Thursday, February 11, 2010

Roommate In Paradise: Gecko Commentary

Ahh, my old senior thesis animation… It stirs the memories, posting this ancient creature of five years past online. (For the actual video, see our YouTube account
Capping a four year degree in art, 'Roommate in Paradise' was my senior thesis project. Bearing in mind the quiet failure of every previous group project I had labored for, I made the unfortunately essential decision to go it alone on my thesis. Concept development, script and storyboards, character design, modeling, texturing, rigging, music, voice acting, yadda yadda... Everything was completed on my personal computer (no 24 hour labs were available at school) on my own time (far from streamlining, classes were a steady impediment). The downside to this approach was that I missed out on the social circles of incessant mutual congratulation and superficial hype which constituted the backbone of the school's instruction. The upside was that I was in the scant minority of students with finished work, and I gained a lot of animation experience in the process. Do I find it ironic that I was only able to develop significant skill by avoiding classes and teachers? Now that I'm shackled to exorbitant student loans, you bet. (Note: I remain extremely grateful to the few instructors with professional experience and competence whom I was fortunate to locate among the staff. If only there had been more like you.)
Despite being closely linked to my college experiences, let's steer this commentary back to the video. I was much happier with it in 2005 than I am now, although even at the time I understood that it was nothing terribly exceptional. Albeit a towering monolith of accomplishment at my Ohio art college, the animations and demo reels coming from comparable universities were visibly more professional and polished. This animation is rushed and clunky throughout, and the rigging is just barely adequate. I think I'm still happiest with how my render passes and compositing worked out - the overall lighting setup works nicely, especially in the late evening shots. My subsequent graphic novel work with Liz reflects the lighting lessons learned here.
Speaking of whom, although she didn’t directly contribute to the work on my thesis (obviously she had her own class work at the time) she was a great source for feedback and encouragement during production. In fact, squirreled away in my dorm room for nearly the entire semester with only Liz as company, most folks assumed that we were busy incessantly ravaging one another. Towards the end of the year when I finally showed some rendered progress to other dorm-mates, I remember looks of surprise and comments along the lines of “Oh, so THAT’S what you’ve been doing in there, no kidding!” Animation and CG rendering, of course - what else would a healthy and energetic young college student devote his time to?
Representing such generalized abilities, 'Roommates' was obviously of little value on a demo reel. Even as possibly the least embarrassing animation to emerge from that art college in a long time, my short was quickly brushed under the rug by a faculty preferring their home brand of insular blandishment to unflattering counterpoints of substance. This came as no surprise, and I never expected my effort to garnish value from any outside source. Rather, it gave me the crude abilities needed to work in the field after college, and came in especially handy with freelance work that culminated (and ended with) that indefatigable soul, Dempewolf.
Much to my surprise, I actually did get a job offer as a result of this short, years after I had sent out demo reels... It was related to some kind of television network position, and offered full time employment if I would relocate. Fortunately by that time I had fallen in love with my true artistic passion, and was not interested in professional animation industry employment. I regard that prospect now with almost a faint sense of horror.
I suppose the point of my rambling commentary is that upon reflection, I learned a lot from this short, and only some about animation. I look back on it with fondness now -it's a bit like watching a puppy sprawling happily but awkwardly across the lawn. And, of course, these geckos eventually merged personalities, turned 2-D, pink, and became 'Narp' from our ongoing Dreamkeepers project.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

V3 Sneak Peek #9: Scripted Material

Are the Volume 1 corrections finished? Nope. Is Volume 3 done? Heh heh, it's good you're keeping that sense of humor, you're a real trooper.

Although it's not comprised of pretty pictures, there is some heartening progress on both fronts. And sketches - keep reading, and you'll be rewarded with doodles. I bet that's just what you were thinking when you woke up this morning, "I hope my day is FILLED with doodles!" Well, you're in luck. Read on.


Anyways, the Chapter 8 and 9 scripts for Volume 3 have been roughed out, redrafted, polished, and finalized within the last couple of months, and now the entire book is completely written! Although the progress isn't something I can visually show, it's a huge step forward from back when Chapter 7 was the only completed writing within the story outline. Here, for your browsing pleasure, are six dialogue lines from scattered scenes and various characters in the upcoming book. They are chosen at random, not related in any way, and they‘re spoiler-free:

“It’s me. The loveable one.”

“I hope you've explosively crapped your pants, Grunn, because the only other explanation for that face is unacceptable.”


“I wanted to see what would happen.”

“You’re not with the church, are you.”


Having the entire draft in my hands is indescribably exciting, because this story is coming out really, really cool. (A lot better than the 5 random lines seem to indicate, trust me.) I remember back during Volume 2 production, I had been a little concerned that Volume 3 was at risk for having a weaker story than Volumes 2 or 4, but that concern is history now. I can hardly wait to continue drawing this book up!

In fact, the thumbnail page layouts of Chapter 9 were completely sketched out as of last night. My suspicions about Volume 3's increased page count have proven correct - this is gonna be a big one. While that means it will take quite some time to produce, and the printing and retail price will have to be higher than our other books, when I think about the story we've written I know it will be worth it.

The only barricade to nonstop free - flowing Volume 3 production remains the Volume 1 corrections... What can I say, getting out of purgatory is never easy. Thankfully, we're much closer to completion than we were a month ago. The fix-it list for the entire book has, as of tonight, finally been compiled. Cataloging the errors is a 'where's Waldo' of concentration games at least as time consuming as executing the fixes. As such, the Volume 1 tweaks are (at least) at the halfway mark of completion, and February / March is slated for grinding through those corrections until the whole pile has been processed, and digital sales at last transition from my hackneyed conversation topic and into a reality.
Once the corrections are finished and digital sales pending, we’re planning on doing a little contest with a before and after page, along the lines of “Can you find the 12 differences between image A and image B?” So, you have that to look forward to.

As promised, here are some doodles, done on the side during script revision sessions between Liz and I. Some of these are rough concept for Volume 3 or other books, but mainly they're just some random thoughts put to paper.

Hopefully after another month or two of escaping purgatory, I'll be back to showing off V3 penciling progress in here- thanks to everyone for being so patient with me while we get our act together!