And so do I. I came to Spain this summer to work on Gryphon Animo and it’s been an amazing 40 days. The most difficult part has been to STOP working each day and get some rest.
At this point, I’m just about finished with the Animatic. Most of what I’ve been animating can’t be posted here as it gives away too much of the ending, but I wanted to put this bit up because I’m working through something that comes up a lot when dealing with simple characters. Acting.
Roland has just slain the Gryphon and retrieved the feather and now he has to start the long journey home. I wouldn’t call this classic ‘character animation’ but I do need some pointed acting coming across here. Roland has to get the ‘idea’ to get a second feather so he can fly home. This animation test is to see if that acting is possible. It isn’t lit yet so it’s very dark, but take a look:
This needs tuning and the feathers need a LOT of animation still, but I’m happy with Roland’s ability to direct attention to different problems. This is always a question mark with simple character designs, especially those with unorthodox silhouettes.
I have about 3 minutes of animating left and I anticipate finishing over the summer. Hopefully I’ll have picture lock by September 15th and will be able to start the musical score on my trusty Moog keyboards. The music will dictate nearly all of the shot pacing.
At a certain point, Roland is going to encounter a whale. In my design, the ‘whale’ is essentially a massive eyeball that will appear over Roland’s head as he crosses the bottom of the lake. Needless to say, I’ve been rigging seafood all day. Fish, jellyfish, something called a “TeethFish”, and the whale itself.
This is a good time to talk about blinks. I hand-painted all of the blinks for Loon and I have to tell you that being able to do the blinks with simple clusters in Maya is a breeze by comparison.
That’s how I do blinks in 3d. A cluster for the upper lid, a cluster for the lower lid…..move the pivots to the center of the eye, then paint cluster weights to get the look right. These clusters can then be controlled via set-driven-key along with the dilation of the pupil.
This is a bit of a spoiler for the film, but I figure if you’re reading this, you’re one of those behind-the-scenes types who is just as interested in the process as the result. So yes, Roland is going to encounter the Lake Giant and blow his head off with his trusty tommy gun. This is a test of the way Roland can move through space. Basically, with Roland’s bizarre leg configuration, I needed to explore how the little guy could move across difficult terrain without a typical walk cycle. So here it is. It’s very dark because I haven’t lit the scene yet, but the rig includes a point light on Roland’s muzzle flash.
A few people have asked me about the story and why a ‘tommy gun’ was worked into this classic fairytale. Well, I can’t explain that much without giving away the ending, but as a little easter egg, check out this slammin’ track by one of my favorite LA musicians. I learned about Warren Zevon from my two pals: Puppetry expert Alan Louis and writer and musical aficionado Jimmy Searles.
I’m very happy to have been a part of the Hong Kong Arthouse Film Festival this Summer. I’m currently in Barcelona working on a new film, but I hope to get a chance to visit HK again this December. I’m waiting to hear on a few new dates in Europe, so stay tuned!
Rigging. After over about 15 years of working with short 3d productions both inside and outside of the academic sector, I can tell you that (especially amongst younger animators) it is the most common bottleneck there is.
I find the most common mistake is to rig the character as if it is a toy. Similar to the mindset of modeling a dollhouse as opposed to a film set, animators make the mistake of thinking they must develop one, singular, perfect rig which never needs to be changed, broken, or adjusted for a shot. In a way, they feel they need to rig a character independent of any film or camera shot which can be handled and manipulated by someone without any real understanding of animation or story-telling.
While I’m sure there are character setup artists who boast this ability, I can also assure you that – having met many Disney and Pixar animators over the last 10 years- the rigs almost never do what they are supposed to do right out of the box. At any rate, rigging this way is simply above my pay-grade and, to my mind, is a waste of budget hours.
For me, I find it much more useful to rig for the camera. Looking at my boards and knowing what I need the characters to do, I rig based on those actions. Perhaps this is due to my lack of knowledge in the area of advanced rigging, but working with two or three different rigs per principal character is working out very well.
For Gryphon Animo, the risk of getting bogged down in rigging hell is very real. After all, there are over 12 3d characters that require rigs and these aren’t the standard bipedal rigs that we are used to seeing in 3d production. These characters are 2.5 D and the functional requirements of the rigs are very different.
Take Roland, for example. Roland has to walk. This sounds simple as we all know this means move one foot in front of the other, hit the major keys, contact, weight, pass-through, etc. Translate up and down….. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in his case. Roland, if you recall from my earlier posts, is built almost like an Egyptian hieroglyph. He has both legs facing the same direction on the same plane. Considering this design and the way I wanted to treat space in Gryphon, I sketched out a few concepts for how the walk might work. Naturally, this was all subject to testing.
This is where I’ll lose some of you. See, the goal is not to make the most life-like walk cycle. Animation is NOT the illusion of life, nor is it the illusion of realism. Roland is a puppet. He looks like a puppet and he should move like a puppet. I was hoping to keep the hips separated and not have to translate the joints to make the walk work.
Roland also has a Tommy Gun which is essentially part of his arm. So his rig was built with an IK connection to the forward hand which holds the barrel of the gun and flash and point light were integrated into the rig so that it all moved together, much like a rod puppet.
I found, however, that once the walk was tested, there were several adjustments to the rig that were needed. Keeping with my filmmaking philosophy, I decided to create solutions for this walk cycle alone, but use alternate rigs for other scenes where Roland needed to do actions that did not involve passing one foot in front of the other. In the end it was necessary to translate the hips to make the walk cycle look believable.
This test is right on the line. It’s about as naturalistic as I’d want to go. Hopefully it doesn’t abandon the flatness of the model and still looks quirky enough to be unique to Roland’s character.
I’ve given myself two weeks to rig the entire film. If that seems fast to you, you probably need to spend more time around Motion Media studios. ;) There is tremendous value in working swiftly, quickly. Completing an entire pass of a project and THEN revisiting the thing as a whole to revise and rework the weaknesses.
My film loon is finally slated to make its European premiere as part of the Eidolon Festival of Philosophical film in Livien France. Better yet, the film will be playing at the Louvre Museum’s Louvre-Lens in early May. Christina and I are beyond thrilled to be screening with a festival whose mission is so appropriate to the process and themes of the film.
This great news comes on the heels of Loon winning Best Animated Short at the Asbury Park Music in Film Festival put on in part by Sony Pictures Classics. This really meant a lot to me since the mission of the fest was to exhibit films with strong musical components. As I’ve already discussed in detail, the score for Loon was created on a Moog synth which I purchased and taught myself how to use over the Summer. Music is new territory for me so to be included in a prime timeslot (opening for a Jeff Buckley feature film) and to be honored as the best in category by a festival that prioritizes music was a rush.
I’m still submitting to fests and attempting to get a few additional screenings state-side. What has become painfully clear is that we are short on festivals who are willing to screen experimental films. Many of them claim to program them, but despite broad call-for-entries listings, they don’t actually screen much save for the typical orthodox stuff you can see virtually anywhere.
I’ll take Louvre-Lens, don’t get me wrong. But it would be nice to show this in a place like DC or Philly.
I’m pleased to announce that my new short experimental film Loon will be screening as an Official Selection of the Atlanta Film Festival this April. 7pm on April 7th at the Center for Puppetry Arts main stage.
It’s been a long journey and I’m truly honored to be able to show the film as part of such an excellent US festival. Frankly it takes a lot of courage to program a film like this. It isn’t animation, it isn’t live action, it isn’t pure experimental or traditional puppetry. It’s a kind of strange combination of all of the above.
This one really doesn’t work on the small screen and getting to see it in the theatre is kind of essential. Working on laying out some postcards as well:
The Atlanta Film Festival runs from April 1st to April 10th and will feature some great work. Every category this year is just packed with amazing projects. I’ll keep releasing updates on the festival and the screening via Twitter at @MT_Maloney so look me up if you want to follow along. And if you’re in the general vicinity of Atlanta, come on by. Even if my film isn’t your thing, I’m in amazing company and the entire block should be very strong.
While I’m waiting for festivals to get back to me on Loon, I’ve been finishing up backgrounds this Summer on my new animated short film Gryphon Animo. I’ve been chopping away at these slowly but steadily – kind of like chopping down a big tree with a swiss army knife. The goal was to finish the backgrounds this Summer and begin rigging over the Fall and Winter so I can at least begin to block in the animation. Still lighting and final texturing to complete, but I needed to at least get close.
The Briars. This is where Roland get’s lost and confronts Rough Groceries, the giant clockwork spider who guards the entrance to the Gryphon’s cave. The palate is supposed to be drab, sickly, and static. Not a lot of texture (when compared to some of the other backgrounds.
Roland will eventually meet the giant spider in one of the trees. Spoiler alert.
Rough Groceries is the only character model that I’m not really happy with. I’m probably going to remodel this one and make it a little crazier. He’s too tame. Needs more moving parts. I don’t want him to overshadow the gryphon of course.
After the showdown in the cave, Roland will return to the briars and head on up into the clouds. This means I needed a vertically oriented set that would let Roland fly upwards into the night sky.
I don’t want to post too many images because they’re going to give away the ending, but I can at least say that my backgrounds are now 99% complete. I have two more to finish up before September and I’ll be ready to start rigging all of these little guys.