Monday, 29 November 2010

Character Design Research: Royal Armouries

After trying to decided which theme to develop my character under I eventually settled on the idea of a fantasy setting as I had previously designed two characters with a sci-fi type theme to them and I wanted to try something different. Obviously Fantasy theme games will have men in armour so I took a trip to the Royal Armouries in Leeds to collect some reference images or armour to use in my designs and to generally figure out the mechanics on how the different plates work with each other.

I looked at a range of different armours to gather a range of different influences to draw from. This includes different types of armour not just from Britain but from around the world including France, India, China and Japan. It's curious to see the different types of technology in terms of warfare from around the world, luckily all I had to worry about was how it would look aesthetically.

When I think of armour though I usually come to the concept of the larger clunky European style that is meant primaryly for protection. Something about the larger hulking form it can give to a person really gives the impression of strength and power as opposed to the eastern style which is lighter and slightly more decorative, especially in terms of the helmets. For these reasons it's clear to see trend is character designs of heroes taking the lighter more decorative armour and villians taking the more powerful looking styles, this goes for more than just video games, films such as Star Wars follows this trend with the character Darth Vader appearing strong and overpowering in his large black armour and the young jedi in training; Luke Skywalker wearing no form of armour at all. Same goes for The Lord of the Rings series of film, the main characters wear barely any armour whilst fighting oppenents who are seemingly much more prepared for battle.

After collecting more referances images of the different types and variants of armours that exist I decided to to stick with using the European armour as a basis for inspiration and influence as I started to create some intial sketch ideas that just looked better with Western styles armour, as stated it does make the character look more powerful. This idea of presenting a character as overly powerful is a common cliche when it comes to creating a villian but it's one thats often not identified as a negative as it usually gets players more excited to face the powerful enemy and recieve the achievement of beating them, the real trick is stopping the villain from looking ridiculous.

From here I will slow down research as I feel I am collected enough information and images to start creating my design.

Character Design Research: Final Fantasy

When it comes to character designs the video game series Final Fantasy has had a host of characters with interesting design points and great lasting impact.

This design for a villain from Final Fantasy VIII incorporates many interesting points such as the head dress featuring the use of horns and shells. The elaborate jewelry and scarring on the character's face makes for a good point of interest for the background of the villain. The slender and soft features also make for a good contrast to the villain's personality, all this creates for an interesting character which players would enjoy battling with and finding out information on.

This design for one of the heroes from Final Fantasy X features many interesting design points in several places. A notable feature is the colour scheme is predominately red and grey giving the character an ambigious alightment to either good or evil, this is heightened by his face being obscured by the coat and the sun glasses. The streaks of grey in the character's hair also suggests that this character is quite old, often when old characters are cast as warriors in games they're either the source of wisdom or used as comedy reliefs, this character obviously isn't a comedic relief. The extra detail on the shoulder and the waist helps build upon the fantasy setting, once again little touches such as the jug attached around the waist and the use of the coat as a sling for the warrior's arm creates intrigue for players. Overall a mysterious looking figure that possibly hides both wisdom and power.

This design for a minor character from Final Fantasy XIII carries a very corporate aesthetic about herself with a mix renaissance/17th centuary military attair. The extensive amount of detail on the coat doesn't really add much to the character, the whole outfit really just depicts a glorified bureaucrat with extra detail. Perhaps the most interesting point it the way in which that the hair is styled to be long and free flowing which creates a contrast against the professional, formal outfit. Whilst some nice ideas have been put into this design it doesn't really come of as significant, the grey colours also make itall the more forgettable. This design shows that extra detail does not make a good design, it's hard really to name the good aspects of this as it is quite boring to look at visually.

This design for a supporting character from Final Fantasy X-2 creates a very sexualised aesthetic. First the bright colours used are often associated with desire and lust, this coupled with the revealing costume epthasises the sexuality even more. The clothing has mix of eastern and french performance influences and smaller details such as the heart tattoo adds to the overall presense created by the character. This design is a huge contrast to the previous one and is a lot more interesting upon the eyes purely for the brighter colours, it's fusion of influences make it more intriguing visually.

This design for the main hero of Final Fantasy VI is breaks away from the norm, first of all it' one of the few leading female characters to have appeared in videogames but also that her design does have a large amount of sexual appeal (with the most amoutn of skin being shown are the shoulders and facial areas). The long flowing blonde hair along with the sweeping cape create a very whimsical aesthetic, this coupled with the colourscheme make the character seem almost princess like. The pose that she's in also suggests a slight sense of fragility.

what should be taken away from looking at these more fantasy based characters is that colourscheme plays an important part of interest in that it can represent alightment, sexuality, power and so on. I also found that large amounts of fine detail does not make a good design and that impressive and well thought out ideas can be brought down purely by their own origins of influence (such as the bureaucrat design). Choice of clothing comes from the background of the character and should make sense for the character to wear but such also be imaginative if you want to capture the players attention to make them want to play the game more.

Character Design Research: Mass Effect

Whilst looking for research to get a wider range of work to draw influence/inspiration from I found a copy of "The Art of Mass Effect" (Prima Publishing, 2007) floating around the class room. I had previously used this book for heavy influence in the last character design project so this time round I just looked over it to try find interesting points to draw from. With desigining a character it's important to keep in mind what each item is used for and how it relates to the character in some way. I've since decided that I want the character to appear at least human as this would be an interesting challenge in Maya. Below are some of the ones I found most infulential.

This design from Mass effect of one of the female character's clothing is a good point of interest showing both a mix of formal and exotic fashion and what effects they can have on visual aesthetics. The use of minimal material should be noted too as it shows that a good visual impact can be achieved with a simplistic/minimal look. The subtle details are also nice such as visable seems on the fabric on the formal wear and the cuffs of the top and trousers make interesting design points in the clothing.

This design for the villian of Mass effect brings up interesting points in design such as his artificial arm. Alot thought that has gone into the concept and logistics of how the arm should look and how it should attach. I like the detail of the cables attaching to the back of the villians head to make the attachment of the artificial limb seem slightly more feasible. Again the colour scheme is limited which again creates a larger impact. the details such as lighting in the bionics creates and interesting appeal also.

This design for one of the minor villians from mass effect also pique my interest really more in the mechanics of it's posture. The armour with the protruding chest is an interesting detail, along with the way that the armour inter locks with each other helps build upon a sci-fi setting. Again the use of tubing and such create a blend of artificial and organic materials makes for an impressive detail to what is a minor villian.

The most important things I've learned from looking at these is that you must remeber to try keep with a limited colour pallette when designing a charater and that often small details can make for the biggest impacts. Another important note is to not be afraid of creating a fairly minimal design. With these in mind I'm going to continue looking at other designs as well as some real world sources.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Simulacrum: Designing a Character Archetype

In this new project I have been given the task to design a character for use within a computer game. This brief is similar to the one given last year (see results to the right)except that this year I will be developing the character and then creating it in Maya along with an enrionment in the new game engine "Unity".

The character will be designed to follow the rules of an archetype (heroes, villians, guards, etc.) and background information about the character wil be developed before the design is finalised thus to better emulate the work flow of a professional game studio. I previously looked at some character designs from realtime world's game A.P.B. and will look at a few more character designs before starting to design my character. Currently my idea is that I want to create another female character but this time a villian in either a fantasy or sci-fi setting, as witht he last project I'll create a few preliminary ideas whlst trying topad out a character back ground and develop it from there.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Digital Film Production: Making a Music Video

With one brief completed it's time for a new one; In this Digital Film Production brief I'm given the task of creating a music video for a piece of music found on The Free Music Archive which offers a collection of music under the creative commons license, this is so that I can create a video without worrying about lawsuits from copyrights and the such. With a wide range of music to choose I was having trouble on trying to settle on something. In the end I settled on one of two songs as I had developed a rough idea for each one, I'm to follow throw with my first choice and my other is really more of a back up if it turns out my first concept has been too ambitious.

The first choice is the song "Echoplex" by Nine Inch Nails (to listen click this link). The reason why I chose this song is that whilst listening to it I began to imagine imagery to go with the music that I feel when directed and co-ordinated correctly will create a fairly impressive music video.

My concept for this video is that a man wakes up in a small room occupied by only himself, a chair and an intercom speaker in the top corner of the room. As the video progresses food in given to the character on trays from the bottom of the door and we'll learn more of his captor as they're seen from else where surrounded by antique AV equipment (generally audio stuff) as she speaks into a microphone explaining why he's there etc. Eventually the main character has an out burst and try to escape but his efforts are futile.

Aesthetically I want the room to be fairly plain and not too large with no windows and a heavy door. The character will be dressed in fitted gray/black colours and the chair to be made of a light wood like such as beech or pine. The Vintage equipment in the watcher's room doesn't have to be from a specific era but do just be generally not of the last 20/30 years, I'm thinking lots of dials,buttons and wires. For the character of the watcher I want a fairly appealing female although the character will never be seen in full there are small details such as red nails and lipstick. I also want to try incorporate the Echoplex design (see attached picture above) in the video some how as a nod to graphic designer Rob Sheridan.

My second choice is the song "Helix Nebula" by Anamanaguchi (to listen click this link). With it's unusual structure and it's upbeat riffs the song inspires many images, one such that I feel would be a good idea is a heavy camera effects narrative.

The concept would be a boy trying to get the attention of a girl through out various locations in the city and each one of his endeavors would be turned down until she begins to either give in to his romantic gestures or genuinely fall for him. This would all be depicted through the use of live stop motion potentially with the use of graphics over the top to empahise certain aspects in scenes.

The aesthetic for this would be fairly simple as the girl would have to be fairly cute and the guy fairly good looking and both dressed in what would be considered the highest fashionable H&M clothing. Summer style lighting (which maybe hard in winter days) to try replicate visually the upbeat feel of the music.

Whilst this concept demands more in the vfx department it's considerably easier to pull off due to the lack of having to find props and locations to shoot in.

For now I'm going to keep with the "Echoplex" concept and continue forward in trying to plan and acquire props. stay tuned for more!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Final Piece and Evaluation

Below is my Title Sequence created for the film adaptation of Ryu Murakami's "In The Miso Soup".

In this project that has last just over a month I have learned a fair bit about new programs, what is capable and what isn't within certain periods of time. Even with delays caused by my personal life I'm still quite proud about the level of quality I've managed to present considering I have never tried anything like this before.

One thing that has become clear to me is that compared to last year whilst I still have bouts of creating things beyond my reach I'm taking time to think things through and how to achieve my goals in the most logically practical way, I fell that my planning has matured over the summer as I followed a very by the book production process in this project, starting from research to developing ideas right the way through to completion of a project.

The process of learning the ins and outs of after effects was a very enjoyable experience and looking back I wish I had spent more time going over tutorials found on the Internet to improve my skills as when I look at my own work I see the little flaws in it and these are the flaws of a person trying to get to grips with the program as he goes along. This kind of making a bridge as you take a step caused a few problems for myself during the animating stage such as having to open photoshop again a tweak certain elements and re-import them back into after effects. I found this to be quite cumbersome but placed the blame on myself.

Working with a new art style was nice for a change and it was a pleasant challenge to create something a little from my usual norm. Overall I'm proud of the imagery I've created during this project as I feel it's something I can take away and reuse in another project in the future and it's be interesting to try adapt it to fit something new or vice versa. Time Management played a bigger part in this project than I expected and due to it I did fall behind slightly on the work but eventually managed to catch by just getting down to doing the work and focusing on it entirely.

I do feel as though I have let myself down slightly as my original idea was this larger concept I wanted to see to fruition but again this project has helped me learn more about trying to stay within my own means as previously I've always been a little ambitious and this time I tried purposely to avoid that but in the end I feel I got carried away by the concept. Whilst the end product isn't what I hoped it would be I feel it accurately depicts my skill and understanding of this brief and the programs I was required to use, if I was to change anything I guess it would be better time management, more time spent working with after effects and maybe thinking out the concept through. Although I am now in the second year when I come up with ideas for a project I still feel unsure of the feasibility of pulling them off and a feeling of not knowing quite how to do it. For the next project I wouldn't mind taking a few minutes to talk to a tutor about the ideas and concepts I have before beginning to execute them to make sure that I make the most of my time on a given project.

Some of the more enjoyable parts were creating the scenery that was needed and searching for a font, in this project I did learn the importance a font can have to the overall composition as there is so much personality a font can bring to a piece that can make all the difference. I also enjoyed the early development stages and I'm beginning to feel like I know what position I'd like to be in if I were to work in a larger company. With each project that goes by my favourite sections tend to be the early development stage so I probably wouldn't mind entering employment around this profession.

Overall I feel I have achieved my goals in this project but I fear I have not achieved them to a standard I had wish. Once again time management was a main point of improvement but overall I feel a little more level headed about projects. I wouldn't mind working with after effects again and developing my skills more as it seems very much a program I'd like to be able to use more competently. With this project sounded wrapped up I am patiently looking forward to the next.

Animating in After Effects

I briefly used After Effects last year in the video production and again earlier in this project for mor of a crash course. I found Animating in the program to be a weird mixture of simplicity and fustration due to a mix of my currently limited skills and understanding and the seemingly limited options for animation.

I tried to stay as close to my original storyboard as I could but soon after getting to around 50% of completion I realised I had been slightly over ambitious with my concept. I was finding myself to constantly be tweeking and in some cases leaving out whole scenes due to a mixture of difficulty in pulling them off and editing for the sake of keeping within the time limit.

There were instances when I have to go back to photoshop to tweak my props as well as turning type into an object to use within after effects as it didn't have the transformation option I was after. During this time I also settled on a font after trying several out during the Ram preview stages, of the ones found on DA I selected the font "Doyko" as I felt it kept instyle with the music and it had a stronger prescense than the others on the screen which really made it stand out for me. Animating the fonts proved to be difficult and I'm a little disappointed in my self that I couldn't do anything exceptional with them but overall the effect that I want to achieve was reached.

Working with layers in After effects did make things slightly more easier and being able to add compositions within compositions meant that everything could be organised more smoothly along for any quick fixes to be generally painless experiences.

All that's left is to show the final piece and include an evaluation!

Creating the scenery

When it came to creating the items that will be seen in my final opening sequence it was fairly simple process. I first create a rough sketch on paper and then scan it into photoshop from there I begin to use the select tool to outline areas and fill them using the paint bucket tools. This is then repeated with different colours and shapes until I have a more final looking object. I would then seperate different objects into layer and select paper textures for them to use which compliment others in the composition. I also added details by adding shaded colour blocks or small signs to try make boring scenes seem more lively and interactive, when they're not really.

There are how ever some exceptions, such as with the trees. I collected a series of images of trees from google and by using the magnet selection tool traced certain aspects of them such as shape and shadows and coloured them accrodingly as there was no way I could create a believable tree in a short time let alone the 8 that I did end up creating. After that I then added a different paper texture to each tree to make sure they stand out against each other. If it was revleaed that I would need more trees my plan was to duplicate trees and then just swap the texture there for creating a wealthy list of variants.

With my components all created it's time to start animating!

Selecting Music

When it came to choosing music for the title sequence I had a vague idea of what I wanted. Something that was atmospheric and ambient with a slight sense of dread, whilst this was a very specific idea of what I wanted it meant when looking for music I would have to comprosmise on certain elements that I was searching for. Luckily I remember the Nine Inch Nails Album "Ghosts: I - IV" which contained 36 instrumental tracks all under the creative commons liscense. I listened to most of the tracks trying to carefully consider which ones to use and which I thought would fit best. In the end I chose the track "9 Ghosts I" as I felt it fit the mood that my storyboard porsented and fit with the scene of the city and the themes surrounding the book. to listen to the track I selected click here.

With all of my components ready all that is really left to do is to create the props for my title sequence in photoshop and select one of the much smaller list of fonts and I can start to animate!

Choosing a Font

When it came to choosing a font, I originally had no idea of what I was going to choose as my final font nor what would look good, so as a simplified method I simply went through all the available fonts in photoshop and added them to a piece of a4 paper in the end the list looked like this:

When looking through all of these I found them to be alright atbest but all were lacking a certain personailty. lucky after the intim crit the existance of was brought to my attention. So I decided to search their seemingly endless archives for a font I thought would fit my title sequence. In the end I collected several that I will choose a final from later but I feel that I will be choosing one of these more lively fonts as opposed to the previous ones.

Collecting textures

When creating my test scenes with the paper textures I decided that it would be the style that I want to see my title sequence finalised in so I went out to try collect as many paper textures as I could. Fortunately for myself I often purchase the monthly magazine "imagine FX" which usually come with a free DVD-Roms with loads of resources on that are all free to use. Luckily many of the issues I had came with Texture packs, so after searching through various DVD-roms I collected all the paper textures I could. From there I decided I didn;t need as many as I had collected and decided to thin out this selection as to better keep a theme with my aesthetic and make it easier when it came to building my props for animation. Out of the 30 that I had found I decided to just work with 12 ( I cheated slightly by using non paper ones but that have the same kind of look as paper, just for diveristy). Below is a selection of those 12 that I plan to use.

Storyboards and Intrim Crits.

With a concept that is well developed it's time to create a storyboard. When creating this I had it in mind to keep track of where the camera will move to and where type will be placed. in some cases I was still making notes on what effects/animations or what not to add, really it served more as a reminder to myself to try new things as I discover more in after effects. Originally the Storyboard was completed with just pencil and paper and then it was all brought together in photoshop where it was organised and layed out. With this storyboard I feel when it comes to animating it should be fairly easy to follow with what should happen after the last.

I also presented my work so far and storyboard during the itrim crit and explained my concepts and how I plan to push forward with the development overall it was well recieved. This unfortunately left me a little bewildered as there was no critisim to what I was doing or my appraoches, or even suggestions on how to better any of this. This did make me feel a little wary.

Along with everything else I presented this little test reel as a rough idea of how the title sequence's props might work in the opening:

Overall I feel I'm making good progress with my project.

Developing a Style

Using my sketches that I had created once I figured out what concept I was going to develop further I began to think about style and presentations. During my research of title sequences I discovered I had a fondness for the more graphical styled ones such as the ones for Casino Royale and Catch Me If You Can, with this in mind I decided to experiment and try create one similar to that of the latter with it's paper and print like aesthetic. Below is the result:

I created this by simply selecting areas of my sketches and filling them in with colour to create this clean geometrical look. For the backgrounds I just overlayed the laer with a paper texture. I really like how this looks but I feel that the building looks a bit too static against the background. I'll try developing this style as I feel it works quite well with what I have in mind

Rough Concepting

Since I would be using After Effects to predominately create my opening title sequence I wanted to keep a fairly minimal style to make things easily on myself as I'm fairly unexperienced with the program. so I created a few sketches to help with thinking about concepts for my title sequence. I thought about the themes and locations in the original narrative with the mind set of trying to focus on one or the other, perhaps even combining the two. I did know that I wanted to get a "Japanese" aesthetic across in some capacity. Below is the first three pages of sketching ideas I had:

I had two main concepts, the first being a pan through various cityscapes and locations relevent to the nrrative and include the titles amoungst the scenery. The second was a scene set in a revolving type sushi bar with close ups of various objects and people. In the end I chose to develop the cityscape idea further. I looked at various images of tokyo through books (such as "Tokyo: City And Architecture" by Livio Sacchi (2004, Skira Editore S.p.A.)), magazines and the internet, from their I began to create some rough sketches to work from and use as starting points to develop a style:

With these rough sketches I'm going to start to develop a style to make them appear more exciting or at the least more interesting.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Ken Recommends: Back to The Future

Back To The Future
Release: 03/07/85
Running Time: 116mins.
Studio: Universal Pictures (With Amblin Entertainment).
Genre: Sci-fi/Comedy
Rating: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Llyod, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson.

Usually being early to an important event is a good thing right? Well Marty McFly is about to find out being early to one of the most important events in his life can be disastrous, especially when that event was 30 years ago. "Back To The Future" tells the story of how average teen Marty McFly (Fox) is accidently transported back in time from 1985 to 1955, with the help of his friend Doc Brown (Lloyd) Marty has to figure out how to get back to his own time but theres a snag in the plan! He has to make sure his parents have their first kiss otherwise Marty'll never be born!

After 25 years since it's original release "Back To The Future" has returned to cinemas for limited period screening. Quarter of a century is a long time so the question on everybody's lips is going to be how has it aged? First of all The film has received a minor touch up in screen and audio quality for it's re-release and I have to say that the screen is perfectly fine, as we're slowly entering an age where High Definition is becoming the norm I begin to notice little imperfections with older films but that's part of their charm. Luckily "Back To The Future" suffers from none as this update in picture and sound quality makes it seem like the film came out just yesterday.

The quality in acting is just simply amazing in this film there are some real moments that you're sucked into the story, laughing along the the most minor things said by the characters. It's all in the delivery Zemeckis really did choose the right actors to portray the characters; Marty's reactions to the situations he's be placed in whilst out of his own time and Doc Brown's eccentric retorts to news of the future make some of the best scenes in the whole film. Of course each of the actors and actresses do a fantastic job in really bringing the story to life which makes it such a pleasure to watch as you seem them interact with each other. With a great cast and a great script watching the movie play out is just a sheer delight to viewers and it's no surprise that what ever time period you're from the younger version of Marty's mother hitting on him is still squirmishly funny.

The special effects haven't dated much either everything still looks just as crisp and new as when the film was released, there's a few bits nearer the end which look slightly ropey but over all it's still a stunner to watch. The Music is full and robust with leitmotifs and swelling crescendos that make you cheer for the hero or feel tense in a moment of suspense.

"Back To The Future" is a massively enjoyable film with plenty of re-watchability, full of truly entertaining moments that make you cheer for the hero, boo the baddies and laugh at the jokes. It's been 25 years since it's release and if you haven't seen "Back To The Future" yet you're truly missing out on one of the greater films that Hollywood has to offer.

The remastered Back To The Future Trilogy is now available to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD