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This page is awaiting a major overhaul, but much of the less technical info is useful.
When learning software, do what you enjoy. If you enjoy pretty girls with hula hoops on the beach, put some hours into that project. If you like realistic army equipment from the 20th century, follow that path. (It will probably lead you elsewhere though.) A little girl kneeling to pray -- whatever moves you. I've also noticed the nicer a project is -- the more uplifting for others -- the easier it is to put long hours into. Florence Nightingale campaigned 18 hours a day into her eighties.
You are going to ask "Why?" probably.
Nobody asking if they're being taught enough for their money? It can be difficult to determine when you aren't learning very much, especially if the video instruction that puts live teachers to shame isn't available and the available books are not very strong either.
Why no help? Why no CD with drills? Why no six hour VHS tape zooming through everything along with the manuals? If it's any comfort, none of the leading software in 3D CGI are thoroughly "documented," though the INSPIRE CD lessons are very useful and thorough for getting both INSPIRE and LIGHTWAVE 5.6 owners out of the nursery. Actually, I am inclined to put this into the "Because this is a mental universe" box, along with the absence of fat free peanut butter, legal nude beaches in California, alternative energy sources, spaceship wreckage at the earth's core, and motel chains just for singles who don't care to sleep alone. Or you could call these opportunities. Better "Help" is probably on the way.
As I write this, it is two days after hearing a LIGHTWAVE instructor walk through modelling and rigging a character in a little over two hours. I discovered that I wasted days and probably weeks using INSPIRE poorly and misunderstanding passages in the manual for it. What I needed was to see a video of this guy running through the most efficient method of rigging and animating. Pretty impressive.
One source of better help is the LIGHTWAVE 7 DEMO CD, whch includes a 1078 page Manual. Go to the COSTCO and buy 5 reams of paper and print this sucker out, because I've read that one company trainer wants all of his people to have done all of these exercises at least once. Maybe you'll never actually use a "Lazy Points" animation scene, but it looks good on a reel.
But I should add this, too. I do not teach computer graphics, and I pssibly never will. You get a lot closer to the important stuff like proving spiritual immortality to yourself by having that as an objective, chanting "Lord, is thinking about showing people immortality a better use of my time than war or hate or fear or greed?" Teach what you want to learn, and for crying out loud, be honest with yourself! You want to learn how to walk on water or how to smooth shift bevels? Plus, as of yet, I haven't made any money at this. So, I'm going to be brutally honest and hang back.
I prayed about making money with this, and had others pray for me, and then decided to drop projects that would take months to complete, and stuck with little illustrations that took about a day apiece. As I write this, I have to do another e-mailing, trying to interest publications to use my 3D cartoons. If I sell anything, that may cheer me up, but will it pay better than plumbing?
Force yourself to visit tutorial pages, and if you are authoring a tutorial page, keep it short-loading and to the point. A favorite page had only two lessons, but they were key. If you do completely lose control, as I have, try to add a few headings.
If you can afford it, print out the better tutorials and bind them in a notebook.
Keep going back to the book. Two of the last things I "found" were "Save Transformed" and "Compositing," and some other keys like "l" "shift" "a" and "Ctrl r" that I am almost too embarrassed to mention. Compositing and "Save Transformed" are two immensely powerful functions that can be used to combine live action with animation, among other things. Some of the later keys were less likely to come up: clicking on the "+" key in statistics to select quad or non-planar polygons, some of the plug-ins, "freeze" to convert a curve into a polygon...
Did you know that negative values in one smoothing function will cause exaggerated features? It gets one sentence in the book, because the two INSPIRE books have to cover a great deal of material. This program is worth its weight in gold, and probably worth the price of a couple more books. In books (and tutorials), one learns that ocean waves are typically made with a procedural "crumple" texture not offered with INSPIRE, that moves in the x, y and z directions as a displacement map. (Fractals work pretty good.)
There seem to be three or four schools of thought regarding learning this software: walk through all the tutorials, be drilled by an instructor with puzzle-tests and quizzes, try to make personal home-study projects and learn what you need as you go along (yahoo newsgroups can be very handy), or make other projects according to lectured class instruction.
If you are reading this, lectured class instruction may not be available to you due to expense or geography. "Distance learning" is essentially lectured class instruction, except that lecturers typically take breaks where they check on student progress. One advantage "distance" students have over real-life instructors is that they can often hit the "rewind" button during a crucial point. Instructors may gloss over some keystrokes on the way to other more important keystrokes. The only person I have met who has taken a two-week/weekend CGI class reported that his experience left him poorer. Lectured animation classes and self-guided home-study are the two methods of learning animation that I am most familiar with.
Drill instruction has its appeal, especially when the teacher is available (though providing hand-holding primarily). "Draw a line from the object made to the the buttons used to make it..." With an interface that has hundreds of buttons to learn, like MAYA, this kind of learning method is probably a good idea, at some point. It can be module-oriented, as well as skill-level oriented, and can begin at professional level exercises, or walk through the evolution of the craft from its beginnings, which is a common approach when teaching science. In my experience, drill instruction has been combined with tutorials. The INSPIRE tutorial disk is a limited drill instruction; the same company has another more advanced tutorial disk it markets at its website. www.3dinteractive.com .
I know of two working home-study students, and both learned by doing, and both also included teaching others in their learning experience. Both learned as work required it,and I can share that in my experience, this has been one of the more consciousness-bending aspects of the process, as I happen onto a page a day or hours before I need it.
Here are a few of my favorite functions to learn: repositioning the center of an object in modeller so that objects hinge magically on their "nulls" in Layout; the "a" in Modeller autofit/reset command; most things Boolean; how a short series of hinged oject keyframes can become a two minute animation using the "Graph editor" end behavior command toggled to "repeat" for every object; "shadow mapping" to make hinged objects look great; how "layer" buttons can be used with tongue and teeth objects, along with a metanurb head, to create realistic lipsynch faces; how that "bevelling" is actually done with "smooth shift" and "offset"; doing Multiple Target/Single Envelope Metamorphosis in the objects panel for REALLY realistic lip synch and facial expressions; and "cloning" together with the graph editor shift keys panel; the modelling tools that are hidden deep in the bowels of Modeler like "rails;" how to put one object in a different layer and tug points so that a foreground object matches it (especially useful for more naturally curved surfaces); making a metanurb object head from scratch, and then tugging a few points to give it a mouth hole, then adding teeth; "show" and "hide"; object dissolve, the "curve" button saves on errors when one is "railing" or just extruding a curtain or skirt. The Image Panel "Load Sequence" button which makes it possible to add fade-in's, to add Titles to existing sequences, to create live-action animation combinations, dissolves, etc. Saving surfaces in Layout, "j" in Modeller and discovering its grid snap, "array," how to start a head from a lip box and smooth-shift (0 offset) it into being, how to weld a chamfer (redrawing polygons or Booleaning), how to go between the tool smooth and smooth subdivide to get smoother surfaces;
101 Hard Lessons: Originally, it was based on a script for the INSPIRE lecture to end all INSPIRE lectures. The one where the teacher begins by making a hand, then a head, then a hat, then some face-shapes, then texturing the hat and head, bonesing some hair, making a body, bonesing that, additional Booleaned props, test-renders,...along with asides like these polygon joints don't work wth NURBS, making a seamless texture with bumps, when "merging" happens and why, getting a movie look... It was intended to be similar to a weekend course in which all the basics would be covered, excvept that the closest I've come to this has been a MAYA course and LIGHTWAVE User Group presentations. It may still be pretty rough, because I can't spend all day making screengrabs on my current budget, but I hope the germ for something nice is there.
Numerous tutorial pages exist -- seek them out. They may be found on the LIGHTWAVE webring -- http://nav.webring.yahoo.com -- as well as at sites like www.flay.com and http://usuarios.tripod.es/3dmax/lightwave.html or http://members.shaw.ca/lightwavetutorials/Main_Menu.htm ,or by trying "Lightwave tutorial"on the popular search engines like "Google."
Hit the newsgroups with your questions! www.egroups.com which is now http://groups.yahoo.com (not to be confused with Yahoo Clubs) for those without USENET newsgroups, which are a subscription service for some internet service providers (AOL, Netzero, Juno, etc.). I've met animators who've downloaded all the technique questions, so that they have a sort of encyclopedia of techniques. And be sure to reply with a nice "thank you note" when your question is answered.
A web page that was removed from the main index -- Glossary -- was found to contain quite a few wrong assumptions and was archived. It is available here as a link.
Is it worth studying INSPIRE? This is a big question, except that when I recently met an expert modeller and animator, I discovered they didn't rig using weight maps if they could help it, they stuck with the old skeletons. And as bones rigging is becoming more easy to edit, rigging per se is becoming the art of reloading and adjusting a gallery of poses to different characters. The Preston Blair book catalogs the kinds of poses that traditional animators had to create from scratch.
As one goes through the INSPIRE book, the things that appear unfamiliar become fewer, and I have found that using bookmarks for those pages reminds me to give them a whirl. Yet, I have found myself browsing the book and "finding" things like the ' button and "j" that I missed in prior study. The ' button is useful when you have 30 or more objects loaded in a file and are not naming Nulls or using other high-efficiency habits.
It's a good idea not to leave the writing desk unless you know what the next ten pages are going to be about. Give Hemingway the credit for that. (And by the way, do be scrupulous about giving credit.)
Don't touch e-mail until you've written for two hours.
Everything else is a big step down compared to writing. Maybe pickling one's own relish and finding the perfect chopping fineness, but let's not delude ourselves. Animators often add business to a scene during storyboarding, but that doesn't elevate animation, that incorporates writing in it. Writing is lying, but it can be peacemaking, nurturing, educating and exalting, once one handles the lying aspect (it NEEDS to be handled).
How to be bold and egotistical enough to write? Be extremely meek and caring and humble. (Golden Rule)
Caffeine is over-rated. Fasting is faster, especially for the over-indulgent. Fast bad habits as well as filling food, fast insults, negativity and dishonesty. See how the juices flow.
If your experience leads you to believe there is a God, wait patiently on Him. Everything good give credit to God for, take as little credit as possible.
Humans are rescuers. Predicament - rescue. What is something the audience and/or you need to be rescued from? How can they be rescued? Without this charitable impetus, I have had trouble getting past page ten. Now I know better. Name a movie that doesn't involve rescue. Who needs rescue? Kids on the verge of student loans? Chinese workers on the verge of dead-end careers? SBA borrowers? Media victims? The lonely?
Animation writing is encouraged to stretch the limits of the possible. It has also been used to produce classic stories affordably, but some would argue this is not making much of the form. Near-escapes, metamorphoses, futuristic, other-worldly, impossible landscapes, genetic mutation, chimeras, cataclysms -- these don't begin to scratch the surface.
Humor broadly falls into parody and non-parody categories, especially since one can parody graphics styles as well as diction and theme; and the underlying principle is to take something dangerous, and make it harmless, beit by guilt, detachment, resentment or anxiety. The author of Plot Genie said all humor is based on either confusion or pretense -- an interesting theory. Army commercial showing recruits killing baby seals during a SNAFU,...
Humor and dramaturgy obey the Golden rule. If characters are doing things and not having consequences flow which mirror their intent, this is not truthful. A character can say one thing but demonstrate a different intent, the intent will be mirrored. The Golden Rule can and probably should be used rigorously: a character's name reflecting other characters more than them, for instance.
(In a group discussion, do you wait until somebody says something you have an opinion about and then look for a way to enter the conversation, ignoring the other substance? The Golden Rule believer believes that intelligent responsive conversation is reflected, so that by watching what they say, conversations with everyone will become increasingly: substantive, relevant, prudent, terse, affectionate, uplifting,...)
The secondary characters can either uplift or pervert the intent of the lead character, but they will need to have parallel activity and intention for the story to move. Stagecoach, submarine, matrix, company, club, community -- the background is the overall intention, the degree to which the story is materialistic or personality-based. For perfect mirroring, the lead serves as a model for the uplifter, and is told some special wisdom by them; when his fear is mirrored by a perverter, he corrects the perverter, repents demonstrably, and the perverter is either self-destroyed or responsively reforms. This process can be saved for after the first draft, but failing to have mirroring may keep the first draft from getting as far as an outline. TV "shows" may erode sensitivity to this structure, because some characters rarely improve and advance.
The typical story is parable and prayer: how to increase the affection in the world. The quality TV show-- a story that explores epistemological issues with practical advice. Radical Christianity takes positions that writers may not always be comfortable with. But if a writer has no such philosophical touchstone, yet parrots economic assumptions that are poorly considered, what is the difference between graffitti and useless noise?
As for the dramaturgy of editing, scenery, costumes, camerawork: to some degree these conventions can be ignored as just more "form" in a world more fond of content. We have conventions of cutting, but some of these conventions were born of the restrictions of the emergence of sound. During the silent era, a "dolly" shot could be a mile long. The "point of view" rule is one of the defining techniques of film. Every shot reflects a point of view, with the exception of the over-the-shoulder shot which is a half point of view. A tracking dolly shot is a point of view shot, but a crane shot is only a POV shot when a bird is in the frame. Split screens go back to the Greek theater and are some of the many effects that can be played with. Since the point of view rule in a way applies the Golden Rule and that old adage "Measure twice, cut once," I am especially fond of it. I think "Principle before personality" can also be layered into technique. When we select a background, we know the audience is going to ask "What are you doing there?" if the background and character do not fit, there will need to be an answer. And the more principled the better.
The logic that "if it has color and action, they'll watch it" applied to the five years and younger demographic, is not something anyone wants to hear anymore. 5% of the Internet's potential is being used. Children's programming is supposed to speak to a very high state of being, and as a Golden Ruler, I would not embark on a children's TV show project casually.
If you "take a break" and turn on the television, promise yourself that you will not watch the end of a show. Leave before the last ten minutes if possible. It's tough, but the payoff is significant. Leave when identification with the characters is high and interest is high and action is imminent or ongoing. The final denoument of the more complicated story shows is often "I think I'll pause and think about how I've grown." On less complicated shows, it's sometimes immobilizing vicarious gratitude for the sacrifices of others. One early lesson I learned from leading a more spiritual lifestyle was how that if one turns off a movie early, one may benefit from its good intent, without having to ride the rollercoaster all the way back down. "Good Will Hunting" is a fair example. See a few commercials to reward the advertizers, but GET BACK TO WORK.
On a related note: avoid situations where you will find yourself being lowered either by criticizing others or devaluing them. Video stores, thrift stores, fast food eateries, "channel-walks," answering mail, or any invitation to be judgmental or where you may be inclined to think "They are asking too much." Conversely, I can think of at least two groups of comedy writers who would make a point of playing and sharing uplifting comedy shows before and sometimes during setting to work, such as "Rocky and Bullwinkle."
While writing, one good way to check the flow of a story is to note where one slows or stops writing. Good writing tends to lead to more good writing, easy hackneyed writing tends to stall. Develop the habit of being able to remember your last few thoughts, it can come in handy. I know someone who would eat bland low-cal desserts -- very sweet meant something to keep.
Another common way of checking the "flow" of a story, music, acting, lighting,... is to ask oneself -- what is the audience saying to the screen? The rule of thumb is that what we say to the screen we (subconsciously?) say to ourselves. This is one theory of why it is important for us to like the characters we identify with and what they are doing. One goes out of one's way to elicit the audience SCREAMING: you have untapped opportunities and abilities that you haven't dreamed of, the metaphysical universe is closer than you realize, only think good thoughts and see how your abilities amplify! This theory also mandates endings that are convincing and very hopeful. "The Truman Show" would be a good example. Saint Peter opposed well-crafted myths replacing religion; think about it and at least put a disclaimer somewhere on the film. That is, after you make everybody subconsciously chant -- go even higher and see what you see, go even higher and see what you see -- keep messing with them by having a character tricked into chanting subsconcsciously having it revealed to them, and then revealing it to others.
Have I become alienated by this character? What are they doing or going to do that is interesting? (Have they promised me more interesting action soon by saying or doing anything?) A script reader can go through most scripts just asking these two questions and looking for the Golden Rule. Keeping characters from alienating others is done by having those characters warning their victims, having third parties take responsibility, and having the victim uncontrollable and dangerous. Hopefully "interesting" will include practical education, truthful insights and some metaphysical calesthenics. Perhaps because it happens so often in life, the rewards of an activity tend to escalate: from nail to shoe to war. Oh, you heard it the other way around? Whose version do you prefer?
Put your funniest joke first, your second funniest joke last. What is a joke? One starts with an association that disturbs, and reinforces it, and then turns it upside down, diffusing the bad association. Since there tends to be a "fuse," knee-slaps and cutting tend to be used to call attention to the joke and for other reasons. Listen to how many times a very simple list of three things is used in comedy scripts, with the third thing being the funny thing. Some humor gets very complicated, where what is being criticized is empty commerciality or violence in the media. A tiny child is afraid of being sucked down the toilet, AND can't get up to the level of the toilet -- intercutting with parent trapped by mailman with package, etc. -- it tries to climb the toilet paper, the thermador, and finally succeeds up a towel rack, changes its route and scampers to use the sink.
The production value possible with a day's effort is respectable with this art form. At the very least, Inspire Joy! Themes like the potential of the individual have just begun to be charted.
What is the ultimate? A cartoon that boosts IQ or memory? A cartoon that stimulates telepathy? How about a cartoon that helps one become more uninhibited and courageous? Or experiment with being more loving? A cartoon that convinces a sad person of the nearness of God? What would be the most reverent use of the Lord's Prayer, which is supposed to stimulate regenerative thinking? If children are curious about anything -- whether aerodynamics or a solid-model of the world economy -- are they helped toward fulfillment? These ideas are fortunately illustrable using animation. Poetry is in some ways a superior format metaphysically, because the reader expects a transcendental experience and can meditate on ideas like being able to breathe in forgotten vestgial ways, where this idea would be performed by a character in a visual medium, and the implications possibly get lost.
Wherever you go, show your sources, beit in homage, lipservice or quotes. If Scientology is your thing, put it out there. If voodoo is how your best-sellers come into being, include instructions for the do-it-yourselfer. Entertainment is sometimes at its best when it shares rigorously consistent thoughts systems, inviting us to be grounded and steeped in a means of productivity that may seem unfamiliar. "In my Father's house are many mansions,..." Not including Jesus in your work if you praise Him 100 times a day is probably plagiarism, as well as foolish.
I have been told that form and content are most "artistic" when one is on the verge of overwhelming the other, but using the example of a parable, which is a kind of simile that is used for the greatest possible understanding of a complicated idea -- this does not seem to be the case. Another interpretation of this -- much more mystical -- is that when environment and personalities and activity match the tone of one's thought -- this is truth. One may coordinate the two; but the most loving application of form seems to be to get out of the way of content.
Villains: the problem with cardboard villains is that they usually have some major underlying premise error like -- if covetousness doesn't stand a chance beside cooperation, how did they rise to power? (The story should have the wicked witch dissolving when Dorothy asks that, instead of a bucket of water.) A classic villain is in "X-men" (barely on the wrong side but fighting tooth-and-nail), a higher plane of animated villain is in "Phantom Tollbooth."
And what about the highly stylized form of solid modelled graphics? Something I learned from stereoscopic aesthetics may be of use: if one is going to have imagery that is similar to peak experiences, one should have the accompanying thought quality. (Transcendentally, this is a great big truth too. That perception follows thinking.) Solid modelled graphics seems to be used frequently in science fiction, which tends to be rich in metaphysical and philosophical content.
Improvisation is a powerful tool, and so is cooperation. Maybe you know some comedy writers who would like to rough in dialogue for a couple of characters. They don't need fleshed-out animation, just a rough "on ten's" should do it. Improvisation can be powerful working alone as well.
As for writing systems, apart from trying to transfer Biblical content, I don't get involved in them as I once did. I once wrote a short little scene about a dog trainer who became a movie director through some fluke. In his combat movie, characters shouted "Down!" a lot and patted each other's helmets. Do you respect your audience? Are you serving them, or are they serving you? Rather than pervert the experience of writing for you, which is along the lines of "Lead us not into temptation,..." and list all of the things typically found in movies, or the "systems" I tried, let me make a few observations to encourage you. A producer might observe that the middlish part of a movie is easier to shoot because the pages tend to be a few characters talking, and not too demanding for locations; I would ask, is this the time when the obligatory action finally gives way to the metaphysical discussion that defines the work, when the audience is ready to hear ideas from the philosophies the protagonists represent? That is when the solutions to rescue the target/audience emerge.
The audience needs to be more affectionate, not fantasizing or otherwise being self-involved, except that they are watching movies -- hmmm. By maximizing their affection, they will be more productive and happier -- and hopefully break into a fuller spiritual reality.
One "system" I overheard: get the characters out front and interacting right away. A pretty safe approach.
In cartoon or computer animation, we have the traditional format of character identification, surprise and interaction. But we obviously can go far beyond it. If I want a character to have subtitles appearing inside his forehead, the software is up to it. Transparent characters with musical instruments, animals or tiny lawyers for organs? A character symbolizing peaceful consciousness suddenly bursting into a swarm of butterflies at the appearance of grasping thought? A cartoonist can very straight-facedly interject a ten-second job skill demonstration (how to be a plumber...) into a short because the nature of the medium allows highly compressed information, and have it be funny, AND make it look easy! Pretty cool stuff, as long as there is something to say.
Ninety minutes: don't waste any of them.
"Plot?" Rescue. (I hope.) With TV series, there will sometimes be hypnotic devices like someone not wanting to be in the company of other characters out of neediness or a similar fault, and then increasingly "belonging." (The audience self-talk...) Rescues can be chained, where one character rescues another and is, in turn, rescued...
Animation writing, and all screenwriting, is intended for telling a story that involves frequent external event action. This point is made by Viki King in her book, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, but it is NOT why most people go to movies. Is it? When I look at "Shrek," "The Truman Show," and other greats, I am inclined to agree that part of the lure of movies may be the dance of body language and the thoughtful and detailed worlds we tour through. The commercial for "Shrek" had the comic-relief broadly-animated Donkey cracking jokes, and the princess love story hinted at -- and "Shrek" was a 500 joke love story. (Not a bad approach.) It was also obviously something audiences had to stretch for. J. Michael Straczynski in The Complete Book of Scriptwriting seems to suggest that writing for action, but then committing the work to a novel, may be the better "back door" to selling a movie script. (Not the most useful advice for an animator writing a novel about a bucket who falls in love with a shovel, but I thought I'd mention it.)
Writer's block/frustration? For new writers, this is different from more experienced writers who have one or two successes under their belts. The inexperienced writer may start grabbing at straws -- using another work as a template, starting over, buying some writing books. There are three questions: have I taken a wrong turn? Am I being my most productive? What is truth? The first question is sort of a trap -- delay, distraction, doubt, disappointment have nothing to do with expressing love -- if the premise is rescue-based. Be true to the loving premise and stay away from the four D's. The writing activity, to paraphrase experts like Millard Kaufman, is an act of creating an integrated argument from many other lesser ideas, and some may not contribute to the whole. The inexperienced writer has to keep giving the project life, remembering who is being rescued and how. A gifted friend once said that if you think of Shakespeare's plays as his trying to keep his young male actors out of trouble and learning the lessons they needed, it helps to understand "Hamlet" among others. Keep to the rescue. Productivity can be hard for artists, because everything seems equally worthwhile until someone corrects one. Ray Bradbury's advice is to write one short story every week for one year, because he said it's really hard to write 50 bad short stories. Isn't that cute? Productivity is one of the great quests. Productivity Art is the only art worth experiencing, especially if God is the source of all ideas. I have tried everything from training my hand to itch when an idea was worth keeping to listening to "classic" comedy for a half-hour before setting to work to wearing wet socks in order to force better circulation, and combinations of caffeine, tums, charcoal, sex, water, music/no music on various schedules. I confess I wasn't always religious. You know what I think works. The "truth" part can be the hardest. If you have not been confronted with some sort of heavy-duty proofs that this is primarily a mental reality and that we are trilobytes who just think that they take human form, then you are going to have to be true to either a quest to prove this or to disprove this. One's story does not necessarily have to go there: one can have two unproductive characters correct one another by collaborating, but what kind of movie would you rather see?
"What does the audience want?" To laugh for 75 minutes, and maybe remember a few jokes afterward? Is it all about briefly identifying with a transforming character? What if they expect to be told 100 ways to change themselves to become more attractive to the opposite sex? Twenty mantra's that will increase their control of their bodies (if you go for that)? How the economy REALLY works?
Freelancing is one of the better things one can do for one's soul, but it requires selling. And selling, according to some freelancers in the print media, can demand upwards of 90% of the time used. I do not know this in my experience, so take that with a grain of salt. In my experience, if you focus on a thing hard enough, sooner than later it winds up near the front of the newspaper.
If you are much less successful as a writer than as an animator, take heart. Writing can seem to depend on life experience, sexual maturity, religious awakening, instruction -- a host of factors. There are David Lynch's who begin in their twenties, and Wallace Stevens's and Mary Baker Eddy's who may not emerge until their sixties. If someone gives you a great script, and you show it to friends who laugh out loud reading it, you may want to make the movie, and continue the writing journey a little later, or as part of the process. How to meet writers? Web sites, www.womeninanimation.org , www.reuben.org , comedy venues, small theater groups, writing classes, or by reading their work and responding to it with an e-mail or call.
I have had a ton of fun driving around taking pictures specifically for backgrounds. A lot of the process becomes intuitive with practice. Having a variety of elements that are intrinsically interesting holds the attention of a shot and lends it a quality that we'll call "density."A film school teacher, Lou Stoumen at UCLA, described this as the difference between a shot you wanted to look at for three seconds and a twenty second shot. A marquee, a nice billboard, a statue, an odd turn of road, a quirky sign, a contrast of textures. Try to have edges lead from the corners toward the center of the picture, the eyes tend to travel to the corners. Take more than one shot -- if for no other reason to have a stereoscopic 3-D pair.
Do you want live action people interacting with computer characters? If you can get your film or video into "avi" format, "Bink" from www.smacker.com can convert it to "tga"s, and the tga's can be loaded into the Layout Effects Compositing window. Inspire can do it! The details are in the User's Manual , Section 8.12, and the key button is the Image Panel "Load Sequence" button. Then, when one wants to "composite" the images as background and/or foreground or front projection elements, the "sequence" will be loaded in the image requester.
It is easier to make a "tiff" or "tga" of a solid modelled scene and use that as a composite background than to model the entire scene in multiple frames, if a foreground object is the only moving element. It sounds obvious, but everything can seem equally important when one is starting out. By and large, animated films seem to use solid-modelled backgrounds, whether a bus or laundromat or the Grand Canyon. If it looks like a six hour render, sometimes that is because it is. One gains from this approach the subtleties of repetition and allusion common to figure drawing and the other arts, and can experiment with them.
For instance, the Bugs Bunnies of the forties and fifties used some pretty wild stylization; the audience accustomed to naturalistic computer-puppet forests and cityscapes may yet be ready for more daring views, the sorts of experiments in "Final Fantasy," for instance, though nicer. Just as with character design and writing, PUSH THE LIMITS! A background can be fluid like the ocean if you want it to be, lawns can emit champagne bubbles, the capitol dome can be an army tank turret, light bulbs can roll through the streets and up and down trees at all hours, doors can be clouds or contracts or ESP cards, swimming pools can fill cul de sacs, and playgrounds can have jungle gyms in five dimensions. Does this mean that "photo-real" is wrong? YES!!! Photo-real copies what is found in nature, but the artist asserts that one may go even further (though metaphysically, the documentary is the only worthwhile art form and the photo-real is always perfect) -- layering character traits into buildings, musical patterns and rhythms (with pre-set camera panning), showing the character's assimilation or lack of assimilation, what they wake to or work around (reflecting their thought).
The background is the overall intention, the degree to which the story is materialistic or personality-based. The kinds of secondary characters who will either uplift or depress your character, and your common mission, share the background. This can be played for laughs, having a setting completely at odds with character activity.
Image sequences can also pay big dividends in background scenes. A TV set, a washing machine or running water, tree shadows, water reflections projected on a face, animated electric signs, and over-the-top items like animated carpet or thought balloons. The hours it might take to animate a cycling texture might pay big dividends.
DO NOT load a background into the Background requester if you can help it. Use "Load from Scene" with a card object, and texture map it with the image as a Planar Projected image. The main reason for this is that the relative sharpness of the background can be adjusted by changing anti-aliasing, and its relative brightness can be adjusted by changing its Opacity (with a black backdrop). That's a lot of control. A similar "Load from Scene" object for better reflections would be a dome object with a spherical map image and spotlights. "Sky domes" are easily made and textured with a 0% diffused setting and 100% luminosity. The sky does not need to be tiled in many applications, though this looks better; a sky with a luminosity of 120% will have larger puffy highlights.
There are paint-box programs for creating image strips from mirror ball images, but hypothetically, one way to emulate their function in INSPIRE is to photograph a 360 degree view using an actual or virtual mirror ball, and then texture map it onto a ball, which is then deformed using bones. Any slice of the ball can be cloned, with its bones, parented, and then repositioned, and the Scene would only need two keyframe -- the finished flat image deformed and reassembled. A plug-in from www.flay.com is called "Unwrap," and is supposedly based on this approach of matching an object to a 4:3 proportioned spherical map, but this may be achieved several ways. UV Mapping is involved in something similar, though UV is not a feature of INSPIRE.
Adobe Photoshop has a function called "offset" which is used for creating tile-able seamless textures. This can also be emulated using INSPIRE with a card texture exactly 640x480 pixels in size and filling the frame. Load the texture so that its seam is roughly in the center, and render this image. Now, paint-box out the seam -- voila! You're done.
A depth of field focus blur effect can be emulated very nicely by parenting the camera to a merry-go-round null -- null rotating offset around another null -- and targetting a third Null. This is based on the "Spinning Light" trick made famous at "Station X." The Nulls counter rotate, one at 720 degrees per frame, the other at -720 per frame, and the Graph editor is set to repeat. Anti-aliasing needs to be set high for this to work, and motion blur should be set to 100%. More about this may be learned in the Glossary. The effect is probably similar to the "Digital Confusion" depth of field tool. Otherwise, INSPIRE's Compositing function is most useful by rendering only the backgrounds and loading these frames as an image sequence, textured to a card with a 100% luminous setting. Changing the "anti-aliasing" changes the blur of this background card. It's that simple. Using a card with "SurfBlur" to blur its texture tends to bleed into the edges of the foreground, but if this is acceptable, this effect may be quite nice.
"Alpha matting" is automated in INSPIRE so that wherever a background element is NOT, the image will be black, and wherever an object was, will be white, but sometimes this requires removing background objects like sky-domes or flooring. Any objects that are semi-transparent will render as gray scale. In order to separate forground and background el;ements, each Scene file will need to be "sawed-up" into different layer scene files. :"Alpha matting" is automated for INSPIRE, fortunately, so instead of having to change surfaces or clear all lights and give the remaining light a 0% or negative value, and then add a luminous card, removing all background objects and leaving the lights alone will result in a positive mask. Making foreground mattes is a little dicey, because one may make alpha mattes layers for as many objects as are in front of the camera. This is another long-cut way of achieving a depth of field effect, though it is being used for many many other purposes -- fine-tuning fire effects, adding haze effects, adding color or detail, and cutting render times. Believe it or not, according to Larry Schults, "Max Steele" did NOT use alpha matting. A rendering farm was availalbe, but not the additional man-hours to dissect every scene and reassemble it for compositing. Like you might expect.... In comercial work, compositing is very common, where thousands are spent conveying a message intended to make many thousands more.
It is little discussed, but movies are typically shot at a depth of field of "f4," which is fairly shallow focus, and the background is typically kept two "stops" or 70% darker than the foreground. Also, the shot is motivated: it tends to represent a person's point of view. In a nutshell, that is the "movie look." This may be another reason to create tga or tiff file images of the background and alter their brightness and relative focus in graphics programs like Adobe Photo Deluxe, or to use black fog, if not falloff settings for all lights. Both cartoon animation and live action production also tend to have "colorists" responsible for keeping color harmony on track. I had this demonstrated to me once when a solid color background was needed for a certain character in a cartoon, when the production's colorist was away. I leafed through dozens of color swatches searching for an agreeable complement. On the colorist's return, she asked the colors used for the characters, checked a color wheel diagram, and named the background color I had chosen.
Another question is whether depth of field should be included in the mental aesthetic arsenal of the animator, or fixed as a flower arranger's tool. Is depth of field reflective of self-engrossment? Unhealthy affection? What character or plot action points can provide some break in the blur, some sharp focus moments, to reiterate the haziness of self-absorption by contrast? Or will this all be carried by music instead?
I like to light sparely with a low ambient setting and a point light with a value over 200% and a falloff distance near the characters. This is naturalistic and produces the maximum contour falloff, and if the lights are positioned where lights are normally found in locations, even better. Every light after that light is for a more theatrical effect. (Not literally theatrical, because theater lighting typically has very little falloff, the lights are unnatrually high, and there are many floor shadows.) Studio stills showing the crew photographing a particular scene have a lot to offer the animator trying to emulate a "look." Many cinematographers tried to apply what they found in "Old Master" works: backlighting as the only light source, skylight lighting with soft countours, different lighting combined in one frame.
A new feature of LIGHTWAVE is having lights that can light only one character, but I shy away from this, because it is already too unnaturalistic to have point lights with falloff in the shot and invisible. I have rarely enveloped light intensity, though this is a trick cinematographers love to use, when it is available. Two reasons cinematographers do not alter light intensity: huge flags must be rotated above the actors, or "dimmers" must be used which tend to be very noisy, though this may have changed.
Spatial dissonance is another element that contributes spatiality, but spatiality is generally reserved for moments of exalted/charitable thinking. Spatial dissonance is generally: mirrors, coincidental contour optical illusions, an inordinately long lens followed by a shot from a short one, a zoomed dolly shot, wrong perspective such as a prop hand in foreground, wrong depth of field effects, moving light sources, foreground obstructions, etc. The stronger the implication of importance to the scene, the better. In Renoir's "Bete Humaine," the strong spatial cue shots are placed at the start of the picture. A crowd shot would seem to accomodate the aesthetic pull to have environment reflect mental tone with the need to include dissonance for the contrast that boosts the perception of a higher tone without resorting to stereoscopy.
This is also a jumping-off point: in computer graphics, one can have several zones of focus, by sandwiching together alpha-matted shots with different depth of field but identical camera motion. Members of a crowd can look at different objects or characters and only those objects and the crowd members could be in focus. Invisible light (sourcing that should be visible) has only begun to be played with in movies like "Sphere." This dissonance can be extended to mixing motion blur with its lack, skipping or repeating frames, as well. Have a character's eyes be an invisible light source? Have a character seeing around people or seeing certain people in VISIDEP?
A similar thought is that sometimes a major conspiracy is required for a "look." "Barnaby Jones," "Get Smart" or "7th Heaven" or any of the great TV series can be recognized at once. At first, I could not believe it, because it requires the deliberate cooperation of set painters, wardrobe, make-up, lighting, and writing. See how often "7th Heaven" includes something violet in a scene. Some thoughts on things Hollywood does for a "look:" near lights will be warmer than distant lights; colored lights will be used such as red for shadows and blue for rim lighting; forced perspective using smaller objects in the distance; white shirts and most white objects will be gray; three spotlights will light different parts of the body; oil or polaroid will lend an unexpected but repeatable gloss; no day scenes -- only dusk or morning or rain, etc.; only high altitude settings; only long focal length lenses-- wide shots using longer distances.
Animator Jason Wen recommends creating a backgournd as a starting point for animation, and then animating low-polygon proxies and cameras. His much-honored short "f8" I have only seen as an MPEG-4 and some stills in www.newtekpro.com . He apparently "composited" the entire film, breaking elements into layers, and also filtering these layers in Adobe "Premiere." This very deliberate filtering is a departure from the physical approaches of lighting and aperture setting for separation. Pretty cool. Layers for compositing are primarily created using alpha mattes of foreground areas along with Scenes which are missing key foreground or background objects.
Pizza on the scanner? Use a heavy gauge animation cel or plastic sheeting on your scanner if you have these ambitions, and don't do any "preview" scans if you can help it, since even pepperoni will flatten out given the extra seconds. Use a stand-in to "preview." Make the most of the image, tweak it and fine tune it, make a bump map for it in a paint box program by painting over the shapes on a different level and then saving it separately. Be careful about copying and rotating -- keep the shadows uniform unless you want to re-do them all by hand.
A lot of this information you may want to skim. If you're planning on learning UV-mapping, and almost never surfacing from a color requester, I cannot say whether or not the info is useful. A lot of the info here is pretty worthwhile though.
Many of the elements of good art direction that apply to shot selection and "style sheets" also apply to individual textures. Color theory is worth being aware of, if not mastering. I have worked for an hour to get a single last color for a character's pants that "felt" balanced for the overall image, and then watched a professional colorist look at the picture, turn to a color wheel and tell me the identical color in seconds. There are some great articles floating around about color theory.
I think "surfacing" gets blamed sometimes for poor lighting or composition. An eggshell is a nice texture, but put under a "distant" light with 30% ambience, what chance is it going to get? Contour is enhanced according to "falloff" and the way light is reduced by a less-diffuse surface's angle to the "normal." The most falloff and angular indication will come from point lights.
What may make one set of colors "pop" could be a dullish background or preceding shot. Cinematographers routinely shoot with f/4 apertures and with the background 75% darker than the foreground. If the preceding shot were dark or gloomy, it might make a piece of jewellry on velvet look more vibrant. You've probaby already been told that having a yellow background for a bright blue object is the way to make it pop.
Speaking of "vibration," there is also a theory that the two eyes see different parts of a picture differently, and try to adjust independently for shade on one side or a highlight on another side. By having bright background elements strategically placed, some calendar air-brush arists get a very pronounced three-dimensional effect. This is different from another kind of three-dimensionality that is often attributed to surfacing, contour. Contour is stronger with a consistently textured surface and a light source that has "falloff" consistent with the "inverse square law." Movie lights since movies began have been positioned close to actors because of the effect of light falloff producing greater contour.
Dimensionality may also be emulated by "rotoscoping" an actual object's texture through 180 degrees of rotation. Just because it sounds unlikely doesn't mean it may not be tried. A jittering "VISIDEP" texture will have a higher degree of detail, if the shot's context allows it. Multiple transparent-mapped onion skin layers of hair maps have been used very effectively.
What follows is pretty nuts-and-bolts.
The INSPIRE surfacing utility is pretty friendly, so feel free to select polygons that you think might deserve the accent of a different texture. The color can always be renamed and changed. Or another color may be loaded over it in the modeller. No biggie. The downsides of this approach are that unless there is a "falloff" to the map to blend it with surrounding polygons, you may need to input this in the texture map requester, with the color of surrounding polygons as an additional texture for that surface. (Or live without blended polygons, as many shows seem to...) And if the lipstick looks like it was applied with a paint-roller, some points may need to be moved around. If this loses the lips some shape, an alternative is to highlight/select the lip problem area and "knife" them with a card created in another window. (See "knife" in the glossary.) This will create extra points to drag to define the lip line while keeping the same shape.
Habit-time. In case you didn't know, it's a REAL good habit to rename surfaces and SAVE surfaces AND rename objects, and then to be sure to hit the "Save All Objects" button in the Objects Panel before saving the Scene. Otherwise, you might be like me, reloading all of my object surfaces every time I started a Scene, because I hadn't noticed that paragraph in the book. Plus, as you really start COOKING with textures, you may want to save some of the ones that you know are great but cannot use this scene. While trying to nail a pencil brass texture, I came up with all sorts of metals. A terrific cobbestone texture was an accident, as was a good leather texture. Lastly, surfacing is really supposed to be done in Layout AND is much faster when one studies the pages in the book about "Add Reference Object." Do you have something against interactive material placement?
Habit Two: INTERACTIVE TEXTURE PLACEMENT. If you're like me, there is so much to learn with this program, and other similar programs, that you are going to want to set aside things like texturing. But DO learn to surface using the "Add Reference Object" button in the texture mapping panel. It makes texturing go SO much faster to reposition and resize the reference object Null, after parenting it to the object, than to try to position the texture without. I have had some trouble keeping these settings saved, perhaps forgetting to press the "Save All Objects" button. For objecs that are going to be recycled a great deal, I will use read the numerical values of the interactive placement reference object, and enter the inverse of these values numerically -- so far, it's worked well.
It's a good idea to set up a small gallery of quality textures as soon as possible. There are Scene files with surfaces that you may want to save under your own names. I keep Scene Files and Object files separate of the Inspire directory, though there are some disadvantages to doing this. Try the glossary ("surfaces") for a further discussion of textures and surfaces. Bump maps should be played with as soon as possible since they add a friendly feel to most surfaces, though they do not affect geometry. Beginners have noted they would rather have more finished surfaces to start with. They're there already -- use them.
Transparency mapping is a powerful tool that goes far beyond conventional surfacing. A texture map of some black hairs can be applied to a single curved polygon, and identically used as a transparency map -- thwy will "hang" like ordinary hairs, and can be "bonesed" with other polygons to animate like hair. The close cousin of transparency mapping is "clip" mapping, except that it is entered in the Objects panel, rather than the surfaces panel. But wait, wouldn't that same technique be useful for things like: trees with dimensional leaves, "thought balloon" words or images, TV monitors, crowds of gladiators texture-mapped on cards (Laurent Hugueniot technique in Cinefex #82), peacock feathers, combining actors and animation, quickie picket fences, "Clutch Cargo" mouths of various types, smoke and fire effects, cartoon "hair" and sophisticated and fanciful animation possibilities? Transparency mapping is great.
By the way, a surface can also have a 150% transparency setting. It causes the object behind the transparent object to become brighter.
Three "illogical" components are reflection options, diffuse level/mapping and luminosity. Reflection Options should be "ray tracing and backdrop" with a black backdrop (Effects Panel default) for the most realistic effect. Diffused mapping is used to add a slight weathered look to cars, windshields, etc. Using a negative of the diffuse map for the reflectivity map might be slightly more realistic. The only drawback of a fully diffused surface is that it should display less of the angular shading of less-diffuse surfaces, less contour. Having all surfaces at least 50% diffuse is probably a good idea for greater contour. One other "illogical" thing I like to do is to remove the "ambient" value for scene lighting. Drop it to 0%. This can only occur in vacuum, but it means that much more gray scale to play with for contouring.
Things like colored glows and other-color specular sheens can be "bruted" if the object is a solid color by using "reflection mapping" with a high reflectivity (over 100%) setting, and having the object's surface color peek through as a surface color specular highlight set at 150% or so.
INSPIRE can duplicate many textures if one makes second "passes" with it in a second compositing scene file. I would not mention this, since it sounds like carrying "workarounds" a little too far, except that it is common with LIGHTWAVE 7 and other high-end packages to render some elements separately and composite them, usually in another software package like CHALICE, INFERNO or AURA. Fire especially comes to mind. In practice, with LIGHTWAVE 7, this compositing method is carried much further, with every element of every object being rendered as its own .tga image sequence. This approach is used most for commercials, where a tail-light or hood ornament may be taken to task, and where the budget is less important than the final product. It has come to be used very often, since 2D systems like CHALICE are becoming somewhat common. It is also used when correcting live action combination shots.
Have all of the elements identical except for the object surfaces to be affected: give them 10% diffused settings and different colors and high specular settings and specular textures, for instance. Usually, one characteristic will be shared by others, ie, morning light. This is demonstrated here. After rendering this second pass as an image sequence, load the two sets of image sequences into a Scene file, texture mapped to a front-projected card, and adjust the degree of double-exposure.
Adobe Photoshop has a function called "offset" which is used for creating tile-able seamless textures. This can also be emulated using INSPIRE with a card texture exactly 640x480 pixels in size and filling the frame. Load the texture so that its seam is roughly in the center, and render this image. Now, paint-box out the seam -- voila! You're done.
"Procedural" or "3D" textures are formulas that create texture cubes. INSPIRE has very few, but additional ones may be bought and loaded from www.shaders.org . Since they extend in all directions and the better ones are "seamless," one can texture without having to do much "placement" at all for regular patterns of rock, tree, marble, ocean waves, fire, smoke, rippling, diffused "dust," and such, without worrying about reverse images or streaking. Some LIGHTWAVE artists have taken an interest in competing texture and render programs like Pixar Renderman at www.pixar.com . That is beyond the scope of this web page, but www.exluna.com markets a freeware rendering program that uses some of the language of Pixar Renderman (called PR Man by Pixar). It's called BMRT, for Blue Moon Render Toolkit. It does not work well with Intel machines, and Renderman may not work well with Intel either at this time, though I am not sure. Exluna also markets another upgrade software, also using Renderman conventions, called "Entropy." There are thirdy party "Interface" designed programs, but the bare-bones programs like "Entropy" and "PR Man" use long lists of typed word "flags" and values. One seeking to acquire "know-how" with "PR Man" would probably be served getting BMRT, if not "Entropy." Another related software is geometry/shader "translation," which at one time I was sure was impossible. A company called "Okino" at www.okino.com markets "NuGraf" and "PolyTrans" for object conversion.
If you use a camera for textures, polaroid on a lens will reduce specular highlights, or exaggerate them, depending on its orientation to the lens, but it depends on light coming from an oblique angle. If the surface will lack matching polygons to create specular shading, it may be desirable to have a separate specular image that can be added or deleted as needed. "Photo Dulling" wash-off matte finish spray lacquers are an industry standard.
Just because nobody is doing something doesn't make it wrong. A spherical map of a head could be photographed in such a way that parallax changed from a left hand view to a right hand view, and the sequence could be used to enhance a dimensional feel for hair. The camera may be an odd collection of mirrors spinning on a turntable, but results are what matters. Some very well-respected animators create textures as solid models, render them, and paint-box them to be texture maps. Jason Wen actually uses "screen-grab's" for these textures. Another idea is to use a black fog setting and long lens for a bump-map scene file. What if I just made that up? Would it be any less true? Hair can be textured with transparency maps on curvey subdivided cards -- it's still a popular method.
Adobe "Photo Deluxe" with its many "levels" may be used to create some very rich textures. One level can be a high contrast image, another, a copy of the image with lower contrast, a bottom level a bright yellow. "Photo Deluxe" or most other paint programs can also create very effective "bump maps." An asphalt image may need only a "bas relief" or similar function to have a "bump map" mate. The resulting image will have relief specularity and shadows match shapes, as long as one is careful to keep the "sizing" of both maps identical. One does not need to make a bump map for a brick wall by hand, just press the buttons.
Before lamenting the absence of "UV Mapping" for things like facial pores and blemishes such as in "Final Fantasy," please consider this: make-up artists have been powdering faces to HIDE pores for the past 100 years! If I understand correctly, the face-shapes of a UV-mapped model will have the texture follow them. The most efficient "brute" of this has been to use facial bones judiciously. Model the mouth partially open for starters, and use Bones to close it; and parent lip Bones to chin Bones and Chin bones to jaw bones. Bones deformation keeps textures substantially where they belong. The alternatives seem to be careful Boolean stencil additions (to preserve morphing), animated textures by some means, and keyframed interactive placement for individual polygon textures. Animated textures used to be managed using the "Unwrap" plug-in that is still available from www.flay.com to get a texture representation of an object's wireframe as a spherical map in 4:3 format. (It looks like one can emulate this plug-in "from scratch" by creating a subdivided card and rotating and scaling its points to overlap a ball with the same number of polygons ((this actually goes pretty fast)) then subdivide both further; to morph smoothly, intermediate tube-shaped objects will be needed, and one should probably avoid merging the last edges. The real "unwrap" produces a wireframe image to base "spherical maps" on in a paint box. This method seems to require coloring some polygons first, then using Tools BGConform with the different morph targets, resulting in a 4:3 colored spherical starter map to apply to the object once it has had its polygons re-assigned a single color.) This could then be used when "cloning" face elements to their new position in a paint box program. Yech. Since INSPIRE only supports one texture morph at a time; this approach doesn't get used much, one expects. It should also be mentioned, though, that applying a fairly uniform (spherical) bump map like sand with a -70% value, produces pores that lend a realistic texture around the cheeks but are not very noticeable around the moving chin. Beauty marks should probably be stenciled, but drifting pores aren't noticeable (in tests I've made).
Once more for emphasis, if you use bones to "adjust" the points of a subdivided card that has been texture mapped with a spherical or cylindrical map, such as a head, you may be able to approximate the texture shifts that would occur with a morphing head, but hey, get LIGHTWAVE. INSPIRE will only morph textures for one morph, which means a lot of typing to do lip synch. Pay yourself better than that.
Textures like hair or scales can animate many ways: geometry with bones, displacement maps, image sequences, bump map sequences, moving 3D procedural mapping. Consider a snake alien with flaky scales blowing in a breeze: they could be bonesed separately from the rest of the object, and given a reflective setting for a spherical map of a color spectrum. Dsiplacement textures can be subtle like a map of the earth buried in some fur, or a kaleidoscopic animation dissolved in a pot of boiling fluid, or a roughly idling engine seeming to dent the hood of a car from the inside.
INSPIRE is also useful without resorting to texture images at all. INSPIRE's textures are based on how a surface interacts with light, and I really enjoy the approach. A thorough understanding of the Surfaces panel can be very empowering. Green velvet? Try a highly saturated green, low diffuse setting of 30%, and high specular setting, perhaps 150%. A reflective silver leotard? A grainy texture applied as the specular texture map, and possibly a reflective setting. Try the glossary for a further discussion of textures and surfaces. An afternoon's playing with the little render balls in the Surfaces panel can pay big dividends.
Recording the Video
The three convenient ways of extracting video from "Inspire" are via a graphics card with a video out jack that is accessible from the back of the computer, or a CD/DVD recorder, or a camcorder. (Professionals may use some pretty hardy machines. TV Stations have some of the most powerful equipment.)
Camcorder?! Obviously, this is absurd, but having a reel is worthwhile, however it was made. The graphics card I use does not give professional results, but it does allow me to record a handful of shots, and since both camcorders and VCR's have "flying rase heads," the edits will be forgiveable usually.
Graphics card upgrades are fairly common for computer animators, and they are sometimes even priced less than $100 for those who can install them themselves. I was startled to learn that at some computer schools, none of the video cards, save for one machine, were capabale of outputting video. I encountered this at more than one school. One rendering/ouputting machine for many workstations. The grpahics card will have virtually no effect on the processing of images -- that's done at the CPU chip. And the graphics card approach is probably pretty over-rated: it produces "pitch reels" and "demo reels," but when images are being loaded into compositing packages like "Chalice" or "Inferno," plain old CD-R's, hard drives or modems will be used.
The "Perception Card" or "PDR" is the method animators who intend to sell their work use for offloading it to video. It results in a completely professional-looking result. Can this be emulated by recording a CD-R for DVD playback? erhaps. I've never done it, though one Canon-GL-1 owner tells me the DVD player is viable for a number of CD-R to VHS formats now.
I am seeing CD-RW drives in very affordable price ranges, and recently purchased a four year warranty for about $40. External drives have the advantage you can rescue your friends -- the love comes back. One can still make a great portfolio reel by shooting the TV screen with a camcorder, but the CD-R option also lets one bring work home, or mail or give out portfolio CD's for about $1, and most importantly, clear off past projects and optimize hard drive memory which starts to get used up quickly as one gets one's fingers dirty. The external CD-R can also be loaned or brought to a fellow LIGHTWAVE or INSPIRE users for downloading, if necessary. There may also be a way to adapt the monitor's input to a video signal, but that's way outside my knowledge. The CD-R is essential for backing-up files and selling finished animation. The pro's have the equipment ("Bink") to convert tif's and tga's to animation, just as you do. The professional standard is apparently a stack of CD-R's with image files and a "wav" or two.
Another advantage of the CD-R
Another downside of graphics cards applies directly to INSPIRE. There will probably not be an INSPIRE 2 -- check www.newtek.com for details. I have to infer from the way that the LIGHTWAVE 7 Demo has no problem with my new Geforce 64M card, though it eliminates "show rendering in progress" as if a bright pink fog was entered in the fog requester, that INSPIRE is not made for the new graphics cards. I have heard "newer" Drivers may help, but as I mentioned, LIGHTWAVE 7 had no trouble.
I discovered downloading "Bink" from www.smacker.com that this program can convert an ".avi" movie into tga's. One can even convert to "tiff"s, retouch some of them, and reassemble them into "avi"s, which can be combined into one long "avi." Two other essential things that "Bink" can do is help you keep compressed animations and delete the bulky originals when your hard disk begins to get too full, which may increase the likelihood of crashes, and allow the realtime viewing of "avi's" that might "skip" with slower video cards. Newtek's $99 "Vidget" may be able to do this even better. The nice thing about recording tga's for later "Image Sequence" loading in INSPIRE or compositing in "Bink" is that one can resume rendering at any point midway through a shot. "Bink" also has a frame rate adjustment in playback ideal for quickie tests, so that one can either record a complicated scene in low res or skipping every ten frames and playing back at 3 fps. The compression is generally 10:1 or better, but I hardly notice a difference in image quality. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could record every other image in INSPIRE, and then load the image sequence into the Images Panel of a new Scene file and have it render the missing frames as if shot "on two's" (or "ten's"), including any additional frames shot "on one's" in prior tests, as long as the image name hadn't changed.
www.smacker.com is very proud of the quality of "bink" and touts its image quality being better than the belle of DVD -- MPEG-2. If you would like to decide for yourself, a freeware for MPEG-2 conversion from the "avi" format called "BBMPEG" is available from many sources like www.bbmpeg.org www.div-x.org or www.vcdhelp.org -- use the search engines. The file used for conversion is "AVI2MPG2."
For sending out "shorts" to buyers/webcasts: probably the most thorough way of sending out one's work is going to be a VHS copy of the short, or the short in a MPEG-4 file, plus a "bink" exe file, plus the "avi" on as many disks as it needs. "Bink" can copy a file back to "avi" in MPEG-4, but the file name may need to be changed from "avi" to "mpg" to work with MPEG players. In the past, I've also included the "Bink" codec, which is pretty short. A competing system from www.divx.org is called "Div-x." A similar editing freeware is called "Virtual dub." These are also located on the Links page of this site.
For "demo reels:" I have learned that the CD is not always the best route to go. If the CD opens to the wrong size of screen for instance, the lip-synch and/or music may be out of synch. OOOOPS! I just saw my first DVD-R at a recent User Group meeting, and it included DVD, VCD and MPEG formats, but could only be played on the available equipment as an "avi."
One may convert back to "tiff" files from "Bink" files (with some loss), or save the "tiff" files on the hard drive or a CD-R, to do some fancy editing. One may delete frames from the beginning or end of shots, for a highly polished edit. WARNING: as you pass 1,000 frames, you will need to do some juggling to fit together sequences, or be careful about numbers in names, because "Bink" will stop a sequence for wander1 at wander1999.tga because wander11000.tga is read as eleven thousand. (The "fix" is to then paste together the two sequences and not sweat it any further.)
"Bink" is pretty nifty. Have you been putting off adding sound to your animation? "Bink" will not only integrate a "wav" sound file, and provide compression options, it can edit the sound to be spliced to the end of an existing track. A 7 second file can become either a compressed 1 meg "Bink" animation file with sound or re-converted to "avi," sometimes as large as 15 megs for the same file. Goosebump time! If one uses a 15 fps frame rate, for rendering, etc., the sound rate can be adjusted to match!
If you have never recorded audio on your computer, let me clue you in: mega-fun! With an inexpensive connector for converting camcorder or tape recorder "jacks" to the mini plug female connectors that protrude from the back of the computer, one can do taping away from the computer and get some pretty high quality results. Or one can plug the microphone into the back of the computer with slightly noisier results, big deal. The better quality is with a $20 microphone like a "lavalier" connected to a quiet motored recorder; camcorders are great because the camcorder's output volume is set at the factory. After a year, the warranty on my computer had expired, and I found myself replacing my sound card myself. As an aquaintance I knew from a local coffee shop put it: "You undo a few screws and gently rock-out the old one and disconnect one cable, then you rock the new card in, and connect one cable, and you're basically done. Windows 98 will "see" the new device and prompt you for the CD that comes with the card."
The INSPIRE tutorial disk covers lip synch pretty thoroughly. There are also some resources in the Glossary. It's worth remembering that one can perfect lip synch in a separate scene file and then "Load from Scene" in the Objects Panel to combine the character heads where they belong.
About sound: one of my favorite wisdoms about sound recording goes like this -- "think about sound." This underlies the absence of thinking about sound in most TV work. Is there a music track? How are the effects? What does the voice track sound like?
A popular program used by some animators called "Virtual Dub" is avaliable from many sources, including www.virtualdub.org . I have not yet tried it.
Make sure the script is strong. Read it aloud for flow. Allot rewrites an hour a minute at least. Do a "scratch track" with a very rough scene file "avi" to be surer -- could the script be broader/more intelligent/more terse, given the visual impact? If your reading leans to the porcine, find actors. A lot of high octane voice talent is willing to read for animation, let alone one's friend's who may be trying to break-in. Use a good microphone and a decent recorder and get a strong performance with fidelity. (Echo and tinniness can be added later.) Ask a friend to direct the recording session if this isn't your bag, seriously. "Want to direct?" There, that wasn't so hard. I am inclined to suggest hiring out the work of music and rerecording to those who can slave away at a panel of switches putting hours of concentration into just a few minutes of work. My hats off to those guys. One may experiment and preview some ideas using affordable programs like www.cakewalk.com .
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