Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Monte Cook Games: Sculpting Light

This is my first commission for roleplaying game company 'Monte Cook Games'. I've loved the work of 'Numenera' since I first saw it almost two years ago, the colours are amazing, the world seems fantastic, and a few months ago when I was contacted by them to produce some work for their 'Numenera' and 'The Strange' I jumped at the chance! This is my first piece of work produced for them, and I'll post up a few WIP shots so you can understand how I arrived at my final piece. The brief was as follows: This image is of a male human wearing a science-fiction (with a little superhero) inspired body suit. The figure is outlined in a nimbus of glowing orange light. He’s projecting a stronger pulse of this same light from his hands, which “Green Lantern-style” has formed into a protective shield between him and the attacks of an advancing troop of 3-4 venom troopers. I was provided with the following image for reference when dealing with the Venom Troopers:
I began by sketching very rough ideas in my sketchbook for test when it came to composition. I'll admit, I had a very solid idea before I even started this project. But by going through this process I was able to find better variations. Once I had a solid idea down I began shooting myself as reference. I found a pose I felt was both defensive and interesting and began working that into the composition.
Soon I found myself feeling restricted by it, the silhouette wasn't particularly interesting and I decided to try giving the character a more powerful pose.
Now I had the roughs of the characters fleshed out and some of the values down. It was time to start adding colours and work towards getting a variation ready to send to the art director.
I was happy enough with the image at this point, but some things still bothered me.
The perspective, the camera, the values, anatomy and colours all needed work. The art director was pleased with what I had so far but requested the character have more of a sci-fi motif in their design too and so I made then wear a more metallic body suit with lights in the crevaces. Now I no longer needed to worry about having to start from scratch and could focus on rendering the image.
One more message from the Art Director as he requested more cool tones to contrast the warm orange light. I agreed, but tried to downplay the blue so that it didn't draw focus away from the central point of the image, the focus of light. And now we have a finished piece:
This was great work for me, I was extremely nervous when I received this commission. It being my first from a large company, and with all my final year project work going on also, but I managed to fit the time in to complete it and I feel like I learnt a lot doing it too. I hope to share more work like this soon!

Weekly Update #8-9: Turnarounds and Final Animatics

It's hard to believe only two weeks have gone by. Since the pitch and having everyone join the group so much work has been completed. After some revisions we've created roughly 6 variations of the initial storyboard. We noticed that in the first test, the character her monster are hardly the best of friends, which isn't exactly what we were looking for. Our character is an adventurer, she's already caught monsters herself and so she's pretty sure of herself when it comes to tracking down monsters, however she's also quite clumsy and so despite her ability she's not the greatest tracker out there. Her monster on the other hand is very simple, it's her stalwart protector and will stand up to anything she requires, they've been friends for a long time. It is also quite young though, and so is quite curios and can be prone to being started as you can see in the animatic. There were also some issues to do with pacing and understanding the narrative of the story. This was likely the hardest part of the last two weeks to fix. It required me to draw several variations on the storyboards, adding new scenes, placing them and trying to work out an order for us to explain what happens within the short cohesively. What made this especially difficult however was the the strict time constraints that the animators had now put onto the scenes. Because we had a set amount of animators, each with a set time limit of animation they would produce for our short, severely altering or add/subtracting scenes would cause logistical problems that couldn't be easily remedied. And with pre-production time running out I crammed as much work into the last week as I possibly could so we could nail down our idea. Charlotte our animation director was eager to have this finished up and I pushed beyond the time limit she wanted to impose. We both do feel that our new storyboard is a lot stronger for it and now every animator has been given a chunk of animation and has begun their own pre-production for the project. So here is our final animatic (some sounds included):

Alpha Final Storyboard test from Sam Cullum on Vimeo.

Now we had our animatic down it was time to start really fleshing out the characters, creating rough turnarounds so I could collaborate with the riggers and allow for the easiest transition for our models through the production pipeline I began by taking elements that aren't so easily seen from the initial angle, our characters hair for instance is interesting as a silhouette, but the actual details are extremely vague. I decided to do a few portrait sketches to see a better angle for them, and after talking with the character rigger decided on the bottom one:
Now I could complete the turnaround.
The same was also done for the monster. I had only a basic idea and a very rough sketch. After making roughly 20 variations I showed them to the creature rigger and we decided upon this design:
It was cute, but still felt like it could do some battling of it's own. Later on however the horn was removed from its head so that the book later in the animatic could fly into it's face more satisfyingly.
After designing the character though I felt the creature needed a bit more, it looked plain in comparison, and so during it's turnaround phase I made some slight variations on whether it would be a beast of burden for our main character or merely a steed of some sort.
This is the current version as I'm still in talks with our rigger right now:
We have also gathered a few second year computer animation students, as well as some past students in to help with the environment. I still need to produce some nice environment sketches for our lighting TD and the second years to show them the full scene and work out the logistics. Here are a few quick sketches I produced however:
A lot of colour work still needs to be produced for this project, including a colour storyboard for mood, colour references for all the characters and props also. But right now it's environment sketches that take priority. And that's is for the last two weeks. I hope it keeps on going as smoothly as this well into production.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Weekly Update #7: Presentations and Storyboards

This week has all been about preparation. With my few sketches I needed to prepare a presentation for the rest of my class in an attempt to try and gather some other artists, animators and TD's to make what was only an idea in my head into a fully functional short film. What made this more terrifying was knowing that there were other projects out there that I knew were great animation fodder. One project was purely about different dancing styles, and I knew this work would be amazing on an animators portfolio. I began to worry that I wouldn't receive either the number of animators I wanted or have the level of talent I knew the year was capable of. I quickly made a presentation in order to try and give everybody what they wanted. I wanted a short film and opportunities to make stylized assets, and I knew others wanted good work for their portfolio. And so this is what I pitched: I was surprised by the amount of positive feedback I received. almost instantly I had animators asking for work, sadly no TD's have come forward at this point, and I'm still currently the only artist. But what I knew I needed was an animation director as the technicalities of animation escape me and I've learnt to be aware of what you don't know. Luckily an animator called Charlotte Mosey stepped forward and was interested in leading the animation of the project. Both Charlotte and Kathryn Chandler are people I have been friends with since the course started and I knew well of what they were capable of, and to have them both join the project has helped qualm my doubts significantly. Since then we've trimmed down the story, changed some storyboards, removed some assets due to the lack of artists but we're up and running. We're setting animation times aside and making sure animators get the work they need, and I've spent my time perfecting the storyboards and animatics. With our animator to artist ration so unbalanced I've decided to write a scene or two, as well as some other elements that can be added to the final production should more artists step forward in time. But for now I laid down a set of ground rules for what I wanted the story to be: 1. There has to be a main character with her own monsters 2. There has to be an 'Alpha' creature somewhere at the end of the short. 3. It should be kept to roughly 1-1:30 minutes. I'm saddened that I can't add a battle scene, or just a way of showing our main creature fighting or breathing for or something! But we've written down our constraints, made sure we can create a project with the assets we have, and that everything runs smoothly. We can always add later, but we think it's best not to overshoot our goals and fail to deliver. For now I'll simply describe what happens as the roughness of my sketches as well as a lack of sound may leave them illegible. We see our character and monster running through a forest, they come to a clearing and the woman begins tracking some footsteps as our monster goes to investigate a strange rock formation in the ground. The woman notices the tracks stop abruptly, but as she does the monster touches the rocks out of curiosity and they rumble and burst out the ground slightly, and in its fear it runs into the woman. She begins having a tiff at the monster for running her over, and they start to argue, both growling at one another, getting louder and louder, until a mighty roar can be heard. They are both scared and checking the clearing before being engulfed by the shadow of a gigantic monster. So here's our animatic:

Alpha Storyboard Test1 from Sam Cullum on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Weekly Update #5-6: Mongols and Monsters

After suffering some illness there was a bit of a drawback on some of my work. I quickly recovered however, and now with the Computer Animation course's final project pitching session coming up soon I decided it was time to really begin fleshing out the production itself. I'd sketched a male character for the series, but I'd hoped to create a female character for the short film. With my production partner Hollie we set out to create a series of references in the real world which we could draw from:
Quite quickly though, as you can see, we found ourselves revolving around more African and Mongolian Motifs. The problem with this however, was although we loved these inspirations, our world in which the short is set is specifically 'fantasy', which is naturally very western in its style. And so I began trying to incorporate certain elements from all these styles into something more tangible.
It began quite roughly, it felt like it was all over the place. But I had a feeling for what I was aiming for. As the sketches progressed though I felt like I was focusing more on what I had wanted at the start. The three images at the bottom felt like they were right about on the mark. But I was worried that just spending a night working on some of these might give me tunnel vision, and I didn't want to commit to a design I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to work with. And so I let my head rest before resuming with new designs.
Soon after working on these I began to realise a problem with the earlier designs. I wanted the character to be illustrative, as if she was made for 2D animation, and I didn't feel like I was pulling her design around enough. So I began making her curvier, adding thicker forearms and thinner wrists for example. Design (10) really seemed to represent what I was aiming for, some Mongolian motifs atop a more fantasy-esque design, and so I began to work up the sketch to see what my team thought of it.
I really loved the design, I felt like it had everything I wanted. But the cloth covering her head was going to be a large problem if it came to animation. Skinning would cause some problems, and with our tight time limit and unknown limit on man power it was decided to try and cut down on problems like that.
More reference for the hair was taken from black women in particular for most of these hairstyles, and they looked good, but I was afraid that I was losing what I had captured in the original sketch. Again the main problem here was simply the fact that it wasn't being illustrative enough. It felt too safe, and so after designing more hairstyles I began looking at traditional designs made for animation, and after piecing some bits together, enhancing others, and simply erasing others I created these:
These again, felt much like what I'd aimed for, but in a different way now. This was the illustration I'd wanted, but not quite the reference I'd aimed for. For now this is the design we're currently going ahead with:
I will continue to work on more Mongolian aspects of her design, but with pitching so soon I think it's time to begin worrying about storyboarding and trying to work out how to render the work in the way we're looking for.
Oh, I also spent this week we-doing my online portfolio too. The link can be found here: So please feel free to check it out!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Weekly Update #4: Flying Creatures - Scaled and Singing

This week was the end of my contribution to the Android commercial project, the model has been fully designed and textured, and now the animator begins their work. This however leaves me with 2 weeks spare from this 7 week project. I have nothing left to contribute towards my original group, and so I was assigned to a different group in a different class. In the University of South Wales collaboration between the computer animators and VFX artists is encouraged, but it's not something that happens too often. If our courses deadlines were more coherent with one another it may help, but sadly this is not the case. Regardless, I have 2 weeks spare and someone in VFX needs the quick attention of an artist. Specifically to texture a dragon model they have from a previous project of theirs.
Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the model itself. I feel like the anatomy is wrong and with no clear reference to existing creatures I'm unsure as to what the VFX student is looking for. I look up references in classical dragon influences such as lizards and iguanas, and also look up some texture patterns from crocodiles and alligators. After speaking with the student they seem happy with the direction I'm going, and after some experimentation with the top half of the skull I produce this:
This seems to fit the Iguana feel I was going for, and I try my hand at throwing the texture file into Photoshop to add some colour:
But it doesn't feel right, I'm worried the colours are flat and even more worried about how to go about sculpting the detail into these scales. After speaking with my tutor he suggests I restart the texturing process, begin sculpting the scales into the model itself, and then using the depressions made by the scales, mask off areas and begin texturing that way. It's a method I've not tried before, but after some quick experimentation it's clear it's the most efficient way of both texturing and sculpting into the model.
I use Zbrush' spotlight feature and a various collection of scale references to create the scales on the dragon. Paying particular attention to the areas that have defined texture patterns, such as the lips, the ridges on the back, and the soft underside.
I masked off areas such as the wings, but did so with particularly soft edges. so that the transition between hard scale and leather would be a smoother one. Once the student was happy with the level of detail within the model I began 'masking by cavity' which allows me to cut off colours within the ridges between scales and colour only in certain areas. I chose to use lighter tones in the underside ridges, just like the underside of this Crocodile:
And darker ridges on the back scales such as this:
Before long I had a decent working texture on the dragon model.
Again I started using painted masking for certain areas such as the wings.
With a little more playing I had the majority of the creature textured and sculpted.
There's still a bit of work to be done. Specular maps etc, but this I can play with in Photoshop fairly easily. For now I'm concentrating on (pre)pre-production on my final major project pitch. the script is still being written and it feels like my work partner Hollie and I have a pretty solid idea for what we're going for, it's just making sure we tell a story about it within a cohesive way. I did however create some sketches for a new creature, a bird. I specifically wanted this bird to symbolise music itself, to have a song that's both serene and powerful. I had originally sketches some designs for a creature before, but was unimpressed with the results.
I felt like this didn't feel 'illustrative' enough. They were trying too hard to fit in a clef design into the bird itself. Luckily, some quick itterative sketches a few months down the line allowed me to have a clear enough head to quickly sketch these:
I really like the one on the right, it seemed elegant, simple and also had elements of the clef design that didn't detract from its cohesiveness, but added to it. I began making a few varations to make sure I had the kind of design I wanted.
I soon worked up a design I really liked and then merged it with our previous character design to see if it fit the style we were going for with our game/animation.
I must admit I'm very happy with the bird monster, it's exactly what I was aiming for with the design aspects in my head. I hope I get to work it into the animation, but that would only be if the script allows for it. I would prefer to have a story that can connect with people as opposed to a pretty bit of fluff with no depth. But we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Weekly Update #3: Muscles, Metal and Musings.

This week was primarily spent doing small tweaks to existing work, or practicing new styles or techniques on existing designs. First off is the Android, it has been fully textured and all the areas are colour coded. however, once the texture maps were applied I found the design to be vastly too 'cartoon-like'. And so I experimented with the texture maps. As you can see below are what the original map looks like. I decided to try adding some metallic detail. I wanted it to be incredibly subtle however, and so using a very low opacity and having the texture on 'overlay' allowed me to pull this texture map away from the cartoon world and add some realism to it, without detracting from it's very simple design.
We were also asked to quickly produce various head types in Zbrush. Whilst this obviously isn't my first time using the program, it's the first time we've been 'officially' told to use it in university. Here are some of the mock ups I quickly put together by simply making a basic head and tweaking it in various areas:
As well as the heads were were also asked to try exploring both realistic and stylised anatomy. Below is my take on the realism, as well as the original image I was basing my mesh on:
And here is my take on stylised anatomy, but unfortunately there wasn't much time to really flesh this out during the lesson.
Finally there comes some work for a project I have been working on with my close friend for a few months now. The time is coming to either work on a teams idea for our final major project on our university course, or to possibly lead one. I'm hoping that by having the right project, one that fulfills all of not only my own goals, but the goals of those who may wish to work with me, that I'll have enough forward momentum and drive in the entire team to create something really special. The idea itself is simple, what if Pokémon met Monster Hunter? What is really a challenge for me however is getting the correct style. We want something very illustrative, but not so far fetched that sculpting, rigging and animating it would be beyond our time scale and abilities. Whilst this is not officially course work and I have no guarantee that this project will even be greenlit at the pitching sessions in roughly a months time, I've been spending a considerable amount of time trying to get some very early pre-production done to try and win over some of the other students. And so here's what I've sketched in the last week:
If we were officially in pre-production I'm sure I would create a lot more variants and flesh out the actual 'character' a lot more. However, right now this is merely a template, and I must say I do like where it's heading. Getting across a simplistic almost watercolour style will no doubt be a challenge (even in 2D), but if this works it will no doubt be a portfolio piece I will be very glad to show. I hope to show you more, and if the group allows, I may show you a lot more in the coming months!