:

DirectingGems-coolMovie

6. Know who is driving the scene.

In a scene, even in shots, there tends to be one character who’s intention is more dominant than other characters or elements. Their intention is probably driving the story forward. This character is said to be “driving the scene”. It’s important to understand which character this is so that you can give them more screen space or screen time.

Here are 2 examples using Ratatouille (Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava2007).

DirectingGems-RemyCheese

In this scene, Remy (the grey rat) is telling Emile (the brown rat) about his passion: food. When he discovers that Emile has a fantastic piece of cheese in his bag, he can’t contain his excitement. This translates to Remy being the more animated of the two and the character the camera follows more. Emile’s movements are smaller so as not to draw the focus away from Remy and he is awarded less screen time.

Despite Remy being the main character for the film, he doesn’t drive every scene. In this scene:

DirectingGems-Chef

– Remy is trying to help Linguini the chef to cook. Linguini is venting his frustration at how Remy is biting and scratching him under his shirt in a bid to control his movements.

Linguini is driving the scene. This means that most of the shots are shot at human eye level, rather than at the eye level of Remy. As a result, Remy is smaller on screen and his intentions are diminished along with the size of his character. This makes us feel as if we are with Linguini and reinforces the fact that his motivations are driving the scene.

7. Actors are the guardians of their character.

This is particularly true for episodic actors who have a history of playing this character. They are likely to know how the character will react and feel in certain situations.

If you as a director are uncertain of whether an actor should, say, deliver a line with sincerity or sarcasm, it is important to consult the actor on how they feel the character would act. Actors can help you to maintain consistency with the character by protecting their character’s behaviours.

8. You don’t have to play games with actors.

I asked Ian: “If you wanted an actor to feel intimated in the shot, would you as a director go about bullying them on set to make them feel intimidated?”

Ian responded with how he doesn’t play games with actors.Allegedly some directors do “monster” their actors, but you don’t have to. Ian knows he can achieve the results he wants in other ways. Part of that is in respecting an actor’s process and in recognising when they’re about to “pop”. If they’re about to give you the performance you need (eg. about to cry), you can rework your shooting schedule to shoot their crying shots first.

9. Tension is the enemy of the actor.

Actors spend time learning to relax so they can embrace their role. Bringing tension to the set can mess with their process.

So try to keep the set relaxed. Chill.

10. Story is king.

And finally, my absolute favourite lesson of the day was simply this:

DirectingGems-saveTheStory

A Little Cushing for the (Sculptural) Pushin’

“Hmm, I need a distinctive face. One that would be somewhat easy to capture in my first sculpt. Who has a distinctive face?”

“Clint Eastwood?” 

Bi-da-doo. WAH WAH WAH!

Bi-da-doo. WAH WAH WAH! (Source: science-all.com)

[Googles.]

“Oh man is that what his son looks like? Clint’s got some genes!”

[Several minutes of distracted scrolling.]

“Hmm, no let’s do someone more distinctive. Maybe someone with more wrinkles?”

 

“How about Peter Cushing? You know, Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars?”

“Who?”

[Googles. Encounters images of a wonderfully unique-looking man. He looks as if he’s eaten a a bag of lemons AND the bag the lemons came in. 

He’s perfect.

Begins timidly pushing a sphere around in Mudbox.]

“Steph, you gotta get in there and just hack at it, fast! And it’s good if you start looking at his face from many different angles for reference. Create a page in Photoshop and just grab as many pictures as you can of him.”

Cushing_study

Cushing_sculpt_v02

“And make sure you look at him from other angles with the camera in Mudbox, instead of just trying to sculpt from one angle.”

Cushing_angles

Does looking up the nostrils help?

“Alright now start scratching the surface with a textural brush, give the sculpt some roughness. And don’t be afraid to cut lines into the thing. Look at Michelangelo’s sculptures. Check out David’s eye! He cut a line into the marble to define the iris. Your eyes don’t do that, but he made a decision to cut in so he could make distinctions in a naturally smooth surface. Pretty crazy.”

The eyes have it!

The eyes have it! (Source: Pinterest).

“Alright…”

After several tweaks, I ended up with:

Final Cushing Sculpt

“Wow Steph, it’s well good for a first try innit! Proper mint!”

————————————————————————-

Big thank you to Will Preston, our 3D generalist at Alt.vfx for showing me the ropes while experimenting with my first sculpt. You can check out Will’s awesome work here.

NOTE: The dialogue is a rough recount of some the conversations I had with Will. Also he’s English, so he may or may not actually say stereotypical things like “well good” or “mint” but you get the gist. Regardless, please imagine the dialogue in blue with a wicked English accent.

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