Wednesday, 20 October 2010

short break

It has been a while since I posted, so I'll give you a brief overview of what's been happening over the summer. Back in June I helped film a Charity Christmas Music Video (raising funds for the Childrens Hospice South West), and then ended up working in Bath on couple of Commercials Projects. Two small ten second 'Oreo's' Commercials, and four ten second 'Glade' candle Commercials for the festive season. Since finishing up in August I've been working on the Charity Music Video, Outtakes and 'Making of video', editing and simple post & vfx. And I have managed to fit in a road trip holiday in California, visiting friends who work at various Animation Studios (including the Big ones!)

Next week I am fortunate enough to get to go to the now famous Aardman Halloween Party. The costume has become quite a project in itself.... as always. More details to come on all these projects, when I can get some images together.
Next post, soon hopefully.

Friday, 28 May 2010

3D World Article published.

After a long wait, my article on working efficiently has finally come out in 3D World. Although I am proud of the article, I did write over 4000 words in the end, which got massively cut, and obviously some things get lost in translation, dulled down or just re-written by someone. I did get a chance to check it but looks like I missed a few things as it was the day before the deadline, so I thought I'd make a few minor amendments on this blog. If you do get a chance to read the article, let me know what you think (or if you spot any more mistakes :) )

Raytrace versus shadow maps. In the black box... "you'll notice that when you've got a hard edge shadow there's no benefit to using raytracing, and that's when using shadow maps as a cheat becomes more viable" I didn't write this, as I prefer to leave the reader to observe what is going on and make a decision for themselves. It is also wrong or at least very misleading. I would never say shadow maps are a cheat! and I would say that there is more benefit in using shadow map for blurry shadows (surely anyone can see that from the images shown) not for sharp ones, well that is what I deduce from the data. I would also say that map resolution and samples is a balancing act to get the most efficient settings. I think some people just want you to tell them the best thing to do, without them actually having to engage their brain :) unfortunately, it's not possible as every situation is unique, it is just one of those things you get a feel for after a while.

Also I'd like to point out that the ray traced version has max depth 2, (You can see the lit up floor with shadows reflected in the blinn ball surface) making it slower than the most basic scene, something you don't need to worry about with shadow maps as it is pre-calculated. Anyway the point I am trying to make is that raytracing can easily get more complicated with reflections and refractions, but shadow maps stay simple, and when re-used are very efficient.

Deep shadows, "faster than having ray traced motion blurred shadows" I personally can't verify this as I have never tried it, normally I just use shadow maps without motion blur on, as it is pretty wasteful (I did inform them of this). Again, I did't write it. Please let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Day 4 -FMX

Friday 7th May was the last day of FMX, and also the day we flew back to the UK.
I took some timeout watching some Recruitment presentations for Disney and some German Post production companies. I was surprised by the number of companies that use 3D studio Max, as in the UK it is not so popular for film fx, also the lack of Renderman training, most use Mental ray or Vray. I am assuming it's because the schools don't teach it in Germany...

Next up some more Iron Man 2 stuff this time from ILM. Stills look quite impressive, but the animation doesn't always feel quite right. A less interesting presentation compared with Double Negatives earlier one, a bit more straight forward, and not too in-depth.

I spent the afternoon at the Disney Portfolio Review, a nice idea where students submit their showreel to be seen by Bruce Smith, the lead 2d animator at Disney, and a 3d modeller/generalist. Unsurprisingly most of the reels were animation, most of them were 3d... of varying quality. There were at least five showreels from the animation mentor program, an expensive but very good way to get together an animation showreel. What really came across from the panel was the importance of acting and timing. Some of them had great poses but the timing was out, and it didn't feel like the character was real. One of the reels had a few different scenarios but the character was the same every time, had the same kind of reaction to different situations, not very interesting. Even though you couldn't say the animation was bad, it wasn't special either, and to get noticed in Animation you do have to be special (and work really hard!) The panel were always really nice, but I got the impression that no one was blown-away.

That's it. Hopefully I'll get to go to FMX next year, over and out.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Day 3 -FMX

Thursday starts with presentations on "How to Train Your Dragon" and "The Wild Things", both being quite typical 'making of' presentations. Kevan Shorey made an appearance (a guy I was at uni with, although a couple of years above) in an acting out video, to show how animators at dreamworks "have fun", I'm sure its not all fun though! As always there is an emphasis on showing character design, and animation as that is really what most of the audience have come to see. There is a tendency to just skip the last phase, I have heard the phrase " here is the animation, oh and here is it lit and rendered" as if there was really very little work involved. It's no wonder no one wants to be a lighter/compositor in animated film. Most fall into the job by accident, and I have even heard before from a friend in Lighting, "all lighters are just failed animators". Perhaps there is an element of truth, but really animating and lighting are two very different sets of skills.

The Wild Things presentation also had another familiar face (to me anyway) as Daniel Jeannette was animation supervisor on Happy Feet. It was interesting to see how many different techniques they tried before deciding on puppets cg with face replacement. They had some pretty crazy ideas (some of them were never going to work) and lots of studios worked on tests for them, a very long way of going about making a film. The final results work really well, but it does look like a lot of work, especially in the tracking and roto departments.

I planned to go to a "Building Pipelines" talk but couldn't physically get in the room as there were people standing blocking the door, so had to give it a miss. It became obvious at this point that there were certain presentations that were going to be popular and hard to get in to, namely, Avatar ones. The conference centre is big, and the idea is that different people go to different talks, therefore no one talk gets overcrowded. But what was to come next really did shock me. The Making of Avatar.
We queued at the doors, and when the doors opened, it was ridiculous. Grown men pushing, we were stuck and getting pushed in by the crowd. I vowed never again to go to an Avatar presentation. It sounded like all the other Weta supervisors had to pull out last minute and this guy got lumbered with their presentations. Its all the sort of things you will be able to see on the extras on the extended DVD's, or read on CG talk. When he finally got to something interesting and new... spherical harmonics, the presentation was ended saying that it was a bit too in-depth, and not enough time. There was not a spare seat, and the aisles were full of people sitting on the floor.

Next up was talk on Scrooge: "A Christmas Carol" I'm not a big fan of this type of film, but it was interesting enough (especially as ImageMovers Digital have an uncertain future at the moment). They talked about setting up a pipeline for this new studio, and why they did it, namely to keep everything in-house, meaning decisions are made quicker and the creativity is shared between departments. From a lighting point of view, it looks sub-standard to me, everything is just a little dull or CG looking, of course it could be the art department or directors vision, but I can't help thinking it dates the film, compared to the lighting in other CG features.

Having nothing else lined up next, I decided to stay in this room to watch the "Integration VFX" talk by Todd Masters of MastersFX. Truly this was the highlight of the day. First there was an introduction to the use of prosthetics in film in the past. Even though the presentation was a little Sci-Fi, it was well put together and was entertaining the entire way through. Some great use of real props that add realism, where it is needed, and help integrate the VFX. Especially in the horror genre where vfx sometimes struggle to do gruesome realistically, but where it is so easy and cheap to do the old fashioned method (not to say that it isn't an evolving technology on it's own). Eyeopening and great fun.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Day 2 -FMX

Wednesday May 5
A much less busy day today, broken up with Recruitment Presentations, so less to write about.

"Iron Man" VFX by Double Negative,
An interesting presentation about the Monte-Carlo sequence on Iron Man. They kept it interesting by talking first about the challenges of the brief (or lack of) and then showing the steps taken to overcome them. Top Top quality VFX, finding it hard to fault it. By far the best VFX presentation I saw over the 4 days. Really cool to see how they developed the suitcase suit, and almost hard to believe how much of it was CG because it was so well integrated. Good Stuff.

Blend (Art +Science) = Technology at Disney
Well presented by Andy Hendrickson, the Chief Technology Officer at Disney Animation Studios. A bit about the pipeline for "Tangled" and "The Princess and the Frog", and how they combine departments to become more efficient. Also a bit about the history of disney developing their own tools and software, and some insight into the stereography for "Beauty and the Beast 3D"

From 'Abyss' to 'Avatar' a talk with John Bruno
John Bruno VFX Supervisor/Consultant on every James Cameron Film since 'The Abyss' obviously he had a lot to talk about. Unfortunately the talk could have been paced better, as everything from Titanic -Avatar was pretty much skimmed over. The focus of the talk became more about his earlier work, and had less relevance to the audience which was mostly students. Still, it was interesting to hear the opinions from someone 'old school'! who still works in the VFX industry.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

FMX 2010

Last week I took some time out from the daily grind to go to the FMX conference in Stuttgart, Germany. It a great way to catch up on new developments in the Digital Industries, and meet up with old colleagues. It is also much cheaper than going to SIGGRAPH in the states (although I'd love to go!)

I made it onto the 'Impressions: Thursday May 06' video online!

With so much going on, there an element of compromise when choosing which presentations/workshops to go see. Here is a detailed round up of my trip, first post is Day 1.

Tuesday 4 May,

Being the animation nerd that I am, I chose to see the animation presentations rather than the pure VFX talks this morning. First up, some stop motion from Scopas, in Hamburg, “Making of Dreamland”. A TV film with a small 8 million Euro budget, it follows the story of the Sandman, a celebrated character in Germany. Even though this was essentially a low budget kids film, a lot of effort had been taken in building the characters and sets, to make this a beautiful looking film. Relying heavily on green screens, it is quite VFX heavy, but from what I have seen, very well integrated.

Next up, “Creating the Disney Villain through Hand Drawn Animation” a presentation by Bruce Smith, supervising animator on Disney's “Princess & the Frog”. You just had to love this guy, with his incredible anecdotes. The audience was shown some pencil tests from the film, and some final sequences, and some live drawing (a real crowd pleaser!). You could really see how he had put elements of himself as well as nuances from the voice actor into the character Dr. Faciller. Overall a very enjoyable talk, from a great personality.

After a break for lunch, I decided to stick with the animation theme, since it was going so well. “Anatomy for Character Design, Rigging and Animation” by Dr. Stuart Sumida, a paleontologist, animal and human anatomy specialist. Again a brilliant presentation, and an interesting subject. He sounds like he has worked with every animation company in the states, having worked as consultant on 45 features in the past 20 years. There were plenty of images on show as examples, and was a real eye opener for me personally (especially how evolution shapes animation). Probably my favourite of the day.

Next a behind the scenes look at “The Graffalo” a short made for the BBC last christmas by Studio Soi, in Berlin. They chose an unusual route of building physical sets and using CG characters and animation. They seemed to put a lot of love and effort into making individual leaves, and blades of grass. It felt a little wasted, since most of the shots were stills, and much of the set looked painted over and could have been CG, or was lost to depth of field. From the looks of things, making it all CG would have been a whole lot easier... the film is great, and well worth a watch!

“A Matter of Loaf and Death”: Stopframe Goes Digital. A nice presentation that very much reflected the Aardman style, and gave a good insight into their scary cross over to digital. There are obvious creative and practical benefits of an all in-house production, going digital aided that process. Some great behind the scenes footage, even with the use of digital cameras there is still an appreciation of trying to get that all in camera feel, so that you are never thinking 'Is that CG?'. By using a mix of shot elements, dust, smoke, rain, instead of purely CG elements composited with the stop frame animation (and animation tricks such as real animated rain drops) they keep their style consistent with past Wallace and Gromit films. Even after seeing clips multiple times, they still get the biggest laughs!

'Stereography in “Ice Age 3”' Although advertised as a 3D Stereo presentation, and held in the Cinema where we were given 3d glasses.... there was no Stereo in this talk! The biggest disappointment of the day! Other than that, this was your typical 'making of' presentation, with some Stereography info tagged on at the end with little explanation. It felt like someone else's presentation and could have been broken up a bit more with shorter clips making it easier to sit through. Still, it hasn't put me off wanting to see the film at some point.

Three Dimensional Storytelling by Bob Whitehill at Pixar, a complete contrast to the previous Stereo presentation. When pixar send out one of their men to represent the company, they do it in style. A well composed talk, split up with 3D clips to watch. A bit dumbed down for the non-technical viewer, making it accessible to anyone who has a slight interest in the subject. It worked especially well because the focus of the talk was on storytelling which as everyone knows is pixar's Holy Grail (and so it should be!) Beauty and the Beast in 3D? Toystory? Can't wait...Bring it on!

Toy Story 3D Trailer in 3D Anaglyph and Side-by-Side 3D from Al Caudullo on Vimeo.

Next post, Day 2.

Monday, 19 April 2010

19th April

A few updates. is now online.

I finished working with Thought Den a few weeks back, here is just a taster of the work provided.

Hopefully finishing up projects this week and starting some new ones, watch this space.