Monday, September 19, 2005

3d Max 8

I went to the 3DMax 8 Demo last Thursday and it was great.  The demo artist showed a combination of new features and some of the lesser known cool things that 3dmax can do and it was awesome.  Pelt mapping is very impressive, and should speed up the uv mapping process considerably.  The second demo artist there was from the orphanage (that’s the effects studio that worked on “That Yellow Bastard” for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City), they had been working with a beta of Max 8, and he said that it cut the uv mapping time in half.  You can create the seems for the different maping regions right on the model in the max viewport and then have the mapper unwrap it for you.  No more pulling them apart yourself for hours to get it right.  It seems very cool, I can’t wait to try ti myself.  There are other upgrades of course to the way character studio bipeds work to make them more effective and usable for instance and well as better access to real world measurement units for those doing visualization.      

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Excerpt from Look @ Me! Look @ Me!

(This is an excerpt from another book project of mine.  This one deals with the problems of creating and marketing your portfolio or demo reel.  I decided to work on this project because of all the questions I get from students.  It seems to me that there are always a lot of questions and concerns with what should be in your book/reel and what should not.)
Organization and Reasoning of this book
     I wrote this book because, well...I want to be famous.  No, really I did.  It may be a selfish reason, but you know, I can live with that.  I mean isn’t that why you bought the book.  Because you want people to look at you and your work and go “WOW”.  The point of this book is really to teach you how to get your work seen by as many people as possible and how to organize it and arrange it so that you really impress the hell out of them.  I mean come on, deep down don’t  we all want to be admired by our peers, and held in awe by the common man.  Or maybe it’s just me?
     This book is arranged into two major parts.  Part one entitled “Creating a Portfolio”, covers pretty much what it sounds like,  the nuts and bolt of putting your work together in a way so that you get the most “bang for you buck”.  In this section I will discuss not only how you can organize your portfolio and gear it to the specific industries you are interested in, but also how to go about physically building one when you are ready to do so.
Part1: Creating a Portfolio
     Why do I have to create a portfolio?  Well oh, uh…so that you can get a job?  While a good portfolio doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the job you want, a bad one will most certainly guarantee that you won‘t.  A portfolio is a sampling of your work, and it is the standard method by which you demonstrate your skill as a creative professional to prospective clients.  Whether the portfolio is a good old fashioned presentation book, a web site or a digital display is irrelevant at this point (we discuss the physical forms the portfolio can take in chapter 4), what I am trying to get across at this stage is that there are certain qualities that all good portfolios regardless of the specific profession should have in common.
     At this stage, my goal is to get to you to start actively thinking about your portfolio.  What can it do for you?  What do you want it to do for you?  How much work do you have ready to go into your portfolio?  How much of what you have shouldn’t you put in?  These are the questions you should ask yourself at this stage.
     When creating your portfolio you should always keep in the front of your mind the purpose of this portfolio.  The same principle holds true for when you design the individual pieces that will comprise your portfolio.  Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by extraneous things.  
     A: A few rules for everyone
     Regardless of what specific type of job you are going for, there are certain guidelines that all creative professionals would do well to remember.  
     1: Gear your portfolio to the specific industry you are going for.  
     It doesn’t do you much good to show cd cover designs to a corporate art director who is looking for someone to work on his annual report.  Likewise, the last thing a busy senior animator wants to look at is your flying logo, or a gig poster for your favorite punk band.  You should only show the types of work that shows you have the skill sets that match the current job a prospective employer is looking to fill.  If you have a wide range of skills and wish to demonstrate them all, more power to you, but in that case you should create multiple portfolios each geared towards a different  industry.  Remember, the people who are going to evaluate your book are busy, don’t make them think they are wasting their time.
     2: Always lead off your portfolio with your strangest work.
     3: Always, Always show the complimentary material.
     Employers are not only interested in seeing finished work but they also want to see if your have the conceptual skills to really market yourself as a creative pro.  To this end, lets say you have a DVD cover in your portfolio, not only should you include the finished, printed cover, but you should also include: The design brief, the thumbnails, and the comps.  To further enhance this piece you could also include the DVD booklet and back cover, you could also add further promotional materials, brochures, flyers, and even perhaps a point of purchase display.  This is the kind of thing that Art directors want to see because it shows that not only can you put a pretty picture together but that you also have a brain in that head of yours and that you can understand and handle a wider range of responsibilities.  

The Pinocchio Syndrome

(This is an excerpt from a book and documentary project I am working on that deals with the depiction of robots and other artificial intelligences in film)
The Pinocchio Syndrome
     As it’s name implies the “Pinocchio Syndrome” is based on the depiction of the main character in the classic story of the wooden boy Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.   In this work the phrase “Pinocchio Syndrome” is used to describe any attempt on the part of a robot, android, or other artificial entity to become human, or otherwise grow beyond it’s programmed or created limits.  Typically, artificial entities that have the qualities of a Pinocchio can do so in both benevolent or malevolent ways.  Another historical reference for the “Pinocchio syndrome” and especially for the malevolent depictions would be Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.  In addition to creating one of the first portrayals of the scientist as a dangerous figure in society, Shelly’s depiction of an intelligent, feeling creature that is created through artificial means and then rejected by it’s creator and an unsympathetic world, would set the stage for latter day depictions of artificial entities as objects worthy of  respect and sympathy.     
     Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s (1979) portrayal of V’Ger also adds credence to the premise of the “Pinocchio Syndrome“.  V’Ger is in fact a Voyager probe, that in the course of it’s mission to explore the galaxy crash lands on an alien world populated by sentient machines.  The machines improve upon the simplistic Voyager probe, bestowing upon it sentience and incredible power.  The probe then continues on it’s mission, to explore and catalog the galaxy.  Centuries later with this task complete Voyager, now called V’Ger makes it’s way towards Earth to complete it’s mission and deliver the date it has accumulated.  But over the centuries V’ger has changed, thanks to the sentience that was bestowed upon it, V’ger senses that it has reached the limits of what it can become.  Having amassed boundless information the probes sense of self demands that it question what is the nature of it‘s own existence, and ask, can I be more?  To this end V’ger contrives a plan to burn out one of it’s control circuits to force it’s creator (whom over the centuries V’ger has come to equate with God), to come to V’ger and complete the download in person.  It is V’ger’s goal to fuse to, to “join with” his creator and by doing so grow beyond his current limitations.  
     The android character of Lt. Commander Data was first introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series, and in fact was purposely created to be a futuristic representation of the Pinocchio character.  According to actor Brent Spiner who has portrayed the golden skinned android for over a decade, “it was an established journey that his character was going to be on from the very beginning.  The point of departure was the word ‘Pinocchio‘, which was in the pilot, and was Gene Roddenberry’s concept.  After discussions with him, I agreed completely that the character would evolve through the years towards the humanity he seeks” (quoted in McDonnell, pp.28).  It was in fact in the Star Trek: The Next Generation films (Generations [1994], First Contact [1996], Insurrection [1998], Nemesis [2002]) that the portrayal of Data reaches it’s highest point.  While the series did indeed portray as a Pinocchio like character, an artificial boy who wanted to be human, the films allowed Data to continue and eventually complete his journey towards humanity.  In Star Trek: Generations, Data gains feelings by way of an emotion chip, and like a real person these new, often contradictory feelings almost overwhelm him.  As the Data character progresses through the four films we see a steady evolution towards the humanity he seeks.  Data’s journey towards this humanity comes to an end in the latest and perhaps last Star Trek film, Nemesis(2002).  Here, after a climatic battle against evil forces bent on wiping out the Earth and crippling the Federation, Data evidences the essential quality not only of a human being but of the hero, the capacity for self-sacrifice.  Data gives his own life to protect the Federation, his ship and his friends, and in doing so proves that humanity can be a far more complex concept than simply being born human.
     Another less common aspect of this theme can be seen in films such as Cherry 2000(1987), The Stepford Wives(1975), and Metropolis(1927) where it is the creators or owners of the robots (instead of the robots themselves) who want humanity bestowed upon their automatons, or as with the latter two films they desire to create machines that are as close to the human ideal of perfection as possible.  These portrayals specifically are demonstrative of another aspect of depiction of human looking machines in films.  It represents the attempt on the part of the creators (usually but not always men), to create the perfect mate and companion.  Other films that have used this thematic approach to the depiction of artificial entities with varying degrees of success are Stephen Spielberg’s A.I.(2001), D.A.R.Y.L.(1985), and Ridley Scott’s film noir masterpiece Blade Runner(1982).

Follow your Bliss

A couple of days ago I was talking to my 3D class about why I have the "hard ass" approach to teaching computer graphics that I am known for. While I may come off as an inconsiderate "prick", in fact I consider at least part of my job to help people figure out if they realy want to work in Computer graphics or not. CG is a realy hard business to survive in and if anything that I could ever say could possibly dissuade you from pursuing it as a career you won't survie in it. Somebody famous once said someting exactly like that but I forget who it was. Art Directors/Creative directors/Effect & Animation supes will ride you, colleagues will try to stab you in the back to get ahead, and the hours suck. Especialy when you are just starting out, you will have times when you come desperately close to not making your rent, and others when you just won't be able to make it period. The price of being a pixel pusher can often be measured in sleepless nights, cold ramen noodle dinners, and lost free time. Often you are always on the move, jumping from contract to contract trying to work our way up the ladder, and by there way make sure you plan for your old age, because this carer usually doesn't come with a pension plan. All that being said, if you can deal with the cost, it can be a great ride.There was once a man named Joseph Campbell, he was an author and expert on comparitive mythology. In a remarkable series of interviews for the production of "Joseph Campbell and the Powr of Myth", he talks about a concept he learned from studying myth that he calls "following your bliss". Basically, a person needs to figure out what makes them happy and follow it. Just do it! When one finds an occupation, career, vocation, etc. that truly makes them happy they can't help but excel at it, and that excellence will bring them success, and fame, and admiration and the other accolades they are looking for. Campbell himself admits that most people never really take the time to figure out who they are and who they are really meant to be. And to be quite honest this is not the kind of self-exploration that modern society expects of us or the kind that we usually expect from ouselves. In general we follow the roles that we are expected to follow. We work our (9-5, 8-6, etc) job, to make money to support our selves and be a good little consumer in society, becoming just another cog in the great machine of life. But do we ever really stop to ask ourselves why we are doing it, if it isn't making us happy, or satisfied, or more than we are now. According to Campbell, when you figure out what it is that really makes you happy, when you are "following your bliss" you are being true to yourself and your nature, and everything else can be worked out from there.This is the way it is with Cg work and 3D work specifically. Lot of people see movies like "The Incredibles" and "Sky Captain" or play games like "Halo" and "Half-Life" and want to be in the industry. Now, don't get me wrong, that great, I mean we haveall been inspired by someting, for some of us it was seeing "Star Wars" that first time or maybe those "Stop Motion" monsters you saw in the old movies, ("Jason and the Argonaughts" is a classic). But what most people don't understand and what those movies don't tell you is that to create a work of CG art (especialy someting groundbreaking like "Sky Captain") is alot of really hard work and sacrifice. And the problem is that our modern society has taught us to expect quick rewards and instant gratification, not the dificulty to the process, nor the discipline of the craft. That is when the it becomes even more important to make sure that this is realy what you want to do, that you are "following your bliss". That is the only thing that will help you through the tough times and the long dark hours.