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Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story

Recently I’ve watched a Ted talk presented by Pixar’s filmmaker Andrew Stanton, who wrote and directed “Finding Nemo”(2003), “WALL-E”(2008) and wrote scripts for Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc. In his talk he spoke about storytelling, how he approaches it when he’s writing a script and why do we love stories.

Stanton says that we all love stories because “Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories.”(2012). I think that’s something that gets overlooked sometimes when we discuss stories. It seems to me that the main reason people like stories, whether is it a novel book, or a movie, or a story on a radio, we seem to think that it all comes down to the entertainment, how we, humans want to be entertained. But his point is different, or at least he gives it a fresh perspective, as he sees it from a different angle.

As a storyteller/writer you should “know your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you’re saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal”. This is important – it shows that stories should be well planned ahead and the ending should be figured out from the start so the middle part is the journey to that goal. Coming up with endings is hard, I realised that while planning and writing the story for my final project and I’m still not satisfied with it.

Another point he makes is to ““Make me care” — please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care. We all know what it’s like to not care”.(2012) This is something that every scriptwriter should have in a back of his head, that the only way to catch audience’s attention, to entertain them is by making them care. Later on he goes on about how we should make the audience put things together, make them work for it. So instead of giving them everything on a plate, let’s make it fun for them to solve it for themselves. As he says “We’re compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that’s what we do in real life. It’s this well-organized absence of information that draws us in.“(2012).

A character should have a spine, a goal, something they’re striving for. He gives examples of Pixar characters, such as WALL-E, or Marlin from “Finding Nemo”, but what’s really interesting is what he says at the end, that these goals can sometimes lead to some bad decision making, that characters get in trouble because of them, there are new obstacles in front of them. And that’s what makes stories much more interesting and entertaining.

He also talks about how he was struggling in the early days of Pixar, while writing “Toy Story”. At the time there was a certain formula for animation movies. For example there was a lot of singing involved and there was some romance. The story wasn’t working out and Disney was panicking, so they wanted all these things in the movie. But Stanton and the rest refused, and as he says: “And thank goodness we were just too young, rebellious and contrarian at the time. That just gave us more determination to prove that you could build a better story. And a year after that, we did conquer it.”(2012). It shows that there are no hard rules in storytelling, there are only guidelines. However liking the main character is something he says is a “fundamental”.  I think it would be hard for the audience to relate to an unlikable character, especially in the animated movie. Although there are examples of successful stories with unlikable characters in main roles, I’m thinking about House from “House MD”, or Kevin Spacey’s character from “House of Cards”, but I’m not totally convinced they’re unlikable. They might be evil(in House of Cards case), or rude and cynical like House but there’s something about their characters that people like.

According to Stanton one of the most important ingredients that a story should have is a sense of wonder. “Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent. It can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling — to hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder”(2012).

He ended his talk with saying that drawing from our own experiences, our own stories is also something a storyteller should do. “Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn’t always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experiencing it, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.”(2012)

Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story, 2012. [online] TED talk. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_stanton_the_clues_to_a_great_story/

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Adobe’s Character Animator and what does it mean for the industry

Few days ago Adobe released a video in which they present their latest software to the public. It’s called Character Animator and it’s able to motion track the head movements and facial expressions. One of its main advantages is how easy is it to rig a character. It’s also clear that it’s rather targeted at hobbyists, small corporate projects and maybe schools. I can’t imagine it being used in a professional environment on a big project. The software itself isn’t really an animation program, as it’s rather a motion capture software. It raises a question if this can be still called animation if no one is actually doing any animation. Purists would probably argue that it’s not, as the animation is an art form and there’s not a lot of art going on in motion capture. They could fear that it will make damage the industry, make it look as something easy to do and cause some jobs to disappear, but people had similar worries when CGI was becoming a big deal. I can’t imagine using any of the animation principles in that software, so at the end the result would be rather poor. But maybe that’s not the case? This software could be used during the planning and testing phase, if I was available now I would probably use it in my research as I can see a very little alternative for a motion capture of the face.

What are emotions?

Until 17th century, the word “emotion” didn’t even exist in the English language. Instead terms such as “passions” or “affections” were used. So what exactly are emotions, and how do they relate to animation?

For years emotions were somehow ignored by psychologists in their research, there was very little work done on that subject and it was only Paul Ekman that really saw potential in that area. He started his cross-cultural research by traveling around the world and showing people images of different facial expressions and asked them to match them with emotions such as: happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger and surprise. He wanted to find out if our perception of facial expression is influence by the culture, or is it universal. That’s why he decided to try his experiment in a remote location, where he was confident that people weren’t exposed to the western culture. He continued his research in Papua New Guinea, where he did the same experiment. After getting his results he established the idea of six basic emotions, which was a very popular opinion throughout the years, but it is being challenged right now by other researchers.

One of the criticism of his research was based on a fact that the pictures that he was showing to people were posed and over the top. We know that emotions don’t exist without a context, in a vacuum. This is something that has also came up during my tutorial sessions, researching expressions and facial animation is ok, but without the story, the context it tends to be meaningless and won’t help me improve as an animator.

So why are animators obsessed about emotions and facial expressions? Personally I think that everyone is somehow interested in it, as we all want to know how our minds work. Animators use it to their advantage. They can transform a single thought into something creative and amazing and share it with others. Understanding character’s emotions is important when it comes to telling the story and acting. I think that unlike the actors, or directors or other people from the film industry who can show other valuable skills, animators ability to show what character is thinking, how is he feeling, is important when it comes to getting a job, that’s what makes animator’s work stand out.

 

BECK J., 2014. Hard Feelings: Science’s Struggle to Define Emotions [online]. The Atlantic, Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/hard-feelings-sciences-struggle-to-define-emotions/385711/  [24.02.2015]

OMOTE – Real-time facial tracking & projection mapping

Project OMOTE is a collaboration between three different artists: Japanese Media Artist Nobumichi Asai, Makeup Artist Hiroto Kuwahara And French Digital Image Engineer Paul Lacroix. As I’m pretty interested in facial animation and facial expressions, I found this project pretty fascinating. There’s something that’s very intriguing but also slightly creepy behind it.

We’ve all probably seen some light projections on buildings(for example Light Night in Nottingham), but this project is different. Instead of projecting media on still objects it does it on human’s face, something that was experimented with in the past but the quality of OMOTE is astonishing. The model is sat just few feet in front of the camera, so it looks like she could be standing in front of us while having a conversation. Before the projection starts her face is being scanned, there are also markers around her face. After that the show begins. Her make up changes flawlessly and the tracking system is very accurate. The only “creppy” part would be her eyes, while they’re being projected on her face they look unnatural and slightly weird.

I’m interested where will this project go next and how could it be used. I can imagine that it could be used in theatre, when it comes to projecting masks on actors faces, but the scanning and mapping part could be used for animation purposes, just as motion capture is used right now.

 

 

Aaron Mamiit, 2014, Omote face tracking and projection mapping system is amazingly creepy: Here’s why[online]. Tech Times. Available at: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/13397/20140819/omote-motion-tracking-and-projection-mapping-system-is-amazingly-creepy-heres-why.htm [accessed date: 19.11.2014]

Ryan Whitwam, 2014, Omote uses light to project virtual makeup and real-time animations on your face [online]. Geek.com. Available at: http://www.geek.com/science/omote-uses-light-to-project-virtual-makeup-and-real-time-animations-on-your-face-1602312/ [accessed date: 19.11.2014]

Kevin Holmes, 2014, Watch A Model’s Face Transform With Projection Mapped Makeup [online]. The Creators Project. Available at: http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/watch-a-models-face-transform-with-projection-mapped-makeup [accessed date: 19.11.2014]

“The top ten tips for landing your dream CG job” and what do I think about it

http://www.cgsociety.org/index.php/CGSFeatures/CGSFeatureSpecial/the_top_ten_tips_for_landing_your_dream_cg_job

Recently I’ve stumbled upon this article, which to be honest should be titled differently. I doubt these are tip that would particularly help me with getting me a dream job, more like useful advices to get a job in the industry. And it seems like people in the comment section seem to agree with my view on it. Any way I still think it was a good and helpful read, even that I knew about  most of them before. As always, when it comes to lists like this, networking is number one, which isn’t a surprise. And that’s something that I definetly struggle with, most of the industry in the UK is based in London, so for someone like me, who is in Nottingham it’s pretty hard to network with people from within the industry. However in this day and age and online presence could also be very beneficial and could help with getting to know the right people. I’ve got a profile on Behance, which I need to update, which would be a great way of showing my work. Another tool that I should use for networking is Linkin, as I’m already on it I need to start improving my network on it.

Aiming for medium and smaller companies is probably a right move for someone who starts in the industry and I’ve already done a small research and a list of companies that I would like to work for in next few years. That was last year, on my old blog but I feel that I could do something similar again. I could reevaluate my choices, see if they’re still as appealing to me as they were last year and add some new companies on that list. It would also cover point 8 on the list from the article, which is getting to know the company that I want to work for.

Becoming a Jack of all trades is I think another tip for getting a job, not a dream job, but again, I think that it’s a good advice for someone starting in the industry as it gives me more chances of finding work, especially in smaller companies. I don’t really agree with working/interning for free, but it’s just how the industry works and I doubt a lot can be changed about it.

I think that what’s this list is missing is a point about having really impressive portfolio that would make an employer hire me. So that would be one of my main goal for an upcoming year – create some high quality work that would make them want to hire me over someone else. Especially as the industry gets more competitive with each year. I think one aspect of creating something impressive is to make it original, there’s no point of trying to copy Pixars style, especially if the company that I would be applying for does stuff that are completely different. So this kind of goes with knowing the studio that I would want to work for.

Mike Hepburn, 2014. The Top Ten Tips for Landing Your Dream CG Job [online].CG Society. Available at: http://www.cgsociety.org/index.php/CGSFeatures/CGSFeatureSpecial/the_top_ten_tips_for_landing_your_dream_cg_job [Date accessed:27.10.2014].

Workflow tips from Tippett Studio Animators

In this short clip two people from Tippett Studio(worked on movies such as “Ted”(2012), “Mirror, Mirror”(2012), “AFTER EARTH”(2013) or “TMNT”(2014)), Jim Brown and Brian Mendenhall talk and give advice about animation workflow. Few important points that I’ve learnt from it is that even that they’re experience, established animators, their workflow still evolves and progresses. They don’t stay still and try new approaches to animation to make their work easier and faster. It’s important to find out what actually works for you as an animator and learning and later using new stuff that you’ve learnt. Another thing that was mentioned in that video is to always work clean.

What’s even more important is that we sometimes have to adapt and abandon our habits if it benefits our work and improves it. Brown gave an example of him animating a dragon. As he says he’s usually working in pose-to-pose but in his opinion it was much more important to get dragon’s path right, create good timing and weight first and then polish up the poses. For him doing pose-to-pose first wouldn’t work for that specific shot.

At the end Mendenhall says that actually finding ones workflow is crucial and as an animator “you need to know what your workflow is.”(2012) I think that is something that I need to figure out for myself, as I don’t think I’ve got a specific, personal workflow. I’ve been trying different approaches and stuff which is good, as I’m learning and hopefully improving as an animator. However I sometimes wonder how does this work in a team and within a studio. I can imagine that people working together with different workflows and different approaches could be confusing each other, but also at the same time they can inspire one another and learn new stuff from each other.

Animation Mentor, 2014. Animation Workflow Tips from Tippett Studio Animators [online].Youtube. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFFpFnDmOjg [Date accessed:04.11.2014].