Neverwhere review

I read "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman before I had even heard of Sandman, and it encouraged me to check out a lot of his other stuff. It's a terrific book, and I've been wanting to see the BBC series for a long time, but wasn't willing to shell out for it. 

But hey! Now it's out at Hollywood Video, so I'm watching it right now. The production quality is a little, uh, BBC-esque, but the wiki says that the show came first, then Neil adapted it for a novel. This kind of explains the lower level of production, since it came before he was a truly famous writer. Nonetheless, the series is still wildly entertaining just based off of the strength of the concept: that we ignore homeless people and other street-culture vagrants because they actually exist on a slightly different plane of existence. 

In conclusion, if you're a big fan of Gaiman, watch the show and read the book; if not, you should still enjoy one of the two. You'll undoubtedly become a big enough fan that you seek out the other one anyway. Also, bonus: muzak/ambiance by Brian Eno. 



The top five list of...uh...lists.

In a lot of ways, animation school is very much a frou-frou "build your own education" sort of experience, and although faculty may push you toward one direction or another, you can always just claim to be a 2D guy and only touch Maya for the required classes, or vice versa. 

However, all that aside, I think there's a handful of "commandments" that every animator should learn verbatim. People have memorized far greater quantities of info, and therefore I don't think there's a good excuse for spending three years at school and not learning these by heart. (Although I admit, if you put me on the spot I might fall short of reciting everything perfect...)

So, without further ado, here's my top 5 list of lists! 

1. Disney's twelve principles of animation. Ideally, one should know the complexities and intricacies of the twelve principles, and although animation varies greatly based off of experience, passion, talent,  and resources, generally one thing instantly sets bad animation apart from good animation. In bad animation, it's usually not that you're using a principle poorly; you're not using it at all! 

2. Blake Snyder's 4 elements of a logline (taken from his book "Save the Cat!") As Pixar says and everyone parrots, animation is all about story. Similarly, story is all about the logline. If you can't tell me a story in one sentence, it's a crappy story. In case you don't have his book (although you should definitely buy it), his four elements are...
1. Irony (Peter Sellers' "Being There" is an excellent example: a mentally handicapped dude rises to national politics.)
2. A Compelling mental picture. I think the two key elements of this step are first, a protagonist, and second, a complete story arc. 
3. Audience and cost. A lot of this lines up with Disney's "appeal" principle, and arguably cost determines how much of #1-#11 you can afford. 
4. A killer title. 

3. At least one of several story beat methods, which include Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet (also in "Save the Cat"), or for a less screenplay-focused model, any number of the "Monomyth" structures, better known as the Hero's Journey. Several of these formulas are described in the wikipedia monomyth page, and I frequently use a version provided by Stephen Glover, but it's generally the same: you have to hit certain story notes in a certain chronology, or else it's just a series of vignettes. 

4. Andrew Loomis' four steps for informal composition, as highlighted in "Creative Illustration." Okay, maybe this one's a bit of a stretch, but I think it's desperately important for one main reason: knowing this method means that Artist's Block is pretty much unheard of. Once again, I think this is a detailed abstraction of a Disney Principle (Staging), and it's important to start seeing everything as composition. I remember making thumbnails as a freshmen, and I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I would make my first mini design, then just draw fairly identical versions of it. But Andrew Loomis' method is a brilliant staple of drawing; you throw down some abstract lines, it makes abstract shapes, you fit your concept into the abstraction, and you get a dynamic and surprising new composition every time.

5. Andrew Loomis' four essential principles of tone, also in "Creative Illustration." Light is a science, not an art; it becomes art in how we interpret its inalienable properties, and Andrew Loomis provides the exact foundation for you to jump off of. Additionally, read his exerpt from Howard Pyle, who Loomis was building off of. I've heard variations of these principles from a number of artists, but as far as an empirical printed form, here's where to go.  Another analysis of these principles is to break down tone into their five categories: Halftone, Highlight, Core Shadow, Cast Shadow, Reflected Light. The best illustrators I've learned from (including Dave Ehlert and Bruce Sharp) generally teach to some version of this formula. 

So there you go. And I think it's worth noting that, even though I'm more technically oriented than traditionally oriented, none of these concern a computer program. Curious, eh? I think there's a number of other lists that didn't make the cut (for instance, uh, every chapter outline Loomis EVER had), but these are the essentials I try to keep within arm's reach of my computer chair. 


Auditory philosophy of the demo reel.

A lot of the feedback I've been hearing regarding audio on a demo reel is pretty blunt: if it's not a lip sync, just remove audio entirely. There's some good logic behind it. Worst case scenario, they hate your music tastes and therefore hate you, and the alternative worst case scenario is they like your music tastes and it's unfortunate that YOUR art isn't as good as that musician's art. Additionally, they might be listening to something already, and on the job-seeker's end of things, rendering without audio results in a smaller file size. 

But I think there's a rebuttal to this. Put simply, here's my philosophical model:

A. Your demo reel is a compilation of all your best art, and anything sub-par should be removed.
B. By definition of a demo reel, it shows off your editing abilities. 
C. Since the art of editing CANNOT be removed from your demo reel, it HAS to be polished into a beautiful "piece." 
D. As numerous media shows (previews, music videos, video in general, etc...), an integral part of good editing is based around your ability to present audio dynamically, so that it goes hand in hand with your visuals.
E. Therefore, a demo reel should have dynamic visual and sound editing.

But of course, then it's worth exploring what good editing is. After all, in the same way that no sound is still technically better than bad sound or over-complicated sound. What I've discovered is that the point when music on my demo reel sucks is when it's clashing with animations that are already animated to sound. I predict that in an ideal world, my demo reel will be comprised entirely of clips that already have a built-in sound narrative, and therefore no new audio is needed. 

And my render's done! So enough burning time. 


Screen capture software

I've been trying out some screen capture programs to get footage of my rigging goodies in action to throw 'em on my demo reel. So far I've tried two programs, with mixed results...

Copernicus: On the plus side, this program's free to use, and it's also available for mac. Unfortunately, the quality of the output is pretty bad, and you can't really mess with the settings too much. A lot of the captured frames seem to be blended between camera moves, and therefore get some weird artifacting. But, on the other hand, it pumped out a file successfully.

Camtasia: This was recommended to me by dudes at www.strutyourreel.com, and it's once again got some ups and downs. For one, there's no mac version, but that's pretty minor; I just rebooted in windows and installed it there instead. For another thing, it's only a 30 day trial. Bummer. And lastly, although it pumped out a native format video file (.camtec) it took me a couple tries to get the file format I wanted. However, the ends justify the means, and Camtasia's final output was great. The quicktime file I ended up with is great quality, and I look forward to replacing the ugly, way-too-fast copernicus footage.

First Post!

Hey y'all, my blog is now launched! I look forward to posting lots and lots of stuff. But to start things off, check out my website at www.oscarts.org, packed full of meaty animation goodness. Enjoy!