Saturday, June 09, 2007

Getting Started: Layout (And Why "It Sucks")

So, essentially this post is about two or three weeks overdue, considering I've already completed two thirds of the layout stage, and the final third is due tomorrow at 3pm.

I've got a decent start on it, but it's crazy how much I've procrastinated during this stage. I did pretty well initially (like, day one) and got my set modeled and things in rough order. I was pretty pleased too, and for a single day I was probably ahead of my classmates.

And then day two came...

See, layout sucks simply because it's the first thing you have to do. It's the first inning of the ballgame. You've got your teams lined up, you know the stadium where they game is going to be - but you just can't tell how it's going to end. And the pitcher needs to throw a few balls before he strikes anybody out.

I have a growing admiration for anyone working in layout. And although it feels like mere grunt work, it actually does take quite a bit of talent to get everything set up and cameras figured out and all the rest. If you're like me and at plays or theater performances you tend to pay more attention to the crew behind the scenes rather than whatever's happening on stage, then you too should admire the layout people in animation.

Layout people need to make their case for every single shot. They need to have an eye for what's necessary and another eye for aesthetic. They have to be perceptive and represent the audience's eyes and ears as accurately as they can. If a character moves from A to B, and crossing the distance doesn't add anything to the story, the layout person has to know how to cut the fat and get to the good stuff. It's definitely not the fun part. The honeymoon stage is over - as much as you might love your story and even your animatic, you have to realize that things aren't going to look as pretty in the layout stage. Actions won't be smooth or very clear, facial expressions won't feel spontaneous, and the life you want to create in 3d doesn't feel very alive. On top of everything else, it is both nervewracking and deadening to work on something you don't believe in - so you better have liked your idea 100% during the brainstorming stage to help you get through this part.

Recently my mentor mentioned trying to find the simplest, most potent way of doing something (with your character/shot). It takes a lot of practice to be able to do this well. Timing and posing your character is hard enough - but even harder is complementing those skills with staging & composition, lighting, and sound.

My mantra this week has been, "make something, THEN change it." I need to continue to remind myself of this, because it's so easy to sit down in front of Maya and just stare at it blankly. It's the same thing with painting, or anything else - when your canvas is empty, the most difficult stroke to make is the first one. Anything you can do to help it along is a good thing - like applying a color wash - it gets your creativity going and reduces intimidation. I have yet to discover a "color wash" for my layout work in 3d, but I suppose it's only a matter of time before I find it.

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