Tuesday, November 30, 2010

MicroGallery Update: Persistence vs. Obsessiveness, and Perfectionism

A few posts ago, I posted a couple of watercolors that I did for the upcoming Micro Gallery Show at Gallery Nucleus.

I've since painted new versions of both of those paintings to fix problems that were bugging me....here's the new version of the first one:



Once again, these pictures are only 3 and a half inches by 5 and a half inches, so they're small. If you click on them you get a much bigger version then the real thing. Here's the previous version:



Every time I looked at the original painting, I felt like the purple on the boy was too dark for such a small figure and "grounded" him...he just felt too heavy, like the dark purple was weighing him down. So in the new version I painted less coats of purple so the color would be less saturated and dark - also, I mixed a warmer version of the purple, with more red in it, and kept all of his colors fairly warm, to contrast with the cool shadow color. Both versions are based on a yellow background to accentuate the purple of his robes, and in both I greyed down the yellow by adding purple, but in the original, the background looks more green than yellow, so I changed the mix in the new version to be more yellow.

With the leopard picture, here's the new one:



And the old one.



Again, this one has a simple scheme: it's all based on red and green. The green of the foliage is meant to contrast with the red tint of the leopard's coat, the leopard's red spots, the red/brown of the hunter's book and the red/brown on the gun's stock. In the original I added a shadow pass over the top which I felt dulled down the green trees too much and killed the nice vibration between the reds and greens. So in the new version I made the greens more bright and I covered them less with the shadow color. It feels better to me.

Also I added a little bit of white smoke coming from the hunter's pipe. This helps make it clear that the shape is a pipe. And the extra added detail helps draw your eye towards the hunter because detail always attracts the eye.

It's funny, the more paintings I did, the more monochromatic they got. You'd think I would get more complicated with color as I got more experienced, but instead I got simpler. The last two paintings I did have less complicated color schemes. The first one is based entirely on (once again) the contrast between red and green:



And my final painting is simply based on a dark blue wash, set against the color orange (which is the complement of blue, of course).



They will be exhibited at the Micro Gallery Show and they will be for sale along with the work of many, many other talented artists.

I painted many, many versions of my first painting as I experimented and learned about watercolor (and I'll be the first to admit that I still don't know anything about the subject). All told I probably painted 40 versions of the first one.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to re-doing artwork. Many people don't like to re-do the same piece over and over. Many people have the philosophy that you should just do a piece once and then move on, applying what you've learned to the next one you do. And on the other hand, there are people who believe you should re-work a piece as many times as you can until you get it as good as you can and, when you've learned all that you can from that work, move onto the next one.

I guess a lot of it comes down to your personality and how you work. I've always enjoyed the process of re-working my animation and my storyboards because I'm never happy with my results and always restless to make everything I do as good as I can. I'm a bit of a perfectionist. But being a perfectionist can be very, very dangerous and can make you very miserable, for the simple reason that "perfection" is unattainable. Perfection is an ideal but nothing in life is ever truly "perfect". And striving for something that's unattainable, and feeling like you're falling short, can make you very discouraged.

Also, when we talk about "perfection" in art, we often mean on a technical level: like a life drawing where everything is perfectly constructed and proportioned. But does that make for a great drawing? Any photograph can capture the model's proportions perfectly, but that doesn't make the photographs "art". Usually the life drawings I like have an energy to them, and a sense of caricature where proportions are tweaked to exaggerate the pose and the anatomy of the model. So being technically perfect - to me - doesn't usually make for the most exciting or interesting drawing. So what is "perfection", anyway, when it comes to art? It's different to everyone, I suppose, and therefore meaningless.

So if you find yourself making yourself miserable because you're trying to reach perfection - as I did for many years, and still do - try to catch yourself and approach your work another way. You'll do your best work when you're relaxed and actually enjoying what you're doing, and trying to be perfect will tend to make you tense and frustrated. Learn to embrace the mistakes, the imperfections that give your work character and, at the same time, use your perfectionist eye to examine your work and help you see where you can do better next time.

The only reason I did so many versions of my painting was that I enjoyed the process of doing them. I really had fun seeing how I got different results each time and learning what effects were created by changing my techniques. If I had started to find the process unbearable, or if I found myself repainting it without knowing what I was trying to fix, I would have taken a break and set it aside for a while (which I did a couple of times). That always gives you perspective on what could be better.

As an example of perfectionism, and how it can lead to less interesting results, in all of my paintings, the background color is a wash. It's not easy to get a perfectly even wash of watercolor, especially when you're leaving unpainted spaces in the middle of the wash. In my painting of the boy king, I painted the background yellow but left the figure of the King and the plotting Duke behind him unpainted. You can buy a liquid mask that you can use to block out those areas but I didn't want to mess with them, because I didn't know how they would affect the paper after I removed them. So I taught myself how to do an even wash while skipping over certain areas, which wasn't exactly hard, but took me a while to figure out how to do it consistently and "perfectly" evenly.

And then I was reading "The Twits" to my son before bed tonight, and I realized that Quentin Blake doesn't do even washes for his backgrounds. He embraces the uneven-ness of them and they give his paintings a real sense of life. Check out the uneven washes in the background of these Blake watercolors:





So while I was proud of my perfectly even washes, Blake wasn't worrying about it, he was letting the paint be uneven (which is what it want to do) and letting that feeling give his painting a livelier and more vibrant feel. It simply never occurred to me to do that. Silly, huh?

Oh well, another lesson learned!

If you can make it to the Micro Gallery show on December 11th, I will see you there!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanks



As the opening weekend of "Tangled" comes to a close, I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you who saw the movie this weekend and gave it the biggest opening of all time for a Disney animated film. Many people have e-mailed me to express their enjoyment for the film and I appreciate all the nice sentiments. Making these things is never easy, but when a film connects with people it makes every trial along the way worthwhile and it helps remind me why I wanted to get into animation in the first place.

More than the box office numbers, though, I am very proud of the CinemaScore rating of "A+" and the Yahoo movie user rating of "A" for the film. It's a great testament to all of the people who worked tirelessly to make the film as great as possible. To all of my co-workers who gave their all for the film I'd also like to offer my thanks and congratulations, as well as for all the other people at the Studio who were busy with other projects but always took the time to offer us criticism and support when it was needed.

Of all the arts, truly the animated film is the most collaborative form, because it takes an army to make one on the scale of "Tangled". The things I will remember the most about the making of the film were the great moments of working with my superbly talented and indefatigable co-conspirators who never stopped to think about whether something was possible or not, they just kept working and working until they got it done.

So, once again, my heartfelt thanks!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Boarding for 2D vs. 3D

I did a bunch of interviews to promote "Tangled" before it opened, and the number one question (after "what does a 'Head of Story' do?") seemed to be "Is there a difference in how you storyboard a CG movie, as opposed to boarding a hand drawn one?"

Obviously, the big things are the same for both type of movie: you want to create memorable characters and a great story, and that's always the number one priority. But there are a couple of subtle differences:

The biggest difference (to me) is that when you board a CG movie, you have much more freedom to move the camera around and use camera moves to tell the story. When boarding 2D you always have to be conscious of the limitations of the backgrounds as painted stills, whereas in 3D the backgrounds can be built so that the camera can move through them, show them and explore them in their entirety.

I wouldn't say that one version is better than another, they're just different - they have different strengths and different weaknesses, and you have to be aware of them and consider them while you're storyboarding.

I recently watched the film "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" on Netflix and I was struck by the opening, which uses a series of long camera shots to set up the tone of the movie and the main character. It's a good example of the type of thing that you could do in a CG film but would be impossible in 2D.

Here's a version (without subtitles, unfortunately) and take a look at how the opening sets up a certain unique tone for the film (music is used well to do that too).



Once we get on the train, we are following the main character, who is pretending to be a vendor selling food on the train. The film takes place in a unique setting with a strange array of characters and I love how this tracking shot gets us used to the unusual setting quickly. I love how the camera tracks with him but will tilt and adjust the fielding along the way to feature different characters (like the colorful lady and the masked bandit). The film takes place in Manchuria but has elements that concern Korea and the Japanese Army - both of these aspects are introduced in passing (through the man with the Korean flag and the soldier pursuing him in the Japanese uniform) as he goes along, and all the while he's calling out that he is selling food. The fact that some sort of political drama is going on, and yet the person we're following doesn't react to it or get involved in it tells you a lot about his character, as does the moment when someone actually starts to rise up, saying they're interested in buying food - and our character pushes this potential customer back down, rudely - suddenly we realize that he's not really selling food, that it's a ruse and he's up to something else entirely. The technique of following him from behind is a great technique - it makes us intensely curious to see his face, and I love the way this whole shot is staged because all the information we get about him makes us very interested in what he's up to. And when we do finally see his face it has a great impact and punch to it. I also love the end and the casual way he shoots the last person as a sort of period on the whole thing....every one of his movements is very invested with character, personality and entertainment.


I would say the other difference between storyboarding for 2D or 3D is that there's more subtle acting that can be done in CG - it's much easier to do a scene where a character just lifts an eyebrow slightly, or just raises their lower eyelids for a moment as an acting beat. In 2D when the characters have to be drawn, we tend not to board such subtle acting, because it can be too difficult to do in drawings, but when the characters are built and rigged in the computer, the animators have a much easier time creating subtle shifts on the face and body to indicate small acting beats.

Again, neither way is superior, just different, and as a board artist you had better know the limitations and strengths of the medium you're boarding for.

The other small difference that comes to mind is that in 2D you can populate your boards with different characters anytime you want - if you invent a new character for your sequence, it's no problem - an animator can draw that character without much advance work being done (other than a design being worked out for the character). But in 3D, each character needs extensive lead time to be designed, built and rigged, so you can't just add characters as you storyboard. You have to be judicious and careful about that aspect and it influences how you approach things and solve problems.

There are some technical issues as well to think about as you board, depending on what is possible with the technology at the time. Years ago, when I was working on an early CG film, there was a mandate that we couldn't get the characters wet, because that would require building a whole new "wet" model of the character which was prohibitively expensive.

On "Tangled", the directors (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard) were always very careful not to tell us board artists what we could and couldn't do in the CG world. They always said to us, "just board it the best possible way you can, and we'll figure out a way to make it happen". And that's just what we did. The technical people on "Tangled" were amazing and did an awesome job of accomplishing every insane idea we threw at them. I have no idea how they did it but they are spectacular!

I promised to share some more drawings with you but I don't have much stuff on my home computer to choose from. Maybe when I'm back at work next week I can find some better stuff. Anyway, since we're looking at a fun action sequence already, here's some drawings I did of Rapunzel confronting some surly thugs in "Tangled" that I did. Man, those thugs were fun to draw....






Here's another piece I did from later in the film, with Flynn and Maximus punching each other, then getting busted by Pascal, trying to get on their best behavior, and failing. I gotta say, I've never drawn a guy putting a horse in a headlock and getting ready to punch the horse in the face before, but it was fun to do. That's what I love most about my job, you never know what you're going to draw when you go to work each day.












These sketches are all pen on paper with tone added in Photoshop.

I'm very proud of "Tangled" and I feel very gratified that it set a new record for an opening day in November! Also, I'd swear I read somewhere that seeing movies about boy wizards gives you eye cancer. But I could be wrong about that......

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Tangled" Opens Today!

"Tangled" opens in the US today and you should go see it if you live there. Why? Because it's really, really good. And it was made by a group of the most amazing, dedicated, hardworking and smart people in the world. Making the film was a five-year odyssey that I will never forget. It was the greatest experience of my life but also the hardest and most trying thing I've ever done.

I loved working with the amazing story crew and I hope we can all do it again someday (although, sadly, we're not all in the same place anymore). A special shout out to my friends, comrades and the greatest story crew ever:

Michael LaBash
Joe Mateo
Aurian Redson
John Ripa
Marc Smith
Lissa Treiman
Josie Trinidad
Chris Ure

With special guest help from Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins. And we couldn't have done it without the support and help of our production help from the incomparable Debra Barlow, Heather Blodget and Barbra Pushies.

Some of my selected sketches from the film (not all in continuity): Rapunzel plays hide-and-seek with her friend Pascal in the tower (since he's a chameleon, he blends in really well).





























These sketches are all done with pen on paper, then scanned into Photoshop and colored.

Anyway, I hope you all get to see the film and that you enjoy it. More drawings from the film to come over the weekend!