technology behind magic blog

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Sony Pictures Animation introduced the glorious character Chester V in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs II. Chester’s exaggerated facial expressions and practically noodle-like movements meant that he required quite the interesting character rig. This video is all about the creation of Chester, from character development all the way to animation tests. The animation of Chester is truly unique in an age where stylized realism is very common, he practically moves like a 2D character! 

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Pacific Rim is a Visual Effects phenomenon in every detail of its being. The film’s effects were produced by Industrial Light and Magic, a studio that stands as a pinnacle of digital arts. This video shows the making of the Hong Kong battle sequence, which was pretty much done almost entirely digitally. This battle sequence looks so realistic, the ability of the ILM crew is beyond comparison. There aren’t many inside looks into the work of ILM, so it’s incredibly fortunate that they released this to the public. Watch and be amazed!

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Disney announced recently that a new Monsters University short will be premiering before Muppets Most Wanted this March. The short is titled Party Central and from the looks of the one released still shot - this party is unfortunately not going well. The Oozma Kappa fraternity brothers try to throw their first party but no one shows up, Mike and Sulley will be returning to the Monsters U campus to help get the party going. It will also be featuring all the original voice actors from the film. Muppets Most Wanted will be released in theaters on March 21st, so make sure you see it while you can!

I have an important announcement so listen up!

Since we’re all stuck indoors with nothing to do I’m going to do some shameless self-promotion! So I’m working on a little blogging side project that involves discussing the different departments that work on animated films. I started this because the internet generally doesn’t know the difference between animation and visual effects. Being in the visual effects department it saddens me greatly every time I see the animation department getting the credit for the efforts of my field This is especially evident as of late with the release of Frozen; I’ve seen so many posts giving the credit for Elsa’s gorgeous outfit, her hair, and her ice powers to animators, when in actuality they had nothing to do with that portion of production. It is time to give credit where credit is due.

In my blog I’ll be discussing the differences between animation and everything else, along with the various departments that work on an animated film. I’ll also be posting videos and links to material I find interesting or educational to those wanting to get into the digital arts. If you’re interested you should follow me! I’m going to start posting tomorrow so just click right on down here, and tell your friends!

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Let’s congratulate The Croods for winning The Animated Effects award at the 41st Annie Awards! In honor of this achievement here is a progressive reel that was recently released by DreamWorks Animation Studios. This film is a prime example of how far we’ve come in the digital arts. I personally thoroughly enjoyed the film’s story and character dynamics, along with its incredible visual effects. In a prehistoric world that is falling apart right under their feet, the Croods experience nature lashing out at them again and again. From thick black smoke to a mass horde of man-eating birds to the ground crumbling into an abyss, the film’s excellent Visual Effects department certainly gave this family the cinematic journey of a lifetime. This short video is just a taste of how The Croods was made. They certainly deserved this Annie Award!

What is Actually Animation in an Animated Film

It is unfortunately an online norm to give the visual effects credit of an animated feature to the animation department. I have seen my fair share of such posts and in turn offered corrections to any wrong information I happened upon. The specifics of producing an animated feature film is far from common circulation, so I do understand why this happens. But at the same time, the world of CGI is far from new. Animated feature films have been produced commercially since the 90s, as with all know with the establishment of Pixar Animation Studios releasing Toy Story back in 1995. Therefore animated feature films have been produced, released, and adored for nearly twenty years, yet the general public hardly understands how they are made. That is why I am hoping this blog makes some form of impact upon this notion that CGI is merely the product of a computer. You would not give the fine artist’s paints and brushes the credit for his masterpiece, so why do the same to digital artists? Thanks to the internet the efforts from the digital arts community is being recognized now more than ever, but the credit does not always go to the right department. 

This is especially evident in animated feature films. Whenever I scroll through posts I almost always see a GIF from a popular animated feature, then a caption exclaiming how amazing the animation quality is; yet what they’re talking about is not character animation. For instance, in Disney's Frozen the credit for the impeccable detail in Elsa’s dress was being given to animators. The same goes for her hair, for her magical ice powers, for even the last breath of life leaving Anna’s mouth at the film’s end. I know for a fact that all of the above examples were produced by the Visual Effects department, and I can even give you the exact title of the Visual Effects artist responsible. But instead I see popular circulating posts praising the character animators for the efforts of all the other departments.

Character Animation involves breathing life through movement and emotion, whether through a human or creature. When it comes to the other aspects of their character including the actual construction of its being, its clothing, its hair or fur, its textures, that is done by members of the Visual Effects department. Their character was designed by the Visual Development department, and given a skeleton and muscular system by the Character Technical Directors so the Character Animator can actually animate. As you can see, there is so much more to a character than just the animator. Furthermore, when it comes to the movement of natural phenomenon such as fire, water, lighting, wind, and ice, as well as technical movement in vehicles or machinery, that is also done by the Visual Effects department. In fact, those specialties incorporate animation principles into their effect’s execution.

Let it be known that I am not tearing away at Character Animation, rather I am just explaining what is actually the animation in an animated film. In fact, I majored in animation until mid-sophomore year of college. I have plenty of friends within that major and I have nothing but respect for their craft. I understand how difficult and complex animation can be. There is not anything easy about producing a film, every single department has their own trials and challenges. That is why I am deeply saddened that the other hundreds of people outside of Character Animation who worked tirelessly for years on one film are commonly swept under the rug. It is time to give credit to where credit is due.

There are numerous areas of specialization that all fit under the Visual Effects department. Not many people know this fact, and probably have not heard of a majority of the careers on this list. Because this list is so incredibly long, this post won’t go into detail otherwise it would be thousands of words in length. They will be clarified in the future on this blog. Posts of such nature will be marked by the above logo.

The bellow list is courtesy of the Savannah College of Art & Design website. Here are the areas of specialization that are considered to be Visual Effects.

  • Compositing Supervisor 
  • Computer Graphics Supervisor
  • Crowd Simulation Artist
  • Digital Compositor
  • Digital Effects Animator
  • Digital Environmental Artist
  • Digital Matte Painter
  • Lighting Artist
  • Location/Stage Supervisor
  • Look Development Artist
  • Matchmover
  • Modeler
  • Pipeline/Workflow Technician 
  • Previsualization Artist
  • Shader Writer
  • Surfacing Artist
  • Technical Animator
  • Technical Director
  • Texture Artist
  • Visual Effects Cinematographer
  • Visual Effects Producer
  • Visual Effects Supervisor 
  • Visual Effects/Animation Art Director

As you can see, there are so many different specialties that a person can invest themselves in the Visual Effects field. We literally have our hands on a majority of a production, from development all the way to post-production. If you would like to learn more about a specific career listed above, most of them will be described in the future.