Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gesture In 3D

As promised in the previous post, I now offer a few examples of the quest to get a hand-drawn look into CG animation.


  • Make a black and white image in Photoshop
  • Select the foreground color with magic wand
  • Make Work Path (paths palette menu)
    2 to 4 pixels (2 will make more control points, 4 will make less)
  • File > Export > Paths to Illustrator (set to work path)
    You can put the .ai file into the "data" subdirectory in your prop's project folder (Example: /TBOS/prop/foliage/data). Remember to give it the .ai extension (if saving on a Mac)


  • File > Import (Option Box):
    Use Namespaces, resolve all nodes with this string: nameOfElement
  • In the next dialog, cruise to the folder where you saved your.ai file
  • Select transform (group node) containing all curves in Outliner
  • Planar Tool (Option Box):
    Linear, Partial, Polygons, Quads, Count (standard fit sometimes)

  • Edit Mesh > Extrude
  • Subdivide to see smoothed results (Proxy>Subdiv Proxy)
  • Once these shapes are in 3D, they can be used to cast shadows, throw silhouettes, wire them up with Maya hairs and blow Paint FX "Grass Wind" or "Tree Wind" through them, mold them in the round with Soft Modification Tool or Nonlinear deformers, etc.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Drawn Out

AAAAhhhhh, computers. They've made our lives so easy. Now when we make animated films they look like complete crap during every iteration, through department after department, until they finally emerge lit and rendered at the very end of the production cycle. Huge research efforts aim at getting some life into those early stages of development, but to no avail. Your first 3D animatic always looks cold, lifeless, dead. You have to keep going back to the original hand-drawn conceptual art to remind yourself how cool it's GONNA look, so many many months from now.
In traditional animation, coolness flowed freely onto the page at the deft touch of the skilled animator’s hand. If you've ever seen these initial pencil tests, the "rough animation" pass, you know that there was life in the project from the very first flipbook. Often these rough, scraggly lines had more life and energy in them than the final cleaned-up inked & painted result! Point is, the momentum of a project could build on the excitement of seeing kinetic energy at every dailies session, as people packed into the director's office to see each new scene burst to life: scribbly pencil lines weaving in and out of each other in that 24 fps dance of unbridled gesture. Gesture is the key word here: the graceful arcs of the character's movements are flung to the page through the actual arcing gestures of the animator's hand swooping over the light table. There was an immediacy, a gratifying fulfillment we sorely miss, adrift as we are in our CG world. Today, our first glimpses of our characters are of boxy gray stiff manikins, floating ghostly, droid-like through a barren landscape of polygons. Thus our quandary: now that machines have made life so easy for us by freeing us from having to hand-draw our own animation, how do we artificially get that hand-drawn look back into it? And I’m not talking about the toxic plasticity of toon shading, either. I’m talking about GESTURE. About what Michael Mattesi would refer to in his excellent life drawing manual, Force (http://www.drawingforce.com/) as “the artist’s opinion about the subject.” This opinion is conveyed subtlety, through nuances of line and form. The hand-drawn gesture.

In the next weeks I hope to explore this problem at length, offering some clunky band-aids in the meantime, and opening the discussion for the dreamy “gesture toolset” of CG’s future.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Small Problem

How, with such an innocuous thing as this computer, can I make something larger-than-life? That’s the hardest thing for me. Back in the day, I painted on huge canvases: I specifically painted in large format for a reason. It was easier to take it seriously if my creation was larger than me. Painting a “work of art” that was physically smaller than me made no sense: isn’t art a shot at immortality? Don’t you want it to outlive you? Shouldn’t the image be more recognizable than you, more grandiose, literally larger than life? I was never one for collecting precious trinkets, so I didn’t relate so much to tiny art, as some of my peers did. This is the primary reason why digital art is hard for me: because it’s so small while I’m working on it. Sure, I know that when I’m done it can be projected onto a two-story movie screen, or printed up billboard-size, but it’s hard to feel that, when while you’re working on it you’re hunched over a glowing monitor pushing tiny pixels around inside a 22-inch box. I pray for the day a wall-size monitor can be affordable - preferably a Cintiq-style pressure-sensitive monitor that I can paint on. Standing up, with sweeping arm gestures. The return of mural-making. Is that asking too much?

What am I listening to as I hunch over my tiny monitor today? Lizard, King Crimson 1970. Almost a concept album: Peter Sinfield’s cryptic lyrics hint at some kind of Medieval Circus metaphor throughout. Musically, the album presents the perfect marriage of Prog-rock excess, psychedelic wackiness, and Jazz-tinged orchestration. Yes’s Jon Anderson makes his falsetto cameo, while Gordon Haskell’s warbly voice carries the rest of the album through layers of electronic distortion (years before Perry Farrell exploited the same technique to famously bolster his own warbly voice). All in all, my favorite Crimson album. Makes me smell the incense of my old painting studio.