Monday, 27 February 2012

Artefact 03

I initially set out to explore the differences between real and fake smiles and how best to use them in animation. So this first video was the result of that test. (This can be considered Artefact 3a but not the main Artefact)

The first instance shows the smile where just the lips move. Clearly this looks unnatural and doesn't read right visually. The second shows the smile with the crease of the cheeks active, and offers enough to look authentic in terms of smiling. The Third show the muscles around the eye and cheek playing their part, which for me offers the most believable 'real' smile.

So then it became a question of which is driving the 'real' one more the cheeks or the eye muscles?

So i created a scene and tried out both, and it became clear that a 'real' smile, as in life, needs both the eyes and the cheek crease present. However, to show a false one it is more tricky. Although it has inactive eye muscles using the crease offers enough to make it either real or fake, really foggy territory. It read poorly and miss-communicates. So the fake smile works best with solely mouth movement.

So here is the Artefact 3b (the main artefact). Both of the characters contain smiles, the larger one, Barry, is smiling genuinely, notice how all the facial muscles move. and the thinner character, Jack, smiles falsely at the end. For me this artefact is where the project has turned the corner, I initially set out to see how lies related to physiology and here it is. Both character are being driven by, firstly, the context of the lie and their role in it, and secondly how their natural reaction is being driven by the context of their role, which in this case is Real and False smiles.

Barry, who is genuinely smiling, is confident, happy, and despite being large isn't being held back by his physiological condition, the smooth flow of his walk cycle is testament to this characteristic. Jack, who smiles falsely, isn't confident, he knows he' going to lie. He bites his lip to stop himself from speaking, his arm is physically holding himself back, hiding something. His walk cycle is nervous, he takes one step with more push than the other, as if something has just spooked him.

The physiological relationship has then drove their personalities, which the focus group said they had picked up on when presented. Generally through the performance, there were two elements that need changing with regard to the animation the knees on Barry snaps slightly on the push up, and his head is a bit too static, so i may apply a secondary action at the start (more than likely where the noise of the car speeding off is). It was recommended that my next action will be to add some cinematography in. Whether the improved version will be enough to act as a separate artefact remains to be seen. It will be a case of how much it then drives the cinematography, and if it has much of an influence. Which will be interesting if it does, as most of these choices are made at storyboard level.

Law Abiding Citizen

First off, what a film! I'm becoming a bigger fan of Kurt Wimmers writing every time i see something with his name on it. However, there was an issue (oddly as within my last post of Mr Lessmores journey) with the characters journey.

At the very start we are presented with a situation of Shelton being injusticed through the lax conviction of Darby (who killed Sheltons wife and Daughter) which was instigated by Sheltons lawyer, Rice, who was trying to keep a conviction record. So at the very start we're gunning for Shelton to get one over on Rice. Fast forward ten years later, and Shelton comes back punishing those that had anything to do with the injustice 10 years previous. There are many elements of a complex story im going to miss here, i reccomend that you either stop here, watch it and come back. Or you can get an update on wikipedia here:

He films himself (masked) torturing Darby and sends it to Rices home, whose own daughter and wife sees the tape. For me, this is the most extreme moment of the characters journey. It's really the only time Shelton get personal with Rice. Aside from that, Shelton kills staff close to Rice, as a viewer whose pretense has been built to disregard authority, why should we care? We get a little bit of a back story of Rice's own minion prodigy Lowell, just before she's blown up, but i found it hard to sympathize. If she's destined to become like Rice, and act in selfish ways at the sacrifice of justice, (and while we're on team Shelton) who cares?

Infact, each of the staff close to Rice express doubt at their actions but it's all just before they died. If they had doubted Rice earlier, maybe this would of aided the transition from team Shelton to team Rice, and therefore i would of had more sympathy with with their deaths, and no doubt this would of inadvertently made Rice look more arrogant as he chooses to ignore Shelton. And for me here lies the problem. The end of the film relies on Shelton's journey of getting Rice to learn his lesson. However, it also relies on Rices own journey, appreciating his family (because it could end up like Sheltons). For us to go on Rices journey we need to also be on his side. Which is the problem. In a cat and mouse film, a story David and Goliath, you can't be on both.

The narrative could of traded their places completely. With us hating Shelton and sympathizing with Rice, but Rice needs to admit his mistakes earlier. Shelton could have developed into a real Psychopath, and this would of sealed the tradeoff. Allowing him to attack Rice's Wife and Daughter, and extend to the depths of which Rice begs for forgiveness and makes a vow to change the system at large in the name of Sheltons own family. (Shelton unknowingly sets the trigger for his own death in the film) However, in this alternate version, once Rice had vowed to make the change, Shelton could have chosen to take his own life, after Rice and him acknowledge they have both made mistakes. They both keep their integrity and we empathize with both.

What do you think? Have i missed something? Please comment, i want to hear your thoughts. At some point i will get the DVD and listen to the commentary and see what they say and see how i feel about it after.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

A year ago, this short was on Itunes and unavailable to watch in the UK for the nominal fee you could in the states. Now it is available to view for free on Youtube at:

Or if you prefer Vimeo, here:

It's nice and it's solid. But it didn't take me with it. It might be a case of having watched it early in the morning. I don't know. However, i'll raise a few points that came to me.

Having been carried to a new world, the level of curiosity of Morris Lessmore is fairly minimal. He appears to be content with simply strolling through taking each bit as it comes, without ever really testing or pushing the boundaries of his new environment. I get the metaphors, the whole process of being absorbed by a book, and the book becoming a personality and very much something you take care of (and through that building another story). I sure as hell have an emotional attachment to mine. If you hate all books of any kind you won't get this (and why would you be reading this anyway?)

So with regard to the book character, we'll call him Humpty, i didn't feel he carried Mr Lessmore through any emotional journey - although he had tried, i feel the writers hadn't pushed it enough. When Mr Lessmore sees the girl, flying away with the books, he has a slight curiosity, and then Humpty comes along and takes him to the house, where Lessmore just goes with the flow. For me this is where the sense of discovery should of been pushed, his quest to discover who the girl is, how he can find her. There was no indication that he had discovered he was there to replace her, and therefor the realisation he'd been there too replace her. We can also rule out Humpty here for revealing this information as his anthropomorphic qualities consisted to motion and very basic emotion indicators.

So for me, its solid, great animation, great visuals and design. However, I feel the journeys representation could have been pushed. But maybe all this is personal taste? However, it has won awards, so what do i know?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Smiling, Real, Fake and Chimpanzees.

'That’s the gist of a study from Bangor University in Wales, which says spontaneous smiles can be spotted by a contraction of the orbicularis oculi — the muscle surrounding the eyeball.'

I've ripped the section about Chimpanzees here, it comments quite interestingly about how they have are two types of smiles, one to show they are aggressive, and one to show themselves as being submissive to one another. I wonder how many fake smiles in human are submissive behaviour? This could explain why the character Brandt uses a slight one as a gestural indication in Equilibrium. He needs to be submissive to the lies told by the character John Preston. It works, but the smile has to be seen as a gesture than an emotion which is why it works.

'Smiling and laughing are universally considered to be signals that show a person is happy. We cry at birth, begin smiling at five weeks and laughing starts between the fourth and fifth months. Babies quickly learn that crying gets our attention - and that smiling keeps us there. Recent research with our closest primate cousins, the chimpanzees, has shown that smiling serves an even deeper, more primitive purpose.

To show they're aggressive, apes bare their lower fangs, warning that they can bite. Humans do exactly the same thing when they become aggressive by dropping or thrusting forward the lower lip because its main function is as a sheath to conceal the lower teeth. Chimpanzees have two types of smiles: one is an appeasement face, where one chimp shows submission to a dominant other. In this chimp smile - known as a 'fear face' - the lower jaw opens to expose the teeth and the corners of the mouth are pulled back and down, and this resembles the human smile.'

I got 10 out of 10. I can't help but think about at the point where the video stops, how much does it influences the decisions. Depending where it cut alters how much we see of how sharply people pulled back to a neutral state. I guess this is a sign of how much the reading of the emotion is dependent on other sensory information, such as setting, story, context and body language.

Above is the demo for the micro-expression training of Paul Ekmans. On this one i got 40% on the first time of trying to be correct, where i was wrong, i did get the correct answer on the following try (without replaying), wonder how good i could get if i actually practiced.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Tom Shadyac on Jim Carrey and Christian Bale in Equilibrium.

Before we start, you should really read this all the way through, it is quite an essay, but the end is worth it.

Watching the Bonus material - Bridging the comedy chasm - for the film Liar Liar reveals some of the filming technique that Tom Shadyac uses for Jim Carrey. The run is that basically Shadyac is scared that he'll miss something (on camera) that Carrey does, fearing that he wont be able to get him to do it again. He says "if you come on the set late, you hear that Jim did an amazing thing and then i have to do a whole retake of a scene". So as a rule he has cameras constantly running. This is interesting because it shows how the director has adapted to the to cater for the performer, and begs the question of how much of the films he has directed starring Carrey have been staged. Or put another way, how much of what we see is off the cuff? It has been mentioned plenty of times by Richard Williams and Ed Hooks in-particular about how in animation we work by frames, able to access every essence and individual piece in non-real time, being able to spend how ever long it takes (or some case til the deadline expires) to get perfection. So my first two research artefacts spent trying to produce a baseline performance was a case of the latter. and one of the main issues of surrounding my piece was being able to see silhouettes so that the key poses looked natural from most angles, however, some not so well from the camera angle. I believe, as i said before, this was an issue with laying over Trunk and shoulder movement over the initial pass in the first artefact.

Watching Equilibrium last night made me think how hard it must of been for Christian Bale to keep such an inactive face while filming. From an animators perspective, our job is to bring lifeless objects into life, into performance, and into believability to the audiences perspective. Watching Bale, he had to take a constantly animated object (his body) and keep it confined too key movements, leading with minimal gesture in-order to create the illusion of suppressing emotion. Now there were subtle clues to give the audience some idea that he was thinking, which i'll come to in a minute. The most i've ever experienced of being inanimate is while meditating, concentrating on not thinking and not moving, but even then there is a sense of pulse, the movement of the internal functions, gasp of breath inflating the lungs, which drives out the upper body, and we can never truly be lifeless. Even in death, as the gases leave and the body decomposes we're active, only in thought (and the thought of others) are we dead. The reason i've explained this is too add that extra depth to how Bale communicates with the audience. His eyebrows and lips have little emotive expression for the most part, they . One trick i had noticed was the flicker of the cheek and neck as if he had suppressed his breath or swallowed to show pain, fear, or some kind of deceit, all there to show thought. The latter was indispensable as their needed to be some kind of communication with the audience. There is also the occasional clench of the fist too. In the Featurette below, director Kurt Wimmer talks about this, how he didn't want to give the audience complete zombies, so sub-characters show some slightly more expressed emotion, notably his second partner at his job, and the fascist senior dictator, and the enemies - 'senseoffenders' - could show them too, although oddly, their 'leader' was cold. However, the extras were zombiesque, but how else would you sell the concept of repression on a mass scale without it. Kurt Wimmer also mentions that he chosen Bale because he wanted an actor who could portray emotion, which is interesting as you'd assume he'd wanted an actor who couldn't! Finally, what we did get one character who was zombie-like and was so to be other than to solely add believability and that was the main characters son. He was really freaky, he felt dead-behind the eyes (something us animators strive to destroy) and very suppressed to the point the character himself was unaware (until the end). The only time he shown any sense of thought through the bulk of the film was when showing curiosity/suspicion, and this was purely dialog driven. It really gives off that eerie feeling and no wonder it is a foundation of horror films.

Equilibrium - Featurette - Finding Equilibrium by ohmygore

So, my third research artefact now has a direction, i had the idea before that i was going to look into which was more powerful/believable, a lie with a fake smile, or a lie with a real smile. I feel now that i may use the car scene from Equilibrium in which his second partner questions whether he has taken his dose of 'Prozium' (the sense suppression drug from the film). He lies, but there is also room to play with his reaction after, to reveal the deceit.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Artefact 02

So my second artefact was presented today. Following on from my first one it was clear that the pose to pose needed to be improved with regard to the trunk and the shoulders movement. So i made a few more passes firstly adding more bounce from the trunk of the body then adding the squash and stretch principles. I then ironed out small nuances within the piece. Before giving the 'P' in the lip-sync cycle more definition.

The feedback from the focus group was that it was better than the first piece in terms of its fluency. However there were still minor issues such as the change between the IK and FK wrist controls had not been made causing the Motionless wrist at points where it needed to be following the motion of the upper arm. Other comments were made about staging, in particular about the silhouettes position at the end, where the wrist finds itself hidden behind the trunk causing the body shapes to look off. Also mentioned about the performance was the idea about bringing back the performance before striking it back up for bigger impact. It was felt that the tone at the end was still too subtle for the vocal performance of Jim Carrey that was in the audio track.

What is interesting between the two artefacts is the approach of working pose to pose initially, and then ironing over that with other principles to generate the fluency of straight ahead, which backs up the long established theory, as spelled out by Richard Williams, that a combination of both pose to pose and straight ahead is the key to a rounded performance. In research carried out by Sophie Magnante from last years third year, she found that working from the hips and then through the body was a productive technique (the experiment can be found by clicking here).

So the basis of my next artefact will be too start by working from the hips outwards and to see if the ironing out process is smoother with regard to the hands. Also, keeping in relation to the context of the written document - conveying lies - i would like to create a performance that has the character produce a lie that is in contradiction between the gestural element and the emotional element, and the two between the dialog. I am unsure how this will work as of yet, presumably there will be two versions of the same scene, conveying both, ultimately to see which is more effective. I am also going to use another Jim Carrey scene, as an extension to the experiment to see if this has any side effects, and again, i'm unsure which seen that may be at the present time.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Concept Sketch for Client Project Environment

Here is a concept sketch for my environment for my client project-

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It has been influenced by Radiohead's Creep video by Monkeehub here:

and also by these adverts about mentalhealth awareness:

I was aiming for a mundane, dull and bland atmosphere for the initial environment. I think at this stge i should be aiming for inorganic modelling processes, box modelling in particular. I think i will keep the majority of the items and 3x2 or 3x1 ration to give the scene some consitenecy with regard to shape and form.