Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ogre Animation

Here's a scene I've been working on for the last few weeks. It's the story of a fierce ogre who's a gentle thespian at heart.

Making this scene has taken some time as unlike many of my other shots, where I have used sound clips from film and TV, for this scene I wrote the dialogue and found an actor to record it for me.

When I started this shot I was going to use a piece of dialogue from Modern Family where Cam (a camp gay man) finds himself in a situation where he can finally play the role of his dreams and switches from himself to the character.

"I see myself in the role I was born to play... STELLA!"

The reason I chose this clip was the change in character and the thought process during that change. I felt it would make really interesting and entertaining animation to see the characters journey in head.

The original idea was a beast set in his personal quarters in hell. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror before running out onto the balcony and screaming at the top of his lungs to a crowd of minions.

Early on in the process after sharing the idea with peers and lecturers I decided the change would be more believable if it was the other way round. If the beast was fierce and scary in public then once behind closed doors he was his gentle self. We changed the idea from Hell to a castle and I started blocking out the animation. I made a pre-viz animatic to play around with acting choices.

We had a visit from Louis Cook, a director at Aardman, who's comments were positive about the idea however he felt the change in character and the acting choices. These comments came at a good time as we were still just blocking and I completely agreed with him, so I started working on a way of making it all clearer and stronger. Unfortunately with this change I felt the audio didn't quite fit as well so I spent a short while trying to find a clip that would.

While I work I like to listen to podcasts from animators and while I was working I heard an interview from a Samy Ficeh and animator at Dreamworks. One thing he said really stood out that was always find your audio first so you can get to the heart of what's being said and who the character is before you work out a scene and environment.

As I was working as part of a team and the environment was already being modelled I couldn't just switch the whole idea so instead I felt like the best option would be to come up with something myself. I knew the character and what I wanted to express so I tried out a few lines of dialogue to best portray his feelings but also add a bit of energy and comedy at the end. I was really pleased with the line I went with. Not only did it have one opportunity for a change in character but it also had a second at the end. Going from fierce, to emotional and finally to comedy.

I put an ad on Spotlight in search of a voice actor and had a handful of replies, some were great and I picked a guy called Omri Rose as his reel was full of different styles of voices including cartoony sounding stuff that would work well for animation.

By the time I had chosen the voice I had already animated the first shot. Originally the character was just going to roar at the crowd below but after watching Robert De Niro's character in Stardust I felt he needed to be more scary than just a roar. De Niros character is a vicious pirate captain bu behind closed doors is a camp cross dresser. This was great reference and one thing I noticed from the cliup I watched was the how they showed him at his worst, throwing somebody overboard to their death, before revealing his character. I felt this is what my guy needed so I added a severed human head which he holds up then throws into the crowd.

I put together a video reference animatic made up of many different takes and acting options. I spent a long time acting out this shot as I kept having bright ideas and re-shooting. Unfortunately my favourite take couldn't work though as the rig was too large to get into the correct positions once I started blocking so I went back with that in mind to re-shoot again! I was also hoping to do the change in one long shot however while animated I was struggling to get the movement working and started getting frustrated. So as a bit of a cheat I broke it down into 4 quicker shots to make my life easier. I think I lucked out though as it still works with the cuts, especially the final reveal.

Here's an vid ref animatic and a below the first try as a single shot.

Once again I went back to the vid ref to try out some different options using the cuts. Now I'm just waiting for the final textures and lighting to be added and here's a couple of images of how they'll look. Changes that I might make are I think the inside should look a bit brighter and happier to help show that change but apart from that I'm happy with it.

 I had a lot of fun doing this shot it was great to do something from scratch and write my own dialogue. It was like a making a very short film! In terms of workflow and animation the video ref worked well for me on on this scene. I didn't just roto it which is tempting, instead I took the little moments I could find and pushed them as well as adding completely new actions and acting choices. I'm also speeding up a lot, the final shot was done from start to polish in a single day which makes me feel a bit better about being able to keep up with production schedules in the industry.

Now that you've seen the work gone into it here it is again. As always feedback and comments are welcomed!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Animsquad Update

It's been a while since my last post on here so here's an update of where I am. I've finished off the ice skating shot I started though unfortunately it's still waiting on an environment and some dynamics on the skirt but it's nearly there.

Anyway here's how it looks:

I'm not a huge fan of this to be honest. It was an interesting exercise but I spent far too much time on it and I didn't really make any headway it getting any performance out of the character which was my main goal when I started the course. I regret not taking the opportunity to work on proper acting shots while I was working with a Disney animator and unfortunately I feel like the shot is just a middle of the road showreel filler rather than something to be proud of.

I didn't want to make that mistake with this one, my final shot on the course. This time I picked a funny piece of audio from The Office (UK of course) and had fun acting it out. These first shots are the original ref and blackouts and after the first meeting Marlon was quite hard on me about pushing the acting a bit more.

 So for the second version I wanted to do something more interesting with the beginning to make him seem like an arse and also try to make the change half way through even stronger by making him cave with embarrassment. Here's my next ref shot, this took a a while of playing round with different acting choices:

This is so much better and I'm glad I started again rather than try to polish and tweak what I already had.

The animation didn't actually take too long for this one I started again. I would say about 6 full days and then a few hours here and there to polish and focus on eye darts etc. I'm pleased that I'm finally speeding up a bit I've been getting worried about how long things take and whether I'm ready for production schedules but i think with this shot not only have I stepped up my work flow and timing but more importantly I've done my best piece of work yet so I'm really proud of it.

As I write this I still have 1 more critique from Marlon so it's only going to get better once I get his professional feedback.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Latest Animation Showreel

Here's a reel of my latest work, still a long way from where I want it to be at the end of my final year in May but it's definitely getting there!

Student Reel January 2015 from ben wardle on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Animation Progress

I haven't posted for a while so I thought an update is in order. I've made some progress with all of my shots so here they are:

The first is the jungle shot, it's currently being rendered however after showing it to my mentor, who is a features animator at Framestore in London, there are some tweaks to both the camera moves and the animation. Though this is pretty close to a final shot and I really do need to ship it and move on so I can't spend too much longer on it.

I've also managed to finish my first real acting shot as part of my Animsquad course. Again there are a couple of tweaks I want to make, mainly in the arms and fingers but like my lagoon shot it really is time to move on and focus on other shots.

I have a friend outside of the course who is making and rendering the environment and his his first draft of the scene. I love what he's done so I'm really looking forward to seeing this finished now!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Showreel of my progress so far...

There's a screening this evening at the university and I've been asked to compile some of the work I've done so far this year into a reel to be screened. It's a timeline of the project and the majority of the work in this reel is never going to be used but it's interesting for me to see how it's progressed and evolved so I thought I'd share it so you can see for yourselves. It feels like I've done barely anything even though I've been working every day but so far it's all been a good learning experience and practice so I'm not too worried about the amount of finished work in there just yet.

Glen Keane animates a scene

I've found this 3 part video lecture given by Glen Keane to the students at Cal Arts. Glen is has been animating at Disney since the 1970s and has supervised characters such as Ariel, The Beast and was a directing animator on my favourite of the recent Disney films, Tangled.

This is a fascinating and fantastic opportunity to watch a true master at work and I love seeing how rough his drawings are. I felt put off animation when I was younger as I was scared I could never match up to the standards of the cleaned up drawings you see on screen. Had I known then that the animators worked roughly and didn't do their own clean up perhaps I would have given it, and myself,  more of a change as a teenager. Anyway I've found my way to animation now and videos like this help to inspire and teach.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Animsquad progress

I've signed up to the online animation school, Animsquad. My workshop tutor is Marlon Nowe. Marlon is an animator at Disney and has worked on films like Tangled, Frozen, Wreck It Wralph and Big Hero 6 so I'm really excited about working with him.

My first assignment was to choose an audio clip to animate to. I chose a clip from Modern Family that I noticed while I was watching it a couple of weeks ago. It's a reaction from the Mum, Claire as she hears some good news.

The reason I chose this particular clip is the change of emotion that the character goes through. She starts off excited then tries to reel it back and play it cool and not show her emotions. I thought this change would be great to animate as it's a change to show real life emotion and thought process within a character.

After passing the Marlon test I shot some video reference. My idea for the clip was a girl reacting to being proposed to, excited at first she tries her best to act calm. It took me a good few tries which was great as I started getting a real feel for the character towards the end. My first few takes were really stiff so it took me a while to loosen up. Here's the acting choice that I went with.

After selecting this clip I showed my reference to Marlon who approved it first time and sent me off to block it out. I tried to follow my video reference so I added a video plane to the maya scene to follow so I wasn't flipping back and forth between screen or programs.

This was my first rough block:

It was OK, there were a few of the right poses in there but it was a little stiff in places and the staging wasn't very good. With the help of my uni lecturer I tidied this one up a bit focusing first on my arcs to try and loosen the poses up and also on the staging. I used the Golden Ratio rule to help plan my shot by laying an image of the famous table over my camera then placing the characters within the beauty spots on it.

My next pass was much better. It was more pleasing on the eye due to the wonder of the Golden Ratio and now my character poses had more appeal and I felt confident enough to show Marlon my blocking.

The feedback from the meeting was fairly good overall. He liked a few of my poses which is great but gave me a few notes to work on. He suggested simplifying the beginning so the audience had time to register what was happening and also pointed out a few niggles with the body mechanics towards the end of the shot. I did manage to jot down his comments during the meeting but luckily our Skype conversation was recorded so I could go over the notes again and catch anything I missed. After addressing everything on the list here's how my shot looks at the moment.

I think it's already a big improvement so I'm keen to show him my progress and hopefully take it to the next phase on animation.