Monday, 22 December 2014

The Jungle - New Animation - Coming 2015!

After finishing Owl. it was nice to know that I still had it in me to go generate a big piece of work from start finish and come out the otherside still intact, even if lacking in vitamin D and exercise.  In the end I think being an independent artist. or filmmaker. or any sort of creative is all about the desire to take ownership of the work you produce, from ideas to finished piece. With Owl it's nice to know that I own everything about that animation (besides the music of course).  Financially I can't keep up what I'm doing for too much longer without some changes, but I think owe it to myself to give it one last shot and see where I can take it.

While making Owl I thought extensively about what I wanted to make after I'd finished. My last three animations have all been about setting animation to music in a very direct way and I would really like to work with narrative again. I'm not inclined to writing my own stories at the moment, so delving into the world of established literary works in the public domain is a rich treasure trove of ideas which I couldn't possibly generate myself. I found a few things, but the one which stuck out the most was an early 20th century American novel by author and journalist Upton Sinclair called The Jungle. 

The Jungle has a lot of history behind it. It's famously pro-socialist but more famously a grisly and depressing exposé of the Chicago meatpacking industry at the turn of the century. The book was originally intended to drum up socialist support and sympathy for America's very poor and long suffering immigrant population, who arrived in search of the 'American Dream' but only found a corrupted capitalist system destroying whatever future they hoped to achieve. Yikes. Needless to say, it's a 400 page diatribe of sometimes yucky socialist propaganda, which doesn't always make for good reading. In fact, the last chapter is truly awful and perhaps one of the worst you'll ever read. It being America, the socialist message fell flat on it's face but the book's graphic description of the meat packing industry shocked many. It forced the hand of then U.S President Theodore Roosevelt to enact the  Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Essentially, this is where the books legacy resides rather than it's original political intention.

What interests me most about The Jungle, and it's potential for animation, is it's use of environment as character. The Union Stock Yard where much of the book is set, isn't so much just a setting, but a huge symbolic character, within which contains the numerous human sub-characters. It being written in a very Victorian style means the novel is rife with symbolism which can be extracted and visualised. It's not a novel which deals hugely in inward character emotion, which would be difficult to portray with animation. but rather it deals in very literal visual references and clear actions. That being said, it will be a tough novel to adapt, because there are many characters, it's a long book, and I'm keen to keep Sinclair's journalistic style intact. I think it's a really interesting piece of work, so I'm looking forward to finding and creating a unique expression of the text. All I can say for now is that I will be posting updates on my blog as usual for this project, so stick around as there's a lot of jungle to be explored yet!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Owl sightings on the web

A few blogs and websites have picked up Owl and kindly featured the animation. It's such a niche and quite esoteric little piece of work, that I do wonder to myself what people 'out there' think of it. I'll make sure to post of any other updates.

I've also produced a Behance page which links to seperate projects for the marker pen sketches and the complete set of infrared photographs, many of which didn't end up in the animation but were interesting images regardless. Check it out!

In case you missed it the first time around, here's the animation.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Nocturne Club Progress

I'm making some fairly decent progress on this scene. I'm using it primarily as an opportunity to play around with lighting and texturing which means at times, not much happens except me typing numbers into little boxes, which is probably the opposite of what you really want to be doing when it comes to lighting and texturing, but all the tweaking does at least end up being worth the effort.

At first I really over complicated the lighting in this one. I had far too much illumination for a night time shot, and though it's not something you'd expect from CG, reducing the complexity made it work work much better. Though, it wasn't until a day or so ago that I finally feel like I cracked the lighting properly. It's not surprising that I feel this scene works much better in black and white. While some of that is personal preference making me slightly biased, I also think the methodology behind the lighting it coming into play as well. I've purposely lit the scene as if it were a shot which needed to work in black and white, and if you desaturate the image you'll see what I mean. I'll stick to colour for this one though.

I don't know if I'll ever be truly happy with this scene, because there are things I did a year and a half ago that I wouldn't do now, but I'd rather work with what I've got than build again from scratch. There's a massive amount I'm going to change and add. The textures are far too clean, so I'm going to apply a grime and dirt layer which will help break up some of tiling and also provide a bit more realism. I haven't worked on specular maps either, which is producing some undesirable results. The poster/billboards aren't final so excuse the desperately unoriginal Coke and Kodak ones. The Armour sign was intended to be a little hint about my next big project, but I'm likely to ditch it. Other than the obviously unfinished parts, the last major flaw is probably the blown out lettering on the sign which I'll fix a little bit closer to end. I'm aiming to have it all completed some point next week, and then move on to something new. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Jazz Club Revisited

This isn't part of any project, but rather just a small personal piece. More than anything, I'm doing it because I want some lighting and texturing practice in readiness of something else. I built this model of a New York-style jazz club a long time ago but left it in an unfinished state, and since it's a fine little model in it's own right, it's exactly what I needed. I just finished constructing the UVs of the main building but still have to lay them out in a tidy manner. Once that's out of the way, I can start the fun part of working on the textures. 

The image is slightly dim because of the lighting I was playing around with the last time I worked on it. Otherwise, the only major thing missing for the time being is the lower part of the building which I'll work on once I've done the main building, as these elements will require their own separate lighting and UV set anyway.

Thursday, 27 November 2014


Owl is finally here. My suggestion would be to turn off the lights, but if you don't like wriggly things, perhaps you should keep them on!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Owl: Not long now.

A series of uncanny dioramas. Coming Soon.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Owl: End credit image.

You know I mean business when I start using my full name. The cut-off text will make sense when you see it in full. 

I could probably upload Owl now and be pretty happy with it overall, but there's just a few nagging issues I want to resolve before I show it to the world. Though these issues involve re-rendering certain sequences one at a time so it's not exactly a very quick fix. It's been a long time coming. so perhaps a few extra days of polish shouldn't hurt. Either way, next week is still the week! Stay tuned.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Owl: Two seconds of opening footage.

I sent out a first draft of the animation to a few trustworthy eyes and the response was very positive. Which means I've put some cosmetic changes I want to make aside for the moment, in order to focus on the tricky opening sequence to make sure this animation is finished and ready to show by next week. The name of the game is economy, but effective economy, if only because I've done a lot to make everything feel consistent in the main bulk of the animation, and I don't want a sudden jump in styles. 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Owl: Images for flickering sequences.

If you cast your mind way back to the good ol' days you'll remember I produced a rough animatic very early on in this project. Back then, in those unspecified good ol' days, I was reasonably happy with what I concocted. Since then I have endeavored to keep of much of the editing ideas of that animatic in the final piece, especially in terms of the structure and pace. I would say the final animation is going to be 85% accurate to that original animatic. The visuals are very different of course, but in that animatic I really liked the sequences where images shuffled quickly one frame at a time. It was always my intention to keep those sequences in but in a more polished, less haphazard form, which is what you see below. 

Where are the images from? Where else? Like almost everything in this animation, they're from the very first set of marker pen sketches. It's amazing how much mileage I got out of such a simple set of drawings. I used an expression in After Effects so you should (law of averages notwithstanding) never see the same combination of images twice.

You may have also noticed, it's not 3D animation. Which can only mean one thing. While there's a lot of work still to do, and I wouldn't want to bet money on it, but Owl will be finished next week. I will update in the coming days.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Owl: A shot which no longer exists.

This is a shot which I've completely cut from the animation so I'm not too worried about showing it as I've replaced it with something which works a lot better. I cut this for a couple reasons. Firstly, the animation is a bit too glitchy for it to look convincing. If you look closely you can see the objects unintentionally jumping up and down and sometimes they move below the floor plain, cutting of the bottoms without the geometry reacting like it should. I couldn't fix this to any great extent either due the methods I've used to make the animation. Secondly, the framing is awful as a result of trying to hide the aforementioned glitches which are much more apparent on the front few objects. So while it feels like a bit of a waste to have animated it, rendered it all out, comped it and so on, it just wasn't doing a very good job and I felt it would detract from the quality I'm aiming for. To quote Damien: Omen II, 'The boy has got to die!'

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Owl: A small animation update

This has turned into quite a big project. Bigger than I planned, but better quality overall. It's been a long time since I produced an entirely CG animation and it feels good to come back because I couldn't help but be a little jaded for a while about CG. The truth is, that while a bit cumbersome, working in 3D animation is some of the most satisfying work you'll produce. I think it's easier (not easy!) to make things look cool and swoosh around in After Effects, but takes more patience and skill to do the same in 3D software, and the results really can't be replicated in any 2D software. Although, the downside is that it takes a lot of bloody time!

The results of your work are not immediate. I'm creating a bottle neck in my workflow, where I can only render out so much at once, and then have to sacrifice more working equipment to comp it together. It's all time you're essentially losing, but I've mitigated it quite a lot by working across two machines. It's fine if you have a few big sweeping shots, but as I'm dealing with over 50 individual shots you can imagine things get a bit clogged up from time to time. I mean, even while writing this blog post, I could be animating, or sorting out files, or comping, or rendering!

The good news is I have nearly 40 shots animated, rendered and comped. Although there's at least five or six I intend to redo, which of course means, re-animating, re-rendering and re-comping. Aside from all that, part of my hesitation of showing more animation, is that I think the main draw is going to be how I've made all these very static models move in different ways, hence why I'm only showing off snippets. The surprising thing is I'm actually quite satisfied with the quality of the work I'm producing. You can take this as a positive sign, or a sign of work-induced, music-psychosis delusion. Anyway, here's a smidgen more animation

(Ignore the glitch at the end if you see it)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Owl: New batch of images

I posted these all on the 'social media' recently but thought I'd collate them here on my blog as well, although it only represents half the amount of unique scenes in the animation. It's a mix of old a new as I finally draw near to getting somewhere close to finishing.