Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To get started today, I wanted to respond to a couple of comments I have received. The first is in response to a comment is from my May 28th blog, the second from the 29th.

I do not think that we will reach a point in my lifetime where computer effects in film will be totally unrecognizable. I think that the human eye is looking to decipher what is real from what isn't. I think this is especially true with images of humans and animals. We know what those things are supposed to look like and we will be able to recognize when they don't look like they should. However, with inanimate objects and events like the weather we will stop paying attention. An apple sitting on a table does not draw as much attention as a person, and the way it appears could vary slightly. Conversely, while we may not believe we are looking at a real tornado in Twister, rain is easily added to movies all the time and no one pays attention to it. I do think that there will come a point where films without computer effects will be be promoted as authentic or real, but with computers making it rain on an otherwise sunny day, I think we will see less and less of these films as time goes on.

As far as your other comment Glenn, I am really not sure whether traditional animation training is better then computer animation or vice versa. I am sure there are benefits to both, that would make hiring someone with either talent a good idea. If I had to choose, I would say that a traditional animation background would be more beneficial in the film making process for creative reasons, but there will always be exceptions.

Sorry for the lack of links today, I really wanted to respond to those comments because they got me thinking. I will be back with more tomorrow. :)

Monday, May 29, 2006

I came across a very interesting article this morning that I want to talk about today. This article says that for most companies doing computer animation or 3D images generally prefer to hire artists with traditional animation training versus those with only training in computer animation. This is because traditional artists supposedly are able to draw, model, and learn programs while those animators who are hired knowing the computer programs cannot work in the other mediums which can hinder the project to some extent. I found this extremely interesting. Most of the computer animation companies I have researched have asked for prospective employees to submit a computer animation reel. If this skill is not the most important, then why not ask for what is? I am sure that knowing how to animate both on paper and on computer is the most beneficial, but I still find the article a little strange. According to the article, Pixar receives about 2000 video reels a year and they find only about eighty percent of those remotely interesting. Surely there must be a more complete portfolio that would allow inquiring artists to submit their best work in all mediums. I suppose with 2000 applicants annually the paper work for all of the art by hand is a lot more difficult to sort through then watching someone's two minutes of video on a DVD. It is a shame though that someone extremely talented with traditional animation could loose the chance at a job in computer animation if they submit a sub par computer animation reel.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

While there are several complications with computer animation, I have only really touched on one so far. Of course this is not the only one, there are a number of things that can cause technical difficulties. One thing that can hinder the outcome of a computer animated film is motion. When human figures are being designed in 3D rendering programs, one method for capturing motion is to hook up sensors to a human and plug those sensors into a computer and the movements of the individual wearing the sensors can be recorded. This can be very effective for an abundance of basic movements, however there are restrictions. With a cord in the way, dramatic movements are not always achieved and it is often necessary to edit a great deal of the movement by hand later. Another way to record motion is with magnetic sensors, which always a wider range of motion. Unfortunately, with this technique there tends to be a great deal of noise interference. Whichever method is used, the idea of capturing and recording motion is widely used in all major production companies. When the motion of the many sensors is sent to the computer, artists can use that data to create a skeleton of the human wearing the sensors and make that human look any way they want. It is an incredible process, and while all the bugs have yet to be squashed, with the constant advancement in technology they will be soon. Click here to view the source of this information.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I left off asking some pretty big questions on my last blog, and have been doing some research in the past couple of days to answer them. To recap, I was writing about some of the problems that can occur while working in the industry of CGI, specifically how companies handle working on films when technologies are being improved so rapidly. I left by asking whether companies switch over to new technology despite possible differences in software? Or do they continue working with what they have and use the new stuff on the next project? Well, it turns out that most of the changes in software are so subtle that often larger companies such as Pixar and Dreamworks will update to new software and incorporate it with what has already been developed. Since the new editions of software already in use still has the same capabilities, if it is uploaded onto the company server, the big picture will be virtually the same, but more options may be avaliable for the more detail oriented if time permits the artists to go back and make a few small improvements. Something that I want to point out is that with digital animation software, a big difference between software editions is often the capability to handle personal projects or large projects. On several occasions cheaper products will come out for the consumer while the bigger and more effective and expensive model goes to the big corporation. There is a really well laid out section of Pixar's website answering FAQs about Renderman that I suggest anyone reads if they are interested.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Today I would like to talk about some problems that can occur when using the programs I have been discussing over the past couple of weeks. One of the most prominent, is making sure the programs will work well together. In Tron, for example, more then one company was used, and the makers of the film were forced to make the proper adjustments so the film would be well received. They did an excellent job, and viewers in general remained clueless about how much work went into what they were watching. This is just one example in a long list of films that had this problem, another example being the 1997 film Titanic. For an interesting article on this film, click here. I would say that making sure everything would look good together is probably the biggest problem in the industry at this point in time. However, there certainly are others. Another big one is that computers are being radically improved every 18-24 months according to one source, and at that rate, it is nearly impossible to work on a film over an extended period of time without being bombarded by new hardware and software. It must be very difficult to begin post production on a film or begin working on a computer animated film and have new versions of what you are already working on come out. What do companies do? Do they switch over despite the differences? Or do they continue working with what they have and use the new stuff on the next project? Questions for tomorrow perhaps.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

As I promised yesterday, the subject of today's blog is Walt Disney's Tron (1982).

(First however, a side note to Glenn...I just realized yesterday you had posted comments on some of my blogs and I wanted to let you know that I will be responding with my next few posts.)

And now, back to regularly scheduled programming...
As I mentioned yesterday, Tron came out immediately after Star Trek II in the early summer of 1982. This film was the second ever to be released into theatres with CGI. A major difference between the two, is that Star Trek only untilized computer imagery in a brief segment of the film. Tron however, used computer animation in a solid 15 minutes of film. Not only that, but over 200 background shots were manipulated with computers. Due to the intense computer work facing the Disney corporation, the digital work was split up between several companies including, Digital Effects, Incorporated,
Robert Abel & Associates, Mathematical Applications Group Incorporated (MAGI), and Information International Incorporated (Triple-I). I don't imagine that using several different companies would necessarily make things easier, but according to the computer effects supervisor Richard Taylor, "The most difficult thing was getting them to have the same vocabulary, same understanding, same description of three space motion, same description of a color. After looking at it for a while, I realized that there were similarities that everybody understood." Obviously, the film was a success and one that must be mentioned when dealing with computer images.
For more Tron tidbits,
click here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Yesterday I talked about Jim Clark's SGI system, and today I want to talk about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) which was the first film ever released to use computer-generated images (CGI). The visual of the Genesis Device's impact on a deserted planet is the first CGI effect ever used in a movie. The Wrath of Khan was released in the United States 35 days before the release of Walt Disney's Tron which was extremely CGI intensive. Ironically enough, George Lucas's company Industrial Light and Magic contributed to both films. I will discuss Tron in more detail tomorrow. According to several people I spoke with, this particular Star Trek film, is refutably the best of all the Star Trek films. Some even said it was one of the best science fiction films of all time. While this point is irrelevant for our purposes, the first computer generated image seen on a big screen must have been a miraculous event to witness. Click here to see a clip from the film. What I am interested to know, is how this film made it out to theatres only a month before Tron to claim credit as the first film to use CGI. Paramount pictures is the company put out the film, and I would not be surprised if this film was a bit rushed in order to beat another film to theatres. Paramount had to have known that this movie would be a huge success for the CGI and more obviously because the film was the sequel of an extremely popular television show.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I had no idea that keeping a blog would be so exhausting! Here it is, my tenth post and I am going to once again try and dazzle your with my knowledge and wit. I think it is important that I take you back to the year 1982 when Jim Clark and his partner Abbey Silverstone founded Silicon Graphics, Inc., also known as SGI. The initial products were specialized software or hardware that accelerate the display of 3D images. This was all based on Jim Clark's work. Eventually SGI created the IRIS 3130, a complete UNIX workstation. The 3130 was powerful enough to support a complete 3D animation and rendering package on its own without mainframe support, the first of its kind. This was amazing! With such new capabilities, 3D images and animation were now accessible with this computer. The workstation made some impressive works including the hugely successful Jurassic Park (1993). The technology developed by SGI has been used by Industrial Light and Magic in well-known films such as Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001) and Pearl Harbor (2001). ILM has been using SGI systems since 1988. The bottom line is that without the development of the Silicon Graphics systems, the development of a similar system might not have come for a few more years. Thanks to Jim Clark's initiative and genius, 3D images began appearing in films in the mid to late 80s. Not only that, but it gave other companies a place to start to take the technology even further. Unfortunately, the company has since dwindled into almost nothingness filing for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Today I am going to depart from my normal blog style to address a question I was asked recently. I was asked if I thought that 3D animation took away from films or if these new full-length computer animated features lost a very crucial personal touch. My response is absolutely not. While animators who render by hand work very long painstaking hours, computer animators are working just as hard and at least as long. According to John Grant, the author of Masters of Animation, sometimes several artists work on the same character and while the artist who designed the character has an obvious emotional atatchment to that character, the other artists might not. I am not trying to start an argument over which method of animation is better then the other. I think that the magic created with the first full-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will never be recreated with such a personal touch because in that film actual blush was put on the hand rendered character of Snow White. We would certainly never go to such lengths today because a color pallet in a computer will do a good enough job. However, with Toy Story, the first full-length computer animated film, artists and programmers spent years designing programs and characters as well. The two forms are just different. They achieve the same purpose of entertaining and perhaps teaching youth around the world. Both films were created by passionate teams excited about the new techniques they were using. Both were considered amazing to everyone who saw them. Both are excellent films. I hope that with the increasing amount of computer animated films coming out that hand rendered films are not lost. I will always be a fan of the original film animation. However I do not think that this will happen because both forms have proven to be very lucrative.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

After doing a few blogs now, I have realized that I enjoy discussing animation a lot more then live-action film. The one that I would like to talk about today is Walt Disney's The Lion King (1994). The reason I think I should discuss this particular animated film is because it is one of the first hand rendered animated films to utilize computer graphics. This is most expertly done in the scene with the wildebeest stampede. This was an incredible addition and CG effect that made this particular point in the film all the more realistic and heart pounding. In this scene, the background and all other characters are completely hand rendered. The wildebeests however, were created in a 3D program based on a hand drawing of one wildebeest. This one 3D character became hundreds of animals each with their own shadow. In order to make these images blend in with the rest of the animation, they were given strong lines to imitate ink lines, and they were given very similar colors that did not vary too obviously. In order to prevent these 3D wildebeests from running through one another, Disney animators created a computer program that prevented this from happening and did all of their test scenes with pink and blue wildebeests to discuss specific images at any given point. These bright colors gave animators the ability to change the path of any given wildebeest with ease. Not only was this film important in this aspect, according to one website, it was also an original Disney story, and there are absolutely no human characters in it. Both of these additional bits of information make The Lion King an even more amazing film, and one of my all time favorites.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yesterday I promised that I would stick with digital effects in live-action film. I was trying to come up with a film that I wanted to research and one that I recently purchased was The Chronicles of Narnia (2005). What my quick search found was that the spectacular effects in the film were created my Industrial Light and Magic. Small world, eh? Since I have already rambled on about ILM, it seems more appropriate to discuss The Matrix (1999). Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, and paid for by Warner Bros., this film ended up winning four oscars. According to filmsite.org, the first film of the trilogy won an Oscar for visual-effects over powering Star Wars: Episode I (1999) and Stuart Little (1999). This film was a milestone in CGI "...with airborne kung fu, slow-motion bullet-dodging (the "flow-mo" and "bullet-time" effects) and shoot-outs, wall-scaling and other amazing visual effects." It is more specifically about the third Matrix film, but it is an interesting read. The amazing effects created for the trilogy were created mostly in studio while working on the film. According to the Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta, the three most difficult scenes to work on were: "The history program, where the endless fields of babies are grown is the first. The second is the helicopter crash and the third would be the bullet time shots." To read more on his take, click here. Unfortunately I am having a rather difficult time finding information on specific programs developed, but when I do I will let anyone who reads this know.

Monday, May 15, 2006

First of all, it should be noted that I have decided to apply for a Fall internship with Dreamworks. Whew! I decided I would apply for three since I am not really sure what it is I am qualified for and I am not really sure what I will enjoy. So, the positions I will be applying for are in the areas of: development, production, and show development. Apparently they get so many applications, I will only be contacted if they like my resume and cover letter and want an interview. I have never subjected myself to anything quite like this, so wish me luck!

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, I really liked where my post was going the other day when I was talking about Star Wars and
ILM. It seems like all of the Star Wars films and the special effects used in those movies could be discussed indefinitely. My goal however, is to keep things moving and talk about some other things. I would however, like to stick to effects in live-action film for awhile. I would like to make my transition by using a quote by Scott Billups, author of Digital Moviemaking. He states, "All the technology in the world won't make up for a lack in the basics of cinematic storytelling." And if anyone reading this saw the final installments of the Star Wars films, you will know how true this is. In film today, it is virtually impossible to find a film that has not been tampered with digitally. Of course, the technology available today gives film makers the ability to create amazing scenes without endangering cast and crew, allows filming to be done in more accessible locations, and is more realistic looking then most costumes and/or makeup effects. I will discuss specific examples tomorrow.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Yesterday I ended with George Lucas and the Star Wars films. Well, the research has been done, and I found out a little bit about the technology and the genius behind the movies. Industrial Light and Magic was founded by Lucas and has been in full swing since 1975. The original site for the production company was in San Rafael, California, but is now based in San Francisco. According to their website, since its founding, "ILM has been associated with fourteen movies which have earned the Oscar for Best Visual Effects and has been awarded seventeen technical achievement awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences." That is certainly quite the list of achievements! Perhaps more exciting however, is that Industrial Light & Magic was very recently rewarded the 2004 National Medal of Technology. This award is most certainly the culmination of the company so far. In addition, ILM does not work on film alone, but music videos, commercials, etc. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a specific program that they used so far, but I will continue my search and list the program on this blog when I do find it. It is common knowledge that George Lucas was responsible for the digital effects in the Star Wars movies, however, ILM works with Dreamworks, Warner Bros., and several other companies as well. In fact, ILM did the effects for the Harry Potter (Warner Bros.) films, Pirates of the Caribbean II (Disney), and Jarhead (Universal) to name a few. I imagine that creating effects in post production for movies filmed by other companies must be a pretty lucrative business. I am unaware if ILM has a monopoly in this area, I will post what I discover.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

I have talked a lot about CG animation, but up until this point I have not talked about live-action films with CGI included in the final project. One example written about by Peter Weishar in his book The Art of Computer Animation is Alien Resurrection. This CGI work was done by Blue Sky Studios using the program Inferno. This program can perform real-time effects on images that still have to be compressed. This is different from most cheaper systems because those other programs use compressed images and that lowers the quality of the finished image. While this program is way more expensive then Renderman, costing in the upper multiple thousand dollar range. Your best bet as a buyer would be to get a used system. Most of these CG images are added in post production after all of the live-action filming has taken place. Actors are forced to act as if the image is present, and set designers are prepared to make sets appropriate in size. According to Weishar, "If live-action film is part of the mix, the goal is the creation of a seamless, photorealistic image incorporating animated digital models." This is acheived more and more each day in studios around they world, and there is no doubt that this technology will allow the CGI to continue to blend in even more with live-action footage. George Lucas was the first person to really take advantage of combining CGI with live-action film in Star Wars. Unfortunately I have not researched their techniques, so that film will be reserved for another blog. I am sure that the tecnology avaliable to George Lucas had a great deal to do with the invention of Inferno, and it would be very interesting to compare the capabilities of the two.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My previous blogs had a lot to do with Blue Sky and Pixar. It should be known that there is a third major player in the CG industry. This other company is Dreamworks. This company was started in 1994 and has created several well known CG films including Antz (1998), Shrek (2001), Shrek 2 (2004). and The company has expanded to two locations in California, with one in Glendale and one in Redwood City. A condensed history of the company is avaliable in Animation Now! edited by Julius Wiedemann. You can definately tell the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks computer animation, but both are humerous, and fun for children and adults alike. The great thing about all three studios is that they are able to compete in a relatively new field and make films that impress us all. My personal favorites include Pixar's Finding Nemo, Madagascar by Dreamworks, and Ice Age by Blue Sky. Several examples of CG images and animation created my interest in the process, and these three films were some of the most influential. I was raised on Disney movies, so I suppose I am a little more inclined to watch Pixar first, but all three studios have put together some amazing work and I would love to get involved. When I was fishing around the Dreamworks website, I noticed they had posted some internships. I will need to do some more research on this. I have always been very afraid of applying for things for fear of being rejected. I know that no good will come of that, and the internships were just posted in the last week, so if I act now I might have a shot. Allow me to process that information, and I will let you know if I decide to apply to their Fall program...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Well, I did some digging, and it turns out that for a quality Renderman program, it would cost me $3500! Granted, there are other programs I could get from Renderman, but those apparently cost anything from $600-$3000. Looks like I am sticking to book learning.

Lately I have been pondering why it is that when the human figure is created in a digital program why they look so different on computer games when compared to films. The answer I found is that most rendering software used for designing computer games builds images based on geometric shapes. These shapes when added together make a figure, and each plane can have a different color, size, etc. In programs such as
Renderman however, characters are built up in layers, with only one seen by the viewer. This means that textures can be designed and look much more realistic. Compare for example, Toy Story and The Sims. Both have human characters with entirely different shapes, textures, and movement. I don't want to say that one form is necessarily better then the other, but it seems to me, the more realistic it is, the better it is. I suppose it depends on each individual viewer. Recently however, companys such as XBOX have been using software with this layering technique creating video games far more realistic then anything the world has ever seen before. It is really amazing to look at the changes over the last twenty years.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"3D computer animation is the most revolutionary development in feature films since the introduction of color."

This is a bold statement made by Peter Weishar, author of The Art of Computer Animation.
In a book put out by
Blue Sky Studios, he explains the process of creating scenes in a computer animated film. The book features the films Ice Age and Bunny. This is the opening line of the book, and I was so captivated by it that I wanted to explore the beginings of digital animation. When live action films were finally realized in color, animation was still in its early stages, and now years later, a new significant development has occured in the film industry. It started in the 60s with the development of Sketchpad, progressed in the 70s with the first CGI convention, and developed even further in the 80s when George Lucas began recruiting CGI specialists in order to create a computer animation section within his company Lucasfilm. Eventually some members of that team left to create Pixar and released the first full length computer animated film Toy Story in 1995. Such rapid growth has occured in the last fifty years that it is virtually impossible to guess where this industry will be at in five years. It seems like it whould be such a difficult field to get into since the technology keeps expanding so rapidly. I am interested in learining more about some of these computer programs, especially Renderman which was developed by Pixar, and is apparently the most important and influention computer animation program to date. If it is not being used on a project, another program based off it will be.