Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Senor Thesis: Design As Story

I have only one term left of school and recently had to write up my Senior Thesis as part of one of my required classes in order to graduate. The thesis is to be about what design meant to us. I had decided that Design was story to me; here is my thesis - which I got a B+ for.

Story as Design:

The way I view design is augmented by what I design. A designer of furniture would see design as an expression of the designer’s inspiration and the consumer’s want. As an illustrator, as an animator, as a story artist I see design as story. This belief is broken down into several areas, which I will explore in this thesis. As an illustrator and story artist story is important to everything I draw. When creating an illustration for something like a children’s book it is key for each image to communicate the flow of the story on each page and correspond to the written words on those pages. Not only that but each page must draw the reader’s attention to the key element of that page, which in turn is the focus of the illustration. The same goes for storyboards. The storyboard is a visual script for the directors, camera crew, animators, and designers to follow so that everyone is on the same page. The storyboards track the flow and timing of the film, each illustrated page must communicate the mood of the scene as well as make evident the key elements that make up that scene and drive the plot forward. As animator, it is my job to help the animation communicate properly so the audience does not become confused or end up losing what is called “the suspension of disbelief”, which is what is required for the audience to enjoy and feel involved in the film. If the audience is removed from the story and views it from outside, then the story loses that element that makes it enjoyable. An animator helps the audience stay in the story by animating the characters in a believable fashion; this could be as realistic as actual life or as unrealistic as cartoons can be. This all depends on the style of the animation. As long as we set the style at the beginning the audience will follow. However, badly done animation or animation that breaks the chosen style can lose the audience and break them from the needed connection to the story (Williams, 2001). So animators need to know not only the story they are animating for, but the underlying motives and emotions of the characters they are animating within the story. Two of the approaches that animators, illustrators, and story artists use to achieve this is through drawing and acting.


Drawing is the Key Element to Design:

Drawing is the most important aspect to design. This is where your ideas and vision is given form. Draftmenship is the most dynamic creative engine any visual artist can own (Neumeier, 1997). This means that the first step for any project an artist approaches should be to sit down and draw. Drawing is where we wrestle with our own inner demons, our expectations, our vision, and the inherent flaws of our design. This is where we work out our composition, our staging, in order for the project to communicate with its intended viewers. Walt Stanchfield says that we need to draw. We need to draw everything we can see and touch around us. We should draw the common and uncommon elements of our daily life until their every detail can be seen within our minds. It is through this that we are able to add depth to our design and be able to pull out any type of drawing without wasting a lot of time searching for the right reference. Because if you need to stop your creative flow even for a minute so you can find a photo of the right style of chair, you could lose your artistic focus and vision during the lapse in time between searching and working. This stage is important in any career, Laura L. Mays Hoopes writes about her experience in grad school; she says that she couldn’t see past her nose to the possibilities that were out there without first obtaining a wealth of knowledge through studying. She could not make the advancements she has in the field of science if she first did not learn what others had done before her.
Wish you could produce your own storyboard for a short film? Not an artist? Can’t draw a straight line without a ruler? I don’t buy it. If you’re capable of writing you own name, you can draw (Lloyd, November 22 2007). One of my teachers, who has taught me and continues to teach me how to expand my horizons and push myself, was not always an artist. In his twenties he decided to teach himself to draw, he became such a good artist that he worked for Dreamworks for a time and is currently a well known children’s book illustrator, as well as a teacher at the Art Institute of Portland, Oregon. If he could do it, why can no one else? He teaches that in order to fully see your own idea you have to be able to take that idea and draw it a hundred times, in as many possible angles, compositions, styles, etc, until you can see it fully. This is achieved through thumbnails; if drawing is the cornerstone to the foundation of design, then thumbnails are the atoms within that cornerstone that holds in all together. We do this because the first drawing, the top card, is rarely the best drawing or what the final composite will be. We should always push it further. The small, rough composition of a thumbnail is there to get ideas out quickly, without worry of detail and precision. That helps us gauge value and staging before the real art piece is created. This all plays back into story. We cannot create a story without being able to see its structure, its architecture. Thumbnails are the floor plans for that architecture. Daily sketching is the hours of research and the acquired knowledge that we need before we build that structure, because without it the structure will collapse in on itself. The art piece will not communicate to its audience.

Acting is fundamental to Story:

How is it that animators and illustrators are capable of getting so much emotion and intent out of their characters? How is it that an actor is able to portray their character so convincingly? Humans gain so much information from body language and facial movements, the majority of which is noticed subconsciously. Actors use these body hints to communicate the personality, the emotion and the motive of the characters they are playing. Animators are actors as well. However, animators do not themselves get up on stage and act out the scenes of their films, but instead draw the characters into the scenes and use the character’s pose to communicate that character personality, motives, and emotion. Animators have to learn acting so that they can animate believable characters, because without that believability the audience will be removed from the story and be viewing it from outside. However, we do not want to confuse the audience with the amount of information that can be drawn into a pose. Every pose should be the emphasis of a single idea or key word and when these poses are strung together the read as a clear message of the character wants and needs. This is what Dieter Rams would call, omitting the unimportant.
Acting also helps the animator in other way. We often times need to study how much time it takes for a person with a limp to walk across the room, or pick up a spoon, or cough. By acting out the action we not only learn about the character’s motives, but also we gain an understanding on the timing and tempo for the action. Through the control of the tempo and timing we can manipulate the audience’s emotions and how they will react to the character’s actions. The tempo of a story for film is controlled by the story artist, with the assistance of the director. The storyboards tell the whole film crew, from director to animator, how fast or slow the story progresses. Without this stage, this key element to the production phase, the film would take much longer to complete. The other importance of storyboards is to show the artist’s vision to the non-artistic. Businessmen run the whole industry and give the production crew the money they need to make the film; however, these people do not understand scripts and rough sketches and need something more to energize them towards the film. This is when the storyboards come into play. The storyboards are drawn out and timed, and then they are roughly animated into what is called an animatic. This is what the businessman will be shown and gives him the full scope of what the production will be about. What the end result will be. So acting is important for me because it breathes life into my drawings and allows the audience to believe in my art, as well as, fuel the imaginations of the un-artistic so that I can see my vision come to life.

The Magic of Imagination:

The use of story as design helps create greater and more powerful art. Even during the Renaissance this is true. The works that were made during the Renaissance had deeper meaning than just paint on canvas or pretty images to grace a church ceiling. They were created from the artist’s vision to portray the story that the artist want to tell. This would be viewed by the masses, which were illiterate, and they would in turn would be inspired and gain insight into the world around them, beyond what they knew in their everyday lives. The duty of the artist has not changed since the beginning of time. We are all storytellers in our own way; whether that story is one of our own that we create to help us work through our own inner demons, or one of ancient folk lore that helps the audience learn more about itself. It is our moral duty to tell our stories and the stories of the people of the world to progress society as a whole. It is through our designs that we tell these stories, push boundaries, and communicate across generations and cultures. This does not change simply because of the medium used, whether the story is told through animation, an illustrated book, or the written word; art revolves around a story and the story is given impact by its design.oHow is it that an actor c


Laura L. Mays Hoopes, Through The Spiral Ceiling 2006
Dieter Rams, Omite the unimportant, The Idea of Design, 1989
Marty Neumeier, Draftsmenship, Critique Magazine 1997, Autumn issue.
Walt Stanchfield, Drawn To Life Volume One, 2009
Walt Stanchfield, Drawn To Life Volume Two, 2009
Nancy Beiman, Perpare to Board, 2007
Karen J Lloyd, The Storyboard Blog,
Richard Williams, Animator’s Survival Kit, 2001

Figure Drawing for a Month: Part 2 (Late)

I am a little late, several months, on scanning these Sketches. but here is the last set of sketches for the month of Figure drawing. I think by the end of the month I was a week late on the sketch. I think this happened because of school. it seemed that i wouldn't get around to do any figure drawing on the days that I had classes. Then i would spend the following days trying to catch up with the days I missed. Some times I would catch up, but after a time I got behind. Which is why i am missing 7 days of ketches.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Ball Bounce: The Cornerstone to all Animation

Practice, Practice, Practice. Here is a ball bounce using a Squash Deformer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Figure Drawing for a Month: Part 1

So i decided to do daily figure drawings this month. I have been terrible about doing daily sketching in the past and need to develop the habit of doing it. So here are the first eleven days of my daily sketches in the following ten images. They are not all perfect by any means, but they all had something to teach me.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Making of the "Journey to the West" Poster

As an assignment for a class I was to design a poster for a theater. The subject was up to me, so I picked Journey to the West since it is one of my favorite stories.

So the first thing I did was thumb out some ideas and then pick one to go with for the final Poster.

So i picked the one with the Monkey Kings Arm coming down into the scene holding the scrolls. this kept most of the story a mystery, but intrigue the audience enough to want to know more. So i blow this thumbnail up and then traced it onto a new piece of paper. Then i went in and strengthen the composition. Once that was done I painted a Value study of it to get it to the right look. If it worked as a black and white then it would work in color.

Then from there i painted it.

I wanted the whole feel to be Chinese inspired, have a vague Chinese brush paint feel to it. I had to make sure that the scrolls read as rolled up sheet of paper and Instead of just painting the lines in I got a photograph of rolled up paper and Image Manipulated it to work in the illustration. This turned out fairly well.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Animated Slip and Fall

I have been working off and on on this animation for the pass 4 weeks and here is the final playblast. Enjoy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Working on a Slip and Fall Animation

One of the several animations I am working on currently is a slip and fall. The following video shows how far I have gotten in this Animation. So far, I have just finished up with the blocking and I am now looking it over to see what I can improve, remove, and add.

Already, there is a section here at the beginning that I plan to remove, It looks like unnecessary animation that takes away from the rest of the animation.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Animating Weight in Maya

Recently I have been working to improve my CG animation skills in Maya.

The following is a video that shows what I decided to animate. If you watch there is much left to be desired in this animation.

So once i have looked this over and received some critique from my class, I went back through and cleaned up my Graph editor, changed some of my silhouette choices, changed some of the timing, and added a bit more to it overall. here is what it looks like now.

Now i will go back through this again and play with the timing in sections until I feel its right. This is more of "feel for it" type of thing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Animating Dialog and a take in Maya Part: 1

For Class I am suppose to pick a piece of 11 second long dialog and animate it with take happening at some point during the scene. The take does not have to be Tex Avery in style, but can be something much more smaller.
The Dialog I picked is from the Movie "The man who knew too little", which is a spy spoof movie staring Bill Murray.

As the first part of the process I have begun to block out the action that will be taking place in the scene. I decided to place two character at a bar having never meet each other before this moment when the first character begins to act emotionally towards the other.

There are a few parts right away that stick out in my mind that need changed. One being that the right hand character's left hand Sticks to the top of the counter through out most of the scene. I plan to break this up with some movement; to balance this movement I will not have the right hand moving during this time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Paper Indians

Last Year I animated on a School 2D Production Called "Paper Indians". The story was about a hard working father who comes home and wants nothing more than to rest; however, his two active and Imaginative sons are running around the house playing, making noises, and pretty much acting like the children they are.

Take a look: Paper Indians.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Out of It

So I have not posted here for quite some time. This is due to laziness, lack of time, with a mix of "I don't have anything to post about".

However, I will try to get back in to it again.

First off; I am working on several new things currently. I am working to improve my CG animation skills in Maya, I am working with a team to concept a animated commercial for a local Barber shop, and I have just finished up a "Work For Hire" Contract for 12 illustrations which I will place on My website Portfolio when I finally get it made and setup. However, that will be down the road from now. Until then I might show them off here, But we will see.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Princess and the Frog

I Finally Saw "The Princess and The Frog" with my family on MLK Day. If you had read what I wrote earlier, I was not expecting much from the movie beyond the typical Disney Princess Formula. However, I want to see the movie because It just looked so good from an artistic point of View; which It was. The art of this film is Surpassed, in my opinion, that of the lion King. The backgrounds were beautiful and each one made you want to stay there for a little bit longer. It really made the swampy seem just as "Enchanted" as any other story book world.
I thing I loved best about this is the solid Moral or underlying theme of the story. I wont ruin it for anyone who has not seen it yet, so I wont go into details. I believe that This solid underlying theme is due to the steady hand of "John Lasseter" of the famed "Pixar". A true visionary. Often times the older Disney movies lack a strong theme or moral, something beyond the obvious. For instance, The Lion kings theme was the idea that you can't run from your past and that its selfish to only think of only yourself and not others when they depend on you to do whats right. All good themes to be sure, but nothing hard hitting or something that we all have not seen over and over again.
The only Problem I had with the movie came done to what Disney movies are known for: Musical numbers. It felt, to me, like the story was only there to string together all the musical scenes. Like they were just small stepping stones to get to the flash and the bang, as it were. Now, this is nothing against the music, because I have to say that it was not your typical Disney musical numbers that you see in all the other Disney Princess movie- which has no Soul. And thats one thing you can say about Jazz- it has Soul. The music was an excellent choice beyond that it reflected the time and the setting. It had Life- It had energy that made you want to dance... In fact, my daughter did dance- in her theater seat. But Like i said, Too Much music. I would have removed the first musical number (which in my mind was not needed because we got the point by this point (not to spoil anything) to the main character was trying her hardest to open a restaurant), we didn't need the Musical number to beat it into our heads as well. I would probably have removed 1 or 2 other Musical numbers- But as to which ones I could not say. The movie is an hour and a half long: 20 minutes of story and the rest of it music (I was not actually timing it so that may be off a bit). Thats the worse I can say for the whole film.
There was one character I was worried about when I first saw the Previews of the Movie. This was the Blonde rich girl, Charlotte. typically you would expect to see the rich girl become furious with the poor girl (never mind that she is black and in the south of the the 1930's)stealing her prince in the end of the movie. Charlotte is a breath air from this near dead stereotype. She is an actual friend to the main character and just so darn optimistic. In every scene you feel like you should hate her because she is so soiled, but she is so full of energy, hopes, dreams, and kindness that it makes it all so impossible to do so. Every times she speaks it makes you out of breath while she just keeps on talking. She was just amazing and delightful. i bet it was so much fun Animating her.
The last thing I will say is that If you love Anything about this movie, It would have to be the energy. The Whole movie is ripe with it and it fills you up to you core. I am glad to say that If Disney (with them holding back on how much music they put into the film)continues to make films like this or better they will surely return to the golden age. And for this I think we have John Lasseter to thank. Not because he help on this film, but because Pixar changed the way animated movies were viewed, written, animated, etc. Pixars the top of the heap and everyone wants to work there, but only the best get the chance. and I like to think that the reason for this is because they put so much heart and care into everything they make - just like Disney of the old days (and maybe today as well).

Some Recent Animations

Animators as of late have become lazy in the TV field. Recently I watched the first Four episodes of “Secret Saturdays” from Cartoon Network. I enjoyed the freshness of the storyline and felt even if the villain was defeated the show could continue on. However, I noticed that the character design style lacked something. In fact, it lacked feet. All the main characters on this show, that were human, all had lazy big booty feet. Why? Did they just figure that the character was only important above the waist? And then there was the fact that if a character did have normal looking feet they were a background "Extra"- usually a female. In fact this has bothered me so much that I couldn't continue watching the show.

Recently, I also watched a few episodes of the “Ironman: Adventures” show and had to wonder about why the characters wore the same clothing every day. I mean, this is a serious styled show, nothing like the Flintstones for example where you would expect the character to wear the same thing day in and day out.The designers seemed to have put a lot of though into the show - which makes me want to see the concept art for it. I bet its all quite lovely. I'm thinking that This is more of a combination of lazy modelers and the producers who don't want to spend the extra money on several sets of clothing for each character. At least they all have normal sized feet and ankles.

By the By, I really like the storyboards off to the left.