Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poser Pro

Since taking over Poser, SmithMicro have not been sitting back and milking the cash cow, instead they appear to have been beavering away to produce PoserPro. The new product is aimed at professional 3d artists.

This new version introduces 64bit rendering and network rendering providing a bit of grunt for the more demanding users. Early reports have indicated halving in render time and the change should also allow for larger images to be rendered utilising the larger memory space available.

There is also support for COLLADA but it can import less than it exports which might prove limiting for some people. This partial support for COLLADA seems to be missing the point to me but I suppose it looks good on the marketting material. The package also includes add-ins for 3ds Max, Maya and CINEMA 4D which again shows the limits of their COLLADA support.

Support for HDRI and Normal maps should help people generate more realistic results.

The price of the upgrade and from new cost will be restrictive to some but should not be an issue for professionals.

On a completely separate note, there is a alpha version of an Collada Plugin for Carrara this again provides limited imports and exports to the Collada format.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Animators Glossary - Blocking and Beats

The history behind the concept of Blocking can be seen from Wikipedia's article about blocking in the theatre.

"Blocking is a theatre term which refers to the precise movement and positioning of actors on a stage in order to facilitate the performance of a play, ballet, film or opera. The term derives from the practice of 19th Century theatre directors such as Sir W. S. Gilbert who worked out the staging of a scene on a miniature stage using blocks to represent each of the actors. (An example of this can be found in Mike Leigh's 1999 film Topsy-Turvy.)"

For animators it's basically the same. Blocking is the stage where a character's gross movements, timing, and poses are created. This can be done to aid with the visualisation of the film or to examine the overall timing of the film. It can answer questions such as how long will it take for a character to walk across the stage or how close does a figure need to be next to a table to be able to pick up an item.

In CGI, this step can be used as a work in progress, for stop motion animators it could be done as a rough shoot at a reduced frame rate and for drawn animation sketches or storyboard pages can be used. In all cases the models and sets used can be a lot simpler than the final versions. The number of shots/drawings/key frames need will vary on the the type of motion.

A related term to blocking is "beats", this is described by Jason Ryan:

"What are beats or phrases?"

"The simplest way to think about beats or phrases is, any major change in emotion or attitude in a shot or sequence is a beat or a phrase. So say you have a character, he starts out happily walking down the street, he's minding his own business, someone from behind steals his wallet, he is shocked but his shock turns to anger as he runs after the Thief. This could be broken down into three phrases or beats - the guy happy, then shocked at being mugged and last angry."

As you can see, the beats can be used as an input to drive the blocking process, affecting pacing and motion of the character. You should be able to see these beats in the your blocking version. Once you are happy with your beats and blocking then you can fill in the subtleties, secondary animation and other details.


Justin Barrett provides a good example of how a scene is blocked out for CGI and then the lipsync and detail added later.

Adam Sale also has a more detailed scene blocking tutorial.

Acertijo3D blocking example on YouTube

Quotation provided by kind permission of Jason Ryan Animation, who provides Models and Tutorials for Maya.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sci-fi-London - 30th April - 4th May

Sci-fi-London - The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film starts next wednesday with the Arthur C Clarke awards and follows with a full programme of films and events over the next 5 days.

Although you are likely to see animation in the form of effects throughout the programme here are the specific animated items.

Dragon Hunters
Anime all nighter

The Blink of an Eye shorts programme also contains many animated shorts:

Ascension, An Introduction To Lucid Dream Exploration, The Ambassador’s Brain, Contre La Montre, Fairy Tale, Final Journey, Marioneta and Simulcra

Full Programme for the festival

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Persepolis + 6 short animations

This sunday at the Curzon Soho Cinema, London at 6pm the showing of Persepolis will be joined by 6 other short animations thanks to colaboration with the London International Animation Festival (LIAF).

The additional Animated Shorts: Celebrating Persepolis are:

THE OLD, OLD, VERY OLD MAN Director: Elizabeth Hobbs, UK

SON OF SATAN Director: J J Villard, USA

AND LIFE WENT ON Director: Maryam Mohajer, UK

MY FIRST TASTE OF DEATH? Director: Laurie Hill, UK


NEVER LIKE THE FIRST TIME!? Director: Jonas Odell, Sweden

The London Animation Festival will be shown in Steptember with a more comprehensive programme.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Head full of gears

Corpse Brides Mike Johnson on G4

I just learned this week that the Corpse Bride used a rather novel solution to animation of the puppets faces. The puppets heads were full of watch gears and by sticking an allen key into the top of the head and giving it a tweak the face could be made to move. The gears move paddles that in turn push or prod the latex skin.

The eyebrows are attached to paddles and that are movable externally and the eyeslids use a replacement technique. The rest of the armatures are quite conventional ball sockets and hinges with metal rods made from stainless steel.

You can watch Mike Johnson demonstrating the Corpse Bride Puppets, on G4 TV's "Attack of the Show".

All of the armatures were made by Mackinnon And Saunders from Altrincham in Cheshire.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Persepolis coming to the UK

Persepolis by Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi will be released in UK cinemas next week, it's politics (story) has caused it to be banned in a few places (then curiously unbanned). The style of the animation looks great and it has some interesting characters. The decision to make it mostly in black and white was good as it provides both a simple and bold look as well as fulfilling the desire to have it true to the graphic novel of the same name.

The native language of this film is French but there will be an English dubbed version, this has caused some grumblings about subtitles in the film world where purists would prefer to have the titles and not the dub.

For those interested in other Iranian animation you can visit the Teran AnimaFest.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Stop Motion Armatures Survey

A quick survey for all those people who are animating with armature based stop motion puppets. Please feel free to respond as comments or email me at andy at aceanim dot com.

  1. What do you like about the armatures you currently work with?
  2. Do you outsource your armature making, machine your own armatures or build from kits?
  3. What is the typical lifetime of an armature before it needs replacing/scrapping?
  4. What scale do you use?
  5. Is rust a problem, do the covering materials corrode the metal?
  6. Which bits break most often?
  7. What does not work (joints, materials, shapes)?
  8. Which process takes the longest; designing your armature, machining the armature, covering/dressing the puppet.

The reason for the survey is to help me (and the animation ramblings) readers to make better armatures. Although primarily targeted at stop motion animators, I'd also be interested to hear what maquette makers and other model makers are upto in this area.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

French CG Music Video in style of Stop Motion

I'm trying to achieve a puppet like quality in the flea film but using CGI.

French director Stéphane Berla manages this very well in the music video Tais Toi Mon Coeur (Shut up, My Heart) but also takes advantage of the computer world to add some effects such as smoke and sequences such as the cogs below which could have been very difficult due to the physicality of working in stop motion.

Watch the film

Friday, April 04, 2008

Crazy thought for the day

Stop Motion Animation in a bottle...

Thinking that could have a short animation of a man in a bottle tapping on the glass and then sitting down giving up.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Video Codecs

Normally when I can't play a particular video, I just give up and don't watch it. However I found a little windows utility that might be of use to help diagnose issues.

On a related note, one of my pet peeves is the need to use a different video player for different video files. Surely that's why we have codecs... This problem is made worse by these players installing lots of other functionality along with them, Real and QuickTime (installs Itunes) are particularly bad. I've looked into QuickTime Alternative and QT Lite but so far not had too much luck with them...

Test file:

Stop Press: I've checked Apple's Quicktime site again and it does seem that it's now possible to download QT without ITunes. We'll have to see if it's decided to install any bonus items for "my benifit"...