Saturday, August 25, 2012

It's Contract Work...

It's nearing the end of the month and I'm sitting on the eve of a new adventure after having finished a handful of others. Tomorrow, my wife and I begin our cross-country road trip to PAX Prime in Seattle, WA! It's been a bit of a rocky road trying to get this far in pursuing PAX, everything from money issues to uncertain time/job commitments. Unfortunately, I have gone the majority of the summer months without meaningful work but in a rather strange turn of events, I recently wound up doing some contract work of sorts: I was hired on as a carpenter's apprentice to help build the BMW Pavilion for the PGA Tour at the Crooked Stick Golf Course in Carmel, Indiana!
Laying the foundation work; I actually put in a good number of those floorboards!
It was good, honest, and mostly clean work with a good dose of heavy-lifting. I worked with some great guys that were thankfully patient with me and easy to work with. My supervisors were probably one of the best parts; they were both from the UK: one was British and the other Scottish. Let me put it this way, our Scotsman could make a sailor blush. He also liked to sing American pop songs.
Two other guys and I put the roof section together; they brought in a crane a few days later so we could actually put it on the building

Mostly done, minus some glass panels and the roof; it's roughly 4,000 square feet and last I heard, they were planning on parking a BMW in the middle of it!
It was a really great experience to work on this building and I'm actually going back to the project after the PGA Tournament to tear it back down and ship it back to the UK; that's right, it's a rental! This whole time I was enjoying the work, I was thinking to myself "it's a shame this isn't really related to the animation industry." Enter the job's foreman. It turns out he got into the temporary structure business by setting up exhibits at E3! He's also done setups at GDC, PAX East, and PAX Prime! How's that for a small world?
     To jump back for a minute, I did actually manage to finish my DigitalTutors character rigging project before adorning a hardhat and toolbelt. For anyone that hasn't at least taken a look at DT, I would highly recommend it. Learning about rigging in my college courses, I quickly decided it wasn't for me. Taking another look at it now after having a bit more knowledge with the program and how it works, DT really made rigging a much more pleasant experience with some pretty decent results! I'm really wanting to try rigging some other character models on my own and thankfully my friend is lending me a couple of his 3D characters for that very purpose. I haven't started anything just yet (looking to get that going after I get back from PAX) but it's definitely something I'm looking forward to!

      I am very happy to say that I was able to spend an evening with some of my good friends from college that I haven't seen in a few months; It's easy to lose scope of things as well as let relationships fall by the wayside and these are some that I am doing my best to maintain. It was good to catch up with those guys and I honestly hope to work with them down the road or if nothing else, keep them in my life.

     On the gaming side of things, my list has slowly progressed; I finally finished Far Cry, Duke Nukem Forever, and From Dust. Far Cry was a good game that I am glad I finally got around to although I will say it definitely had a strong B-Horror Movie vibe to it, for better or worse (personally, I'm a fan of Sam Raimi and the likes). Duke wasn't nearly as bad as some were making it out to be; I don't believe it lived to it's original expectations at all but it was still a decent romp a bygone era in gaming. My biggest problem with it is that it seemed there was a vast amount of empty space; for a man that kicks ass and chews bubblegum, he did a lot more chewing than kicking. It wasn't bad for a bargain bin pick-up but I will say that I don't regret skipping the pre-order. From Dust was another really enjoyable game I am happy to have played; it was one of the many tempting deals from Steam's Summer Sale. The overall gameplay was entertaining and addictive as you literally sculpt the world as you see fit. Towards the end, it did seem like the villagers were a little reluctant to travel perfectly save landbridges to their next goal in favor of making a beeline to the nearest deadly pool of water or bubbling river of lava. I reached a point where I was sure that these poor creatures were simply not supposed to succeed in the grand scheme of the world; sure they had homo habilis beat in terms of technology but I'm sure even he avoided giant pockets of steaming death.
     For the current state of my gaming log, I've recently been diving into both Darksiders II and The Witcher. I really loved the first Darksiders and still consider it a lost gem in terms of art style, character animation, and gameplay; from my short time with the sequel, it is destined to be another favorite of mine aside from one nagging thing: the facial animation. I've brought this up before on THQ's forum as well as the gaming forum but it looks to me as if the NPCs' facial animation actually took a step backward from it's predecessor. Granted, I know that these conversations a running in-engine and not pre-rendered but the NPCs have all the expression of a wooden doll; their mouthshapes vary little more between open and closed with no emotive distinction, the eyes are dead in their sockets with not so much as single eye dart or change in direction, and the eyebrows stay plastered in one spot at all times. It might sound like I'm really harping on this but this very aspect was also what drew me to the original. There were devious smiles, accurate lipsyncs, and overall more emotive faces on the characters that made me want to watch them rather than just read the subtitles to get the gist of things. Take this video below from the first game in which War meets the demon Samael (sorry for any minor spoilers).

Now have a look at this conversation between Death and Thane (around 0:49)

Like I said, I do realize that the earlier video was something animated in it's entirety beforehand and rendered using the in-game engine whereas the Thane conversation is running in-engine, it's just a tad disheartening to me. Other than that, I am honestly enjoying my time with the game; the world is dripping with style, the sound design is amazing, the platforming and combat are fun and addictive, and the loot-system is a very welcome addition.
     The Witcher. I've only spent a few hours in the boots of the white-haired monster-hunter named Geralt but his world is an ensnaring one. Everything from crafting potions and adding to your bestiary to slaying the monsters and saving the townspeople (for a modest charge, of course) is rewarding and addictive, to say the least. The game's world has a strong sense of logic which is strangely refreshing; to harvest certain ingredients from a slain beast, the player must research the beast beforehand in order to learn what is truly valuable and what is just entrails. It might seem tedious to some but it makes sense to me and at the moment, I'm enjoying the change in pace.

    With that last bit being said, I'm afraid that is all I have for the time being. My wife and I are finishing packing our bags for our long roadtrip ahead and looking forward to the journey as well as the destination itself. I hope PAX is as much fun and memorable of an experience as GDC was and I'll be sure to share my tale when I get the chance!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Road to Animation

The other day, a friend of mine wrote on his blog about what got him into the animation field and thought it would be interesting to see what got other folks pursuing a career in animation. I know I don't get much traffic on my blog but felt I would share nonetheless, if anything to remind myself why I spent four years in college studying animation.

Some of my earliest memories of watching cartoons or other animation consist of watching an old VHS of the original Fantasia. I wore that tape and it's case out so badly for watching it day in and day out; the colors were beginning to fade, the tracking was horrible and the case was a beat-up piece of black plastic with no cover art and the clear sleeve halfway torn off but I loved all the same. Being a big fan of dinosaurs at the time (and still to an extent to this day), I always loved the "Rites of Spring;" it has to be one of my favorite segments of all time!

Like anyone else of my generation, I was raised on Disney movies; I remember going to see Aladdin in theaters and being afraid of the Cave of Wonders sand-tiger. I was a toddler and that's some pretty scary stuff when you're only about three years old! Beyond that, we had a few different VHS tapes: Robin Hood, Dumbo (another personal favorite when I was a kid), The Lion King, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and most likely a few more that I can't remember at the moment. It wasn't too much longer after that when I discovered the great wonderment of CG cartoons, namely ReBoot and Transformers: Beast War; they may not hold up nowadays but they were awesome back then! (Shame on my nerd-cred, but for the longest time I always thought Optimus Prime was always a gorilla, not an 18-wheeler)

 I dabbled around a bit with animation but nothing too major. Growing up watching other TV shows like KaBlam's "Prometheus and Bob" and "Life with Loopy," I tried doing some stop-motion with a couple of action figures and my parents video camera; I wish I still had the footage to be able to show.
It wasn't anything special (a five second short of Solid Snake drawing his gun from his holster, what can I say?) but would still be neat to take a look at now! Speaking of Metal Gear, I do remember playing the original MGS on my Playstation and thinking that the cinematics and the graphics were mindblowing and in my opinion, they still stand pretty well on their own today!
I was always interested in CG, stop-motion, and video games but I don't think I ever really thought of it as being a feasible goal. I didn't really start getting into doing anything close to computer animation until middle school or so and didn't even think about animating as a career until roughly midway through high school!
     Back in grade school, our woodshop classes were taken out a replaced by what the school corporation referred to as "modular workstations;" about every week or so, a student or team of two students would rotate to a different station and learn about different aspects of technology from robotics and construction technology to computer-aided drafting and CNC milling. My first day in the class, I was assigned to the AutoCAD station by myself with no more than a computer with the software on it and a three-inch binder with lesson plans and technical jargon; I dove in head first and loved it. What I was doing wasn't too technically demanding (I was basically creating 2D technical drawings of custom bricks and brackets) but something about understanding the software and creating something from nothing was invigorating!
     I kept taking different CAD classes throughout high school and that's when I discovered the joy of animating; viewers be warned, these were some of my very first animations when I didn't know a hell of a whole lot!

I'd like to think I've improved since then and hopefully anyone who has seen my most recent reel would agree. After high school, I went on to study animation in college; I learned a good deal about the various aspects of animation, met some truly great people that I hope to keep as life-long friends, and had some awesome experiences along the way. I'm still trying to get into the industry but I believe it's worth fighting for. To be able to work alongside some of the people I've met and become friends with in such a fascinating field would be nothing short of amazing. I really do hope to make it there someday.

That's my story (or most of it, at least) and I do think it helps to go back and really think about what got you interested in animation, it might just help you keep moving forward with your pursuits!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Finishing Richard and Other Oddjobs

I was doing pretty good with updates for a bit with updates but it looks like time got away from me a bit! Some of the biggest news on this update is that I finally finished my Richard maquette and he is featured in the top 10 finalists in the Looking for Group's Dick-Craft contest! Regardless of whether I win, I had a great time building Richard and am thoroughly pleased with the end result; my wife and I will enjoy having him on our shelf for our foreseeable future. Plus, we might just get a chance to get him autographed at GenCon by LFG's creators! 
Fully sculpted and painting started

The finished result!
On the animation front, I've decided to learn some things on my own via Digital Tutors. I've been working primarily on learning a bit more about character rigging, taking a page from one of my technical friends' book. So far it's been a pretty interesting course and I'll definitely try to keep some of workflow in mind for future projects. I plan on animating a walk cycle with the character after all the rigging work and toss the video up on here; I'm also hoping that I might be able to persuade a friend of mine to let me borrow one of his character models and test out my rigging knowledge!

Building the feet and legs
Adding in the spine
Spine and neck controls

Building the arm and hand joints
Arm and hand controllers

To stay on the animation topic for a bit longer, I've been trying to get some work done on a short film that another associate of mine has been trying to finish for some time now. I've gotten a few things taken care of for it, mainly in taking inventory of all the different shots that need to be finished as well as setting up a VPN so I can get access to the work files. I'm still really hoping to get some decent work done on the film here in the near future but this past week has been rather heavy. I've still been sending out applications and resumes whenever I get a chance, whether in my field or something to pay the bills; I've had a couple of responses here and there but nothing terribly promising.
      With still looking for steady work, I wound up helping my dad out at the auto shop; they're relocating the body shop and had to move a galvanized steel paint booth across the grounds and reassemble it. The past few days consisted of getting out to the shop early in the day, ripping out plywood, lifting and bolting together the steel panels, and using a grinder and pry-bar to take off some hinges. It's definitely been some hard work and I really respect my dad and his co-workers who do that job and others like it on a daily basis; my hat is off to them!

On to the gaming front! I've finished a couple of my ventures while continuing to add to my pile of shame (damn you Steam and During the Steam sale, I picked up From Dust, Legend of Grimrock, Dear Esther, The Witcher and The Witcher 2... like I said, damn you Steam and Good Old Games! Other than installing those, I haven't had a chance to touch 'em. That being said, I did finish a handful of games; I wrapped up Bulletstorm, Braid, and Max Payne 3. I really enjoyed Bulletstorm and all of it's salty language, over-the-top nature, and fantastic weapons. Was the story that original? No, not really. Was it fun to play? Absolutely. I loved the Skillshot mechanics and I was always looking for new or interesting ways to take out enemies. It really is a fun game as long as you don't try to take things too seriously and definitely worth picking up, especially at the prices you can find it for now. 
        For the most part, I enjoyed my playthrough of Braid; the time-space gameplay mechanics were really interesting and entertaining to work with and the visuals were dripping with style. It's kind of like a neo-impressionist version of Super Mario, if that makes any kind of sense. The story was well-done and definitely kept me interested. My only real negative is that some of puzzles got to the point of being pretty much absurd; they were still solvable but they didn't necessarily give you that self-satisfied elation that the likes of Portal would do. I would still recommend it to anyone that hasn't gotten their hands on it yet.
        Max Payne 3. I enjoyed parts of it but on the whole, this game just did not feel like Max to me. The gunplay was there. The bullet-time was there. Max was kind of there. Gone was the traditional graphic novel story-telling, dark comedy, femme fatales, and any characters worth caring about; it was very nice of Rockstar to write a fairly flat character into Max's past in order to justify uprooting the drunkard. More often than not, I found myself asking why does Max care about what he's doing even as Max asked himself that very question. I also came to a startling realization that I spent most of the game hiding behind cover rather than diving across the room in a blazing ballet of bullets. For the most part, my gun-dives were rewarded with quick deaths and a great deal of frustration. 
      The gameplay animation was really impressive, I will admit that; however, it seemed for such a fast-paced game that Max took his precious time raising his gun before firing a shot, often times resulting in the ex-cop catching more than a few enemy bullets before ever cocking his weapon. One nagging frustration for me is that it always felt like the game was rushing you from point A to B without ever giving you time to explore the environment for their new "clue" system or golden gun parts. In the earlier levels, whenever you would take more than a second to look at something, you would be constantly berated by Passos until you moved on; it was frustrating, irritating, and did a real disservice to the artists that built those environments. In an effort to cut this soapbox short, I will go ahead and say this: the gameplay was alright and it was a decent third-person shooter but this is not the Max Payne that most of us grew up with. 
      I'm still working on a lot of the same games I was last time, pretty sure I'm getting close to finishing Far Cry and I just started Duke Nukem Forever. I know what most people would say when they see that last one but I'll be honest: I was curious and it didn't cost that much. I'm only a few hours in but the gameplay is fine, the humor is sophomoric at best, and the visuals are nothing to write home about. But you know what? I'm enjoying it and having great time playing it. I'm not sure what that says about me but I'm not sure if I really care. Games are meant to be entertaining in some fashion and so far that's what Duke is, low-brow as it may be. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Update on Life and Richard

It's been a strangely hectic-feeling week or so in the life of being unemployed. I've been really looking for a nice, meaty project to sink my teeth into. Lo and behold, I discovered the website; it's a social site of sorts where a lot of indie developers (industry newcomers and veterans alike) are trying to start up various gaming projects. With spending a little bit of time on the site, perusing around and talking to some various people, it looks like I've found a couple of interesting projects to get into with the likes of two companies known as Rising Soul Games and Dark Lore Games. I can't really talk too much about what the projects entail but if all goes well, they should keep me pretty busy and I think it'll be  a great experience.

I've also been trying to work bit by bit on my Richard maquette and explore the world of I wound up not working on Richard for a couple of days because I got called in to do some playtesting; it was the full deal: unreleased game, NDA's and monetary compensation. The most fun part aside from playing the game? If anyone tries to ask me what I tested, I can honestly answer, "I'm sorry, that information is classified." How many times do you really get to say that in real life? Anyway, it was fun/interesting experience and one that I wouldn't necessarily mind doing again. Back to Richard for a second, here's a few shots of my latest progress with him.

No arms yet and torso's still a little off...
The torso's been mostly resolved, now with some arms and sexy bracer

What's that, a near finished mantle and TWO bracers?!
On the gaming side of life, good lord my backlog has gotten extra terrible. I have done away with the boyhood single-mindedness of working on only one game at a time; it's just not feasible anymore! As of right now, I am working on Far Cry, Amnesia, Titan Quest, Mass Effect 2, dabbling again in Skyrim, and getting close to finishing Bulletstorm (I think). I still have a number of games on PC that I picked up during the last Humble Bundle sale that I haven't gotten around to trying yet including the critically acclaimed and award winning Bastion and Braid. Don't even get me started on my PS3 backlog...

 I recently finished playing through both Limbo and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. Both were really great games with some interestingly brain-busting puzzles. The music in Superbrothers was fantastic and Jim Guthrie deserves much praise for his work; I had downloaded the soundtrack before playing the game and loved it so much I put it on my phone so I can take it with me everywhere! Limbo was beautifully creepy and reminded me a bit of playing the old NES version of Prince of Persia, albeit with a bit more disturbing death sequences. For a monochromatic 2D side-scroller, and even without that qualifier, Limbo's animation was amazing; everything had a sense of grace and subtlety to it that you don't see in a whole lot of games or even movies. I think it's come to that time again with this post though; I have run out of updates for the time being but I will be sure to try and post more info when I have it, more thoughts on games, industry stuff, projects, and what-have-you. For the two or three people that mistakenly find my blog, I wish you a safe and happy holiday: please don't blow off too many appendages or set the fields ablaze.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bumpers and Maquettes?!?!

I mentioned that I had been working on a few different things, one of which being a new bumper for my demo reel and the other a maquette of Richard, the necromancer from the webcomic Looking For Group.

Here's the bumper, pretty happy with how it came out and satisfied to call it done!

I started with basing it off of the PlayStation "It Only Does Everything" campaign; at first, it was coming off as just a straight rip-off and that just doesn't work. So changing a few things, making the color scheme resemble my business cards/blog, different audio track, and I think I've made it my own.

Next up is the Richard maquette. It looks like LFG is hosting a type of contest where competitors are crafting, drawing, sculpting, carving, etc. their own version of Richard for some unknown prize. The pose is from this page, last panel. I'm not so dead set on winning as I am just wanting to get back into more traditional media a bit; it seems like it's been far too long since I've done something that hasn't been on the computer. I'm really enjoying the process so far and am very thankful that I had Sam Ellis to give my Pre-Production class a crash course in building armatures and maquettes.

Bare wire and wood base

A little bit of aluminum foil...

Some sculpey for the wall section...

Starting on Richard!!

I believe that's all I really have to say for now; two posts in two days...what's next?!?!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"The Unkown" is... interesting

I'd like to say that a good bit has happened in the near two months since my last post; I suppose you could argue either way. Since graduation, my wife and I have moved back to our hometown and begun the wonderfully exciting and adult world of hunting for work. We've had a few nibbles here and there but nothing that has come to fruition so far. My list of offers from places is short and runs the gamut from Sony Santa Monica to Starbucks; sad to say, I am still unemployed.

But as horrible as it sounds, I'm getting used to it; not so much in that I am perfectly happy to be living without income but rather I am starting to get back into working in After Effects and Maya as well as doing something with my hands in terms of traditional media. In addition to getting into the unemployed workflow, I've also been trying to hit up the social network a bit, reconnecting with some of the great people I met at GDC. I don't want to be the kind of person that uses people just for getting work, I honestly do want to get to know these people because wouldn't you know it, some of them can be pretty damn interesting!

 There are still a few more irons in the fire as far as jobs go and flame hasn't completely gone out yet; it seems that the hardest part about not having a job is trying not to let it drive you too crazy to the point where you can't get anything else done. Hopefully I can at least be a bit more faithful to myself in terms of posting on this blog during this period. Hopefully.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Stepping into the Unknown

That's it; I am finally done with my four years of study in the animation program at Ball State University! That being said, I am really trying to figure out what my next step is going to be. My wife and I have moved back to our hometown and have started looking for work; not necessarily work for being comfortable around our former stomping grounds but rather work for earning the money to get out of this state and out to the west coast.

As far as animation goes, I'm working on setting up my desktop rig so I can get back to Maya and some personal projects. I've got a few irons in the fire I suppose as well as trying to maintain and build some stronger relationships with a few industry folks that I've met either online or at GDC 2012. While all of this is going on, I am also constantly searching for opportunities around my area for collaborative or independent projects and applying to various animation gigs across the country.