Hard Day's Knight: Vincent and Wally

Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009, 3:29 PM

Progress.

These are the first steps for A Hard Day's Knight, the animated short film which may never be made.

I've jiggled Wally's textures a bit, and shortened his arms a tad. Then, not being able to stop myself, I grabbed the layers for his body and armour, and whacked them onto the head of the other character (which I had also previously modelled earlier this year), rearranged most of the points to make him skinny and tall, and so Wally and Vincent, the two stars of our little animation, are fully rounded and, almost, complete.

As a character, Vincent is a much tidier person than Wally, he takes a pride in his appearance that Wally chooses not to emulate. Also, he likes to think of himself as being more intelligent than his friend, but really he only barely qualifies as such. And, compared to Wally's comfortably rotund and squat appearance, Vincent's posture is quite lanky and awkward, so he's not as graceful as he would like to think.

I struggled a little bit with getting Vincent looking just right. The bulk of the chainmail armour and steel breastplate unfortunately hid his skinny physique. I had to work on it quite a while, but I eventually figured out how to make him look thin while still covering up his chest with bulky armour.

The trick was: lengthen his legs considerably; comically shorten his pant legs; and give him a short upper body. This allowed for the armour to remain tiny and narrow, emphasising his skinny chest, and giving it just the right balance to look in proportion, but still exaggerated.

This is a key factor to caricature. You can't just enlarge anything you want, and put them where you want. There has to be a balance, a perfect ratio, that works.

Jim Henson, mastermind behind the Muppets, knew of this trick, that there's a magic triangle of eye-position to nose-position that is always pleasing to look at. If the eyes are too high, or too far apart, or tilted the wrong angle, they just don't work so well. You'll see evidence of that when you look at some of his earliest Muppet characters, or in some puppets that aren't Muppets, where they haven't managed to achieve that golden ratio. But all of Henson's most successful Muppets had it, worked out during the design and building phase.

That same kind of ratio and proportional balance applies to other caricatures, like in cartoons and 3D characters, where whole body proportion, like limb length, body shape, forehead-to-chin, ear-to-nose, shoulder-to-waist, arm-to-leg, etc etc etc, needs to fit. If you can't get that balance just right, it will feel off-kilter, or wrong somehow. Unfortunately, it can be hard to pin down where exactly it is failing. It can take quite a lot of experimentation with adjustments before you start to recognise the subtle things, those that work, and those that don't.

I like to think that I am pretty good at it. Now if only Pixar would come knocking.

Hard Day's Knight: Wally

Posted Friday, September 25, 2009, 12:40 PM

Quick post just to show off.

Did some character work, finishing off one I'd begun many months ago, for an animated short film that Rob and I are considering. It'd be a lot of work on my part, though, so we're not sure if it's a practical direction for us to head down.

Here's what I've done. I am particularly pleased with the hands and feet. They're the parts I often struggle with, but this time I nailed them. I think it's my best work so far, and the way I've textured and lit the model makes him look particularly realistic.

Click on the pic for a bigger view.

There's a second character to model, but I'll probably just grab the body of Wally here, and attach it to Vincent's head and then move some points around to re-proportion it. Much faster than completely modelling everything again.

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

Posted Tuesday, September 22, 2009, 12:38 PM


It's a frustrating thing that I believe I'm a good writer, and yet I don't have the patience and dedication to self-motivate. The best motivation for me is to do something for another person, preferably under a strict deadline. I'm good with deadlines. But when I'm doing it for myself, I can wangle an excuse to get out of doing the work at every step.

I am not a professional writer, and I may never be one. I will probably, like most people, be an amateur my whole life, unless an unexpected opportunity arises. Therefore I will only write on my own time, ergo my only motivation to keep writing at any given moment can only be my own dedication to the task. As I am inherently lazy, that is not likely to be a productive method of working.

Unexpected opportunities do arise for some people from time to time, but the best way to achieve success is to go seeking it yourself. You can't rely on things falling into your lap from out of the sky. I live in constant hope that this method will work one day, but it hasn't thus far.

Of all the different kinds of writing jobs there are out there, many of which I have dabbled in from time to time, I think I'm not cut out to be a novelist, poet, lyricist, journalist, or TV writer. But I do think I'd be pretty good as a movie scriptwriter.

How do I become a movie screenwriter, then? Sitting around ain't making things happen, so I must motivate myself to take the next step. And the next step appears to be to find an Agent who will represent me and put my work forward to the people that count so they will hire me.

How do I find such an Agent? Unfortunately, the way things work in this bizarre industry, it's not like an Acting Agent or a Fiction Publishing Agent; I can't just locate a Screenwriting Agent in the yellow pages and rock up to their office for an appointment. No, the way it's done is, they have to find me instead. Somehow my skills and interest in the industry has to be noticed by somebody who already has connections, and then that person drops my name through the right channels, and then the Agent follows the trail back to me.

Craaaaaazy!

I don't think that's the exclusive method, but it does seem to be the prevailing one. And it is harder when I am way down here in Australia, while most movie-related people live in California, a considerable amount of ocean away.

I am putting the feelers out, though really I don't even know how to achieve that much. It doesn't take much to be left adrift in this particular branch of the business.

I am lost, and yet... I also have a rather strong feeling of there being something big for me juuuust around the corner.

So close...

Shooting First

Posted Sunday, September 13, 2009, 4:40 PM


America has a gun culture. And it frightens and confuses me.

It seems to stem from the Wild West, where everyone carried guns and shot at anybody who looked at them funny. At least, that's how the movies portray the era - I have no idea if it was really that crazy.

But it has nevertheless carried through into today, where too many people with evil intent can easily find and carry weapons, and everyone else is in fear for their safety so feel the need to carry similar weapons in an act of defence or retaliation. Though they also use it as a threat.

What confuses me is how they can seriously think of a gun as "protection". It's a word they use a lot in reference to weapons, and it makes no logical sense to me at all. Protecting yourself involves shields, or armour, or locking yourself away from any outside contact. It doesn't involve attempting to kill somebody.

It seems to me that threatening to kill is the real problem. Imagine "G" the good guy is quietly lying in bed at home, when "B" the bad guy smashes a window to steal his DVD player. G grabs his gun and slowly creeps downstairs. B also has a gun, thrust down his belt. G sees B in the living room, and points his gun at B. B goes to grab his gun, but hesitates.

At this point, G is threatening B. B is carrying, but not actively threatening. Who is the bad guy in that situation? Arguably still B, as he is trespassing and stealing property. But G is brandishing a deadly weapon, and is willing to use it.

If B goes for his gun, what happens next? G will assume that B is planning to shoot, so G will shoot first. B may be killed.

G has now murdered another human being. Legally? Well, that's a complicated and arguable point.

Now imagine if G had not ever been armed, was aware that he was being burgled by B, and called the Police while remaining in his bedroom.

Nobody dies, nobody comes close to being threatened, and the worst that happens is you lose a $50 DVD player, that may be returned once B is caught.

But Americans seem conditioned to assume the worst. It's a sad state of affairs.

What disappoints me is that Americans should be in this position in the first place. Clearly they feel threatened by violent crime, a lot, and enough to eagerly want to arm themselves. They are overlooking the illogic of "protection", and the madness of escalating the cold war they have constructed against violent criminals, just so they can feel "safe" in their homes by threatening to be the first to shoot, and therefore potentially becoming a murderer, in deed if not necessarily in law (which is a whole other rant right there, I might add).

I am glad to not live in the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the greatest country in the world, if it means I won't be shot at.

I Wonder Where The Birdies Is

Posted Saturday, September 12, 2009, 6:33 PM


Most people have a climate preference. Some, for whatever reason, like the cold. But I prefer the heat. I used to live in the coldest part of New Zealand - it has been known to snow during the summer solstice in Dunedin. It's the Port closest to Antarctica. Rain is often blown horizontally into your face.

This is one of the many reason I moved to Australia, and it has made quite a difference to be in a place with a warmer climate. Apart from suffering in the heatwaves, and having to witness an ongoing drought, discovering that the winters here don't usually ever reach negative Celsius temperatures is remarkable in itself.

My favourite time of year is Spring. Not only are colder temperatures starting to warm up, which is just pleasant to experience, but watching the young birds and pets appearing, and the new fresh growth and blossoms on the trees, just makes me feel good inside.

Well, that sounds nauseatingly saccharine, doesn't it? But somehow, watching the weather turn towards an impending Summer is just the best time of year.

I went out for a walk today, to a local park I hadn't visited before, and though the winds were strong, the sun was out and the temperature was the warmest its been for some months. It was a bit of a trek to get there and back, but on the halfway point I found a nice quiet spot next to the Yarra, under the trees, and watched the water flow past.

Very relaxing indeed. I heartily recommend it.

Comin' At Ya!

Posted Thursday, September 10, 2009, 2:27 PM


I like 3D Graphics. This is no secret. But there's another kind of "3D" that is all the rage these days - Stereoscopic 3D. You know, the red-blue glasses, or Viewmaster, kind of three dimensionality.

With new digital-recording and -screening techniques, 3D has become easier to film and distribute. It no longer requires the red-green glasses, instead it uses polaroid, or something similar, so the colours are now natural, and the image maintains its sharpness. Plus, with careful calibration it can be refined to remove any of the vertigo- or nausea-inducing effects.

I had not seen any of the new wave of 3D movies up until now, mostly because they're too expensive and are often only screened at IMAX, which I don't particularly like, because you have to turn your head a lot to see what's going on. IMAX is just way too big for me.

But this week I saw Pixar's new film, "UP", and it's available in 3D, so when my mate Rob unexpectedly scheduled us for that screening, I thought what the heck, let's see what all this hoop-la is really about.

And I have to say it didn't change my mind. I still think 3D is a gimmick that won't last.

It was certainly impressive and fun to watch a movie in 3D, and I'll gladly watch another sometime in the future. But it doesn't improve the storytelling. It's just an unnecessary added feature, designed to desperately draw crowds back to the cinemas. Just like it's always been in the past.

Most movies using the technique are apparently doing it in the cheesiest in-your-face whoop-de-doo way. If you are relying on the 3D to be a part of the film, you may be out of luck. Worse, if it's intrinsic to the story, but audiences choose to watch it on standard def 2D DVD, it would make for a weird and distracting film.

I admire the effort (almost) but forget about it. It's a gimmick, pure and simple, and I don't think I'm going to fall for it.