Thursday, February 11, 2010

Character Development: Breaking it All Down.

Another reason I enjoy Computer Animation is because it helps supplement my Traditional Drawing skills.

I am the kind of person who really understands through observation.

For six years I studied ballet and tap dancing, although ballet was my absolute favorite! Anyway, we had to practice these hand exercises in order to ensure grace. So when I studied Animation under Howard Beckerman, I decided to put the memory of this muscle movement to the test. The result was this:

It was done on ones, which is why it looks so smooth. If you freeze a frame - you can actually see how crude the drawings are. I did it in Photoshop, using a Cintiq. It is my most recent Traditional Animation and it took me a long time to get over myself long enough to focus just on silhouette.

See, part of my problem while in school, was I kept wanting to show off. Teachers would warn us - a beautiful drawing alone does not make a good animation. But I still wanted to prove myself, I still wanted everyone to see my understanding of tonality which I pride myself on.

Luckily, SVA's Animation curriculum recognizes the importance of flexing the full spectrum of artistic muscles. While studying Anatomy under Stephen Smulka, I did this:

48 inches tall, this giant hand is done solely in pencil. I loved this experience. It was something I didn't think I could do, something I wouldn't even think to do. I did it in the course of a weekend, taking time off from my retail job to finish it. To me, this is what the beauty of SVA is about - you float around for a bit, but then you get some assignments that just turn a switch on in your head, and when you're done, it's like a special high you can't get anywhere else.

Well, this experience should have taught me that there is a difference between drawing for Animation and drawing for Illustration. Still, when it came time for my sophomore film, I insisted on a complicated character with a complicated color scheme:

As you can imagine, it was hell to Animate. And I spent so much time just trying to get the hair right, that the rest of the film was a giant flop.

Then...something amazing happened!

Under the instruction of the amazingwonderfulomgIlovethisman Eric Eiser, I started learning Autodesk Maya. It was love at first render.

See, in Maya, you HAVE to start with basic shapes, then manipulate them using a wireframe mesh in order to achieve the model you want. This is in many ways, similar to drawing - you start with a basic shape and then expand upon it.

Also, the computer forces you to be honest. Whereas, I can lie to myself and say "sure, I can draw a million frames of that girl with purple hair, and then color her in perfectly a million times" you can't make the computer have more RAM than it does (you know, without buying it.) And even then, there are just still technical limitations to how much you can do with a model.

Consider Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot, vs. their newer Uncharted series:

Playstation 1 was a bit more limited in terms of how much graphics could be tolerated, as such, textures for the game had to be more minimal.

For PS3, the development of Core technology allows for the use of a wider set of textures creating for the beautiful gameplay experience that is Uncharted. But BOTH are amazingly fun games. With Crash Bandicoot - they strategically made their characters and layouts more cartoony, to compensate for the lack of capacity for extensive and realistic textures.

With this in mind, I decided to do a bulk of my thesis film in 3D (for more on my thesis, read "2 and 1/2-D")

My approach to character development this time around, was very different.

My first draft was done in Photoshop and the turn around was done in Illustrator. Finally, I was able to embrace simplicity without sacrificing aesthetics!

I then set out to model the character. I had some help from Digital Tutors and observing dolls. The result was this:

Her outfit is in homage to Koko the Clown, and the chopsticks in her hair is in homage to Brien Hindman - a Blue Sky modeler who I studied under, over last summer (he always wears chopsticks in his bun.) At this point, my understanding of textures was very limited, so I focused on other things for a while.

Then I revisted the textures, and upon learning Roadkill, I started applying textures:



(three quarters)

I gave her dress a subtle indication of fabric. These juicy details are what will lend her more credibility once inserted into the scenes. These details - that I tried so hard (in vain) to capture in traditional animation are made more effective and efficient in CG.

I even got to detail her hair!

And then, her chopsticks! And her stockings!

I even added black nailpolish to her fingernails.

For her longer bangs, I rigged them as if they were fingers, allowing me even more control of her head. Currently, I am painting weights but I intend to have a test animation done TODAY! So, I'll shut up now and get to work.

Hope you enjoyed!

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