VES Award Nominations

As the VES Awards are rapidly approaching, I decided to list the nominees here and give my thoughts on each. Read on for my picks, why I think particular entries will do well, and what I would have liked to see nominated.
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Why Drawing Trumps 3D in Colleges

As I come to the end of my (almost) last semester in college, I have had a chance to reflect on my experience of studying animation in college. I feel like the 3D animation aspect of my major is floundering and getting weaker with every new generation of students. Most students in the program (as I see it) work primarily in traditional mediums.

Now this isn’t to criticize 3D or my college, and there are multiple reasons for this. However, I think the core reason is that a lot of students attracted to the program are already good artists. They have been drawing for years and, in many cases, have become quite good.

Now enter 3D. The technical aspects are difficult to grasp, and the learning curve is steep. After a couple of years of taking both 3D and traditional courses, many of these future animators do not have any affinity for 3D, for which there is today an enormous demand. Now more than ever (as one of my professors would say), I realize that this should surprise no one.

If I were to start learning how to draw without having any previous experience, it would not be reasonable of me to expect to be drawing great art after a year or two. I would have to work at drawing for a long time to get good at it, just as learning 3D requires.

The problem that I see is that students at my college and elsewhere don’t take enough time to learn the technical and creative aspects of 3D before deciding that they’re not good at it and better off animating in 2D. With more practice, they might decide that have more positive feelings toward the field. This could happen either through continued study or beginning to model and animate in 3D before college, similar to what is prevalent in most areas of the arts.

2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

With the recent Academy Awards ceremony last weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to list some of the nominations in the ‘Best Animated Short Film’ category. There were some good shorts this year and certainly deserving of the recognition given to them.

1. The first short that I feel should be mentioned, and the one that I feel most strongly about, is “Paperman” by Disney Animation. This wonderful, stylized short about a chance meeting of an office worker and a woman is a clear winner in my opinion. Not only does it have great animation, story, and charm, but it also uses new technical developments to give it its hybrid 2D/3D look. A brief history of other winners in this category will show that technology does play a part in the consideration for a film.

2. The next film in this list is “Adam and Dog.” A great short about the world’s first man and his first best friend, rendered in traditional 2D animation. The style of this film is perhaps my favorite out of all the nominees, and the story is also quite interesting. Further, I would be remiss if I did not mention the involvement of legendary Disney animator Glen Keane.

3. This past year has certainly seemed to be the year for stop-motion animation, and “Head Over Heels” is a fantastic example of the genre. It centers on an elderly couple  who are living in the same house, but separated from each other, one living on the floor and the other on the ceiling. For being a student film, I find this film to be full of quirky charm, good storytelling, and solid animation. Also, there is just something memorable about the story points, whether it’s the man giving his wife a gift or him hanging upside down from his chair.

4. Fresh Guacamole is another stop-motion film from the studio PES. This short has a really unique concept, a person preparing a bowl of food. The animation uses pixilation for the person (who we only see his or her arms) who chops up various objects, turning them into other objects, such as dice. One of the most original animations that I have seen in some time.

5. The final film in this list is Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare.” I can’t say that I have ever been a Simpsons fan and do not appreciate the crude humor in the show. However, I was rather pleased with this short overall.

The film is about toddler Maggie Simpson who is dropped off at a miserable-looking daycare center and has to avoid a bully intent on crushing the one beautiful thing in the daycare, a blue butterfly. The pacing is good and has solid story points. “The Longest Daycare” is well-done and a fine animation.

Blender Matcaps

One of the recent developments in Blender is Matcaps. One problem with trying to us textures and materials in the viewport is that there is a significant performance decrease when working with complex scenes. Matcaps addresses this issue by using textures that provide nicer realtime display using GLSL with low memory usage and relatively fast performance. These textures provide both color and reflection information, and can simulate an environment texture. Customized matcaps can also be added to the default library. The feature affects only the selected object, which further reduces the overhead, as well as making it useful for sculpting.

More info:


Blender matcap




Blender matcap

A simple way to create a normal map?


Review of Blender 2.64

The new version of Blender was recently released. This release is impressive by any standards and includes significant improvements from the Durian Project. Because version 2.64 contains several features that I am really excited about, I would like to list them here with short overviews of each.

blender mask editorFirst of all, there’s new masking, tracking, and keying tools. The Mask Editor looks like a dandy addition that allows the user to create masks simply and easily. Based on my initial tests, it seems to have an extensive feature set and has some interesting handle types for splines. The ability to assign tracking points to spline points is both exciting and unique. My only complaint is that it is too easy to add points in the along the length of a spline rather than at the end. I once tried to use the RotoBezier tool but gave up as it wasn’t intuitive enough for me when I already knew how to create masks in After Effects. The Camera Tracker developments look promising also. I miss the choice of trac

blender compositor keying

king methods, but tracking seems to work quite well with the Hybrid tracker only. The new planar tracker is something that I have been interested in for months, but sadly have not had the opportunity to test it out. One of the areas that Blender has been weak at is greenscreen keying. The good news is that the Compositor has received major updates to its keying capability. The new Keying node works quickly and allowed me to pull a high-quality key with little work.

A more minor update is the new color management system for Blender, OpenColorIO. This gives the option of setting image properties for different color spaces. It’s actually much more important than it seems due to the way that linear and gamma-corrected images work. Now you don’t have to worry about sRGB images being gamma-corrected both before and after rendering. This has really prompted me to work with linear images now more than ever. There is some more detailed information here.

The modeling tools have also received substantial upgrades. The Skin modifier is, in my opinion, one of the best new features to have been developed this year. It uses a similar concept from the ZSpheres featre in ZBrush to quickly create a mesh object based on the position and scale of an armature. This results in an object that already contains all of the bones needed for rigging. We also have the BSurfaces retopology addon included within Blender. I can’t say how it compares to the Shrinkwrap modifier, but I plan to do some further researching in that area.

Blender 2.64 is an excellent update, and the software continues to get better on a regular basis. It’s no surprise that Blender won the ‘Software Update’ award at the 2012 CG Awards. I plan to continue to explore this release further, so look for more updates in the future.

Broken Reality Project

Broken Reality is a new short film that I am working on for my senior animation project at Huntington University. It uses a mix of live-action and animation to create the film’s visuals. The film opens with two thieves breaking into a futuristic computer facility and hacking into one of the computers. They succeed, but are spotted in the process and must escape while being chased by robot guards. It climaxes with a confrontation between human responsible for setting off the alarm and his robots and the two thieves.

The CG elements in the film will mainly consist of set extensions to enhance the exterior environments (buildings, trees, etc.), 3D modeled and rigged robots, screen replacements, and fully CG interiors. Most of the 3D work will be completed in Blender, while also using Maya, Photoshop, and After Effects.

The target date for completion of Broken Reality is May 2012. The work will be done primarily by myself with some assistance from fellow 3D artist James Clugston. Because of the small team and the complexity of the effects work, the full film has been broken down into approximately 7 shots. This should allow for a high level of quality to be achieved.


View the official film blog here.

AtomKraft for After Effects

AtomKraft is a fantastic plugin for After Effects. It provides an alternative to the native Classic 3D and Ray-traced 3D renderers, using a 3D unbiased renderer based on the Renderman-compliant 3Delight application. As such, it is really excellent at previz, making composites, and 3D motion graphics. It supports OBJ, Alembic, and RIB file formats. You can find out more at Jupiter Jazz, the makers of AtomKraft.

I have a set of tutorials about AtomKraft, although I apologize in advance for the poor quality. I will hopefully have a better series on AtomKraft 1.0 shortly.