Friday, 16 March 2012

Reflection on how I fulfilled the Professional Skills unit

I feel that I fulfilled the Professional Skills unit by meeting the core requirements of the unit; namely to identify a target market, an appropriate employer to invite to our degree show and also by scheduling tasks and managing my time.  In addition to that, I have also gone out of my way to research areas that are not immediately mentioned within the brief, most prominently, Intellectual Property, which I have become increasingly concerned about and I took it upon myself to research various forms of licensing and in particular, Creative Commons licensing to ensure that our work gets distributed freely and fairly, as intended, and also to ensure that we will get credited for our work by whoever uses it.

I also responded to this unit by incorporating some of my other skills, as well as the CG skills, particularly Web Design.  Web design is something that I have become keen about since the Christmas holidays and I have acquired knowledge and experience in this area.  I decided to apply my experience of web design to build a web site from scratch to promote the Cat and Rat film and contribute to the marketing of our film.  Many people on the course were impressed with the quality of my web site and as a result, a lot of them approached me for advice on building their own film web sites, such as web hosting, buying domains, etc.

Along with applying outside skills and knowledge, I feel I fulfilled this unit by considering and documenting how I market myself and my professional image (i.e. contact cards, web site, etc) and how I communicate and engage with fellow professionals, particularly through trying to contact people from industry.  I also fulfilled this unit by considering my time management skills and how I manage my own work to fit in with the work of other team members.

As part of the group that I am working in, this unit helped us to manage team work, such as scheduling work and working within a production pipeline.  The Professional Skills unit also helped to highlight the importance of meetings with the team, as well as communication and transparency between all team members, particularly when sharing work and assigning tasks.  Before the beginning of this unit, there were numerous issues within the group and a few communication problems, but we managed to resolve all of these using what we had learnt from Professional Skills and by organising meetings to go over work.

Two finished shots

Here are the two finished shots that we worked on as a group and that we are required to submit as part of our assessment.

This is the first shot that we were required to submit; this shot establishes the location in which this story takes place.  This shot particularly highlights the environmental modelling talent as well as the intended colour schemes for this film and intended rendering.

This is the second shot that we were required to submit; this comes from the "They ate together, played together, slept together" line.  Although the level of animation is profoundly limited, this particularly highlights the rigging talent in this team, as well as the character modelling talent.  However, this shot highlights that we really need to consider lighting and shadow as it doesn't yet feel that these characters are a part of this environment.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Tweaking Sarah's Poster

To help market the Cat and Rat film, Sarah Strickland designed this poster using a graphics tablet.
This is a wonderful piece of artwork for the film as it establishes the style of the film and the two main characters.  It is a digital image, but it does very much look hand painted and there is a real sense of movement and formal elements of art.  The poster also reminds me very much of the lost art of hand painted film posters, such as the Star Wars poster that was painted by Drew Stuzan, who did numerous other film posters in the 70s and 80s.

The Cat and Rat poster will be hosted on our website and will also be printed and displayed at the degree show.  The only thing that this poster is lacking, which is a fairly practical matter are any details about where the audience find out more information and also some credits to indicate everyone's roles in the film,  This is where my input for this movie poster comes in.

In order for this to look like a professional movie poster, I decided to include the standard movie poster style credits that have long, thin capital letters as pictured below.
When I started writing up the credits, I initially wrote quite extensive ones like this.
I have credited a broad range of areas, some more specific than others (we have not yet assigned the roles of compositing, editing or sound design), but when I looked at numerous other film posters, I found that they were all done in a very specific order and only certain roles were credited, meaning that we needed to cut this down.

In order to inform the look of our poster, I looked at some film posters from other short animated films.

These are posters from short movies made by the open source community; I chose to go for these as reference because like our film, they are short subject films that are animated and they have been largely distributed freely and at events, which we intend to do with Cat and Rat.  Both of these films have very small teams, meaning that the members would be taking on multiple roles.  In order to avoid repeating names again and again, they have confined the credits to general roles such as Art Direction and Animation.

We initially had a few too many credits on our poster which credited specialist areas that most people would not understand, such as "UV Mapping".  Now we have confined it to more general areas such as Story, Direction, Editing, Modelling, Animation and Art.  All credits for specialist roles will still feature in the final film, itself.  Another noteworthy point in these posters is that the website is display in block capitals in a larger font than the rest of the credits.  This means that our attention is very much focused on the web address as well as the imagery, so anyone that is captivated by this piece of artwork and the film concept behind it can visit the website.

In order to figure out the order of the credits and how they should roughly look, I used the following image as a template.
This consists of two ways of organising the credits, one to the left and the other center aligned.  I quite like the center aligned one and I think it will fit well in the sky area of our poster, in between the rocky mountains and just above the rat's nose.  I am going to be a bit loose and experimental when it comes to fonts, but I will not deviate too far from the thin block capitals.

After cutting down the number of poster credits, I started playing around with generic movie poster-style fonts such as Univers, which I found did not stand out clearly enough against the blue sky.  I decided on a font called PT Sans Narrow, which is fairly narrow and is still readable against the backdrop.  I was also able to style the font face so that the roles appeared regularly and the names appeared in bold.  This could make the text easier on the eyes as there is more variation in the font.  I also split the credits into several lines, starting with the narration, sound and editing; followed by all the pre-production jobs, then the CG based jobs and finally important roles like direction and story.

Here is how the poster looks with the credits put on top.  They are readable, concise and understandable enough for anyone to get an idea of how we were all involved in this film project.  This piece of art now functions as an advertisement for the film that can be displayed both online and also at our degree show so anyone that is interested in our film can learn more.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

Cat character rig

I should have posted a video demonstrating the cat rig ages ago, but there were numerous issues with this rig, which I have now resolved.  These included the cat caving in on itself when I rotated it, as well as numerous issues with the weighting, particularly in the cats chest in which it would go down too far if I moved the back control down.  These are fixed and now the cat is ready to be animated properly.  Here is a video of the cat rig, complete with controls, weighting, drivers and blend shapes.  All of this was done by me, but I did get help with the weighting from James Tomkins.

Marketing myself

When it comes to showcasing all of the films at Ravensbourne2012, our end of year degree show, I will need to market myself in a way to stand out from the rest and to assert my specialist skills.  One method that I am intending to use, which I remember the final year Animation students from last year did extensively at Ravensbourne2011 was to distribute business cards.

I already have business cards that I felt inspired to make (using vistaprint) in November, after my Arcade film project idea did not get green lit and I wanted to offer my skills to as many other groups as possible. At that point, I did not have any contact cards so it proved difficult.  I decided that the best thing to do would be to finally get business cards so that anyone interested in my work could get in touch.
My contact card consists of two sides, on one side I have a red shaded spiralling image, accompanied by my name and my three core specialisms; Animation, Rigging and Character Design.  On the other side, there is a self-portrait of me and a few contact details, namely my website, email address, phone number and twitter.  I chose this selection of contact details as they are the main ones that I use for professional networking.

I intend to leave a pile of these cards at the stall for the Cat and Rat film, as well as keeping hold of some in case I chat to anyone at the degree show and I want to give it to them personally.  These contact cards have a spiralling red background, which is an image that I have just seemed to adopt over the past year as part of my "corporate image".  I adopted this after applying it to a unit specific blog in my second year  and it just seemed to stick.

The motif is also hugely present of my personal website, which is another core means of marketing myself.
This website consists of my showreel, as well as contact details, my blog and a selection of my animation and artwork.  I have made sure that anything that I use at the degree show or in professional networking carries this strong image and directs back to my website, so that people will remember me and will be able to learn more about me as an Animator.

Furthermore, any posters or promotional material that we use to market the Cat and Rat film will carry our names, as well as our specialist areas within the team, as you will see on the Cat and Rat website, meaning anyone interested in my work will be able to track me down.

Suitable places to work

As part of this unit, I am going to need to research into various places where I would be best suited to work and possibly those where I may not be as suited.  This part of Professional Skills very much reminds me of IPP from the first two years in which I needed to identify my strengths (both within my artwork and as a professional), as well as identifying the sort of jobs and places that I would want to aim for.

I am still keen to work as a Character Animator when I graduate from university, but lately, I have also started to develop an enthusiasm for motion capture and I would be keen to work with motion capture in some capacity when I enter the industry.  Although I am not entirely going to write off London as a place for work, seen as there are an array of post-production houses that are hired to do VFX for major Hollywood films, I really want to move out of London and experience life elsewhere, given that I am desperate for a change of scenery.

Places and jobs that may suit me

Rockstar North

Even though I am keen to work in films, I have not written of working in gaming in the slightest.  Rockstar North are based in Edinburgh and are currently offering Junior Character Animator roles.  The responsibilities of the job include editing recorded motion capture data to a high quality as determined by the Lead Animator, as well as creating animations consistent to a character's personality and movement.  The job also requires applicants to produce animation work to tight deadlines, without compromising artistic integrity.

Working as a Junior Animator at Rockstar North may be suitable to consider as this involves working in another city, which appeals to me.  The job requires an understanding of the basic principles of animation, as well as a strong background in animation and art; which I feel that I have seen as I have mainly done animation and general art courses, all of which I have passed with the highest possible grade, to get to this point.  I do have a keen interest in video gaming, I am not sure if it is strong enough to work in the industry.

I could improve my prospects for this job, by trying to learn Motionbuilder; something which they state is desirable.  Although I am fluent in Maya, as the job description specifies experience in at least one major CG software package, I will make myself more suitable for the job by learning another piece of relevant software.

Although I recently redid my showreel to become more up to date, there is a profound lack of recent work in it and I need to build it up, something that I will most definitely have a chance to do over the Easter and into the third term as this is when we are due to begin animation.  The job description also requires understanding of human movement and form, which I possess, but I have not looked into for a while and therefore need to start sketching again.

The Imaginarium

Andy Serkis' new motion capture studio, based in London.  As I said, my desire to work outside London (and possibly the UK, itself) does not mean that I have written off working in London altogether.  This studio is very new, having only been established in 2011, meaning that they are fairly small and I could have a chance of finding work here.  The Imaginarium appeals to me as I have developed a keen interest in motion capture, since trying it out as part of my dissertation research.  Furthermore, they intend to do work for a broad range of productions including film, television and gaming

One job which appeals to me is Motion Editor as, much like Character Animators at Rockstar North, this requires taking live action motion and then manipulating it to increase the emotionality and believability of the characters.  However, I know that I am not ready to undertake a job like this as this requires previous experience in feature films, broadcast and gaming, which I do not possess.  In addition, it requires understanding of scripting (Python, MEL and Blade), experience in MotionBuilder and Nuance as well as experience of setting up and calibrating Optical motion capture.  Although I have experience of setting up motion capture with depth perception cameras, I have not used Optical Motion Capture, which is fast becoming industry standard.

Thankfully, The Imaginarium do have a one month internship, which is recommended for anyone that has aspirations to work in film, television or gaming (which I have).  The internship says very little about the responsibilities that will be undertaken, but I imagine it will not be that different from the job of runner, which involves doing various odds and ends within the studio.  This job involves working more in the office and not the studio but it should help me to get the relevant experience that I need to be able to do higher jobs.

Places that may not suit me


A post production house based in London, which came to talk at Ravensbourne a few weeks back.  There were a few things that appealed to me about this studio, such as it being in a smaller environment, as I find that I work better in a smaller team when accomplishing projects. However, this studio, fairly unusually, seems to desire generalists as opposed to specialists.  This is problematic as everyone on our course has been encouraged to specialise in a specific area or set of areas.  I, personally, am very much into Character Animation as well as Rigging and Design and this is how I have developed since I have been on my degree,  ENVY is perhaps somewhere that I may not fit in as I have very specialist skills, which I do well and I would want my skills to be valued.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Friday, 9 March 2012

Contacting industry professionals

Getting hold of industry professionals to try and convince them to attend Ravensbourne2012; this is something that I must admit that I have been apprehensive about during this unit.  I am not exactly in touch or personal with anyone from industry.  I have sent numerous emails and CVs for work experience in the past, to no avail but I don't really know anyone.

For this unit, I therefore had to utilise the loose connections that I had made with industry professionals over both Twitter and Linkedin, as well as rummaging through leaflets and contact cards that I had been given at numerous industry exhibitions that I had attended over the past 3 years.  As I did not know these people well, I would have to approach them in a friendly manner and I would need to convince them to see our work at the degree show.


One of the first places I looked for industry contacts was Linkedin; primarily because it is a social networking site which is made strictly for professional networking.  When I looked at my list of connections I was quite surprised by the small number of industry people that I was connected to.  Most of my list consisted of fellow Ravensbourne students.

I was, however, in was connected with a Recruitment Manager from the Moving Picture Company.  Recruitment Managers seemed like an appropriate choice of contact, as they will be the ones that will be looking out for talent at these shows.  Furthermore, at any industry days or visual effects festivals that I have attended, there have always been primarily Recruitment people at the stalls for studios.  As I have been a little apprehensive about approaching people in industry, I managed to write a personal message to Ben Owen, who was the Recruitment Manager at MPC

I attached numerous links that relate to Ravensbourne2012; the details about the degree show are still vague, but as these are mostly social network profiles, they will update the recipient as the details about the show unfold.  As I am in touch with them, I will also be able to fill them in on any developments.  I tried to reword this a few times to make it sound persuasive; as well as polite and professional.   Many people that have communicated with me while I have been at Ravensbourne, on varying levels have commented on how professional I am in dealing with people and communication.

I also asked Ben Owen if he is able to pass information about Ravensbourne2012 on to anyone else at the Moving Picture Company that would be keen to attend degree shows and see the work of students and graduates, which will hopefully mean that I will have more people to contact.

Response to Linkedin Message

The following day, I actually got a reply from Ben Owen.  I was actually in disbelief that I got a reply to my message, and on top of that, I would say that it was successful.  The message that he sent went straight to my email address and reads as follows.

This has certainly improved my confidence in approaching people in industry, even if it is in a non-personal form such as email or telephone.  He does not necessarily confirm that he will be attending, but he does say that he "will be happy to attend" and for me to keep him informed; which means that a dialogue between him and myself has now opened up and I am able to keep him informed and anyone else in MPC recruitment that he gets hold of also informed.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Improved Cat walk

I shared the previous animation tests with the rest of the group.  Regarding the Cat walk, Lily stated that it was wrong in that the cat had too much bounce and also the movement of her legs were also incorrect.  When a cat moves their left front leg forward, then their right hind leg also moves forward.  I have therefore come to learn that when animating a quadruped (and also rigging one), their front legs should be treated like the arms of a biped, in that when the arm on one side is forward, than the corresponding leg must be back.

Lily also added that this is not a domestic cat, therefore her tail would not be held up in the air.  I was also advised to remove the shake of the tail as this indicated too much that the cat was angry.

After being given this feedback, I have created a new walk cycle animation test from scratch, using the basic method for constructing a walk cycle.  This works much better, considering I did it in a quarter of the time that it took to do the previous one.  I may need to reduce the bounce in this cat's movement as it is a bit too drastic.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Team members

As part of the Cat and Rat website, I decided to include a "Team" page, in which all of the team members are listed, along with a photo of them, their contributions to the film and a few contact details.  I was originally going to have a written synopsis for each member but for the time being, I have decided against that, as writing about oneself is a profoundly hard task and also, I thought that it may be better if the work speaks for itself.

After I got the list of details from each member about their contribution, I decided to list it on the page in six sections; with each section focused on each member.  I did this using a table as this is the quickest method of splitting a web page into six sections (but not always the most ideal).  However, when I did this and I began listing, some of the text began to overflow into the footer.
I decided to go for a more interesting look than this so I decided to find an "accordion" plugin, which means that all of the information would be kept under headings and when the user clicked on a heading, it would expand to show the information.  Javascript, I believe, is brilliant when you know how write it, but it can be a real pain if you don't know.  Thankfully, I found this very straightforward, pre-written javascript plugin from Switch on The Code, a terrific site for javascript-based solutions.

My idea was to have each name of the team member as a heading, and then when the user clicks on a name, the details of that team member are revealed.  Obviously, I couldn't have the accordion with the default fonts and colours that we see in the Switch on The Code website, so I had to go in to the CSS of this accordion, which I pasted into our site, and then tweaked it to fit the aesthetics of the website; namely the font face and the removal of the borders and background colours.

Click on this link to see what the "Team" page looks like now:

You will also see that I created some buttons as links to each profile in the Contacts section.  I made these simply by taking them from my own personal website and then applying a filter to make them brown.  I also created extra ones for the website and email links which have a mixture of Chinese and English.

I still need to get some profile pictures done and then the rest of the contacts for the group

Friday, 2 March 2012

First animation for the portfolio

I have done some animation tests with the cat rig to see how well it works and of course, so I can "warm up" and get back into animating again as I have had little chance since that year started again.  Here is the first test that I did, which just involves the cat sitting down and looking around.

This next one is a walk cycle, which I animated using a reference that I found on Youtube.  It was rather hard to find a simple reference video of a cat walking, with all the other videos that people have uploaded featuring cats walking on 2 legs, dancing and playing keyboards, amongst other unusual things, that you wouldn't expect cats to get up to.

Here is the video.  I am not too keen on it and I have tried to use the graph editor to fix some of the floating limbs in some of the poses, as well as inserting stepped tangents, but this is going to take more work.  I may need to make it faster as well.

Starting Animation Tests

I am beginning Animation tests with the cat today; I am just posting this to state the settings that I have for the camera view and rendering which I have chosen so that they comply with Ravensbourne's Technical Standards.

First of all, all of my Animation tests and indeed, the actual animation for the film will be done with the Resolution Gate switched on, so that I can make sure all of the essential detail is captured in each shot and nothing is chopped off at the edges.  As you can see, the resolution gate has an aspect ratio of 1920x1080, which is the screen size that we will be required to output the final film as.
The final piece also has to be in High Definition 1080i; so I have therefore set the Presets in the Render settings to HD 1080 which automatically sets the ratio to 1920x1080.
This means that any images rendered from this file will be a high enough quality for HD video and will be the correct screen aspect ratio.