Friday, April 29, 2011

Discouragement and Inspiration

So I'm still struggling through my final finals (yay), but I've hit a snag that I just can't seem to get out of.  It's very discouraging.  Essentially, I've worked on something for a month with no progress.  The problem even has a teacher stumped, yet and still this project is due Tuesday.  I know art can be like that sometimes, but you can't afford problems like this when you're degree, or job or whatever depends on it.

Whenever I start feeling like throwing the computer at the wall and becoming an accountant, I'm reminded of something I heard on the Frank and Ollie DVD (if you're in animation and you haven't seen this, SHAME!  Buy it now ^^)  These fantastic animators, pioneers in their field, felt the same way I did.  You'd think someone who was as amazing at something as they were would just show up to work, do something awesome and fly home like the superheros they were.  That wasn't the case.  They said, in essence, every day they loved their job and every day they hated it.

How crazy is that?  Is it weird that this is so inspiring to me?

If they felt like that, then it's not strange for me to feel like that.

I love what I do, make no mistake about that.  I love, love, love, love LOVE what I do.  I may not know as much as other people but it's so fun learning new things and putting my own spin on it.  However, what I do is frustrating, draining and at times soul robbing.  It makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes.  Still, at the end of the day (or, you know, 3 am) when I pack up to leave, I have the strongest desire to come back the following morning and pour my heart into it again.

Either I'm a glutton for punishment, or I'm too in love with what I do to care.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

And now we play the waiting game...

Well, my interviews were Monday between 7 and 9 pm (4 - 6pm their time).  I was nervous, but I tried to sound like I knew what I was talking about, heh.  But everyone was nice and by the third interview I was pretty relaxed.  The interviews were really informative and if I got the opportunity to work with them, I know I'd learn so much.  In fact, the whole process has inspired me to go ahead and start learning Python whether or not I get the position at Dreamworks.  It was hard to admit that I hadn't had experience with it.  And I was asked about Python in all three interviews.  Goodness gracious.  I guess that means I should hurry.  So that's one more thing I'll be doing this summer.

Anyway, wish me luck.  I think I'll know for sure in about 2 more weeks so *crosses fingers*


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dreamworks Interview

About a month and a half ago, I was contacted by Dreamworks and presented with the opportunity of taking part in their CFX Boot Camp.  If accepted, I get to work over there and learn the ropes for about 6 months and then... well, maybe I could stay.  I updated my reel and sent it to them, along with a tutorial I wrote.  I guess they liked it because I was approved to go to the next step of the reviewing process: interviews.

I have three of them tomorrow, back to back to back.  I'm not gonna lie, I'm a little terrified but I'm really REALLY excited too.  I'll get to ask the top guys about a typical work day and maybe find out some things about their hair/cloth/fur workflow that could help me out in the future.  This is a golden opportunity to learn some new and interesting things.  I hope things go well, cause working for them would be a dream come true.

Wish me luck!


Monday, April 11, 2011

40 Must See Cloth Sim Tips

This article has been around for a little while, but in case you haven't seen it, there it is.  40 tips for how to improve your cloth workflow.  I especially like tip #32 by Malcolm Thomas-Gustave.

32 Mix multiple set-ups

Sometimes, a character’s animation will definitely not result in the cloth movements you need. For a shot in which a dancing character’s scarf was supposed to wrap around her neck, I created four separate set-ups. The first was the loose scarf flapping around while she danced. The second was the scarf in its final pose, wrapped around her neck from frame one, also flapping away. For the third, I scrubbed the animation of the loose scarf until I reached the point where I wanted it to start wrapping around the character’s neck. Here, I created a duplicate, adding bones along the long loose part of the scarf, then skinned the scarf to the bones. Over the next few frames, I keyed a few poses of the scarf with the bones wrapping around the neck. The fourth was just a Blend Shape of all three previous set-ups. By simply keying the Blend Shape to morph from one to the next as the animation dictated meant I did not have to deal with a single overly complex set-up.

And since we're talking about him, you must check out his demo reel.  It's one of, if not THE most impressive Character FX/TD reels I've seen.

His site is

I feel like I should be talking about hair and fur more on this blog.  Oh well.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cloth Cheat #1 (tutorial?)

So I'm a big advocate of cheating as much as you possibly can when you simulate hair and cloth.  Am I supposed to say that in public?  Oh well.

Here's a cheat I love to employ.  I don't 'think' it's a tutorial but, whatever.

Say you have a character who's running about a zillion miles an hour down a street.  You try to simulate the cloth but it keeps flying off/failing because the character is moving around so much.  What do you do?

Select the character.  Right click on all of the translations and freeze them.  The character is now moving in place.

Simulate the cloth.  Add wind if you want.  You can even key the direction the wind is coming from.  Do whatever you need to make the cloth look good.

Cache the cloth.

Do the same with the hair if you can.  Simulate it while the character is moving in place then parent it to the body.  This might not be possible considering your rig/character set up.

Now, parent the cloth to the body.  Unfreeze the translations on the character.  The cloth is moving with the character.  Nice, huh?


Monday, April 4, 2011

Looping nCloth simulations - Tutorial (external)

So I learned something really interesting today -- how to loop cloth simulations.  You do this by, surprise surprise, combining caches!  How interesting is that?  I wrote a small, bareboned tutorial for combining caches to make seamless transitions from one cache to another on one mesh.  I never thought of using it to do this.  It's really smart and really easy.

This is useful for things that repeat like run cycles or flags fluttering in the wind.  You can repeat 24 frames rather than render out 240.

Here's the video tutorial created by Gary Noden.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Learning new things -- how I work

I was reminded of a nuke explosion I was doing in Maya a few months ago so, realizing I haven't worked on it since November, I cracked open the old file and started working on it.  I got a little excited when I realized I had no idea what the heck I was doing.  Great, I get to learn something new.  No, that isn't sarcasm.

I've been doing one thing for four years: character effects, specifically hair, cloth and fur simulation.  I love it and I like to think I have a decent grasp of it.  But being an artist, I'm always looking for something else to do, something else to get good at.

When I'm trying to learn something new, I don't start small and work my way up.  I cannonball into a stormy sea of insanity and struggle to keep my head above water.  I struggle for eons and then, when I can weather that storm, swimming in a pond is a piece of cake.  It's a backwards way of thinking but having worked from small to big I think big to small just works for me.

When I was learning how to simulate cloth my teacher told me "Here's nCloth, this is how to create a collision object.  Now, finish a shot in a week."  And of course I couldn't.  My first real shot took me six weeks and, of course, it was one of the hardest shots in our entire short.  I asked for help from classmates, I looked online, I prayed (seriously, this was step 1).  By the time this bear of a shot was approved I knew what I was doing.  I blasted the shot that I was handed next in less than ten minutes.

That one difficult shot taught me about every attribute I could tweak and every ghetto fix I could use and abuse.  I found lots of learning resources and I learned how to troubleshoot and spot problems and their solutions by eye.

That's how I've been learning MEL.  Tackling an advanced script someone else wrote and writing an advanced script of my own.  I'm, by no means, an expert or anything but I'm learning so much.

It's time for me to do that with fluid effects.  I love them, but I have no idea what's going on and, like cloth, there's very little documentation.  So, I'm going to attack a nuke.  Not just any nuke.  This bad boy:

I won't have a lot of time to work on this until after April 27 (last day of school, yay!), but I'll post what I have when I have it.