Friday, 19 May 2017

CG Toolkit Submission: Film Reviews, Maya Tutorials & Sculpting

World Animation Film Reviews

Lighting & Rendering

Pipeline 1: UV Layout & Maps

Pipeline 1: Spine & Skinning

Pipeline 1: Body Rigging

Pipeline 1: Facial Rigging (Part 1)

Pipeline 1: Facial Rigging (Part 2)

Sculpting Class

Dope Sheets

Pipeline 01 - Part 6: Adding Teeth & A Tongue

This is how far I've progressed with JPJ. I'm obviously retreading things I've completed in my Olga model at this point, but I want to make sure he's complete too, regardless of missing the deadline. Once he's done I'm going to go back to work on Olga to work out and residing issues. 

World Cinema - "Kubo And The Two Strings" (2016) - A review

Fig 1. 
"Kubo and the Two Strings" (2016) dir. Travis Knight, produced by Laika Studios, centering on the titular "Kubo", a young boy who leaves his distant cave (and sickly mother) to go to town and perform for it's folk every day. Events kick off when Kubo stays out late one day in order to attend the villages "Bon Festival" - a festival honouring the dead; disobeying his mothers pleas in the process, which, as it transpires, turns out to be something he should have listened to. At sunset, Kubo is attacked my his mother's ghostly sisters, as she is forced to protect him with her last ounce of magic, sending him to a distant land...and his journey's start.

Fig 2.
What makes Kubo so enthralling is it's want to dispense with quickfire editing that seems to be ever present in contemporary children's entertainment. "There is a lyrical quality to the writing, which is a refreshing alternative to the slapdash slang assault of many family films." (Ide, 2016)  Kubo makes a point of making the audience wait, and as such, shot's frequently have that alluring quality that invites the eye to inspect each and every artisinal quality the film offers. And, if anything, that's the qualifier that best suits this film, for everything is truly bespoke. Aided by a myriad of new techniques, making this a tremendously ambitious affair and Laika's (and Travis') "most ambitious project his company has attempted, pushing the envelope of 3D printing in animation to new levels" (Giardina, 2016). It's such a treat to find a film that truly delivers on what it promises, on all levels including story. And that seems to stem from Travis' somewhat omnipresence on the project. Perhaps the quality of writing stems from that? Travis himself mentions "I wanted to approach [the subject of death] with sincerity and honesty," says Knight, who suffered his own loss in 2004, when his brother died in a tragic diving accident." (Giardina, 2016) and indeed the fact that this is such a personal overall theme seems to corroborate the immense quality of the film.

Fig 3. 
Laika's previous films, "Coraline" (2009), "ParaNorman" (2012) and "Boxtrolls" (2014) all carry this quality however, and it really seems as though the studio is going from strength to strength, in fact  "Laika's first film release was 2009's Coraline, which was nominated for an Oscar and grossed $124.6 million worldwide. Its second movie, 2012's ParaNorman, also was Oscar nominated and grossed more than $100 million. Ditto its third, 2014's The Boxtrolls." (Giardina, 2016) And it's really their knack for imbuing their properties with an interesting mix of classic stop motion work (in the vein of Harryhausen) with new techniques that afford them an incredible amount of flexibility in their workflow.

The bespoke design work features incredibly attention to detail. In one sequence, where Kubo and co journey over the "Long Lake" in a ship made of leafs, the design crew mention having "to map every leaf — thousands of them, each individually laser-cut and about the size of a human thumbnail — and reproduce the exact same pattern on both ships, so they'd match from shot to shot within the film. It's a lot of effort for something most people wouldn't notice. "God knows," Pascall sighs, "there are easier ways to make movies." (Robinson, 2016) But for Laika, and certainly Knight himself, easier ways aren't as worthwhile. It seems even during this projects inception Knight knew what an undertaking it would be. Knight, " A sucker for fantasy and a fan of Japanese culture" (Giardina, 2016) admits that "I bit off more than I could chew" (Giardina, 2016) though this isn't a problem. With critics and audiences alike serving as proof that the gamble paid off.

The distinct flavour possessed here isn't wholly 'of' any particular culture, although the film's director was a self confessed fan of Japanese culture, and the story presents a melancholic and mature take on the themes of loss and acceptance that evoke the complexity and maturity on display in Studio Ghibli animations. This represents a heady mix of Japanese influences and American sensibility, though it's sensitivity and patience can definitely be ascribed to the works of Ghibli.

Fig 4.
"Kubo and the Two Strings" is a rare treat. One that is distinct and measurable based on the sheer effort poured into it. The techniques on display here coupled with attention to detail make this feature an industry benchmark, throwing up grand notions of Laika stepping up to become this generations 'Pixar'. Whatever happens from here on, the audience wins.  


Giardina, Carolyn. (2016) "How 'Kubo and the Two Strings' Merged Stop-Motion Animation and 3D Printing (Plus a 400-Pound Puppet)" hollywoodreporter.com At: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/how-kubo-two-strings-merged-stop-motion-animation-3d-printing-a-400-pound-puppet-955406 (Accessed 20/05/17)

Ide, Wendy. (2016) "Kubo and the Two Strings review – lyrical stop-motion tale" theguardian.com At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/11/kubo-and-two-strings-review (Accessed 20/05/17)

Robinson, Tasha. (2016) "Inside Laika studios, where stop-motion animation goes high tech" theverge.com At: https://www.theverge.com/2016/8/18/12500814/laika-studios-behind-the-scenes-kubo-and-the-two-strings-video (Accessed 20/05/17)


Fig 1. Kubo Poster. [image] At: http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/kubo-and-the-two-strings-poster-the-far-lands.jpg (Accessed 20/05/17)

Fig 2. Kubo and Monkey. [image] At: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/moviemom/files/2016/08/kubo-and-monkey.jpg (Accessed 20/05/17)

Fig 3. The Sisters. [image] At: http://www.indiewire.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/kubo-the-sisters.jpg?w=780 (Accessed 20/05/17)

Fig 4. Kubo with wings. [image] At: http://www.rotoscopers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/FB_IMG_1457541105678.jpg (Accessed 20/05/17)

World Cinema - "The Secret of Kells" (2009) - A review

Fig 1.

"The Secret of Kells" (2009) produced by Cartoon Saloon and dir. Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey and nominated for the Academy Award For Best Animated Feature is an Irish animated feature that centers on a young Monk, Brandon, living amongst the walled community of the Abbey of the Kells, under the watchful eye of his circumspect uncle, Abbot Cellach. The boy, an apprentice at the scriptorium of the monastery, hears tell of Brother Aiden and his masterwork, the - as yet - unfinished Book of Kells, becoming embroiled in the plot further when a fleeing Aiden (and feline sidekick Pangur Bán) arrives at Kells after a raid on his own settlement, sending Brandon on a quest that ultimately sees him battling darkness itself, facing up to Viking warbands, as well as befriending forest spirits and perhaps even finishing the fabled Book of Kells.

Cartoon Saloon's other films include "Song of the Sea" (2015), "Skunk Fu" (2007), "Puffin Rock" (2015) & "The Breadwinner" (2017) - to be released - ; a selection of stellar 2D animation, with Song of the Sea bearing the most similarities in terms of style, with that of The Secret of Kells. Speaking of both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Brendon Connelly, writing for Den of Geek says "One was a very good film, the other was a genuine masterpiece. Maybe Cartoon Saloon will soon become as widely known and well-loved as Pixar and Studio Ghibli." (Connelly, 2015) and it certainly seems as though the method in which Cartoon Saloon creates its properties with generates the feeling of almost studio level 'auteurship' that early Pixar films had in spades. 

Fig 2.

Roger Ebert surmises the wistfulness of the nature of this tale by reconciling it with his own experiences whilst travelling in Ireland. "The studio sent a car to ferry me and my cohort McHugh to the Dingle Peninsula. As we drove along, we crossed an old bridge and the driver said, "Leprechauns made their home under this bridge." We stopped for petrol, and I quietly said to McHugh, "He doesn't know you're Irish and is giving us the tourist treatment." "Ebert," said McHugh, "he means it." " (Ebert, 2010) He later pairs this with a discussion of the Forest Spirit present in "The Secret of Kells" commenting that "The fairy girl is quite real, as Brendan can see for himself. If there are any leprechauns, she no doubt knows them. If there are not, how does she know for sure?" (Ebert, 2010). In doing this Ebert hints at a notion, that this film presents its universe as something tangible, where myth and reality meld into something greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, monks worked on the Book of Kells, was one of them helped by a woodland spirit? No, most certainly not. But does it matter? Absolutely not.

The film derives its aesthetic from actual examples of illuminated manuscripts, and as such the style is consistent throughout as well as serving to levy limitations that keep the picture flat, albeit extremely dynamic. It is a smart choice that services the film well as it keeps things distinct and of a flavour unique to the property it is based on, and thus, uniquely Irish. This is an example of a film that derives much from its own artifice, and as such, there is a certain amount of credibility, and authenticity to this feature. Roger Ebert muses that The Secret of Kells "is a little like an illuminated manuscript itself. Just as every margin of the Book of Kells is crowded with minute and glorious decorations, so is every shot of the film filled with patterns and borders, arches and frames, do-dads and scrimshaw images. The colors are bold and bright; the drawings are simplified and 2-D. That reflects the creation of the original book in the centuries before the discovery of perspective during the Renaissance." (Ebert, 2010) and continuing this discussion, "As for the look, imagine the flat abstractions of nature found in Celtic manuscripts and jewelry coming alive on the screen.  The film has a design that sets it apart from art from other parts of the world.  It is as distinctive looking as Persian miniatures or traditional Japanese block prints." (Cohen, 2010). In acknowledging these guiding principles in the overall look of the film it is impossible for it's roots not to be felt in every watch. And that's just the imagery.

Fig 3.
The choice to source an Irish voice cast also adds to the authenticity felt here, to the extent where sometimes lines can get lost in the mix to the unfamiliar ear. Yes, accents don't give way to accessibility, for to do so would sully what is effectively a cultural curio. In essence, the fact that this is Irish is intrinsic, and something that is felt on every watch. Marking out "The Secret of Kells" as an important first feature film for this studio, perhaps having some semblance of importance that "Toy Story" (1995) held for Pixar.


Connelly, Brendon. (2015) "Wolfwalkers: first pics of new film" denofgeek.com At: http://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/wolfwalkers/250459/wolfwalkers-first-pics-of-new-film (Accessed 19/05/17)

Cohen, Karl. (2010) "'The Secret of Kells' - What is this Remarkable Animated Feature?" awn.com At: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/secret-kells-what-remarkable-animated-feature (Accessed 19/05/17)

Ebert, Roger. (2010) "The Secret of Kells review" rogerebert.com. At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-secret-of-kells-2010 (Accessed 19/05/17)


Fig 1. The Secret of Kells Poster. [image] At: http://www.impawards.com/2010/posters/secret_of_kells_ver2.jpg (Accessed 19/05/17)

Fig 2. The boy and the spirit. [image] At: http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/the_secret_of_kells_movie_image-1.jpg (Accessed 19/05/17)

Fig 3. The Raid. [image] At: http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/the_secret_of_kells_movie_image-9.jpg (Accessed 19/05/17)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mental Ray Part 11: Mental Ray Proxies

I can definitely see how introducing this into my workflow will help negate the drag on my processor the viewport can tend to have when working with complicated meshes. It seems extremely useful for building sets and implementing on a 'work as you go' basis in order to keep scenes less cluttered. 

Mental Ray Part 10: Motion Blur

It was quite nice learning the differences between a higher grade of motion blur and what effects it bestows on an animation, as well as the difficulties included in utilising it on an animation that contains deformation. 

Mental Ray Part 9: Ambient Occlusion

It took some time to figure out just how to switch the Legacy Render layers back on in order to achieve the last image here, but It also led me to experimenting with the current Render Setup settings, which I will continue to do in order to cultivate further skills for future versions of Maya.