Studio 3: Post Mortem

 

The initial idea for Project Celine has been developed from an evolution of a project idea that had been worked on in a schematic sense prior to the start of Studio 3. This planning pre Studio allowed the group members of project Celine to dive straight into the project work without hesitation. The development of the story world and character concepts had begun and it was decided that a short animation would be produced within Studio 3 based on these already partially developed creative concepts.

Another positive aspect of the initial planning stage of project Celine was the naturally well balanced team.  As we were all already familiar with the styles and fortes of the group members working on the project, division of roles was effortless, and the result was a balanced team in terms of specialties and abilities.

The forming of the group and confirmation of initial idea aside, the studio brief required a setup whereby Studio 3 students delegate tasks to Studio 1 students, however the assets the Studio 1 members were required to create needed to be environmental. This added  an absurd extra level to the planning stage in accordance with the brief we were set.

I myself was brought into the project management process as a liaison of sorts with the Studio 1 students as I would be the primary Studio 3 member to work on environments. At this point in time it was crucial to designate asset creation tasks to the Studio 1 students which would be appropriate for their experience level, as well as their own brief.

A few weeks into the pre-production phase it was determined that the short animation would revolve around the central character, Celine and her personal journey. The short animation would aim to encompass very short scenes which together would communicate an emotional story. Specifically the animation would show a glimpse into the emotional journey of a princess character towards a more fulfilling life with the gaining of personal freedom as a central idea. The animation was to have nuances of movement and storytelling.

As this was the aim of the project a large chunk of time was spent in refining the narrative of the short animation as well as the visual styles of the characters and the fictional world. This process had taken a much longer span of time than ideal, causing the project to fall behind on the timeline. Often many of the team members would be on standby for further instructions or would have to revise a portion of work repeatedly as the creative intent was tweaked.

In returning to the problem we have had in coordinating cross studio collaboration, this stall in the pre-production phase prevented a proper division of the environment creation to be given to the Studio 1 members. The details of what they would be designing as animation/film sets was also hazy, and visual style was still in the process of being developed.

Another issue which compounded our difficulty in refining our concept development phase was a lack of a unification through project management. In this scenario this was a  lack of decision making and instruction on how team members were to proceed in helping the current development. disagreements and misunderstandings would take up much of Studio time and discussions were messy. Vagueness of instruction for the team and a lack of management in a planning context as well as creative team work context cost a couple weeks of prime development time.

Project management has seen improvement throughout the entirety of Project Celine but for more than half the project length, the main problems were a lack of structure and detail in the project management and a failure to communicate effectively.

In the first few weeks of pre-production, time was focused on solidifying the scope. A Retrospective look at the scoping leads me to believe that this portion of planning was handled quite well and looked to the future scenarios which we could encounter.

Admittedly the original scope for the project was extremely large but risk management was implemented in the form of environment and scene segregation. The planning for scope ensured that the elaborate environment which was to be produced in one scene (a royal bedroom belonging to Celine), could be cut from the final animation without a problem in flow or narrative. Another set, (for an outdoor scene) would be kept priority and this was designated to the Studio 1 students.

It has been agreed during the week 7 TSMs that future projects would benefit from a willingness to focus on practicality of discussion rather than focus on the details of the many mistakes that were made during the early stages of group work.

In terms of project management, task allocation within our broader assigned roles ( my own designation was for environments both in the pre-production and production phases) was neglected. In future projects, a complete list of tasks which imbues the project with a more refined game plan should be solidified in this early stage. This is something which I firmly believe is necessary in the first few weeks and I believe to be true not only from my experience within Project Celine but another group project I am currently working on.

In regards to this mapping out of tasks and how they fit together, this problem has also reared its ugly head when planning was needed between the Studio 1 and Studio 3 group members. This cross studio partnership has been tedious at best, this is true for project management, development, scoping and quality assurance.

Moving into the production component of Project Celine, a few important group meetings were held to straighten out the communication problems, concern over project management structure and to smooth out the group dynamic in general.

This for the most part resulted in a noticeable improvement in a practical sense. The level of communication, especially via slack rose immediately. An aspect of management that was implemented was regular reports on task progress via slack. Despite the fact that there is never an instant fix for such scenarios group morale improved. During the rest of the production phase the diligence of this system has slipped in the sense that the communications have not been as structured as first designed but nevertheless people have gotten into more of a habit of working and communicating details during these work sessions. This has eliminated a lot of tension and  error due to miscommunication. This attitude towards changing the way the group interacts and this willingness to try and communicate well has been a positive element of working on Project Celine.

The practicalities and management of the project aside, retrospectively the development of the animation itself has gone comparatively well. In terms of my own role within this process my allocations have included environmental concept art and design, asset testing for environment and asset production for the environment. This process in the earlier pre-production phase as previously mentioned had some setbacks due to miscommunication and lag in conceptual decision making. The concept art phase required a testing of several art styles, and a back and forth between the art lead of the team. An example is the Victorian, Baroque, Tudor and royal Asian art styles I experimented with when doing concept art and research.

This is reflective of the development of the pre-production phase as a whole. Development was tedious at first and aesthetic style had be scrubbed and re-done until it fit. for the first 4 weeks or so this was the case. Next the refinement of the conceptual and planning phase saw improvement and through to production development has been steady but slower than we all would have deemed ideal. After working on a test asset I have been assigned design and production of a royal carriage, as of completing Project Celine the interior has been passed around between several team members, with myself doing a quick job of texturing.

As of finishing Project Celine the scenes within Celine’s room have been dropped, and parts of the priority tier have been animated so that the length of the final product is approximately a minute and a half of run time.

The previous decisions to import the animations into the game engine Unreal have proved to be fruitful in a post production sense. In many ways the lighting and environment in engine animation has added a sense of polish and given the animation an atmosphere matching the original creative intent. I believe this to be the result of the willingness improve communication, as declensions to implement this tactic were the result of proper group conversation during group meetings.

Overall Project Celine has been a steep learning curve on the subject of team work. I have fairly satisfied with my efforts to improve as a team player. A running theme has been attempts to improve despite the many mistakes we have made. The factor which has been affected the most would be the amount of the original scope which could be realised but the quality of what has been produced has been pleasing to witness at this last stage of the project and this has made the struggles as a team worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

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Studio 3: Entry 03

TSM

The format of the TSM during week 7 departs slightly from the format of previous Studios. A focus was made during my meeting on the dynamic of the group and how the project managment has beenn handled. The change of structure I personally find helped in fascilitating the thoughts of all group members and determine our resolve for future team meetings.

Within my written response I have addressed the usual components of the transferrable skills list. I feel that in looking reflectively over my previous responses and the way i have changed and grown as a student professional, the elements I am most satisfied with in terms of mastery level, and conversely less satisfied with remain the same despite an overall improvement in all areas. A specific focus has been the the transferrable skills that relate to my role in a group and how i interact with team members. I feel that this has been a result of the intense re-planning and decision making that has been necessary during the early pre-production process of Project Celine.

The overall creative vision has changed and as it has been pointed out, as individuals our collective team members function in a very different way to the group dynamic we have in Studio 3. Translating this into a practical decoding which we can use moving forward, it is crucial for every person with Project Celine to recognise our differences and leave any previous mistakes the group has made, leave blame to one side and plan out our current attack through group meetings, taking meetings, general increase in communication and a willingness to adapt to the ever-changing scenario of task allocation. Task allocation specifically has been an aspect of project management which has seen many issues. These issues have been addressed in the form of a resolve for increased frequency of meetings and frequent check-ups on task progress through slack.

Returning to the TSM meeting, an important section of the conversation has been receiving the feedback that the capabilities of every team member is not an issue but rather collboration. The focus is on the coordiantion of effort rather than ability to complete our individual tasks.

In one way this has been taken as a compliment by the team as it would seem we have the potentional to achieve our project goals and in general support each other as creative professionals. As time has marched on after the TSM, the decisions that affect my task allocation within the environment production are ones I have disagreed with. As I have made my case in group meeting with the TSM feedback in mind, I have decided that the best course of action to be a team player will be to accomodate for the project management which we are going ahead with. Specifically the decision has been to continue production of Celine’s room.

My own estimates and course of action would be to leave this section of the environment design. Communication skills and acting as a team player as Transferrable skills I believe I have upskilled  through much practice. In putting the environment production decisions into practice I have continued to coordinate with one other team member who has been split between character and environment tasks.

Currently I am working on room layout, concepts for aspects of the room such as the arched windows and the interior architecture. I am coordinating with my environment team mate on creating this as a pre-viz model. Proportions and level of details for assets is being determined. In the near future I will be constructing a test asset for the environment, I am currently conducting research into this including texturing techniques and style as this asset will act as a master asset for reference when creating consistency throughout environment production.

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Test Asset_Model-sheet
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Test Asset_Model and Uv

 

Studio 3: Entry 02

Environmental Design

Environmental design for Project Celine comprises of a set that is to be used as Celine’s room as well as a set with an outside setting, an open field. My specific task allocation will be Celine’s room, with a a overseeing role for the open field allocated to the two Studio One team members.

As of a few weeks in this role has been quite difficult. The coordination of the project alone has proven to be messy. The narrative, aesthetics and how everything is to coordinate and be congruent has seen a lot of changes in direction.

My first tasks have been to research the various architectural styles that we can encorporate into the designs for Celine’s room. Our first resolve for our design style was victorian to reflect the opulent nature of the character and the context of the environment. The victorian design markers were also chosen to communicate the elaborate environments appropriate for our fantasy theming. The concept art which I had produced as a result aimed to find not only an appropriate level of opulance but reflect the magic culture, elegance and delicate nature of Celine’s character design and  Stellettia as a nation. The resultant designs also needed to take into consideration that the room be easily identifiable as royal and palatial. The first iteration of the environment concept art which I produced was deemed a little fussy and a more research was needed. The character design of Celine incorporates a sleek and minimal but refined dress with the fox-like features.

A large component of the research and concept art phase for Celine’s room has been finding a good balance between the whimsy of the fantasy genre we are aiming to create a project within and a sense of believability for elements such as the royal nature of the character and the specific markers within the story world that the animation takes place in. Moving from an originally Victorian inpired aesthetic, then next to baroque and tudor, a mixture of the origanl victorian with flourishes of Classical Asian palatial design has chiaved the balance needed to reflect the development of the fictional world of Project Celine.

In terms of designing the exterior of the carriage I have decided to upskill for not only the current project in Studio 3 but for future production of model sheets, character design and general 2D elements. This has involved some online tutorials as well as informal tutoring from a fellow team member. Using vector tools within Illustrator has resulted in a more precise model-sheet and has made my modelling process in so far relatively more comfortable.

During production of the test asset for the environment production I have for the first time used the Nurms tool within 3DSmax. This at first was a very awkward tool for me to use. The technique which needs to be employed forces the model to have a different topology. As the tool adds extra loops within the existing poly structure, the spacing and way edges are placed effects the final effect. An example is creating curves on a model, if a sharp corner or crease is needed then loops are added closely on perpendicular sides.

Once adjusting to the way one models when using nurms I am happy with the very smooth gentle curves I have achieved within the test asset. Another very pleasing aspect is the way in which a model can be made high resolution, with correct topology quite instantly. One thing to keep in mind is the dependency of proper toplogy planning prior to adding the nurms iteration effect. Now that I am currently modelling the carriage exterior, learning this new tool for my modelling process is proving useful.

 

Links:

 

Learn Illustrator in 5 minutes! Beginner Tutorial 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GzumUieDPY

Illustrator Tutorials – Pen Tools beginner’s guide

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j69a3-shkGE

 

 

ANC230_Preprod_Environ_Concepts_001_WYLD_Alex
Image 01_Concept Art_Celine’s Room_Iteration 01
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Image 02_Concept art_pendant
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Image 03_Concept Art_ light fixture
Project Celine_Preprod_Environ_Concept Art_002
Image 04_Concept Art_Celine’s Room_Iteration 02

 

Studio 3: Entry 01

Project Start

 

The first week of Trimester saw the beginnings of the necessary organisational and project initiation tasks. There has been the expected shuffling around during informal project pitch conversations, as people consider what project they would like to be working on for the duration of Studio 3. During this time I myself had considered a few factors. In considering what I would like to gain from Studio 3 I had come to the conclusion that collaborating with students I have not yet worked with, and pushing myself to work on an idea I would not be likely to consider in a solo project would be two priorities among other practical considerations.

Within the very first Studio session, my interest had been peaked by two projects, one involving a noir style crime solving video game. The other is an anime-esque fantasy genre short animation. At the end of my deliberating I have chosen the latter.

Myself and one other have been inducted into a founding group of 4 for this project. We have also been informed that students from Studio One will be added to our Studio 3 cohort. This has been something of a controversial topic as the details are explained to us and we begin to understand how they will be collaborating with us. As the students from Studio One will be working on production of the environments needed within the Studio 3 projects there has to be a lot of extra project management accommodations. On a positive notes, role allocations within our project (dubbed Project Celine) has been a breeze. A nice balance of specialties and interests between our team has allowed a clean division of assigned tasks. Predominantly I will be working on the design and creation of the environment.

This will be in tandem with the Studio One members and so I have been assigned the role of being a liaison of sorts. The role also requires coordination and decision making. This has been a tricky job as I am to translate the overall aesthetic, and creative intent of the project and instill these elements into the environment design. This must be also carried into the designs and asset creation that is to be produced by our Studio 1 team members.

 

 

Studio Two: Post Mortem

When reflecting about the things I have learnt, and things I will do differently in future projects during Studio Two, the list feels never ending.

The largest factor however, and  the umbrella over a lot of the elements of my project that I have taken valuable lessons from is my  project management strategy, from beginning to end. I feel that from time management, to creating a reasonable scope, having a plan for the intricacies of each step of the pipeline can reduce the likeliness of long troubleshooting sessions and having a lack of time for important parts of the production pipeline in the later portions in the project.

The pre-production phase has now changed in my mind as I understand more of the realities of what this phase should entail. One thing is tests, tests and more tests. After Studio One and now Studio Two this is still a component to my project management which must change to become more efficient and allow more time to complete and polish my end product. Essentially I now feel that pre-production should be used to steam roll over the unknown factors that will arise during production phase. One should take notes for procedure that should be followed  later in the pipeline so major decisions do not cause un-predictable scenarios.

On reflection my time management on one level has been decent, I would reflect that the way in which I had made my plans allowed efficient workflow in the earlier stages but did not allow enough safety nets for inevitable issues.

Specifically testing of a hard surface character rig system would have helped move my progress towards animation, as when I had implemented my rig and skinning I had to spend time undoing and re-doing several times, as I was not aware of a few pieces of knowledge such as where in an interface to delete stacked constraints and how the hierarchy system causes objects and controllers to interact with each other.

In terms of the deliverables of my Studio Two Project, the produced content has not reached my original aims for scope. The 3D component of my project has a chunk animated but time has not allowed for any polish and essentially only produced to the equivalent of a draft. The 2D component I have treated as an experience which I have learnt from, and I have received a lot of feedback in terms of the principles of animation. The small amount of 2D that I have managed to produce has also been an opportunity to experiment with animation style and play around with the animation style I had originally intended to use in my project. An example of this is the 3 frame static “shake” look which I wanted to implement. I had at least had an chance to try this out with my 2D component.

Something which has been a highlight in the later phase of my project has been the discovery of lighting techniques, and specifically 3-point lighting. Using editing software to enhance the 1950’s theme of my animation has also worked well.

Overall, there are many things that I recognise could be changed in my strategies and planning to greatly improve future projects. A tactic which I plan to implement is implementing specific plans for testing during the pre-production phase. This would be implemented through project management tools such as using a Gantt chart.

A positive that I will carry with me from this experience during Studio 2 are the upgrades to my skills in asset production, and the animation principles I now i understand to a deeper level, despite not having the opportunity to implement these new levels of understandings and skills within this Studio.

 

Studio Two: Entry 4

Delegation of time has become a weighty consideration in the last few weeks, as the end of my project timeline draws near. My main aim has been to arrive at the animation component of the pipeline as quickly as possible. With each troubleshooting session that arises I make a conscious effort to keep a calm thought process and continue.

Dramatic thoughts aside, I have only just reached the animation phase, and I am currently chipping away at the first few seconds of my animation. In preparation for my animation, myself, a classmate and my lecturer have spent a considerable chunk of time shooting reference footage. This has been my first enjoyable experience with creating animation references, of course there was still the un-enjoyable aspect of having my likeness recorded while I act out awkward movements.

Well, the important part of this experience has been the ability to now use the references to my advantage. it has been repeated countless time during my animation education so far that references are essential for good animation.

Previously I quite detested the idea of using animation references. This is not through doubt but because of imaginings about the tediousness of such a process. Shooting the reference, staring at the reference, translating the reference painstakingly from video to animation timeline. I am happy to say I have come around on this process. I also now find that it is is preferable experience to the guestimation method I have used in previous projects. While I have very little experience with animation, I can already tell that references will be a monumental part of future animation undertakings.

With the specific references I have shot, I am translating the footage to be used for my robot character Georgio. I have designed Georgio to be slightly stumpy and oddly proportioned.  This obviously will mean that his movements are not only mechanical but awkward. For the most part as he is bipedal and still moves the way a human would, translation into animation has been unhampered by his character design. I can certainly now appreciate the additional difficulty in animating characters of invented biology and movement mechanics. Surely the references for such creations would come from real-life sources and would then be adjusted with general bio-mechanical principles in mind, however any resultant animation is clearly a feat nonetheless.

 

 

 

Studio Two: Entry 3

Well into the production stage, after modelling and UV unwrap I have undertaken the rigging and skinning of my robot character. Unlike both my previous experiences (which are few), and my current notions of this process, the process will rely on a hirearchy and link system.

One common aspect however is the need for controllers. As has been repeated many times in the past, I have been instructed never to animate mesh. The reason for this

Aside from this controller system it was important for my process to first understand the major difference between an organic rig and skin pipeline and one of a hard-surface modelled character. The major difference stems from the deformation of an organic character as opposed to the rigidity of a hard surface character, in this case my robot character Georgio.

This difference is obvious but research was required as to how I would go about Georgio’s animation setup. In practice this setup has involved pivots, a hierarchy of scene objects and lastly animation constraints.

In principle this is a simple method, and results in a system whereby all parts of Georgio have a 100% weighting during the skinning phase. This of course eliminates the need to creat realistic bends and deformations of body parts. In-experience in rigging and skinning therefore should logically have less impact on the ease to which the final setup can be animated. Specifically Georgio’s range of movements should not be restricted by any areas that were not skinned to an optimum level.

The rigging and skinning of Georgio has however taken longer than expected. Along the way the consequences of such things as neglected xform reset has reared its ugly head.

In order to start this rigging/skinning workflow the model must be separated into the individual parts which will be rotated during animation. For Georgio this meant seperate objects for head, torso, leg and arm segments, finger joints and foot with ankle.

Once independant of each other it has to be decided where would be appropriate for rotation for each indepdenent piece. This involves affecting each objects pivot and placing in the correct point which allows correct rotation of joints.

After this it is now possible to create controllers, and using the align tool, match a controllers pivot with the object pivot. This essentially means that during the animation phase rotation of a controller will cause rotation around the designated point on the object. This also means that the controllers pivot does not need to sit in the centre of the object in order for rotation to occur in the correct location.  After spending much time placing these pivot points in their correct position i am now more familiar with using the pivot adjustment functions within 3DSMax.

I have also reached a point of understanding that during the modelling phase it is important to model in a way which accommodates for the alteration of pivot location. This is particularly important for finding centre points within an object for rotation. A mistake which I had made is neglecting to have a symmetrical line down the torso, making it more of a tedious task to accurately re-position pivots to their needed spots.

The model could have benefited from foresight and planning in this way in other areas, such as creating the neck as a cylinder not tube, not only to make the object more contiguous but also to be able to find and place the pivot at the centre point of one end with ease.

Perhaps it would seem a little insignificant to model edge loops etc into a model for the sake of easy pivot adjustment, but even for the cases where it wouldn’t also benefit other aspects of the pipeline production, at this point in time I believe it is worth implementing modifications for pivot adjustment alone (at least when this rigging system is used).

As I have never had to manipulate pivot points in this way for this purpose I doubt that my mistakes could be avoided completely, however I have taken notes for future reference of considerations during the modelling phase. In fact, the importance of beginning these considerations during the character design phase is now something I am beginning to understand in not only a theoretical sense but also practical.

Despite the obviousness of my limitations of technical aptitude and lack of experience, I anticipate that planning ahead for not only technical capability limitations but also time factors is something I will require and be refining infinitely.

Reflecting on this process, one would need to assess the final production in all its practical intricacies of a character from its creative conception. The struggle of creating a character with appeal and polish is already a feat, but how much compromise should be made in order for an efficient pipeline, and easy (in relative terms) to complete project?

I realise that such a musing sounds dramatic, and my intention of such a reflection is more of a hyperbole than anything else but the ramifications of not considering this at all seem to be even more drastic.

Returning to Georgio’s progress in the rigging and skinning portion of the pipeline, the algniment of the pivots was followed by a painful process of discovering the various effects of hierarchy and constraints that compete with each other.

It is important to place the controllers and objects in hierarchical levels which they will be animated by, with the root of the character at the top. It is also important however to ensure that the objects that comprise the body are part of a separate hierarchy tree to the controllers, with each level in both hierarchies mirroring the corresponding components. This would mean the torso would be at the top of one hierarchy, and the torso controller at the top of another. After some accidents I have seen how this directly affects the intended movements of the character.

I have also learnt that constraints can be stacked, and it is easy to constrain an object multiple times without realisation due to little interface feedback. The model may show odd characteristics of movement but it necessary to open up link info and examine to confirm any new constraint additions in order to delete the unintended additions.

All in all I am satisfied with the new knowledge I take from this new rig and skin experience. in a sense it solidifies what I have previously learnt when rigging and skinning an organic model.