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Post With The Most 31/08/2016

This month's Post With The Most reminds me very much of those English class assignments beloved of teachers that pose the question 'What Did You Do During Your Summer Holidays?'.  As far as the Computer Animation Arts community is concerned, the simple answer is 'lots!'.

Last month's PWTM showcased a number of students who'd returned to previous project work over the summer to improve it, polish it, or otherwise up the ante.  Soon-to-be Year 3 student, Julien Van Wallendael revisited his Year 2 Le Dormeur du Val project, his low-key, but technically ambitious response to Arthur Rimbaud's elegiac poem about the true cost of human conflict.  Rimbaud's 'sleeper in the valley' is in fact a corpse - peaceful against the grass and below blue skies - and dead.  Originally unhappy with some elements of his original submission, Julien chose to to pick the project back up and see it enhanced.

Le Dormeur du Val / Julien Van Wallendael / July 2016

Art Of / Le Dormeur du Val / Julien Van Wallendael 

Oh yeah, and Julien recently posted this rather adorable animation, which I'm sharing because it's not everyday on CAA we get a Barbara Streisand homage! 

Do Bring Around A Cloud / Julien Van Wallendael

CAA Yr 2 student Tom Smith is another busy bee, who has used his aestival downtime to up his creative output, updating his blog on a near-daily basis with his pop culture-inspired illustrations of beloved characters from fan-favourite franchises. Motivation for self-directed projects can be difficult to muster when tutors aren't around with their carrots and their sticks.  I asked Tom about his personal drawing project and why he thinks it's important to keep at it:

Spidey / Tom Smith / July 2016

Tom / I’m always trying to up my game when it comes to drawing. I love looking at art that references to pop culture or has a direct link, which is why I love to draw things like Power Rangers, and Gremlins etc. They are things I like and I want to see them, so that’s why I draw them. 

Pikachu / Tom Smith / July 2016

Blue Power Ranger / Tom Smith / August 2016

Most of the time they all start with a doodle.  Nine times out of ten I draw during quiet times at work when there is nothing else to do. Some days my pocket is full of doodles and ideas from quick digital paintings. With every painting I find a new little trick to add to the next painting.  I have acquired some new brushes which allow me to bring a bit more life to my paintings. I love it when people ask me to draw something for them after they have seen my work, as it gives me confidence to keep getting better. 

Chewie / Tom Smith / July 2016

It's not only students who keep pushing things along during the hazy days of Summer.  As further evidence against the folklore that suggests lecturers hibernate during the holidays, CAA senior lecturer and Autodesk Jedi, Alan Postings, has been very busy putting together a new bag of tricks in preparation for the new academic year.  The PWTM caught up with Alan for the the low-down on 'What's New for 2016/17'

Poma character development #1 / Charlie Serafini / August 2016

Alan / 2D Character Rigging in MayaThis new short tutorial series is linked to the year 2 'Narrative & Character' project. It demonstrates how to design and rig a 2D 'flat' character to work in a non-perspective view. The character is broken into pieces and then layered on geometry planes in Maya to allow rigged movement. It also features a Zombie...Urgggghhh!

2D Facial Rigging in MayaThis new tutorial came from a fun request by Year 3 student, Charlie Serafini.  It illustrates how to set up facial movement using images instead of modelled features such a eyes and a mouth. Charlie has kindly designed a fun character with all the face shapes necessary for the tutorial too.  Meet 'Poma'. 

As Charlie himself says "I wanted to know how to create 3D characters with 2D 'stuck-on' faces like the Jelly Jamm characters.  Alan asked if I could design a character for the tutorial. I had lots of freedom, the only real requirement was a character with a stuck-on face! I was asked to give Alan a orthographic and 3/4 view for modelling plus eye and mouth shapes.  Alan also asked for more information on the hair, so I re-drew it with a mesh to make it more understandable. I wanted this tutorial as I felt it might be a good design choice for my third year project, as I want to achieve an animation style similar to Jelly Jamm, which has a strong 2D animation influence."

Poma character development #2 / Charlie Serafini

Pipeline 1 & 2: 3D Character Rigging in MayaWelcome 'Jetpack Jones' to the course! Justin Wyatt has very kindly taken time out from his busy schedule to design a character specifically for the course. Justin has also kindly agreed to show everyone how he designed and drew Jetpack Jones (his process) step by step in this year's year 2 character design classes (don't worry year three we'll do a show and tell for you too). Jetpack Jones will also feature in 3D as part of a new tutorial series.

After four years, the character 'set up' pipeline tutorials in year two have become (for the most part) obsolete due to changes and improvements in Maya. Personally I'm a little bored of modelling the same character too! This new tutorial series has been designed to include the new technology and 'up the ante' in terms of what you can all achieve with your own designs in 3D. This tutorial series will be broken into three parts over the course of a year to include modelling, UV layout, texturing, normal mapping, skinning, body rigging, corrective blend shapes, facial rigging, and interface design. The goal of these tutorials is to create performance ready characters for animation. 

Isometric CamerasThis new tutorial will feature as part of the Narrative & Character project and will explain what 'Isometric' means and how to implement it using Maya camera's. Overall the process is relatively easy but it has an impact on how you tell stories and animate.

Isometric Terrarium / Julien Van Wallendael / July 2016

Maya & Other Software Tutorials Finally, there is a new look and feel to the tutorials too. I'm hoping to split each tutorial into 15-20 minute chapters (as much as I can) and if possible we're going to migrate to new website platform during the year.  As Alan  - or rather Mark Twain - concludes by saying: "Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection".

Daydream / Ethan Shilling, Louis Tamlyn & Samson Lazima Jali

The Summer is always a welcome opportunity to take stock and get our ducks in a row - and to update the official CAA website.  When you visit us now, you'll see new pages dedicated to our recent MASK collaboration and to ONE - our ongoing partnership with an Orchestra Network for Europe.  It's only when you see all our achievements in one place like this that you can sit back a bit and think 'Wow - we certainly like to keep ourselves busy!'.  Indeed, it's an ongoing source of pride and satisfaction that Computer Animation Arts gets involved in so many interdisciplinary projects, wherein animation and animation software is used in so many varied and surprising ways.

Preparing to screen La création du monde at the Théâtre municipal, Abbeville, France

We've already heard from CAA Yr 3 student, Charlie Serafini, who has been working with senior lecturer, Alan Postings, on an all-new character for an all-new series of Year 2 tutorials.  Let's hear from Charlie again, as he recounts his recent experience as an intern at Nexus Productions.

Charlie / "I was really excited to spend a month completing work experience at Nexus. The whole time there was an amazing experience and everyone was really nice and super helpful! I can't talk to in-depth about what I got up to during my time there, but I can say the office was awesome.  It had floors of really interesting people working on very interesting projects. Its lunch room had table tennis and an arcade machine with lots of classic games (needless to say lunch time was amazing).

My first day was a blast.  I met Mark Davies who would be looking after me for the next month and from the get go I got asked to create an animatic for a job Mark was working on.  I met the director of the job and he briefed me on what he wanted.  After that I got stuck in, and by the end of the first day I had an animatic approved by a director that later went on to be approved by the client. That was an amazing experience, especially as I got to watch animators create the final piece using the animatic I put together.

A typical day after that was learning how to use 3DS Max and practicing animation with a character that Nexus made for previous work. The character had an awesome rig that worked so smoothly, which made animating him an absolute pleasure.  I decided to animate the character flipping a tyre as I wanted to work on making weight feel believable.  While I was working on the animation, Mark would give me lots of useful tips and feedback that helped me improve.  Mark was a gold mine of useful information.

After a couple of weeks at Nexus I got asked to help out on another project - to create a 3D animatic for a 3D printed stop motion short film. I got given previous animatics and everything about the project to look at.  After I'd made myself familiar with the project I met the director and again got briefed on what he wanted.  I got straight to work and begun to make the 3D animatic based off of the 2D versions that I was given. The next day I sat down with the director again to show him my progress.  He gave me some things to fix and explained there was one shot in particular he wasn't sure of.  We then spent a few days working on this one shot having back and fourth discussions on how it could work and figuring out the best method of creating something that satisfied his vision. The whole animatic took about a week and half to complete.  In the end it was a clear vision of what the film should look like and was created through lots of revision and feedback. 

I completed the animatic on my last day at Nexus and was asked by the director and project manager if I would be available to help during the actual shoot. Of course I said yes, and I was really excited to be able to return and watch the animatic I made become the final film. The shoot was an amazing experience - although it was very chaotic and fast paced. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong during the weekend of the shoot and it taught me a valuable lesson; even in the industry things don't always go as planned, but they work around problems and make the vision happen. It was also very awesome to see my animatic being used as a step-by-step guide for the film. It really helped speed up the process of animating as they had something to follow which took out a lot of the guesswork.

To sum up my time at Nexus, I would say it was an incredible experience! I learnt a lot of really helpful things and got given guidance every step of the way. Something that sticks out for me is something that Mark said to me -  that communication is a very important skill to have in the industry.  You need to be able to talk to clients and directors. You need to be able to make people's visions come true, but at the same time, as an artist, you have to be able to express your opinion."

The Overture development thumbnails / Jordan Buckner

One of my jobs this Summer has been to write the script or screenplay for CAA's uber-project - an animated adaptation of Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra.  The project began speculatively, with students being asked to imagine the orchestra's various instrument groups as 'kingdoms of sound'.  This early phase helped consolidate some ideas and jettison others.  We came to understand the true scale of this world - and also that, without characters and smaller, internal narrative arcs - seventeen minutes of just 'places and things' would soon fail to engage the very audience for whom the animation has been commissioned.

Before any further progress could be made, a detailed moment-by-moment screenplay was required and thus began an intensive - and intensely fun - process of really listening to Britten's music and getting our rather extraordinary adaptation down on paper for all of us to see.

The adventure begins in a space entitled The Overture - which the YPGTTO screenplay describes accordingly:

"Immediately as the music begins, we see the screen we’ve been looking at is in fact an entrance. It splits down the middle like enormous double-doors and slowly, and with some majesty, the doors draw back to reveal the vast interior of The Overture. The crowd fidgets with excitement. The camera tracks towards them, over their heads and all the way past them, thus we enter the Overture: an establishing shot of this extraordinary space now fills the screen.

The Overture reminds the viewer of many places: it’s partly like an enormous airport, train station or spaceport because it’s very busy with streams of musical notes who are travelling this way and that on what look to be like escalators and conveyor belts. There are lifts going up and down too. There are arrow-shaped signs with destinations on them: we see signs for ‘The Wind City’ and ‘The Brass City’ and ‘The Harp District”. We see departure boards too for destinations such as ‘Piccolo Piazza’ and ‘Timpani Towers’ etc. We’re reminded too of an enormous sorting office or distribution centre. Everything is moving and busy. Everyone is on their way to somewhere else. This place is huge!"

CAA lecturer, artist and animator, Jordan Buckner has been working to visualise the script; check out these early development thumbnails as he takes The Overture 'from script to screen.'

The Overture development thumbnails #2 / Jordan Buckner
The Overture development thumbnail #3 / Jordan Buckner
The Overture development thumbnail #4 / Jordan Buckner

The Overture development thumbnail #5 / Jordan Buckner

The script also introduces our YPGTTO adaptation's principle protagonist - Red - a character deriving from musical notation, who, like the audiences for the animation, will take a whistlestop tour of our Kingdom of Sound. Julien Van Wallendael has been working with Jordan to identify Red's definitive form.

Characters from musical notation early development sheet / Jordan Buckner

Characters from musical notation early development sheet #2 / Jordan Buckner

Characters from musical notation early development sheet # 3 / Julien Van Wallendael

Meanwhile, CAA alumnus and all-round marvel, Ethan Shilling, has been devising ways to ensure that we can keep all the easy, innate charm of these characters when the time comes to model and animate them in 3D.

3D translations of characters by Jordan Buckner and Julien Van Wallendael / Ethan Shilling

Character No 47 Maya test / Ethan Shilling

As the script developed, a cast of supporting characters soon made themselves known, including Yellow, Red's on/off companion during his tour of Britten's orchestra, and some much-less friendly inhabitants of the Bassoon District!  Julien's breezy mid-century style character designs continue to delight the YPGTTO team.

'Yellow' initial character development sheet / Julien Van Wallendael

Yellow Maya test / Ethan Shilling

The Bassoon Bosses character development / Julien Van Wallendael

The Bassoon Bosses character developmen #2  / Julien Van Wallendael (with colour picks from The Bassoon District speed paint by Samantha Niemczyk)

Bassoon Boss Maya translation & set-up test / Ethan Shilling

The Bassoon District development thumbnails / Jordan Buckner

Really exciting stuff! You can keep up-to-date with all the developments of the 'CAA does YPGTTO' project here.

The Carolina Tree Of Life / Susy Paisley

We're delighted to welcome CAA alumna and freelance animator Nat Urwin into the teaching faculty of Computer Animation Arts.  Nat, who will be working with our first year undergraduates, has a wealth of animation experience under her belt - in pretty much all media - drawn, stop motion and CGI. Most recently, Nat has been working with Susy Paisley, conservation biologist, artist and textile designer. As the artist writes: "My fabric designs tell stories of neglected and endangered species, and contribute towards the preservation of critical wild habitat. Collaborating with the World Land Trust, for every metre of fabric sold, 100 m2 of wild habitat will be preserved."

Suzie commissioned Nat to create an animated promotional ident, wherein the flora and fauna featuring in Suzie's designs come suddenly to life.  The PWTM asked Nat about her collaboration with the textiles designer:

Nat / "There were a few challenges on this project, most of those being technical (which I love, because it's puzzle solving), and others which are all part of working to a client's grand ideas and figuring out what is actually viable with the time, money and resources available. These are every day parts of being a freelance animator. 

One of the technical challenges for example was figuring out how to take 1 flat image and turn it into multiple layers (into the hundreds if I were to count) so that they can be animated. With a flat image things need to be sliced apart accurately, then the missing pieces need to be created to match the style. 

The Carolina Tree Of Life detail  / Susy Paisley

The Monarch butterfly at the end of the scene, was a flat image, in order for it to become an animation piece I had to slice each wing piece and body part into their own layers, design and paint the missing segments. If there was only a small piece of the back wing in the flat image, then that's all that existed, so I had to create the rest of that wing so that it would exist if I were to move things around to bring the butterfly to life. I did that to every single plant and animal within the complete design. Once all of those layers had been created, another puzzle was to structure them into the correct hyarchy for the designed animated effect."

Newton Paisley ident / Nat Urwin / August 2016

Finally, a few images from the Somerset Maugham Gallery at the Horsebridge, Whitstable - where I've been today installing the Semblance exhibition with friends and fellow artists, Phil Cooper and Phill Hosking, which opens officially tomorrow (September 1st).  It does seem as if I spend a good deal of my time in big white spaces worrying over spirit levels and drilling holes into less-than-perfect walls - though this get-in was considerably less involved than July's annual shindig at the Business Design Centre. (No transit vans required!).

We chose the word Semblance as the title of our third exhibition together because it seemed to bring cohesion to what we freely admit to being a diverse spread of work and media.  All three of us have a proclivity for making work that hovers on the cusp of story-worlds and explores scenes of the imaginary.

Phil Cooper / August 2016

Phil Gomm / July 2016

Phill Hosking / July 2016

It must seem to regular visitors to the CAA blog that I'm never happier than when kneeling on floors with a paintbrush and economy-sized tubs of white emulsion - oh, the glamour of exhibitions!

Painting, painting, painting (again!)

Phill Hosking sees another finishing touch in need of his attention

Where did I put that bloody spirit level?

Phil Cooper with his wonderful expressionistic maquettes displayed in bell jars

Phill Hosking sees another finishing touch in need of his attention #2 

Gomm, Hosking & Cooper: serious arty types...

Gomm, Hosking & Cooper:  um, not so serious arty types!
The Final Word...

"There is no use trying,” said Alice. “One can’t believe impossible things.” 
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Lewis Carroll