Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Directed By - Richard Attenborough
Cast - Ben Kingsley, Rohini Hattangadi
Whats It About - Biography of Mahatma Gandhi, lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British through his philosophy of non-violent protest.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
This time its Steven Hughes who is also participating in the Virgin Media Shorts Competition with his wonderfully animated short - The Icarus Effect.
You can watch Steven's short in all its glory here. I wish him all the best for the competition !
So without further ado, lets get this started !
Anirudh Bhalotia (@|b) - Hello Steven, thanks for your time and getting this conversation started. Tell us a bit of yourself, like how did you get into animation, how did you hear about Animation
Steven Hughes (SH) - Hi Anirudh, I guess friends would say that I was always an arty person, and I first started using 3D graphics on an Amiga way back in the day, about the time Pixar released Tin Toy. The only Studio animation then was 2D and Quantel Paintbox ruled TV video effects, so I was always encouraged to get a 'proper' job instead. I am finally looking to change that and work in digital animation or visual effects. Living in the
AM is one of those things you hear about but are never quite sure if it's for you. I had visited the web site but was still undecided about signing up, but then two things happened; I realized that I needed structured training, and a chat with a forum friend who was currently working through AM showed me his progress reel and that convinced me that AM was exactly what I was after. I graduated from AM in September 08, also known as Graduating Class 9. I'm currently taking one of those 'short breaks' now I have finished my short film.
@|b - Congrats for your short film – The Icarus Effect. It’s looking great with nice animation, lighting, rendering, overall a very well package short indeed. How much time did you get to work on this right from the story stage till the final output as we see it?
SH - Thank you, I am pleased I managed to finish it...
I worked through the standard AM process for the short, with 3 months for story development, planning, layout and animatic. During this time I also created most of the digital assets (modeling, rigging, texturing), although I would still tweak these throughout production especially when I needed a break from animating. It was also a great time to start finding the sound effects needed and even recording my own, as this always takes more time than expected. It's worth considering the music you want to use as well, which does help set the pace of the film, but it can take a while to find a musician to help out, or to license some music.
Then there was 3 months of animating, where I was putting in around 25 hours a week as well as doing my full time job. After graduating I took a short break from my short film, dabbling with some minor things, such as the look and feel for the security camera shot, and the shader for the forcefield. The short break turned into a longer break, until finally I saw a competition by Virgin Media Shorts - there is nothing quite like a deadline to really focus your efforts. By this point I had a lot of work to do and not much time, so you get to make creative decisions very quickly and get creative with workarounds to problems. This means that ultimately you are making compromises, and nothing is going to be 100% to your satisfaction, it just needs to be good enough for the time you have. This final push took about 6 weeks, and I even borrowed a friends PC to render on while I worked on other shots. Once again I found myself putting in long hours just to get it done as I couldn't get any time off work. I finally submitted the film with less than 24 hours before the deadline.
@|b - As someone who is into the process of making his own short, I had quite a tough time brainstorming ideas and then finally get onto some idea which can be used for story telling in an interesting way. What was your process for getting the basic story outline nailed down? Or rather from where did you get this idea from, was it your own experience or remembering someone else’s or something like that? What advice in this context would you like to give to aspiring animators who would like to get started with their own short films at some point of time?
SH - Yes, the story creation can be hard to deliver 'on demand', and I found that in the early stages it was more about the evolution of a story idea. I had some personal criteria as the building blocks to my short which helped define the story; as digital animators we don't always visualize the use of light and shadow so I wanted to utilize that as part of the visual style, and I also wanted a story with a lot of physicality to allow me to explore more body mechanics. And a jet pack, that was key, who doesn't love a story with a jet pack! And no, unfortunately this is not built on personal experience ;)
I knew I had to stick to 30 seconds for my short if I was ever going to get it done in the time I had available, and it started out at 30 seconds but ended up getting a little longer in order to make the story work. So really it could only have one punch line, one message in such a short amount of screen time. Some of the details in the story actually come out as you start laying out the shots, finding what works and what doesn't, layering in other visual clues for continuity etc. The story really is something that grows from the original draft. Whatever story you want to tell make sure it's one that you enjoy, because you'll be working on it a lot. When you hit those times where your motivation starts to drop (and we all have bad days) you will find you can be carried along by the desire to complete something you want to do, rather than working on something you have to do.
@|b - What was the biggest challenge you came across during making this short film and how did you overcome it? Were there some problems which kept cropping up time and again during the pursuit of getting your short done?
SH - I find that you do get that one problematic shot, the one you just can't get quite right, and the one you dread starting work on again; it might be the camera move that isn't working, a pose you can't lock down, almost anything, and you just can't seem to get it quite right. That is something you just have to work through.
However, since it is a short film you end up facing all the challenges of production, from concept through to render times. While there were technical issues to resolve, as well as stylistic choices to be made, I think the biggest challenge was the motivation to complete the film after graduation. I'm very driven by deadlines, it helps me to focus my efforts in the area's needed to complete the work in the timescale, so when the deadline for completing the animation passed (my graduation), it was hard to start on the final phase of lighting, tweak the models, finalize the textures, and polish the animation. After all, we all want our short film to be perfect, and without a deadline it is too easy to keep dabbling until it is perfect. Setting your own goals is good, but for me personally I needed to find a reason to work on a shot until it's complete, and more often than not I would have a more compelling reason not to work on it. It was only when I wanted to enter my short into a competition that I had a new deadline and the drive to finally finish my short film.
@|b - How important was the research/pre-production/planning process on getting your short done and looking back what is that one thing which you wished you had done more of?
SH - The planning stage is immensely important, and scheduling your time for each task. Once you have the basic draft of the story you can storyboard the shots. Sketching this out is fast, and you can try different ideas out very quickly. Once you have that, you need to move on and setup your layouts. I actually stuck to my storyboards very closely, they were a great reference later on when I was trying to get the composition for a shot right, a couple of times I had placed a camera and thought it was ok, then when I referred back to the storyboard I was able to match what I originally imagined and it felt like the visual aspect of the shot improved. That’s not to say to should always stick to the storyboard, there are enhancements you make along the way which dictate changes in different aspects of a shot (composition, animating to camera etc). One example is that I actually ended up adding in the burley security guards very late in the initial stages, but it was essential for the story to work. If you overrun on time for one task you need to save time elsewhere, so don't overrun! If this means it isn't quite perfect then that is how it has to be. Only at the end will you know if you have any time to revisit anything you feel needs more love and attention.
The rigs for the props also changed throughout production, as I would find a need to do something specific to suit the animation and the rig would need to change. It would have been nice if all my props and characters were finished before I started animation, but it isn't always possible work that way. I'm not sure if there is something I would have done more of, but there certainly is something I wish I had more of, and that was time!
@|b - Different animators have their own ways of reference and planning. Some prefer doing a lot of thumbnailing, some just can’t get by without doing video reference or some do a bit of both. What’s your way of reference, something to keep you in check and avoid taking a detour from the main essence of the shot/scene you working on?
SH - For the character work I start with thumbnails to find something that is close to what I visualize. Then I found it very beneficial to use video reference - however I am no actor, so the video reference is exactly that; a reference, as it helps me understand the timing. I can be hard to judge the time needed for some shots, such as if a heavy lumbering move across the screen. By quickly filming some reference you can lock down the timing, and then you also have reference for the body mechanics or the facial poses. Sometimes there is some subtlety in a reference that you find appealing so you work it into a shot, and it might be something you never planned for originally. Referring back to the storyboards was one way I made sure I was staying true to my original ideas.
Here are a couple of storyboards, concept drawings I did in the planning stages -
@|b - For any beginner in animation, there is always the temptation of making an epic right from your first independent short. What’s the ideal duration a first timer should strive for so that he doesn’t eat more than he can chew and also enjoy the entire process of actually seeing the short from story to screen?
SH - Ah, the epic first film, I think we all start there (I know I did). To know how long your short should be you need to start by understanding how much real time you have available to dedicate to the project. Generally people are not very good at estimating how much time something will take. Your gut instinct, your intuition will often mean you don't allow enough time so you have to allow for that, but it's something you get better at with experience. Depending on what you want to portray in your short will also help determine the duration; two characters on screen who interact a lot will mean you have twice the animation work for the same length of screen time. Conversely a medium shot of a single character that is mostly standing in place requires much less time to animate for longer screen time. For someone starting out I would recommend no more than 30 seconds - which really means that you should plan for 20 seconds and you'll find it will take 30 ;) But I would also add that you should try and use a single character for your first short, avoid dialogue, and keep the environment as simple as possible. By being realistic you stand a better chance of completing it and having something nice to use on your reel.
@|b - What keeps you inspired as an artist as I am sure there would be times when no matter what you do or how work you hard, things just don’t go your way. What keeps you inspired and motivated and are there any other creative endeavors you pursue to keep your creative juices flowing and keep things in perspective? As I understand it’s very important to take a break often rather than struggling with something for extended period of time and not getting anywhere. Your thoughts on this?
SH - Yeah, those are some interesting topics. We all have bad days where we find we can't animate for toffee. At times like that I like to switch gear in the production and I may work on a bit of modeling, or maybe texturing, even a concept sketch, anything that keeps the production moving forward but that also takes your mind off the problem. Even then there are times you can't focus at all, which is usually the body's way of saying 'enough!’ At these times it's time to take a breather, do something enjoyable, if it's the evening I might watch a movie or play the guitar. Inspiration comes from many places, even going out for a meal can give you food for the mind as well as the body (a chance to do some people watching). I do get inspired when watching films or other peoples work, there are some amazing artists out there.
@|b - What’s the best advice you ever got and something which you want to pass on to your fellow animators?
SH - The best advice I ever received when I was starting out was "to get involved with a forum". As long as it's a friendly community the feedback you can get will be essential, it can help you to grow as an animator as well as to improve a shot. Don't take other peoples comments personally and you will benefit tremendously from it, you need a thick skin!
@|b - On a concluding note, any words to students who are waiting to get their first job in the industry?
SH - I'm actually reminded of a quote by Randy Pausch which struck a chord with me when I heard it, "brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people".
@|b - Thanks once again Steven, for taking the time to do this wonderful conversation.
SH - Thank you Anirudh, it’s been a pleasure.
You can reach Steven and see some of his other work on his site.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
P.S. - This is just an intro about my upcoming post and not the post itself.
Lately I have come across many discussions, emails, questions as to whats the future of Animation (specially in my country, India) looks like and what should we do about it to get employed or remain employed. Majority of them are from freshers/beginners, very newly inducted into production or are waiting to get that ever so elusive first break in the industry.
So I thought it would be prudent to give some thought to it and see if I can come up with something worth pondering or at-least answer some questions I have been asked. Though this post has been motivated keeping in mind whats happening in the Indian Animation Industry and what can Animators(or to-be) do, but I am filled with hope that what I am about to share will resonate across diverse set of Animators(or even in general artists and may be even people looking for jobs or already in jobs but fearful of whats going to happen next) regardless of which part of the world they are from.
Now I really desist the very over-hyped-blown-out-of-proportion word "recession" and hence I am using the word "downtime".
Also I am totally not going to get into details, of industry figures and statistics, so I wont be mentioning any studio names and what current work they have and what work they plan to get in the near future. My post will be primarily about what we can do at an individual level. We cant influence the circumstances around us, but we can for sure influence how we react to it and what can be done by each one of us.
So its all about what you can/should do at all times, whether the time is good or not so good. This post will be more about self-growth yet offer practical suggestions which will enable you be more pro-active about your circumstances/challenges/setbacks/failures instead of being reactive towards them.
I have to admit that whatever content I am sharing it with you has been condensed and sourced from different resources in the form of people I talk to, books, audio books, blogs, podcasts, seminars and so on and also layered with my own thoughts. Having said that the reason I am sharing it with you is that I am 100% convinced that you will definitely be able to relate to some if not all. I have myself tried and still trying many of them and hence that's the reason of my conviction that it will be useful for you. Its my sincere intention to help people by sharing whatever little I know and not to just increase the eyeballs/traffic for my blog. But again use your own discretion and then decide what makes sense for you personally.
Depending on how much I come up with, the post may be divided into multiple posts for ease of reading.
Also for the first time, I am making this a collaborative post where in you are more than free to send any suggestions yourself and I shall include this in a different post dedicated to just the views I receive from different people explicitly. Needless to say by due credit will be given.
You can send your suggestions/views by email(mentioned in my profile) / or using the comment section below/ or on Twitter.
Thank You !
P.S. - I am sure you would have noticed the image above where a ray of light seeps into the otherwise dark room. Its my endeavor that this post will do the same for you, doesn't matter how small the effect might be.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
You read that right !
Just a few hours before, Animation Mentor had their graduation ceremony in San Francisco, US, where I was announced as the winner in the category : Forum Ninja !
(Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the graduation in person)
This is a huge honor for me and I am totally ecstatic at the moment !
Thanks a million to Animation Mentor, you all rock !
P.S. -For more details on what the award is about, kindly visit my earlier post when I was nominated !
Saturday, July 11, 2009
As the post title is self-explanatory, another info packed newsletter for July 2009 is out from Animation Mentor.
Check it out here!
Register here to make sure you don't miss any from now on !
Genre - Drama/Thriller
Directed By - Billy Wilder
Cast - Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck
Whats It About - An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator's suspicions.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Genre - Drama/Film-Noir
Directed By - Billy Wilder
Cast - William Holder, Gloria Swanson
Whats It About - A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity.
Friday, July 3, 2009
I was told about this site from one of my friends and I am really surprised how come very few people or aware of it.
Its an Animation podcast, where they have a conversation(now weekly) about Animation, workflow, movie-reviews and sometimes they also have a guest on the show. So far the guests have been Keith Lango(fantastic 2 hr conversation), Tomm Moore(Company Director, Cartoon Saloon) and Hans Gunnar Brekke (Animator, Tippett Studios).
They have also had several round table on topics like "Acting", "Realizing your ideas", "Making animation your career" which are super interesting and stuffed with loads of information.
I strongly suggest checking out their conversations.
You also have the option of subscribing it in iTunes or downloading their Weekly Podcast in MP3 format.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
As mentioned in my previous post, Self Growth is one of my many endeavors I want to explore as much as I can. Though I have shared a few articles here and there, from now onwards I will be doing it on a more regular basis.
I came across this fantastic article on getting a grip on our anger. Though I strongly suggest reading the full article, here is an excerpt which is super useful for me and should be for you too -
There’s now widespread agreement among anger experts that it’s better to evaluate angry feelings before acting on or even accepting them. Williams is a leading proponent of this view; he recommends asking yourself four specific questions whenever you feel angry:
- Is the situation or event that triggered my anger important? That is, is the thing that triggered my rage something that threatens my well-being?
- Given the situation or event, is my anger appropriate? Faced with the same circumstances, would the average person get angry?
- Is the situation modifiable? Is there something I can do to change it for the better?
- Is it worth it to try to modify the situation? That is, is it worth my time and effort?
Source for the above excerpt.
So next time you get angry or are on the verge of getting, ask yourself the above 4 questions.