Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Animation Isolation: The Home Stretch

Well, that went by fast and was chronicled poorly. I still need to work on channeling my Facebook ramblings into a proper blog format. I think that's better actually. Facebook is such a disposable medium for thoughts and moments.

So, it's the end of August, and by the original plan, I'd be on a train back to Amsterdam today. In my new, adjusted plan, I have the Cologne apartment for at least two more weeks and am gonna make some more stuff before I put together my shiny, new reel.

What I've accomplished so far:
-10 second "swing animation"
-Spent 3-4 days on "The Head" animation piece which is 35+ seconds long before I decided it would take too long and wasn't good game reel material. I might come back to this later, for a film/acting oriented reel.
-30 second acting piece "The Suitcase"
(Both of these will get at least one more pass but I'm fairly happy with them)
-Learned advanced facial rigging in Max; half-set up my TF2 Demo Girl character's face before deciding to shelf it until the reel is done; I'm not trying to get a job as a rigger
-Took a week off of any animation responsibilities to get smashed nightly with some of my favorite people from Remedy, Recoil and Guerrilla during GDC and Gamescom.
-Touch ups to one of the Monday Night Combat animations of the mascot character. I was hoping to touch up some of the other work I did at Uber but it depended on facial animation and I don't have the necessary textures.
-Assembled a massive "mega reel" of my Alan Wake and Monday Night Combat animations. It's 15 minutes long, which I will go through and hack down to the best samples.
-Currently working on a quadruped walk cycle (a panther), which is coming along.
-Next up is horse gallop or run cycle (haven't decided yet).

When the two quadruped cycles are done, I am going to shift into editing mode (next week) and finally get this thing together.

So animation stuff aside...

I've found a correlation between my isolation and my Facebook usage. Which is bad. Starved for social contact, Facebook becomes much more addictive but not really any more beneficial. Real human contact still much preferred. This is something to consider on any future animation isolations. The question is to I want to crank it back and not spend more than two weeks away from the world? Or should I just go somewhere with no net connection and properly lose my mind?

I have gone out a couple times, just on my own. I caught "Inception" at the one "Original Version" theater I've found in Cologne, then hung out with the bar staf of an Irish pub. Then just last Friday, I went to a different pub we frequented with the Guerrilla guys and wound up hanging out with a revolving door of interesting people: discussing the moon landing with an Welshmen who assembled convention booths, hung out with an Australian guy and later, his German girlfriend before meeting a German soldier who wanted to move to the US and join the Marines. The revolving door of people is probably the number one reason why I love to travel and it was nice to get some of that, even when I'm not *technically* on vacation.

Other than that... I've been listening to tons of Americana music since I've been here with heavy emphasis on CCR and the Old 97s. I don't know if that's a phase or grasping for some kind of national identity when deprived of human contact but they're both excellent bands so no excuse is really needed.

I'm doing pushups every day to combat my otherwise sedentary days, sometimes jogging and almost always eating carb-light from the afternoons on as part of a weird, made-up diet of some bullshit I read off the internet. But I like veggies so it's cool, though I'm quite far from my borderline vegetarian phases in California and Finland. My bullshit made-up diet also includes doing the small portions more often routine, which I've been doing pretty much since Seattle. Note to self when I get my home furnishings back from Finland: get rid of my bigass plates from Target. The plates I have here are barely bigger than saucers and I think that's a good thing.

Through the travel tactic of washing only mission critical clothing in sinks (never resorting to turning underwear inside out!) and the judicious use of Febreeze on non-mission critical clothing, I stretched a 2 week supply of socks and underwear to over 3 weeks. Not ideal but since week three included binge drinking and a games convention, smell was not a top priority. Since you can still smoke inside in Cologne bars (a rarity for Europe these days; even for the rest of Germany), you just wind up smelling like cigarette butts anyway.

Maybe that's TMI. But my underwear was always clean!

I've actually never had to travel so far to wash clothes as I did here, when I finally did take my laundry excursion. Laundrymats are sparse in the suburbs so I would up hauling a suitcase full of laundry through downtown Cologne, to what seemed to be laundrymat with a bar attached but what was really just a bar called "laundrymat" (Cafe Waschsalon) without any laundry machines. Thankfully it's close to a real laundrymat and now I'm fresh like the Snuggle bear.

As we turn the corner into September, I have to start thinking about what to do for my next work gig as well as getting back to Finland before the end of the month to say hi, check in and see if anyone needs anything animated. Animation Isolation will be coming to an end around the 14th or more likely, the 21st of September. Then I need to figure out if it's cheaper to get to Helsinki via Cologne or Amsterdam.

I think that when I thought of writing this entry, I had in mind a moral or something. But then my brain just pukes out a bunch of crap, not wrapping up as neatly as an episode of Full House does.

So it won't wrap up that way.

If you've read this far, do me a favor and leave a comment or something. I still have my doubts of the point of blogging in 2010 so it'd be nice to know if anyone is actually reading this shit or if I'm just leaving a bread crumb trail to complicate my future employment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day... oh who the hell cares?

Big day today! Finished a first pass of my suitcase animation (the one that was gonna be five seconds? It's 29), went into town, bought tickets for The Real McKenzies next month, bought a Sony Ericsson Experia x10 smartphone (which is smaller than your iPhone and more anti-establishmentarianist), saw "Inception", drank a bunch at an Irish pub and am now sitting on my "balcony" (the roof) with a tasty Kolsch on my netbook with no backlit keyboard. Big success.

The smartphone is a big step for me. Normally my phone criteria is "will it survive when I drop it?" But now, after 6 years of wandering the world (okay, Europe mostly) I finally have a damn map and GPS. The challenge is to not become a smartphone introvert. When you can check Facebook in a bar, it's convenient sure but you're a lot less likely to chat up strangers. I'm doing fine so far.

Gamescom is creeping up and I think the demo reel is covered with a couple of days of polish left for the swing and suitcase anims. Good thing too, as the first of my Auslander friends arrives on Sunday with a whole friggin' mob of them on Wednesday. I got some good pointers on Cologne from the expats at the Irish Pub (always an easy mark for meeting expats and foreigners in any city) and now I have a better idea on how to find things to do when I feel like crawling out of my cave.

And speaking of crawling out of my cave, the guy I'm subletting from met a girl on his road trip (nicely done!) and is going to be away for a bit longer, so I think I'm going to stay in Cologne (I know I am alternating between the English and German names for it; my proper laptop can do umlouts, my netbook cannot) for at least two more weeks. Though after Gamescom I hope to have a better idea of what my next work gig is going to be and probably what my next destination is.

No dramatic conclusion or moral to this one. Wait, there is: I'd like to take a moment to thank English tourists for making us Yanks look so well behaved in foreign pubs. Cheers for that!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 10: Bratwurst again?

(I just realized it's actually day 11 and my last entry was technically posted on day 9 but it was close enough to midnight when I wrote it. Ten works better for today's theme anyway).

The grocery store next to my apartment only has red meat. No poultry. Only prepacked seafood (and nothing but smoked salmon and shrimp). So I decided to full embrace German-stereotype living and buy a bulk pack of brats. I ran out yesterday and today being Sunday means that not much is open after six, which is about a half an hour before I scraped myself together enough to go out for some food. I found a restaurant just around the corner advertising gyros on the window but when I got inside, it seemed that everything on the menu was actually bratwurst derived. It was that, the kebab shop across the street (kebab to me is like holy water is a vampire) or go hunting around the suburbs for something else open. I feel sorry for vegetarians in places where they can't read the menus. I at least don't have any special dietary needs to be worried about when I roll the dice and just point to something on the menu.

Friday I worked on my Swing animation most of the day with some good feedback from Ian as well as the Gobelins crew. It's much better now but there are still some little issues to sort out. That last 10% of polish is always the bear.

Yesterday I bounced back into something totally new as I discussed last time: The suitcase. I think I said something about 5-7 seconds? Yeah, maybe not so much this time. Try 20. But it was a solid idea and better acting practice than the head so I busted out a thorough blocking pass of the whole thing and I'm pretty happy with it so far. I'll post something on the Summer School animation blog http://fiveliterboxofwine.blogspot.com/ soon enough. The latest version of the swing is already there.

I'm also getting more comfortable with some of Maya's peculiarities as well as learning how to best throw some of these rigs around. With this new, longer piece, I'll probably have to postpone the quadruped run I was planning and just focus on this and the swing for the rest of the week, as well as dig through some of my "Alan Wake" and "Monday Night Combat" work before taking all day Sunday to put together a new reel before GDC Europe next week.

Last week of true seclusion before people start pouring into Cologne for GDC Europe and Gamescom; better make it count. And hopefully, no more bratwurst til then. At least.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Animation Isolation Day 8; not so great

Actually, it was fine. I just like rhyming The hard part was I decided to shelf my "head" animation until after my demo reel is done. Hard because I've already burned four days working on this one plus some time at Gobelins but it's over 30 seconds long which puts it closer to short territory.

Realistically, it needs 2-3 weeks of work to finish and I don't really want or need a new 30 second long piece for my demo reel right now, nor do I want to spend the whole month on one animation. I had some ideas to trim out some unnecessary and tricky parts but it only saves about 6-7 seconds so I conceded to cut my losses (for now) and shelf it. Tomorrow I'm going to get back to another Gobelins exercise: the suitcase! I'm limiting myself to 5-7 seconds for this one. I also made myself a calender so things hopefully don't spiral out of control again.

After banging my head on the wall with this decision, I decided I should get out for a bit, since I haven't left the apartment other than to job or buy groceries in over a week. SO I set off into town with a mission: watch "Inception". Tricky thing about Germany is that they still love to dub English movies. Some places show the original versions but it seems to be the smaller, artsier theaters.

When I came to rent this apartment, I was explaining a little bit about me and my ways to the guy I'm renting from. He asked why I didn't have a smartphone and went on to evangelize his jailbroken iPhone, with it's GPS and city maps and all that good stuff. It make me think... maybe maps, mobile internet and a GPS might improve the quality of my life.

I was thinking about that alot as I walked around for 7 hours today. I like walking around new cities; I get a feel for things and a genuine sense of direction that doesn't depend of signal strength or battery life. I stumble upon things that aren't on the map. For example, today's batch including a guy talking to me about how he can't go to government for money because they'll lobotomize him and that Köln is a city of light that calms his soul, a ten police car response to a catfight between some Turkish girls and some punk rocker girls, drank a Kölsch with some live music in a smokey old jazz bar and walking into the middle of a carnival and realizing The Gay Games are apparently the big event for Köln this week. I don't know what the Gay Games are exactly are but there were an awful lot of foreign, gay men in town.

The wandering approach does take a long time and isn't foolproof, especially if you are actually trying to be somewhere at a certain time to do a certain thing. I walked an awful long way back to one of the big cinemas when I decided to see a late show of Inception and waited in a queue for 15 minutes to find it was German only. I walked another 45 minutes and finally found the English theater, where I'd missed the start of the film by an hour and a half.

So the days goals were both kind of a wash but I did get to get out, see some more of the city, walk a bazillion miles (don't jog in the morning if you're going to walk all damn day!!! My legs hurt way more than they should) and just wander like I like to do. And now I know when and where to see "Inception" in English.

I think I would still do most of those random things with a Smartphone though. I'll be pricing them tomorrow. My iconoclasm says buy an Android because Apple evangelists annoy the shit out of me but a jailbroken, last gen iPhone is also kind of punk rock. How does an Android compare to a jailbroken iPhone anyway? Apps? Accessories?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Every road warrior must have his chariot

The only really good bonus check I earned in my 9 years in video games bought me my dream car; the barely runs, no windows, no seatbelts, run-down version of it anyway. I guess I shouldn't have quit Treyarch before they made of "Call of Duty: World at War" :/

I am a little embarrassed to admit the car was a factor in moving back to the US in 2008 and really, I have Texas to thank for the following video. My car wouldn't be slowly returning to life if I'd moved to England or Finland like I was considering instead of Austin.

It's been in a restoration shop in Texas for the last two years, way behind schedule and now apparently way over budget but despite my fondness for public transportation, bicycles and places within walking distance, there is nothing I, the Earth or the oil companies* can do to make me stop my two, vintage steel babies (yes, there's another one. we'll save that talk for later).

*the car is fully ethanol ready for the day (hopefully soon) when I can run my car off of booze (good!) and not oil (bad!). For now that's the best option for alternative fuel hot rods. My next one will likely be a turbo biodiesel.

Here she is:

I know it's 8 second of a car moving slowly to most of you but in my eyes, I see a phoenix, rising out of a smoldering pile of ashes, snatching a small child and devouring it before breathing fire and incinerating all who dare considering themselves worth to be present to it's spectacle of existence.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Animation Isolation Day 4: Is it only day 4?

I thought it was day 5 or day 6. Seriously. I might be losing my shit already. I confirmed it was only day 4 by looking at my last post which was apparently yesterday.

I haven't left the apartment since I went grocery shopping on day 1. I'm actually a little bit scared to meet my neighbors since I live in surburban Cologne and contrary to popular belief, not everyone in Germany speaks English. But far more awkward than that, I am subletting, which I'm not sure of the legality of here. Regardless, I will have to grocery shop again tomorrow since all I have now is stale cereal, some salad and the 3 crates of Kölsch Waldemar left in his kitchen to tempt me (I am keeping track so I replace what I drink but I think I'm just going to buy him a nice bottle of Scotch instead. Unless I drink all three crates; then it might need to be something more).

So... yesterday's work session turned out to be one of those days where victory is marked by actually getting a damn file open (why do you exist again, Maya Binary format? Other then to piss me off when changing versions?) But by the end of the evening, I had all my Gobelins work opened and usable. I also watched the first part of a tutorial on face rigging and got some good groundwork done on the face rig for my TF2 Demo Girl (anyone remember her?). I've all but given up on the TF2 part but I like the model enough that I might as well animate her doing something. But because of the weird way the original TF2 models were set up, I spent an extra few hours digging around trying to set up her eyes with projection maps instead of spheres, like a proper eye setup. Before I went to bed at 2am, her eyes and jaw were working perfectly.

Day 5: It's 5, right? Maybe I should start dating these because I know I'm going to lose track and have to count day # versus the date of my posting.

Today I worked on an acting piece, which was an assignment from Louis Clichy, a former Gobelins student who worked at Pixar and is now off to direct, if I remember right. Anyway, for those of you who weren't in my class, we had to do an acting piece revolving around a severed head, in celebration of Bastille Day in France. Mine... well, I'll show it eventually. Sometimes an artist does a piece of work that changes everything; that no one ever looks at him or her quite the same after they've seen the work (and I mean this in a bad way). That might be my head animation. But I am convinced it will be awesome.

I made good progress, considering it's close to 30 seconds of animation but it's going to need a few more days because... well, it's 30 seconds of animation. After 11 years of this, you'd think I know better than to bite off more than I can chew but unfortunately, the best idea usually isn't the easiest and I'm still an idealist at heart.

I also did a 22 minute, weight free workout that I'd been doing regularly back in Seattle, to make sure my muscles and joints continue to work when I do leave this place. I need to start jogging while I'm here though.

Also, I found on CgTalk.com this cool idea for animation exercises:

It's like a virtual mechanic bull but a surfboard, which makes for a great exercise in balancing. It struck a chord with me since the game that I first got hired as an animator for, was a surfing game (Kelly Slater Pro Surfer). As an aside, I got a "special thanks" credit instead of "animator" or "additional animation" because I had transferred up to the Spider-Man team and been off the Slater team for a year when KSPS shipped. But the game still shipped with some of my tube-trick animations. I also got to meet Kelly Slater while working on that game; he was super cool and I gave him a Krispy Creme donut one morning.

Where was I? Yeah, animation exercises. SO I might do something with the surf-o-matic but that goes on the long, impossibly long list of animations to do this month. See, I was brainstorming the whole time I was in Gobelins, keeping the last page of my sketchbook free for animation ideas.

Wanna see the list?

Well, I don't have a scanner so you can't but I'll type it here, mainly so I can see at the end of the month what I wound up actually doing. I knew when I wrote it that this was more than a month's worth of work so don't jump on my back when the list is incomplete in 30 days:

-Finish swing animation-DONE
-Head animation-IN PROGRESS
-Beard-a-mation (not CG; my "artsy" project. This might be appropriate for a hangover day)
-10 different character walks (Hahahahahahaha! Ten!?!!)
-The four speeds of a horse (I thought of this in Iceland with their unique breed of horses; my animator friend Ian seems to be doing the same thing)
-One quadruped walk (more realistic, given my workload)
-2 character acting piece; staging/composition exercise in leading the viewer's eye (inspired by Kyle Balda's analysis of a scene Milt Kahl did from "The Jungle Book" with Sher Khan and Kaa)
-Soccer ball keep up (since scrapped this idea since it seems that it's one of the standard Animation Mentor assignments)
-Something 2d animation (I do have my old 4x5" Wacom graphire with me)
-Bouncing balls (quick spacing exercise; low priority since I wouldn't put this on a reel)
-Some acting piece for the TF2 Demo Girl (but I would need to find a good female monologue, preferably with a French accent. Hell, maybe IN French?)
-Re-cut my three year old demo reel with new material from Alan Wake and Monday Night Combat (too bad the other two games I worked on in the last three years still haven't shipped :/) plus new material from the animation Isolation.
-Setup the blog for Gobelins peer review: (not to be mistaken for beer review). We had a lot of talent in that class of 45, even before the bulldozers of talent that were our teachers. I promised to set up a blog for us to share and critique each others animations, since there really aren't so many places you can do that online, especially to get reviews from people you know. So that's coming for sure; maybe once I finish the "head" piece.

While on the train from Cologne to Amsterdam last week I also got a really good idea for a short film, but I'm going to sit on that for a bit. Too much on my plate already. I also need to go outside at some point.

"So Ryan: why are you blogging instead of animating right now?" The simple answer lies in that aforementioned three crates of beer in my kitchen. About midnight, I realized I was too drunk to animate anymore. I've been working all day and got a lot down so I think it's fair enough. Not to mention that it's Sunday.

I wonder if I'm too drunk to process the rest of that rigging video?