Archive for the ‘cgi’ Category

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Theory: 3D Design Inspiration- Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

When an artist who animates with drawings looks to reference for stylization techniques, he might look to modern UPA style cartoons. These can often give him ideas for interesting shapes or ways of handling the line. But these sorts of flat designs aren’t much help to a puppet or CGI animator, because 3D characters need to be volumetric so they can inhabit three dimensional space. A flat UPA character won’t translate. So where does a CGI or puppet character designer look for ideas about stylization?

Well… one great source is American Indian Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls
Click to see in 3D!

Kachinas are very important spiritual symbols to the Hopi and Zuni tribes in North Eastern Arizona. They represent natural life forces that are able to provide protection, fertility or healing. There are hundreds of different Kachinas in the Hopi culture, each one with a specific personality and representational meaning. The Kachinas aren’t thought of as gods, but rather as a shadow society, with family relationships and lives of their own. There are Kachinas that embody the wind, the sun, stars, thunderstorms, birds, animals and even ideas, like motherhood or fertility. The most important Kachinas are referred to by the Hopi as Wuya.

Kachina Dolls

The Hopis and Zunis dress up as the Kachinas for planting and harvest festivals. They dance and sing in costume and give the children of the pueblo wooden dolls of the characters as gifts to protect them and teach them about the culture. (The Kachinas are looked upon by the children as a cultural equivalent of Santa Claus because of this custom.)

Kachina Dolls

The Navajo tribe didn’t have Kachinas in their culture, but the proximity of the Hopi and Navajo reservations created a sharing of ideas, and now many Navajos carve Kachina dolls too.

Here are some examples of the masks worn by the Kachina dancers…

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

The word “Kachina” can be used in several contexts… It can be used for the characters representing natural spirit powers, the costumed dancers at the festivals, the dolls given as gifts to the children, or to describe the crude souvenir dolls sold to tourists.

Kachina Dolls
Souvenir Kachinas sold along Route 66 in the 50s and 60s
Kachina Dolls

The simplest way to tell a souvenir Kachina doll from one given to the Hopi children is to look on the feet for a signature. Tourist Kachinas are almost always signed and have the name of the Kachina. Ones given by the Kachina to the Hopi children is never signed, because the children are told that the Kachinas themselves made it for them.

Kachina Dolls

Senator Barry Goldwater had the world’s most significant collection of antique Kachina Dolls, which he willed to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. The collection illustrates the progression that Kachina design went through from the 1890s all the way through the 1950s. If you are ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

Kachina Dolls

As you look through this gallery of Kachina dolls, take note of the wild stylization and the variations on a single character. Each Hopi artist has his or her own style and approach to carving the dolls and the designs have changed radically over the past century. Earlier examples are more like outer space creatures, while more recent ones have more realistic human proportions.

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

It’s easy to get stuck in a stylistic rut, designing characters that look just like other character designs. Instead, step outside of the box for inspiration and you’ll find that the possibilities in design for animation are limitless… and a lot of fun too!

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Theory: CGI Animators Should Think Like ARTISTS

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

You probably have never heard of William Lee Hankey, but he was a pioneer in the field of illustrated books at the turn of the century. Hankey was one of the first illustrators to paint to suit the newly invented four color offset printing process. He would paint loose and wet, and would press fabrics into the washes to create textures. This book, "The Deserted Village" was one of the first big successes using these techniques. It led to a boom in illustrated books during the teens and twenties, which we have documented in our posts on Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Gustaf Tenggren. (See the link to the Illustration Exhibit at the bottom of this post for examples of their work.) Hankey was an expert in printing technology. But that wasn’t all. He was first and foremost, an artist.

As I was scanning this book, something came up that I need to address. I hope you’ll bear with me as I take a little time out to rattle your cage and remind you of something very important.

LISTEN UP!

W. Lee Hankey Deserted VillageW. Lee Hankey Deserted VillageThe other day, I happened across a thread in an internet forum for CGI animators. The thread was titled, "Why aren’t animators artists?" The title made me do a double take. I was surprised to find people debating a question that to me seems patently ridiculous. I take it for granted that people realize that animation is an artform with close ties to the traditional arts of drawing, painting and sculpture. It’s always a shock to find that there are people working in the field who don’t see the link.

I started to wonder whether the readers of this blog understand the intent behind the material that we post here. We’re not just presenting "pretty pictures" to inspire in some sort of vague manner. We intend for this material to be used and applied to everyday work. We don’t get a lot of feedback from this website. Other animation blogs get hundreds of comments on each post, but we rarely get any comments at all. I don’t know why that is. But I certainly hope it isn’t because people are taking a passive attitude to the resources all of us at Animation Resources are working so hard to provide.

Normally, I let the artwork create its own context, but today, I specifically want to address CGI animators to remind them that this site is NOT strictly for 2D animators. CGI animators can learn as much from this stuff as the guys with the pencils. I’m going to pick a few examples and show you what I mean. It’s time to start thinking like an artist!

WHAT CAN AN ILLUSTRATED BOOK THAT IS OVER A CENTURY OLD TEACH SOMEONE WORKING IN COMPUTER ANIMATION?

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

In 1909, this book was a technological marvel. It used brand new printing processes to bring color and life to the text blocks that had dominated book design for centuries. It can show us how to do the same today using modern storytelling technology if we look closely. For instance…

AVOID EXCESSIVE DETAIL

Too often, artists and animators mistake detail for quality. Rendering out every leaf on every tree, every pore on every inch of skin, every single blade of grass or shock of fur may be an entertaining exercise for retentive types, but all that detail is nothing more than gilding the lilly- distracting from the main point of the design.

Notice how Hankey focuses your attention on the important parts of the composition by rendering those out, while leaving unimportant background information very loose. The choice of colors clearly defines light and shadow, and the carefully balanced values hold the background together as a frame for the subject of the image. Click on these to see them larger and you’ll be surprised to see just how loose the rendering is on the girl’s dress and the background foliage.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

COMPOSE SHOTS ON A HUMAN SCALE

Too many CGI features are set in environments that are completely out of scale to the characters. Rooms are the size of convention halls and gardens are as big as football fields. Everything is wide open, with very little variety to the depth or contrasting perspectives of the structures. Camera angles on wide shots are staged from 20 feet in the air, much higher than a real human perspective. This makes everything look like model railroad sets instead of like real environments.

The way to lay out a background is through skillful composition and a range of different sizes of forms. Look at how Hankey creates a zig-zag perspective on the first image, layers of contrasting shapes and textures on the second, and divides the last example to frame three separate simultaneous actions beautifully.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

COMPOSE GROUPS OF PEOPLE CAREFULLY

Check out these amazingly expressive tableaux by Hankey. Each one defines the personality and situation of each individual character in relation to all the other characters, while directing the eye cleverly through the image from one main focal point to the next. Notice how the characters are grouped to reflect their relationships to each other.

Just try to find a grouping like this in current animation! Characters are almost always staged obliquely, lined up like a chorus line or in perfect half circles in front of the camera- sitcom style. If you search through the films of great directors like Chaplin, Hitchcock or Welles, you’ll never find flat setups. The dynamics of group relationships are never revealed in what the characters say- it’s always in how they are arranged visually.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

CREATE MOOD THROUGH UNIQUE COMBINATIONS OF COLORS

John Kricfalusi recently discussed how important unique color harmonies are to animation in his blog, All Kinds Of Stuff. He makes the point that colors "straight out of the tube"- lime green, purple, orange, etc.- are not nearly effective as hues with non-mathematical mixes of colors… colors that don’t have names.

For instance, what color would you call the street in this first example? Pure colors are best used in small areas to create interest and direct the eye, like with the sea green door on the house in the second one. Sometimes the best color harmonies involve muted colors to create a mood, as in the third example here. The colors tell you exactly what is going on in the scene. In fact, each of the three characters is surrounded by an unique set of colors that reflects his or her attitude.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

USE THE CHANGING LIGHTING OF THE TIME OF DAY FOR EMOTIONAL IMPACT

Life doesn’t always happen at high noon on a Summer day. Neither should the action of an animated film. Disney knew this. Check out "Lady and the Tramp". The dramatic scenes with the rat approaching the baby’s crib are heightened by the deep shadows of night. The "Bella Note" sequence depicts an entirely different kind of night. The climactic action at the end takes place on a stormy night. Think about how the changing light of the times of day can add impact to your scenes, just like the light depicted in these illustrations by Hankey.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

CREATE CHARACTERS BY OBSERVING LIFE

The most obvious power of animation to entertain is its ability to caricature life, yet amazingly, observation is exactly what is lacking in character design in current CGI movies. Every day, a million great personalities are all around you who have never been seen in animation- just go to your local coffee shop or shopping mall with your sketchbook. You won’t be able to get all the great characters down on paper fast enough.

So why do we get the same old stereotypical cool dude, smartass sidekick, long-suffering parents, goofy fat kid, and "independent minded pretty girl who doesn’t know how pretty she really is" in every doggone movie? I keep hearing people say that story is the most important thing in animation. Well, that’s a lie. Personality is at the core of all great animation. Don’t plug and play with iconic characters and architypes. OPEN YOUR EYES AND OBSERVE! SHOW THE AUDIENCE SOMETHING REAL!

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

POSE CHARACTERS EXPRESSIVELY

This is CGI animation’s cardinal sin. Gestures and body positions NEVER reflect a character’s unique personality. Every character scrunches their mouth to one side and looks upwards when they think- they all lower their eyebrows and narrow their eyes the exact same way when they’re angry- they all throw their hip to one side and lean their head when they’re petulant…

This is "formula acting". If we were talking about the performance of a human actor instead of a grizzly bear or raccoon, it would be called "BAD acting". Formulas don’t tell you anything about the character, yet entire movies are performed by rote. Don’t believe me? Take any of the recent CGI movies, whether they involve animals invading backyards or escaping zoos, rodents in European restaurants, superhero terrapins or prehistoric sloths- and count the number of times the characters deliver dialogue with that meaningless, stock- hands out to the side, palms up, up and down movement on every accent- sort of gesture. What the heck does that gesture mean? It’s just water treading because the animator is too lazy to think of a gesture that actually expresses something.

Now look at the last image in this group- the one with the fella sitting next to the girl. Even his feet tell you what he’s thinking! Every pose in an animated film should be that expressive. There’s no excuse for stock poses or actions.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

An animator isn’t just moving a complex polygon through space- an animator creates a performance from a succession of still poses. That’s the job of an artist and anyone doing that sort of work needs to THINK like an artist. As you browse through this the rest of the images in this post, if you just "look at the pretty pictures" without thinking about what makes them work, you might as well be off shopping or playing video games. This website is a tremendous resource, but it won’t help you if you expect it to work passively by osmosis.

Print the stuff in this blog out. Put it in binders. Analyze it. Categorize the concepts. Make notes. Talk about your ideas with your fellow artists. Apply these ideas to your work.

Here are a few more illustrations from this great book. Can you see the principles we discussed above in these images? What other ideas do they give you?

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

IllustrationIllustration

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Exhibit: Grim Natwick In The Modern Age

PART THREE: GRIM NATWICK AND MODERN ANIMATION

Grim Natwick

Studio gag drawing from UPA depicting an animator being laid off, replaced by children cutting out paper dolls.

It’s important to keep in mind Grim Natwick’s age when you look over his career. When he animated Snow White, he was one of the oldest artists at the Disney studio- 49 years of age. When his former assistant from Iwerks, Stephen Bosustow convinced him to join UPA in 1950, he was sixty. Most animators of his generation were thinking of retirement, or coasting on their past accomplishments until their pensions came through… but not Grim. He dove into the stylistic revolution of UPA with both feet. Grim animated on the early Magoo cartoons, as well as one-shots like "Rooty Toot Toot" and "Gerald McBoing Boing". In the early 50s, he was sent to New York as the keystone animator for UPA’s East coast office, where he animated many commercials and industrial films for the company, along with his assistant Tissa David.

Click to see Grim's  UPA model sheets

When UPA NY shut its doors, Grim worked at various New York commercial studios like Ray Favata and Robert Lawrence Productions. He animated on the first television cartoon series, Crusader Rabbit, and later took in work from Jay Ward and Bill Scott on the George of the Jungle program. He freelanced for Melendez and Duane Crowther’s Duck Soup Producktions, eventually settling in with director, Richard Williams. He animated on Raggedy Ann & Andy and travelled to the UK to teach while working on Cobbler & the Thief. He continued to draw into his early 90s, until his failing eyesight made it difficult.

Click to see Grim's post UPA commercialsClick to see Grim's post UPA commercialsOne afternoon, as I sat with Grim on his front porch, he casually mentioned that he had been told that there were machines that animated- computers. He wondered aloud "how they manage to get the machines to hold a pencil" and expressed an interest in finding out more about it. So I called my friend Charlie Gibson, who was a partner at Rhythm & Hues in Hollywood. I arranged for Grim to take a tour of their studio the following week.

50s TV Commercial50s TV CommercialWhen we arrived, we found the entire staff of R&H standing in the lobby waiting for us. Charlie showed Grim their machine room and demo reel, and sat him down at a workstation to see how wireframe characters are posed. After a few minutes working with the mouse, Grim leaned back in his chair and said, "I’ve seen some amazing things here today that I never would have imagined possible. I don’t pretend to understand everything I’ve seen, but I have a basic idea of what you do here. I have just one question to ask you… When I animated Snow White or Mickey Mouse, I had certain tricks to put the personality of the character across… a gesture, the raising of an eyebrow, a bit of acting… How do you do that sort of thing with your computer?"

50s TV Commercial50s TV CommercialThe room went silent. Charlie paused for a moment and replied, "Well, Grim, you just put your finger on the thing we struggle with every day… Computer animation is still very new. We’re constantly learning as we go. To answer your question, we study classic cartoons to learn those secrets from great animators like you."

In the space of an afternoon at nearly 100 years old, Grim had gone from "How do they get the machines to hold a pencil?" to putting his finger on the main issue facing CGI animators. His mind was always nimble and able to see the challenges facing animation in the future. He was truly a remarkable man.

EXHIBIT CATALOG: GRIM NATWICK IN THE MODERN AGE

Grim Natwick

Top Row: A Selection Of Natwick Animals (left to right) Chicken character designs from "Solid Ivory"* (Lantz/1947) / Lion doodle (after Jones’ "Inki & The Lion")* (ca. 1947) / Tiger studio gag drawing* (ca. 1944) / Character design for Lantz Wartime cartoon (ca.1943) / Concept for children’s book* (ca. 1947)

Middle Row: 1950s Commercials (left to right) Character design (ca.1959) / Self caricature of layout artist Art Heineman (UPA ca.1952) / Studio gag drawing depicting an animator being replaced by children cutting out paper dolls (UPA ca.1952) / Model drawing of Bert Piels (Piels Beer) by Tissa David from Grim Natwick animation (UPA ca. 1955) / Model drawings from unknown commercial by Tissa David from Grim Natwick animation (UPA ca.1955)

Bottom Row: Studio Gag Drawings Self caricature by Bill Melendez (ca. early 60s) / Studio gag drawing depicting Bill Scott explaining to a West coast animator how to dress like an East coast animator (UPA NY ca. 1952) / Three studio gag drawings by Bill Scott depicting the relationships between Grim Natwick, John Hubley and Scott (UPA NY ca. 1952)

* denotes a drawing by Grim Natwick

Next Chapter: THE GREATEST ANIMATOR WHO EVER LIVED (Studio Gag Drawings & Caricatures)


Grim Natwick Exhibit
Assistant Archivist, Joseph Baptista views the exhibit.

GRIM NATWICK’S SCRAPBOOK

This travelling exhibit has appeared at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive in Burbank, CA and at the South Wood Historical Society Museum in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, birthplace of Grim Natwick.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryGrim Natwick

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.