Blue Cat People.

2 responses, Dec 31, 2009

I shall now dispense opinion as if someone cares. It’s easier to write without constantly feeling the need to acknowledge the fact that I’m just some guy.

I will admit: I wanted Avatar to suck. I’ve heard from people here and there that James Cameron is one of the worst people to work with. In fact, I’ve heard he’s a downright jerk. I also hated the design of those blue people. They looked like mutant cats with small mouths. I hated the “omg, we’re so epic and mysterious” tone the initial teasers slapped me in the face with. I hated Michelle Rodriguez. I hated the font they used for the title wordmark. I thought it was funny that the maker of Titanic had been working on something since before Titanic and was “waiting for technology to catch up to his ideas”. I didn’t like all of the marketing talk about “revolutionizing the industry”. I had heard that story before. I expected Avatar to be some obsessive, self-serving, bloated opus delivered by a tech-hungry jerk of a director who stumbled out a couple decent but dated and expensive films a decade ago. I could even respect that as I did with Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which was a bloated opus if there ever was one, but Peter Jackson isn’t a jerk, so I wanted Avatar to be silly, heavy-handed, and forgettable.

And then the reviews started coming out. Since it’s been out, Avatar has settled in at 83% on RottenTomatoes. That disappointed me. Finally, friends of mine started seeing it, and they started liking it. That made me reconsider. Eventually, I got my hands on the Cinefex article which is literally half of the issue it lives in, and the technology that was developed to make the this film is truly impressive and genuinely revolutionary. Finally, the hype in the wake of the movie’s release repaired the damaged expectation that the premature marketing hype had dealt, and I went into the theater today cautiously optimistic (which is fast becoming the only way I walk into theaters nowadays).

The story was predictable, but not too much or annoyingly so. In fact, the story, when boiled down to its basics, is not much different from District 9 or even Fern Gully, and the characters don’t go through more development than these types of stories allot. Paige, while still rating the movie a 7 out of 10, didn’t connect with it nearly as much because she is all about interesting characters and their unique development. That said, though, this wasn’t a character movie. It was an adventure movie. It was all about the experience, which requires a strong, solid production, and holy crap was it a production.

I saw it in “2d”, on a normal screen, and the movie was gorgeous. It is one of the few films I’ve seen that has taken a true stab at producing a place and a people that are absolutely unique and original and then invited me to go along. Everything is revealed and experienced through Jack Sully’s mind, and going with him as an audience into this world where he knows just as little as I did was so much fun. There is a scene where Jack is chasing after one of the natives, trying to keep up and catch her to get her to help him not die, and he stumbles into some of the local flora which pulses with bio-luminance at the touch. He smiles and even though he’s running to keep up for his life, he still smiles and starts slapping the plants as he goes by to make them glow, which is exactly what I wanted to do. When a tiny local lizard leaps into the air and lights up unseen wings with a neon glow and hovers away, a fully-grown man in front of me leaned forward and went “Oh! Cool!” The native world contrasted with the human one in the perfect ways, that even though all of the technology and military hardware in the film was totally awesome in that way that fulfills boy-teenagers’ fantasies, it was so bland and boring in comparison, and that was exactly what Cameron wanted you to feel and it worked. I stopped trying to find the cg elements after the first scene with the “Avatars”. I forgot I was watching performance-capped cg characters after the first scene out in the world of Pandora. There were romantic scenes between fully computerized characters, and I think it was the first time it wasn’t completely awkward, which is saying a lot about the performances since the characters themselves look like blue insectoid cats. Walking out, I couldn’t believe the difference between what I had just seen and something like Robert Zemeckis’ “Jim Carey’s Corpse“. The raw filmmaking itself was astounding as well, most likely due to trained eyes and the virtual camera developed specifically for the film. Will it change movie-making forever? No. Is it still an amazing new tool that produces some stellar cinematography in cg scenes? Absolutely. An effective tool used well by someone with the experience and the eye to take advantage of it will always produce excellent results. I felt the right emotions at the right times, the story was told in a breathtaking way, and the world it took place in took from our world only what was necessary to connect with our human emotions.

I even liked Michelle Rodriguez. For the first time ever.

Avatar was not the terrible flop I wished it to be, and thank heavens we don’t always get what we wish for.

Jetset Blogging.

1 response, Dec 23, 2009


As I type I am parked in seat 31F of Delta flight 1276 to Baltimore for a wonderful week and a half of Christmas shenanigans, movie-watching, and family-funness, but in the meantime, I’m killing time on the plane. Click the above photo collage of my first foray into in-flight wifi and my wife reading a book to visit the high-res version on flickr. This in-flight wifi is draining travelers’ batteries all over the skies this holiday as GoGo wifi is handing out free wifi vouchers to travelers waiting in line to board their planes like crack and/or candy.

Regardless, here’s a photo I took in my seat here of a sketch that every sketchbook-toting artist ever has drawn on more than a couple occasions: the “waiting-in-terminal-realizing-i-suck-at-drawing-planes” sketch:


Anyway, consider this my official Christmas post, as that is the purpose of this journey. Besides, when’s the last time you got a “Merry Christmas” from 30,000 feet?

Merry Christmas, from the mutatedjellyfish.


2 responses, Dec 22, 2009

Another quick update: You’ll notice the new blogroll in the sidebar. I dumbed down that Delicious feed (since I hardly use it anymore) and added some NETWORKING. Web 2.0 and what not. Check them out, they are all very cool. I don’t add just anyone to my blogroll, so there ya go.

Blog Design Updates!

No response, Dec 22, 2009

Hey, a few new additions to the blog design. You’ll notice the title graphic (which doubles as a “home” button) listing our urls here, along with a corner button that will shoot you over to my actual, official portfolio website. Additionally, I’ve added a button on the right that challenges you to “Refresh for something new!” That simply refreshes the page which loads a different random background, of which I have added 20 more, bringing the total to 76 different backgrounds to discover!

Now you Google-Reader subscribers have a reason to visit the actual site for once!

Eh, I do it because it’s fun, anyway. It’s not like I’m like those other blogs with actual subscribers who try to get you to go visit their actual site so as to drive up ad views…

More work to come!


1 response, Dec 21, 2009


Illusion of the Illusion of Life.

No response, Dec 21, 2009

More end-semester projects! The first video is the babushka in “motion”! The old lady who’s existence began as sketches here, is finally moving. Due to the fact that I was trying to learn several new programs at once this semester, her detail and texturing isn’t present, but she had to move for my assignment, so here’s the keyframing and timing pass. The 2nd video is several hours of keyframing that I compressed into about 10 minutes.

The animation process differs depending on the animator, but everyone generally follows similar workflows. I first went through and posed out the key poses for the entire sequence. She shifts her weight, stretches her back, anticipates and winds up for the lift, pauses for the lift, wrenches the bag up and stumbles backwards under the weight, and then slowly makes her way forward, gaining speed. Each of those main poses was set by moving her control handles (see post below) to move her joints and such and then setting a keyframe on the animation timeline. I set each key pose in order, one pose per frame. You can see me scrub through them often in the 2nd video. After all of the keyframes were set, I opened a timeline editor (the dope sheet, in Maya) and shifted my keyframes around so they filled up the entire length of the animation (12 seconds, or 300 frames) and then proceeded to shift them back and forth to work out the over-all timing of the scene. For example, she lingers on the bag, hunched over, before she yanks it up and stumbles back. This was timed out by shifting those keyframes along the timeline and then playing through to see what it looked like. The result is the first video, which is nothing but keyframes and the timing. This process to that point took roughly 6 hours.

Gesture Drawing – Scanner Not Big Enough

3 responses, Dec 19, 2009


Another semester done, another batch of “best-of” gesture and figure drawings for the blog. I need to get down to BYU’s print lab and get these large-format scanned, but for now these photos will suffice.

These were all drawn in no more than 7 minutes or so, and a lot of them were 5 minutes or less. Click the thumbnail above to cruise on over to flickr.

Merry Christmas!

The Pain of Rigging.

2 responses, Dec 17, 2009

So I know many of you who read this are artistically- and technically-minded, but there are also those of you who feel the need to read my blog because you are somehow associated with me and you click off each blog entry from your blog reader wondering when the films are going to start rolling in. This entry is meant to torture you, and hopefully pass on some of the little knowledge I know about CG film-making so you can sound smart and incredibly boring at New Years Eve parties.

Rigging is the process that essentially every single thing that moves in a cg film or sequence must go through between initial creation (modeling) and animation. It is also, in my opinion, the most painful part of the film-making process. It is extremely technical, and, in my limited experience using Maya, is a process that involves so many little steps and procedures, all of which do not create an end result until 40 steps later at which point you may discover that you made a mistake or neglected something at step 2 which disrupts the entire system at which point the only viable solution is to close Maya and go to bed. Or, if you enjoy hurtful pain and evil, scrap that part and start over. Keep in mind, that what I have wrought below is an extremely simple example.

When you open up a 3d model in a 3d program, you will see this:


This is a base mesh made of polygon shapes. Every 3d model in film is modeled with geometric shapes called polygons, like this babushka here. Unfortunately, the 3d program doesn’t know if this is the squishy, living-type of babushka, the solid, marble statue-type of babushka, or the rigid, deadly robot-type of babushka, so she just exists as a static mesh. Unmoving.

When an ANIMATOR opens a 3d model in his magic 3d program, he’ll hopefully see this:


This is my base mesh with animation controls. These are visible “handles” that are selectable, movable, and animatable, and they are attached to a system of skeletal joints and bones that need to be hidden underneath the mesh. You set up the internal skeleton, setting joints where the knees are, and the elbows, and the spines, etc, and then attach these shapes in a proper hierarchy in order to easily grab and animate the underlying skeleton. The skeleton can be seen here:


Maya handles skeletons in a joint-based system, which means all movement happens to the joints (some 3d packages use a bone-based system where you affect the spans between joints). Now, you set all of this up using the static base mesh as a guide, but once you get your rig (skeleton and handles) moving correctly by itself, you then “skin”, or attach your mesh to the rig. Maya then tries its best to determine which joints affect which areas of the model. For example, I may be rigging a robot which has long spans of unbending limbs with very small, bendable areas, or I may be rigging a snake where the whole thing mesh will bend equally, so Maya by default assigns a “weight” to each joint. The weight of a joint is merely the area of the mesh that that joint affects, and Maya assigns each joint an equal radius of affect. For example, my babushka has a joint at the base of her neck to drive her neck, but she also has a joint at the base of her head to control her head. The human head is a rigid body, it moves from the neck as an entire unit as opposed to bending at the nose to look at your feet. With Maya’s default weighting, though, the base neck joint’s weight radius included the lower part of her head, so whenever I would try to move her neck, half of her head would come with it. Another example is the index finger moving and stretching off chunks of the middle finger along with it because they are close together. To solve this, after skinning the mesh to the rig, you have to “paint” weights. You do this by selecting a joint and then literally painting greyscale values onto the mesh (white is 100% influence, black is 0%, grey is X% depending on how light or dark):


In the above image, the main center of gravity joint is selected, and that is the weight map for that 1 joint. Each little ball shape in the skeleton needs weights.

Finally, once this is all done, the character can be animated by grabbing those handles and posing her about. I’ll say again, that essentially anything that moves in a cg film or sequence needs some kind of rig. Soft-bodies like humans need these skeletal rigs like this. Machines need more rigid, mechanical rigs, but the process is similar (but actually involves more math). To put this in perspective, the Optimus Prime model from the first Transformers film was made up of 10,103 individually-modeled pieces (meshes). Each of these needed to fit in with each other and move in the correct way to animate his transforming. They were all rigged. And by a BYU animation graduate, by the way.

Hopefully that blows your mind just a little bit more. I know it blows mine.

Brian Gossett’s Mixes

No response, Dec 15, 2009

A non-art post to share some awesomeness. I once made a comment to Paige that if I could only listen to one type of music for the rest of my life, it would be Oceans 11, 12, and 13-esque heist film soundtracks. David Holmes’ work peppered with other classic pieces and little-known style-works that are slicker than the late Bernie “Frank” Mac’s moisturized hands never get old for me, and they always take me to places that are interesting in ways that real life simply cannot be. Plus they let me visit the Las Vegas that should be instead of the gross one that actually is.

Anyway, imagine my astonishment when I happened upon Brian Gossett’s blog, Since78. Brian is an artist, illustrator and designer with a very respectable portfolio (in my opinion), but his blog is primarily devoted to what are essentially mix tapes. Brian dreams of landing his dream job of Music Supervisor in the film industry, which among other things, is the guy who gets to pick the music.

So, as practice, Brian puts out an astounding number of hand-picked mixes, which you can download, headed off with his flagship collection: The Heist Series. Each is titled after a city out in the world, and showcases mostly the work of a specific artist (David Holmes included).

Additionally, Brian’s thrown together probably one of the most unique Christmas mixes you’ve ever heard.

Anyway, I wanted to share. I hope to do a little more sharing on this blog during the times between art posts. Hopefully things will be a bit more interesting around here.


Classes Ending… Projects Finishing…

3 responses, Dec 08, 2009

In the art-major’s world, the beginning of the semester is full of fresh, fun, new ideas and experiences.
The end of the semester, however, is full of gritty finishing. Artists hate finishing. It’s putting 5 more hours into the already-40-hour project, and those last 5 hurt more than all of the previous 40.

Hopefully, however, by the end of finals, you come out with some stuff to show.

This is good enough to turn in, but still has some work to go before I’m personally satisfied: