Job Research – Modelling

So to wrap up the year I’m required to do one more post, to discuss my chosen discipline a little more, what the role is responsible for, other job roles you work alongside and how to get there.

A lot of this is off the top of my own head (until I get to the actual jobs bit) I guess wrapping up the first point is pretty easy, producing industry standard 3D assets for use in game/tv/film/simulations/architectural renderings etc. These could range from anywhere between a barrel in a video game, a character for a movie or commercial, a mockup of a building for architectural plans etc. It is a wide ranging skill that sees more and more use as time goes on, however lets be honest here, its the entertainment side I’m primarily focusing on. Texturing can occasionally be a separate job, however it is usually the responsibility of the modeller to unwrap and apply appropriate textures.

The common jobs for modellers break down into environment artist and character, while not always this does tend to be the division between hard and soft surface modelling. A table is a much simpler structure than a human body for example. In bigger companies this could be subdivided even further, for this exercise I was looking at jobs at Ubisoft Reflections and they were recruiting specifically for a 3D Vehicle Artist.

Most artists will end up taking orders from the Senior artists, who take orders from the Lead Artist. However you’ll still brush shoulders with other job roles, usually technical artists and animators who will be responsible for rigging, simulations (hair/fur/water etc) and obviously animating models you create (if necessary). You could also be responsible for discussions with clients to see if the work is matching up to the brief, schedules are being met etc.

Onto some current job listings:

Junior Vehicle Artist – Ubisoft Reflections

Qualifications

Skills and Knowledge

  • Good interpersonal and communication skills;
  • Knowledge of modeling techniques;
  • Knowledge of texture mapping and materials;
  • Knowledge of relevant 2D and 3D software packages;
  • A technical problem solving mindset is desirable;
  • Knowledge of vehicle design principles is desirable;
  • Knowledge of streaming and LOD systems linked to in-game engines;
  • Familiarity with data management software (such as Perforce) is desirable;
  • Exposure to industry game engines and production pipelines is desirable;
  • Knowledge of the video game industry and awareness of typical video game development processes is desirable.

Relevant Experience

  • Up to 1 years’ experience in an internship or placement year in a professional game studio environment or other relevant experience;
  • Bachelor’s degree in Graphics Design, Art or any other relevant training.

Okay right off the bat I can ignore the Bachelor’s degree part, that funding pool dried up many years ago and I couldn’t keep up the student lifestyle while balancing the mortgage and general monthly outgoings. I either make it into this industry on talent and portfolio or fail trying!

Communication skills & problem solving, no problem, years in IT and multiple years on a service desk. Sadly this particular listing doesn’t specify what kinds of modelling techniques or mapping techniques they’re looking for in a candidate, you’d just have to be as good as you can be and hope for the best. Now this is a specific artists job and I’m not entirely sure what vehicle design principles are. I doubt I’ll get any experience of asset management systems in college or accurate production pipelines. So for this job I’d be gambling on artistic talent to carry most of the weight.

Although to be honest, I asked the question of how to get my foot in the door as a mature student multiple times to multiple professionals during Animex and the response was almost always “a good showreel highlighting the best you can do” with occasional tailoring depending on the style/history of the studio you’re applying to. I’ll be taking that advice to heart and focusing on a high quality show reel for the end of this course for job applications.

Ubisoft also had posted a Junior Environment Artist job:

Junior Environment Artist

Qualifications

Skills and Knowledge

• Good interpersonal and communication skills;
• Ability to create interesting, detailed and visually appealing environments;
• Ability to adapt to new processes and pipelines;
• Working knowledge of industry leading 3D modelling packages and techniques;
• Understanding of composition visual story telling;
• Knowledge of level editors;
• Understanding of Physically Based Rendering systems;
• Familiarity with data management software (such as Perforce) is desirable;
• Basic gameplay and level design knowledge is desirable;
• Knowledge of optimisation techniques (e.g. 3D Studio Max);
• Knowledge of the video game industry and awareness of typical video game development processes is desirable;
• Exposure to industry game engines and production pipelines is desirable.

Relevant Experience

• Up to 1 years’ experience in an internship or placement year in a professional game studio environment or other relevant experience;
• Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design, Art or other relevant training;
• Experience in both hard surface and organic modelling;
• Experience working in Adobe Photoshop.

Whole modelling is still obviously a big factor in this job role it seems to take a back bench in favour of a working knowledge of composition, story telling, level editors and generally good aesthetics. Which makes sense as your level is your connection to the world in which your story in unravelling.

This also makes having the required experience for a junior role a little tricky, I know the course isn’t going to give any hands on with a level editor, or specific rendering systems. So again this comes down to personal tuition or hoping the quality of my art opens up opportunities for on the job training. I didn’t bring this up on the previous job but fingers crossed that this course ticks the box for ‘other relevant training’.

Last but not least (as I don’t want this to go on forever) I found an Internship position at Studio Gobo. I don’t know if I’d be eligible as it states “Ideally you will have completed the second year of your degree” and I’m not on a degree program. However job hunting is a hard beast and you apply for EVERYTHING and hope for the best. So a year from now I’d try something like this.

Studio Gobo – Artist Internship

You know what, this level of qualifications I could tick. Maybe even now but definitely after another year of education! There is hope after all! Its only a 12 month internship and therefore isn’t permanent, but that’s a lot of quality experience you could take elsewhere once the contract ends.

To wrap this up, off to spend a summer learning! To quote some famous Warcraft Orcs “What? More work?…..Okey doke!”.

 

 

Animex AVFX – Day One

While it is towards the end of the year and a week out of my work schedule adds a tiny bit of stress onto my mind, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend a week at the Animex Festival learning from industry. The college had offered to take us for the Games side of the event only, however Kelly and I signed up for the VFX side too and have been given official leave.

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Today’s schedule

  1. The FX of Lego Batman – Matt Estela, VR supervisor, Animal Logic
  2. Animating Ethel and Ernest – Peter Dodd, Animation director, Lupus Films
  3. Creating the Characters of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – William Gabriele, Rigging TD, Framestore
  4. The Animation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Colin McEvoy, Animation supervisor, Double Negative
  5. The VFX of Rogue One: a Star Wars Story – Bradley Floyd, 2D Sequence supervisor, and John Seru, Generalist lead, Industrial Light and Magic

After a short break there would be a social meet and greet on the night, allowing us to talk to all of these talented people and hopefully learn a thing or two in the process.

The FX of Lego Batman

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Now recapping an entire lecture would be insane, so between Kelly and I we took some shorthand notes. I’ll try to highlight some of the major points and leave the rest out.

The Lego Movie was a total success, most people didn’t expect it to be but by god we were all proven wrong. For Lego Movie and Lego Batman, Lego provided their brick database used in the Lego Digital Designer, giving the teams access to 3D models of the entire catalogue from the beginning of development. This allowed the assets to go straight into the pipeline. It also goes to some lengths at explaining how the entire development only took two years on a movie this size (more on this in a moment).

Originally a Lego Ninjago movie, along with the Lego Movie sequel were planned to happen before a Batman movie. However after the initial pitch and first draft concepts being green-lit, it was moved ahead of both other productions giving the team a mere two years to complete the project rather than four. To achieve this the script writers, story writers and art department were running in parallel to speed up pre-production.

The Lego movie was mostly kept to smaller desktop sets, however the team didn’t feel they could accurately portray Gotham City in such a way and wanted to aim for a larger scope with an atmosphere that (quote from Matt) “the movie should be as colourful as the Joker, but as dark as the Dark Knight”.

The next tid-bit was what completely made the Lego Batman movie for me, they tried as much as possible to reference as much of the 78 years of Batman history as possible, drawing design references from comics, the animated shows, the 60s show etc. For anyone in the know this made the movie a laugh a minute if you knew your stuff.

Now for the technical part. The in house renderer for the movie was called Glimpse which originally started as a plug-in for Renderman and slowly grew into its own renderer. Glimpse would trace the rays and feed them back to Renderman. Towards the end of the movie some scenes were rendered entirely with the now independent Glimpse but otherwise the bulk of the movie was still Renderman with plug-ins. The software is still being developed in house for future Lego movies. To wrap this up a single Lego stud had 1000 vertices, which…blows my mind to be honest. Gotham City was in the trillions of vertices and is absolutely staggering that they brought down rendering to a mere three minutes a frame. Hats off to the technical team at AnimalLogic!

Also a big thank you to Matt Estela on the night during the social event for some cracking industry advice, some confidence pep talk and brilliantly funny career stories! If I manage to learn any Houdini over the summer, its thanks to this guy.

Ethel and Ernest

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Going into this lecture I wasn’t aware of the movie being discussed but as soon as the first slide came up I recognised the art style and knew it had to be related to the Snowman in some form or another. Turns out yes, its an adaption from another Raymond Brigg’s book about his parents. While the movie only took a year to make, it has seen its share of development hell and took eight years to gain momentum before production began. My hats off to all the dedicated people that believed in the project and kept pushing to make it a reality. The movie was created at Lupus Films (responsible for the shorts Snowman and the Snowdog and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) but this was their first feature film.

Raymond’s art style on paper is a rough one, known for very quick pencil sketches and then photocopying these before reinforcing his line work and then over painting these with goache. It makes for a very hand crafted and personal feel, something which the development team wanted to recreate for the movie. Initial tests were done to animate old school using pencil and layout sheets but this was too time consuming and costly. Therefore for this talk I’d like to focus on some of the methods and cheats that were used to aid development.

Lupus made great use of the tool TVPaint with plug-in LazyBrush, which Peter Dodd had made use of during working on the recent TSB ad campaigns.

This tool allowed large areas to be quickly coloured using strokes across an area. The magical plug in reduced the colouring per frame from 30 minutes to 2-3 minutes. To achieve this hand painted colour feeling, photographs and scans of textures, paint swatches and other physical media were added to LazyBrush.

Going back up a level to TVPaint itself, many attempts were taken at making pencil strokes look as real and natural as possible. Line work was then duplicated, blurred and inversed for a white outline, colour/texture added to this layer and then the darker hard lines added back on top. To aid the animators with the drawing process, Animbrushes were created containing 30-40 turn arounds of character heads which allowed quick stamping of varying angles. Oh and finally many backgrounds were modelled in 3D to use as perspective reference, such a cheat is great to see being used in industry as its something I’ve done myself in the past.

Creating the Characters of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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This talk by the very talented William Gabriele from Framestore was easily one of the more complex of the day. He walked us through the rigs used by some of the goblins used in the movie, specifically Gnarlak and the goblin singer in the same club scene.

Framestore worked closely with JK Rowling to create these new characters and the film overall had 500 artists working on 36 full characters across 400 shots. The amount of work involved is staggering. Fifteen million CPU hours were required to render these shots and we were told this would have taken 1700 years on a single CPU, this boiled down to 274TB of rendered data. You see stats like these and realise movies are on a whole other level to games.

As for the rigs used, I never even considered that movie level rigs would have musculature, tendons and accurate skeletons rigged too. I give my utmost respect to technical artists able to work at this extreme level of anatomy. I wish I had examples to show but like all of the talks, photographs and filming were not allowed due to sensitive behind the scenes material. For Gnarlak they took a standard male human body rig and adapted the proportions to give a starting point.

As for the animation, most of it was motion capture from the actors giving the performance which was then put through a validation process, locked to the proportions of the character and then some manual clean up by hand.

I wish I had more to say on this one, or at least say I’ve picked up some great hint of technical knowledge but honestly it was WAY above my head in terms of complexity. Amazing talk though and very eye opening to the kind of quality required for movies these days.

The Animation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Another great talk revolving around Fantastic Beasts, but this time from Animation Supervisor Colin McEvoy from Double Negative, discussing bringing Frank the Thunderbird to the screen.

All kinds of different animals were looked at and integrated into Frank’s final design such as various birds of prey, horses and oddly jellyfish. Due to his size the team were worried his wing span was too narrow and wouldn’t look believable, however once animation tests were done his two extra smaller sets of wings gave enough visual language to suggest he would still be flight capable.

Being graceful was brought up a lot in their briefs and this fed into Frank’s animation a lot, the curve and arc of his tail were a particular area where the team needed to focus on this idea and implemented many slow fluid arcs to achieve this.

I’m going to derail from the bulk of my notes here and focus on two points, having recently animated a few cycles and had some major headaches with my own animations Colin mentioned something that changed everything. Animation layers. By using layers you can create a cycle, move to a new layer and key onto a new timeline without affecting the layer below (similar to how one would use layers in Photoshop). He would begin by doing his blocking phase, move to a new layer and then key on 4s using straight ahead techniques, new layer and work on 2s and crazily another layer and work on 1s. That is an amazing amount of work but also a crazy level of control down to the tiniest level. This is something I’ll have to test in animations next year, this could really help and many thanks to Colin for spending some time on the night explaining this to us in more detail, we really appreciated it!

Colin also mentioned he occasionally animates just the silhouette to focus on the shapes and the negative space, refining not only the animation but the composition. The field chart tool comes in handy for this, independent to the camera it lets you track your character movement without any background, great for tracking arcs and making sure your character is framed perfectly.

The VFX of Rogue One: a Star Wars Story

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Being a huge Star Wars fan, was I excited for this? Does the Pope wear a funny hat?! The only thing stopping me from jumping up and down in my seat was the tiny lecture theatre seats! Bradley Floyd (2D Sequence supervisor) and John Seru (Generalist lead) from ILM London were here to discuss the process of concepting and creating the city of Jedha for the movie.

Harking back to the visuals of the old movies it was lovely to hear they went straight back to Ralph McQuarrie’s concepts for the original for inspiration along with location scouting and visual inspiration from the Middle East, Egypt and Africa.

Here is the single greatest thing I learnt from this talk and it is an absolute source of motivation from now on. The model for Jedha as seen above was put together through a mix of Maya, Nuke and ZBrush, although you might think it took a team of 20-30 artists maybe? Two artists, just two artists modelled the entirety of Jedha and I am blown away by it. How was this possible you ask, by using simple building models which were unique on each side, cleverly rotating each building and arranging them into small districts surrounded by the occasional bigger hero building. In total Jedha only had around 30 unique buildings. Layered on top of this were smoke/steam effects, they built up a small library of these and placed them around pipes/grates for added effect.

For the explosion of Jedha (sorry anyone that hasn’t seen the movie yet) the team researched nuclear weapon test videos specifically looking at clouds, shockwaves, how the ground was affected, heat and exposure. A slightly grim task but the results speak for themselves. To achieve a lot of this the terrain that had been created in Maya was procedurally shattered and had various FX simulations added to it (tectonic cracking, debris, dust etc). Amazingly most of what you see in the final movie was rendered in Arnold, I’ve obviously underestimated Arnold as a renderer and should spend more time figuring out how it works.

I had a few quick words with both John and Bradley on the night, just about general paths into the industry and the kind of things to aim for in a showreel. Both assured me that degree education absolutely isn’t necessary as long as you have talent, keep your show reel short and focus only on your absolute best work. Don’t build up to the best, open with it and wow early. As for movies their suggestion was simple enough, model and texture well enough so that it would blend into reality and not be out of place in a video composite. Thanks for the tips and your time guys, along with generally nerding out over Star Wars!

Global Game Jam 2017

This past weekend was the Global Game Jam 2017 and myself along with any other willing students from the college participated, there ended up being 30 of us total. Throwing away any weekend plans to do what we’re enrolled for, making games! From 5:30pm on Friday night to submission at 3:30pm Sunday, we spent the majority of awake time on campus grounds, grafting away to create something that pushed our current skills as far as they would go in the time allocated.

Thanks go out to my team of Kelly, Daniel Bishop and Adam Lyons for being brilliant team players and giving it their all, it was a brilliant weekend and I’m thrilled we managed to have an end result.

Friday

After classes I stuck around waiting for the keynotes to be delivered in the lecture theatre at 5:30pm. We sat through some sound advice from one of their sponsors ‘Extra Credits’ about distilling your idea down to its most basic element and focusing on that, something I learnt the hard way over my mock Christmas jam which barely managed an end product. Kelly made our motto for the weekend ‘minimum viable product’, to produce a single mechanic that worked and looked great.

*drum roll please*

The keynotes finished up and the theme for this year was:

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*The panic sets in*

We were all a little lost for ideas at first, thinking that the theme was rather specific. However after ten minutes or so we started realising that there was a lot of scope outside of thinking the sea/ocean. Hands waving, sound waves, waves of enemies etc. Pairing up with my team we found a sofa and began brain storming, ending with three ideas we could go with. A surfer trying to keep his balance on waves, controlling light trying to reach a destination and using a sonar mechanic to try and navigate a dark environment. We all decided to try our hand at the sonar idea and fleshed it out into navigating a bat through a dark cave system while avoiding obstacles using its sonar. We weren’t too sure how to visually represent this with the skills we have to settled on using an animated spot light cone.

In an attempt to minimise the amount of assets needed we opted to create an endless runner and have a small selection of obstacles randomly generate. Controls would be a simple up, down and a button/key to send out your sonar.

All that was left for the first night with allocating roles/jobs. I already had a few ideas on how to quickly make the environment so I took up the job of making the cave system itself, Kelly took the role of programmer, Adam was going to focus on making the player character and the sprite sheets for it and Daniel would focus on creating the games pickups.

We packed up and headed home. I was determined to nail down a simple art style on the first night, I wanted both of the other artists to be able to pick it up and run with it if we needed extra hands to help with the environment. I love Animate for its ability to generate vector art very quickly and decided to use it for testing and to keep clean looking graphics that could be resized if required. I removed the stroke from everything and decided to build all assets using nothing but shapes and a palette of three colours. One primary and two shadow shades.

By midnight I presented this to the team online and was given a thumbs up to start using it in the morning. I should have called it a night there but instead I refined the idea and by 2am I had a full background and foreground to be scrolled at different speeds. They just required some refinement in the morning to tile correctly.

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Saturday

I arrived on campus and immediately began trying to cleanly tile my backgrounds. After an hour and a half of tweaking, testing, tweaking, testing I handed them over to Kelly to implement into the build. It’s amazing though, I set up all the background layers in Animate with exactly the same pixel dimensions and yet the end result didn’t tile perfectly, so all tweaking was done in Photoshop on a super high resolution version of the file.

 

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Next I set about using exactly the same style to create obstacles. These boiled down to two types, rock formations and crystal formations. I created four of each giving us eight bits of terrain that could be randomly generated. These were all flipped vertically to give ground and ceiling obstacles.

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At this point it was about 3pm, Dan had left to deal with family obligations and Adam was at a gym session, I didn’t have access to either of their work to continue it and had to take a moment to decide where to focus my time. Unless Kelly shouted that we needed more variation in the terrain the environment was complete.

While it could be seen as non essential artwork (especially for a jam) I set about making menu screens for the end product, along with navigation buttons using the existing style. I wanted a persistent background for all menus and had considered taking a screen capture of the current build, however I didn’t want to pester our coder over something so trivial at this stage so mocked one up using all the assets at hand.

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I darkened this down using a layer over the top, stared at it for a moment and thought ‘damn I can’t install fonts on the college computers’. I really wanted to get something a bit wacky to use as a title font to give the whole thing a playful vibe, THANKFULLY I brought my own little ‘Road Warrior’ an old Lenovo ThinkPad. I jumped between the two machines, bringing rasterised text back and forth until I got something I liked the look of. Yes the font is bat related.

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Some quick compositing and a few circles later I was staring at this:

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It needed the bat to fill in the left third of the screen and some navigation controls. Since Adam was still away I focused on the buttons. This boiled down to another colour re-skin of a single crystal, up-scaling it and playing with fonts on my laptop again. Here are all the buttons. Also pizza arrived, so work stopped while 30 students descended on 10 pizzas like a horde of angry piranha.

Adam had returned and was finishing up the bat so I made a few alterations to the title screen to give us a blank canvas to be used for credits, how to play and game over. Off to play with more fonts for the game over screen.

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YES! The bat was complete and looked amazing. I asked for one particular frame of the animation and used that to complete the title screen. I took a break, my eyes were starting to burn out for the day. There wasn’t a lot of time left, I made a few colour tweaks here and there and tried to make a game plan for tomorrow. Mostly sourcing sound effects to add some polish to the end product. I got home with good intentions of hunting for sounds that night but decided sleep was more important.

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Sunday

A bright an early rise to go digging through the depths of the internet to find some suitable sounds. More specifically freesounds.org and incompetech.com/music/royalty-free. I had a list of things I wanted to find:

  • A bat screech
  • Sonar ping
  • Item pickup noise
  • Button hover
  • Button press
  • Wing flap
  • Menu music
  • Main game music

With the two resource sites mentioned above I found everything I needed after a lengthy time digging. Gathering the rest of the team, we picked through everything and decided which sfx we wanted to use. These were handed over to Kelly to add into the build.

From this point on I mostly floated about trying to help the rest of the team, play testing to find issues and making odd tweaks to certain graphics at the request of Kelly. Adam had spent the whole day working on a death animation for the bat and at the very last minute it turns out we couldn’t use videos in Unity without having quick time installed, we need to rebuild on another machine and add this in future. We were all gutted we couldn’t use it. The team submitted at 3:30 to GGJ, put our feet up and took a look at what the rest of the teams had come up with over the weekend.

Proof we submitted!

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Here is the link, files are hosted from my own Dropbox.

Sonar Slalom – Dropbox

Here is the link direct from GGJ as a backup: GGJ 2017 – Sonar Slalom

The game can be downloaded straight from GGJ, downloaded both data and exe files and put them in the same folder.

Brilliant experience and I’m thrilled we had such a polished looking end result. Kelly is already fixing some collider issues for future versions and we still have ideas we’d like to implement. Bring on the next jam!

 

Kazumasa Nagai & Wim Crouwel

Over the last two weeks Peter introduced a couple of artists/designers to us and in all honesty I’m behind on my posts so I’m rolling both of these gentleman together in one post.

Kazumasa Nagai

Kazumasa is a Japanese graphic designer and print maker born in 1929 Osaka. He was famous for his abstract work, but slowly shifted to slightly less abstract animal and plant designs in the 80’s. In some of his work there is definitely a very traditional Japanese art influence. Nagai also co-founded the Nippon Design Centre in 1960 and has had his work displayed at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the MoMA in New York.

I do enjoy a bit of abstract. It doesn’t matter what strokes you lay down on paper, canvas, computer etc, there will always be reason behind to the end form even if it’s purely emotional. As a class of artists and designers looking to potentially craft other world experiences within video games, we could all take useful cues from abstraction, throwing away logic when it comes to representing the world.

Anyway I’ll stop gabbing and display some of Nagai’s work.

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As a side note I absolutely love the lion and the zebra. There is just something so oddball about them I can’t help but smile. Just the right level of abstract before things completely lose all form!

Wim Crouwel

Wim is a Dutch graphic designer, type designer and typographer born in 1928. When looking into his work a little story about his childhood caught me eye. I’ll quote from the source;

“As a child, Crouwel was captivated by the austere beauty of electricity pylons, railway yards and overhead cables”. – See more at: https://designmuseum.org/designers/wim-crouwel

Already I’m behind the man 100%. I grew up around the local brewery as my mother used to be an accountant there. I was always fascinated by the industrial pipework and vats, the network of valves and pressure meters. It was a city of its own made entirely for booze! Later this would evolve to having an attraction to the industrial sites of Billingham and Redcar, especially after learning it was Ridley Scott’s inspiration for Blade Runner. We all take inspiration from the funniest of places. Anyway, back to Wim.

His career was varied, from managing the content and exhibitions of the Stedelijik Museum in Amsterdam, creating the typeface New Alphabet font which embraced the limitation of old cathode ray tubes and even designing the dutch stamps for a number of years. Eventually he would become a teacher.

His work made extensive use of grid based layouts and typography rooted in the International Typographic Style. Given this meant pretty much nothing to me, I had to do some digging and found it was the style that Bauhaus emerged from. When considering Wim’s style, it all made sense. The muted style, favouring geometry and form follows function sits perfectly with his childhood fascination of utilitarian and urban construction.

Here are some examples of his work.

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Coatsink Presentation – Shu

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Today I had the great opportunity to sit in on a talk given by local developers. Two employees from Coatsink came into the college to give a presentation on their latest release ‘Shu’ available on PS4 and Steam. As reps they sent Jonathan, a level designer and Gary, an animator. The game was made in conjunction with a secondary company called Secret Lunch, who gave birth to the original idea before Coatsink got involved and massively evolved the project.

In the presentation they showed two videos. The first video below is the original teaser from Secret Lunch in 2013 (pre Coatsink) and the second video is its actual launch trailer from October 2016.

It was cool to see how much of a visual shift the game had under Coatsink’s direction, it became much more fixed perspective than the previous incarnation. I also loved the style shift for the storm, originally it was a moving cloud (apparently procedural) and from what you can see in the trailer didn’t really strike me as menacing. The re-design is a little more anthropomorphic giving the storm a mouth and teeth, which in my opinion makes it far more menacing. Turns out once Coatsink got a hold of the assets nearly everything was given an overhaul, gameplay, new art (3D and sprite) and all new animations. I must admit being an old school gamer, I love the fact that platformers like Shu are making a popularity comeback.

The big draw for us as students is that the studio uses Unity for everything. It’s great to see the tools we’re learning being used in industry to develop commercial material with some good looking content. While this isn’t the first time I’ve seen big titles being developed in Unity, it’s the first time I’ve seen one being produced by local talent.

Both Jonathan and Gary drove home how often iterations will happen in develop, with every aspect of production. Level designs will frequently change, mechanics will constantly be tweaked and art & animation will be tweaked, possibly in response to gameplay changes. The biggest discipline of all that’ll see the most iterations is code, the example being given is post launch patching & fixes which the studio is still currently doing, along with their porting and optimisation for PSVita.

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Jonathan told tales of his time doing level development. When the project started he was the only staff member responsible for overseeing the games 25 levels, a daunting task for a recent graduate. Eventually he settled into a pipline of gameplay mechanic breakdown, level sketch, white boxing a layout in Unity and then testing. Rinse repeat until the results you’re looking for. He pushed the importance of flow and fun in level design and that it shouldn’t rely on prompts to hand hold the player through an environment.

Gary then took the focus to talk about his time animating. Another recent graduate who had originally seen his dream job ONLY as a character animator. Since joining Coatsink he was responsible for environment animations, character animations, special effect animations and the list could go on. He would return to discuss being a jack of all trades but not before discussing Muybridge, Thomas and Johnson and Rich Williams, all of whom we know through Matt and our animation module. Legends that obviously inspire every generation of animator.

Gary would come back to discuss that larger companies will hire you and then pigeon hole you, so in that case he would have become ONLY a character animator and taken on a specialised skill set. Whereas Coatsink being a smaller indie developer, he had to take on multiple roles to assist development, on reflection he seemed pleased he’d had this opportunity to learn a bit of everything in his first job in industry. Jonathan also piped in that this allows you to communicate effectively with other teams as you may understand a small part of their job. The classic poking fun example of this, is artists and programmers having no idea how to communicate with one another.

It was lovely having the guys in, taking time out of their schedules to come along and talk about their experiences. With any luck we may see them again during our two years of education.

 

My Visual Inspirations

So this post will be less formal and more rambling when compared to my classwork ones. I’m sitting here nursing a coffee and thinking about the visual inspiration that led me here. Nothing cutting edge or even game related, just people and artwork that caught my interest as a child and continued to shape my decision to aspire to a creative career. I know it isn’t course related but this blog is still mine and a showcase of my work and what makes me tick, so I feel it’s fitting

Naturally when you’re young you don’t care or pay attention to who makes all the pretty artwork, something inside just says this fascinates me or it doesn’t. Only as an adult do you look back to put all the puzzle pieces together and realise you were only ever looking at a slim handful of concept artists. So its safe to say what makes me tick came from a select few movies.

There are a small number of artists I could bring up and quickly chat about, maybe I’ll break this post up into two and do another in future covering some others. However for now I’d like to bring to your attention Syd Mead & Jean Giraud (otherwise known by Moebius).

Before I start rattling on, I’m not out break down or analyse any of their work and make this an informative lesson. Just think of this as you getting to know me.

Syd Mead – The Futurist

Syd originally started at Ford Motors in the 50s, sketching out concept cars and from there moved into architectural rendering up until the mid 70s when he moved to California. A lot of this early work had been influenced by a brief style known as populuxe, a mesh of two words popular and luxury. It was a pseudo sci-fi consumerist movement, glorifying sleek conceptual products of the future and always utopian.

Once in California he turned his skills to concept art for movie studios, I won’t give a whole list but focus on the work that means something to me. To me his famous early work would be for Blade Runner, Tron and the spacecraft in Aliens. Need I say more? He turned an already well established career of utopian futures on their head and became the 80s master of dystopia. His style for Blade Runner single handedly formed the visual aesthetic for what would became known as the genre of cyberpunk. Which would come back to him later in his career when the modern literary master of cyberpunk William Gibson would come to him for concept art for the movie Johnny Mnemonic.

Japan took to the dystopian themes contained within cyberpunk like moths to a flame and influenced nearly a decade of anime in the style, which would go to some lengths to explain why to date Syd is the only foreigner to have ever designed for anime icon Gundam in it’s thirty seven year history.

He recently returned to industry at age 80, creating artwork for the movie Elysium and Tomorrowland. I’ll leave you with a selection of his work.

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I wish I could explain the exact reasoning why even as a young child I was so drawn to his dystopian works but I can’t. That dirty grounded sci-fi aesthetic oozes into everything I touch. Childhood wonder turned into adult wonder and it never became any less magic for me, and that will always be my explanation, MAGIC.

Jean Giraud (Moebius)

Much like Syd, you may not know Jean by name but as soon as I start talking about his body of work you’ll know him instantly.

Once Jean’s military service was over he went straight into drawing and inking French comics, initially influenced by Westerns and the Wild West as a genre and would continue making these until the 80s. However we’re here to talk sci-fi as always and this is where his pseudonym comes in as he used it for all things sci-fi. He started off his brush with sci-fi in 63′ when he began creating the comic Azrach, once completed the name would go unused for ten years until him and two other artists started the French comic Metal Hurlant. Known to the English world as Heavy Metal magazine.

Feel free to look up just how influential that magazine ended up becoming (hint it had a movie based on it in 1981 and again in 2000). For now I’m going to fast forward to his movie work. Jean overlapped with Syd on a number of occasions, he worked on Alien alongside Ridley Scott and the legendary Swiss artist H.R Giger (I’ve been to his house turned museum in Gruyere). This aesthetic would bleed over into Syd’s work on Aliens, they also worked together on the art for Tron. Jean’s other notable movie work was on projects for The Abyss, an abandoned adaption of Dune where he worked alongside Giger again and with a little bit of controversy Luc Besson’s Fifth Element.

There was a brief tussle between Luc Besson and Jean’s comic publisher as they accused him of stealing the outline for that movie from Jean’s famous work in Heavy Metal ‘The Incal’. This was quickly thrown out of court as Jean was already working for Besson doing concepts for the movie, he mostly deemed it a compliment that Besson wished to use parts of his material.

Again here is some of Jean’s material to take a look at.

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So there you have it, a little bit of insight into the things that grabbed my attention as a child and made me want to chase a creative career. These guys influenced the way I viewed art growing up and still do to this day. Here’s to these two great masters of sci-fi!

I may post a tribute to H.R Giger next so I can show off some photos from around his museum!

As a little side note just because it makes me chuckle, I actually got a sub-par grade in GCSE Art (back in 2002), I’d based so much of my project of Jean’s fantasy landscapes and I swear my teacher hated anything that wasn’t a bowl of fruit or life drawing. Now fourteen years later I’m sitting here going over it all again, let’s hope this time we can all appreciate a modern master! G’night everyone!

 

Flash Game Developer

While writing my previous flash game post I focused on two titles that were made by the same company and mentioned a few details about two of its founders. That company was:

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Now tasked with looking into a single Flash developer studio, its inception, history, staff etc, I thought I’d flesh this out.

I did check into this and while their first ever game was Flash (Alien Hominid), future games were all drawn and animated in Flash but Actionscript was recompiled into C++. For Castle Crashers all Flash assets were ported into Microsoft’s XNA Studio which requires C++. So while not 100% all made in Flash I’m still running with it.

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The Behemoth was founded in January 2003 by Tom Fulp, Dan Paladin and John Baez. Behemoth is located in San Diego, California. I covered their early Flash version of AH in my other post however looking at the official Behemoth site it states they were laid off from jobs in the games industry prior to Behemoth and rather than working for someone else again, opted to set themselves up as their own company. They then picked up extra staff and set to work making the high resolution console remake of Hominid which so many publishers had refused beforehand. All funds required to get the AH remake to the shelves was from their own pockets. The only head count I could find was from 2008 which stated they have nine staff on payroll.

Behemoth still focus on bringing old school games back into mainstream whether that be side-scrollers, side scrolling beat em ups or their upcoming Pit People, focusing on turn based questing and exploration. Personally growing up through the 8 and 16-bit era I find it wonderful there are developers out there who strive to keep old genres up to date and very much alive!

Outside of the founding three I couldn’t find any information about staff. Trying to write Tom’s history would take several more blog posts going through his earlier days looking after Newgrounds and his own Flash development where he gained the skills that took him to creating Behemoth. Dan has been the driving force behind the companies entire art style which hasn’t changed at all over the years between titles, it continues to be simple, colourful and charming!

Recommended VFX Research

I’m seperating this post from the VFX Illustrator one as this is mostly research and poking at others work.

Peter recommended looking at the work and legacy of Saul Bass and provided this web link https://www.rocketstock.com/blog/tips-from-saul-bass/ (for anyone else that wants a look).

All I can say is WOW. On a day to day basis most people would pass his work and never even realise it. His logo design still exists today for several famous brands (see below) before we even go into or talk about his contributions to movies.

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I wonder how many times I’ve picked up a Kleenex or a Warner Music CD and never thought twice about the origin of the logo design.

Saul worked on title sequences for Vertigo, Psycho, Spartacus and later Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino, Schindlers List, I could sit naming films all day but I’m sure you get the idea of how talented the man was. The website above has an excellent video demonstrating some of his show reel.

The website also breaks down the three major types of logo (which will be useful info to keep here on my blog):

  • Monochromatic Form – A simple text representation of the company/product. Simple, condensed and quickly identified however does require the reader to know what the letters stand for/knowledge of the brand already.
  • Logotype Form – A full name of the company/product so no requirements to know what letters stand for. However lettering too easy to read will blend in with other text/trademarks but if the font is too stylised becomes harder to read.
  • Symbol Logotype Form – A more graphic representation of the company/product. Uniqueness of branding is in the graphic itself, becomes a flag for the company but normally requires a text element as well and may not be legible with small print.
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Monochromatic
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Logotype
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Symbol Logotype

I’ll take a lot of this info moving forward, as soon we’ll be developing a logo for VFX to animate and create a sort of i-dent/title sequence. I’m already wondering if a logotype would be superior for this having more visual interest than just animated text.

UPDATE

Forget what I said before about animated text having less visual interest than a symbol logotype. I was recently introduced to the current Netflix hit ‘Stranger Things’ which has an absolutely stunning animated Logotype intro. Its eerie, its beautiful and is nothing more than text, a few effects and music. The whole thing is a homage to the 80s and uses a font called ITC Benguiat, popular at the time for use on Stephen King novels, choose your own adventure books and even a Smiths album. I’ll post a link because me talking about it won’t do it justice.

Here is the video I found most of my information from which has an interview with a staff member from Imaginary Forces, responsible for creating the title sequence. Also a name to keep in mind for future as they have a rather amazing and high profile body of work.

Lesson learned folks. Don’t underestimate text!

 

 

Flash Games

As an insight into existing products and ideas we were instructed to look into a few flash games and make a few notes.

This kind of exercise is beneficial regardless of what industry you’re in whether its for market research, understanding target audiences or in our case investigating other products developed with the same tools we’re using. It all helps to gain a better understanding of what the software is capable of but might spark a few ideas along the way.

To start off I’m going to dial the clock all the way back to 2002 during Flash’s golden years.

Alien Hominid

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Alien Hominid was created in August 2002 for the site Newgrounds (famous at the time for hosting a multitude of flash based games and animation). The game was created with only two developers, Tom Fulp (programmer) and Dan Paladin (artist) and went on to be a huge success on Newgrounds with over 20,000,000 hits. I’ll skip the rest of the history lesson but in short it was successful enough that they started their own studio (The Behemoth) and soon began work on porting the game to consoles at the time.

The art style is super simple, comparable to the work we’re already producing with Chris and this probably made animating far easier for the lone artist. Most of the colour schemes chosen were very vibrant and aid the silly/fun nature of the game. The genre itself was a side scrolling shooter comparable to old titles such as Contra or Metal Slug that had been popular in the late ’80s & ’90s.

Castle Crashers

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It felt like natural progression to move onto looking at Castle Crashers, Behemoth’s second major title. Tom and Dan reprised their roles from Alien Hominid with added staff this time but didn’t forget their roots, the music in game was composed and put forward by members of Newgrounds. It has had a long list of releases from 2008 – 2015 but originally started in ’08 as an Xbox Live Arcade release for the 360, eventually making it to PS3, PC, Mac and Xbox One over the years.

The art is still obviously Dan’s simple style with a lot of refinement. Characters, bosses, environments are all more detailed than the days of Alien Hominid. More years in Flash and a bigger development team really helped overall visual quality. Unlike the vibrant background colours of AH, CC focuses on a lot more browns and greens to drive home its medieval setting, however all character designs are just as bright and eye catching as ever. The genre is side scrolling beat em up, directly inspired by such classics as Double Dragon, Final Fight and River City Ransom which Dan quoted as art inspiration.

Robot Unicorn Attack

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I didn’t want the whole post to be about Behemoth so I moved to a personal favourite of mine, Robot Unicorn Attack. The game was made by Spiritonin Media Games as a free flash game for tv channel Adult Swim’s website. It had one million plays within its first week of launch, due to its popularity Adult Swim made merchandise for the game and it was eventually ported to iOS and Android.

RUA is a side scrolling platformer/free runner. The game never ends, its down to the skill of the player to see how far they can make it for the best leaderboard scores, a genre of game very popular on mobile devices. The games backdrops were very simple with the only detailed graphic being the unicorn, given how fast the screen scrolls, it’s a drop in quality you rarely notice.

Eventually it was successful enough to get itself a sequel which pushed the graphical quality way up along with introducing paid for unlockable content, I won’t comment on this however as I’ve found no evidence to link it to being made in Flash.

Inspirational Presentation – LucasArts

We were given a brief to present research based on an artist, games company or film company. We were asked to explain why we chose them, how they inspire us and how we conducted our research.

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Since I grew up playing LucasArts games and they were a big player in the industry since its infancy, I decided to focus on them knowing I could easily find a wealth of content.

I always knew they were a successful company, but there were certain aspects of research that surprised and interested me. The big one was having the credit of developing the first ever MMORPG on the Commodore 64 (of all machines). It was developed, but sadly never released due to hardware limitations of the time and the partnered telecoms company backed out of their initial promises to provide the infrastructure. The game, called Habitat, was still very ahead of its time and showed that LucasArts was innovative even in its early days.

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The other surprise I found was how many advances they brought to the FPS genre in the mid ’90s, despite never being the company’s focus. They managed to develop two engines from scratch in two years to push current hardware to its limits.

As for personal performance during the presentation, I carried in a pile of cue cards and happily didn’t have to rely on them, except for one instance of listing off engine features for the Jedi Engine (1996).

As for things I’d like to improve on, I found myself rather static. While I delivered the research I’d done with confidence, I’d have preferred to move about a bit more and be a little bit more expressive during delivery. However, that would have required a wireless means of changing slides, since I found I had to constantly move back to the computer while giving the presentation.

For reference, I’ve provided the PowerPoint presentation in full.

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