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.
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 Mentorcalled “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?
Per usual, I started my study with thumbnail sketches of fighters in action.
I was pretty happy with them. Fighters can be as graceful as dancers I found.
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:
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.
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.
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.*
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:
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.
Then I used the video ref to create help with the timing of the stepped blocking and came up with this:
With a bit of re-timing and polish, I finished with this:
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:
Guess when it comes to finding power in fighting you could TORQUE about hips all day huh? AHHHHHHH *badum tsshhh*.
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:
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!
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:
OR you could achieve the same result by saying:
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:
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:
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.
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:
– 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:
“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?”
[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.
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.”
“And make sure you look at him from other angles with the camera in Mudbox, instead of just trying to sculpt from one angle.”
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.”
“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.
If you haven’t seen our latest Pepsi Ad for Japan, I encourage you to watch it now because it’s THOOPER KEWL!
It’s a take on the Japanese folk story of Momotaro (known as Peachboy) where a boy with various animal companions travels to an island to fight demons. This Pepsi Ad is the fourth installment (the series starts at zero) where the new demon seen (known as an Oni) is winged. I guess it’s mimicking the pheasant in the story? Who knows. All you need to know is it’s AWESOME.
I’m very fortunate to have had 4 shots on this ad. 2 of them are CG bird shots and 2 are simple Oni shots. The bulk of the animation was provided by our wonderful lead animator Chris.
The Oni shots were interesting in that the Oni is bigger than a multi-storey building, and so he had to move very slowly due to gravity having a greater effect on his mass (see 01:34). This was new for me as I’d never animated something that was meant to be so large, but our lead taught me to follow reference footage, extend the animation keys out over more time and then go back to tweak overlapping body parts.
The bird shots were tricky in that they had to be realistic movements of fast birds shot in slow motion. There also had to be about 25 of them customised to fly in random directions in one shot(see 00:25). This meant using a basic flight cycle for most of them and then varying their gliding and flapping motions over their flight paths. Then some of them were also perched on the walls and on ledges, so they had to have their own custom animations of them looking around or walking or taking off. All of these factors relied on one thing for pulling it off: study, study, study.
Reference footage like this:
-was a Godsend. It’s one example of the many Youtube videos I watched to get their movements working well. And although it may sound like a bit much for a 2 second shot –
Sometimes Everyday I hear a song that makes me feel like dancing. So here are some sketches I did in my down time inspired by beautiful women dancing like rockstars in the Pharell video clip “Come Get it Bae”.
Take it easy on the clutch.
If you haven’t seen the video, take a look.
I will willingly take the blame when you inevitably start dancing too.
Steel yourself for 2 seconds of AWESOME PAPER AIRPLANE. It’s going to change your life and hopefully mine when everyone realises all my animation skills are wrapped up in those precious few frames.Praise will flock in from every corner of the globe and I will ride on the back of this paper vessel into the future of awesome.
Ok, ok, so it’s just one simple arc of it travelling between 2 floating houses, but you know what? I’m still pretty proud to be apart of the team that helped pull the whole thing together. I can’t claim a lot to do with getting to the finished product (that credit goes to the rest of the amazeballs people I work with) but I can say I helped out with some layout, basic animation of the house and the little origami wonder that probably contains some message about how awesome ‘Game of Thrones’ is. I mean, what else WOULD it say?
The amazing VFX (and that paper airplane) can be viewed here in the new spot for Optus promoting Unlimited Broadband:
And in addition, the glowing reviews we received can be found HERE!
“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 Drakerapping 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!
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?
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 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.
– 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??????
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.
These are my final poses incorporating quadrupeds at play.
It’s inspired by this great video I found of two dogs playing but which I now can’t remember the name of. My brain is doing that whole “I might have Alzheimer’s, but at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s” thing. I’ve tried to bribe my brain with chocolate in exchange for the memory of the name but alas, no luck.
This is my initial version of the playful poses. The great thing was there wern’t too many changes! Basically the critique was to bring the screen left dog’s head down and push his legs back. With the screen right dog, it was more about adjusting the front legs and finding the right interaction with the other dog.
I’m pretty happy with it! Hooray for satisfaction!