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Post-Production Terms

In the 3 months since officially becoming a junior animator at Alt.vfx (woo!), I’ve realised that I have also learnt something else: I can now sprechen ze language of advertising.

Yes, let's review the Cool "Hwip". Source: Precision Nutrition.

Yes, let’s review the “Hwip”. Source: Precision Nutrition.

Now this may not seem like a major thing for some cool whoozits out there, but imagine me in my all noob-ness wading into these kind of doozies: 1. “Hey, we’re having a WIP review at 1pm.” -OR- 2. “Can you just cache out me out an alembic?” – and having no idea what anyone is talking about. It’s like everyone is speaking Klingon while I only speak all things pertaining to cake. So I took note of some of the terms I’ve come to understand while working in post-production and turned them into a Venn Diagram, because let’s face it, WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD OL’ VENN DIAGRAM?

venn_tvcanimvfx_terms_square

Click to enlarge!

Here are some of the confusing terms I’ve learnt and how they can relate to each other across the animation department, the VFX department and TVC’s in general. Now putting them in Venn formation doesn’t necessarily make them easier to understand, it just shows how terms relate and what arenas they concern most. But never fear! Your translator is here. Prepare for a blabbering list of explanations: TVC = Television Commercial. They’re the things that break up a 90 minute movie and turn it into a four hour marathon. CAD = Commercials Advice. In Australia, they’re the service that classify the ads before the ad is broadcast. Here’s a gem that didn’t pass through CAD according to the video description:

Spot

I swear Spot the dog used to have more than 1 spot. Source: Unbound.

SPOT = Another term for advert. Some campaigns for the same product may have several spots cut to lengths ranging from 15sec to a few minutes. Also, it’s the name of an adorable dog. SUPERS =  Text that is superimposed over the main image eg. “The Small Print”. ARCHIVE = When the ad has been broadcast and the files are not currently required, the project files are taken off the server and stored on a tape. The project goes from being “live” to being “archived”. POS = Point of Sale. At Alt.vfx, sometimes we supply images from the ad to be placed in a store near the cash register . V/O = Voice over. FYI: Morgan Freeman voice over is the bees knees.

Make “frames” not “love”. Source: Dangerously Fit

FRAME HANDLES = Uber important! If a shot is 80 frames long in an edit, the animation and visual effects department may in fact be working with 100 frames (10 extra frames either side of the 80 frames) so that the final edit can be extended or slipped if required. These extra frames are called “frame handles”. GRADE = A nickname for colour-grading the image. When footage is initially retrieved from the camera, the colours look like my hair when wet (“flat”, dull and washed out). It is up to Compositors and Colour Graders to “nourish” and “revitalise” the colours to the correct hues that suit the mood of the ad. WIP = Work in Progress Client Approval = The client could be a director, an advertising agency or the media team of the company being advertised, but either way, they need to give the tick on different elements along the way. Massive Rig/Custom Rig = Alt has done a few ads requiring software called “Massive”. It specialises in creating digital crowds of whatever you need (in Alt’s case, deer and human armies). Any animation/motion-capture animation created for Massive needs to be exported for the simplified Massive rig. However, it is possible to modify the Massive rig to include extra controls. Modifying the rig is known as a Custom Rig. RX, RY, RZ and TX, TY, TZ = Rotate in the axis X,Y,Z and Translate in the axis X,Y,Z. I’ve carried these over from Animation Mentor because it’s so much easier to understand if you want a character to move in TZ space rather than saying: “move him forward” if the character’s “forward” direction actually means it moves left on camera.

Mmm, my kind of layout.

Mmm, my kind of layout.

LAYOUT = Laying out tracks and 3D elements required for a shot with little to no animation in a 3D scene ready for an animator to animate. TRACK = A 3D representation of the actual scene that was shot with a live camera. A track should include the camera’s movement and any object tracks. Object tracks are tracks created for any moving objects that will need to interact with 3D elements. For example, in the Honda ad, we were given an object track for the hands to attach a 3D wheel to. ALEMBIC FILE = A file type that animation is exported as so that it can be used in other software like Houdini or Soft Image. MEL/PYTHON = Scripting languages. MEL stands for “Maya Embedded Language”. If you speak MEL and Python, you can control more within some softwares and eventually rule the world! CACHE = In computing, a cache is a way of storing and accessing data. Within visual effects, a cache is an exported version of a 3D element that only stores the element’s 3D vertices and doesn’t export any skeletons or rig controls. This is a much lighter and less fussy way of importing animation into programs outside of Maya. COMP = Composite. Each layer within a shot will end up here and when it’s exported out, I like to say it’s Straight Outta Compin’. MATTE = An image element that will be layered with 1 or more other images. ROTO = Rotoscope. Within animation, roto means to trace over footage frame by frame. In VFX, it’s a similar concept, except that they are only concerned with the silhouette. If you have the roto of, say a person, you can use that silhouette as a matte to outline the person, cut them out and place the person on their own layer. This is super useful if you have to layer that person in front of or behind sections of the image. PLATES = Footage. I believe it’s a throwback term to how film was once processed using glass plates, but now in VFX we use the term to describe a background image or a foreground matte. Particularly within animation, you need a background plate of the live footage within your animation scene so that you can see how your animation lines up with the geography of the scene.   PHEW! That was a lot of explaining. It may not interest everyone, but for those out there who may be a little confused about studio terms that are thrown around like hot cakes, this might help you out! And speaking of hot cakes, I think I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow.

Pancake-venn-diagram

Source: Flowing Data.

fxguide Loved Our Work!

Two great pieces of news:

  1. It’s official. I’M IN THE BIZ!
  2. fxguide included one of the ads I worked on in a “Jaw-dropping effects” article.

Pretty much, if you wanted to translate the amazing feeling I’ve had into a song, it would be this:

To start at the top, I’ve recently been on trial as an animator at alt.vfx (the studio where I started out as a production assistant in client service over a year and a half ago). I KNOW, CRAZY COOL RIGHT!?! You can actually work your way up from the bottom like a couple of mailroom monsters.

Like Mike and Sully in 'Monster's University'! Source: flickr

Like Mike and Sully in ‘Monster’s University’! Source: flickr

In that trial time, I worked as one of the animators of some CG birds for the Woolworths supermarket spots in Australia:

– and also this slick ad for Honda HRV:

Pretty cool right? With the birds, I just adjusted some recycled animation, but with the Honda ad, I was responsible for the car-forming shots and a bit of layout. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot but the car-forming shot meant I had to sort out every piece of geo on the car (and I mean EVERY nut, screw and bolt) and create multiple revisions on how the car should form.

Then of course our cray-mazing lighters, compositors and editors put it together to look realistic.

What’s really cool is that fxguide then reviewed that work in this article:

VFX in TVCs: Jaw-dropping (and truck-dropping) effects

– which also includes reviews for television commercials from the studio Framestore, MPC and Method Studios.

That’s right guys: alt.vfx is up there with the best of them.

The same day that article was published (2 days ago) I was then officially offered a full-time role as a junior animator. So now I work at one of the best studios in Australia. Could the day get any better!?

Oh and I had a low-carb burger for lunch and it still tasted as good as a real burger. CAREER AND HEALTH FOR THE WIN!

So watch this space for updates on the next round of ads! It’s some cool stuff and I’m excited to share it with you!

Croissants and Squirrels

In the beginning, the Food God (a talking cookie) created the hummus heavens and the eclair earth. And Food God said, “Let there be a buttery vessel that will teach Stephanie a lesson about animation!”, and there were croissants.

I’m assuming that’s how croissants were born because there must have been a divine God to create something so delicious AND wise at the same time.

Thanks for your creation talking cookie! You really helped me to improve this animation:

The lesson all began when I posted about improving your field in the art ecosystem by exploring other areas of influence. So two weekends ago, I decided to explore making croissants!

Now making croissants is no mean feat. It took me 2 days. 2 DAYS. From butter making love with dough to mouth = 2 days. It’s not that I read the recipe at the speed of rock, it’s that the layers of a croissant require butter to be folded into the dough and then left for an hour to rise. Then taken out of the fridge and rolled out, folded, left to rise, rolled out, folded, yada yada and so on for a total of 4 times.

The fatty moon ships of buttery gold that I made.

The fatty moon ships of buttery gold that I made. *Descends into gargling drool pit* – gluhhhghggh…

Where the croissants emphasised a lesson of value was in the rising. In the step where I put the pastry in the fridge to rise and do something else for an hour and come back, the pastry has changed. It’s risen. When I roll out the dough, I can start to see more layers of the butter than when I first began.

That butter must be rich because it's rolling in dough. HEY-OH! Double pun! Source: Girl +Food = Love.

That butter must be rich because it’s rolling in dough. HEY-OH! Double pun! Source: Girl +Food = Love.

Improving animation is sometimes like making croissants. In the time between when you think an animation is finished, and you go back to improve it once more, something has changed. YOU have changed. You’ve gone away from it, thought about Mario Kart/life, and come back to something completely different to the way you left it. Like the layers of butter being exposed in the pastry, suddenly the flaws in your animation rise to the surface and you can see what everyone was talking about when they said something could be improved.

Why does this happen? I think it’s because you stepped away from it and came back with a level of openess to viewing the whole piece, rather than focussing on the individual cogs that make up the machine.

Woah, that’s some Kum Ba Yah stuff I just said right there.

Even Richard Williams says he viewed his work differently after he finished his film The Little Island (1958):

“Three years later, when I’d finished the film, the unpleasant realisation slowly crept up on me that I really didn’t know  very much about animation articulation, that is, how to move the stuff.” The Animator’s Survival Kit: Expanded Edition 2009, p1.

That’s what happened to my Tailor animation. About a year ago, I handed in this jumping ball with a tail thinking that I’d done a great job. Yet I was left with the advice that I should track the tip of the tail to improve it. I didn’t see the point.

A year later, I viewed it back and instantly could see that something was off. I tracked the tail as I’d been advised and voila! I could see the problems with my haphazard motion path:

Tracking the tip of the tail shows a jagged motion path.

Tracking the tip of the tail shows a jagged motion path.

To fix it, I needed a bit more study of tails. So I watched the squirrel tails in the scenes from The Sword in the Stone (Reitherman, 1963). I watched a squirrel’s tail at rest. I watched a squirrel reach victory in an obstacle course:

What I learnt about squirrels is that they can move ridiculously fast. They dart around, a bit like birds. That’s why it makes sense when Hammy the squirrel drinks an energy drink in Over the Hedge (Kirkpatrick & Johnson, 2006) which makes him runs so fast that he sees the world stand still. That’s why Scrat in Ice Age (Wedge & Saldanha, 2002) can hop up and down in just 3-4 frames and it doesn’t phase the audience.

SQUIRRELS. ARE. FAST.

So I did a test at work one day with a new Squirrel rig and made my squirrel bounce fast and low like a real squirrel:

 

The other thing I realised is that if the squirrel is moving fast (and it’s not actively controlling the tail), then it doesn’t look right if the tail moves in huge, glorious arcs. If it’s moving low and fast, the tail is more likely to stream out behind it in a small wave path. Bigger tail arcs are for bigger and slower jumps.

BIG TAIL ARCS = slow.

SMALL TAIL ARCS = fast.

It sounds obvious, but I totally didn’t get that before. This time with the new animation, I made sure to plan the arcs of the tail (using the Blue Pencil Maya plugin) so that the tail movement fit the body:

The new arcs are much smoother and prettier!

The new arcs are much smoother and prettier!

If you want a breakdown of how I animated the squirrel, it was the main body control first, then spine, head, mouth, ears and finally the tail. When animating the tail, I tried to copy/paste the curves of the first joint down onto the second joint, but the result was a big wave that wasn’t even following the arcs that I wanted, so I pretty much tweaked the whole tail as one once the key poses were in. This is what it looked like in the end:

Thanks to stepping away from the animation and coming back, I think the results are much more satisfying than my previous attempt. Maybe a month from now, I’ll see even more areas for improvement.

In short, if you have a shot that you think is polished and you can’t see anything wrong with it, give it time. Move on to something else, grab a croissant and come back when you can view your piece like new. Maybe something will reveal itself as an area to fix. Then you can grab another croissant and get to work!

Bon appétit!

Animation food!

Animation food!

Competition Entry – Soccer Poses

Last month in honour of the FIFA World Cup, Animation Mentor held a competition challenging participants to submit their best football poses. I didn’t win some free lectures (dangit) but I thought I’d share my thumbnail sketches and my entry here anyway!

Competition entry

The pose I submitted.

The pose I rejected.

The pose I rejected.

And these are the thumbnail sketches I did to create the poses. As you can see, I did have some more “hero” type soccer poses like bicycle kicks, but I wanted to do something different from the other entries, and so I went in another direction. For reference I looked at top players like Zlatan, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Messi, Pele, Beckham and Rooney. Thank bejeezus I have a soccer-loving boyfriend who could point me to all these awesome athletes!

World Cup Competition Sketches

Click the image to enlarge.

5 Great Tips from an Animation Pedagogy Forum

The panelists from Pedagogies for Practice.

The panelists from Pedagogies for Practice.

“Ummm, pedagogy? Is that like a Ped Egg for your foot?”

Nope! It’s the forum I attended on the weekend where professionals (including Academy Award winner Adam Elliot) discussed how animation should be taught to students. They also shared tips about the industry and these are 5 points I took away!

1. ANIMATION DIRECTING SHOULD BE PURSUED; ANIMATION SUPERVISING CAN BE OFFERED

Having experienced the role himself, Florent de la Taille (a GOBELINS graduate) pointed out that if you want to become an Animation Director, you have to pursue the role from the outset. Waiting for the role to float gently down to you from the heavens in a halo of gold is probably not going to happen.

On the other hand, you can be offered the role of Animation Supervisor based on your excellent work. You just have to give an indication to your studio that you want to be considered. Animation Supervisors bear a lot of responsibility for the sequences they’re supervising, so not everyone puts their hand up to keep the kids in check.

In addition, Florent advised that if you’re really gunning for the role of Animation Supervisor, you have to check that the studio where you’re working even NEEDS one. If they don’t, then apply elsewhere specifically for that role. Be aware: some studios don’t take on outside supervisors. Some studios work on a Japanese system where you have to work from the bottom up. I feel like I can hear Drake rapping as I wrote that…

What a polite ass. Shrek 2 (2004, Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon). Source: Reflectionary.

2. CREATURE ANIMATION – DECIDE ON A VIABLE REALITY

How can you layer human behaviour over creature animation?

By deciding on the rules of that world before you begin animating.

Myrna Gawryn (a teacher of character behaviour and movement) answered my question by giving  an example of Donkey from Shrek: sometimes he walks on all fours like the quadruped he is and  sometimes he sits with crossed legs. Ergo, sometimes his physiology is respected and he walks  like an ass (tee hee!) and sometimes he’s given human behaviour like washing his hoofs to ramp  up the humour. Each creature should have rules to follow so that we as an audience  understand  why Donkey can sit cross-legged, but isn’t walking upright like a pig in Animal Farm.

3. SCRIPT, SCRIPT, SCRIPT

Audiences can forgive bad animation but they won’t forgive a bad story.

This one is especially true because it comes from Adam Elliot, a claymation animator who says  he’s never animated a walk-cycle in his life. Seriously. Check out his Academy-Award winning  short film Harvie Krumpet. It’s just a lot of it blinking eyes.

But I would take his lack of walk-cycles and Harvie’s endearing story any day over Frozen. Pretty  pictures are one thing, but not knowing who is the villain is another.

If only they’d followed the mantra: SCRIPT, SCRIPT, SCRIPT.

4. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE MORE TALENTED THAN YOU

WOAH, epiphany! No one has ever told me this before. Now that I’ve heard it, I realised it’s something you should ALWAYS do.

If you surround yourself with more talented people, then they can fill in for your weaknesses and also help improve them. Now I know how to fight you, my terrible texturing skills!

5. ANIMATION IS A PART OF A LARGER ECOSYSTEM

If you think about ‘art’ as being an ecosystem, then you realise that animation is just one part of it. Go explore what the rest of the ecosystem has to offer!

Like my cousin’s theatre performance that involved crazy nuns. Or trying to play ‘Edelweiss’ on the harmonica. Or learning how to make croissants from scratch!

*Note to readers: You need to have foresight into your croissant cravings. If you think: “Mmmm….yeah I do want croissants in 72 hours”, then go ahead and bash the butter into that pastry!

5TipsPedagogies_Ecosystem

The point is explore – try – create! Everything you experience can help you to evolve in your chain of the ecosystem. Who knows what your outside interests can influence next?

 

How I Animate a Lie

For my final assignment at Animation Mentor (aww!) I was tasked to pick a 10 second piece of dialogue to animate to. After rifling through various movies, how could I go past the brilliant young Saoirse Ronan in this scene of Atonement?

It’s a SUPER subtle scene (*background context provided below) that has everything you could ask for in a character performance: hesitation, conviction and also – A LIE.

Ughhhhh. That’s the sound I made when I delved deeper and discovered how hard it is to create a good lying reference.

As with all assignments at Animation Mentor, it’s crucial that you have video reference of yourself or others acting out what you want your animated character to do in the scene. For my character Briony (Ronan), I had to put myself in her shoes and think what she would think while trying to convey deception.

“No duh Stephanie, that’s acting 101. What’s so hard about that?”

The tricky part was this: you can’t be too good at lying.

After my first attempt at lying:

– the feedback I received from my mentor Erik was that the body language looked nervous but too convincing. If you want to show deception, you have to let slip hints of the truth.

The ultimate question you have to ask yourself is:

How good of a liar is your character? Will they give it away very easily or can they hide the truth pretty well?”

Lie_ranking

If I had to set it on a lying capability scale from 1-10 (1 being Cindy Brady who can never hide the truth and 10 being the sly deceiver Hannibal Lecter) I would say my character should be about a 6. She’s a doubtful ten-year-old girl who is hovering between believing the lie and confessing the truth. She can look the person in the eye while lying but at some point she’s going to give the game away with a few pieces of hesitant body language.

So to gather a better video reference, I had to study the shifty body language that gives the game away, commonly called “tells”. This was weirdly fun and interesting to do. Think of watching videos of poker players who bluff their way through high stakes and President Bill Clinton shifting in his chair when questioned about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

There are also various videos (eg. How to Read Hands) and writings (eg. I Can Read You Like a Book by Gregory Hartley) analysing what certain gestures or expressions mean. These interpretations were fascinating to study but also conflicting depending on the source, so I took any analysis with a grain of salt and tried to be merely an observer of body language.

What my research led me to conclude was that everyone deceives differently and I don’t think there’s a definitive guide to lying. Sorry Samuel L Jackson, but when you look left I don’t believe it ALWAYS means you’re lying.

However I do believe some deceptive behaviours can be repeated amongst different people, like this picture shows here:

524dc7abe691b226d3c4428d_736

Source: LittleFun.org

I found the best thing to do when researching lies is to watch a variety of lies in progress and pick some behaviour that a liar exhibits which you can replicate. I liked the idea of my character shifting her body weight, rubbing her hands and darting her eyes around.

With a bit more knowledge in mind, I set about to re-record video reference. And man oh man, did I live in front of a camera:

The reason I have so many pieces of reference is because when I was on camera, it was hard to remember all the details I’d planned for the action, like wringing my hands while shifting my eyes and frowning. Compartmentalising the actions of my hands and face helped me to overlap them later, even if I didn’t use every piece of reference in the end.

Once the action was roughed out in my animation, the main piece of advice I kept receiving was: “Contain the action.”

Huh? CONTAIN the action??? What the heck does that mean?! As far as I know, when you want to show off your animation chops, you create big, broad pieces of action that loop-de-loop all over the screen like this:

Lie_loopdeloop

Doing subtle performances where your main focus is the face is the complete opposite of what I’d been encouraged to do previously. In short:

Big actions = comforting.

Subtle actions = TERRIFYING.

However, Erik was right. You can hear in her voice that she doesn’t need to prance around like a unicorn and you can see from the original film performance that Briony is almost completely still in her chair. If she had sounded more nervous, I might make her move around a little more, but minimalism was what this piece required, so no muss, no fuss.

And there it is! As you can see she began by moving around a little too much in the early stages but I eventually stripped it back at the polishing stage. I still have some more passes to get through to refine the action further, but at least I now know that when you animate a lie you should:

  1. Determine how good the character is at lying.
  2. Research different lies and pick behaviours your character could exhibit.
  3. Compartmentalise your reference if it’s difficult to act out all at once.
  4. Strip back the action if it doesn’t suit the dialogue.

P.S. If anyone else has ideas for improvement with my animation or tips about lying, please feel free to comment! It’s always very much appreciated :D.

 

*SPOILER SIDE NOTE: This is a scene where 10-year-old Briony is testifying that she saw the groundskeeper Robby (James McAvoy) rape her cousin. However she never saw Robby’s face, she has just misjudged his character and assumed it was him.

We Made the Shortlist

2:30am – for whatever reason, I can’t sleep. Then like a little Dobby that appears out of thin air, the thought hits me: “Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts! Oh and Stephanie, DID YOU CHECK WHO WON THE SCHOLARSHIP?”

Yeesh, the winner’s been announced since yesterday and I’ve been too busy with animation and this “new” restaurant –

Yes. That is a yellow Ashes' KFC you're seeing.

Yes. That is the yellow KFC we pulled into.

– to have even checked!

Fumbling in the dark for my phone, I flick to the World Nomads Travel Film Scholarship page. Here it goes, the first scroll down.

WINNER peaks out…….don’t bring your hopes up…read part of the name…”Andr-” – DANGIT. Not us.

The first thing you feel is this guy:

Just your typical AA meeting.

Just your typical AA meeting.

– but then you watch Andrés’ video and read his story and realise he’s a real travel go-getter. Like long-hair-part-beard citizen of the earth. He totally deserves it!

But still – dangit. Then begins the slow scroll-down through the RUNNER’S UP (in no particular order). Where are we, where are we, well we didn’t get a bloody email so we’re probably not here……nothing.

Shoot. Then it’s the mad scroll of insanity through the final group: Shortlist (again, in no special order). Quick scan…come on!…nothing, nothing, noth- AHA!!! In small beautiful letters:

Doth my eyes deceive me??????

Doth my eyes deceive me??????

Ok, so they spelt the name ‘Brisbane’ incorrectly and we didn’t win but WHO CARES!? WE DID IT BABY!

We (my boyfriend Jonathan and I) had entered the competition at the beginning of November. Get this – if your 3 minute film entry is chosen, not only do you win a 10-day trip to New Orleans, you get to make short travel films about the city and events like Mardi Gras. Our thoughts: Umm, making films, free trip AND huge party? Where do we sign up!?

This was our film:

– and out of 224 entries from around the world, we’re ecstatic we beat 200 other films to make the top 24 films!

Last year, we received a brilliant graduating speech from a ballet dancer who imparted wisdom that went something like:

As artists, we should not seek recognition for what we do. Often we will work hard and achieve something great but it will go unnoticed. We should do what we do not for the accolades and recognition, but because we are passionate about our art.

I agree with him 100%.

However I do have to say, for someone like myself who has thought they could only excel in academia, has watched friends enter Cannes Film Festival, seen her brother bring home piles of plaques for cinematography and in general is surrounded by AMAZEBALLS  human beings, being recognised for your passion with a silly little duck film feels preeeetttyyy damn good.

Take THAT jealousy.

Take THAT jealousy.