News is finally starting to come out about the project I’ve been working on for the past year at Google Spotlight Stories. It’s an interactive 360º story, directed by Patrick Osborne, called “Pearl”. We’re simultaneously making a 2D film version of the story, which will have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, April 17th at 6pm.
It’s been an amazing experience so far, full of exciting artistic and technical challenges, and it’s opened my mind to some astonishing new things. I’ll post more about it when we’re done, but in the meantime, Cartoon Brew has a nice writeup with some images from the show. And if you’re in New York that weekend, swing by and say hi!
We just saw Pete Docter’s brilliant and sweet Inside Out, which I highly recommend to anyone with a functioning heart and brain. As a sometime student of human emotion, and a fan of Paul Ekman’s work, I was impressed with how well tuned the five main characters were to the real mechanics of emotions. There wasn’t a moment in that film that didn’t ring true. If you haven’t seen it yet, go already!
For those who liked the “who’s driving this thing?” angle of the movie, I want to point out another body of work that I’ve admired for years: Tim Eagan’s Subconscious Comics, which ran in a Santa Cruz newspaper from 1981-2000, and appeared in book form as The Collected Subconscious. It’s a more adult and irreverent take on the same subject, where instead of the five cardinal emotions at the controls, it’s a hairless chimpanzee in tighty-whities known only as “The Boss”, surrounded by an entourage of anthropomorphized neuroses. Definitely not for kids, but lots of fun for grown-ups. Enjoy!
Here’s something different: I have a new job! Today was my first day at Google Spotlight Stories. I’ll be working with some amazing filmmakers and technologists who are busy inventing a new kind of narrative visual storytelling uniquely suited to handheld mobile devices. If that sounds crazy, that’s because it is. It’s my kind of crazy. It’s exactly the kind of wild, inventive, “let’s try this and see what happens” attitude that got me interested in computer graphics in the first place, all those years ago. I couldn’t be more excited.
The video above really does a great job of capturing the delight of experiencing one of these stories for the first time. It’s almost impossible not to grin like a ninny. There’s not much more I can say about it right now, but there’s been some terrificpress about the projects they’ve created so far. I’ll share more when I can!
In the 1990’s, it was typical for production companies to start their demo reels with a clock-wipe countdown. Some companies would use this as an opportunity to say something about their style, and do custom animation. (Will Vinton Studios, I remember, had a particularly cool stop-motion countdown at that time.) I thought it would be cool for Xaos to have a countdown that reflected our particular style of work, so I created this drippy ink effect counting down from 10 to 1, and a drippy version of the Xaos logo, which we put at the beginning and end of our demo reel respectively.
Some time after this, our producer got a call from MTV. They had this show called “Top 20 Video Countdown”. They wanted to use this effect for the bumpers and interstitials. Could we add the numbers 11 through 20? Our producer said “of course”, and charged them a lot of money. But it didn’t really take me that long.
Here is my first short film. I made this at PDI in 1995, during a gap between commercials. I modeled and rigged the characters, did most of the animation, and developed the wobbly ink-line look.
The pigeons’ torso was a metaball surface driven by a series of spheres along a spline between the head and the body, which were both separate IK joints (so I could easily get that pigeon-head movement style without counteranimating.) The eyes, beak, legs and wings were separate objects, each of which got rendered in its own separate pass. Each layer had its vector outline traced (using a tool originally written for scanning corporate photostats for flying logos!) I processed the curves using a procedural scripting language to give them some physics and personality, and then rendered them as black ink lines with varying thickness (using a tool written by Drew Olbrich). Finally, I ran the rendered lines through some image processing filters to get the edge darkening effect, and did some iterated stochastic silhouette dilation to add random ink blotches where the lines were thickest. Simple, really! ;-)
Here’s a cool making-of video about the design event I spoke at this past summer in Madrid. It was such a great experience. The organizers made a point of creating opportunities for the participants to really get to know each other, in keeping with the event’s theme of “connection”. I learned a lot, had tons of fun, and made some great new friends from halfway around the world. If you ever get the chance to go to this conference, don’t hesitate, just do it!
There has been much hubbub in the animation community lately around actor Andy Serkis’s continuing assertion that he is the sole author of mocap-based characters like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and that animators merely provide “digital makeup”, and play no creative role whatsoever in those performances. My friends who worked on those movies have always told me privately that this is far from the truth. Now Randall William Cook, Director of Animation on all three “Lord of the Rings” movies, has finally come out in public with a detailed explanation of how Gollum’s performance was actually created.
Here are Mr. Cook’s thoughts, reproduced with his permission:
Andy Serkis has been throwing the term “Digital Makeup” around again, and causing some pretty fervid reactions as a result. He has his detractors and defenders, among them animators and motion capture editors, people who have met Andy and found him a nice bloke, people who are interested in the art of animation or the in art of acting or in both. But so far I have seen nothing from anybody who was in the trenches and actually worked on Gollum, so I suppose it’s time I weighed in on the matter.
My name’s Randall William Cook, and I was the Director of Animation on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.
I’ll be doing my “Animator as Designer” talk this June in Madrid, at a design event called MadinSpain. The event grew out of domestika.org, an online community for designers, architects, illustrators, animators, typographers, and other creative types based primarily in Spain. The video below gives a nice sense of the flavor of this event. I’m really looking forward to it. If you’re in that part of Europe the weekend of June 27th, come on by and say hello!