Friday, March 27, 2015

Interstellar VFX Part 2 - TARS and CASE Robots

Thursday I posted about the stunning VFX work in Interstellar. Today I came across a behind the scenes video of how they created the robots in the film, TARS and CASE. They play a major role in the film and they were created with a combination of motion graphics and puppeteering.

The basic frames of the robots were created with metal and puppeteered on set using various methods. In some scenes where the robots needed to move quickly through water, they used a modified ATV rig to propel the robot puppet through the water. Then, using CGI, the more detailed aspects of the robots were generated and the rigs used were keyed out of the shots.

This video below shows you exactly how they did it and it's amazing to see how it was actually done.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Evolution of US Girl Names: Bubbled

Sometimes you see something extremely simple looking but you can't figure out how it's done. This video shows, in bubble form, how the popularity of girl's names in the US has changed in the last 135 years. The bigger the bubble, the larger it appears in the box of bubbled names. I'm sure people with experience in After Effects could easily figure out how to make this, but to a person like me, I have a hard time trying to imagine how to create this video. 

I think that whoever designed this graphic did a good job by color-coding the names in alphabetical order. It makes it easy to look for specific names such as your mom's or grandmother's name. It's funny to see names like Gertrude, Bessie, and Agnes in the earlier years and imagine that some attractive people were named Gertrude back in the day.

CGI vs Practical Effects

Being in a motion graphics and animation class, we kind of find ourselves in the center of a heated debate in the movie industry. Is it better to use computer generated effects, or practical effects. Fans also have a huge stake this debate as well, many claiming that the overuse of CGI can "ruin" movies. Thats one of the reasons disgruntled fans give when complaining about the Star Wars prequels, and why the internet was overjoyed to find out J. J. Abrams is using puppets for Episode VII.

But one of the biggest franchises to find itself in the center of this debate is The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. 

One thing that movie nerds love about The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the amazing use of makeup and practical effects to produce a large amount of Orcs and other characters in the movies. Actors would have to sit in makeup for hours on end into in order to achieve these impressive effects.

Many fans were then disappointed when they realized that The Hobbit trilogy would be taking a more computer based approach to get the desired look for many of the characters. While they did utilize makeup for some close ups and other less action oriented scenes, there is a heavy use of motion capture and other CGI techniques in order to create many of the characters. 

Both techniques are extremely impressive to pull off, and how they are received by an audience comes down to personal preference. In my opinion, you get best end result when you combine the two, using practical effects when you can and falling back on CGI when practical effects are just no longer practical.

The Technology Behind Brave

As one of the biggest movies released in 2012, Brave attracted a lot of attention from moviegoers and did fairly well in the box office. Whether it was the storyline, action, or cool special effects that maintained the viewer's focus, the film was sure to satisfy any craving. But few viewers actually know the history of the film's pre-production planning and final execution. As a student of motion graphics, I was speaking to one of my former professors regarding the influence of after effects on the movie production industry. She told me that I had no idea how important the growth of technology is to a film's final end date.

The pre-production animation for the movie, Brave, originally began in 2006; six years prior to it's cinematic release. After the release of the Pixar favorite, Monsters, Inc., the animation standard rose much higher. Simulation supervisor, Claudia Chung, wanted to create such realistic, "curly hair that almost defied gravity." The two dimensional designs were difficult to create, but the animation, however, was a completely different story. In order for the goal to be achieved, Chung's team needed new technology in order to process all of the three-dimensional information. In 2009, the animation simulator, Taz, was designed in order to form individual coils around computer-generated cylinders of varying lengths and diameters. As a result, each length of Merida's hair consistently snapped back into place as soon as stopped moving. Chung also mentioned that after adding "a little randomness, some gravity, and more than 1,500 hand-placed corkscrews and flyaway wisps," the viewer is left with textural hair with a depth that the audience has never seen before.

Whether you've seen Brave or not, the film stands as a major feat for the animation and movie industry. But the majority of the credit goes to Claudia Chung; she could see the end goal and knew that the technology would finally be available when her team needed it the most. Talk about a risky but fruitful outcome!

Don Hertzfeldt and "World of Tomorrow"

Don Hertzfeldt, an American writer, animator, and independent filmmaker, has created many animated shorts and films. His films have received over 200 awards, and he's won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for Short Film twice. 

In his book "The World History of Animation", author Stephen Cavalier writes, "Hertzfeldt is either a unique phenomenon or perhaps an example of a new way forward for individual animators surviving independently on their own terms… he attracts the kind of fanatical support from the student and alternative crowds usually associated with indie rock bands."

His films tend to focus on dark humor, exploring themes of existentialism and philosophy.

Here's another one of his short films: The Meaning of Life.

World of Tomorrow will be available through video on demand at the end of this month. You can watch his film, It's Such a Beautiful Day on Netflix now.

Frozen 2

I have no idea why this wasn't posted already but two weeks ago Disney officially announced plans to produce Frozen 2. This really isn't that shocking, looking at the immense success of the original film. Having generated nearly $1.3 billion at the box office, one could argue that Frozen rejuvenated Walt Disney Animation Studios. A release date has yet to be released.

Interstellar's Black Hole

Last night I watched Interstellar for the first time. I was blown away by the amazing depiction of space, the black hole, and the worm hole in the film. It's no surprise that the film was the winner of the 2015 Oscar for Visual Effects.

It took the VFX team hundreds of hours of tedious work to produce such a stunning product. Black holes have such a strong gravity field that light literally cannot escape them, and light that is surrounding black holes is bent and distorted. Filmmakers often use a technique called ray tracing to render light and reflections in images. "Ray-tracing software makes the generally reasonable assumption that light is traveling along straight paths." Generating the proper light effect as VFX was a difficult task for the team. Eugenie von Tunzelmann, a CG supervisor at Double Negative said this about their work, "We had to write a completely new renderer." Some frames took over 100 hours to render with such complex light systems in place. However, it was all worth it in the end. The visual effects alone are worth the money to see this movie. See the full article by Adam Rogers, from Wired, here.

How they did Forrest Gump

As we get deeper and deeper into after effects with this class I've really enjoyed figuring out how these special effects or movie magic actually worked. One of my favorite movies form when I was younger, Forrest Gump, was one of the films I consistently was stumped by. Between how they hid Lt. Dans legs, Forrest meeting John Lennon, Nixon, and JFK there was a lot to wonder about. But now that we're getting into rotoscoping and splicing ourselves into films it's becoming clearer to me. To confirm some of these curiosities, here is a site explaining each of the special effects in the film and how they pulled them off.

Movie Magic in Forrest Gump

Lipsett Diaries Short Film

General Warning before watching the short: it has a very interesting style and gets very sad very quick.  That being said, this was a really cool short film to watch.  My friend in experimental film showed it to me and at first I was captured by the animation style.  By using abstract pencil and charcoal line to depict what was happening gave the film a dramatic and dark feeling to it from the start.  The voice over is also engaging and had me stop face booking and give my full attention to it.  I highly recommend letting it grab you for 15 minutes and listen to what it talks about.

(english version at

Avengers Green Screen

I thought this was a cool video going behind the scenes of the avengers green screen techniques. It's mind blowing how much work goes into creating these 3D worlds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After Effects Green Screen Tricks

Since we are now focussing on the final project of the class I figured it may be beneficial to post a video with some tips on creating green screen effects. The video is quite long, however, it is very in-depth and I'm sure it will be helpful for some of you when working on the project. Some of the concepts in the video have already been discussed in class, such as the use of keylights and camera perspectives.

Hope this video helps everyone!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

RenderMan for All!

Pixar's software, RenderMan, recently released a non-commercial, free-to-use version of the software. As a plus, RenderMan integrates with the Maya trial as well. If you are looking to go further into 3D animation I definitely recommend downloading the software. And even if you're not, it's still fun to play with. The RenderMan website has over five hours of tutorials to help get you started and the community forums are a great place if you're trying to accomplish something and you're stuck.

Happy Animating!

Monaco Grand Prix

Recently I was reading an article talking about what is widely considered the most difficult Formula 1 track on the circuit, the Monaco Grand Prix. What makes this course so difficult is that it takes place in the streets of Monaco, with the usual F1 hair pin turns being even more dangerous because of the relatively narrow streets, and cliff side setting. In the lead up to this event they have talked to many of the drivers who have had success at this track in the past and asked what makes them so successful and what makes it so difficult. One major tool that they have used is virtual laps of the course showing how the drivers react to the different aspects of the track and the incredibly unique challenges that this circuit offers the drivers. The Telegraph sat down with Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and had him show them exactly what it takes to win on the toughest track on the Formula 1 calendar.

Ray Traced 3D

In order to get the best 3D visuals in After Affects often using Ray Traced 3D is the best option. Ray Traced 3D is when an image is made based on tracing the path of light through pixels in an image plane and making the effects based on this. This will take a longer render time but ultimately will help drastically with the realism of your design.

Because Ray Tracing takes a long time to render sometimes it is not optimal to use it until you have enough time to let your computer sit and render things for awhile. 

In order to understand Ray Tracing one must first understand some general properties of light. once light has been emitted from a source 4 things can happen. It can either be reflected, refracted, absorbed or fluoresced. In order to have a realistic image the behavior of light within that image must be realistic as well which means including these 4 properties which Ray Tracing does by algorithm and genesis. 

In the image below one can see the difference between Ray Traced 3D text and a 3D text which is not Ray Traced

Here is a helpful link to a more detailed description on this feature: Ray Tracing

Sunday, March 22, 2015


This short film appeared on my vimeo newsfeed and in it's short 20 minutes it has both captivated my attention and FREAKED me out. I think everyone should take the time to watch this, it is overall extremely well crafted.

Roz Chast

She's a famous cartoonist, who has made a great career off of telling her personal stories and memories through cartoons. Her work shows, and she explains how there is no right way to draw or make a cartoon. I appreciated her artistry and found her story inspirational.

Friday, March 20, 2015

[BRAND NEW] YouTube 360 Video

This may or may not become a thing. It's hard to tell at this point. I've never seen anything like it before and you can tell that these early videos are at the very beginning stages.

The following two videos are 360 degree videos. While watching, you can control your view with the controls on the top left hand corner of the video and you can choose which perspective to watch from. You can decide for yourself if you like the concept or not:


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Royalty Free Textures

Everyone loves free stuff. When you need some royalty free media suddenly it becomes impossible to find what you want and if you do, it's usually never in good quality. Here I found royalty free textures for use in after effects, all in high resolution: 5184 x 3456. These packs include: wood, metal, rock/gravel, dirt/moss, and a pack of miscellaneous unique textures. Here is the download link.

Example of metal texture

Red Giant

So this week I came across Red Giant, an awesome resource in terms of software, plugins, and tutorials. They have tools for motion graphics artists, editors, VFX artists, filmmakers, colorists, and compositors. Some of their more notable tools are Pluraleyes and Colorista. Pluraleyes is a powerful tool that will automatically sync audio and video as well as multiple cameras for multclipping.

 Red Giant splits it's software into bundles they call suites. They have 5 different suites: the Trapcode Suite which includes plugins for After Effects, the Magic Bullet Suite with color correcting and finishing tools, the Shooter Suite for the early stages of post production, the Effects Suite, and the Keying Suite for compositing. Unfortunately, these are all pretty pricey however they do offer discounts for students and teachers. They also offer free trials of their software. I highly recommend checking them out.

Title Sequence Professionals

To those who work in media production, it comes as no surprise that many aspects of a production may come from different production companies, especially things like the products' marketing videos and title sequences. Even now in our class we are making title sequences for some of our favorite shows and movies. One of the heavy hitters of the title sequence market in the industry today is the production company Imaginary Forces.

The creative heavy weights that work for Imaginary Forces have been responsible for some of the most iconic title sequences in the industry, perhaps most recognizably the sequences for the movie Se7en, and the AMC series Mad Men.

Imaginary Forces has also produced the title sequence for shows like Chuck, Boardwalk Empire, Person of Interest, the HBO series Band of Brothers and The Pacific, movies like Pacific Rim, 500 Days of Summer, and countless others. IF had also made trailers and promos many shows and movies, as well as a few video game series like Splinter Cell and God of War. To see all the really cool things that they have created, head on over to their website, For someone who aspires to make title sequences and trailers for the industry, these guys are an excellent source of inspiration.

Cartoon Network's Chowder

The animated show, "Chowder," on Cartoon Network ran from 2007 - 2010. It was created by C. H. Greenblatt, who has worked on Spongebob Squarepants and Fish Hooks. Chowder is one of my favorite animated shows of all time.

It centers around a food-loving apprentice of the talented chef, Mung Daal who runs a catering company with his abrasive wife, Truffles, and assistant, Schnitzel. Yes, all the characters are named after foods. It is very silly and fast-paced.

The animation is very fun to watch. The characters clothes and fabrics are filled with a pattern that stays stable as the characters move, creating a cool aesthetic. They also incorporate stop motion into the transitions.

Here's an amazing interview with C. H. Greenblatt, in which he explains the process for creating an episode of Chowder. It takes the length of a pregnancy to create the baby - an 11 minute episode.

Also, Chowder is on Netflix, so you have no excuse not to watch it now. You're welcome.

Zach King's Special Effects

Every once in a while over the past year one of Zach King's videos would show up on my newsfeed or I'd see it on Reddit. Most recently I saw him in a Pringles commercial and doing things on Ellen. What impresses me about that is that he started by posting vine videos. I think that in itself is an important factor when thinking about the future of media.

Some of his animations I can figure out now after taking the class but there are some that still have me stumped. If you go back to his early videos you can catch some slips but overall he does a pretty amazing job. Here is a compilation of some videos he has done over the past year.


LoopdeLoop is a bimonthly animation festival that features short, looping animations.

The festival itself is based out of Australia, however the organization behind LoopdeLoop has ventured into the United States and many other countries over the past year or so. What makes this festival a little different is that people from anywhere in the world can submit their animation to be voted on by the public. Each festival also has a theme that all submitted animations have to be inspired by. Past themes include hallucinations, light, frustration, and childhood. Over the past few weeks they've been posting loops for the current theme, gravity, for people to vote on.

They recently updated their website HERE so that you can go through all the festival submissions from both current and past themes. Unfortunately their videos aren't embeddable on blogger so you have to go directly to the website, but I definitely recommend you take a look at some of the loops. Some of them are really unique.


Over this weekend, I went and saw Disney's new live adaption of the classic tale of Cinderella. I wasn't expecting a lot going in, and I ended up leaving the theatre extremely surprised and very pleased. The story was adapted fairly well, but the thing that struck me most was the production design and the visual effects. The attention to detail was remarkable, and managed to make the film pop more than practically any film I've seen before. I was so impressed, in fact, that after I left the theatre I looked up the previous work of the production designer, Dante Ferretti. Here's a great article about his attention to detail in the film from Hollywood Reporter.

Hollywood Reporter Article

Good-guy Nickelodeon

Starting this year, Nickelodeon will be awarding an animator with the best animation chosen from a contest with a $25,000 scholarship.  Anyone 17-24 can submit a short starting in april with the contest opens and be eligible for the scholarship.  By partnering with Get Schooled, founded by Melinda and Bill Gates, and working with Viacom, Nickelodeon is able to fund this project and their goal of bringing fresh animators into the business and expose their work to the public.  More information about the contest and the scholarship can be found at

FIFA Celebrations

In the video game franchise FIFA the animations of the players are so great that you can see even the smallest hairs and the renderings of the stadiums are so realistic that if you have been to the stadium you can pick out the seat you sat in. However, one of the most interesting things that the designers have had to animate into the game are the goal celebrations that you can do as a player. They have a number of custom made celebrations that any of the players can do, while also including celebrations that either only certain players can do or they need a certain set of skills. These animations are difficult to do because they have to make the players do something outside of their normal range of playing the game of soccer. Some of them are as simple as picking up the ball with their hands while others are much more in-depth such as backflips. These animations offer very little to the actual gameplay with the exception of a few seconds of gloating at your opponent.