As my piece will have that stop motion style, I wanted to try to approach the stop motion look in my piece, I wanted to try and push the effect stop motion has on the characters as they move.
Looking at more traditional stop motions using malleable materials, like fur and plasticine, show the effects of humans touching and alter them to create the posing etc. Things such as finger prints on the skin, movement of fur during poses are examples of this. I was informed by Johnny Schumman it was known as boiling.
You can see this more clearly in older Aardman shorts, such as Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (1993), but this homemade look has made a return again in the likes of Early Man (2018).
The first thing I am wanting to use is photo scans to try and recreate those natural forms and shapes, capturing the smaller details like finger prints and nail marks in the clay. I have had a look at different options for scanning- and hope to use Agisoft photoscan to do this process.
When creating the shaders for this clay process, I am hoping to look into and use process of split displacements to allow more control. Splitting higher and lower details across different maps, will allow me to alter them independently and create a more ideal look.
One other main area I am hoping to work on to push this stop motion look, was the clay simulation on Renny himself. One thing I wanted to look at was pushing the forth wall, as if to suggest that Renny’s world is part of our world, with a creator influencing how he works and reacts. I discuss my inspiration when looking at Chuck Jones, having Renny’s arms move from the clay body, kind of like Rayman. For this I would looking into the likes of mesh splitting in Vray/Maya and also using Ambient occlusion passes to create the blend needed.
Rayman inspiration for the arms of my character.
Pipeline is a key part in this project, and one thing that I am aware I have a large lacking/understanding of. I decided to strip back the basics and build up on my understanding.
Things I wanted to learn were how each part of the pipeline fits together, effecting the others, and what I need to think about when passing the files along the pipeline.
An introduction to pipeline. (YouTube, 2018).
Michael Cauchi did a brief introductory to pipeline article on his website, which I used for the basis of my research/ as a brief introduction.
Michael Cauchi’s pipeline for a previous BFX (Michael Cauchi art, 2018).
Cauchi discusses various different things to consider, which I summarise below, and are something to consider in my own efforts.
Referencing vs Imports
- much more basic form of transferring
- a lot more stable than referencing, making it more favoured by students
- forced artists to be more stricter with their scheduling, not so flexible and limits artists.
- issues with file size and loading times,
Referencing- more popular alternative!
- allows several parts of pipeline to be active at once, artists can spend more time on their part- allowing for more time to polish assets
- allows fix of rigs that have broken (list reference edits)
- file size significantly less- as each maya file only stores changes made to the referenced file, so a final animation scene would be in the low kilobyte region, as opposed to 100s of megabytes.
- cons- requires a complicated hierarchy file system and naming convention. Changing a single object name will alter the heirarchy and the reference will stop working.
Naming Conventions and File Heirarchy
- one vital piece is project naming conventions- scene names and what is in the scenes themselves
- Why use? To sure you know what file you need and where to find it (DONT USE FINAL IN YOUR FILE NAMES)
- Rules- make sure everything in the scene is named based on what it is eg. groups- example_grp and layers, example_lyr. Any project files which are works in progress should contain _wip in the file name. Any files which are finished should have _published in the file name.
List Reference Edits Explained
It was advised in Cauchi’s post that I look into Reference edits, I found a few resources online which I want to investigate further.
Michael Cauchi art. (2018). Quick tips: The animation pipeline basics | Michael Cauchi art. [online] Available at: https://www.mikecauchiart.com/single-post/2017/01/19/Beginners-guide-to-The-animation-pipeline [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].
When looking at my approach to the technical side of the project, I decided to check in with some pipeline information.
I added the addition of the proxy model through scans process, this will aid me in the long run and possibly speed up the process. I don’t intend on creating all my assets from scans, just until I get the style of modelling I am going for, so I can create them solely in Maya/Zbrush.
Rigging is a process that I won’t have to battle with this project, thankfully, and I have acquired the services of a professional rigger. Jeff Capili is a fantastic artist who creates some amazing work, I expressed my interest in hiring him for rigging work last year. He is very interested in my project, and actually offered his skills for free. Capili has created several rigs for characters with similar animation styles and movements to what I am looking for.
I’m in a lucky position due to this, meaning that I can afford a higher topology count for the character- around 15,000/20,000 polys. This higher poly count will serve as an advantage for me when retaining the fine details of the clay shader, making sure that when animating, there is no distortion on the movement.
When approaching shading, I will be using VRAY for rendering, I have a few considerations to take. From research into Vray, I am aware that operating with a high poly count and the sub surface scattering can cause problems, and in turn an excessive increase in render times, therefore I need to think of a compromise. It was suggested to me that I maybe create 2 different shaders- one for close ups (fridge and close up TV shots) and one for further away shots (the rest of the living room shots). The close up shader would be created using SS, emulating real life clay, whereas the further away shader would use different processes for ‘faking’ the SS, to reduce render times.
These ‘faking’ tricks are one’s I will need to try out further to ensure they look ok/ could pass as SS. I created a small bank of articles to aid in my future research;
Another avenue I wanted to explore for character development was that of Chuck Jones, looking into his contribution to the characters such as Elmer Fud, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, moulding them into the characters we know and love today.
One of the big things in Jones’ work is that expresses emotion through different physical details, such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Jones’ in particular was heavily influenced by the likes of Buster Keaton, and his traits for flickering eyes to the camera. Jones’ animation style has noteably changed over the year, moving from heavy body movements, giving the personality through ever possible avenue, to one were the emotion and attitude is given through facial animations shown in the likes of Haredevil Hare (1948).
Haredevil Hare facial expressions (YouTube, 2018).
Chuck Jones’ animation style adapts to a the one he is most recognised for- using exaggerated animations to emphasis strong reactions. I think that this is something that I could definitely apply in my character animations on Renny, the expressions where he is showing the extremities of reactions to the plot. Stepping on the toy car, being thrown in to the air with the loud music, these are instances when he is pushed to the limits, and I will investigate having the rig created to allow a slight exaggeration on the eyes and beak, at moments when has less control.
An essay on Chuck Jones’ work summed up something very interesting about his work;
“Believability is more important than realism in animation” (Peraya, D. R., 1992).
I definitely think this is something that is visited in all forms of animation, things can be made to the extreme as long as they don’t exceed people’s belief in a situation. Jones’ applies this in a lot of his shorts- especially with Road Runner and Wylie E. Coyote.
Wile E. Coyote pushed from the cliff, he pauses mid air, looking down at the height, before he falls. His head remains on screen, falling long after his body, as if not accepting that he has to fall.
The belief is here- the Wile E. Coyote does fall, but breaks the laws of physics to do so. There is the impact- showing the effect of the fall, but no immediate danger.
Jones’s use of animals in shorts stop us from essentially become in sadist in nature. We have no problem with the hurt felt by the character, due to the knowledge that he is a cartoon animal, and living with these extremes he won’t get hurt. Knowing he can go through an form of pain and he’ll bounce back. Characters feel the pain, but they’re like putty and bounce back, we can end an episode knowing full well that the character would be back ‘alive’ and unharmed in future episodes. It de-emotionalises the situation for the person, as they’ve never been through the extremes of the behaviour.
I like the idea of playing with this in my short, possibly mixing this with the feeling of a forth wall, as if the character is aware that he is a puppet. I like the idea of the stop motion clay coming apart and re-fixing at extreme poses, an idea that something made this world. In Jones’ Duck Amuck (1953), Daffy’s world is used against him as the animator takes over and removes the environment that he is affiliated with, causing pain and uncertainty to him. I like the idea of using this in my own short, using the knowledge to further drive the frustrations of Renny.
Looking at breakdowns for how Jones’ worked on Bugs Bunny, he made him so not to be the instigator of trouble, Bugs actually wanted to be left alone, only actually retaliating when someone took him on.
“Bugs needs a reason for combat, but if he is pushed to war, he will win” (Peraya, D. R., 1992).
I think this would be the case of my character too, were he acts pretty normal but retaliates, his enemy more being his actions and his environment. For example, stubbing his toe without paying attention, his lack of awareness being his enemy here.
Additionally, one of the key aspects of Jones’ shorts is the identification of character and the ability to relate to them, despite being in weird situations. When we look at the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, although they look like a like a rabbit and a duck, they are nothing like those animals. Their personalities and character are developed so extremely, their outer form is irrelevant, and are in fact based on Jones himself and people he has met. This is something I think would be key when developing Renny’s character. Not giving him a human face, people can look past that aspect and see their personalities and traits in this bird character. This would also allow both adults and kids to relate to Renny, much like Jones’ characters.
Definitely looking into the aspects of Chuck Jones’ character development has really helped me with moulding Renny’s character- considering how he should react to the environment around him, what sort of relationship he has, and how this would effect his physical movement.
When looking into my character I started to think about how I could make him universally likeable. I remembered that during my time at Flickerpix I had researched Shaun the Sheep and I decided to revisit him, due to his own international love.
Shaun the Sheep Behind The Scenes
Shaun the Sheep has been the most successful animated character in Aardman’s history- especially popular in China, Indonesia and the Middle East. Especially successful in Japan, which is experiencing its version of “Shaundamania,” at the end of 2017, it was the countries biggest import. Japan even has cafes and its own Shaun the Sheep Theme Park.
Shaun the Sheep inspired fashion on Japanese runways (Kelly, 2018).
Shaun has surpassed Wallace and Gromit in terms of global likeability, which is strange due to their quintessentially British personas and home feeling. The reason for his success is the removal of cultural barriers and, additionally, language barriers, ‘baa’ being a universally recognised sheep noise.
‘Shaun is easily Aardman’s biggest global brand,’ Clarke says. ‘We’re [broadcast] in 170 countries. Don’t ask me to name them all. But you’d never know it from this country’ (Gritten, 2018).
Sound and VO for my own short is something I have been considering recently, and the research into Shaun the Sheep and his silence really pushes that idea for me. I like the idea of the sounds being grumbly noises or completely silent.
When thinking of the camera views and angles in this short, I decided that I wanted to key them still, as if the viewed is part of the environment, watching the seen playing before them, like an onlooker. Each particular scene is normally from the one camera, at a certain distance, camera moves not changing drastically, if at all.
Robot Chicken shorts such as the Peter Pan and the Annie episodes.
The cameras are normally face on, as the mouths of the characters are cut outs, so moving around would be off putting and hard to follow. I feel that these shorts are a good reference to follow, given their character driven nature. The comedy is character driven, and the camera work follows their movements to best show off their personality. The camera also is used as a comedic device in these shorts- the quick pans normally to uncover a witty remark or to show a reaction of hidden movement from a scene.
This camera work actually reminds me of the play An Inspector Calls (Priestley, 2009) where the entire play takes place in one scene, the viewer is in the one seat, therefore the play happening through one camera. There are talks of events off screen and sound effects to emulate what is happening around the ensemble. This is something I would take to the advantage, having actions happen off screen, using comedy through animation of props as opposed to the character itself. Again Priestley’s use of a single scene, much like the Robot Chicken shorts is for similar purposes. Priestley uses it to increase tension and drive the story, and to allow character development. Throughout the play, this one room/ one camera angle allows characters to be in the full spotlight, and they have no where to hide their ‘bad’ bits.
A rendition of An Inspector Calls, showing were one set and one camera is used to the advantage for an hour long show (YouTube, 2018).
Again tying with the stop motion theme, I have different inspirations for this character. I chose the seagull as he is a character that has always stuck with me since designing him in first year. I feel like I have a good understanding and development of his personality, which fits exactly that of the main character I am looking to create, with attributes including;
-gets easily confused
-consistently trying/ not giving up
-get annoyed easier
All traits that people have in some degree making them relate to Renny.
A render from a few years ago of Renny the seagull.
A few earlier exploration concepts of Renny.
While on placement a few of my colleagues (Deborah Tan and Jamie Mills) drew some concept art and fanart of Renny. I really liked Debbies rendition of the bird, giving him a jumper, something that I will definitely incorporate into the design.
The more I went into the idea, the more I drew away from the features above, especially the detailed eyeballs and open and closing beak, I didn’t think he’d work as well in the stop motion style. My original storyboards show him with the features above, which was when I started to have doubts on the look. Noting this, I went back to stopmotion films and had a look at how birds were modelled and the materials characters were made from. I found myself especially drawn to the sculpey/ plasticine look and so naturally, looked back at characters from Ardman, in series like Creature Comforts (1971) and Chicken Run (2000).
PayPal Turkey Dash
Chicken Run (2000)
Creature Comforts (2006)
I love the squishy feel of the characters, however I want to add my spin to the look, trying not to completely copy the look. I really like the ‘dot’ eyes look, which would work in the stop motion claymation look, as the eyes could be made as ball bearings, much like the Penguin from The Wrong Trousers (1993). I really like the idea of the character not having a mouth- as if a child has created him from clay- or in the case of Renny no beak. This would really help push the animation of the eyes, to create that need for expressive action when there’s no mouth to convey how the character actually feels. I’ll be looking at the likes of Pingu and Gromit to understand how to create those emotions.
From these I started a wider search for character inspiration, the below images are some adaptations I made based on the moodboard I gathered. I kept the cone like shape for the body, as seen in The Penguin and the penguins in the Creature Comfort shorts. I added the tufts of hair, to give a bit of personality, kind of like the take on a cow lick, as if it can’t be fixed. I took inspiration from the Chicken Run films, with the segmented feet, I removed the idea of webbing to let the feet have less restricted movement.
Some posing designs from the character I created for the character to see how he feels and get an idea of his movement.
Today I had my first presentation introducing my project to the class and I think it went well!
Everything seemed to be reviewed and taken positively- people laughed as I talked through my storyboards and my designs where appreciated and liked by the class. There were a few suggestions made by some of the lecturers.
It was suggested that I experiment with the beak shape on the character, maybe experimenting with different styles. I’m thinking of testing two- the Aardman shapes and those of the birds in Odo.
The mouth shapes from Aardman’s Creature Comforts (2017) are normally circular with the beak attached to the mesh.
The shapes from the birds in the Odo (2018) designs are another I want to experiment with- I’ll do a few iterations of these and include below. I’m currently heavily influence by the influences of Peter Lord, he had some words I took as my inspiration for the character animation of Renny (below).
“The miracle is that the working part is about an inch – you know, between the top of his nose and the top of his eyebrows – less than an inch of plasticine, and just with that eyebrow and movement of his eyes, he does it all,” says Lord. (Convery, 2018).
I’m going to test the idea of these facial movement, but maintaining the necessity of the animation, every move needing a reason to be there. One of the things Robert in my year commented on was that if I stuck to the single non opening beak, I could look at sources like Soldier Sam from the Magic Roundabout (2005) and Tim Lockwood from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009).
The moustaches of these characters wiggle to express talking, I could apply this to Renny’s beak, making the beak wiggle up and down to simulate emotion.
I was also suggested that I speak to Henry Melki as his PhD which featured information on character influences and character creation. I have his email address and will contact him (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a few questions- possibly see if there’s more topics I could research.
I did a few quick reiterations of the character design choices, giving that movable open mouth. I’m not entirely sold on the shape in my drawings, but I might test them by modelling in clay to see how they feel, but this is definitely something I will continue to look into.
After the presentation Lorna said that I’d have to make sure my sound effects are correct and clear, as using the wrong ones may confuse the viewer, especially during the interaction with the TV screen bit. I’ll have to sit down with my sound designer and make sure that everything is clear and readable with the visuals.
Convery, S. (2018). The art of Aardman: why Wallace never learns and Gromit never needs to speak. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jun/30/the-art-of- aardman-wallace-never-learns-and-gromit-never-needs-to-speak [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].
I looked into a lot of set design for stop motion films, exploring the likes of Laika and Aardman. I’ve given a brief summary below of the elements I like in each.
I love the sizing and shapes in Aardman sets, the slightly obscured look with certain assets looking lopsided, it gives off the hand made feel, as if created by a person larger than the world they are in. I love the larger clumsier looking shapes, especially in the Wallace and Gromit environments, where you can see the imperfections like finger prints and nicks. This is definitely something I would like to incorporate into the final look.
Maynards Patch TV Advert
I wasn’t quite as in love with this environment- it was a little too perfect, lacking the usual character I love. I quite liked the colour scheme of the room however, with the yellows and greens, something I’ll try to experiment with in my own art concepts.
Wallace and Gromit
Wallace and Gromit was the original inspiration in my piece, more from the fact I grew up watching The Wrong Trousers (1993). I love the shape of the sofas and mugs in this piece.
Shaun the Sheep
Shaun the Sheep’s sets are very similar to the Wallace and Gromit ones in there colour palettes and style- that apparent hand made look that’s from a larger scale. I love the homely feel in these sets- they aren’t heavily populated by decoration but enough to fill lived in, something I will definitely carry across into my design work.
Laika’s sets tend to have a more leaner look, trying to induce more of a chillier atmosphere in their shorts. They tend to elongated a lot more, the silhouettes for me are more skeleton like. I want to create a warmer homelier feel in the environment, so I will experiment, much like Javier Leon, will combine both styles to see if I can find a create a happy medium between the two.
CGI iterations- Javier Leon
One of the major inspirations and reasons I had wanted to go for the look of a stop motion set in CG, was due to that of the below work by Javier Leon. The below comment was written on his blog about the scene;
I made this project as part of my personal demoreel. The intention was to recreate the feel of a traditional stopmotion set. I wanted to create an environment that was something in between Coraline and Wallace and Gromit, and that looked hand made (Leon and perfil, 2018).
This is actually similar to what I’m looking for, the mix of Laika and Aardman styles- that realistic look with a slight obscured shape.
Leon has also created other doll like sets, I like his shape language and set up on these too. They are a bit more ‘train model set’ than the style I am exclusively going for but they were a good reference again for that homely look.
I’m beginning to see a trend in the colour patterns through the different references I’ve been looking at, that of more autumnal reds and oranges and yellows- a warm palette. It looks fairly muddy when presented as below, but I’ll do a good few tests with the colours to ensure they work with the character.
A colour palette I was drawn to matching up to those references I liked the most (Pinterest, 2018).
So, I sat down and wrote out my beginning script, I knew it was immediately too long, with too much going on, and therefore I needed to take the key elements from it and shorten it down.
The first thing I did however, was to create my logline and synopsis, something that, through my time at Flickerpix, I learnt was an important this was, to ensure the plot makes sense and the plot can be summarised into a simplified plot. This helped me work to simplify my plot to one that has less information.
Renny the Seagull has lost his TV remote control. Can he find it?
All Renny wants to do is sit down after a long day at work, and watch his favourite TV shows. However, he has one problem, his TV remote has gone missing. Will he overcome his frustration and find it? Tune in to find out.
So I cut the story down to this;
- Renny enters the room with a cup of tea
- He sets it down on the table and moves to the sofa
- He jumps upwards, lands down and settles, reaching for the remote control
- Loud music fills the scene, the scene and character jumps upwards in fright, he turns off the music, landing on the sofa, face in disbelief.
- He searches down the cushions off the sofa, growing annoyed he walks off screen.
- Out of camera we hear crashing and banging, objects are thrown in on screen.
- He stops, marching back into the screen, he stops in from of the sofa and bends down.
- Camera changes to under the sofa looking out, he groans other items apparent on screen, keys etc.
- He stands, hands to his lips thinking, he points at the TV an idea overcoming him.
- He walks forward, stepping on a toy, jumping up and down in pain.
- He storms to the TV, angrily pressing the buttons on the side.
- The input changes switching to a game screen, then a DVD input,.
- The ratio changes on screen, blocking Renny’s face. He ducks down so he can see below the ratio, this continues working through them.
- It finally changes to the channel option. A positive noise comes from the TV, Renny looks hopeful something is working.
- An error message appear, Renny gets really annoyed, he shakes the TV in frustration. A loud cracking sound it heard.
- The TV falls, colliding with the ground the screen blacking out.
- The scene settles in darkness, footsteps heard walking closer to the screen.
- A fridge door opens, Renny is seen placing a milk cartoon onto the shelf, beside a remote control.
- The door closes, footprints starting to walk away. They stop and a loud OH! Is heard.
Below are my storyboard for this script, I worked on the posing and ensuring everything matched up. During placement I got a lot of advice from a colleague (Deborah Tan) on story-boarding, especially regarding posing and how it’ll contribute to my final movements. This resulted in me taking a lot of photos of myself for the boards to make them believable.