Category Archives: animation

Impossible Paint: Asemic Writing

The Genuary prompt for day 14 is “asemic”, i.e. writing without meaning, which is something I’ve always loved. I thought it might be fun to try doing that with my watercolor simulation. Reader, I was not disappointed.

When we rerun the simulation with a different random seed each time, it comes to life in a different way. It turns out the Perlin noise that drives the brush movement isn’t affected by the seed, so “what” it writes stays the same, while “how” it’s written changes. The consistency seems to deepen the illusion of intentionality, which makes me super happy.
This isn’t my first time tinkering with procedurally generated asemic writing. That was in 1996, when I was working at PDI in Sunnyvale. There was a small group of us who were curious about algorithmic art, and we formed a short-lived club (unofficially known as “Pacific Dada Images”) that was much in the spirit of Genuary: we’d set ourselves a challenge, go off to our desks to tinker, and then meet in the screening room to share the results. The video above came from the challenge: “you have one hour to generate one minute of footage, using any of the software in PDI’s toolset”. I generated the curves in PDI’s homegrown script programming language, and rendered them using a command line tool called mp2r (which Drew Olbrich had written for me to use on Brick-a-Brac).

Genuary 2023: Impossible Paint

I love to tinker with code that makes pictures. Most of that tinkering happens in private, often because it’s for a project that’s still under wraps. But I so enjoy watching the process and progress of generative artists who post their work online, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to share my own stuff that way. So when I heard about Genuary, the pull was too strong to resist.

Here’s a snapshot of some work in progress, using a realtime watercolor simulator I’ve been writing in Unity. Some thoughts on what I’m doing here: it turns out I’m not super interested in mimicking reality. But I get really excited about the qualia of real materials, because they kick back at you in such wonderful and unexpected ways. What I seem to be after is a sort of caricature of those phenomena: I want it to give me those feelings, and if it bends the laws of physics, so much the better. Thus, Impossible Paint.

Toward Believable Acting for Autonomous Animated Characters

Last month I had the pleasure of presenting some of my team’s recent research at MIG ’22. It’s our first publication, on a topic I care deeply about: acting for autonomous animated characters. Why do NPCs in video games seem so far behind, in terms of acting ability, compared to their counterparts in animated movies? How might we make their acting more believable? This is one of those hard, fascinating problems that are just starting to become tractable thanks to recent advances in machine learning. I’ll have more to say about it soon, but for now, here’s a short video that explains the first small steps we’ve taken in that direction:

You can find the above video, our paper, and also a recording of our 25-minute talk on our new site for the project: https://believable-acting.github.io/

Monster Mash

This past January I had the incredible good fortune to fall sideways into a wonderful graphics research project. How it came about is pure serendipity: I had coffee with my advisor from UW, who’d recently started at Google. He asked if I’d like to test out some experimental sketch-based animation software one of his summer interns was developing. I said sure, thinking I might spend an hour or two… but the software was so much fun to use, I couldn’t stop playing with it. One thing led to another, and now we have a paper in SIGGRAPH Asia 2020!

Have you ever wished you could just jot down a 3D character and animate it super quick, without all that tedious modeling, rigging and keyframing? That’s what Monster Mash is for: casual 3D animation. Here’s how it works:

Animation Day at Infinity Festival

"Infinity Festival Hollywood" logo

I’m heading to LA this coming weekend to do a retrospective talk about Spotlight Stories. It’s part of an ASIFA-organized “Animation Day” event at Infinity Festival Hollywood. starting Saturday, November 9th at 10am. (Our friends from Baobab will also be doing a talk about some of their latest work, so it should be a really interesting morning!) Angelenos, swing by and say hello!

Dragon Wrap 360

An animated loop of the directors, producers and PDI-based crew of "How to Train Your Dragon", made from photos taken at the wrap party in March 2010.
Click the image to see the full animated GIF!

Here’s a thing that happened. Remember that crazy accidental stereo photo that we shot at the LA wrap party for “How to Train Your Dragon”, back in 2010? Well, not long after that, we had a second wrap party in Palo Alto, for the PDI part of the crew. At one point I was talking with Chris Sanders, and I showed him that stereo photo from the other party. His eyes got really big, and his inner ten-year-old, always very close to the surface but particularly so in that moment, looked at me very seriously and said “we have to do this again… right now… with EVERYBODY HERE!” Without any kind of plan, we just snapped into action, moving tables, herding animators, passing on instructions in a game of telephone as everyone gathered in a big circle with Chris, Dean, Bonnie and Bruce in the middle. Cameras and phones out and ready, on a count of three, we all snapped a shot– as simultaneously as a crowd of reveling filmmakers can manage (which turns out to be not simultaneous at all, but hey, we’ll fix it in post!) I got everyone to email me their photos the next day, and spent way too many hours truing them up over the following weeks. I even did some very bad morphing at one point. I never quite got it to a state that felt good enough to share, so this sat on my hard drive for the better part of a decade without anybody seeing it.

But the third chapter in the trilogy comes out today! So in honor of that, and all the amazing artists who were there in that room nine years ago, and the many others who have worked on these movies before and since, here it finally is, in the form of an animated GIF: Dragon Wrap 360!

Photos by: Jennifer Yip, Craig Rittenbaum, Kathy Altieri, Craig Ring, Gil Zimmerman, Andy Wheeler, Susan Hayden, Ronman Ng, Melanie Cordan, Jennifer Dahlman, Rebecca Huntley, Ben Andersen, Janet Breuer, John Batter, Andrew Pearce, Katrina Conwright, Toshi Otsuka, Lou Dellarosa, Nara Youn, Michel Kinfoussia, Kevin Andrus, Dave Torres, Michael Baula, Tanner Owen, Karen Dryden, April Henley, Kate Spencer, Cassidy Curtis, Ron Pucherelli, Scott LaFleur, Simon Otto, and Dane Stogner.