Sunday, August 30, 2015

Abstraction in Animation

What I love most about animation is it's ability to articulate complex ideas and messages through abstraction and excess. Think about the cartoons you watched as a kid, how in moments of reactions characters faces would fill up the screen often to a disgusting degree to capture how they personable reacted to the events before them.

Take for instance captain K'nuckles in this clip of Flapjack. See how this joke wouldn't play out as well if this was live action. It's not just the hi-res reaction that makes this clip, but also the distortion of time we here in the Capp's voice. He is truly enraptured by the maneuvers of this  playful pup.

Now on to another example. There are many parts of the animation posted below that I think are executed flawlessly. The restricted pallet, the movement and design of the Jumper, the expressions of his face. This to me represents a near perfect execution, and the best part of it all is that every single detail is an abstraction of reality, and yet all the while we are able to form a cohesive narrative from it. 


The World of The Good Dinosaur

When I first saw the trailer for Disney/Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, I was just in shock and awe while watching this. But the reason why was because, not just of how fun and adorable the story seemed, but because how beautiful the animation looked. All of the textures and lighting looked unbelievably realistic. There were time when I looked at the picture and thought, "is this really an animation?! It looks like real life!" The only things that really looked animated were the characters, but everything else (trees, leaves, plants, all of the environment) was really well crafted and well rendered and looks so photo real. It's truly amazing how technology in animation and filmmaking has come thus far, and it's things like this that continue to inspire me to pursue my dream of working in this industry (although particularly as a visual effects artist for live action films, but the techniques still go hand in hand).
If you haven't seen the trailer yet, take a look at it right here! Enjoy!

Rew Day

I came across this short and I found it very interesting to watch even though the main action started 3 minutes into the film. Dimitrov's storytelling approach makes this short film very memorable and unique. The reverse storytelling used in his film really makes it special. Even though it has such a dark tone, it is still pleasing to watch because of Dimitrov's comedic touch. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

So as I was thinking about what to post for this week's assignment, I came a cross an oscar winning animation short entitled "Rejected". This is a short that is about a series of rejected cartoon ideas, and the best part, it is all done with stick figure drawings! This was especially interesting to me because I have a very limited artistic capability when it comes to drawing. That is a fancy way of saying that I have pretty much no drawing ability. I can basically only draw stick figures. This animated short is pretty hilarious and pretty awesome seeing that it is only done with stick figures. I guess it goes to show that I still might be able to make it in this class. Enjoy!

Digital Sculpting - Creating Virtual Models and Bringing Them to Life

Looking through the Internet for some appealing motion graphics program and techniques, I came across ZBrush. ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that, simply, allows users to shape a digital ball of clay into anything and everything using tools. The program combines 3D and 2.5D modeling, texturing, and painting to create high-resolution models for use in movies, games, and animation.

ZBrush was developed by Pixologic in 2015.

The basic component that allows this program to operate is the 'pixol' technology. Similar to a pixel, pixol uses information on depth in addition to the X and Y position information. Pixol-created images can lose their property (Z position or depth) if converted in to JPEG or PNG file formats.

ZBrush is famous for allowing users to go into detail with creating and sculpting their models. An example of this is that ZBrush allows medium to high frequency details to be applied on the models; something that was previously done using bump maps.

This is something really fun and creative but also very complex. Digital sculpting is still very new but it has become very popular in the few years of its existence. This new technology uses geometry in various ways to enable the manipulation of clay-like digital objects.

Just the Beginning

My background in After Effects? At this point, slim. My experience with animation? Unless you count the endless hours spent watching and rewatching Pixar's Classics as a child--not extensive.

I open with this statement, not to demean myself, but to express my excitement in the journey ahead. I'm already impressed (and admittedly a bit overwhelmed) with some of the intricate and interesting posts of my peers. I hope to learn a lot from you in the coming weeks.

So what do I know about animation? The first time I recall watching an animated piece from a analytical perspective was in high school. We'd been discussing the basic elements of production--specifically related to short film--in a media class I was taking, when one afternoon my teacher began class with this:

(This is just the trailer)

Now, I assume many of you have seen Paperman. At the time, it was a fairly new piece and most people in my class were not familiar with it. I can still hear the collective "awe" we each sighed as the credits began to role. Even the toughest of stereotypical high school boys couldn't hide their enjoyment.

As I pondered what I might write about in this first post, I came across a list (found here) of the top animated shorts that "define Disney's success." As a friendly reminder of that day back in Mr. Zayatz's class, I was pleased to see Paperman ranked at #1. Having been in the back of my mind already, I figured that was enough a sign to write about it. Not only did Paperman win an Oscar in 2012, but it was also the first Disney animated short to win an Academy Award in 43 years.

What is it about this piece that people can't resist? It's storyline is simple, yes. And yet the animation, combined with incredible sound composition, takes the viewer on a romantic journey--dialogue not even needed! I think animation in general has a way of stretching the parameters of film. And that's why I'm so excited to explore all this class has to offer.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

One thing that I really love about animation is the fact that you don't even have to include words to make a story. Some of my favorite animations are those where words are not included. It forces you as a viewer to really focus and watch what's going on and try to infer what's going on with just the information that the artist is giving you. For example, one of my favorite shorts is from last year called Feast:
It's a sweet love story told through a dog's life. In this short, only a total of two words were said: "Hey" and "Wait". Other than that, communication was told through barks and the visualization of the story. This short was created for young children and it just goes to show that not all good films need words for people to understand.

NPR: Photo Realistic Images on the Rise!

It wasn't until last semester in my New Telecommunications and Technologies class that I was introduced to the idea of a robotic image that existed in the 3D graphic world which has the power and ability to completely erase humans in the digital medium. How you ask this is possible? NPR.

NPR stands for non-photorealistic rendering which allows the enabling of a large variety of expressive styles catered for digital art, and in recent times it has gotten a lot more popular than one would have imagined. As Antony Ward puts it why would one chose anything but NPR especially with the ease in which 3D photorealism has become available?

With new age technology Films are being realized through creating photorealistic images, although 3D was introduced awhile ago the ability to generate its "perfect double" was still an obstacle. Now even actors can be created completely virtually and are able to replace live actors in the film medium. However, with the inability to produce virtual voice that sounds organic and natural enough to fits its virtual image, human actors are used to fill that disparity, but with the continuous advancements in technology soon human actors will be completely replaced by their virtual counterparts.

Although NPR is a great discovery within animation, it won't ever take over cartoons, a medium of unrealistic art that has an innocent appeal and connect with children. However, with that said companies like Pixar have used NPR  to makes their animations a lot more appealing without taking away the whole cartoon formula. Pixar uses NPR in a way of enhancing rather than replacing their cartoons.

Although entertainment seems to be the popular industry for NPR, its actually most popularly used in technological manuals, as its much easier to build something using realistic images to guide one through.

Photo courtesy of CreativeBlogQ

Kinetic Typography

I have always loved watching the creativity of kinetic typography projects. Kenetic typography is the idea of taking words and animating them.

FROM PAPER TO SCREEN from Thibault de Fournas on Vimeo.

For the most part these projects are timed to music:

or sometimes music videos:

Some projects have some really interesting messages and tell really beautiful stories:

ChildLine: First Step from Buck on Vimeo.

But I think that this style of media is the most powerful because it forces your audience to read and watch you message in a one of a kind way. Similar to the way Prezi adds interest to a presentation, Kinetic Typography makes any poem, lyric, or written work come to life in it's own way.

Subdivision Explained by Pixar

Have you ever tried drawing a circle? I don't mean any old circle, I mean a perfect circle. I bet you have. I assume it didn't work out, huh? Well, computers, and specifically computers in the late 90's when Pixar's Toy Story was being created, have a hard time doing it too since a computer screen works in pixels (I'll talk more about pixels versus vectors in a later blog post). Computers are great at drawing straight lines, however.

What computers do to "fake" circles is actually quite ingenious, if you ask me. They create thousands and thousands of points in a circular arrangement and draw lines between each point, thus creating the illusion of a round circle. In the 3D animation world this is called subdividing. YouTube user, Numberphile visited Pixar in November of last year and sat down with Tony DeRose, who leads the research group there.

Ok, let's take a step back real quick and provide some background information. The basis of 3D animation is computer science, heck, even the founder of Pixar, Ed Catmull, was a computer scientist. Everything you see over the course of the day, cars, trees, the computer you're reading this on, is comprised of basic three-dimensional shapes, spheres, cubes, cones, cylinders, etc. As you've probably seen, some characters are a lot more sophisticated than these basic shapes.

The exemplar character that DeRose uses is Geri from the short film Geri's Game. Geri is an old man with the heart of a child, but he's still old. The way that his hand, for instance, was modeled was by creating adjoining shapes with rough edges that made Geri look, for lack of a better word, fake. Geri is a person and people have skin, right? So the team at Pixar had to figure out a way to make his skin look like skin. This is where subdivision comes into play.

Subdivision takes the rough edges and smooths them out by doing two steps, splitting segments and averaging their midpoints, thus giving us smoother and smoother shapes until you finally get something like the last image.

It is this process that allows the creation of smooth characters like Woody, Buzz, and Porygon 2.

For a more in depth demonstration of subdivision at work, check out Numberphile's video.

Animating Human Dressing

Scenes of people/characters getting dressed in animated films are usually missing because it is hard to manipulate cloth to make the action look realistic. However, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a solution to this problem by creating a tool that allows animators to make the action of getting dressed look realistic. The tool lets the animated characters manipulate the simulated cloth to get dressed in a number of different ways as well as includes a variety of garments and fabrics the characters can dress in.

I thought this was a really neat animation tool researchers came up with, and something that could really change the world of animation. It could be developed even more and be used in an array of animated movies, television shows, commercials, etc. in the future. Animators could finally show this action in movies, which is a big step forward in the animation world. The tool's main goal goes beyond animation though. The creators ultimately want the technology to help them create "assistive technologies that would enable robots of the future to help disabled or elderly adults with self care, such as getting dressed."

To read more about the technology click here.

Believe it or not, I'm walking on air.

After becoming someone who roams the internet out of habit rather than personal pleasure anymore, the amount of creativity that I've come across is honestly crippling. Well, crippling in the sense that say you go to a Van Gogh museum and you get so enraptured by his work that you cry 5 times throughout the day. Except instead of crying, it's a vague sense of oneness with people on the internet just like you, creating things that you thought only gods were capable of. And then I found this masterpiece:

Titled Dog of Wisdom, (the only thing that could actually describe this work), a pair of floating mutts is featured and they pretty much just go to town in conversation. In over a few days, a post on Tumblr got over half a million views. The only problem was that the creator was not sited in the post most know it from. I actually had to go and do research to find the original video, which you'll find matches and even triples that amount.

Anyway, as amateur artist, one thing that constantly gets me is a lack of citation and credit towards artists. All of this hard work (see; above) could've gone to waste because someone was selfish and wanted to claim a masterpiece as their own. Don't do that. Cite ya artists. They are struggling.

PS: Happy belated National Dog Day, am I right? Dogs af.

Playing with the Eyes and Ears

It is basic human nature to associate certain sounds to certain actions or objects. For instance when you hear a loud bang with a sharp metallic ting to it, you can assume it was some metal object hitting concrete or some other hard surface. However through animation, we have the ability to broaden the possibilities of said actions and objects. PES's film "Fresh Guacamole" is what I like to call an audio-visual palette cleanser, because it makes you rethink how to apply sounds to actions.

Simply by re-associating cooking sounds to random objects, you get an interesting short that is much more appealing to the viewer, rather than animating actual avocados and chips.

Playing with the eyes and ears can also lead to better story telling. In the short "Out of Sight", a blind girl must find her seeing eye dog solely through touch and sound. Due to her young age many of the objects like cars, planes, or people, are reimagined into fish-cars, or whale-planes.

One of my favorite parts of this animation is when we encounter the cat. Initially it is just a blob, it rolls around until it meows, which then unravels into a cat. It's interesting to see the world building process because you become immersed in the video.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ray Tracing Graphics Rendering

Whenever I encounter something new and exciting I always want to know how it works. I want to know why it was built the way it is or how it can be customized. When using the program Adobe After Effects, I am stunned by how the preset objects (spheres, particles, lights) look realistic and physically accurate. I wanted to know how a computer could generate objects that incorporated scientific factors like light, reflection, shadows, and physics. Through an independent study with Ithaca College professor Paul Dickson, I got answers.
I worked for a semester with Paul to build a Ray Tracing Graphics Renderer. While that may be a mouthful it is actually a pretty simple concept that translates to complicated coding. The ray tracer that I built used object oriented programming. An object, in this case, is a class that has attributes, accessors, and mutators. 

For example, a sphere object:
attributes: position, radius, color
accessors: getPosition, getRadius, getColor
mutators: setPosition, setRadius, setColor
Image created from my ray tracing graphics renderer featuring planes.

All of these elements together give us an object or blueprint that we can create instances of. Once we have this outline we can have one sphere that is at position (0,0) with a radius of 5 and is red in color, as well as a green sphere at (8,10) with a radius of 2, etc.

Images from my ray tracing graphics renderer before an after
adding a light point in addition to ambient lighting.
In my ray tracer I had lines, spheres, planes, light points, and more. The light points were so that the objects placed in our virtual world could actually be seen. This is where some of the physics of computer graphics rendering came in. I was pretty much able to plug and chug numbers into my program to make the lighting work realistically but there is a lot of mathematics and research that goes into capturing the physics used in graphics renderers.
A ray tracer works by having a given perspective position or “camera” that sends a ray through every pixel of an image. If a frame of the movie is 1080x1920 pixels then the camera sends out 2,073,600 rays, which explains why ray tracing graphics takes so long and takes so much RAM. A ray has a starting point and travels infinitely in a direction. Sending out a ray means that every position between the camera and the last object in the virtual world is checked to see if it intersects with an object. If the ray intersects with an object then it sets that value of the pixel to be the color value of the objects. Lighting and physics may alter the color of the pixel as well.

When all of the rays have been sent then every pixel of the image should be colored and you will have final images like these:

Ray traced spheres with added camera effects like focal point and blur.
One Dragon object stores all of the dimensions and parameters for the dragon shape
and minor modifications to the values representing the physics of the light
make the dragon look like it is made of different materials.
This was ray traced and it makes me laugh.

Animation Movement and Music

I love animated music videos. So often the true artistic meaning of a song cannot be properly conveyed through live action, so for me this represents a profound opportunity for creative expression. Take for instance the work of Felix Colgrave:

Everything flows in a way that is truly striking. Every beat, chord and solo is represented with bright colorful and strangely beautiful characters. Even though the song might not having anything to do with what we're seeing, it's spirit and message is all there..

Take this one made to compliment Mika's song Lollipop:

Everything just flows in a way that's not only visually stunning but also creatively brilliant. The texture of the song is brought to life in rich sugary detail. the whole frame springs to life from the lyrics of the song in a way that only an animation can.

I know this class deals more with 3D, but I couldn't help but share my affection for animated music videos.