Sunday, January 5, 2020

Welcome to the 2020s - A Look Back at 2019

Hi everyone, it's once again time for my annual New Year's post. We've officially entered a the 2020s and we don't even have flying cars yet! Not exactly how I pictured it back as a kid, but there are still plenty of cool things going on to be excited about. It's hard to re-examine the 2010s as a whole because there was just so much that happened during this decade. Crazy to think that in 2010 I was still an inexperienced college student who had barely even ventured far beyond the confines of Ohio. Since then I've started a career in 3D animation, attended tons of conferences around the country, traveled to many different cities to teach students, and even made my way to Japan. It's been a great 10 years and I'm even more excited about the next 10!

Focusing in on 2019 though, I had a few goals that I set for myself and I'm pretty happy with how much of those I accomplished. Let's take a look at the breakdown.

2019 Goals Review

Draw more personal illustrations
I didn't really do a great job at this one. I did some drawings throughout the year and even did a few traditional watercolor pieces, but I think the overall frequency was a bit less than some past years.

Continue studying Japanese
This one has been pretty successful. I have continued learning a lot of Japanese grammar and vocabulary and I've managed to brush up on it fairly frequently. I mainly use the app LingoDeer and to date I have completed 50 modules which consist of 137 lessons in total. I've still got a long way to go and probably couldn't even hold a conversation with a Japanese pre-schooler yet. But I'm steadily making progress. Onto kanji in 2020!

Take the stairs more often than the elevator
This goal has been a huge success! I originally wanted to take the 5 flights of stairs at work 3 days a week but instead I managed to take them nearly every day of the year! I took the stairs going down 100% of the time and of the 213 work days in 2019, I climbed them 197 of them, or 92% of the time (the original goal was 51%). That's only 16 days of using the elevator, and nearly half of them came in January when I was slightly less committed to the idea of just doing it every day. Honestly, at this point it has just become second nature to avoid the elevator. Aside from days where I'm sick or carrying something heavy, I plan to continue taking the stairs all through 2020 as well.

Vegetarian week
Another goal that I one-upped the original plan. Instead of spending a week as a vegetarian, I took it one step further and went full vegan. It was a fun challenge and I discovered a lot of tasty new recipes. I wrote up a post with lots of pictures over on my travel blog. I definitely want to do this one again in 2020 and I'm hoping to find some fun way to add another spin on it.

All in all, I'd say it was a very successful year. I might not have done anything extraordinary in terms of art skills, but I went above and beyond on some of the other life goals so I feel pretty accomplished overall. In addition to continuing on the stairs and vegetarian challenges from this past year, my biggest New Year's resolution for 2020 will be learning Kanji. I still have a few more modules to go in LingoDeer until I reach level 2, but as soon as I hit that level I plan to jump right into studying kanji characters. I'm also hoping to be better about getting a full night of rest. It's far too often that I go into work on only 5 or 6 hours of sleep and that will definitely catch up on me sooner or later. That's why in 2020 I want to get more sleep. Not setting any strict rules or tangible goals on this one, but it's a mantra that I will keep in mind throughout the year.

So... 2020 goals: Learn Kanji and Get More Sleep. I think that sounds pretty reasonable.

Before I wrap up this post, I want to share a few pieces of artwork I completed in 2019 (this is supposed to be an art blog after all!). Most of them were simple sketches or concept pieces for The Nays, but I also did 2 different watercolor pieces. Here are some of the various things that I worked on this year:

2019 Art Summary

Starting in January, I took part in my 6th Global Game Jam. My sister and I had one weekend to create a game centered around the theme "Home." Naturally we decided to base it on The Nays and we came up with a pretty cool little project. It's honestly probably our best one yet. Head on over to our page if you're interested in giving it a try.

These were some of the backgrounds that I drew for our GGJ game. Not bad considering I did a few of these after 36 hours of no sleep!

This was the second of my ink and watercolor drawings of the year (you can see the first in a previous post on this blog). I backed the fabulous crowdfunded project Indivisible and had a great time playing the game when it finally released a few months ago. This is my favorite character from the game, a small little botanist with his trusty living turnip buddy. It's got some really unique character designs!

I bought a brand new water color set for this project. It definitely has a lot more colors than my previous one so I didn't have to do as much color mixing. It's nice to step away from the computer and do some art on paper every now and then.

Just a quick little doodle. I re-read the Scott Pilgrim comics earlier this year and felt like replicating one of the covers with my characters Shaw and Megumi instead of Scott and Ramona. Nothing crazy but it's always fun emulating other unique art styles.

This is just a few random drawings that seemed too minor to get posted on their own. The three on the left are character concepts (One-Sixteenth the cyborg, Punchy and his new ninja outfit, and Copit the Zargo family limo driver). The next two are more major characters from The Nays, Summer and Chozu. That one was from an activity that involved drawing familiar characters in different outfits than they usually wear. These are the kind of things I had in mind when I wanted to do more personal drawings, so I definitely need to do more in 2020!

Shifting gears a bit, this is a 3D character from a game I worked on with the crew at Endless Terminal. This creepy looking creature is called a NasNas and it's one of the first enemies you see in the game. Planning this out for rigging and animation was certainly a challenge because it has such different anatomy from real-world animals. It is fully rigged and game ready though, so I stuck with it through the whole character pipeline.

Here's a quick turn-table of the NasNas from different angles. If you're curious about the game, be sure to check out Endless Terminal on social media. They're posting lots of progress shots and scheduled work streams, and the game should be pretty cool once it all comes together.

This was a short animation that I created for my sister's birthday called Chozu Versus Cimc. As you can likely infer from the "remastered" in the title, this is a remake of an animation I made a very long time ago. Like... "back when I still drew things with a mouse" long time ago. Thankfully I think this version looks quite a bit better than the original.

This was new to the remastered version. I created a simple 3D version of Chozu's house and rendered in C4D using the toon shader. Most of it has really simple geometry but creating it in 3D allowed me to do some fun camera rotations without having to draw so many background frames.

Speaking of animation remakes, this is a scene from my big project Nays 2018. One of my favorite animations that I've ever created was a 5+ minute one called Nays 2008 (which I ironically didn't actually finish until 2009, hence why I let the remake spill over into 2019 for the 10 year anniversary). I didn't have the time to fully remake every single scene shot-for-shot, but I gave the visuals a much improved overhaul.

I used tons more real world references and tried to make the backgrounds a lot more interesting than the original. I'm really happy with how some of these shots came out and I'm very excited to post some comparisons.

I want to go further in-depth with the comparison analysis though, so I'm going to save that for a full post of its own some time in the coming month. Ideally I'll edit a video cut so both animations can be watched side-by-side simultaneously. Overall, this animation was definitely the most elaborate project of the year for me, so I want to do it proper justice with a full blog post.

And with that, my 2019 review post comes to a close. I felt like I was kind of inactive art-wise, but when going through and gathering things for this post, it turns out I did a bit more than I realized. In a perfect world I would post these things more frequently throughout the year, but I've grown to like this year-long recap approach. Maybe 2020 will bring a few more posts on this blog than past years. Either way, thanks as always for reading this far and I hope you have a wonderful year/decade. Until next time... Adios!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fun with Watercolor and Ink

Hey guys! This week, my sister and I decided to do a little experiment with watercolors. After watching the new DBZ movie, I've been looking at a lot of artwork from the series and I'm always impressed with the traditional old animation cels. When I was in Japan, I visited the International Museum of Manga in Kyoto and picked up a few new art supplies that we've been wanting to try out. So I figured a watercolor and ink version of Gohan's Super Saiyan 2 transformation would be a fun project.

I don't delve into traditional art very often (I like being able to ctrl + z!), so this was a pretty unusual experience for me. So my sister brought out her old watercolor set and we both got to painting (you can see her results over on her blog). The white watercolor tube was all dried up so we had to substitute in some acrylic... which was kinda weird but still worked well enough for color mixing.

First I drew out a sketch. I normally do this on a layer underneath the drawing in Photoshop, but since I didn't want a mess to erase, I did a practice doodle on a separate piece of paper. From there I did the line art in pencil on the full sheet of paper.

The watercolor process itself was pretty slow and tedious. I don't know how people manage to mix their colors consistently for an entire painting! I felt like it was really hard to repeat the same color again once my brush dried up. But it was an interesting process and I was pretty happy with the results.

After letting the watercolors dry overnight, it was time for the inking! This was my first time ever using a manga pen and inkwell, so it was definitely a learning process. I found a great guide that walked me through the process. I would have never thought to clean the nib off with rubbing alcohol before starting, so it was good that I did some research first!

Even with the guide, the inking was a bit unexpected. I never knew if I had the right amount of ink on my nib and sometimes the lines would get a bit scratchy (could have been from my low quality paper!). But when it started flowing smoothly, I really loved the pen! I was able to get some really fine lines that are nearly impossible with a regular ballpoint pen.

Without the crutch of an undo button I was constantly afraid I was going to mess something up. I managed to avoid any big mistakes for almost the entire process until I was nearly at the very end... and disaster struck! I must not have wiped enough ink off my pen because a huge gob dripped down right onto Gohan's forehead. Luckily it was close enough to the blood spot that I could kind of make it look like it belonged, but I was pretty bummed out when it happened.

Lastly, I filled in the word bubbles with his dialogue from the Japanese manga. It says "mou yurusanai so omaetachi" which translates roughly as "I will not forgive you." I thought it sounded a bit cooler than the English Viz translation (plus I wanted to practice writing Japanese kana) so I went with the original.

And that is the finished version. I feel like digitized images of traditional art usually don't do them justice, but my new camera captured it pretty nicely. Overall, this was a really fun project (and it counts towards my New Year's resolution of more personal art projects!). Hope you enjoyed seeing the process behind it. Until next time... Adios!

Friday, January 4, 2019

2018 - The Year of Fullfilled Dreams

Hey everyone, Happy 2019! I know I'm a few days late, but I spent the last few days of 2018 out of town so I didn't get the chance to write this up before the end of the year. I always like doing a recap around this time of year though, so today I'm going to take a look back at my 30th year on this planet of ours.

2018 was an incredible year for me, probably one of the best ones ever. I did a lot of traveling and throughout the year I made my way to Toronto, Chicago, Vancouver, and Lexington KY. Most importantly though, I achieved my lifelong dream of visiting Japan! You may remember from last year that my big goal for 2018 was to start studying Japanese in hopes of making my way to the Land of the Rising Sun some time in the future. Back then I viewed it as a crazy pie-in-the-sky goal, but I turned that crazy possibility into a reality this past September with a 2-week adventure to Tokyo, Hakone, Osaka, and Kyoto. It was an amazing experience, and you can read all about it over on my new travel blog, Nimbus Travels.

Speaking of which, this past year I made a travel blog! (I know, I barely manage to post on this one. How am I going to update TWO blogs!?). I think that one will be a bit more casual than this blog, so it will mostly just be full of goofy photos from all of the places I visit. I definitely want to go on more crazy adventures in the near future with hopefully some more trips abroad, so keep an eye on the blog to follow along.

That said, it's time to evaluate my overall goal for 2018. While I originally hoped to learn enough Japanese to play Pokemon Green (a Japan-only Gameboy game), I don't think my reading skills are quite good enough for that yet. I did master the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets however, plus I actually bought a copy of Pokemon Green from a used game store in Japan. Couple that with my real world experience of practicing Japanese with locals and navigating the largest public transit system in the world... I think I more than met my expectations.

For 2019, my goals are a little bit less tangible. Mostly just little personal guidelines to keep in mind throughout the year.

Draw more personal illustrations - This seems to be a goal every year. But as someone who does art professionally 40 hours a week, it's important to remember to draw for myself as well. Hopefully 2019 is full of lots of drawings and animations of The Nays!

Continue studying Japanese - Even if I learn this at a slow pace, I really want to keep up my Japanese studies. Hopefully I learn more useful phrases this year, and maybe even move onto the dreaded Kanji at some point.

Take the stairs more often than the elevator - I work on the 5th floor of an office building. I usually try to take the stairs one day a week but I want to bump that number up to 3 days a week this year.

Vegetarian week - For one full week in 2018, I followed a strict vegetarian diet. It was a fun challenge and helped me discover some new healthy foods that I enjoy, so I'd like to try that again in 2019.

And there we go. Should hopefully be pretty realistic new year resolutions. Before I wrap it up, I want to leave you with a handful of drawings I did in 2018. Not a ton of fully detailed, "finished" pieces but I did come up with a bunch of character designs and other related concept work for The Nays. If you're interested in reading more about this ongoing story that my sister and I have been working on, check out our website.

This past year, one of my favorite Twitch streamers (Kyle Bosman) played a weird old Gameboy game called  For the Frog the Bell Tolls. He encourages viewers to send in fan art each week, so I made this little animated gif.

Inspired by a scene from DBZ World's Strongest. I always thought that movie had a weird art style so I animated my character Coyote making strange faces while getting zapped (a scene from the Aiml World Eventure).

Speaking of unique art styles, this is Gojo in the style of one of my other favorite anime films, Tekkonkinkreet.

Just a few concepts trying to figure out what Malik looks like. He's the creator of The Worlds and is pretty much the most powerful character in The Nays.

This is a locale from a new place that The Nays went to called Psyciao World. Everyone in this place is obsessed with taking spoon baths because they grant you mystical powers.

A scene from a recent eventure I just finished, the Ziroma Eventure. As The Nays go on their first big mission, they discover a giant mech emerging from the forest beside the Party TV broadcast station.

Concept design for a character that helps The Nays out on their mission during the Ziroma Eventure. She actually appears much later in the story as well, but I went back and did this earlier introduction story for her.

These are characters from an Eventure that's still in progress. I don't want to go into too much detail yet, but I liked their designs a lot so I wanted to include them in the post anyways.

Just a random activity with my characters wearing the outfits of different characters. (We called the event the "Clothes Chamber of Secrets"). Aquina dressed as Ralphie, Summer dressed as Scott, Gojo dressed as Spicco. I also tried to color them in a style reminiscent of colored pencils.

Speaking of colored pencils, I decided to make my sister's birthday present entirely in that style. I made an animation about the aforementioned Psyciao Spoon Bath Eventure, all in the style of a colored pencil story book. It was a pretty fun project.

Another shot from the Spoon Bath project. This is Urom celebrating her victory in the contest.

Another fun project that my sister and I did was re-creating scenes from Eventures in the style of old video games. If you couldn't tell, this is in the style of the original Legend of Zelda, depicting Iggy in his first visit to The Worlds.

Yet another weird drawing activity we came up with. For this one, we watched a random episode of a new anime we had never watched and tried to draw a Nay in the style of the animation. It was a fast, messy project as the goal was to finish the drawing throughout the course of a single episode.

I can't even remember the names of the shows that I watched, but this one was about a military and had a pretty neat art style. We also plucked quotes from the episodes so we tried to tie that into the fake screenshot as well.

Over the summer, I got really into Octopath Traveler for the Switch. Alfyn was one of my favorite characters, so I decided to do this quick doodle on my Cintiq during a lunch break.

Last but not least, this was my Christmas present for my sister this year. We both played a lot of Persona 2 this year so I thought it would be fun to make an animation in the style of the game.

I based the story of the animation on the Dusty Dimes vs Bleeding Libras Eventure where Yaro faces off against Lonny's gang.

I tried to make the style as close to the game as possible, using very similar sprite poses and UI elements.

At the end it is revealed that Topaz was the one playing this game on his PSP. It was fun contrasting between different styles.

And that's about it when it comes to 2018's 2D drawings! As always, thanks for reading my crazy ramblings. I hope you have a great 2019 full of completed goals and fulfilled dreams. Until next time... Adios!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Greetings from SIGGRAPH 2018

Hey guys! Long time no see. Today I wanted to share an account of a very exciting trip that I recently went on. I was fortunate enough that my company sent me to SIGGRAPH in Vancouver. For those not in the know, that's the "Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPhics and Interactive Technology" (quite a mouthful, eh?). It's pretty much the premier 3D graphics and animation conference. In addition to meeting a bunch of really cool people and attending some amazing parties (more on that later), I also learned a lot of new techniques. I took tons of notes while I was at the conference, and I thought I'd compile some of that into a blog post. Buckle in!

Above is a list of all the different talks and panels that I attended. I found almost all of them to be very interesting and valuable, but the Production Sessions were the clear winners. From hearing Rodeo FX describe how they create destructible environments for Game of Thrones to industry super stars touting the values of Houdini in their pipeline, it was an awesome experience to be able to absorb knowledge from some of the best 3D artists in the world. I tried to ask as many questions as possible, and I was actually kind of proud of myself for how pro-active I was in starting conversations with other attendees.

Another huge highlight for me was Substance Day, an all-day event where Allegorithmic dove deep into the ins and outs of Substance Designer and Substance Painter (two fantastic texturing programs that have become a staple in my design process). Here are some of the highlights from that event.
* Subsurface Scattering
- They showed off the new subsurface scattering techniques for Substance Painter. Very useful for achieving soft clay-like materials and realistic human skin.
- 0.2 to 0.4 is a good scale for humans
- Maps can be exported to other software (like C4D) that also support SSS

* New Image Projection Tools
- 2D Gizmo for improved projection. Can change position, rotation, and scale of references
- Can edit the tiling of projection images for any resolution (not just squares)
- Drag and drop materials (while holding Ctrl key) to drop on a single UV shell

* Support for .GLTF files
- Format the provides better PBR texture quality

* Optimization Techniques to cut down on processing power and improve efficiency
- Re-Use noises wherever possible
- You can switch between CPU and GPU
- Work in greyscale for as long as possible
- Pay attention to 8 bit vs 16 bit
- For gradients, you don't need the entire length of repeating patterns. Can often get away with 256 x 2048 instead of full 2k

* DNEG & Pacific Rim
- Double Negative talked about how they used Substance in their workflow for Pacific Rim Uprising
- Had 1 year to make 11 Jaegers, 8 Kaiju, 6 destructible environments
- A single Jaeger model is comprised of 30 million polygons
- They do their rendering in Clarisse
- Still use Mari for some of the texturing process because they like that it has UDIM support

In addition to the amazing talks, there was also a massive expo hall with representatives from about 100 companies. In typical conference fashion, a number of them were giving out free drinks, snacks, and t-shirts! Of all the booths, I probably spent the most time at the Cinema 4D one (as that is the 3D software I use every day at work). They had the folks from Greyscale Gorilla there to demonstrate all of the new features in for the R20 release that just dropped a few days ago. They were really excited to talk about the new Mograph Fields functionality. It gives a lot of new falloff controls and a really advanced layering system (with blend modes!) that look to make booleans a little less sloppy. They've also re-tooled the entire material system to allow for node-based authoring. I don't know that I would replace Substance Designer with this built-in editor, but it's cool to see node-based shaders catching on across the field.

Also of note was NVIDIA's keynote address, where they unveild the new RTX graphics cards. If you follow computer hardware, you likely already know all about them at this point. But they firmly made it a point that real time ray-tracing is a really big deal. They say it's the biggest jump in graphics since CUDA in 2006, and the new cards are apparently 6x as powerful as the current gen. They're a bit too pricey for me at the moment, but I'm sure I'll end up with a 2080 at some point. Speaking of RTX, I was lucky enough to get in to the big NVIDIA party at the Hyatt hotel. They had an amazing arrangement of food (turkey carving, build-your-own tacos, and even homemade donut holes!). But best of all, the bar had a huge ice sculpture shaped like the new RTX card. When you ordered a Moscow Mule from the bartender, he would pour it through a little tube in the ice block and the drink would dispence from a spicket near the bottom. It was pretty amazing.

I had mentioned it earlier, but the highlight of the show for me was really the VFX Production Sessions. I got to listen to Rodeo FX go through their process of using Voroni fracture and model swapping to create believable destructible assets. They also touched on their use of practical effects, which includes setting people on fire! The folks at Pixar shared some insightful rigging techniques that were used on Coco and Incredibles 2. One of my favorites was their advice for hand rigging - splay the control fingers outward and use a deformer to thicken the fingers when balling into a fist. I've often struggled with getting good looking fists, so it was cool to hear some good workarounds. Weta talked about their hair and muscle systems that they used on Rampage. I was a bit skeptical on that movie, but after hearing the crazy design process that went into developing those furry creatures, I kind of want to watch it. ILM held a session about Ready Player One (which was one of my favorite movies of the year despite what people said about it!). I found it interesting that Steven Spielberg actually did all of his camera directing on the film through an HTC Vive. They also rendered much of the world of OASIS in Unity. Crazy how much film has changed over the years! It was also really interesting to see the fluid dynamics in their breakdown of The Shining scene.

And speaking of fluid systems, the Houdini panel offered some amazing insight from head of ILM Rob Bredow. I was absolutely enthralled by the stories that he told of the early days of computer graphics. One story that really stood out for me was when he talked about his team's development of ocean wave shaders. His team and some of their colleagues from a rival VFX studio were both working on ocean-heavy films at the same time, so they had a bit of a friendly competition to who could create the better looking water physics. His team pulled ahead and stunned their rivals by creating something that looked amazing in a very short time... only to realize that it looked like absolute garbage when you moved the camera. His friends at the other studio asked him "well, did you read Tessendorf's Papers?" His response was "no, we didn't have time for that. We just winged it." Well it turns out a guy named Jerry Tessendorf wrote a bunch of great documentation on simulating ocean water back in the 90s. After diving into that research, the rival studio produced a much better ocean effect because it followed all of the correct math algorithms. So the lesson of Rob's story is that you should always do the proper research to actually understand the techniques that you're using. Having a solid grasp on the documentation is more important than quickly making something that looks cool. I found that to be very profound advice and it really inspires me to continue to thirst for more knowledge.

Wrapping up the Production Sessions, here are a few more quick facts that I found interesting:
- Incredibles 1 (2004) used 1500 CPU cores in its render farm. Incredibles 2 (2018) used 80,000 cores.
- Pixar listed caustics and crowd generation as the two biggest rendering advancements that helped to improve the look of Incredibles 2
- The entirey of the project files for Avengers: Infinity War total over 1.4 Petabyes of data. That's 1400 Terabytes!
- While mocapping for Thanos in Infinity War, Josh Brolin wore a giant cardboard cutout of Thanos above his head so his co-actors would know where to look when they wanted to make eye contact with the large character

One last thing I wanted to touch on were two hot topics that I heard mentioned very frequently throughout the conference: UDIM and USD. I had never heard of either of these so I did some research on them. U-DIM stands for U-Dimension Mapping and is a slight variation on typical UV mapping. Rather than containing all of your UVs in a single space on the grid, UDIM allows you to put each shell in its own square of the grid and assign them their own unique texture. In a way, I had inadvertantly been doing something like this for a while now. But the reason it comes up in discussion a lot nowadays is because some texturing packages now give you the ability to paint on your models seamlessly across multiple UDIMs. Improves texture quality and efficiency when things get their own textures like that. As for USD, we're not talking about US Dollars. USD is an abbreviation for Universal Scene Description, which is a new file format developed by Pixar. It is a universal way to store models, scenes, and animations non-destructively and transmit them between different applications. It is an open source format that allows multiple artists to work on the same files without erasing another artist's work (and provides an audit trail to see who did what). From the folks that I talked to, this is a really big deal in film because they are often working on massive set-pieces and need tons of people to work on them at once.

And that about sums up time at SIGGRAPH. In addition to all of the great sessions at the conference, I also went to some fun receptions. I met a wide spectrum of creative people - from programmers at Bungie and 343 Industries to industrial designers from my hometown of Cleveland; from young game design students to professionals working on full scale films like Deadpool. Possibly most interesting of all though were the two fellas I met from a VFX studio in Germany (shoutout to Jakob and Kai!). I had a really amazing time and I'm very grateful to my company for giving me the opportunity to attend such a valuable event. ...even if I did fall off a bike and dislocate my toe on the last day. I hope you enjoyed reading about all the cool stuff I saw at SIGGRAPH. If you're interested in hearing more about the "touristy" part of my Vancouver trip and want to see some of the non-SIGGRAPH photos, head on over to my new travel blog. Thanks again for reading. Until next time... Adios!