Tuesday 30 August 2016

YPGTTO: Environment Design

A few small updates to keep things ticking along. Firstly, an updated version of that Overture sketch. This has acted a bit more like a test bed for style development, rather than a finished example of design, but there are some interesting things happening. The difference in shape language is something I'm still toying with. Not completely sure if the sharp angles work. More of that soon.

Secondly, some Bassoon buildings. Inspired by Julien's amazing presentation, these are a starting point for exploring environment design within the art style. I know this scene takes place largely in close up as Red struggles through the crowd of commuters. However, the odd glimpse of these towering buildings would work well to impose upon our little character. The odd shot of abstract textures or details would similarly alienate our little guy.

I do wonder if perhaps we need a more fitting palette for the environment. These sketches seem a little out of place in this regard. I think they need to be more attuned to the brass and wood of this world. 

Monday 29 August 2016

YPGTTO: Some more Characters in 3D

Today I am posting a few more tests related to drawing outlines of our characters in 3D. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to render them out properly for this post, but you get the idea...

First up we have Yellow.

I am not convinced I have captured the original drawing very well, but in principle, it works just as well as the first character tests.

Next we have number 47.

I am very happy with how this one turned out... although the head looks a bit odd from the front. The arms and legs are completely flat too.

It has occurred to me that we may want to purposely create some completely 2D characters within Maya, or characters that are partially 2D and 3D like this one. It's true that there are other applications that we could animate 2D characters in, but we want the flexibility to be able to animate them in the context of a 3D scene.

There's been a lot of talk about different ways to economise, and the idea of creating fully rigged 2D characters in Maya seems to me at least, to be a good idea.

I have one more example to show, however it's a work in progress.

It's one of the workers from the Bassoon District.

I started by drawing the worker in Maya based on Julien's original sketch. They are simply nurbs curves. This didn't take very long.

The model on the right is the base mesh from which I could then create the profile lines. As with my other examples, I can vary the line width to create the sketchy look.

The base mesh took a little while to model (which is why a pure 2D approach might be more appealing for background characters or groups of characters).

However, the lines didn't take that long to create, now that I have a little script to take care of the technical stuff. I've simplified the workflow to - select any combination of curves and meshes, run the script, and we get thick lines along the curves and around the profile of the meshes. It also takes care not to litter the scene with lots of duplicate shaders, which is what usually happens when you apply strokes to more than one curve.

That's about it for today.

The next few things to think about is making a workflow that everyone can follow (executing a script is not the most user friendly way to do things). The workflow should also take care of scene and render setup so that everyone gets consistent results. I have toyed with the idea of making some sort of wizard that checks everything is setup consistently. I also need to think about how we rig these characters - in 2D and 3D.

Ethan Shilling

Tuesday 23 August 2016

YPGTTO: Bassoon Characters

Always a bit of a struggle making those musical notations stand out but here's my take on the city workers.

[Some examples of 'updated' UPA environments by Pauline Merlaut.]

YPGTTO: Art Direction Reference

I wanted to share some art references as a guide for things going forward. Hopefully this post can act as a jump off point for imagery that specifically shares the styling we want.

UPA Animation
UPA's mid century stylings favour drawing and simplicity. Often, bold colour and elegant line work is used as the construction for environment and character. It's nostalgic and charming, but also instantly readable.

Conor Whelan used this speicifc style beautifully in his film My Darling's Shadow.

Grand Central (Gobelins)
Next up, this set of videos from Gobelins documenting the making of Grand Central. It's a beautiful bit of animation and although the style isn't quite what we are looking at, it does have a lovely sensibility about it. The making of videos especially express how preproduction paintings open up a huge wealth of content. Phil's script describes a huge number of scenes and details, from abstractions and surfaces, to more specific landscapes. So I could certainly expand out a bit and start looking at more specific descriptions.

David OReilly
OReilly's music video for U2 has a more contemporary approach to styling, but it shares some similarities with UPA. There's a starkness and lack of detail that is really effective. The opening shots and closing shots show this best.

Ok, that's enough for now. More painting to get this nailed down, hopefully some results soon!

YPGTTO: Environment - The Oboe District / The Overture Deconstruction

A few more paintings in an attempt to move forward a little. I know my natural painting style is pretty far away from the mid-century UPA style we are exploring, so this is a first step of sorts into this new realm. Trying to deconstruct my environments to something simpler. At the moment it's all a little too futuristic and Saul Bass, but it's a starting point. More line work and better colour choices might be a better adjustment.

Also, had the chance to start exploring the Oboe District. Again, this is all just design / composition stuff, so the art style isn't there yet, but will begin to see what I can do with this kind of environment.

Monday 22 August 2016

YPGTTO: Art Bible Breakdown

As early exploration starts to move into solid preproduction, it's time to start organising what we have and getting some jobs done. The plan ahead is to create a comprehensive art bible of sorts, that conveys keyframes, environment and character design ready for storyboarding. There's a lot to be done, but it's really exciting to develop from a script that has so much life and character. 

This post will act as a developing breakdown of what we need to cover for design. One big lingering design problem I think we need to explore, is regarding the art direction of the environment itself. How are we going to convey these cityscapes? How do we encapsulate them whilst still staying true to a specific, minimalist art style? Lots to explore.

Environment Design / Keyframes
- Ep 1: Outside the Overture
    - Initial Staging

- Ep 2: Inside The Overture
    - Doorway and Environment
    - Diagram of the Orchestra
    - Platform (Red in the crowd)
    - The Lifts (Departure) Interior / Exterior

- Ep 3: The Flute District
    - Cloud Descent
    - Silver Spires

- Ep 4: The Oboe District
    - Gondolier / River
    - Towers / Shimmering Waterways
    - Abstractions of Surfaces and Details
    - Leaving the Oboe District / Tunnel

- Ep 5: The Clarinet District
    - Building Design / Signage
    - Red seeing his companions
    - Yellow and Red sequence
    - Spiral Staircase
- Ep 6: The Bassoon District
    - Red and The City Workers
    - The Train

- Ep 7: The Violin District
    - Train entering the district
    - Strings / Rails / Cables etc
    - Red in the bi-colour environment

Character Design
- Red
- Yellow 
- The City Workers

Thursday 18 August 2016

YPGTTO: Yellow Doodles #1

I don't feel like a lot of these turned out successful... wish there were more musical notations to pick from!

Wednesday 17 August 2016

YPGTTO: A couple of Characters in 3D

By the way, I'm loving the character designs on this blog!

I have spent some time figuring out how best to tackle these kinds of characters in Maya.

So here are a couple of characters which you may recognise from all the recent drawings depicted in 3D:

I wish I could say I have 50 or so 3D characters to show, but it has taken a bit of time to get this far as I have put plenty of thought into the way they are created. (in the hope that making more will become quicker and easier as I figure out the best workflow)

In terms of making masses of background characters, I'm thinking that we could do this in a modular fashion. Many of the designs are reusing bits of musical notation in different ways, and I think we can use this to our advantage to create reusable bits of characters.

Anyway, let me know if I'm on the right lines or not. I think I want to have a go at more making more characters from the designs we already have before I start delving into rigs.

Ethan Shilling

Tuesday 16 August 2016

YPGTTO: Character Doodles Sheet

Spread out and numbered for convenience (I admit it was quite tedious to work out which one we were talking about in the previous layout, I'm very much sorry!)
Just seen your latest page, Jordan; I think Red's character really come through in these and some of their expression made me really chuckle (in a good way). All around lovely :) 

YPGTTO: Environment - The Overture

I had a few hours free today for a little more environment design. The Overture! It is still to be decided about what this space should be. We know some details, but these push in a few different directions. A potential notion is that this space exhibits the same structure as musical notation paper. That it is sharp, rigid and cubist, expressive of the paper that music is written on. In this way, it also would represent the gateway for music to pass through. An alternative is perhaps something more fluid and of sound. In the first few examples, this is explored through upward curves and free flowing lines. An interesting alternative perhaps.

Just chipping away a little further. Let me know if anything stands out or a particular direction seems up for exploration. More soon!

Monday 15 August 2016

YPGTTO: Character Doodles

Inspired by Julien's beautiful character pages, I've doodled away for an hour or so to explore the potential for these birdy note things. It's a bit manic, but the numbering will hopefully help. Let me know which little chaps look most adorable. I think another page exploring a few specific shapes might prove useful.

Sunday 14 August 2016

YPGTTO: Character Experiments

Hey there! I'd like to apologise for the radio silence since my last email but I had something else going on unfortunately (driving license's theorical exam fun). However upon seeing Jordan's characters the other day I got inspired to dump a few experimentions of my own tonight - I doubt they'll actually be useful but at least it allowed me to get back into the swing of things. 

Parts of Phil's script reminded me of a series of french children books from the late 50s that would often have illustrations of flocks of children with the protagonist set apart through the use of red, so I figured it might an appropriate source of inspiration to use for this (see bottom of the page). I reckon some of the following sketches ended up looking a bit too humanoid though. I think that kind of came from a fear they would all just look like notes; since I remember reading in the script that at some point musical notes were flying off tubes (or something along those lines), I figured it might be important for those to not be mistaken with the note-children.

Anyway tomorrow I shall look into developing some 'kingdom' concepts. Sorry again if this post seemed a bit unnecessary. Hope everyone's been doing okay :)

YPGTTO: Character Development

First off, a quick apology for the lack of content updates this last week or so. I've just not had enough hours in the day in to get anything done. I'll be rectifying that this coming week. As a talking point, I want to get back to the character sketches that are still at the heart of our animation. I think this is perhaps a creative challenge that needs some thought and so the results so far haven't been spectacular. These quick sketch pages show a few starting points, potential roads to explore or perhaps just highlighting things we definitely do not want to see.  Some are formed purely from musical notation (i.e. number 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13) whilst others (such as  1, 11 and 15) are more characterful with musical notations as decorative elements.

I think the mid century references from UPA and the like are a great reminder of what we can do. A reminder of just how relaxed these characters could be, with simple blocked backgrounds and a pen outline. But as of yet, nothing is quite hitting the nail on the head. The balance between abstract and overt is perhaps the aspect I'm struggling with most. 

Ok, so enough of me whining about why I can't get this thing right. I'm off to look at some references and gee up some inspiration.

I'll be developing the environment more this week so look out for that in the next few days.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

YPGTTO: Murmurations and Character

Another kickoff post of sorts. This one regarding our character set. Already, this one is proving a tricky challenge, but I'm confident we can find an interesting and unique solution. Essentially, we want our characters to reflect and represent the musical notations used within Britten's piece, but how overt or abstract these should be is yet to be figured out. So, some early sketches to get the ball rolling.

These depictions are a little alien and some far too sinister. But some stand out as interesting possibilities. Most notably, 5 and 7. They share a recognisable form that we can read as bird like, but also feel abstracted and elegant. Perhaps using musical notation in the detailing and textures this type of design could become something more attuned to the world of our film. Certainly these two are design options I'll be developing further through sketching.

Some of these more developed forms derived from cruder sketches. These below are influenced by Norman McLaren's La Merle. Forgive the roughness of them, but they at least reflect the most obvious solution. Even though I feel this aesthetic is wrong, I do feel that this approach reflects the child like quality we want in our characters.

There is certainly some charm to the McLarenesque approach, but I do wonder if this is too overt in its depiction of sound. Or perhaps it just feels too easy and obvious.

Obviously more sketching is required, none of these feel quite right yet, but they are sparking some ideas going forward. For now, some other references that might inspire.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

YPGTTO: Preproduction - The Overture

As Phil pushes ahead with script development, I've been exploring some concept design. We plan to have a ready robust animatic, with a great set of keyframes. But before this, we really need to tie together the design for each part of the world. This first set of thumbnails explores our first act, the opening room in which our characters are propelled. As Phil puts it;
The Overture reminds the viewer of many places: it’s partly like an enormous airport, train station or spaceport because it’s very busy with streams of musical notes who are travelling this way and that on what look to be like escalators and conveyor belts.  There are lifts going up and down too.  There are arrow-shaped signs with destinations on them:  we see signs for ‘The Wind City’ and ‘The Brass City’ and ‘The String City”.  We see departure boards too for destinations such as ‘Piccolo Piazza’ and ‘Timpani Towers’.  We’re reminded too of an enormous sorting office or distribution centre.  Everything is moving and busy.  Everyone is on their way to somewhere else.  This place is huge! The other thing we notice about The Overture is that it is monochrome: it’s not a cold or depressing place – rather it is warm and inviting like we might consider hand-made paper to be.  Indeed, it’s more artisan and ‘early cubism’ than too keenly graphical or stark black and white. 

Some of these sketches are heading somewhere...nothing too magnificent yet, but the train is moving. The works of legendary architects like Zaha Hadid, Lebbeus Woods or Daniel Libeskind are certainly an inspiration. To create a grand, almost abstract space to emphasis the complexity of travel to this new world. A place buzzing with activity. With stairs and doorways to fresh parts of the city. In the same way that airports and train hubs seem like amazing gateways to new possibilities, this should feel alive with dimension and adventure.

Hopefully this begins some discussion on this specific area. It is currently developing away in the background. Meanwhile, I'll be jumping aboard the character design train. Trying to work out what our murmurations will look like and how the characters will work as one.

YPGTTO: An Unexpected Journey

This wasn't the intended post for today. Lets just say that I royally messed up rendering / compositing and leave it at that!

It seems that there is a new version of Maya every few months. The latest offering, Maya 2017, has been out for about a week and I have to say I'm enjoying it immensely (save for one little upset on the rendering side of things).

I mention this because I have been playing around with one of it's most recent additions, the motion graphics toolset, AKA the MASH plugin that Autodesk acquired from Mainframe.

One of MASH's features is specifically designed for creating flocking effects... I bet you can see where this post is going now!

Take a look at this:

It works like this:

Each note has a pre designated spot on the staves. The circular guide acts almost like a paint brush in that I can paint along the staves to make some of the notes land, stay for a short duration, then take off again to join the rest of the flock.

For this test I have only created one type of note, but it is possible to add more into the mix. The positions of the notes on the staves are randomly placed, but I believe it would be possible to manually place them if we wanted to mimic a real section of music. (although that would be rather painstaking)

There a plenty of parameters that I didn't touch in the flocking simulation so I'm sure the effect can be customised and improved further.

So to conclude, what I have demonstrated is a way to animate a flock of objects on mass, that can come to rest and then take off again. Of course, we will still need bespoke character rigs for our hero characters, but I'm sure this is going to be a useful technique to continue to develop for the project.

For the next post I hope to be able to continue from where I left off last week.

Ethan Shilling