Sunday, June 24, 2007

Back In My Element

Hey folks,

It occurred to me last night, as I was polishing my You've Got Mail animation (Meg Ryan's character denying being in love with someone online) that I am back in my element. Class 5 ended on Friday at noon Pacific Time, and as always it was a rush to finish watching lectures and copying workspace comments and buddy lists, etc. Seems like there's always something more to do in the last minute. As for class 5, I did learn a lot about story, which is SO important - yet I really missed animation, and by Saturday night I dove back into Maya and worked on my character's hands and arms, mostly tweaking arcs and poses to be more interesting.

I have a lot of work to do before SIGGRAPH. I think I may actually get to go this year, for the fifth time. I'll be going alone and possibly staying with two girls from my online class. Most likely I'll be holding the Exhibits Plus pass, or possibly Conference Select. So much planning and so little time. But I'm really excited and want to make the most of it - I don't know when I'll get to go again.

Aside from getting my resume updated and website back up and running (jeesh that has fallen on the backburner, sorry), I also want to get a new reel together in the next couple weeks. I think I've said this before, but it's RIDICULOUS how bad my first reel was. I hope that I can drop a new one off in various places so they can see how much I've improved. Larry, a guy I used to work with, was the person to point that out to me last fall: I mentioned how embarrassingly bad my first reel was (and that had only been done a year prior to that point), and he regarded that as a sign of vast improvement. And he's totally right - being embarrassed about your past work is a good sign that you're a lot better now, and that's what matters.

Obviously I won't have my short film done yet for this reel - that is due for completion in October (with polishing through December or longer, probably). Graduation from Animation Mentor will most likely take place the first week in January 2008 (although I'll be done with classes months earlier). What will be on my reel includes several animation tests while I've been at Animation Mentor. I doubt I'll include anything from my 2005 reel... it's so bad... Maybe the butterfly one, since that still holds up okay for an insect rig. Everything else is pretty awful, though! Even that macarena dude.. I don't think I even want to try to fix it.. I'd just want to start over, knowing what I know now. Purdue was great for learning the technical stuff and getting accustomed to Maya, but I really didn't dive into animation like I have been with this Animation Mentor program (and they have Maya training if you need it, by the way).

The biggest thing I have to improve now is workflow and timing. I know I still love animation (seeing how I was getting back into it last night until about.. well let's just say I was closing my eyes for sleep around 5:30am)!!! I'm really looking forward to this last class. I wonder what mentor I'll see next. They've all been great so far. I feel bad that I didn't work better with Ricardo this term, but I think it's because most of the time I had to be working on story and animatics, and that crazy layout process, I really wanted to be doing something else (and by that, I mean polishing real character animation). I think I was getting frustrated because I didn't feel like I was improving at my craft - but story is so important, and there were some really great lectures this term.

So, that all said, I'm going to dive back into Maya. We have 1 week off, and I'd like to polish up the YGM piece as well as another from America's Sweethearts that I was doing in class 4 (where Byron Allen is talking to Eddie and Gwen about being a couple again). If I get them looking decent, I'm submitting them to the AM Summer Showcase, and hopefully I'll get in. It would be great exposure. I think most of those people really get watched - and get the jobs! So... off I go!

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.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Where Have All The Lizards Gone be sung to the tune of "Where have all the cowboys gone" - which, thanks to The Simpsons is stuck in my head (Apu was singing it in a karaoke scene).

Anyway. Seriously, where did they go? I wonder if the summertime heat in Orlando is too much for them. Just a month ago there seemed to be thousands of them, everywhere - much more so at night, when it was cooler and damper - but you'd still see quite a few in the day, especially in the grass or scaling walls or trees in the shade. Now I barely see any. We haven't had any porch visitors in a couple weeks, and there are very few to be seen scurrying around the sidewalks, day or night. And you know what this means.


It is actually unpleasant to go outside right now. I just went out to do the laundry, and I was bombarded. Not purposefully... As much as I hate the little guys, I know they aren't purposely attacking me. There are just swarms of them, these little gnats that are probably making a gazillion babies in the air... how excited their little bodies must be... but come on. It's a little ridiculous. I feel like I'm walking through a bugland rave party, mosh pit, orgy, what have you. It's uncomfortable.

It's curious how many people assume that living in Florida means I'm spending my day wearing Mickey Mouse ears, tanning poolside, with a margarita in one hand and a hobby magazine in the other. I'd love to! I simply haven't made time for it, and it seems that now that I'd like to on the weekend or whenever, there are too many bugs to enjoy it.

So, might as well keep working and just play Worms on Naveen's xbox360 when I want a break. ;)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

We're In June

Hey, so in case you didn't notice, it's June.

2007, if you're really out of the loop.

And frankly, time is moving ever-faster. Naveen just completed his 8th month here at Full Sail. 13 months left (he finishes at the end of June next year). Beyond that, there is really no telling where we'll be (except I can say for certain we won't be in Orlando). At this point I'm shooting to finish Animation Mentor at the end of September (I think graduation would be the first week of October), the other option being to stay in classes another 3 months beyond that and finish up at the end of the year. I'm still debating about whether or not to go to SIGGRAPH this year, for various economic and strategic reasons, but my hope is to find or be found within 6 months of my graduation. Meaning I have to start looking... yesterday.

That's of course everybody's favorite word. "I need you to do this sporadic, previously unannounced task, and it needs to be done yesterday."

So. Things are a bit up in the air next year - not sure where I'll be, and I'm not sure where Naveen will either after he finishes things here, but we're still thinking about getting married in the fall. A lot all at once. But it will all get done that way. We've already waited 5 years; you'd think another year or two wouldn't matter, but it does. I pondered that this afternoon over a carton of strawberries.

That said, this means we only have a little over a year to do the planning. So I guess we'd better get on it. My sister even has a better handle on it than I do, considering she's just spent the first half of the year in New York City working as an intern at the Today Show, and she has collected all sorts of wedding-related materials and put them into a book.

Ay caramba. Who's with me?