It is Finished

It’s finally done!

Well, more like I’m finally posting it, hah!

ExpoTees has just ended and wow, what a ride it has been. Before you click on the video, care to indulge me for just a moment.

Aside from my main influences for this short like, “Inside Out” and “Borrowed Time”, the story behind this short was mostly based on personal experience, dealing with inner turmoil and minor anxiety. It was that season in life, that gave birth to this short. Although it’s not as bad as poor Zeke here, it still had similar themes of guilt and shame.

Guilt was really an inner voice that would say I’m not good enough or it was always my fault. Redemption is really another name for my God, Jesus Christ because it’s really Him who saved me and perhaps inspired the ending for Zeke’s tale. He is my Redeemer.

There were days I really doubted this project, especially after seeing all my classmates’ awesome work. I wondered if I had made a mistake. Yet for some reason, I still went with it. That reason being, DEADLINES! Even if I did show my work, I wondered if they were just being nice when they said they liked it, haha! The determination to do something personal and to experiment in an area of acting I’ve not done before really kept me going.

In the end, it all worked out and today at ExpoTees, I received a Character Animation Award. I still find it insane because there were so many other good works today and I really admire everyone in that room. In the end, I was told that it was the ability to empathise with the characters that sold it.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who gave me feedback and whoever I’ve mentioned in the video (watch them credits, people! It’s really not that long). And most of all, thank God for bringing me through this. 

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But here it is, all my blood, sweat and (mostly) tears in a 1 minute video.

Done Done Doneeee

As the title implies, I’M DONE! 

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The project is not available for viewing yet but it will be as soon as I apply the necessary changes. I received some good feedback about the final product and will be working on it soon.

If you’re new here, do look for the first post and work your way up from there if you wanna check out my progress.

Stay tuned, peace out!

On Track

Pun intended.

I shall explain why. It’s the last week of FYP and I took up more time animating than planned with all the changes and everything. It was a good thing, as I got more time to go back and fix things.

Rendering took a shorter time than expected! I chose to render with Toon Shader like I did for my group project and it cut down the render time tremendously! The reason I did this was so I could focus more on animation and not spend so much time on shaders and rendering. So, rendering was done within a week and could go straight to compositing.

Compositing was relatively simple as well. I had rendered Guilt and Redemption separate layers because I needed them to appear ghost-like. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work out too well because there were shots I either didn’t set up the render layer properly or they didn’t really look too good as translucent apparitions. So, I scrapped that and made them glow and at a lighter colour instead.

Compositing layers with alphas
Redemption with a heavenly glow

As you can see in the picture above, I had to make Redemption an alpha layer to separate him from the photo he’s holding. Once he was singled out, I kept it as one composition in After Effects and brought him into the main comp where all the other layers were and applied a glow on him. Simple as that!

Now, the next thing I did is something simple and basic but I’ve not done in a while and never thought I’d do it again.

TRACKING.

Hence the title pun.

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*Ba dum tsss!*

Anyway… the reason I had to do this was because I needed a simple effect where a tear drops on Zeke’s picture. I studied how a water droplet would appear and spread on a piece of paper by… *get this* dropping a small droplet of water on a piece of paper. Wow, I know right? Ingenious.

To recreate this effect, I just had to use a light grey solid in After Effects and put it on multiply and animate it using the mask and its’ opacity, feather and mask expansion settings.

Teardrops on my picture

To get the tracking, I popped over to ol’ Youtube to refresh my memory on tracking. Once I found all the buttons, I got to work. But of course, since I didn’t really have tracking in mind until much later, I didn’t have proper tracking points for it to read. So, I just got my hands on whatever I could find in the shot that was small and had a high contrast.

Track points on an apostrophe and the tip of an ‘M’
Track points on a blood splatter and the photo corner

As desperate times called for desperate measures, I had to improvise and thankfully, it worked!

*Sidetrack* I realise that I hadn’t shown the picture he’s supposed to look at until now. Well, here it is! I drew the main picture in Photoshop and chose an ‘inspiring caption’ to motivate Zeke into choosing life which is, “Chase the Dream”. Something I felt any group of young people embarking on a life-changing road trip would write on their hipster polaroid photos. For the blood splatters, Photoshop brushes and PNG splatters found online did the trick. I applied the splats on the faces of his friends, covering a bit of their faces but keeping his face relatively clean, just to show that he’s the sole survivor.

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and do excuse the puns, I sort of have a knack for wordplay. It … happuns a lot.

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For lack of a more Appealing title

I almost forgot this principle. 

It was movie night for me (treat yo’ self!) and I decided to watch the movie “Trolls” by Dreamworks just because I hadn’t yet and also to get some inspiration for animation, which I did! It was a nice, feel-good movie (contrary to mine) and the animation was top notch, as usual. I took another look at my polish progress and thought, “Why are their faces so… ugh?”

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I realised, I hadn’t drawn any facial expressions for the characters and just based it off my reference. It lacked APPEAL. So, I took a step back again and looked at every facial expression to see how I could exaggerate it and make it more appealing.

Appeal tips by Jeff Williams

The Facebook page, “Let’s Animate” provided this image by Jeff Williams about tips on appeal, which I found super helpful in checking my expressions. I also referenced a lot of Disney characters and observed how they’d pose their characters in 3D and also their individual facial sheets.

Hans’ facial expressions (Frozen, 2013)
Professor Callaghan & Alistair Krei (Big Hero 6, 2014)

By reshaping the eyebrows, exaggerating it more, utilising the invisible eye shaper buttons on the Malcolm rig and pushing his lips inward I could make his expressions look better.

Version 1: Straight eyebrow
Version 2: Raised eyebrow
Version 1: Weird mouth
Version 2: Cynical smile, lips pushed in

It was really this shot in particular that got me cringing slightly but with these minor tweaks, his expression change was clearer as well. It definitely could still use some tweaks, there’s always a way I can push it further.

Well, that’s all for now, stay tuned!

 

Animation! or Acting, in this case.

Ah, animation. The most meticulous yet, my most favourite part of this entire project. Honestly, if I were to skip everything and jump straight to it, that would be great.

But not wise.

I had spent a great deal of time recording reference for my shot and even RE-recording it as I felt there were elements of the character’s acting choices weren’t right anymore. But of course, I didn’t get this all on my own, I had a little feedback to give me some perspective.

After moving into the spline phase of animation, I let my peers review my story so far. Just when I thought the story was clear, the character motivations were not, much to my dismay. After racking my brains again, I figured the best way to figure out Zeke’s character was to revisit his backstory and how he ended up in my scene. This is where things may have gotten a little… intense.

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Prior to starting my video reference I had done a lot of research about acting, reading books by acting masters like Constantin Stanislavski and Michael Chekhov and they all boil down to a simple rule: LIVE YOUR CHARACTER. Because I utilised this principle, it ended up with me crying on my bedroom floor.

Legit pain in my eyes
Tears of dedication

I did what had to be done and ended up shaping the characters better. I managed to figure out what they were doing before this, how the ended up here and why the react the way they do. Plus, I had real emotion to refer to when I animated! Before the rewrite, Zeke was merely depressed and suicidal as see below.

Depressed and suicidal Zeke

But after the re-enactment, I figured that Zeke had been in hiding since the accident, in the middle of nowhere and unable to contact anyone for fear of the consequences hence, probably a bit tired and prone to hallucinating. Although, I still worked in a sort of depressed bit there with him pressing his wounds, wanting to feel euphoric, almost using the pain like a drug.

Depressed, hallucination-prone and slightly high Zeke

In the end, it’s the words of Guilt that would drive him to try and end his life. Comparing this to the old scene, I personally find his thought process a bit more interesting and it gives him a better range of emotion. In the first version as seen below, he was gonna do it, no questions asked.

Determined 

It’s amazing what a little eyebrow raise could do.

Nervous 

So this would more or less be the final story and personality for each character. Although I initially thought I’d have to make major story or shot changes but it was merely his thought process and reactions that I had to reconsider. Granted, it’s quite late in the process of animation (is spline a bit too late?) I think it was a good move as it tied everything together and it made a little more sense to me and the people watching it. Really grateful for those who helped me see that, can’t thank them enough.

That’s all for me and acting. Stay tuned!

Change is Necessary

It’s been a while.

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Things have happened since the last time I’ve written here. For a while, I’ve been feeling as though there was something lacking in my story and there were a lot of concerns regarding the clarity of the film and who each character was, since they’re all the same person.

So, after a lot of reviews from peers and lecturers, I’ve made the necessary changes to the story to make it more clear in terms of storytelling.

A page from version 2
Another page from version 2

Above are some modified storyboards from the new story and within those are more modifications, albeit minor ones.

Initially, the era was set in a post-disaster world in which humans were at war with creatures, but that was all in my head and nothing in the sequence or environment gave the impression that this story was set there. So, I dropped the idea of that backstory though I didn’t have to do much in terms of environment and character design, since it wasn’t properly implied. Instead, I gave Zeke a simpler origin; he’s simply part of a small gang and he got his friends killed by accident (hence, it wasn’t his fault!).

Following the advice of one of the lecturers, I introduced a new element to act as Zeke’s visual choice to choose life over death; a photograph of his friends. On that photograph, would be a note from them which tells him something that he holds dear and would push him to move on. Admittedly, I haven’t drawn the picture yet but I have acquired a free paper rig to use as the photo prop.

Paper rig by Tim Kallok

The good news is, I’ve already filmed my video references with the help of some friends and I’ve begun animating!

Animatic and video reference

That’s all for now, until next time with more updates!

Story Time!

Allow me to shed some light on the tale of poor, unfortunate Zeke.

Storyboard Pt.1

I utilised a lot of mid and close up shots to show more of Zeke’s facial expression as most portrayal of emotion would be in his face and medium and over the shoulder shots for Guilt and Redemption as they speak to Zeke. As Guilt and Redemption are merely a figment of his imagination, I have also played with camera tracking movements to allow the characters to enter and exit their scenes seamlessly, sort of like a stage play, but with cameras.

Storyboard Pt. 2

For this sequence, I also took inspiration from the character, “Zuko” from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” who also has a scar on his face which symbolises his inner struggle with his destiny. In the episodes which focus on said turmoil, the camera would face his scar to show his dark past and how it’s affecting his decisions. Contrary to that, when the camera shows the unscathed side of his face, it is to show that he has changed and made the right decision. Using this technique, I’ve broken the 180° rule and crossed it, although with a purpose and (hopefully) seamlessly.

After finishing the storyboards, I took them into Maya and created the 3D previs, adding camera shakes using a script I found on Youtube Maya 2016 Tutorial: Camera Shake to show emotional intensity as commonly seen in films.

Animatic with Previs

Currently, I’m in the process of getting my video references done before I start blocking animation. That’s all from me today, stay tuned for more!

Crates and Cages

Where would a depressed, suicidal person go to escape the world and the pain it brings?

That was one of the questions I asked myself when figuring out where in the world to place Zeke. Another question was if I really wanted to spend more time designing a complicated interior and having to model the assets when my focus really wasn’t on 3D modelling?

So, a warehouse was where I stored poor Zeke. Pun intended.

Warehouse moodboard

I looked at old abandoned warehouses for some inspiration, thinking it would be a good hideout for Zeke as he seeks refuge from the mutant beasts that search out human flesh. But some of them were almost empty and I had this idea that there would be old crates and wood planks lying around that could sort of act as a cage to become a visual representation of his emotions. So, I referenced factory crates and steel beams commonly used in construction.

Warehouse & asset sketches

I kept it simple and sketched variations of crates and duplicated them throughout the scene to add to the clutter. Eventually I created a fortress of crates and boxes for Zeke to dwell in.

Warehouse modelled

I arranged the mess in a way that would look like it caged Zeke in his own depression and depending on each shot, I’d move stuff around again, making sure to point any steel or wooden beams towards him, much like that shot from “Frozen” where Elsa’s ice shards point towards her to display the fear she feels towards her powers and how it affects others.

Elsa’s ice shards layout

 

Clutter layout, subject to change

This was the thought process behind this simple environment. I hope that through this, the story and his emotional state would be enhanced. Stay tuned for more!

Meet Zeke, Guilt and Redemption.

Let’s talk about Zeke.

In order to understand his behaviour and emotional state in the scene I’ll be animating, I gave him a simple backstory, which will also influence his design.

  • He’s in his mid 20’s.
  • Made a decision that cost the life of his friends for the sake of the lives of many more.
  • Blames himself for that decision, therefore depressed and suicidal.
  • Tough leader, a serious guy for his age.
  • Tries to be strong for his former team, contains his emotions.
  • Has a scar across his left eye from the battle, symbolises his guilt and remorse.

Now, let’s put a face to the name.

I’ve designed some outfits that would suit him and his environment, seeing as he lives in a post-apocalyptic creature war setting. As my skills don’t lie in modelling and rigging, I’ve used the free Malcolm 2.0 rig from Animschool to modify into Zeke and his counterparts. Once I chose the outfit I liked, I gave him different colour options to see which would suit him.

Clothing options for Zeke
An exploration of different colours for his outfit.

I’ve looked at several references from real life and concept art to get an idea of what people would wear in this era. Below are some of my references of what I envisioned for Zeke’s design.

Zeke’s moodboard

Guilt and Redemption (renamed from Comfort, will possibly rename him again.) are counterparts of Zeke and would therefore have little costume changes. However, their facial features would have a slight change in terms of face shape, scarring and facial hair.

Guilt’s features: 

  • Younger, immature, condemning.
  • No facial hair, rounder face.
  • Has a fresh wound, indicating how Zeke constantly thinks about his mistakes and that his past always comes back to haunt him.

Redemption’s features:

  • Older, wiser, calm.
  • Square jaw, has a goatee to show age.
  • His scar has healed, symbolising forgiveness and that he’s moved on and found peace despite his mistakes.
L to R: Guilt, Zeke & Redemption

That’s all for now, I hope through this you, dear reader, would get a better insight into Zeke’s character and his counterparts.

I’m Not a Narcissist

Despite naming this blog, ‘Me, Myself and I’, it really isn’t about me but it’s the title of the 3D animated sequence that I’ll be working on for my final year project at Teesside University.

MM&I revolves around Zeke, a survivor in a post-apocalyptic war between humans and mutant creatures. He has just lost all his comrades in their final siege against the beasts and faces his personified Guilt as he torments Zeke with regret. However, personified Comfort comes wanting to offer him some solace.

The sole purpose of this blog is to document my process in making this sequence, from pre-production to the final product. I’ve decided to take on the challenge of making an emotional piece because I think it would be interesting to explore the more subtle side of character performance, instead of just conventional comedic animation.

Hopefully with a lot of blood, sweat and tears (but mostly tears), I’ll be able to pull off a believable emotional piece that would show the inner turmoil of a character facing guilt and regret. Enjoy the ride! 🙂