Two weeks ago today, I was called in for Motionbuilder training at Launch in NYC, and I have to say, it went very well. First of all, it was a first-class crash course. Alex, the CG Super, was an excellent guide to learning the software as well as the history of the company and its parent, Charlex. On a related note, when I noticed and smiled about some LOTR references (the server name "blackgate" and my computer name "urukhai") he told me the person who originally set up their network was a giant Lord of the Rings fan, and I thought that was pretty awesome. If I never mentioned it before, we got to name our own computers at SpeakeasyFX with beverage names (most of them being alcoholic, mine being mojito), with the server being "keg."
So enough trivia. On with Launch.
How their training program works: it begins with a simple ball bounce animation in Maya (to eliminate the truly clueless). Then, working directly with Alex, you open up Motionbuilder, which functions a lot like Maya with an almost identical QWERTY keyset. You learn the basics of how to navigate the software, set up a camera and light the scene, applying backplates, bring in primitives and library assets, set up parenting constraints, and set keys and work with them in the graph editor. Then you graduate to the motion capture side of things. You check out all the proprietary stuff, like the Mocap Browser and SureShot tools. You import mocap data, apply it to an actor body, assign marker data in the GUI, and use actor body inputs on a character to make it move realistically. You wrap your brain around the concept of reaching and pinning controller positions to conform the actor to a particular constraint or snap it properly to marker data. You position your mocap character with ghosting, like having an offset control with a visibility toggle.
Before long you learn to work with the Story window and its multiple timeline tracks and subtracks for mocap overrides and additive keys. You figure out tips on how to appropriately razor a mocap track into chunks and blend them like a video editor. You clean mocap ROM (Range Of Motion) data, and you learn how to apply facial mocap and adjust it with phoneme and other overrides. You learn to deal with problematic markers. You see how to plot animation takes and merge a set of subtracks into one track. You import audio and cover the basics of rendering in passes, such as a rim light pass. Then you move on to bigger assignments, like a bar scene which you direct and build from scratch using primitives and "tempChar" simple bodies.
And finally, you put together the Sandwich Test, a series of three shots in which a woman makes a sandwich, carries outside to her back porch, and then attempts to eat it (although she is distracted and never actually eats it). The first two shots have motion capture data for the body only; the third is entirely your own animation. I had roughly two hours per shot, which felt pretty grueling at first but I paced myself well, hitting on groundwork of everything first and then cleaning it all up. The first shot was the hardest, because I couldn't initially remember one of the steps in getting mocap working with the characters. The step, called ghosting, involved moving a character into a correct position in the scene after mocap data was already applied. After trying to get it on my own for about 10 minutes, I decided not to waste any more time and asked Alex. It turns out I simply forgot to select the animation track to activate the tool. I got over being embarrassed over forgetting something so small and pushed forward, deciding where to cut and crossfade the mocap clips to get a working, believable action.
Once I got that done on the first and second shots, I moved on to the third shot which involved only hand (3d) animation (no mocap). I got a tip from Alex to constrain both hands to the bread and then just move the bread, which probably saved me a lot of time in the end. He also worked with me on reach and pull since I still didn't quite have that down yet. After setting up the constraints, I was able to do some basic body blocking through the scene to get the timing down, and then I went back and layered in the facials. After two hours of that shot, I was ready to render it and move back into the mocap shots to clean up arcs, constraints, and facials. I left just enough time to render those, and before you knew it, it was 7pm, time to go home. I gave Alex a handshake and a thank you, hung around for about 10 minutes to unwind on some social sites like Facebook, made a quick round on the third and then the ninth floor to say goodbye and thanks to anyone I had met or shadowed while there, and then I left.
I've gotta say, just four days of working in that part of the city was just invigorating. I absolutely loved the vibe, and feeling so jazzed "to be a part of it, New York, New York" as famously sung by Sinatra.
This weekend was spent in Philly with friends, in part at Dr. Sketchy's doing life drawing for a few hours, followed briefly by some time with the IGDA folks showcasing their independent projects -- which included my husband Naveen Nattam showing his most recent game in progress, Combo Storm. (Watch video demo here, or watch IGDA showcase video here.) Afterwards we enjoyed some Tex-Mex and margaritas and talked about upcoming projects, and I spoke a little about Launch and how awesome the training had gone all week.
Right away Monday afternoon I got a call from Blake, which was a good sign. He asked me how training went, and I told him how I really dug it and thought the training was excellent - it seemed clear to me that they train people all the time, because it flowed so well and all the concepts really gelled at the end. Blake echoed my observation but said although they do train people all the time, it doesn't always pan out, and told me that I was a "rare exception" and that Alex was very impressed. They were happy I picked up the software and general vibe of the company so fast, and said that my shots showed a good working knowledge and understanding of the process, even though there was room for growth in some areas. So they want to bring me in to start next week as a freelancer and see where things go. I'm psyched, to say the least. ;-)