'Ugly Joe' by A.R Vincent, copyright 2012

Getting My Head Around Adobe After Effects

Whilst lamenting the problems I was having recently animating in Flash someone suggested a better program to try would be After Effects. So yesterday I decided to give it a go!

After Effects has been languishing on my PC for quite a while now as, like Adobe Bridge and Soundbooth, it was part of the Adobe Creative Suite. Despite the fact that I had heard great things about the program, I have never been sure quite what to do with After Effects. Part of this dilemma came from being slightly unsure what it did! I had originally been introduced to it as a motion graphics package but quickly discovered that it was equally, if not better, known as a VFX tool. However, since neither VFX or motion graphics were my immediate concern when I got the Suite my attentions strayed to Photoshop and Flash and After Effects was put to one side.

A much more significant part of the problem I had with After Effects was, since I had never had need of it, I had never learnt it and thus hadn’t the foggiest how to use it! But yesterday, with an intimidatingly hefty tome on the subject beside me and a screen full of free video tutorial, I started to find out what dark magic I had to master to master After Effects and today I tried to implement what I had learnt on a completely new project.

Here’s the result…

Ugly Joe himself was created in Photoshop and the sequences were put together and titles added in Premiere Pro, but all the animating was done in After Effects… possibly proving that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing ;P

Why Woodland Animation

Britains native broadleaf woodland is disappearing fast. Broadleaf trees, such as oak, ash and birch, have been part of the British landscape for hundreds of years and support a diverse and complex eco-system not found elsewhere. If we let our broadleaf woodland disappear through dereliction, mismanagement or convertion to fast growing non-native conifers then we will also be saying goodbye to the sight of bluebell woods, autumn colours and the home of countless lichens, birds and insects.

I created this 2D animation for Why Woodland, to help raise awareness of the threats to the British broadleaf woods. To find out more and show your support visit them on Facebook.com/whywoodland or on Twitter @whywoodland

This was animated using a combo of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro CS5 and, after loosing the battle with the CS5 version, Flash CS4. The process has sustained my love for Photoshop, made me begin to appreciate Premiere (despite the complete debacle that was rendering) and, after hours fighting with animation in Flash CS4 and CS5, made me desperate to master animating in After Effects!!

As with all projects I loved and hated this project by turns and in equal measure. There are always little moments that punctuate a project and the fustration  and anxiety that I felt when faced with constantly crashing software, unfathomable formatting errors and render troubles was set in stark contrast against the fun of designing the tree-gobbling-money-machine (every home should have one!), the satisfaction of making the squirrel talk and the thrill of discovering the chromakey function in Premiere.

Enjoy!

First steps to a walk cycle

Not Just A Flash In The Pan!

Adobe’s Flash has been a little contriversial of late, having sparked the ructions between Adobe and Apple as to whether web content created with it would be usable on the latters products. When Adobe lost the battle it was kind of assumed that Flash was probably dead in the water but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Now with HTML5 making interactive web content a different ball game Flash’s future is in question again.

I can’t comment on whether the Apple debacle or the introduction of HTML5 will once and for all dispatch Flash as a tool for interactive web creation because I don’t know and, if I’m frank, don’t really care! My interest in Flash has nothing to do with interactive web content and everything to do with animation.

The Right Tool… Not A ‘Right Tool’

So why am I rabitting on about Flash then?

I have recently been commissioned to produce a piece of 2D

animation for a client – all the details of which will be kept on the QT until the project is done and dusted. I am not doing this endeavour alone, instead roping in some old friends to help me cope with the projects large volume of work and inevtiable crazy fast turn around. Together we decided that the best tool to use for this was Adobe Flash. Well, when I say “best” it was the appropriate tool for the job, however “best” would imply a certain familiarity and fore knowledge of the product which isn’t exactly the case. So to make sure I didn’t look a right tool I’ve been cracking on trying to wrap my head around the new features.

Don’t get me wrong, I have done training in Flash – I have a little certificate and everything – except it was a long time ago, before I had any real notion about studying animation or David Cameron had any notion he’d end up as Prime Minister or anyone had used an iPad! I spent two days learning Flash CS4 and then two subisquent days trying to work out how to adapt those lessons for CS3 which is all I had installed!

Now I have CS5…

One of the features of CS5 that I’m not so familiar with is the, cringely names, ‘boning tool’, which creates an armature that can be used for animating any jointed thing… from people, to cats, to cranes (both bird and machine!).

First Steps

So here’s my first attempt at creating something that uses the boning tool in Flash CS5…

I emphasise it really was my very first attempt and I know I have lots more work to do but it was, in more ways then one, my first steps with Flash!!

"Day Dreamer" by A.R Vincent, copyright 2012

What do you dream of doing?

“What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.” ‘Pretty Woman’ (1990)

I popped on some music yesterday, whilst trying to write, and ended up getting all nostalgic. I started to think about the dreams I had for my career and my life back when I was a teen and how different they are from what I want now… and yet, with the wisdom of hindsight, how flaming obvious it was that what I’m doing now was always ‘there’, like the shy girl at the prom, waiting to be noticed.

These days we’re constantly barraged with messages that what we want is to be rich and famous and if we get these things all our problems go away and, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, many believe it. But finding and nurturing a dream – whether it is of a career, family, lifestyle – is, I think, important and finding the right dream for us and the path that will lead us to happiness and fulfilment is something we should do carefully.

Of course it’s not always obvious, even when we get older and allegedly wiser, what we would be happiest doing… let me give you an example.

Dream a little dream for me…

Three friends in their mid-teens do what they always do on a weekend. They visit each-others houses. Like most teenage girls, these visits involve sweets, caffeine, films, make-up and much talk about boys and music. Unlike many teenagers though, the make-up is usually theatrical in nature, the films are being made on a battered old Hi-8 camera and music is often being composed on an electrical keyboard. But let us get back to the point.

This particular weekend they have an idea for a film, but it involves something they can’t possibly muster…  a cast! So one of the group, who desperately wants to be an actress/film director, suggests animating it. This one of the trio has spent a lot of time messing about making animations with the little camera and dreams of getting her own video camera one day with better functions for making stop-motion. Despite this it has never occurred to her that she wants to be anything but the next Steven Spielberg.

The next friend says that she will pen the script for this weekends film, she has written several scripts (mainly horror movies) for these ventures before. This girl passionately wants to be a make-up artist when she gets older, hopefully in the film industry, but she does spend a lot of time making up stories rather than faces.

The last of the trio, who unlike the other two does not want to work in the creative industries but instead sees her future as an academic, sets to work creating some music and sound effects to go with the film. She has studied piano nearly all her life, penned a musical in her spare time and often spends time composing at home but sees herself eventually becoming a university professor.

Now how many of this trio do you think works in the profession they claimed so fiercely that they wanted to work in? None! Unsurprisingly, the ‘make-up artist’ is a successful novelist, the ‘academic’ works in the music industry and the ‘actress’ works in animation. Bet you didn’t see that coming! You did? They didn’t!

A dream is a wish your heart makes…

Of course, these girls dreams did not develop in a vacuum. They were the result of what they had learnt, not just about the professions but also about the world and themselves, and were probably more closely associated with getting away from what they were then developing an art form and profession.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say here –if I’m trying to say anything – is that you shouldn’t listen to external influences when it comes to your dreams or even always trust your ego. Instead, I would suggest, finding out what makes you feel good. If you feel fulfilled when you draw or paint then do more of it and see where it leads. If helping someone gives you a buzz then keep on and find a path in that. It doesn’t have to be a dream job, it could be a hobby or lifestyle as long as when you reach your dream you find contentment there.

No matter your age, gender, race or circumstances, you can still find a dream that makes you happy.

"Independent" by A.R Vincent, copyright 2012

Creative Freedom

From online shops to web comics, film makers, writers and artists are moving away from conventional routes and finding their own to get their work to the public and make their passion pay.

The well-trodden path…

You are told at school that whatever you want to be in life you must follow a prescribed route. These paths usually involve continued education and eventual employment by a larger corporate entity. For most walking these well-trodden paths is the way to reach their goals, however for many more they have realised it’s not the only way.

Rise of the machines!

In many ways the rise of the internet and increasing access to better technology – from broadband to software – has freed things up. Once if you wanted to write fiction you would need to find an agent, then a publisher or there would be no way of producing enough copies of your work to distribute. Now the birth of epub systems with retail giants like Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble means you have a choice, and a simple online process can have your self-published book listed with the literary elite in an online store at little or no cost.

Similarly Youtube has made it possible to produce and screen your own short films or animations, while iTunes gives you the chance to sell them. Sites like podomatic.com let you upload audio content – be it audio ‘zines, fiction or how-to guide – while Magcloud.com gives you the chance to produce a high quality printed magazine. Not forgetting, of course, etsy.com or, the granddaddy of them all, Ebay.com which will let you sell your creations online or retailers such as Zazzle.com that will let you stick your art on t-shirts, bags and iPod cases!

Independence day…

It used to be thought that self-publishing or independent production was the last resort and the refuge for those who not be accepted through mainstream routes and were, in some way, substandard. However, though the move away from the mainstream options has come under attack from various critics, producing independent work has created some notable successes, including ‘Simon’s Cat’ creator, animator Simon Tofield, self-published YA author of ‘Tiger’s Curse’, Colleen Houck, and film maker Gareth Edwards, whose low budget film ‘Monsters’ ended up securing a cinema release and much critical acclaim.

Like more traditional options, being self employed is still a double edged sword for the Creative. Obviously, the independent route does not give the creator carte blanche to turn out a sub-standard product, what it does offer is substantial creative freedom and  a way to produce and distribute product without being constrained by an organisations views on fashions, future trend planning or global mass market appeal.

The concept of going it alone is not the easy option though, not least because you don’t have the professional and financial support, advice and backing of a studio, publishing house or agency. It is a huge responsibility and means you are not only the artist but also the publicist, accountant and company secretary. Taking this path puts you very much in charge of your own destiny and whether you blast in to the stratosphere of success or make an equally spectacular balls up of the proceedings you do it on your own time and your own dime!

Choices, choices…

In the end this explosion of creativity should be as exciting for consumers as it should for artists as it takes away the control of the big corporate studios, galleries and publishing houses. Original and edgy work, that may be too niche, nerdy or edgy to appeal to big concerns, is finally making it to audiences.  A brief search online can produce a diverse cornucopia of podcasts, art, crafts, eBooks, web comics, fashion and film to fit every appetite. I have, with only the most basic search, discovered some amazing podcasts, web comics and online boutiques that, in some cases, are every bit as polished as the “professionals” and far more interesting.

All I can say is long may it continue!!

Howling Wolf – 2D Animation

This is my attempt at hand drawn 2D animation.

Though the wolf was initially hadn drawn, I then used Adobe Photoshop CS5 to create them in to a graphic style and animate them. Despite the fact that this was a time consuming way to animate, especially drawning the wolfs walk cycle, I absolutely loved creating animation this way.

The writing, by the way, is Greek myth of King Lycaon from which the term ‘Lycanthrope’ derives. The word means wolf-man and has come to mean werewolf. I’ve put the text in latin in the animation but if you want to know the story check it out at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycaon_(Arcadia

Rig Testing

Well, after an epic battle to get the YouTube upload system to upload this without crashing, I am pleased to present my first test of a professional rig. This is my very short animation experiment undertaken as part of my research in to rigging and character animation for a college project. The animation is not perfect but I think it gives the impression of weight and mass to both character and object.

This was great to animate and I absolutely loved working with this character.

The model I used for this was a prerigged model called Whimp that is included for non commercial use with Maxon’s Cinema 4D. The copyright for this character remains with Glenn Frey (Bonewire)

Satisfying this Craving!

Animated trailer for Elizabeth Richards book – “Craving”

I made this using a combination of Cinema 4D and Adobe Premiere Pro, both of which I have really grown to like.

UPDATE: This is a trailer for the vampire novel, “Craving”, by young adults author, Elizabeth Richards. The trailor was made for the book before it was optioned and the story has now undergone serious rewrites. As of 2012 the work is now to be published as a dystopian YA book under the new title of “Black City” and will be the first of a trilogy.

“Black City” by Elizabth Richards will be published by Putnam in Fall 2012.

 

Make Your Animations A Little Xtranormal.

If you have’t yet encountered xtranormal then let me enlighten you, xtranormal is a “free” online animation application that lets you create 1 or 2 character animations, complete with a script, using their special text-to-movie software. All you need to do is select your characters, set and sound scape and then start typing what you want your characters to say. You can also add in your choice of expressions, gestures, sound effects and camera angles to your film. And don’t panic you don’t need to know anything more fancy then drag-and-drop.

http://www.xtranormal.com/site_media/players/jwplayer.swf

As you can see from my attempt, there are limits… not least to my scripting skills. Not everythings free and a lot of the characters and scenes etc cost a little extra to use. Additionally don’t expect Laurence Olivier style vocal performances from your actors, the voices will say what you’ve typed (most of the time) but not suprisingly with minimal inflection or emotion. Also your characters movements are minimal – you can select from a range of premade gestures but they’re not going to dancing around… not using the free online facilities anyway.

Which brings me to the topic of Xtranormals software, State. This, I’m guessing from the video posted on YouTube, gives you a lot more freedom of choice and movement but this time at the bargain price of $49.50. Personally I wasn’t willing, I’d prefer to go and download iClone if I just wanted to have some animated fun or learn Blender and produce real 3D, but thats just me. If you’ve tried it please feel free to leave a comment and tell me what I’m missing.

There’s a lot to be said for xtranormal. If you just want a bit of fun then its a fantastic tool, and if you want a simple way to test out a script, understand a scenes pacing or look at the effect of various camera angles then its excellent. However, if you think you are trying to create stuff for an animation showreel or think you might be the next James Cameron and are looking for the right too for making Avatar 2 then keep googling, xtranormal is not the tool you’re looking for.

REVIEW: Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole

Lord of the Rings… with wings!

Okay, so this is my terrible confession… I have wanted to watch this childrens film since I first saw the trailer at the cinema back in March! Strange perhaps that, anticipating this movie as I was, that whilst on holiday in Cornwall this year I happened to visit the Screech Owl Sanctury near Goss Moor where a team from the film were filming some of the sancturies residents as reference material for the film.

Guardians is based on the 15 book series by Kathryn Lansky and marks the animation debut of film director Zack Snyder – known for directing more grown up fair such as 300. It tells the story of Soren, an owlet who taken from his parents by evil owls begins an epic quest.

Audiences have no doubt become complacent about amazing CG landscapes and realistic water, as these things have become common place with films like Avatar and the Chronicles of Narnia raising the bar. Still you have to concede that the look of Guardians is incredible, from the beautiful (and often slow motion) sequences of owls gliding and soaring through theatrically lit rainstorms, to the wonderful way that the production team at Animal Logic have developed the characters without making them, visually, human.

I have read in some reviews that this film is too violent for kids but I disagree, certainly there is a lot of action, dark characters and fighting but there is also some strong statements on family, friendship and some pretty heavy moral themes on liberty and equality. I will save you from my thoughts on any symbolism that could be seen in this story and instead end by saying this that on the whole I liked this film. Though it is a little Lord Of The Rings with wings, Legend of the Guardians is was unquestioningly beautiful avian epic, and even though the story felt like it dragged at times, it still managed to be both action packed tale of adventre and warm-hearted family film.

If you would like to meet some real owls, as well as other incredible creatures, and find out about how to help conservation of these amazing birds visit – http://www.screechowlsanctuary.co.uk/