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Fostering intellectual openness

Posted on March 10, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

Ed Catmull 2008 Siggraph Keynote

Back in 2008, I was privileged to attend Ed Catmull’s keynote at Siggraph as a Microsoft/Rare representative.

During his talk, Ed Catmull looked back at the mistakes Pixar did in its early years and the secrecy surrounding their technologies was one of them.

Instead he explained, everyone would benefit if studios became more open about their projects and technologies.

Fast forward to 2020, Ed Catmull stayed true to his words and everyone is now fully acquainted with Disney’s Ptex and other Pixar’s USD but did you know that Blue Sky and Dreamworks have also embraced the idea of sharing their ideas?

Few days ago, I shared an old article from the Blue Sky’s tech blog on Linkedin and I was astonished by the success it received. In the space of few days, my post, received a little bit less than 3.5k views on a blog post I had assumed everyone had already read and no, the article became viral.

ChopRig system

Most animation related websites are too mainstream those days and not technology focused enough so it is easy to fall out of the loop. When using a 3d software, yes you can pretend you are working like a 2d animator but realistically, you are more like the pilot of a fighter plane and need to keep an eye on your memory use, processes and autosaves.

For anyone wanting to stay up to date for at least what the main Feature animation studios are doing, I would highly recommend to bookmark the following links and keep an eye on what is being discussed.

Blue Sky tech blog

The Blue Sky tech blog is a fairly new one and I read some really interesting articles there, one of them regarding the gamification of Quality Checks (Introducing achievements into QC).

Blue Sky technology

Disney papers and talks

This is the historical animated feature tech website that goes all the way back to 2009.

Last year’s “Optimizing rig manipulation with GPU and parallel evaluation” Siggraph paper doesn’t appear though. It will eventually I am sure so use the link just above to read an abstract and watch the accompanying video.

Dreamworks research and development:

This is the Dreamworks treasure cove. Loads of information about their proprietary software and other tech.

Pixar research

Where it all started!

I hope this is useful to you. Don’t hesitate to share.

Pixar Cinematographers Deconstruct Onward

Posted on March 9, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Cinematography, Education | Leave a Comment

Short but insightful video where Sharon Calahan and Adam Habib walk us through the cinematography of some of the sequences from Pixar’s latest movie “Onward”.

Sharon Calahan
Adam Habib
Edgar Wright inspired shot

Milt Kahl_Disney Family album

Posted on March 6, 2020 
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March 1909 came to life my favorite Disney animator. It has been a really long time since I last spoke about Disney legend Milt Kahl on this blog and at a time of political correctness where people are afraid to ruffle feathers, I think it would be a good time to make March 2020, Milt Kahl’s appreciation month!

Milt Kahl was one of Disney’s Nine old men. A vocal animator, well known for his razor sharp comments and stunning performances on characters like Rescuers’ Medusa, Jungle Books’ Shere Khan, Merlin, Aristocat’s Edgar, or even Bambi and Alice.

Let’s start Milt Kahl’s appreciation month softly, with his Disney Family Album portrait and then we will quickly move to a series of interview with his sharp criticism on the industry … and on his colleagues, and to finish with the excellent CalArt tapes!

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Texture in animation

Posted on February 24, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

The most important concept in animation to me is “Contrast”. Contrast can be applied to anything in animation. Contrast is what separate two characters when we talk about acting, contrast is what will make the difference between two styles of animation when we talk about posing, so what about timing?

When it comes to timing, contrast will be your strongest ally to generate excitement, especially for pantomime and body mechanics shots.

When it comes to timing, contrast will be your strongest ally to generate excitement, especially for pantomime and body mechanics shots.

Dialogues are pretty straightforward to handle as you already have an audio to base your performance of. With pantomime, approaching timing is frightening if you don’t have a method to approach it.

Texture is, the way you organise your contrast, texture is how you manage your timing.

Personally, what I always try to do, is to create “texture” in my performance. What the hell is texture you might ask. Texture is, the way you organise your contrast, texture is how you manage your timing. Think about a music score or picture a drummer performing!

If you were to create a performance where all the beats fell at the same pace, you would undoubtedly create a monotonous boring piece. If instead, you give contrast to the beats, alternating slow downs and accelerations, you will create much more exciting shots. In music, you could refer to legato and staccato.

But wouldn’t this feel too forced and unnatural?

Well, this is where we getting to the meat of this article!

I like to watch people falling on their ass

I am obsessed by body mechanics and can’t help looping videos of controlled and uncontrolled motion. Basically, I like to watch people falling on their ass or their face as long as they don’t die! This curious habit started when I worked in VFX.

In VFX, animators will often be questioned about the physicality of their animation by people who don’t study motion so it is a great practice to bookmark such videos as they will come very handy, if you need references for a specific stunt.

So where was I…. Ah yes! This morning, a friend posted what appeared to be simple fun gag which I started looping few times until I realised how perfectly timed the piece was! Not only does it start and ends with a decisive walk on twos but it also features an amazing arrhythmic section in the middle with sudden accelerations and pauses, all that at 110 bpm. If I were to recreate this in animation, people would say it is totally artificial but there it is!

Just to make the texture clearer, I overlayed a drum box with musical annotations from quarter to sixteenth, mixing notes and rest values. Even if you are not musician this should make sense.

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Aardman’s “Early Man” 12 mouth shapes

Posted on February 23, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

As a preamble, in case a buddying CG character TD was reading this article, please pay special attention the specific “Mouth shapes” term I am using here.

A Mouth shape IS NOT a blend shape. Blend shapes are single predefined shapes that can only go from 0 to 1 and as a result, it is impossible for the animators to make successful transitions between phonemes or make the lip sync look organic.

“Mouth shapes” are instead built by the animators by moving/rotating individual controls like the mouth corners, the lips, the lip rolls, the mouth Up Down, the “sneer muscle” control (Levator Labii Superioris) and their secondary and tertiary counterparts. (see Malcolm rig v2 demo for reference https://youtu.be/h3YKuj6qjAM?t=3325)

Now that we have cleared this up, let’s get back to the specific topic.

As I what I was watching the “behind the scenes” section of Aardman’s “Early Man” Bluray last week, I was particularly interested by a section showing the 12 mouth shapes used for lip sync at the Bristol studio.

Once I have a bit more time, I will share on this blog a little presentation I made at work for the animation team. In the meantime, let’s use my recent findings as an opportunity to talk about mouth-shapes in general.

Here are some screenshots taken from the Bluray followed by a recap.

The specific the shapes used are:

MBP / FV / DST / EE / AH /
OO / OH / CH / RR / KRN / TH / L

As CG animators, the first difference we can find is the lack of sad and happy shapes. Instead, Aardman animator seem to only require neutral shapes.

An other interesting thing is the lack of the UW shape, the lips are missing for the O shape so I could guess this is what the OH shape is or possibly what the RR shape is for?

The shapes look a lot like the ones used in CG except that in CG, it would be very easy to move the corners in and out to adapt the Submissive shapes (MBP / SDTK / L and FV) to the following or preceding Primary shape (O / U / E) in order to smooth out the transitions.

Stop motion features being, mostly, shot on twos, animators can probably get away with it as this is the charm of the medium. Having no control over the corners in CG would make the result very poppy and undesirable for most productions.

Just for comparison, I am reposting the Sony’s “Chester V”‘s mouthshapes and the Blair chart I featured a while back. (a link to the original article is posted below)

For “Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2”, Chester V had a lipsynch library of 16 shapes.

M / M2 / S / E / EH
I / L / A / AH / AO / OU / O / Th / U / U2
FV

Personally, my library is closer to the Preston Blair chart as most shapes can easily be reconstructed from the following basic 10 shapes and a smaller library is easier to use and mamage.

A / E / O / U / NDTCDKNRSZ / W / MBP / L / FV / Th

I once came across a complex Kung Fu Panda lip sync library that would be useful for this article, let me know if you have a link somewhere.

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Animation Collaborative Pro tips

Posted on January 19, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

Animation Collaborative or AnimC for short is the brick and mortar animation school situated right opposite Pixar in Emeryville.

Having personally witnessed the awesomeness of the school in the past, I mentioned the school few times already on this blog and what some of you might not be aware of, is that Pixar’s Directing Animator Michal Makarewicz and the AnimC crew, post a series of insightful tips on the AnimC facebook page which you might want to check out:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AnimationCollaborative/posts/?ref=page_internal

Having been out of animation school for quite a while now, I tend to forget or might not be aware about the latest tips and tricks of the industry so it is great to be able to stay in the loop from the comfort of social medias.

Here is one of the latest tips AnimC posted and that people might not be aware of:

“Unless the character is deliberately talking to the camera, don’t break this rule! It can be distracting for the viewer”

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dAnimPicker (part 2)

Posted on January 19, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

Hiro picker (Big Hero 6)

This is a follow up to my previous post and once again, I don’t have access to the Disney Feature animation tools so those findings and screen captures are only from various popular behind the scenes videos, some of them are posted below. This said…. I never ever managed to see any pickers from BlueSky studios!

Olaf body and facial picker

Disney animation fans and especially animators, are very familiar with dAnimPicker, the Disney animation picker, a good looking and very functional picker with some really cool features (zoom and pan), similar to the AnimSchool picker and the good old abxPicker.

Kristof Picker (Frozen)

The dAnimPicker has some great additional features like the pickwalk, to easily navigate from control to control, and anchors, to quickly jump to predefined position like the face picker, or body picker.

Kristof and Anna facial and body pickers

You can see the interaction between the animator and the picker, 9:03 into the following video:

Having never seen that sort of picker in past researches, I was really surprised when I came across two similar looking pickers: Locus and Character Toolkit Designer.

After bumping on Locus through Pinterest with a totally unrelated research, I was finally able to track a video demo of the apparently commercially available picker from Korean based Locus Animation studios. (there are more demos on the Vimeo channel).

The similarity with dAnimPicker is pretty striking but wait until you see Character Toolkit designer!

The resemblance is stricking right?

I am not sure if ILM TD Davoud Ashrafi, the creator of the tool, is the actual creator of the Disney picker or if he just got inspired by it as he keeps mentioning, but the demo on his Vimeo channel is fascinating. The creation part of the tool very exciting compared to other tools and I especially love the mirroring feature, this would have saved me a lot of time.

Let’s finish up this post with more related Disney behind the scenes videos and don’t skip the Wreck it Ralph videos where you can also see the body controls visible in the Maya viewport. Pickers are good when the screen is too cluttered but on-screen controls are preferable.

In 3:02 of the following video, you will see the eyelashes controls. Crazy right! I already mentioned that the animators shape the eye lids at Disney in a previous article.

In the following videos, we can see how the animators (here Disney guests) interact with the body parts directly in the viewport.

Related posts:

Previous articles related to Tangled:

http://www.olivier-ladeuix.com/blog/index.php?s=tangled

Disney GUI picker / dAnimPicker part 1

Posted on January 17, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: Much to my regret, I don’t work for Disney Feature Animation but DTVA (Disney TV) so I don’t have access to any of the tools demonstrated here and as such I am not breaching any NDA. The content is just extracted from publicly available material.

If you are interested in dAnimPicker, the Disney character picker, and if you want to know how the brows are controlled at Disney, here is a short clip I extracted from a Moana Behind the Scene video.

I think I am recognizing Disney head of animation Malcon Pierce here, and if you pay attention, you will probably notice that he is shaping the brows using only a main control, 3 secondary controls and probably navigating between them using his keyboard using a pickwalking feature.

The light blue control is the main brow and the darker ones are the secondary (inner and mid brow). The dark circular just above is probably the outer brow.

Maui brows close up

I would be really curious to hear what are the controls right underneath though…. tertiary controls?

Related post:

Tangled / notes on eye lids and eye lashes

Posted on January 6, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

I don’t know where I got this from but here are some notes I had buried in my hard drive. I am guessing this is an answer to a Q&A with Disney animators who worked on Tangled.

Having attended Animsquad, I am aware about the importance of eyelashes and I had been told a while back that eyelashes could be animated on a show like Tangled.

Without further ado, here are the notes :

As far as eyes are concerned, for Tangled, We Payed HUGE attention to eye lids. every frame was tuned to Glen’s drawings for the max appeal. Another HUGE things we really spent time on were the eye lashes, Mainly Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. Glen stressed the importance of the lid shape, the tension in the lower lids, the shape of the lower lids, and where the eye lashes were pointing. In Alot of cases we would point the lashes where the character was looking, to help guide the viewer’s eye and boost the appeal of the character. I think the eye lashes and lid shapes are something really overlooked alot of the time, But these are HUGE tools that can be used to gain appeal and to show what the character is feeling.

Also some people think its the rigging. The rigs for these characters were very simple when it came to mouth and eye shapes. For the eye lids we only had three controls for the edge of the top and bottom lids, two corner controls, and open and close rotation controls. sometimes Less is more with controls, It makes it harder to get lost in the rig.

Hope that helps!!! On behalf of the crew, Thanks for the great comments!

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Scott Clark showcasing Pixar’s Presto

Posted on January 5, 2020 
Filed Under Animation, Education | Leave a Comment

I don’t think I ever posted that old video where Supervising Animator Scott Clark, takes us behind the scenes and quickly features Pixar’s animation software, Presto, and Sulley’s dance shot from Monsters University.

I love the little aparté on Motion Capture and I can only agree:

“It isn’t realism that we are trying to get in animation, I would just be a Mocap artist (otherwise), I wouldn’t be an animator.”

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