FMX 2015: Conference on Animation, Effects, Games and Transmedia
May 16, 2015
An entire year later and nearing the end of my studying, it was time to return to FMX for a second time. Having enjoyed the last festival so much, I was extremely excited about the opportunity to return for more industry talks and networking.
Tuesday 5th May - Day One
Workshops: Disney Animation
'Appeal of the Reel'
Doeri Welch, Kelsi Taglang, Adolph Lusinsky, Wayne Unten
As the first talk of the festival, it was incredibly popular! So popular in fact, that we didn't actually get let in to the screening because it was already full. Luckily, they put on a second screening in another room and streamed the presentation. Unfortunately there were a lot of technical issues, so lots of things were missed. However, I did take away a few important notes. Jose Luis Gomez told us to make sure to include technical sides to your reel, to make sure you're communicating to employers that you understand the language. Something else that was emphasised was the fact that animation should never stop - it's a constant process and should always be working to improve upon what you've done.
Story Illustration for Film
Chris Appelhans - Froghat Studios
Chris started out as a concept artist for feature film, and eventually evolved in to script writing and running projects. He's worked on a number of big projects including Monster House and Coraline. Much to everyone's amusement, he began the talk by stating that he can't teach us about illustration because it's a craft he's been learning for years, and he couldn't begin to attempt to cover it in forty minutes.
Instead, we focused on story. Story is a combination of character and conflict. He learnt a lot about this from an extremely old academic book called "The art of dramatic writing", which he described as incredibly dry but profound. Character is revealed by conflict, and they need context to reveal aspects of their personality. If you watch people sitting alone on a chair for a week, you would begin to really learn who they are. A series of conflicts are used to determine character, but with lots of filler. Old people are fun to look at in particular, because life has shaped them in to really unique and interesting characters.
There are five stages of drama: conflict, crisis, climax, resolution and then a new conflict. Crisis is where someone if forced to do something or make a decision. Story arcs are used to display the stages of drama throughout a story. These make for illustrations that are interesting. Key poses are the story version, whilst inbetweens are the parts that are trying to be interesting. A pose consists of key changes that define the story. Iconic images combine all of the work for a story, and all of the feels of the characters. The rules to great illustration can be broken, but there must be a purpose for it - for example trying a different angle. Watching a character grow and change is something the audience finds interesting. Character and plot are intertwined so as to develop characters with conflict in mind, this is particularly obvious with Disney movies. Other characters can also be used to group together to battle conflict, whereas some side ones are there simply to be enjoyed.
"A great film is truth and spectacle" is a quote that he could not remember the origin of. Imagery has emotional meaning to an audience, to make them remember it. Often it is best to design a character so the pose in that moment/piece of concept art is evoking an emotional response. Sometimes proportions and things can change, but things like costume will be key. One of the most important things to remember during character exploration is to do it in a medium you feel comfortable with. Framing also can be vital, occasionally simplicity is needed to allow the acting to shine through. In other cases, it can be used to create atmosphere. Clarity is always key.
The Science of Creature Design
Imagine you're from a galaxy far far away. Appreciating every creature we have on earth is essential when it comes to imagining ones that we don't. Underlying anatomy for creatures is something required for any animated film that wants to include 2D or 3D imaginary creatures. As much information as possible in necessary to allow for proper integration of that specific creature to it's environment. Terryl believes that what a creature looks like in it's design is exactly what it needs to do, and that's why it's important to take advantage of the almost infinite variety of inspiration that nature has.
20th Anniversary of FMX
As a very special anniversary treat, twenty professionals from some of the industry's leading studios got up on stage to tell us their stories and personal experiences of FMX festival since it began. It was delightful to hear their various tales, and incredibly humbling to be in front of them all at once.
The Hobbit & 20 Years of Weta
Joe Letteri -Weta Digital
One of the key comparisons discussed between The Hobbit films and the original Lord of the Rings trilogy is the advancing of technology between them and the effect that had on the production. In the original films, many of the shots featured forced perspective with camera angles and effects/framing. This changed with 3D film and tracking because moving forced perspective was introduced. This meant that miniatures became impractical, so the geography and buildings were all moved according to the camera.
Gollum's rig was obviously improved upon for The Hobbit films, using sub surface scattering to create the translucent skin, appearing like human's so that he is able to sit more effectively in scene. Because of the many advances in technology, The Hobbit included much more interaction with cameras and characters. Interestingly, in both trailers that were released, much of what you see isn't actually what ended up being the final product in the film.
Of course one of the main challenges and most memorable characters in The Hobbit films, is the dragon Smaug. Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal during motion capture inspired the modelers to redesign him so that they could include hands - a notable character gesture in the final films. The animation, apparently, was incredibly tricky - attempting to understand how he would deliver dialogue. Virtual production was also absolutely key to the last film in particular because they'd moved so far away from the real sets and environments in New Zealand.
Wednesday 6th May - Day Two
Commercials Creatures in Commercials: A Case Study of SSE 'Maya' Sam Driscoll, Jorge Montiel - The Mill
For Maya, this was the journey of being an outsider to being integrated. This was initially approached by figuring out what emotion they wanted to portray in each scene, and coming up with key words for the feels and lots of key reference images. An in house person was sent to collect reference of Ruby, the real life orangutan that Maya was based on, for animating, modelling and texturing. A huge 90% of the textures for Maya were derived from the photographs taken. For better integration, they decided to include the shot where the character looks through glass and coloured lights. To help out the animators, two actors were present during filming at all times: one who specialized in orangutan faces and the other in body movement. One of the most important aspects when it came to rigging and modelling was the eyes; the skinning in particular was incredibly high detail and the pupil dilation and tear lines were vital to capture the level of reality.
One of the things I took away from this particular talk was that they created the rig with limited rotations, so they had locked off any that weren't physically possible by the creature. This helped to speed up the animation process greatly, and allowed consistency in the anatomy of the poses. No blendshapes were used for this rig, as it would have been too complicated with all the other added deformations. Muscle simulation, skin simulation and hair simulation were all aspects that really added to the final polish.
Commercials are unique in that they have to push boundaries to try and understand story in the short amount of time they have in comparison to films. Anticipation of the next shots are crucial for achieving realism. In this case, motion capture can't be used because actors aren't able to recreate the level of realism for creatures, so everything in this commercial is hand-keyed by the animators with extensive pre-vis and layout. Interestingly, the guys from the Mill said that it's the extra 5% of detail that are actually making an animation successful. Learning about body language, drawing and the principles of animation are key to animators trying to establish themselves.
Games for Change Europe Art of Never Alone Dima Veryovka - E-line Media
It was a pleasure to be at this talk, because you could tell that the art director felt so passionately about the game he was making, to really celebrate the Alaskan people. He said that he wanted to make a game to make indigenous people feel proud of where they are, and that really came across in the presentation.
Platform games are one of the most accessible, and so that is why it was the chosen format for Never Alone. It's main theme is interdependence, and it is based upon a story that was passed down about an endless blizzard and a young protagonist who is trying to restore balance. The visual goals for the project were as follows: to represent Inupiat people, the beauty of the arctic world and finally to support the gameplay experience. The Inupiat are spiritual people who have a very close relationship with nature and animals. Dima met with lots of elders of whom he respected greatly, to research the community. Alongside this, he met lots of local artists and studied tons of art searching to understand the styles. The people have very specific proportions and this is an aspect, as well as translating the feeling of very handcrafted art that he wanted to be in the game.
Fuzzy, softly rendered and combining the real world with the spiritual. This was the aesthetic of the final piece of concept art and it stuck for the majority of the rest of the production process. The key visual principles were that the game was to be atmospheric, soft, use authentic colours and appear handcrafted. Using vignette to frame an image to focus on the centre, and changing the depth of focus too so that you're not trying to explore the environment. Then the path is highlighted to establish purpose. Specific colour palettes were created for each environment/scene. Composition is just as important, as it shows what's going to happen. The designers were constantly creating compositions that combine with lighting to focus the player and show them what puzzle they're supposed to be solving or what you can do. After making this game, Dima stated that he wanted to make more games for cultures to make people feel happy to be who they are.
Games for Change Europe
Creating Valiant Hearts: The Great War
This was yet another game that was researched thoroughly. In this case, he went to the trenches to get a feel for the sounds and ambience, it rained lots while he was there too so it was extremely muddy! This game was designed with the intent that it was to be a completely different perspective of war, there are no good or bad guys. Lots of grandparents kept letters from the war, and this was what inspired the humanist approach with four different nationalities. This game tries to be about simple places and moments, in between the battles. Lots of friendship moments, happy ones that contrast the negativity of war.
There's also a contextual, historical layer, that wanted to put some of the facts about war in the game as an option for players if they want it. This is kept small however, so that the audience was kept interested. It was very important to have different opinions from various historians and extremely hard to keep an indifferent point of view. Interestingly, the adults in the game have no eyes because they don't want to face the reality of war. I thought this was an incredible subtlety about the game, and proves the level of detail that went in to it. This did however make the animation more difficult, but they decided to hold on to their moral stance because it was so important to the game.
Toy Story 20th Anniversary, A Conversation
Ralph Eggleston, Eben Otsby, Bill Reeves, Christophe Hery - Pixar
It comes as no surprise, that one of the opening statements by the Pixar team was that if you can nail a colour script early on in a film, then only details will change, and the general feel of the colour will stay the same throughout the remainder of the process. Pixar are notorious for their skill in using colour to advance story. One of the great things about John Lasseter was that he had a lot of faith in the pipeline. One of the hardest parts is making a story that people will care about, asking people to part their money for it. In this particular industry, there's a massive emphasis on the technical and creative sides working together and being able to understand each other. Whatever the chosen look of a film is, it should be married to the story.
Thursday 7th May - Day Three
Case Studies The Making of 'Song of the Sea' Fabian Erlinghauser - Cartoon Saloon
The trailer for this film was released in 2009, the reason being it needed funding four years prior to production. The pre-production for which was extremely extensive, giving each studio they worked with a scene by scene pack with storytelling poses included. The trouble with magic is making sure the characters are making their own fate rather than being passengers for things happening in the movie. There still have to be consequences, and the phrase "anything is possible" should be avoided.
One of the main features of this film is it's beautiful aesthetic; this was achieved by hand painting with water colours and inks to create textures. These were then combined with digital colouring and edited together to create the final product. Sometimes, you have to kill your best loved scenes because they don't fit the pace of the movie. This was the case with the shot of the seal cave from the trailer. Cartoon Saloon focus on keeping their characters as part of the composition, framing is everything. Each character has to be embedded in to the shot, rather than placed on top of some kind of environment.
Lots of Celtic mythology was researched as inspiration for this film. There are lots of caricatures of people who worked on it included as background characters too! Cartoon Saloon really like Wes Anderson movies and their centered compositions, they also use lots of circles because they're nice to look at.
Case Studies The Visual Effects of Interstellar Paul Franklin - Dneg
This was their fifth collab with Christopher Nolan, so both parties had a full understanding of the creative and technical capabilities. All of the dust storms were actually there in camera, and lots of the spacecraft models were built too. The views out of the windows were mostly done by front projection, a new generation of digital projection. Lots of lens flare included because cameras can't expose a character in a spacecraft and the details outside at the same time. Generally, about 95% of this film was physical miniatures whilst only 5% is CG. Nolan likes a tactile feel, so messiness and dust that are realistic were a must. Dneg take pride in presenting the extraordinary in a completely ordinary way, and that is very evident with Interstellar.
FMX Celebrates: 40 Years of Industrial Light & Magic Richard Bluff, John Knoll, Lorne Peterson - ILM
Back in the day, everybody had to have a beard and a flannel shirt if you worked at ILM. At least, that's what their old photos seemed to suggest. Lots of stop motion and practical effects were used in the early days too. Digital compositing is one of the greatest things that happened to the visual effects industry according to the guys at ILM. Throughout this talk we were shown various photographs with charming nostalgic stories. Predominantly, the three of them were model makers and they talked us through how they would achieve different practical effects on various films. It was extremely interesting and really made it clear how far the company and the industry had come in all it's time as a studio.
Friday 8th May - Day Four
Case Studies: Creation of Big Hero 6 Brent Burley, Hank Driskill, Adolph Lusinsky - Disney Animation
Disney Animation have three main focus points when it comes to creating movies: creating compelling stories, appealing characters, and believable worlds that are "tangible". This one in particular, was about a boy and his robot. Marvel inspired with the heart of a Disney film.
Lots of bot fights in Tokyo were research for the film. During which, they saw a bell that inspired the face of Baymax. They tried animating three different walk cycles for Baymax, and ended up going for one that was really stylised, with short steps like a penguin. Translucent vinyl was also considered early on, so that you could see the tech inside the robot, but simplicity was favored and opaque vinyl the final decision. To get his tummy just right, they would project images in to a beach ball to see how the light illuminated for the screen on his chest. The two major design inspirations were the pushed proportions and complex backgrounds.
Animators craft every movement that is seen on screen because they wanted to touch every part of the movie. Crowd characters are all members of the crew, each rig has to have the capabilities to be picked up in a shot and animated more. In terms of colours, they were really pushing it - trying to be as vivid as possible without using too much green, because typically people don't like to look at green lights. The problem with ambitious films like Big Hero 6, is that the render hours are constantly being increased despite improving technology.
Games: Visual Arts Art Direction and Imagine composition in the Open World Videogame Franchise Assassin's Creed Raphael Lacoste - Ubisoft
Raphael actually told us that he first appeared at FMX 16 years previously, and started off studying and working in photography. It's here that he learned crucial skills about composition, lighting and human gesture. He went in to the film industry briefly and did lots of framing. The reason he likes photography so much is that it's instant and you have to be there at the right moment. This is a complete contrast to most modern design where it's more of an ongoing process. Raphael studies lots of different types and styles of photography, and one of his key pieces of advice was always to flip an image to check the composition. It should work from both angles.
Being immersed in new places is the best inspiration. Readable shapes, moods, atmosphere, light and some detail but not everywhere are key to creating powerful images. What he likes about games is that the immersion and atmosphere give life to setting, and density triggers the imagination.
Case Studies: Avengers: The Birth of Ultron Christopher Townsend - Marvel, Paul Butterworth - Animal Logic, Alessandro Cioffi - Trixter
The director's advice for the ultron hologram was as follows "It's a brain kind of... sort of..wonderfully weird. And it's blue" so the vfx team had a lot of decisions to make with regards to putting it on screen. They tried lots of things: loads of crazy shapes, structural lines of data flying around, high speed and low speed, code travelling and lighting various structures, procedurally rotating and tumbling around. It took a whole year in total to come up with the internet.
Trixter were tasked with making a body for Ultron, the eagerness of wanting a body of which is a key character story point. The majority of the parts are iron man pieces or random metal parts because it was built in Stark's studio/workshop. It had to be greasy, rusty and acid treated with lots of cables and oil tubes. "There are no strings on me" being a metaphor for the independence of the character from it's creator. In 3D he was roughed up a little bit, with a spine, holes and lots of hanging broken cables. Texturing was a large task because they had to sell that it had been made from many different sources. Some pieces actually have an important history, the mask for example gets hit by something and getings dirty - this is a reference to the comic books. In the comics he often has green stuff on his face.
James Spader took on the role of performing Ultron in the Imaginarium. He really inhabited the character, watching himself to discover movements and placing weights on his body to achieve certain limps or hunchbacks. Motionbuilder was used for lots of the cleanup, and the animation curves were then exported and put in to an updated rig in Maya. Some shots were changed in editorial, so some things were done with keyframed animation as a digital re-take.