Using Blender the 3D Animation Program

In Rob’s most recent workshop we were introduced to Blender, an open source 3d animation (amongst other uses) desktop application. At first we were simply learning how to manipulate a basic cube and how to navigate the interface, which proved to be quite complicated with the addition of another dimension to take into consideration.

shape thing

In this image you can see a 3d structure that I created in the workshop. I duplicated an image of a cube and set it along the same lines in the x, y and z axis, which put the duplicated straights on the same straight path as the original. The shape is quite easy to make but is also quite visually pleasing. As can be seen in the image the shapes are aligned to a grid which is covered by a grey slab, if the grey sheet was taken away it would be possible to do a 360 pan around the image and see it from every angle. Although most of the moving positioning in the program is done with the mouse you can see that the green, red and blue arrows point in the direction of the three axis’s. The orange circle with dotted lines around represents the point from which the light shines, this is an important part of the program and obviously of animation in general as it brings more spacial awareness to the animation.

finished shape thing

This second image is what the shapes looked like after they had been rendered. As you can see some of the shape has been cut out. This is because there is a certain vantage point from which the ‘camera’ sees the animation. The other parts of the shape are outside of the viewfinder and therefore are cut off when the work is rendered. This can be simply resolved by adjusting the vantage point from which the animation is being seen.

Refrigerator

We also experimented with some 3d text and I tried to create a refrigerator. This is in reference to the After Effects project which I am currently working on which requires us to create animated text sequences to a section of dialogue from a film. What I want to do in my animated text project is create a text that looks like a swinging door and ‘opens up’ to have more words coming out. The reason why I tried to recreate this in Rob’s workshop is because I was working on the project previous to arriving at the workshop and that was the first thing that sprung to mind. I also thought that the program could have been possibly useful to the project.

In the image you can see that the shading is not equal throughout the whole image, this was because I was experimenting with the light coming in from different directions and didn’t quite get it right before the workshop ended. Upon first impression Blender is definitely a program I would like to become more familiar with.

A History of Adult Animation.

As a part of our first mini project we looked into the history of animation. For this project I want to focus on adult animation from the 1960’s to present day.

One thing that targeting an adult audience did for animation was to bring more depth into the narrative – this meant that a new reason for animation arose, one which didn’t necessarily involve humorous slapstick anthropomorphic characters such as Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck having to overcome certain situations such as escaping from a hunter or trying to get food – animations which were targeted for adult audiences allowed a deeper underlying point which was often easily distinguishable due to it being the primary theme or reason that the animation in question was made. These animations were often surrounded in metaphor and reflected a concept of the artist or that the artist was trying to recreate/portray.

In film and television, animations with well structured narratives first rose in popularity with small shorts of characters such as Mickey Mouse (Steamboat Willie, 1928), and Bugs Bunny (who’s first appearance was in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ 1938). At first animations were so new that they were generally enjoyed by all audiences and animators generally didn’t have to specify what audience their animations were aimed at. However, illustration targeted at adult audiences can be traced back to early editorial cartoons, which appeared in newspapers and magazines such as punch (http://punch.co.uk/). Although these were illustrations not animations, they were an early example that illustrations didn’t just have to be for children.

A good example of an animation that is intended to be specifically for adults is Pink Floyd – The Wall, a 1982 film directed by Alan Parker and based on the band Pink Floyd’s album of the same name. The film stars Bob Geldof as the main character, playing a rock star called Pink, who is unable to function within society any longer due to a mental breakdown. The story follows his journey throughout his life but particularly focuses on his growing isolation, creating the metaphor of a wall, which is erected between him and ‘reality’. The most important, exciting and memorable parts of this film however are, to me, the animation. Created by Gerald Scarfe, who’s other popular works include his role as production designer in the film Hercules, made by Disney in 1997. The Wall has truly horrific animations, that in my opinion really capture the emotion of loneliness, depression and self loathing. The film also has strong metaphorical representations of lust (especially in the ‘flower’ scene) and blatant references to consumerism, greed and (arguably) capitalism in the animation to the songs “Empty Spaces” and “What Shall We Do Now?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS_FCbQ-okM), personification of conformity, obedience, judgement and authority in “The Trial”: (the school teacher, the mother, the judge http://vimeo.com/22172886) and an outstandingly visually effective representation of the casualties of war in the song “Goodbye Blue Sky” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxrYVFFhryg) – my personal favourite section being the British flag turning into the bloody cross, which to me represents war mongering and power lust and has obvious connections to religion and symbolism of death (Jesus Christ, soldier’s graves).

The animation is not shy in its addressing of (at the time) quite taboo subjects, especially when you consider that this was during the time of the Cold War, and when you consider that there was a ‘national pride’ at being ‘victorious’ during WWII, then the creators suggestions were touching upon a delicate matter. The animation also at times has negative interpretations of romance and lust, and doesn’t shy away from shocking its audience with relatively graphic, distorted vulgarised sexual imagery (again for its time).

I think this piece of art is a great example of how visuals and audio can go together hand in hand. Though fairly, this obviously comes from quite a biased perspective as I am a massive fan of the band Pink Floyd. I was fortunate enough to witness this animation at a live performance of The Wall by Roger Waters (bass player of Pink Floyd and main contributor towards The Wall) along with other, more modern animations, which were projected onto a ‘wall’ that was being built during the performance, and knocked down at the end.It was great to see the old and the new come together with amazing 3d projections digitally projected on to a wall, this was a clear example for me of the advantages of digital.

In terms of animation, it could be argued that Scarfe’s style is outdated and I believe this is probably true when comparing his work to modern designs even in 2D such as The Lion King for example. Though to me this does not matter when considering his ability to create the right atmosphere through visual interpretations of emotion. For me, older 2D high budget animations have so far been much more effective in interpreting darker themes such as fear, isolation, envy and wrath when compared to their 3D counterparts, especially when you compare old Disney films such as Pinocchio (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnamFerzNvw), and Snow White (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RvgkvIVn6E) to more recent Pixar/Disney films like the Toy Story Franchise and Finding Nemo and Universal productions such as Shrek, which actually contains references to older animations (such as Pinnocchio) as ‘fairytales’. These more recent films tend to focus more on humour and adventure compared to darker themes such as revenge or greed (Shrek actually parodies such concepts). All these films are genuinely brilliant in their own right, but in my opinion they fail to capture a darkness that the older counterparts I previously mentioned succeed in. I think that this is due to as previously mentioned the fact that animation used to be directed at all audiences, where as now animations are generally created for a certain age, even though this doesn’t mean that an adults can’t enjoy a film such as finding nemo or young people don’t spend their time trying to watch South Park. Because there is now more concern from parents as to what their children see at such a young age and the fact that it can’t be regulated as well due to the internet the conceptual and morally valuable aspects of stories in animation are not as important anymore and animation focuses on entertainment more than trying to create meaning. Even adult animation isn’t conceptual and is more about entertainment.

I think this represents a change in our culture and the popularity of animation more than our technology. I think that in the past animators had a lot more freedom to explore animation and older animations focused more on art than entertainment. Today films are high budget and are made by much larger teams of people with lots more input. There is nothing that doesn’t permit 3D animation to portray such themes as evil as well or even better than 2D animation, but I think that the style of narrative has changed especially in large budget films. There are a lot of independent animators who can be found on the internet who still do this. Good examples are Anthony F Schepperd (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4MdEIQcZxs) and David Firth (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuCw5k-Lph0). Also. This means that cartoons no longer cater for a large age range and tend to be either family orientated or adult orientated, which animation for the Wall was before adult animation became popular with TV shows such as The Simpsons which debuted in 1989. Furthermore avant garde styles of animation now have a place on the internet and animation which isn’t mainstream tends not to be noticed by large production companies, this is good because it means that there is a mix of large productions in animation but smaller artists still have a stage where they can showcase their work for free.

References

The Wall , 1982 [film] Directed by Alan Parker. United Kingdom: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, 1937 [film] Directed by David Hand. Burbank, California: Walt Disney Pictures
Pinocchio, 1940 [film] Directed by Ben Sharpsteen. Burbank, California: Walt Disney Pictures
Hercules, 1997 [film] Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Burbank, California: Walt Disney Pictures
IMDB, N.D. “Pink Floyd The Wall” [online] Available at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084503/ [Accessed 28/2/14]
CBS, 23/2/2014 “Almanac: ‘Pinocchio’” [online] Available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/almanac-pinocchio/ [Accessed 28/2/14]
Techcomix.com 17/9/2013 “2d vs 3d Animation: A Brief History of the Animated Feature Films Industry” Available at http://www.techcomix.com/2d-vs-3d-animation-a-brief-history-of-the-animated-feature-films-industry/ [accessed 28/2/14]
http://www.Brain-Damage.co.uk 1/7/2010 “Gerald Scarfe on Pink Floyd” [online] Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qwnWClFVX8 [Accessed 28/2/14]

Mini Project 1: Zoetrope Gif

My original project was to create an animation from drawings which resembled a short simple animation done using a device such a zoetrope (http://vimeo.com/61833024). As an experiment it was suggested that we try and create our own zoetrope animation to understand basic animation processes such as how to match up frames and draw movements like a ball bouncing or person walking. This task was hard for me because I am more comfortable with using computers to do my illustrations and I find it uncomforting to draw by hand as it’s not something I am familiar with or feel that I’m generally good at. Because we had a smaller workspace (a piece of card approximately 3-4 inches wide) I found it almost impossible to pay attention to detail, which meant that the animation would have to be quite basic. I also didn’t have the correct tools for drawing small animations on a small piece of card (a good pencil or pen, eraser and a sharpener would have been a good start).

This was useful in making me realise the processes that animators would have had to go thorough and the amount of time that it would have taken. Although using computers to animate also takes a long time, drawing each frame out by hand is much more time consuming and takes a much more steady hand and much more practice to get right, e.g. you can’t simply undo as you can on software such as Adobe Illustrator. Another way this task was useful was in making me understand just how difficult it sometimes is to animate either by drawing or on a computer.

animation

This is my animation of a man looking over a wall. This animation has been converted into a gif, but because of the persistence of vision, theorised by Peter Mark Roget, it works under the same principles as a zoetrope, meaning that one image is replaced by another to create the illusion of fluidity.

As you can see from the gif it is very basic and you can’t really tell that it’s a wall that the man is looking over. What I had most trouble with was matching up the separate animations so that the lines weren’t in different places. I tried to make the animation seem still by measuring out each piece of card and using a curved piece of card to draw out the animation, the problem with this was that firstly the piece of card wasn’t very effective at this job and secondly the animation could only be a basic shape as I was using a ‘stencil’ to draw it out. This meant that the head was very basic and it didn’t have any distinct features which makes the character recognizable. This character is very bland and the animation isn’t very interesting, though if this was created in 1829 when the zoetrope was invented by George Horner then it would have created a lot of interest. This is a clear example of how animation has evolved from basic short animations composed of a few frames to full feature length movies.

Channel Project – Constructive Evaluation

Although there were sections of the project that I liked and I generally got along with all the people in the group, I did find it a struggle at times to participate and come up with ideas/solutions. If I were to do the project again, there would certainly be a lot of things I would have done differently and this is why the process was valuable to me in moving forward to future projects.

I think that if the group had worked closer together when writing the scripts and storyboards this would have helped us to have a more solid idea. I also found that half of the group going home for a week damaged the quality of our final product, especially as this meant I had to go out and film most of the footage on my own, meaning I also had to book and take out all the equipment by myself, which was challenging.

I also found that the group didn’t seem to want to discuss ideas enough. I feel as if a divide grew between people who were working on the website and people who were working on the webisodes. As the webisodes were dependent on the branding of the website it would have been more useful if the group had worked closer together. This also caused problems in not coming up with enough content as it was hard to discuss with each other exactly what was needed without meeting frequently enough and discussing issues face to face. If more content was added onto the website it would have made the idea more interesting. As the group didn’t want to work together or weren’t around to meet the consequence was that the final product lacked and the idea could have been further explored and wasn’t convincing enough. Furthermore I feel as though every time it was suggested there was an area of the story we could work on further no one seemed to understand why it was needed. As director I feel that I didn’t do my job well enough but also found it hard to do so. This project has been a learning curve for me as to understanding exactly how much work you have to put into something to make good ideas turn in to good end products, a good idea isn’t enough in itself.

One particular thing which I liked about our idea, which I found separated it from other teams’ projects, were that it was less fashionable and more conceptual. As someone who is a big fan of science fiction I think my interest in older science-fiction was what made the idea so different from other work which tended to focus more on current trends or possible slight technological advancements. However, I agreed with the feedback we got in the presentation that the idea could have been further explored.
Although it could be argued that our project looked ‘outdated’, I wanted to focus on how the idea felt. It seemed that given the fundamentally artistic nature of the brief it was a chance to come up with something interesting and although I never really achieved what I wanted to I also felt as though there wasn’t any need for the project to mimic something that would be commercially successful. In hindsight this may have been a drawback because I wasn’t working for a client as such and this means that the ideas and work that the groups came up with probably reflected personal taste more than industry related practice. I also wish that someone else did the camera work as this would have given me more space to work on my role as director, plus I generally don’t really like using video cameras. I think in a personal reflection I am a slight control freak when it comes to ideas and I do prefer to work alone so I also understand that I may not be the easiest person to work with at times, so working with other people has been good practice for me because obviously collaboration is important and it is also useful if you can bat off other peoples ideas and work together to make your work better.

Channel Project Update 8th – 9th February

On the 8th February we completed the final webisode (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49-V8CVWsl0). As I have pointed out previously this one was particularly hard to film footage for given the nature of the dialogue. As it was much more to do with space, the previous techniques of going out and filming some landscape shots didn’t really work. This was a clear example of how if we had worked on the idea more we could have firstly made it a lot easier for ourselves and secondly come up with more in depth ideas and explored any possible problems we had, and came up with solutions for them. As the group didn’t meet as much as they probably should have in the pre production phase this meant that problems that could have been simply resolved were overlooked, which made the project more challenging than it should have been.

However, saying this, I think we were quite lucky with this scene as it turned out to be one of my personal favourites and actually flowed quite well. To find content for this scene we had to sit and watch all the footage over again and pick out little bits that could possibly be used, then cut them up, test them, then decide if we were going to keep them or not. Although this is not the way people would usually edit (in most cases) we didn’t really have a choice as we were running out of time and footage. We came up with the idea to use pans of the fake newspaper page I had created and a fake time magazine cover that Libby created. We also used some found footage of space shuttles and the Alpha Centauri star system which filled up time and put the story into context, showing the star system of Alpha Centauri worked well in giving a sense of reality to the video and I also always liked the fact that Alpha Centauri is a real star system which is very close to our solar system which gives some scientific fact to a science fictional narrative, which I find always helps to make the fiction more believable or at the very least relatable.

Found Footage

found footage 1

found footage 2

Time Magazine Shot

time

For our own footage we had to find shots that somehow related to what was being said in the voiceover. We ended up finding some nice shots of the sun shining through trees, which in a way represented the ‘up there and beyond’. I think that the cultish vibe, which we were trying to emulate in all of our scenes was clear in this webisode specifically.

Example of one of the light through trees shots, the silhouette of the tree to me represents Earth as a dark place.

sun through tree

The videos were purposely cheesy because we wanted to capture the strange oddities that are so often the most prominent factor in small communities or ‘cults’, especially in modern society. Examples we researched that we wanted to relate the concept to were small towns such as ‘Celebration’ in Florida (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oko7qh7m0fc) and also Sandbanks in a lesser sense, I found that when we were location scouting in Sandbanks I felt uncomforted being there and to me the place seemed quite fake, in some sense. Sandbanks was a definite inspiration and it was a shame that we didn’t end up filming there. Looking back now I wish I would have researched new age religions like Scientology and Mormonism more, and even smaller groups in bigger religions such as the evangelical Christian communities particularly in America (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LACyLTsH4ac) because I think that this would have really helped to formulate a more consistent narrative in both the webisodes and the website. The videos work well in that they mask a fictional planet as being ‘the best place to live’ and they also oversell the planet so you feel that you feel that it’s too good to be true and nothing can be quite that great (as they say, if it’s too good to be true it probably is). A problem I encountered with this was that we hadn’t really discussed the timeline in enough depth so it wasn’t clear how long this community had been around for, however as a personal preference I quite like the mysteriousness. I think this idea is something that if explored could be worked into a really interesting narrative and in a way it reminds me of a George Orwell’s ‘1984’ but with more of a Jonestown feel to it, so there’s not as much of an emphasis on a totalitarian society but more of a conceited, nationalist, communist society who have pledged allegiance to their community but are blind to its imperfections.

On the Sunday we finished editing and the rest of the footage and then focused more on sound and graphics, Libby created the intro and ending using Bob’s logo and added the jingle which Libby created. I liked the simplicity of the jingle and I thought that it wasn’t overly futuristic. We then worked on the music and I think that the music was really important in making the sequences stick together. Making the music for the videos was my personal favourite part of the whole project as I found it was the most creative part, I think that before adding the music I was more cynical towards what the final product would be, but after adding the music it seemed to make everything come together. I think the advantage of being able to write your own music is useful because you can create what you want instead of having to try and find it and also it is useful for ownership reasons.

Watch Scene 4: The History Of Alpha Centauri. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49-V8CVWsl0

Channel Project Update 6th – 8th February

My plan on the 6th was to film more footage for the ‘History of Alpha Centauri’ scene. However, due to bad weather I was not able to. I made use of the day by booking out the equipment for the 7th (luckily the weather was nice on that day) and picking out possible clips, which could be used in the final footage. This was useful because there was a lot of footage and as I didn’t know if certain shots were going to be usable I shot the same scene 3 to 4 times. I was able to pick out the best version of each shot and pick out the shots I felt were the best.

On the Friday the 7th I filmed the final footage. The weather was much better and this meant that I was able to go outside and get some nice shots of locations close to the university campus. I stayed close to Talbot Campus because I had a lot of equipment and found it hard to go far as I didn’t have any crew to help with equipment.

On the Friday night we continued editing and this is when the videos really started to come together. We worked on the Earth scene first (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8oJ5L-_vfM). We tried a series of different techniques to see what looked best. We changed the clips so the sped up clock wasn’t over the other clips though decided that this didn’t work as well as the previous version.

This is a section of the clock footage, I reduced the opacity of the clock and put it over other footage. This also shows the eye clip which I felt was very effective.

Clock

This is a scene of a lock which we decided to put in the scene, To me the lock represents being trapped on Earth, Alpha Centauri is the escape to freedom, looking in from the rubbish is like looking at Earth from Alpha Centauri.

Lock

In the earth scene we decided to keep sections of the scene black and just have a voiceover, I found this quite effective as it gave this scene an eeriness. This is what the intention was when compared to the example I found in pre production of what I wanted the scene to look like you can see some comparisons. I wanted Earth to seem like it had been abandoned or was in the process of being abandoned, and although not all of the footage particularly represented the theme of abandonment or isolation, we made the best of the locations which we had found.

Scene of Nara Dreamland an abandoned theme park in Japan which inspired me when researching abandoned places.

For the Alpha Centauri scene (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWH9OY0d-NU) we felt that because the two suns were a main feature of the planet we had to find a way to show this in the video, (You wouldn’t leave the Eiffel Tower out of a video promoting people to visit Paris). For this we used the same clip but reversed it so it gave the illusion that it was still panning across the horizon and showing two suns. It was difficult to get the fade right so that the clips couldn’t be seen over one another. The only problem with this clip was that it was hard to get a shot of the sun because of it’s brightness, I had taken this into account beforehand although I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. When the viewer was scaled to its default size whilst editing the footage the brightness wasn’t as noticeable, however I realised during the presentation that because the video, whilst being projected onto a large screen, was too bright. Although I made sure that the amount of light that was being taken in by the camera was at it’s minimum whilst shooting I could have also turned down the brightness whilst editing. Though as I said the shot didn’t look too bad when the viewer was a relatively standard size.

I particularly liked the shot of the eye in the underpass. I felt that the eye looked sad, and to me this represented mother Earth being let down by the human race who had destroyed the planet. I personally think we could have had more found footage of natural disasters and pollution etc, as this would have cemented the point that Earth had been destroyed. Preferably it would have been better to have filmed that footage but good disaster/pollution footage is usually accidental andit is hard to plan, especially in the time restraints. Also, we wouldn’t have been able to film those scenes anyway due to risks. So using found footage was the only option we had, although we didn’t like the idea of using found footage and tried to minimise it as much as we possibly could, which we did well, it also would have made the point that Earth had been/is being destroyed more clear.

The ‘I’m a Centaurian’ scene (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml3pMf2g6WI) was a lot of fun to film, though it also had its problems. Firstly, there was a fan that could not be switched off at the location where we filmed. This got in the way and it made it hard to edit the audio. We could have done ADR but unfortunately most of the people who had acted were not available afterwards. There was also a mic in one of the shots, which we only noticed after editing, (a problem which I have encountered in the past). The other problem was a continuity error in that we had used make-up in the scene to define people as ‘Centaurians’ but had filmed candid shots of people walking down the beach with no make-up. This was something that hadn’t been thought out when coming up with the idea in the pre production process. I personally don’t think that this broke continuity too much as there could be a number of reasons why some people wear make up and others don’t i.e. fashion. I also like the idea of having unanswered questions because it allows the audience to use their imagination. Although this wasn’t the original intention.

The 4th scene (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49-V8CVWsl0) was the hardest to get footage for as the script was written about space and about ‘venturing to the stars’, this meant that it was harder to film our own footage for the scene as we couldn’t film space. We worked around this by firstly using shots of designs that we had made such as the newspaper design and the time magazine design. Which brought a sense of reality into the narrative.

Channel project production Update 29/01/14

Today we filmed at a number of locations for our channel webisodes. For the first scene we filmed the sea and people on the beach from the cliff path. This footage is supposed to represent a fictional new habitable planet called Alpha Centauri and its aim is to show the natural beauty of the planet and to advertise a new home for people who still live on planet earth. For this scene I also filmed woodland areas to show sustainable natural resources and beautiful locations on the ‘new planet’.

Other footage that we shot was of underpasses and some run down buildings which are supposed to represent a deteriorated Earth which will not be habitable in future years. For this we will also be using footage of storms and natural disasters to enforce the message that the ecosystem of Earth has been ruined. The reason why we will be using footage that we didn’t capture is because firstly there aren’t many locations in Bournemouth that are suitable to represent a deteriorated Earth. And secondly, even if we could have filmed some places I think that due to risks we wouldn’t have been permitted to film in such places due to the possibility of damaging ourselves or the equipment. Therefore it is much more rational to add a few clips which represent a inhabitable planet.

One of the things that I have found challenging about shooting is making sure that there is enough footage to fit in with the running time of each webisode. I think it will be easier to distinguish how much more footage we actually need when we start editing.