Cine 1102 Submission
Thea Jacobsen 000940748-0
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1 : ILP
2 : PROJECT PLAN
3 : PORTFOLIO
4 : EVALUATION
Rising Realms : A Tale Untold
Thea Jacobsen, Laurence Cross, Cem Ancali, Fontane Tingting Ly, Magdalena Nuspahić , Thomas Turner, Alex Onyejuba
Below you you see the completed short film animation that I will discuss throughout this submission. To download the file, please follow this link.
1 : ILP
Independent Learning Plan for CINE1102
I will be the lead animator for this project with the focus on character animation. I will find the best way to portray our setting and our characters through their body movement. Our animation is set within a video game context, thus I will be looking into how to implement tropes from game animation into the project to help strengthen the concept of the game. I will also work with the contrast between naturalistic performances and stylized game performance. Our project will have comedic elements, thus I will be working on how to best deliver comedy through body language. I will also work on organizing the animation effort as a whole and help divide the animation into segments that different people can work on. I will also make sure that there is a consistent style and quality of animation throughout.
I will be doing research into game animation and looking at ways to stylize this and implement it in our project. Furthermore, I will do research into the rules of acting and acting through animation to make sure that the performances are appealing and dynamic. I also want to look into anime animation and JRPG animation to see if I can incorporate some of these elements to further create a stylized animation performance. As a note, this task also involves the animation of the camera movement. Looking at how to frame the shots so they illustrate the characters, environment and story in the best possible way.
Role and Learning Outcome:
This task maps onto Learning Outcome 2, 3, and 5
2. Manage the production of a short animation.
I will be managing the animation side of the project, making sure myself and the other animators work according to schedule as to not slow down the production.
3. Experiment, using research, with advanced animation concepts.
I will be looking into different aspects of animations and find a way to combine them, such as tropes from game and film animation.
5. Evaluate their work based on professional industry standard outputs and expectation.
I will be evaluating my work up against professional examples and using that as an inspiration and guideline for my work.
Lead Animator: 80 Marks
Supporting Tasks: 20 Marks
I have left 20 Marks for any potential last-minute tasks I will need to do to help the project as a whole. What these tasks became will be outlined in the submitted portfolio.
Research phase completed by December 2018
Character Animation completed by April 22nd 2019
See attached «Shotlist» for detailed information about the scenes in the animation and how they are distributed between animators.
I reserve the ability to change my ILP depending on variations in tasks that might arise during the progression of the course. This includes, but is not exclusive to, changes in mark distribution and additions or subtractions of job roles.
I want to review this and then have the final ILP submitted before the final submission date for the course.
2: Project Plan
As the lead animator it was my job to plan how to approach the animation part of the project. I did this through the shot list. It divided up the work between the animators, then it was their job to manage their time so their allocated shots where completed by the animation deadline.
Key milestone dates outlined in the shot list:
23/04/2019 - Finish Animating (Start Compiling)
04/05/2019 - Start Rendering (Finish Compiling)
12/05/2019 - Start Editing (Finish Rendering)
20/05/2019 - SUBMISSION
3 : Portfolio
For this scheme of work, we were tasked with creating a short animation working in groups, where each member had a specialization. The focus was to work in a group, emulating a professional studio environment. During the project, we would get a good sense of how demanding it is to keep a production pipeline and the challenges of relying on other people’s work.
As a group, we explored different options for the story we wanted to tell. We explored some emotional narratives, some more experimental, but we landed on a story set within a video game. It follows a low-level enemy, an imp, and his journey to defeat the player character of the game. It puts the imp at odds with his environment and the rules and system of the game itself. As the story goes on, he becomes increasingly aware of the fact that he is living within a fantasy RPG world and starts using this to his advantage.
The choice of setting the game within a strict system like an RPG video game, gave us a lot of tropes and references to build our world and characters on. As the lead character animator, I had the job of organizing the production of animation and set the style for the character’s movement patterns. How I incorporated video game elements into the character animation is what I will explore in the following portfolio.
As animation is a part of the project that doesn’t kick into production until late in the pipeline, I had a lot of time in the beginning to research the style I wanted to pursue. An important thing to note is that in the beginning we did not have any rigs available so I did most of the experimentation by recording myself while acting out different scenes. I quickly decided that I wanted there to be a clear contrast between the main character, The Imp, and the player character, The Hero. Since The Hero is the “main character” of the game, he is locked within the confines of the game system, following the rules and patterns that a normal video game character would. While on the other hand, The Imp is one that is not adhering to the rules and is breaking out from his perceived role and function in the game. He is going on a journey to become stronger and, ultimately, kill The Hero. From an animation point of view, I decided to treat The Hero, and any other NPC’s, as video game characters. They have animation cycles that they would transition in and out of. The animations themselves should be detailed and well made, but the transitions fast and as minimalistic. I wanted to eliminate almost any anticipation before a movement. Thus, making it look like the different animations were triggered by code or by a player controller. This way we would also be able to reuse a lot of animation since most of the characters would be in looped idle or run/walk animations, and not need completely new animations throughout. In contrast, The Imp would be animated to the same amount of detail as the other characters, but he would not be using cycled animation to the same degree. In primitive terms, he will be animated “normally”, meaning he will be fully animated throughout in a fluid style inspired by big production companies like Disney and Pixar. The heavy stylization of the character and the world also allowed us to exaggerate each movement, as we were not looking for an actual realistic performance, but rather a representative performance. This is a style that rests in-between cartoon and realism, where the focus is to represent a movement or emotion so that it reads well on camera, rather than being truly realistic. This style is what you see in most modern 3D animation, such as Disney and Pixar.
In terms of finding good references to explain this contrast, one can look at most any animated video game and animation. It is important to stress that the animation for the “video game character” within the story, will not be worse or less detailed than The Imp. Rather, they will have fewer reactions to real-time events and have harsher transitions between their actions. This is something you see in almost all video games. Most AAA titles from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Final Fantasy XV, have highly detailed animation cycles that will transition quickly between each other. Even with great animation blending, you will need to have quick transitions to respond to the player’s input. Additionally, most reactions or story related animation will be contained within a cut scene, which in most cases excludes or limits the player’s control. Thus, most games with good character animation is a good reference in terms of style. The only difference between a game and our animation is that the character animation won’t be triggered by a player, but rather deliberately animated by us. However, a very clear example is Dragon’s Lair. This game is made by Disney animators. It has high-quality animation cycles, but very jarring transitions between them.
The Imp was even easier to find for, as we were going for a generic detailed animation style it was mostly a matter of being able to animate well, rather than following a style. Most high budget 3D animated movies will serve as a good reference. I also want to pull attention to Overwatch’s animated shorts, as they feature stylized video game characters that are animated in a fluid and sometimes exaggerated way, making this another good reference.
I also want to state that for an earlier assignment I did extensive research on the responsebilities of a character animator, what refrences would suit the characters and how best to convey the setting and the plot through animation. This can be found on:
I also tried to convey the contrast between the characters by acting it out.
Dividing the Work and Style Consistency
I knew from the start that I would not be able to animate the entire production on my own. Thus, I recruited other people from the group who were also interested in doing some animation to help out. This was necessary for the production to be completed, but it did create some issues of its own, my biggest concern being style consistency. As novice animators, we did not have the skill to create a consistent looking animation without taking some precautions. Thus, before the animation process began I worked on creating a plan for how to best avoid style discrepancies.
I was torn between a couple of approaches. My first idea was for someone to block out a scene and then for someone to later go in and add detail to the movement. This is a pipeline often used in 2D animation. Here, a key animator will draw the keyframes of a scene and then someone else will “tween” (adding the transition frames) the scene. This is not a bad approach and although it does not work in the exact same way in 3D, it still has merit. If following this approach, I would likely create the base for each scene by creating the keyframes needed to tell the story. Even though the software would create the interpolation between the frames, these are just the computer calculating the movement of the bones from one place to another, and it does not have any character or performative quality. Thus, the job of the “tweener” would be to add detail to the transitions and add important elements like follow-through and secondary movement. This way of doing it would create a high level of consistency, as I would be involved in creating all the scenes, there would always be a similar quality to the performance. However, my concern about this approach was that it makes you heavily dependent on other people’s work. Animating starts late in the pipeline, and if everyone had to wait for me to finish scenes before they could work, this could lead to further delays. Additionally, everyone had a different 3D workflow and going in to edit someone’s work in 3D, could quickly become more tedious than just doing it from scratch.
I looked at another approach which was more tied into characters. I contemplated having each animator animate one character, then that character would be the same in all shots. It would also allow for more freedom in the creation of the scene and be less directly tied to another person’s work. At least that was what I originally thought. Looking at the script there were two scenes that had both the characters included. These would cause issues as one would have a hard time animating one character without knowing what the other characters were doing. Thus, following this pattern would not work either. However, I did use this as a basis for how I divided up the work later. In the end, I chose to divvy the work up using what character was in the scene as a base. Although this might sound similar to the approach I just described, there is one vital difference. I would, before animation started, create a set of basic animation cycles for The Hero character that could be reused throughout. This would eliminate a lot of work related to The Hero and keep a consistent style and movement pattern. Then the only character needing full animation would be The Imp. The Imp would only have one cycle created for him, a run cycle. This would provide some level of consistency, but still leave room for the fluid representative animation style we were looking for.
Before fully explaining how I divided up the animation, it is important to explain how our story is structured. One can divide the narrative into five parts. There are three major scenes, then there is a training montage and lastly, B-Roll. The montage scenes contain a handful of short 3-5 second shots, they focus on one central movement and only have one character in each shot. Thus, there is little that can be done wrong in these scenes to create a major style break. Therefore, the montage scenes were spread out evenly between the supporting animators, Cem, Laurence and Magdalena. The B-roll is similar since it involves only camera animation. Since Thomas made the environment, the B-roll was given to him so that he could showcase his environment work in the best way. That left the three major scenes. Following the Shotlist, these scenes were Shot_6-12 (First Encounter), Shot_19-26 (AFK) and Shot_27-34 (Final Boss). Since these scenes, all involved multiple characters and were much more narrative driven, it was important that they were done at a consistent style and quality level. As lead animator, I knew I would do the majority of these scenes. The issue was who was going to do the remaining scene. I ended up asking Cem to do it, as he was the one with the most animation experience and the most Blender knowledge. I trusted that he would be able to deliver quicker and at a higher level than the rest, since most of them, myself included, were just learning how to use Blender and had little 3D animation experience. Since I knew Cem worked best when working on something he likes and is interested in, I let him choose which scene he wanted to work on. He chose Shot_27-34, the final boss battle. This was in line with what I had wanted him to do, thus that division worked out great. I had wanted him to choose that scene because it is the only major scene that has more action than narrative. The remaining shots, Shot_6-12 and Shot_19-26, became my responsibility. This way of dividing up the shots was not my favourite, but it was quite simple in terms of strategy, everyone got one scene each. This opened up for some style discrepancies. However, I decided that it would be better to risk that than to choose an intricate system which made us heavily reliant on each other's work. This way people had control over their own work and I could supervise each animator independently, rather than working with scenes that two or three animators had worked on. Furthermore, the reusable Imp and Hero animation cycles created some level of consistency. I will not claim that this was the perfect method, but when considering the unreliability of student’s work and the way the story is structured, I think this is one of the best ways I could have solved the issue.
The Production of Animation
The production of the animation started much later than intended, due to delays in creating environments and character models. However, when production finally started I set to work on Shot_19-26 first, as this was one of the most important and most dynamic scenes in the story. Since we had a dedicated storyboard artist, the original intention in creating the animation was to work as if we were in a studio, by following the animatic religiously. However, the animatic was produced late and not updated to fit changes made to the story. Thus, it was mostly used as inspiration as it no longer reflected the story as it was intended to be told. It also did not translate well into 3D space, as the characters and environment were not done when the animatic was made. I had created the shot list to fit the latest version of the script, thus that was the main point of reference we had to work from, with the animatic functioning as a loose guideline. This meant each animator had bigger artistic freedom, which did lead to some minor style discrepancies.
The animation cycles were created to fit the character’s physicality. Below you can see the progression of The Hero’s run. In the beginning, he was more up-right which later was changed to a more forward-leaning pose as this felt like it had more power to it.
The Imp was originally supposed to be a goblin, thus my acting tests were more low to the ground and “scittery”. The final character model was, however an imp, which is more goat-like. Since the model was quite cute and we wanted The Imp to be a sympathetic main character, I wanted his walk cycle to reflect that. Looking at references of adult goats walking their back legs are quite stiff and with less “character” than I expected. But baby goats have a very different feel to them. They are very bouncy, a quality I wanted The Imp to have as well.
These run cycles became the basis for the rest of the animation as well. They became a template for the other animators to follow and take inspiration from.
The production of Shot_19-26 reflects my process as a whole. I would start by blocking the basic progression of the scene, looking at how the characters would move within the environment and how they would interact with each other. Since I had a clear vision for the visual style, and had already created animation cycles for The Hero and Imp, I had some good building blocks for setting up the scene in the blocking stage. Both the shot list and animatic had suggested “timing”/duration for each action, however, when animating this changed quickly. Thus I did not have any good material to base the timing on. This led to a lot of work going into tweaking the timing later. However, since Blender has a very flexible approach to keyframes this was not a big issue. It only meant that in the blocking stage of the shots, a lot of the timing was “eyeballed” rather than following any reference material. Then, after the blocking stages, I would go over, again and again, adding more detail to the poses and transitions every time. It was essentially just a matter of following the style I had set from the project and building more and more detail, especially on The Imp. I had done some key facial expressions in the blocking stage, but mostly I left facial animation until the end. The same went for finger animation. The blocking stage also involved setting up the cameras, which I will go into further detail about in the Camera Animation section. When the final passes were done, and the timing had been I would focus on adding background characters and generally smoothing out any kinks in the scene.
I applied this workflow to Shot_6-12 and Shot_27-34 as well. Below are three videos showing the progressive improvement of each shot. In the case of Shot_27-34, it also shows the collaboration between me and Cem.
The scenes I worked on alone had a very linear progression, and were mostly finished and ready for render by the deadline for animation. The biggest issues were related to other people’s work. As none of the other animators managed to complete their animation before the deadline we had set as a group. We had held a meeting where the people responsible for setting up and organizing the render, Laurence and Cem, had decided on when they needed the animation to be finalized as to have time to make the final composite and then render. The group had decided on the 20th of April, later postponed to the 23rd of April, due to a member being on vacation. I finalized my shots on the 23rd of April, the only one who had managed to finish within the designated time frame. I felt this was to be expected, as the lead animator it was my job not to hinder the production, but deliver on time. It did mean I had to work quickly and diligently with my scenes, without having enough time to fully explore the performance, but rather work on creating something that functionally told the story. Whilst I had to sacrifice some detail in my work, it was ultimately a good thing I finished on time, because the following two weeks were spent cleaning and covering other people’s animation.
I took two different approaches when helping people with their animating. I did not want to take away work, as this is a learning environment for us all, but it is also my responsibility to make sure work is delivered at a consistent level. My first approach was in waiting to see what work people created, and then give direct feedback on what could be improved. In many cases this involved me acting out the scenes. Often these crits were held in person, so I do not have any recording of this, unfortunately. In hindsight, I should have recorded it so that they could have a reference to look at. After the first feedback round, they would go away and update their work. This is where the problems escalated, as most of the time the changes I suggested were implemented at all, or not done to a sufficient level. Thus, it had become clear that I needed to work on the scenes themselves, and not just give feedback. In the case of Shot_27-34, I edited the camera angles and, per the animator’s request, blocked out the fight scene. The approach to revisions and feedback was different for each scene. When in relation to Shot_27-34 there was a lot of back and forth. After I blocked the fighting, Cem went back and added more detail, then I would give more feedback. In the end, it reached a point where he was unable to make more improvements, thus I went in and did the final cleaning to prevent mistakes like swords intersecting, and to generally add more detail to the transitions. It was challenging to work with other people’s keyframes, especially at a detail level, thus there was a limit to how much I was be able to improve without deleting and redoing parts from scratch. Cem had originally had a couple of montage scenes to do as well. But he was unable to do those due to poor time management, thus I had to find someone else who could cover those. I was knee-deep in helping refine scenes, and did not want to take on more scenes. I asked Magdalena to cover for him, because she only had one montage scene to do and Laurence was busy preparing for setting up the render. To save her some work I prepped the scenes with the correct environment, a basic camera and all the characters/props needed. Unfortunately, Magdalena had forgotten when the animation deadline was and had did not produce any work until a week after the deadline. I had been persistently been asking for updates, but had not any information other than “it's going ok”. As more time was passing I made it clear that the deadline was passed and I needed to see the shots. Upon receiving the shots she made it clear that she did not feel confident in her animation and needed help. Thus, I took over the production of Shot_13_M and Shot_15_M. I redid Shot_13 from scratch, but Shot_15 had some usable elements so there it was mostly a matter of refining and cleaning the poses and transitions. For Shot_16_M she had made a base, but it was not in style with the other montage shots, it had too much superfluous movement. Thus, I created a base for the progression of this shot and handed it back for her to add the “between” frames. At this point, the progress for the shot was much like that of Shot_27-34. With feedback and back and forth updates, and when she felt no more improvement could be done, I took over and added more detail and general cleaning of the shot. In the case of the B-Roll, the work was produced so late, and with no reference to the animatic or the shot list, that I took over the creation because we did not have time to go through a detailed back-and-forth feedback process.
Evaluation of the Animation process
There were pros and cons to how the animation process unfolded. Since most of the animators were not able to produce on time, or to the level that had originally been agreed upon, I ended up having to help and take over a lot of shots. This meant that my style of animating is seen throughout most of the shots, minimizing the style discrepancies significantly, making this situation a blessing in disguise. The con was that it postponed the pipeline even further and put a lot of stress and extra work on me. As lead animator, I recognize that it is my job to supervise and make sure the animation is at a quality that compliments the production as a whole, and I did my best to do that. In terms of what I could have done to prevent this, I am not sure. All the necessary resources were available to everyone at the same time, and I had created an exceedingly detailed overview of everything that needed to be done (the shot list). Thus, when most everything was submitted late and in the wrong folders, with the wrong file names, I really do not know how I could have prevented that. I already felt I was controlling and micromanaging the animators too much, so any more than what I already did would, in my opinion, have been unpleasant for both parties. A lot of the things I needed to fix were just lazy animating, leading to mistakes that lowered the impression of the animation as a whole. These could have been remedied if people had calculated more time into their animation. However, I could also have tried to set stricter deadlines for each shot, instead of having one big deadline for all the animation. Ideally, I would have wanted to focus more on my own scenes and have tried to elevate them even further. However, I am happy I was able to help the other animators. I managed to take some weight off their shoulders, and thus, make sure the animation looked consistent. The ability to quality check each shot led to the animation being as good as it could get, even considering the delays we suffered.
It is important for an animator to have a good sense of composition. The creation of an interesting shot is not just about where you place the camera, but also how the characters move within that space. I will not delve deeply into the technical aspects of cinematography. Mainly because I had not intended to be in charge of the framing of each shot since traditionally the camera angles would be set by a director and then illustrated through a storyboard for the animators to follow. However, since the storyboard and animatic did not align with the updated story, we did not have a reference to base our work on. Therefore, I assumed the role of “director” very late in the production, not giving me enough time to thoroughly research cinematography. I did set up an overview of the camera angles, in a hasted attempt to make a document that the animators could use as a replacement for the animatic. However, no one followed this. The main purpose of the camera is to frame the action of the scene in a way that best presents the story or emotion of the narrative. Thus, considering the short time we had left before submission, I decided to rely on mine and my animator’s personal sense of cinematography, rather than spending time researching and creating an even more meticulously detailed shot list. However, to make sure there was a consistency in the camera work, I made myself more involved in the creation of the shots and tried to give very specific feedback.
I had set a specific camera style that I wanted for all of the montage scenes. It was very much like an Overwatch highlight intro, just slightly simpler. As you can see in the video of Winston’s highlight intro, specifically at 00:09, there is a moment of initial expectation, in this case that he is a ferocious gorilla, that later ends in a humorous reveal. This similar style was carried through into our montage shots, most clearly seen in Shot_15_M, where the hero picks the flower.
The camera as also a vital part of conveying this style and mood. I wanted only one camera, that shifted from slow to fast in its movement. This was meant to create some urgency to the progression of the montage. I explained that to the montage animator and they carried it out pretty seamlessly. Since I also took over a couple of the montage shots, I was also able to make sure this was implemented the way I wanted. The only other major scene (that I was not animating myself) was Shot_27-34. The animator, Cem, came to be in the blocking stage of the shot to get feedback. We had a meeting and I gave him my opinions of the shot as a whole. In this first draft, the camera angles were all fairly wide and static, not evoking the sense of an impending battle. I told him that and further urged him to be experimental and dynamic with this camera angles. His next iteration was what is labelled as the “First Draft” in the progress video for Shot_27-34. Here you see very fun and interesting camera angles, a perfect implementation of my feedback. The only issue was that some cuts were too fast. I fixed these issues when I went in and blocked the “Second pass”. This was a simple job of either extending existing shots or deleting unnecessary ones. Essentially, just making minor tweaks to Cem’s very solid work.
The main issue was in relation to the B-Roll footage. I had assigned Thomas the creation of two B-Roll segments, as I felt this would be a good way for him to frame his environment in the way he wanted. Furthermore, this was a technically easy thing to do, thus he should be able to complete it even without knowing how to use Blender. It also took some work away from me, which was very beneficial as I had a lot to do at this point in the pipeline. Unfortunately, we were unable to use any of the footage he created because it did not fit within the cinematic style of the rest of the animation. This was most pronounced in Shot_2-5_BR, which is meant to be the establishing shot of the city environment, and sets the stage for the narrative before introducing us to The Hero. This part of the animation corresponded very well to the animatic, thus it was one of the few shots that could use the animatic as a solid reference. Furthermore, descriptions of the camera angles were also outlined in the shot list. To see the progress of Shot_2-5_BR, please refer to the video below. The main issue with this shot was that it was one prolonged camera pan of the city. If felt more like footage you would see in a showreel, rather than a filmic establishment of an environment. Furthermore, his camera angles revealed the horizon of the environment. This was an issue because we had decided to delete most of the superfluous assets in the environment to avoid the Blender file being unnecessarily large. This meant that when I set up my camera angles, I had to place them strategically so they did not reveal the empty space in the horizon. Since this shot was so far from what we had intended, I decided to create a block of the scene that corresponded more to the animatic. I then delivered it to Thomas, who felt the shot was completed, and then progressed onto his next shot. I went back and fine-tuned the shot a bit more, which is what you can see as the “Final Version” in the progress video below. I recognize that by me presenting a new blocked version of the scene it can be seen as me “taking over” his work. However, I had successfully worked with the other animators this way, thus I felt inclined to use the same approach on this shot as well. In regards to Shot_25_BR, there was not as much a problem of style, but more a matter of time. Shot 25 is a cutaway shot showing, a beam of light appearing after The Hero accepts his main quest. This is the source of the Final Boss, which The Hero and Imp, both make their way towards, and is where they fight their final battle. Since this was a cutaway shot that happened within the larger scene of Shot_19-26, it needed to be fairly quick. However, the shot produced was originally 800 frames long, then cut down to 500 frames, which is longer, than any of the montage shots. This could have been fine, were if not for the fact that the shot had been created in an old environment that did not have the updated layout of the city or any of the textures. Thus, I had to do some texture work and general fixing for this shot to be render-ready. Therefore, this shot was not fully completed until late into the rendering process, and at that point, we simply did not have time to render 500 frames. Laurence reported that one frame would on average take 5 minutes to render, thus rendering 500 frames would take approximately 41 hours. Therefore, I had to cut the shot down. I had to reposition the camera to hide the exposed horizon that he had included in his original shot. I made, however, sure to keep the “bump” animation he had done for the camera, because I wanted it to have the same feel to it, as the work he had done. I managed to cut the shot down to 90 frames, thus making the render only 7.5 hours long. The progress of Shot_25_BR is shown in the video below, with the “Final Version” being the fully rendered version that will be seen in the animation. As you can see, I chose to focus on using the light as an effect rather than the camera, because I felt this had a bigger impact within the shot.
The creation of some pixel elements became one of the supporting tasks I took on as the project progressed. Ting and Alex were in charge of creating the 2D elements, and although they did deliver on this, they did not create graphics in line with the style of the game in which the story was set. In some cases, the graphics were directly copied from the references the group provided. After giving feedback, they did not seem to change the graphics in any significant way. They were also provided very late in the pipeline. Meaning that at the point when they were being created, they were desperately needed for me, and others, to finalize our 3D animated scenes. I was concerned about not having time to implement and animate them. Then, when they were finally provided, they were not at the standard in which we had expected and did not fit the overall style of the game in which the story was set. I asked if it was possible for me to create the graphics I needed for my scene, because I did not have time to wait for them to revise the pixel elements further. I quickly created the needed graphics, basing them on the pixel title sequence Magdalena had used, using the same colours and font to keep it consistent.
Having the pixel elements created to a stylistic level that fit the narrative, I was now able to begin implementing them. The original idea had been for Laurence to create a 3D object by extruding the vector graphics provided for the pixel element. However, the original vectors provided did not work because they did not have the right path set up. Thus, we decided to move away from that idea and instead have them be two-dimensional planes. This was not our intended plan, but since the game was set within an old pixel game, we felt it was still fitting for the style we wanted. The flat 2D elements, within the 3D world, did end up driving home the idea of the story being a set in a pixel video game. In terms of the animation, it was mostly a matter of importing the png images as planes. Then parenting the ones that followed a character, such as the quest mark and the P1, and animating a slight bounce to the quest marker to make it feel more like a 2D sprite. The bigger elements, such as the text box and the Game Pause, were simply places and animated to appear and disappear in line with what the story needed. Unfortunately, a problem arose during rendering that ended with the exclusion of the pixel elements. Most of the pixel graphics were implemented within the scenes when we started rendering. As Laurence desperately needed to start the render he elected to move the pixel graphics to another render layer. This meant that he could add the graphics to the scene on a different layer, and then render them out as a separate image sequence, which could then be comped onto the primary layer. The rendering of the pixel layer would not be time-consuming as it was very minimal, thus he felt confident it could be done quickly. However, as the render took longer than expected he did not manage to render everything out in time. Thus, it will be added in post by Ting. This is not a huge problem, as it still retains the same style, it just isn’t as integrated into the 3D space as we had originally intended.
We also toyed with the idea of having a pixel HDRI as our sky. We felt this would create a unique atmosphere to the story and really drive home the point that it is set within a pixel video game. I created three different skies for our three major scenes. They transitioned from daylight to dusk and finally, night. Whilst we did manage to create a skybox from the drawings, we elected not to use it because one could see very hard edges where the seams of the skybox met. Although we felt this could pass as a style choice, since video games usually are contained within a square screen, it could also be interpreted as ugly. Thus, we chose not to use it and instead used a normal skybox.
The other job I assisted with was the application of materials to the environment. A last minute decision was made to have Laurence create the materials, because the materials provided by the environment modeller were not in line with the style of the characters, or the setting in general. There was already a discrepancy with the style of the environment, particularly the doors and windows, as they were by not to scale with any of the characters. This was likely because the environment assets were completed in October, before the design of the characters had even begun. As the scenes were being compiled this became an apparent issue. However, at that point there was not enough time to revise the environment models. When the first materials were being produced and they did not compliment the characters or the project, this only furthered the divide in the style that was already present. Therefore, Laurence, who had made the materials for the characters, stepped in. This created a lot of extra work for Laurence. Me, as one of the only other members of the group that had learned how to use Blender, stepped up to do some of the drone work that was easy, but time-consuming. The original materials had been made using Substance Painter and Maya, this workflow demands for the geometry to be UV unwrapped. However, since the environment elements were made up by primitives merged together, this would be a huge job. However, when you are rendering in Blender and using blender materials, you are able to just designate an area of a mesh that the material will be applied to, thus cutting out a lot of extra work. Whilst this process was much simpler than UV unwrapping, it did still take some time. My job was to divide the mesh by assigning different temporary materials to elements of the object. This gave Laurence the chance to create the materials whilst I did the “busy-work”. Later, when all the materials were created, I applied them to the environment by appending them from Laurence’s material library. This was a time-consuming process, due to the geometry of the environments being very uneven and having a lot of interlacing elements and hidden polygons that could only be seen from certain angles. However, it was a significant boon to our progress as it allowed for Laurence to do more important work. It also taught me more about the material process and how it works in Blender. Thus, expanding my knowledge beyond the animation side of things.
4 : Evaluation
Although we managed to render the project within a reasonable time, we did run into several problems along the way. I would argue that the biggest problem we faced was a discrepancy in attitude between members. Some people worked dedicatedly throughout the process and really immersed themselves in the work, whilst others only did work at the start of the project and then sat back without further helping the progression of the project. This led to problems further down the pipeline, as the early work either didn’t fit the project as it evolved throughout the pipeline, or it was not at a quality that was usable. As stated, we had made the choice to use Blender, as two people in the group had a preference for that software. We recognized that this could be a problem, as not everyone in the group had experience using it. To remedy this, we set up a crash course in Blender animation to get everyone on the same base level. I did not know how to use Blender, but that course helped me get a good footing in software and gave me a platform to further learn. However, almost 50% of the group did not show up to this meeting, and instead elected to keep working in their preferred software. When there was less than a month left, and they needed to do some work in Blender, they complained about not knowing how to use the software. This lacklustre attitude and unwillingness to work outside one’s comfort zone, were one of the major problems for our group. It didn’t only affect the group environment, it also affected the work directly. The fact that people hadn’t taught themselves Blender, led to delays in the production of their work, thus delaying the project as a whole. This was especially in relation to the materials, as they were provided very late in the pipeline because the work was not in line with the style we had set for the project. Thus, when Laurence had to cover that role at the very tail-end of production, it caused a major delay to our render deadline and subsequently, pipeline as a whole. There were also minor events in pre-production that caused us some delays. Mainly the issues we had with explaining the story to the storyboard artist. He did not fully understand the concept, thus it took longer until we received a usable storyboard. Further into the pipeline, we also ran into some problems with character modelling. The character artist spent very long time creating highly detailed rigs, instead of progressing onto other important aspects of his job role. Whilst this was not a major problem, it did cause some delays, but mostly it just meant that the Character Artist had to do a lot of work in the final month. This led to him not being able to fulfil most of his animation responsibilities, which was what caused the delays in animation I mentioned earlier.
In regards to my own work, I am very pleased. As the lead animator, I managed to supervise every aspect of the animation. Even though this caused me extra work, it meant that I was able to quality check every scene. Although, there still are things that need to be sorted out, I am satisfied with the fact that we managed to animate and render a 5-minute animation in approximately one month. The style which I wanted to achieve has been carried through in the characters with minimal discrepancies. I have learnt a lot about animating a full scene, something I had not done to this this extent before, but I have also learnt more about game animation. I created multiple animation cycles for the characters, through these I got more practice in how to make good loopable animation cycles. However, I feel the biggest thing I have learnt from the process is how to animate legs. Animating someone walking/running used to feel like a big hurdle, but now it is something I enjoy doing. This is such a big change in mentality and feels like a good representation of how my skill has improved. On the other side, I am disappointed in the organization of the animation process. Whilst I did everything I could to create the most seamless animation pipeline possible, we still ran into perpetual problems. I spent a lot of time perfecting the shot list so it would have all the information needed. However, no one used it. People would still upload the files with the wrong names, in the wrong folders or not follow the description for the scene. Whilst I was not too strict on people following the shot descriptions to the letter, I had many of the animators ask me what they were meant to do, even though it was explicitly stated in the document I provided long before we started animating. I am unsure how I could have improved this. My only idea would be to maybe create a printed version and give people a physical copy. However, that would take away the ability to update it, which I did frequently as the project changed. Another option would be to send people the document once a week to remind them to check it, however, I fear that would have frustrated people and thus caused tension in the group. I found people’s lack of ability to check the material provided very confusing. I do not have a good idea of what I could have done to improve people’s engagement with the shot list. I fear it might be because we are students and people do not take project planning very seriously. I feel I would have to employ the same technique I used here, in a professional setting, to get a better idea of how whether or not it works or doesn't work.
To conclude, I think some members of the group have worked dedicatedly from start to finish and really immersed themselves in the project. It is largely due to these people’s supervision that we have been able to create the project we have today. The elements that stand out are the quality of the character models and the vibrancy of the materials. The consistency between the environment and character materials smoothes out the contrast between environment and character models, and makes the project feel like one coherent product. Whilst the animation process itself was more rushed than I had planned, we did still manage to create everything we set out to. The characters and general narrative structure is there and I feel the characters represent the tropes they are based on. There is a clear reference to video games, and the contrast between The Imp and The Hero is present in their interactions. Whilst I had not planned to supervise the other animators as closely as I did, it was, at the end of the day, a good thing. It led to a more consistent style and quality across the project. I have become proficient in Blender and significantly strengthened my ability to create and give feedback on animation. This project has made me feel like a much more competent animator, and I feel ready to progress into a professional environment because of it.