Monday, May 28, 2007

2 Screens

Getting some work done over the long weekend, blocking in some of the background buildings and finding - then filling - holes in our modeling reference.

Every once in a while I'll fire off a render and have the wrong window active. I did that twice today and I liked the renders enough that I saved them.

There's something about the rendering style that I like in these shots. Granted, neither is anything at all close to how we're finishing the shots but I guess that's why I'm posting them now. If I don't, they'll never see the light of day.

I'll update within a day or two with notes on what's going on in these shots.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Staying Productive

It's been a quiet few days on the blog front, yet work's been progressing on the first shot. It's been progressing somewhat more slowly, but progressing nevertheless.

As neither James nor I are working on this project full-time (due to those pesky day jobs demanding our attention), what we get done is what we can cram into the few hours between work and sleep and then on the weekends. It's a lot of time, when we're both using it optimally but sometimes optimal just doesn't happen.

Tonight I'd given myself one task only, to tag all of the reference photos we have that relate to the industrial landscape we'll be seeing the background of the first shot. A simple enough task but with this, that and the other thing, it's 10:15pm before I'm even getting started.

But they're tagged now, thanks to Bridge, my favorite application of all time. I Bridge so much, HERE's a link to all of the Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcasts that relate to Bridge. Damn, I can't wait for CS3. But even the CS2 Bridge is brilliant. Live Collections are revolutionizing the way we're collecting photo reference. Because of the Collections and how they're basically just saved searches, I'm totally not sweating having some sort of elaborate, multi-tiered folder structure.

I can imagine trying to organize photos without Bridge and having something that looks like

Exterior > Buildings > Residential > Building Details > Roof > Roof Tiles.

But then a photo that shows some great roof tiles, might also be great reference for wires running between buildings and then a reference for those cool little windows that are up in the peaked roofs of little Euro buildings. Do I have three copies of the photo in three different folders? That's dumb.

With Bridge, the one photo has three tags and it's in all three sets, my Roof Tile set, my Wire set and my Cool Little Window set.

Lovin' it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

City Layout

I just glanced up and saw the thumbnail of this image and for a second thought it was a spilled bowl of Fruity Pebbles.

Needless to say, this colors here in no way reflect the art direction we're going for. No, what this is, is simply a breakdown of all the visible buildings in the first shot. 53 visible buildings, counting only the garishly colored ones.

That's all for now. Tomorrow or in the next day or two I'll drop in a post about how we wound up with this layout and why we needed to have this reference document.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Whole Page Worth Of MEL Scripts

Edvard Toth has a whole slew of MEL scripts, several of which look very, very useful.

A search for "duplicate along curve" is what brought me here. Lord knows why doing this in Maya is a total work-around. I've been using the "animation snapshot" method, one of, I'm sure many ways to do something very simple and basic.

That's one of the quirks of Maya that I'm hitting my head against, having come to it after first learning 3d in Cinema 4d, the lack of nice, pretty buttons and clearly designed dialog boxes. Cinema is very friendly, with lots and lots of surface polish.

Maya, eh, not so much. It's a bit more like the less attractive step-sister who is way smarter and more interesting - not to mention fairly stand-offish. She's the one you want to spend time with in spite of, or maybe because of, the fact that it'll take a lot more effort. You just get the feeling that it'll be worth the investment.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Building lots of buildings

This first shot is gonna have a fair number of buildings in it.

I'm only about a third of the way through breaking down the scene into discrete units and I'm at 16 buildings that need close-to full modeling. It's no Coruscant, but it's gonna be pretty damned poly-dense.

In order to streamline the actual design & modeling of the buildings, as we have no dedicated concept artist, I started building a couple "schematics" or visual quick-references for how our buildings will look.

These are still very much WIP's but they're the beginning of our town and they've establishing a few rules for how things will fit together.

One of the next steps is for me to start organizing our photo reference library and creating meta data tags for each picture. Bridge is the "asset management" tool we're using and I'm totally a fan. It's turning our huge dump of photos into an easily searchable database of references that should allow us to quickly find modeling and texturing references as we work.

How we're doing it is as follows:
We have a central folder of images, mostly grabbed from Flickr, numbering somewhere in the hundreds and growing every day. This folder has plenty of sub-folders and the photos are all accurately named. For a while I thought that would be enough, but that's not turning out to be the case.
So what's happening now is that all new photos and, slowly, all our older photos are getting meta data tags, examples being "window shutter," "cobblestone," and "drainpipe." The really brilliant thing with Bridge is that it allows you to create live sets, like iPhotos Smart Sets, that are dynamically created every time you access them. What that means is that when it's time for me or James to model some window shutters, all we need to do is click on the live set labeled "Window Shutters" and every photo we have that's appropriately tagged will be referenced in that set.
Eventually we'll have live sets for every aspect of our models and textures right at our fingertips.

The most recent version of the reference folder lives on my iPod and I sync it to both my work and home computers a couple times each week, so that we've got copies. It's not failsafe, but it's better than nothing.

Monday, May 14, 2007

2 more MEL scripts

The first is a camera shake expression, haven't used it yet, but I didn't want to forget about it.

2nd is a way old (2002, before I even knew what Maya was) script called GI_Joe, which may be somewhat obsolete these days but it creates a light dome for faking GI.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


We covered a lot of ground this weekend! ... more to follow.

Friday, May 11, 2007

How Steampunk Are We Gonna Go?

Not sure, but here's a decent steampunk link to think on as we delve into art directing our first shot.

How To Draw Steampunk Machines

And one more,

Brass Goggles

Updated Frames

The relevant scene has already been bumped to a previous page so instead of editing that post, the new frames are going here. Plus, the formatting of these is different, so they'd look out of place.
This is our establishing shot of the girl, locating her in the city. It's also the leading candidate for the first shot we start working on.

The camera move, from overhead, is the fabulous Golden Spiral. It sweeps through a city street or two, through a courtyard, into a building interior and then back outside, landing on the girl in the moment before her necklace is snatched.

And That's It

That be the storyboard, as it stands now.

It's been pointed out to me that the frames, as posted, are in a sort of double-reverse order. I've posted them in a rough breakdown of scenes, with several shots in each scene. The way the posts are ordered is such that the first frame in the oldest post is the first shot in the film, and the last frame in the newest post is the last shot in the film. That makes sense, but it doesn't exactly read that way when you look at the posts.

Oh well. I'm not going to edit every single post and reorder the frames. Sorry Charlie.

It's already been mentioned that the film now is more of a trailer than a true narrative and I think the frames reflect that. Nevertheless, I imagine that scenes will change, the order may shuffle, etc. as we move forward. Hopefully they won't change much, as neither of us want to start over from anything approaching scratch.

Next steps are to pick a scene and start making stuff. The first scene will be a big test for us and will reveal all sorts of very practical considerations that we're looking forward to solving.

Out Of The Tower, Up To The Nest

The girl finds a way out of the industrial dungeon, a window. Likely the bird will lead her through the window. She looks up, tracking the bird.

Now through the window, the girl's climbing up an access ladder - high, high above the city.

A nice wide shot shows us the apex of the tower, a crazy clockwork confabulation of pipes, gears and scary architecture.

And at the very top, inside a nest of springs, wires and tiny gears, lies the girl's necklace.

Some sort of emotional shot of the girl's face.

Behind The Scenes

Through the trapdoor and down a ladder, into the industrial heart of the building.

The girl wanders through the cogs, steam engines, etc. that power the tin toy world she's just escaped from.

She passes gauges, pressure valves, huge machinery and the like. Perhaps we see things suggestive of the bird/her necklace, reminding us of why she's on this journey in the first place.

One of James' finest concept drawings illustrates yet another menacing character she encounters. In comparison to the previous figure, in the forest, this one is less anthropomorphic and more mechanical.

An optional scene, one we both like, but one we realize will be one heck of a technical challenge. The girl, perhaps spooked by the steam monster, falls into a tank of glowing liquid. This shot gives us hair, fluids, refraction and cloth under water to wrestle with. Even if we solve this scene, each frame will take a year to render on our current machines.

Across The River

This is where we reveal our video gaming roots. If this sequence doesn't betray a love of Mario, I don't know what does.

Spooked by the guard, the girl makes her escape.

Her escape is into a stream, bordering the mecha-forest. She leaps into the middle of it, landing on a clockwork lily pad and Super Mario-ing across it. Mecha-frogs ribbit at her and scurry out of the way.

Very basic concept drawing for the lily pad.

On the other side of the stream, the girl finds a trapdoor in the ground. She opens it up and drops down inside.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

And Into The MechaForest

The girl sails through the mouth...fade to black.

Open on the girl in the middle of a tin toy/clockwork forest. Trees whirl and click, mechanical deer poke their noses in the steel wool grass and oddly shaped guards patrol the perimeter, sliding back and forth in their slots like the guys from those old tabletop hockey games.

First she's amazed, caught up in this odd little playground of painted metal, then frightened by the guards...

Open Wide

I know what this is a picture of, but it may look like nothing at all without some explanation.

The girl is following the clockwork bird, chasing her necklace. The bird leads her through the city, to here. "Here" is a big ole' tin toy/clockwork/steampunk gargoyle-faced mouth. It's the entrance to Castle Greyskull and the girl has to go in to get her necklace.

In this shot she's in a cart, ala It's A Small World/Willy Wonka, being whisked past the menacing teeth without much control of the situation.

After The Necklace, Into The City

With the conflict established, the chase begins!

This is a short section, but a fun one, that'll take the girl from her original location in the residential part of the city, into the heart of the industrial behemoth - and into Castle Greyskull.

A clear dividing line separates the two parts of the city, shown here as a huge, bare, imposing wall and a chasm, bridged by an old, rickety bridge. A chasm in the middle of a city? Well, maybe less a chasm than a blighted section, devoid of either residential or industrial development. The girl crosses the blight on the bridge, which she's accessed after crossing the wall.

Initiating The Action

The first frame here is one of my favorites.

We've stripped a lot of the narrative out of this piece, but there needs to be something driving the action, some reason for the film to have a beginning, middle and end. Here's our conflict.

A bird steals a necklace.

The bird is a clockwork machination, a little brass cuckoo that flies out of the darkness (originating in Castle Greyskull) and steals the girl's necklace. Obviously the girl wants it back.

First Frames

It's taken me forever to get these up due to myriad computer issues. Nevertheless, here's the start of the short.

Open with a pan across the city. Dusk.

Art direction is still in development, but this shot establishes the setting for the film and delineates "sectors" of the city. Industrial and residential areas are clearly defined, as well as what we're calling "Castle Greyskull" where the meat of the action will take place.

Still Positive

The team has been struck with its share of setbacks lately - Which has caused a temporary slowdown. Lack of time, lack of Internet access..and an upcoming holiday to boot. (Remember mother's day is fast approaching) But the project overall has really built up steam. It has been a long time coming, but after working (and re-working) many of our initial ideas into something manageable we are excited to dig into the meat of this project on a shot by shot basis.

One thing that hasn't been discussed much is the Pre-Preproduction process we started way back when this project was in its infancy. Gathering references, script revisions, and really almost discovering the visual style we ultimately hoped to achieve. This is something I hope to cover in more detail in a future post.

This project was something that started slowly, almost as a notion of what we hoped to get across with our work. The project, the script, the reference photography, at one point, were in a constant state of evolution. One person would share an idea or photo and create a new tangent to explore, sparking new ideas, or refinements to existing ones. In the beginning to some extent it felt like the old adage 'one step forward - two steps back'

In retrospect however, all of the re-writing and re-working of ideas, themes, styles and goals taught us valuable lessons. Every step along the way we would pick up a better way to do something, a clearer vision of the finished work, or some pearl of wisdom that would take us one step closer to our goal.

It should be noted, that while we are choosing to create more of a trailer type of sequence and moving away from a true narrative - the back story - the mythology in which these scenes take place has been developed quite thoroughly.

I think sculpture is an apt metaphor in this case because we really started with the vaguest notion of what we wanted. As Barry and I began to bring all of our ideas and influences together, (All the while learning from those who have proceeded us both in style and technique) slowly things began to take shape.

Now as we move into bringing these experiences to bear on actual shots, I am as excited as ever to see what the future holds. At every stage there are opportunities to learn, to explore, and to share our experiences with others en masse.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hello all,

I am the 'other guy' working on this project with Barry

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Delayed again

Not getting personal, but I moved this weekend. It kicked my arse.

Thus nothing other than the scanning of the boards got done.

Later tonight I'll post the frames, ideally with annotation.

Friday, May 4, 2007

12:01am Spiderman 3 and New Boards

Ugh. Tired due to a midnight showing of the new Spiderman movie and the subsequent long, protracted, baffling drive out of the Grove parking lot at 3am.

But in terms of "staying on message," new boards are pretty much locked. Over lunch yesterday, James and I trimmed some scenes, rethought the importance of having any semblance of narrative and came up with a pretty nice set of shots.

ATM, they're on paper and 3x5 cards. Over the next day or two I'm going to scan them and get them up on here. The next step will be to pick our first shot and get into the real nitty-gritty of concept art & modeling. As much fun and as important as all this pre-pro work has been, I'm very excited to get into the actual shots and to start makin' stuff.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Changing Direction

Why change course now?

Well, it's not a huge change of direction but it is a definite change. Previously, this project was a narrative short. 3, maybe 5 minutes in length, telling a story about a girl who ventures into a surrealistic, tin-toy themepark that's laid abandoned for many years. She's chasing a lost pet. X, Y and Z happen and the high point of the drama is that she gets turned into a tin toy herself. She's reunited with her lost pet, now a tin toy as well and the film ends, all bittersweet 'n' stuff.

It's a fine enough story, as far as it goes, but at the end of the day, it wasn't serving our needs. Because when it's a narrative, it's all about the story. Everything serves the story - art direction, wardrobe, camera angles, pacing, etc. The decisions being made are storytelling decisions and a great story can rise above less-than-great execution.

But I'm not a storyteller. Nor am I an aspiring director.

If I'm aspiring to anything, it's to be a better technical artist. At the end of this project, I'm not hoping to get calls from people wanting me to direct the next Cars. But if they called wanting me to be a TD on the next Cars, well, now we're talking.

What I'm excited about with this project is becoming a stronger modeler, a better lighter and a kick-ass texture artist. The problems I'm looking forward to working through aren't whether this one shot should be framed from over the protagonist's shoulder or from directly overhead. I'm looking forward to breaking down each shot and figuring out how to build it so that it renders in a reasonable amount of time. I want to come up with a bunch of great, technically challenging shots and see them all the way through the pipeline. That's exciting to me.

And that's why the project's changing course somewhat. Now it's more of a trailer than an actual short. We're cutting down the narrative elements to the absolute bare bones and keeping only the coolest shots. We're shortening to trailer length, circa 30 sec.

At the end of the day, it's gonna look cool. It's not gonna leave you wondering what happens to the girl, as much as it'll leave you wondering who the hell made that and can I get them to make my next project?

MEL Scripts, starting my collection

I work on a computer at work and at home and I have a devil of a time keeping things consistent between them. If I was some sort of 43 Folders/GTD guru I'd have all the answers ( but in terms of getting started, I'm gonna put useful links up here so I don't forget them.

One think I keep running into are MEL scripts. Someone's always pointing out this or that script that makes Maya way friendlier. I never DL them because I'm afraid I'll forget to install it on both computers, I'll forget that I even installed it, I won't remember what it does or why I thought it would be a good idea to get it. etc.

Well, hopefully, this site will make all that angst a thing of the past.

Introducing RandKey, by Mikael Hakansson (

This script brings up a window, which lets you randomize selected keyframes from the graph editor."

Why this script?

I came across in reference to organically deforming hard surface geometry, trying to give it more of a "real world" appearance, less crisp & CG. I suppose it has other uses as well.

Rethinking The Project

Not a serious, start-from-scratch thing, but a subtle redirection that I think is for the best.

Notes on this will follow along with more WIP's.