Thursday, 16 June 2011

Final Industry Exercises Movie

As my deadline is tomorrow, this may be the last post that I put up here.  I have now put together an Industry Exercises movie to demonstrate my contribution to the third year film, Snatched.  Today, I also received the fully rendered and textured shot, ready for the final cut of the film; so I am glad to say that it will be included in this movie and in the latest update of my showreel.

This Industry Exercises movie had to be at least 30 seconds long, so to pad it out, I decided to include a few playblasts which showed the stages from initial blockout, right through to the smoothening out of the poses and the application of the camera movements and gravity.  The playblasts that illustrated each stage of the piece are then followed by the final rendered shot.

This means that the viewer will be able to see how I constructed the shot and how I experimented with the weight of the characters as they moved through the air; along with how I interpreted the animatic that the third years gave me to work with.

Another thing that we were told to place on the DVD for our Industry Exercises was this sequence which consisted of the EBU HD Colour Bars, followed by a countdown clock and then 10 seconds of blank screen, until the short movie started; as demonstrated below.
This is because this piece had to comply to broadcast standards as much as possible.  At first I was baffled by this because I could not work out the timing for everything at first.  I was also unsure what I had to put next to the clock, as I knew I had to list some basic information about the programme.  However, after having a few look at the Ravensbourne Technical Standards and asking my tutors, I soon worked it out.

Next to the countdown clock, I had to list the Programme Name, the Programme Producer (me!), whether the video is HD or SD, whether the sound is stereo or mono, the dimensions of the screen and the duration.  I quite enjoyed this practice, as I have always been fascinated by how programmes are set up in preparation for broadcast, as well as how a television channel is organised.

Here is my final movie for the Industry Exercises unit, complete with the test card and clock;
If you would prefer not to sit through 30 seconds of colour bars and a monotonous tone, here is a link the Industry Exercises movie itself on Youtube.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


When I tried to burn a DVD on my MacBook Pro, which had one of my label designs stuck onto it, my DVD drive started doing the most disconcerting thing.  It started making a crackling effect and when I pressed the eject button, the DVD would not come out at first.  I had to hold on to the eject button for ages before the DVD would come out.

The same thing happened when I tried the DVD on the built in DVD player on my TV at home.  Both of these DVD drives consisted on a slot to slide the DVD into, which leads me to believe that a labelled DVD can only work properly in DVD drives that have a tray which comes out and not DVD drives with slots.

This means that I am going to have to make do with distributing my showreel on DVDs without my personalised label.

DVD Cover design

In this post, I shall be leaving the realm of Animation and entering the realm of Product Design; something that I haven't done properly since I was about 16 but I still remember a few things.

When designing my DVD cover, I decided that I wanted something that could be made cheaply and easily, so that I could distribute my showreel around with ease.  Initially, I wanted to do a 4-panel DVD wallet, also known as a lancing pack, as demonstrated in the image below
I also made a template for my DVD wallet in Photoshop, which looked like this.  Click to enlarge
However, there were quite a few problems with producing this design.  First of all, I did not have a printer or paper large enough to print this whole template; therefore I considered outsourcing the production of the piece to a company that specialises in DVD/CD packaging.

I had a look at many different services online, such as this one called webs4cd.  However, this service, much like others required you to order a minimum of around 250-300 wallets and this would cost around £474 including VAT.  This would be alright if I was intending to make a profit from these DVDs, but for a student project or a showreel DVD that is intended to be distributed freely, I could not really justify paying that much for so many wallets.

Therefore, I had to look at other means of producing my DVD wallet.  After doing a bit of searching, I came across a business based on ebay called SRN that sell various DVD and CD packaging products as well as printable photo paper.  I came across this product which consisted of 50 sheets of A4 CD/DVD printable wallets which costed only £3 and free postage.

The only thing about the paper was that it was 2 panel wallets and therefore I needed to compromise the look of my design.  I then redesigned it and came up with this:
Now the next thing to do was print this design out on a template and stick it together.  I printed it out and here is the outcome.

Monday, 13 June 2011


Here is the finished showreel; ready to be burnt to DVD and placed on the Home page of my web site

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

DVD Label Making

In this post, I am going to talk about the printing the label that will be place directly on my DVD.  I want my showreel packaging to look just as professional as the DVD menu and indeed, the showreel itself.  This meant that I will need the look of the DVD and it's cover to reflect my professional image.

To make my DVD label, I ordered the Avery CD Kit With Applicator, Software Disc and Labels.
This came with sheets of A4 printable CD labels and CD covers, an applicator for applying the labels on the CD or DVD and software for designing the label.

I started by installing and running the software, so I could design the label that I would place on my DVDs.
As with everything that I use to promote my professional image, I decided to include the Kash Kong Monkey against the swirling red backdrop on my DVD label.  I simply uploaded this image into the template and scaled it so that the image fitted on the label in a way that I liked.  I then used the text tool to put the name, "James Waters: Showreel" on the label, as well as various contact details.

When I was satisfied with it, I then printed it onto DVD label paper, which was A4 paper which the labels were stuck to.  Here is how the DVD label looks printed out.
Now, the next thing to do is to peel this label off and apply it to a DVD using the applicator.  This is done by placing the label on the applicator face down as illustrated below.
Next, I place the CD on top, again face down.  I also place a sheet of plastic over the CD to protect it when I press down.
Lastly, I place my hand on top of the button in the centre and I press down on the applicator, flattening the whole device and fusing the label to the DVD.
And now here is how the finished DVD looks, all that is left to do now is to burn the showreel and menu to the DVD and then to make the packaging for it.  The packaging will need to be something simple, that can be made quickly and cheaply, as I will need to make many of these to distribute my showreel to whoever requires it.

Falling with style :)

Yesterday, I went into uni to meet with the third years and work on my shot, while receiving their feedback.  I found that I prefer working on the sequence with them as opposed to working on it on my own, at home.  They told me that I did a good job but there were a few things that needed improvement.  First of all, the spinning at the beginning needed to be slowed down and also at the first time he attempts to grab the chicken, I needed to exaggerate the lean and grab.

I slowed down the first spin simply by making the starting point of the spin closer to the end point, resulting in a shorter degree of turn.  I exaggerated the grab by key framing his hips so they move up with his arm movements and also bending the arm more at the points when he grabs, creating more follow through.  Here was the first out come.
After reviewing this piece of animation, the third years had decided on more changes to be made.  They decided that the first grab wasn't really working, as there it is far too stiff and weighty to happen in mid air.  Therefore they decided to cut it out and have it so the marmot climbs up his arm as soon as they swing around.  I did this simply by deleting the keyframes between when he begins grabbing and until the marmot changes facial expression and then moving the remaining keyframes back.

The second part that they wanted changed was the animation in between when the marmot bounces on the mongol's head and catches the chicken.  They wanted the movement to be much slower than it was.  I did this by moving the keyframes of both the marmot and the mongol apart.  This was very difficult as there were keyframes for the locators, and arm controls at different positions meaning I had to spend a lot of time deleting frames and moving frames into position to make it even again.

They also asked me to make the mongol's second grab for the chicken more subtle, so that the movement was concentrated in the hands rather than the arms.  Finally they asked me to make the movement of the chicken leg more wobbly, as the way I had it before was quite static.  I now had to shorten the camera movement so that it moves faster, but it still stops at the point when it is supposed to stop, which is when the two characters discover they were falling.

Here is how the falling sequence looks now; shorter and quicker than before.

The third years believe that this sequence looks much better, although one member of the team is not keen on the spinning movement as the marmot catches the chicken.  The movement in this looks more natural for characters that are falling.  I have sent this file to the third years to be textured and rendered; I am hoping to receive the fully rendered animation so I can include it in my showreel.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

DVD Menu Creation

For the showreel DVD, I wanted to create an interactive menu, that was personalised to include my own design.  The ideal piece of software that I would have liked to use was DVD Studio Pro, because it is great for creating menus with motion graphics and other stuff, but unfortunately it was out of my price range and I couldn't find a crack for it.

Instead, I settled for iDVD, the DVD making software that came with my MacBook.  At first, I disliked it because it didn't seem as flexible as DVD Studio Pro but after a bit of playing around, I figured out how to customise a pre-made theme so that it has my design.  This was important, as I wanted the DVD to present my strong visual image or "brand" if you like, even though I hate that word.

This is a screenshot of the Main Menu of my showreel DVD as it looks now, with the Kash Kong Monkey background that I also use on my website.  Click to enlarge.
This menu consists of three options; Play Showreel, Artwork and Website.  The default highlighted button is Play Showreel as the showreel is the first thing that anyone who is observing this DVD will want to see, particularly employees.  I was hoping to make the monkey image into a button which would take the user to my showreel, but iDVD was only capable of creating buttons out of text or basic shapes.  On either side of the Play Showreel, I have put up two other buttons; one just leads to an address for my web site and looks like this.
The other button, labelled Artwork leads to two sub menus called Animation and 'Gallery respectively.

In the Animation sub menu, the user can look at a selection of complete animated work that I have done over the past few years.  The Gallery sub menu gives the viewer a choice between two slide shows; one of a selection of my life drawing work and another of my Sketches; which includes Concept Art and personal work.

This means that although the Showreel will be the centrepiece of this DVD and the only part that most potential employers will have the chance to look at, I have provided the user with a website and some work in greater detail, in case they are interested in my work.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Animation almost complete

I have got all the poses finished in the animation and I have been tweaking with the timing.  I have also key framed the "gravity curve" that I created so that the characters fall with the camera; and also the moment when they freeze in mid air, discovering that they are actually falling.  As for the chicken bone falling, I simply parented that to the camera, as that was more difficult to animate falling and still keep in line with the two characters.

I simply used linear tangents in the Graph Editor for both the camera and the falling of the characters as this meant that the falling movement would be more even and would go faster.

I have sent this playblast to the third years to see if they like it or if any changes need to be made.

If they are satisfied with this, I will ask them to render it for me so I can include it in my showreel.

Showreel rejects

In this post, I shall be posting up some examples of work that I considered including, but ultimately decided to leave out and I shall explain why I am leaving them out.

This was the first piece of animation that I completed for the degree.  This was made using Toon Boom and a little After Effects.  I decided not to put this in my showreel, because the drawing work in this is pretty crude, compared to work that I have done since; largely because this was one of my first attempts at working with a graphics tablet and I needed to get the hang of it.  At this stage, I was not yet confident at animating run/walk cycles, so I cut corners by duplicating a lot of frames.  Although, I think the story is clear, I have left this out as I have done more technically skilled animation work since.

Character Animation: Doctor Who
This piece is one of two entries that I have made to the 11 second club and also did not make the showreel for several reasons.  First of all, I put very little consideration into the surroundings and actual animating;  I spent a stupid amount of time just trying to rig and model that stethoscope.  The result is that the animation is very rigid and the poses lack expression.

3D Perspective Walk
As an animator, I thought it would be important to include a walk cycle animation; as this is a fundamental skill.  However, I had to choose between several walk cycles that I had done.  I rejected this one as I did it at the last minute and therefore it lacks appeal.  The movements of his arms are snappy as well.  I did a perspective walk in 2D that works much better than this and has made the final showreel.

2D Profile Walk
This walk cycle was also rejected from the showreel for the reason that I had a better walk cycle animation.  Another problem with this one is that his arms and legs often change shape.  At the time, proportion was still a weakness for me in my drawing, but I have since improved on keeping proportion accurate.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Grabbing and jumping added

Today, I have expanded the animation further, so it now includes the Mongolian man's attempts to grab the chicken bone in mid air and also the Marmot climbing over the Mongol and then jumping to catch the chicken.  Here is how it looks so far, with the majority of the curves flattened out.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Free falling animation so far

Over yesterday and today, I began the falling sequence for the Marmot and Mongol characters, and I used the group's animatic as reference from 0:46 to 0:51.  The Maya scene that I was given contained the cliff scene, the two character rigs, the chicken leg model and the camera that would be used to render the shot.  This camera also had the camera movements.

Before beginning the animation, I made several amendments; first of all, I moved the characters into the starting position of the camera, so I could see how the animation would look in the shot.  The camera was already animated, but I had made the decision that I was going to animate all the poses first and then apply the falling later.  In order to create all these poses and see how it looked through the camera, I created a duplicate camera, but then I deleted all the movement from this new camera.  This meant that I could animate each key pose, but the camera would remain in position.

Another thing I did was create a curve that I named the Gravity curve and I then parented both the character rigs to this curve.  This curve would be used to actually animate the falling, as well as the moments when the two characters rotate in the air.  I could have done this manually, but this would be quite laborious.

Here is how the animation looks so far.

Towards the end of this bit of animation, the Mongol tries grabbing the chicken leg (which has yet to be animated falling), before the Marmot climbs on top of him and fetches it.   In this piece of animation, I made many alterations to the timing between when his legs swing around, and when his head turns to notice the falling piece of chicken.  It still needs a bit more work and I think the pose where he first notices the chicken needs to be held for longer.

I also need to put more effort into the weight of the Marmot trying to hold onto the Mongol's hand, as well as his facial expressions.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Back on board

I was chatting to David last night and he told me that they definitely need my help in getting their film complete so I am glad to say that I am now back working for the third years on the Snatched project.  I have also been give a shot to animate, which consists of the Marmot and Mongol fighting over the food while falling down a cliff.  I haven't animated a falling shot before but it should be fun to do.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Sound and Music for the Showreel

When putting together my showreel, one of the things that I am going to have to consider is the use of music; particularly copyrighted music.  Although I play guitar and I am technically skilled at this, I am not so good at creating new pieces of music, which sound professional.  I am intending to use a sample from the long version of the song "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult.  This rights to this song are owned by Warner Music Group, therefore I had to consider the issues around using copyrighted material if I want to produce a piece ready for broadcasting.

I have been looking on the web site of the Intellectual Property Office, to find out if there are any loopholes in Intellectual Property law that permit the fair usage of copyrighted material for non-commerical use.

I have come across this page on the site which states the terms of the permitted use of copyrighted and also states exceptions to the use of copyrighted material without the of permission of the owner, particularly for the benefit of students, non-commerical researchers, critics and reporters.  In fact, something which is heavily stressed in the following articles of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is the fair use of copyrighted material in non-commercial research work, as long as it does not have any financial impact on the copyright owner and has a sufficient acknowledgement to the owner.

Observe the following articles from Chapter III of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, concerning the acts permitted in relation to Copyrighted work:

2925 Research and private study
(1) Fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of research for a non-commercial purpose does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.

(1C) Fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of private study does not infringe any copyright in the work.

These articles state clearly that I would not be infringing copyrights, as I am a student producing the showreel for the purpose of my studies (as well as to promote my work to potential employers) and I have no intention of making money out of this showreel, meaning that there will be no financial impact on Warner Music Group.  I will, however, need to amend my showreel, so that it features an acknowledgement of the piece of music, along with the artist and copyright owners at the end.

The Intellectual Property Office also includes a page, which states that an infringement of copyright law is dependant on whether I have used a substantial part of the music.  The song that I have chosen to use is 6 minutes and 58 seconds long, and I am only using about 1 minute and 10 seconds, which is not even a quarter of the whole song.

The showreel also contains dialogue from the films Star Trek: Generations and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, as I animated character rigs against these pieces of dialogue for different projects.  These extracts would also be fine for me to use, for the same reasons stated above.

I have learnt that these articles in Copyright law, regarding the use of copyrighted work for the purpose of study, have made some of the previous units, that we have worked on, possible.  For example, in the first year, we had three units that concerned copyright law, because they involved animating against extracts from music, literature and dialogue from films respectively.  The reason we were legally able to do these projects are because they were done for the purpose of study and research and not for profit; we also only used small portions from the source material in our work.

The project so far...

I am in an interesting position at the moment, the third years that I produced animation for have found that they are full up with animators and therefore do not need my assistance at present.  I have figured that this is not down to a lack of ability or a lack of professionalism on my part, as David has thanked me for my professional approach to the project.  David has also mentioned that they may still need me towards the end of the project, even if they have no work for me at the moment.

After speaking with Jared, I have decided that the best thing to do so far is to continue with the running sequence that I have been working on, as I will need this for the assessment.  When I am putting together my movie which shows what I did for the Industry Exercise project, I will mention that this sequence did not make the final cut.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Run cycle

Since my last post, I have made improvements to the run cycle; I added movement to the arms and a bit of facial expression.  However, I have made two versions of my run cycle, because when I handed in my first, the director David asked me to make the run cycle quicker and also to remove the shaking fist and the beginning, where he gets up.  Although he likes it, they just needed a run cycle by this point.  Here is the first run cycle so you can see what I did.
After David asked me to make it more simple, so it is just a basic run cycle, I deleted a few key frames and then moved some of the key frames on the graph that make up the running movement, closer together.  I completely redid the arm movement from scratch and now the mongol begins the run cycle closer to the camera and eventually runs out of shot.

Here is my second attempt at the run cycle, that I have sent to both David and Tara.

Friday, 22 April 2011


Welcome to my new blog, which I will be using to document my progress on my third Industry Exercises unit.  For this unit, I have three projects to fulfil; the first being documenting my work in this blog. The second is to produce a showreel of the best work I have made over the past two years, both university work and personal, and I will need to present this on an interactive menu-driven DVD.  

The third project, that I will speak about in more detail in a moment is to produce and/or contribute to an animated film. I have three options for this project; I can work for as a junior on one of the third year's final films, I can work on this year's Rave Live and apply my animation skills towards the channel idents, or I can find an external client and negotiate a brief on the work that they will want me to produce for them.

For this project, I have chosen to work as an animator on a third year students' BA short film.  A few weeks ago, I managed to get in touch with some of the animators, that were working on a film called Snatched, a film about a Marmot that snatches a Mongolian man's food, resulting in a massive chase.  They agreed to let me do some animating for them (a big thanks to them!)

The first thing that I they have given me to do for this project is a test animation.  This will be an animation of one of the shots in the film that involves the Mongol running towards the camera, just after the marmot snatches the food and runs off.  I have been given all of the scenes and character rigs that are required, as well as a link to the animatic that I will use to reference the timing and poses.

I have already put in most of the run cycle, as well as the Mongol's getting up to chase the marmot.  Here is the unrendered playblast of the animation sequence so far.

I have got the main poses of the run cycle in but, as you can see, it is nowhere near done yet.  I also need to add facial expressions and animate his hand movement.  At the moment, I am considering animating him running with shaking fists, to express his fury at this little beast stealing his food.  I am also trying to decide if I should convey more anticipation in his first action, where he gets up off the ground and moves straight into a run as this currently looks a bit unnatural.

Once I have made these improvements, I will work at adding some more character to the run itself.  He is clearly infuriated, so I think his run needs to be a bit more clumsy and he needs to throw his weight around a bit more.  I also need to try acting it out to see how I can convey anger in a run cycle most accurately.

As for the showreel, I have already made a showreel, which is available on the homepage of my web site, but I want to change some of the footage around and add some new animation.  I will also document the full production of the showreel DVD through this blog.