Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Navigation for website and Chinese language

Lately, we have strongly been considering who our target market is for Cat and Rat.  We have identified children in the 7-14 age group, as these are children that would be young enough to appreciate the story behind the film, but also mature enough to understand the underlying messages and the cultural origins.  Furthermore, we have decided to target it at anyone who has an interest in Chinese culture or folk legends.

We have therefore decided to make two versions of the Cat and Rat, once in the English language and another in Chinese, with English subtitles.  The English-dubbed version would be fairly important for younger children who may not be used to reading subtitles and hearing a foreign language Both versions of Cat and Rat will be recorded by Jeff Chen, a fellow animation student.  Recording the film in multiple languages will also increase the opportunity to market the film to other countries.

As for the website, I have been working at reflecting the style of the film and the target market.  I have therefore come up with a Navigation bar with the four pages that I decided on.  I have decided that each of the buttons would be an English language link, but when the user hovers over it, the English fades to reveal the Chinese language equivalent underneath.  To see what I mean, have a look at this: http://www.catandratfilm.co.uk/test.html.  I initially obtained the Chinese words by pasting the original English into Google Translate, which can sometimes be problematic when it comes to translating grammar or translating words in the correct context, but I ran it by Jeff and he said that all of the Chinese was correct.

I have also started writing up the Synopsis for the Cat and Rat, along with a brief paragraph on the Background of the origin of the film and production.  This will go on the about page of the web site.

A concept which I really wanted to have in the site was to have a crossfade transition to each piece of content when the user clicked on a link.  However, I spent ages yesterday trying to fiddle with Javascript and Javascript plugins and I could not get this working so I may have to either ditch the idea altogether or try and resolve it right at the end, when I have finished all the priority stuff.

Intellectual Property

Something that we will all need to be concerned about, particularly after we finish is Intellectual Property (IP).  I am a very big believer in the free distribution and sharing of knowledge and information, but I also believe that any ideas that you spread or make use of should be credited to the original creator.  I have decided to look into the issues regarding Intellectual Property for the Cat and Rat project.

The first issue regarding IP and Cat and Rat is the fact that Lily originally came up with the idea to do Cat and Rat from a storybook by Ed Young.  This means that if we were to base the film directly on Ed Young's book, we would have to obtain permission from Young and in addition, if we wanted to make money out of this film, for argument's sake, we would be obliged to pay royalties to Young.

Fortunately, Ed Young's story is based on a traditional Chinese story called The Great Race.  In order for us to not worry about whose intellectual property we are using, we have decided that we are going to base Cat and Rat more on the original story and not on Ed Young's book.  This is because Ed Young may own the rights to his storybook and his "telling" of the story, but he does not own the story itself as that is public domain.  One of the main reasons why Disney based a large number of their animated films on fairytales is because they are very old and thus not eligible for copyright, meaning that they are almost a free source of ideas for filmmaking.  Disney own the rights to the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as this is their "telling" of the film, but Snow White remains public domain.

Using this logic, we are able to create an animated film out of the story of The Great Race as this does not belong to anyone, but we will still own the rights to Cat and Rat, as well as all the designs for the characters and environments within Cat and Rat.

Creative Commons

As we hypothetically own the rights to Cat and Rat, it is essential that we put some protection on Cat and Rat, to prohibit others from using our idea without our permission.  We are not immediately considering making any amount of money out of this film as it is a student film, so perhaps Copyrighting may be too drastic.  Thankfully, there is a form of very flexible IP licensing called Creative Commons.  The core principles of Creative Commons are that it allows for the freedom to share information and ideas as efficiently as possible but also so others give us credit, as IP is not just about "royalties", and that others do not attempt to claim the idea for their own.

There are a number of Creative Commons licences available that have a varying levels of freedom of distribution.  There are licences that are so loose that they allow other uses to not only take apart, remix and use property in their own work, but also for commercial purposes.  There are also licences that allow users to take apart and use property in their own work, but for non-commercial purposes only.  Then there are tighter licences that allow for sharing, but nothing else; this can be available on a Commercial or Non-Commercial basis.  Another type of Creative Commons licence is a "ShareAlike", which would have some or all of the same conditions above, but state that anyone that makes use of work that has a "ShareAlike" licence must put exactly the same licence on their work as the source material.

These licences may have quite varying levels of protection; however, they all have one thing in common.  They all ensure at the bare minimum that any users, that use a piece of work that is licensed with Creative Commons MUST credit the original author.  I am personally happy for any work that I have done to be distributed freely, but I would like to know that I am being recognised for my work.  I have actually put a CreativeCommons-Attribution-NonCommercial on my dissertation, as I am keen for people in years to come to use what I have learnt from doing my dissertation in their own work.

I am going to discuss the conditions of each Creative Commons licence with the rest of my group and then we will decide how we want our film to be shared and distributed; and then we will decide on how our film should be protected to ensure this.

Monday, 20 February 2012


I have decided to take on the responsibility of building the website to promote the Cat and Rat film.  This website needs to be designed in such a way that it reflects the theme and style of the film.  In this case, the style is ancient Chinese art and the website will need to reflect this.

The first decisions that I have made about the website is that the headings and links of the website are going to have the same font face that is being used in the title of the film, which is called Konfuciuz and looks something like this.
I do not think that I will use the same font face for the paragraphs as the font face is difficult to read in large amounts and is much more suited to titles and headings.

As a background, I am going to use the same texture that we applied to our character designs, as this is very close to the material that a lot of Chinese paintings were painted on.
The website that I had initially set up was looking very plain, so for the time being, I have placed this placeholder, which consists of the background and the title of the film in the Konfuciuz font, along with a Chinese zodiac motif that Lily came up with for a separate project.

As for the content on the actual site, I have come up with four possible web pages, which I have also run by the team.  They are as follows:

  • Home Page: This will be the first page that the users come across.  This will feature a video of the trailer, and eventually the final film
  • About: This page will give details about the film, such as what the story is about and where is originated from, as well as any details about the production.
  • The Team: Details on each member of the team, including a self-summary, what roles we fulfilled for the film and any contact details
  • Artwork: Any concept work that we did
I am working on the look of the website at the moment and I am thinking of something like this.
The title will remain at the top and the navigation bar will be in the footer.  Any content will be included in the center of the web page.  I am very keen to have a fade in/fade out transition between each bit of content, perhaps with some javascript, but I have not been able to work out how to do that.

Another idea I have is that when the user hovers over a link, it crossfades into the Chinese words for that link; possible also accompanied by a chime sound.  This would require javascript as well; I have been trying to look for javascript plugins that would be suitable today to no avail whatsoever.

UV Mapping of the Ox solely using Planar Mapping

Sharing files

In order to share files efficiently, I created a Dropbox account for the group.  I did this by installing the piece of software called Dropbox, which in turn installed a public folder that anyone who has access to the account details can access, namely myself and the six other members of the group.  The Dropbox folder looks like this.
So far, the current draft of the screenplay for Cat and Rat, as well as the Group Contract that we all mutually agreed on have been placed up there, so that any member of the team can access them and make reference to them.  In addition, you will see several Maya files (.mb or less likely, .ma) which have been placed in the folder by numerous members of the team.  Essentially, the Dropbox is being used to manage our workflow.

When Perri, James or Oly finish a model they place it on Dropbox.  This is where I will then take the models and upload them to specially created Maya Project folders for the next stages of the pipeline, which are UV Mapping and Rigging, I explain how I do the former in this post.  Once I have completed my work on a model, I give the file a relevant and logical name, which I will elaborate on shortly, and I place it back on the Dropbox for Sarah to do Texturing.  We have not yet designated the roles of Set Decorating, Camera set-up or Animation.

It has been ingrained in us since the beginning of the degree to give all Maya files logical names, complete with Project folders that are also logical.  If you notice in the image above, there is not yet a consistent naming convention that is used by everyone.  I have established one for the Cat and Ox rigs, but the other files have been given more random names that do not always entail what the file consists of and how complete the content of the file is.

Therefore, I have proposed to the team, over a group that we create on Facebook for communication purposes, that we establish a logical naming convention that is used by everyone.  This convention will involve listing the project name, the name of the character, environment or prop that it is supposed to be, the stage that the file is at (i.e. model, rig, textured) and finally a number to indicate how many revisions have been made.

Friday, 17 February 2012

UV Mapping

This is something that I haven't done since the second year, but I have needed to get back up to speed with.  James T has weighted the Cat model but one thing which had been neglected until now were the tasks of UV Mapping and Texturing.  We have decided on a toon shaded style, but I need to UV Map the character  in order for the texture to be painted on to the cat efficiently.

Initially, I was going to use the method of applying an Automatic map, in which all the UVs are organised into separate groups instantly.  However, as you can see, this is not an ideal as it arranges all the tiny stray UVs into small groups and it is up to you to figure out what belongs where.
Fortunately, Sam, another student showed me a less problematic way of creating a UV Map using Planar Mapping.  The requirement here was that the UVs would be arranged into Front, Left, Right, Bottom and Top views; therefore in order to create each set, I would move into the relevant view and select all of the faces that were visible.

For example, with the left right side view, I selected all of the faces within the tail, torso, neck, face and legs.  I would then apply a planar map to this set of faces only.

I would then scale my newly created planar map down so it fit within the shader in the UV Texture Editor.  I would then repeat this for the other side, the top, the front, the back and bottom until all the UVs had been mapped.  In order to check that I had not misplaced any UVs, I would go into face mode and in the UV Texture Editor, I would then select a group of UVs to make sure all of the UVs were mapped together correctly in order for texturing to be more efficient.
Eventually, when I had mapped all of the UVs, scaled them down and moved them into the shader area, this is how it looked.
This is now mapped in a way that all the texture artist will need to do is paint the texture directly onto these shapes.