Saturday, January 10, 2015

Production Overview: part 8 - Animation

Hey everyone!

It's been quite a while since our last post. Production has gone through a lot since we last updated, and not for no reason.

As it became, the blog ended up being a representation of our workflow, which is quite linear. Linear workflows means finishing one task - then moving on to the next (unlike non-linear workflows where you work on a few tasks simultaneously). Our last task was rig, from which we went on to animation. Sadly, when working linearly, a delay in one task - causes delays in the entire chain. in order to move on to animation, we've had to take care of rig problems, to train a additional animators on blender and to take work in order to fund the continuation of the project. this whole process took about 4 months, and 2 months ago we finally got back on the animation wagon.

This post will be about our current animation process and how we address animating the movie as a whole and every shot as a unique being. Though I'm sure there are some readers who are interested in the process of animating a character, this will not be an in-depth article about character animation but rather on how animation takes place as part of the production pipeline and the steps required to achieve coherent results. (I might write an article about animation in the future though)

Creating the infrastructure

Just to remind you, our animatic ended up 4+ minutes long with over 3.5 minutes of character animation. As animation isn't our strongest skill, overwhelmed by the amount of work we've created for ourselves, we've decided it's best if we take some help from outside. We've asked a few talented friends who agreed to take upon themselves animating a few shots in our film. This gave us the boost we needed to start  and compile a version of the film with primary animation. This was still a complicated process as every animator helped us only on his spare time, needed to take some time to learn blender and get familiar with the characters. 
Eventually, in addition to our animation tasks, we had some extra production tasks to take care of.

working horizontally

Working horizontally in this sense basically means we decided to work on each shot just a little bit before moving forward, so all shots are always more or less at the same stage. unlike working vertically, which basically means finishing an entire shot then moving on to the next.


In our production, it was important to decide on a horizontal workflow for numerous reasons:

1. Consistency - Layout gives us only so much information about our characters acting and behavior, we needed a clear idea of what the characters do and how they move throughout the film. This way you get a consistent behavior, and don't finish a shot just to later realize your character isn't acting according to its personality. This is especially important when few animators need to synchronize their animation styles.

2. Editing - While editing should have been already solved for the most part during storyboard and layout, many issues remained unsolved, such as certain cuts between shots, some shots needed timing adjustments (being longer or short) and some shots ended up redundant. Working on all shots at a basic level simultaneously allowed us to make final decisions and adjustments regarding these matters.

3. Moral boost - Long term productions tend to suck the life force out of you. Sometimes you work on something for so long without seeing progress that you lose momentum. In order to restore some of our energy, we had to feel that the project is making progress. To do so we had to see how all the pieces come together. 

Overall, working horizontally gives you a clearer picture of the movie as a whole, which is important for a production with limited time and resources in order to reassess times and schedules and also to keep you from working too long on minor details that are eventually hardly noticeable. 

Animating a shot 

Animating a shot consists of several stages. I'll try to simplify the process as much as I can just to give a clear idea of the process we are going through. In our horizontal workflow, we will finish all shots in blocking stage before we move on to breakdown

Planning
1. Planning what the character does in the shot
2. Filming a reference for the acting, expressions and actions
3. Analyzing the reference and sketching key poses


sketching poses from the filmed reference

filmed reference












Blocking:
During blocking stage you pose the characters in the most important poses - the poses that define the character's actions. in this stage you also decide the actions' timing - How long an action will take.

Breakdown:
During breakdown stage you decide the flow of the motion (the arcs) how will a character (or even an organ, such as the chest or the hand) get from point A to point B, this is also where I decide on the spacing - whether the movement is of acceleration or deceleration.

Spline:
After blocking and breakdown, all that's left is to smooth the animation. this is the most tedious step as you go into great detail in order to achieve a flowing motion while preserving the strong original ideas you came up with at the planning and blocking stages.


splined version of a different shot. animated by Ben Habshush.


To sum it all up
Animation is one of the most complicated stages of production and is basically where all pre-production "drains" towards and what post-production is meant to enhance. Each animator has his own method of working and our extra animators actually take the time to finish up each shot before moving on to the next. While the production is currently horizontal, seeing a few finished shots sets a certain bar and gives us an idea of what we're generally aiming for with the entire film.


That's about it for now, thank you for reading and following. As always, please feel free to share this with others. See you in our next post :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Production Overview: part 7 - Rigging

Heya folks!
How have you all been doing? hope you’re ready for another post!

This time we have a little riddle for you guys.
What does a 3D character and a sailboat have in common?
Figured it out yet? The answer is - Both of them need a rig to make them move.

So what is a rig?
Ok, so technically the answer wasn’t completely true.
To a certain degree things can move in 3D space even without a rig.
But that would only allow them to move and rotate stiffly as one unit.
Obviously organic characters have different parts that move almost individually like arms, legs and so on. That’s where a rig comes in handy. A rig is kind of a system or mechanism if you will, that drives different parts according to their purposes. It’s the skeleton that makes it possible to move said parts.

How does it work?
We could go on and on about definitions and purposes of a rig but here’s a quick review of how the rig works for organic objects in the 3D world instead:

  • So first we have the Object - modeled in all its glory and ready for animation with a great complex topology.

  • Then we place the control objects, which are called bones or joints.

  • Now we attach the object to the bones by painting areas of influence on the object for each bone. This process is called weight painting or skinning. (in the example below, this process is done automatically).

  • And now watch the magic.
 



Character rigging
So far it’s been simple enough, right? Well, truth is rigging can be quite technical and complex, And it’s certainly not something that is done by the press of a button. It should be meticulously planned, researched and tested to get a good result. Here is a sneak peek at the planning process and the fully constructed rig for our character Abe:


Luckily there are tools that make the job a little bit easier with a few shortcuts. In order to rig our characters we used the Rigify add-on for Blender written by Nathan Vegdahl and enhanced at PitchiPoy Animation Productions. Thanks to Gilad and Dima for making this tool and their assistance available to us.

Organization and control
In the picture above it doesn't seem too bad, but in fact there are over 600 joints in this rig.
If we had to control the characters with this much clutter in the rig it would be a real pain.
Luckily we don’t have to, because every good rig has widgets that are called controllers.
The controllers make it possible to control the rig from the outside.


This makes the rig much cleaner and makes it a lot easier to animate, especially since we can hide and reveal the controllers we’re working with whenever we please.
Now we can finally move our character!


So this about sums it up. We gave you just a little taste of what it is to rig a character. This is a crucial step in the making of a 3D animation of any kind. It applies to characters, objects and more often than not to lighting and cameras as well. We hope this post has been interesting for you despite the possibly confusing subject.

Next time we’ll be taking a look at something you have all been probably waiting for for quite some time - Animation pipeline and workflow! Please share the love, like us on Facebook and comment on our posts :)

Keep rockin’!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Production Overview: Part 6 - Layout\Animatic

Hey everyone!

This time we are happy to discuss a process which took us the longest time and in a way was the most important step in the entire production - the animatic.

Creating the animatic took quite some time, a few months from basic to completion, because we tried to force several different steps on it. 

First, let us make a few terms clear:

Storyboard - A series of still images placed in order, which shows the feel of the story, the development of characters and their emotions, and gives us a basic idea to how cameras will be placed and moved. (see this entry for further details)

Animatic - The images from the story board placed on a time line. This step gives us an idea
 about timing actions and movement (of characters, camera, shots' duration, etc). It usually comes with dialogues and a soundtrack which further helps timing.




Layout - The illustrated images from the animatic are replaced with 3D environments. characters and props filling the environments are in a basic pose, just indicating position relative to the camera. In this step we make sure the cameras are placed correctly, that the general composition of shots translate well from 2D to 3D and that the characters' movements' timing works well in 3D space.



Posing - Characters are now placed in basic poses indicating their general movement, mental state and acting.
After posing, shots are sent to animators for blocking, breakdown, smoothing and refining the animation, but we'll get to this later on.



Getting lost in the process
After completing the first animatic, we felt the project has reached a halt and felt like we needed to do something to push forward. We've decided to recreate the animatic in 3D, basically turning it into a layout.
After doing so, we felt the animatic was not convincing enough. The character in layout didn't have expressions and felt very stiff in their T-poses (see image), so we've posed the characters and added movement to make up for new shots that were not originally designed in story board. we kept making changes to the animatic and added shots we never planned, posing characters in 3D along the way.
And so it came to be that after a while, our animatic performed the role of storyboard, layout and a draft for posing as well.

Conclusions
This WAS NOT a healthy process. posing characters in front of a camera in 3D and sometimes moving it takes (approx. 10~min.) a lot longer then sketching a draft in photoshop (approx. 2~min.). So whenever possible, separate different stages of work.
We've previously mentioned that it is important to advance to the next step and not fixate on minor details, since corrections and changes will be needed even later on. However, it is important that you don't rush things that are not yet ready for the next step. 

Our lack of experience made us think that the animatic in its first stages was complete, when in reality there was still a lot of work to be done on it in order for the story to work. This was a good lesson though, and while the process was not "traditional" we've managed to get the results we've striven for, even if they took longer to achieve.

Next entry will be all about Rigs and moving the characters. please continue to follow, like, share and comment. 

You are all great :)
Cheers!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Production Overview: Part 5 - Models

Hello again dear followers!

This time we want to discuss the modeling process, that technical step where you take your drawn concepts and translate them to a digital object in 3D. (well, it's not all technical, it actually has a strong creative side to it).

Some of you may not be familiar with the process of 3D modeling, we might go over the basics in an article in the future. 

Our modelling process took place in Blender, an open source 3D software. it has great sculpting, modeling and UV unwrapping tools which really suited our needs and workflow.

Modelling principals
When it came to modelling, we knew there were a few basic guidelines we had to follow:
* Keep your wire frame simple. add as few subdivisions as you can to capture the shape you need.
* Stick as close as you can to the concept
* Place your poles wisely, and your triangles discretely.
* Be consistent with your shapes.
* When it comes to characters - know your anatomy.  How you model determines how your character moves.

Modelling the characters
Modelling the characters had an additional step which was sculpting. During sculpting we looked for the general shape of the character and refined its shape. Then, while doing retopology, we made sure to create a wire frame that supports the model. 

Separating the creative process (finding shapes and forms) from the technical process (creating a model that will be able to move well) allowed for more accurate, and eventually better, results.

While modelling, we looked at many references to understand how 2D can translate well to 3D, how to create a model that is appealing from numerous angles, how to create a wire frame that can transform nicely and more.

There were times when we got sucked into work and drifted away from our primary vision, that it became necessary to restart certain areas, which eventually paid off.






Modelling the props and sets
Modelling the props and sets was a more simple task, as we didn't have to think about rigging. however, there were still some challenges. 
We wanted individual models to look detailed while having less subdivisions. As for the sets, we wanted to create many models fast, and so we relied on duplications and minor modifications to create variety and richness.



That's all for now, next time we will go over the animatic and layout process and see how story and storyboard translates into actual 3d space. still lots of interesting production materials to share, so stay tuned :)

Cheers!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Production Overview: Part 4 - World and secondary characters

Hello everybody!

It’s a fine day with you around! 
We are a little late this week. we got a little back on schedule due to story changes but it is all for the better!

Last time we revealed some of the process we went through when laying down the basics for the movie’s design and some of the things we thought of when designing our main characters.

This entry is the second part regarding the design process.

World and Environment
Designing the world was very tricky. we wanted to find balance between the harshness of a world that is all about work while maintaining the cheerful tone of our story. In order to support this concept we designed all props squar-ish with strong edges, all structures have a very solid base and the general design is “blocky”. There was also a challenge designing the world in Ben’s imagination. we wanted it to really contrast the real world and convey the joy Ben is feeling while he’s playing around. After deciding on a brown-yellow-green color palette for the real world, we tried to find a color palette that will feel entirely different and so we came up with the purple-pink-yellow theme for the imagination world (also, purple is considered a mystical color, which serves our purpose).

The following images show numerous ideas to how we tried to capture the environment and feel of the world. these aren't the final designs but these were important road blocks that helped us slowly get closer to what we knew we were looking for. so experiment, experiment, experiment.



As for the elements inhabiting the world, we wanted to make sure everything is work related. no matter where you look, there’s a tool for a chore that needs to be done, further emphasizing how dull the world of the farm is.

Every tool and object was designed and went through a few iterations, so they will all look like they belong to the same world and keep consistency. 


  

Monty & Python

These couple of charmers are both taking place in Ben’s imagination. we wanted them to be inspired by the real world while still feel somewhat imaginative.

While designing Monty (the horse), since it’s the only organic (somewhat living) character alongside Ben and Abe,  we needed it to feel coherent with the rest of the design. Monty too was designed with the some curls in his hair, and was added some strong edges to work with the rest of our edgy world. a lot of work was put in designing its face, it needed to very very sweet and appealing, like you’d expect from Ben’s best friend.



Python (the demon scarecrow) went through a few iterations until we found a design that we liked. the challenge was to create a demon threatening enough that it needs to be defeated but playful enough for Ben to actually imagine it (we assume kids don’t imagine their nightmares while fooling around).


That's about it for now. There are a lot more design materials, but you get the hang of it. designing a coherent world takes time. so be patient if you ever tackle such a task.

if you haven't so far, please check out our previous posts, and stay tuned for our next entry about modeling, where illustrated designs start forming in 3D.


Cheers!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Production Overview: Part 3 - Design basics and characters

Hello everybody!

How have you been? we've been working extra time to deliver this post on time!

If you've read so far, you know that we've been sharing the process of how we refined our story through storyboard. Today we want to discuss how we approached the art and design of our animation. There’s actually a lot to say about the matter, but I’ll try to keep it short.

I’ll start off by saying this has not been a linear process, the designs kept changing up until the last minute and were developed hand-in-hand with the story line.  

Establishing foundations

As a rule of thumb, art needs to support the story, so we've given it a lot of thought.
* First we defined the atmosphere of our story - it’s a sweet story aimed at families, so the environment should be fun and optimistic.
* Since the world is mostly Abe’s (the father’s) world, it should feel square and stiff, supporting Abe’s old-fashioned ways and ideals.
* To contrast that and to support Ben’s character we agreed Ben should be round and soft, to emphasize his playfulness.
* We've had a few basic concepts when we realized we need to elaborate on the world, location and time. To keep some of the “magical feel” we initially aimed for, we decided to set our story in medieval times, somewhere in Europe.

Deciding on these elements helped us design the outfits, the location and the props inhabiting the world.

Abe 

A lot of thought and love was put into designing the characters. The characters are the essence of the story, they appear in every second of the film and they require special attention.

After agreeing on the basics, we had to refine the characters, giving them unique characteristics and working on their appeal. In order to do so we further developed their background stories. We had to understand WHO these characters were in order to understand what they should look like. We had several drafts, but when the design of Abe’s beard and mustache came to be we knew it was spot-on. Throughout time we refined the proportions and details, to strengthen features such as his hair, shirt and shoes and his general silhouette. 





Ben

Ben was a little trickier than Abe. We had a lot (A LOT) of discussions regarding his age. He started 13 years old and gradually regressed to 6. We needed him to be old enough to somewhat understand responsibility, but young enough to be playful and for the audience to understand that his father may be expecting too much from him. Deciding his age defined Ben’s proportions but there was the matter of silhouette. Ben needed to feel wild, and we tried real hard not to fall to cliches and to create something truly original, in which his hair plays a big role. There were also discussions about details. Ben’s wild nature needed to be clear at first sight, so we added belts, made sure his clothes are always dirty and asymmetrical and stripped him off his shoes to present him as the little animal he is.




In the next entry we’ll share more info about our design process, and discuss the world and environment, secondary characters, props design and more.

Thanks for reading so far. If you enjoyed reading, please feel free to leave a comment below, share on Facebook and basically spread the word.

Cheers!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Production Overview: Part 2 - Storyboard

Hey everybody!

How was your week? we had a very busy week continuing work on the project. making steady steps towards completion.

Today we want to talk in detail about the process of creating our animation’s storyboard. it’s separated from the last entry about story, but in truth, there came a point when the two began to develop side-by-side.

What is a Storyboard?

To those who don’t know, a storyboard is a visual representation of the story or script. a little bit like a comic. It shows information about frame compositions, camera placement and movement, sound indications and sometimes even lighting (not in our case though).

While trying to join the pieces of the puzzle, we came across many problems with the story, many questions were raised that we didn’t know how to answer, like what is Ben's special trait? how should we end the movie? what happens in the climax, how do we introduce the characters and more. At one point, one of our instructors suggested that we try and draw the story instead of trying to write it. we’re both illustrators and not screenwriters, so this came about much more naturally.



The process

The first draft was drawn in Photoshop and consisted of horrible thumbnails, but at least it gave us a solid base to build upon.
When hit with a task you don’t know how to chew, the best approach is to start and just get the ‘worse’ out, to make room for the ‘better’. It is SO much better than staring at a clean slate.
This may also be the time to thank Guy Barely for introducing us to Layer Comps in photoshop. this makes storyboarding much, much easier.


The storyboard kept changing and being revised until at one point we decided it’s time to place it on a timeline and we used premiere to do so. Doing so revealed so much about our story and characters, about timing and about production limitation. (the same occurred when translating the drawn storyboard into 3d-animatic but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet).

What do we make of all of this?

What we learned from this experience, and we sincerely urge you to do so, is to NOT be afraid to take the next step. moving from script to storyboard, from storyboard to videoboard and then to 3d-animatic were all milestones in the production of our film. It’s very convenient refining details to perfection, and equally frightening to move forward and risk failure, but the next step usually holds the answers to questions that were raised prior to it.

In addition to our digitally drawn and timed storyboard, we printed the frames. This actual board helped us referring to specific shots while talking about changes that needed to be made and also gave us an overall look at what our movie is going to look like. a very handy tool.

In our next entry we discuss the overall design of our animation and the leading characters, don't miss out some secret designs and an inside look in the creation of Ben and Abe :)

Cheers!