SFM: Location, location, location scouting…!

Long time between updates – crunch mode over the last few months (okay, Summer, Fall, and this Winter ongoing) will devour one’s energy reserves.
That said, I’m pushing myself to make something new with dialogue and multiple characters acting, as well as explore how I like step-key animation during the blocking stage. Regarding the step-key animation process, I’ve noticed a lot of great SFM animators publishing their work-in-progress, using this method. An example from Jesse Baumgartner

Primary Animation Goal: Multiple characters with multiple lines.

I already found a line of dialogue that would be fun to do, and gave me a range to play around with. The full “that escalated quickly scene” from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was crying out to me to tackle.
Naturally, by using the great Source Filmmaker tool from Valve, I was going to be using the Team Fortress 2 characters, as they have such great expressive rigs and such appealing designs.

Lots of planning notes, and a really rough breakdown of story-thumbs:
Thumbnail storyboards are fun!

Listing out the characters I wanted to use (I had already used the Medic and the Sniper from Team Fortress 2, and I wanted to use different characters before I started repeating), as well as forming what kind of staging I wanted, it was time to go…


It was actually more involved – I know some would just go “who cares” and plunk their work down in the middle, but I wanted two things: Room to move & place the required props (meeting room table, chairs) and an interesting yet not noisy environment with decent lighting, as I didn’t want to spend a lot of time lighting the animation manually. (Might still need to throw in a key light or two though)

Screenshots are from the Team Fortress 2 game maps – there are some really cool environments, so it can take a while to ‘wander’ the library of maps in search of a good location – rather like how live-action film location scouts work.

Checkpoint Fast Lane
This was my initial choice, but it’s looking pretty drab. I liked it as it had a ‘meeting room’ vibe with the rocket launch chamber outside the window, but as you’ll see, it’s pretty spartan and dark.

Checkpoint Junction
A nuclear launch bunker – multiple areas in this map could work, though compared to later ones, I’m not as strong on this choice of staging.

Checkpoint Mountain Lab
Now we’re talking. Not too cluttered, yet totally workable as an interesting ‘meeting’ or ‘planning’ room for this conversation to be in. I’m actually torn between one of these areas in this map, versus the following…

Meet The Heavy set
Given the subject of the conversation, and there’s just enough light that I could add a few simple key lights for readability. There’s some great props as well that I can further ‘hem’ the stage in (including a great chalkboard covered in strange designs), the only “negative” about this stage is that it could be too recognizable with anyone that’s seen Valve’s “Meet the…” TF2 shorts. Looking at the “Meet the Heavy” short, I’m likely over-thinking this too much.
When I make my choice final, then I will begin the step of placing the props and rough staging of the characters & camera. I’ll go as far as to add the audio and time the camera shots, with any necessary splicing of the audio to add just a tiny bit of breathing room. (A lot of western comedy movies tend to be very static in cinematography, as well as break-neck in their pacing – too few directors will experiment with camera angles like one of my favorites, Edgar Wright.)

Stay Tuned! Though it may be quite a while before the next update…


Link: A huge searchable database of reference videos for animation!

Just a quick post today, but I wanted to share this one with you all:


It’s an excellent searchable (by tag or category) database of videos with actors performing various actions, often with multiple camera angles. When one is creating animation, it is invaluable to film yourself performing the action for the shot, as it grounds you in what is possible & natural. When you have a solid base like that, it becomes much more legitimate when you push & exaggerate the motion, as opposed to just free-forming it without any prior planning & research.

But often the shot/sequence calls for a movement that isn’t possible (we animators may be a crazy bunch, but we’re not all stunt performers!) for you to film yourself doing. Or you might be constrained for time or shyness! I have gotten used to the looks of incredulity when I’m demonstrating some in-game animation! Well ReferenceReference.com comes in as a great alternative.

I still recommend finding some empty meeting room, back alley, closet, roof top, forgotten hallway, and doing the performance yourself, as the memory of how it felt definitely adds to your decision-making for your work.

Link: The 25 Fastest Ways to Fail at Animation

For both my benefit, and yours, I must share this excellent post about the animation process.

Thumbnails of Animation

The 25 Fastest Ways to Fail at Animation
Article by J.K. Riki.

Many of the points touch on how the animation process cannot be forced into greatness; you have to follow discrete steps, including PLANNING, before you can truly tackle the task before you. Overcomplicating your shot with fancy tricks/techniques is a sure-fire way to lose sight of what you’re aiming to achieve with your animation. It’s ludicrous how often K.I.S.S. shows up in the creative fields, but it always bears repeating, as it’s still ridiculously easy to lose sight of it: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Storyboarding even the most ‘basic’ of shots is always worthwhile. Who cares if the ‘storyboard’ only takes 20 minutes to create – it becomes the foundation of what you plan to do with the given shot. Don’t worry if your storyboards are barely more than stick figures in 1-inch doodle boxes. You’ll be ahead of most of the competition already.

Happy Animating!

Article: Why Creativity Blocks Happen

Stumbled across this earlier today, and it was a really good read, so I must share!

Why Creativity Blocks Happen (and How to Overcome Them) by Iris Shoor.

An excerpt:

Don’t start at the beginning

One of the most common breaking points for a project is not the finish line but rather the starting line, before the race even begins. We’ve all been there, postponing a new project day after day, week after week. When starting a new project most people approach it according to its natural order—writing the first paragraph of an assay, designing a website’s homepage. The first milestone is usually very challenging, and when faced with a big challenge we tend to give up.

When I notice that I drag my feet with a new project, I never start at the beginning. I find an anchor—a part of the project which is very standard or is technical in nature. It can be the ‘about me’ paragraph or the website footer, it can even be a line or a slide I’ve used before. From there I move on to the next part. It doesn’t have to be closely related to the first one, but again, one you can handle more easily. In a few relatively easy steps I can build a rough skeleton and from there all I have left is to connect the lines between the dots.


Third Tattoo: Explorations

Just a mini-update to my dusty sketchblog (apologies to you readers!), with a couple links to my current personal project – my next tattoo. I’ve wanted to get something of skeletal armor down the length of my spine for quite a while, but I hadn’t really sat down to nail down precisely what I mean. Or, at least enough what I mean so that my friend Nomi Chi, who is an awesome artist that has done my previous two tattoos, can take my design, put her own distinct style & spin on it, and brand it into my skin.
It’s a great collaborative process to work with Nomi – you’ll see in her portfolio that she’s got a phantasmagorical style and insane line/shading quality skills with a clunky vibrating tattoo needle machine. I basically give her the essential seed of what I want in my sketches, and just magnifies it into something far more interesting than I’ve managed to come up with. A bonus is that this process eliminates the age-old problem of most artists – after a time, we all hate our old work.

The first image is not the first time I’ve tried sketching out what I wanted, but the first real electric connection that I was on the right track. Second image is continuing down that path, exploring out variations of the idea. I’m not totally certain if I still want the “floating ribs” or not; they came out too awkward in the right-hand of the second image. Either they need to be a bit more regular & ‘growth pattern’, or omitted entirely.

First real connection Further refinement of the tattoo design

At this point I’m looking to get in touch with my friend and ask her opinion of how it’s going; she’s got a lot of experience in how two-dimensional designs transfer into the human form, as well as what her own artistic vision’s response is.

Timeline for this will likely be much later this year, in the late fall or winter. Summer is far too hot and sunny to be healing from a large tattoo “wound.”

Lastly but not least, I’m currently working on the exciting sequel, Company of Heroes 2, with the talented people of Relic Entertainment. Busy busy!

Article: “Style Development and You” and my own thoughts.

Style Development and You, via Cberniez’s Tumblr (who is a most excellent 2D artist! Go check out her stuff)

Great write-up reinforcing the inherent truth of the creative process (not just art!) – for every great work from a master, there are hundreds of thousands of “bad” work you never see. Of course it gets very easy to get lulled into the impression that many top artists put out nothing but amazing work, every time – but that’s only due to the selective “posting only the winners, hiding the mountain of attempts in the Crypt of Shame.”

As a result, a tough thing to really force yourself to do, is to do ANYTHING – a poorly done image (or story or song) is better than nothing done at all. Easier said than done, as I myself have a well-developed skill in thinking of chores, tasks, things I’d rather do than face making something shitty. “I should do some art… But the bathroom needs to be cleaned!” It’s clearly a kind of avoidance tactic; after all, very few of us really revel in the feeling of failure. Of course, the resulting guilt of having wormed my way out is one hell of a gargoyle to squat on my shoulders. Especially when I do aspire to achieving this level of legacy, from Despair, Inc.“Hundreds of years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… But the world may be different because I did something so bafflingly crazy that my ruins become a tourist attraction.” Naturally you cannot PLAN on achieving that, but dodging doing anything that would lead to that, certainly will fail that mad idea.

I’m going to see if I can formulate a structured way to get an image done, every day, and smash through this mental wall of mine. Do note that I said “an image.” There are no subjective qualifiers there – not “good,” not “awesome,” not “funny.” Not even “post-worthy.” As those invariably start inviting self-judgement of whatever I’m thinking of drawing, before I’ve even started. I couldn’t tell you how many times (every time?) I’ve self-edited before pen touched tablet/paper.

To close off this ramble, I’ll call out a notable bit in the posted article above – there is no magic pen, no professional grade paper, no “right software.” Think of those cloying TV commercials featuring a pro athlete hawking a new line of sports shoes. Selling to you that if you buy those shoes, you too can be just as awesome as them. This is the very same logic in action, when many new artists ask exactly what type of marker their favorite artist is using. It’s good to know what are better tools to use, but I’ve had some of my better doodles come from a blue-ink BIC disposable pen on a lined notebook paper. The point I’m making here is that those doodles came freely as I just wasn’t thinking about whether the end result was going to be “good enough to share.”

Keep going, everyone.

Sketches – Cosmic Horror Portrait idea

Some loose sketch ideas – I’m obviously on another bent to do another horrific self-portrait, this time inspired by the phrase “he had eyes as black as the dark between stars.” Obviously it lends itself to the Cthulhuonic cosmic horror theme.

A renewed effort to produce more art, no matter how terrible I may deem it.

Click to see larger