Monday, 5 December 2011

Final animation and Evaluation Digbeth Project

Final animation


This is the Final Animation Me and Michael made to promote Digbeth by showing its history. In the production of our animation, we've been working nonstop with good team work dividing work with each other. I mainly started off with the art style which then developed and taken further by Michael  as he made the storyboard, assets and 3D model of the background and Blacksmith animation. Despite Michaels work, I'd say I've done quite alot of work same as his.  I mainly did the animation, tests and development and editing, interviews and sound, I've also done some retouching and improvement of the background to look a bit more 3D. Michael was also responsible for the 3D background and assets which are all purely HD size which made the size of the file really big. We noticed After effects couldnt handle big sized images, when rendered it crashes our laptop. We had to brake down the background rendering into 15 seconds each then I had to put it all together with the animation Ive done.

I was a bit slow editing the character animation to match the background at first because of less knowledge of After Effects but then improved afterwards. another problem I have encountered is that my laptop crashes alot unexpectedly during the animating which made got step 1 all over again

I have learnt alot of things in After effects, just by animating with a few frames, you can make a character loop its walk exactly as you want. Masking is one of my favorite tools since it helped me easy my job animating water. I know there are more ways to animate the water but this is the easiest and saves more time for us. Simplicity is also what we need to match the illustration styles. 

Making an asset to pan across the screen sounds easy for me at first but it wasnt because I cant match it with the moving background, there are times it even glide to left and right to no reason, then Ive discovered parenting which made it much easier, some times it dont work if there's no key frames of the parent so I did it manually, I couldnt make it look perfect but its close enough for people not to notice.

There are some minor errors and improvement will later be done like the sound cut halfway. voice over could be added like the audio of the interview I made. The walk is too long to watch, need to speed it up or add more animation to the character interacting to it. More frames for the walk cycle which will make the whole animation look awesome. Next time I will not or the group will no do all HD sized images or else itll slow and crash like what happened to my animation.

All in all, I am very pleased with the animation, and particularly pleased with the new techniques that I have learnt, which includes skills from Digicel Flipbook, pencil, photoshop, After Effects, not so much from Photofly. I'm sure you will agree upon viewing our final animation that the hard work and effort that we have put in throughout this module has payed off. Next time I shouldnt be too much as a perfectionist like Michael or we end up in such a rush near the end which made us not sleep for a day till the presentation.

With our second year on our animation course comes an increased focus on individuality, that we should approach projects with less guidance and far more independence. Whilst this is good in principle, helping us to create our own solutions to problems that we face, and in many respects forcing us to adapt to different situations, there exists it seems an increased potential for things to become problematic; as we unfortunately experienced.
This is not to say that we did not approach the project with our usual determination and ambition, for in reality we probably did so with more dedication than usual. If anything you see, it was an excess of ambition which led to us (yet again, in my case) simply taking on too much within the allotted time frame.
By the end of this project, myself and my other group members felt an immense sense of pressure to complete the final animation, which had not been anticipated. We had worked continuously for weeks on end, non-stop, and yet still struggled to complete the project on time. I must stress that the pressure we faced to ultimately meet our deadline was not in any way due to a lack of work earlier on in the term. Through a combination of taking on too big a project, having to allow time for a separate module, and numerous frustrating software errors (which I shall elaborate on shortly), we found this module, rather regrettably, to be increasingly tedious.
The focus of the project was to develop an understanding and knowledge of narrative adaption and interpretation with relation to visual mediums. This meant that the storyline, and moreover the underlying messages of a piece, must be developed such that they are conveyed with clarity and relevance. When we discovered that the subject matter of this project was to be an animation promoting Digbeth to potential property developers, I shall admit that my initial impressions were dismay. I did not personally believe that what would undoubtedly be a factual, documentary-style piece could lend itself well to developing an interesting and compelling narrative. It would seem however that these initial views were largely a result of our own ignorance, for we were rather unfamiliar with Digbeth and I will admit not aware of its importance or history.
Initially, our ideas were based on our initial impressions- we understood that many people also shared our views that Digbeth was dirty and derelict, and a place to be avoided. Our first concept was to play on the idea of visualisation through graffiti, animated along a stretch of wall, slowly becoming brighter to emphasise a good mood and atmosphere. After reviewing our idea however, we recognised that it stemmed from a rather shallow view of Digbeth that failed to look deep enough to relate to any of the district’s core values.
This prompted us to review our approach. We realised that to truly understand Digbeth’s importance, we need to look at its journey through time, to see where it has come from and what trials have faced it in the past. Much like trying to understand why people are the way they are, where you must of course take into account what has happened to them throughout their life that has had continual effects on their decisions and their outcomes, Digbeth has a story spanning hundreds of years- and whilst it might not look like much now in many places, it would be wrong to pass it off as a waste of space without knowing what it has given us in the past. The truth is, Digbeth has an interesting and vibrant history that has largely been forgotten. This became our new aim- to expose our viewers to this history, and show them that there is so much story being currently neglected by so many.
We certainly felt that this concept had far greater potential for a narrative based project, and so we began to develop ideas relating to the history of Digbeth. What followed was a great deal of research into the iconic landmarks and brands arising over the years. It was our final idea to create an animation which takes viewers on a journey through time, spanning the entire life of Digbeth, and covering a myriad of its most important historical elements.
As for our approach, I expressed my opinions early on that I really wanted to take the opportunity to try something new, to learn new software and animation techniques, and I can certainly say that this was achieved. Before this project, I had little to no experience using Adobe After Effects. Now, I am rather proud to say that I have grown quite accustomed to using the program, and have mastered the basics and applied them effectively to help create our final piece.
We decided early on that we wished to create a 3D scene for our animation, though I should point out that initially this aim was in relation to other techniques. Through various trials and tests, we were left unfortunately disappointed with Autodesk Photofly (Please refer to my blog for a detailed analysis of this test). We also ruled out Maya early on, for we believed at the time that creating a CGI animation of Digbeth, featuring a 3D rendered ‘Digbeth’ setting, would be unfeasible within the project timeframe. Ironically, our final choice (After Effects 3D) turned out to be most likely even more work!
With our focus of course on the narrative aspect, we spent some time refining the ‘story’, or rather how the animation progresses, to ensure that the main message is conveyed to the viewer. From our plans, we agreed on our animation being largely a single continuous camera shot. Whilst we were on one hand conscious that a lack of more intricate individual camera shots and cuts would reduce our ability to demonstrate an understanding of such terminology, we believed that the single shot approach would best reflect our narrative; that the life of Digbeth is a continuous, never-ending one, and as such the animation (in moving through various time periods) would feel far more immersive should the viewer be effectively brought along on such a continuous journey. To cut mid way without true reason would, we felt, have lost some of the sense of immersion with the world, which we needed to feel like an inhabited, living place. Overall, I am very satisfied with this camera style. I feel it was very appropriate for our animation, for the reasons explained above. In addition, we have of course completed a separate script and storyboard/animatic as a part of this module which better displays our understanding of theory relating to camera techniques. I understand that a further point moving from L4 to L5 on this course is to develop an ability to be selective. No longer are we expected to include different aspects on a checklist basis, for the sake of having some evidence of use. It is better only to use techniques where they add something to the piece overall.
From these plans, I set about creating the final storyboard (I should point out that we in fact developed several sketch storyboard designs prior to our final version, for we changed our idea slightly several times early on in the module). I felt it was important that the style be consistent, and so elected to personally complete the storyboard whilst my other group members worked on further research and designs. This in itself proved to be an immense task, one far greater than I had imagined (starting an awkward trend for this project). We chose to simplify the visual style a lot, moving from a more realistic crosshatch style to a more surreal cartoon theme. This decision was made to further help ensure we were able to meet our deadline- though we have since grown very fond of the new style and believe all decisions were for the best.
The issues of consistency loomed constantly throughout the remainder of our allotted planning time. We were aware that the difference in individual drawing styles could lead to some glaring inconsistencies, and so divided up the work to best avoid these issues; one group member worked on the full walking cycle and animation for the main character, whilst I focused my time on creating the background, and animating a self-contained scene featuring a blacksmith set during the industrial revolution. This was one of the few scenes featuring cuts, and so the difference in our drawing styles is far less noticeable.
I was aware that, whilst my personal input in this project has been significant to say the least, when it came to actually animating I took somewhat more of a back seat. For this reason, when creating the blacksmith scene, I put full effort in to make sure that it was the absolute best that it could be. I seized the admittedly brief opportunity to include as many of the principles of animation as possible. At one point during preproduction, we were conscious that our animation might become boring, and so decided to shake things up a little with a few quirky animations! Adding humour to the piece we felt would help retain the viewer’s attention and make the animation more interesting. In relation to the blacksmith, we included a part where, when distracted, he drops a hammer on his foot and jumps around in true comedy style! This part is where I had true freedom to animate with exaggeration, squash and stretch, and a wealth of other techniques.
The animation itself was created in Photoshop- another program which I had no experience animating with before this task. Whilst I have become quite proficient drawing in Photoshop over the past year, this project I learnt to animate by adding frames for the first time. I must admit that I do not like the way in which frames must consist of hidden and visible layers, and experienced a lot of issues here. I found that editing any frame whilst the animation timeline is on screen caused the program to crash unexpectedly. As a result, I was forced to animate only seeing the previous frame by changing the layer opacity- a lengthy task to say the least.
Moving on to After Effects, I learnt a huge amount of new techniques, from adding key frames, to effects, to masking and (most importantly for this project) how to add images into 3D space. I even successfully managed to record a video of my fireplace at home and use this for the blacksmith’s workshop, stabilising the video with tracking.
It is with the 3D space where we began to experience some more drastic errors. I felt it was necessary to really step up in terms of quality from the test. At one point we were going to use the same image assets as seen on the storyboard, though I realised that when working in an HD format for the final piece, the images had to be enlarged and so became quite blurry. As a result, I set about creating a full set of HD assets for a 3D version of our storyboard. This meant that each object needed to be included as a separate image. In total there were over 200 assets in the final piece. With some neat shading and highlighting, whilst still retaining a relatively simple style, the assets already looked 3D in places without the use of After Effects.
The issues arose as a result of each building asset being created in Photoshop in 1080p HD, for when I needed to create the floor, it in fact needed to be more than ten times the regular HD size just to fit the scene- and that was at half size stretched to match. Any less and the reduction in quality would have been highly noticeable.
It turned out however that After Effects doesn’t like images over a certain size, and this proved problematic when attempting to render our scene. Due to the amount of memory available, the computer was capable of performing either a RAM preview, or a render, but not both, without crashing. As a result, we were forced to constantly preview, then restart the program, then render- costing us a great deal of very valuable time. Couple this with the fact that we underestimated exactly how long it would take to create the assets and animations and this left us significantly behind from our schedule.
The greatest problems came when we found that After Effects could not handle the large image files whilst rendering for more than 15 seconds. Our video was 3 minutes 30 seconds- so of course, we had to render it in individual 15 second chunks, then composite these later in a separate composition. This process was nightmarish, and that is without exaggeration. As a result of continual and unexpected errors and setbacks, we finished up several days behind our plans. Much of the last few weeks was spent working until the early hours, non-stop, which left us feeling admittedly exhausted.
We were unable to include some of our planned animations as a result of these setbacks. Initially, we had hoped to include pop-up buildings and text, as well as more animations for the main character. Time restraints played a hugely significant role in restricting what could be completed by the deadline, which was unfortunate.
It is still my aim to learn to use Flash at some point, however for this project we decided that with already learning After Effects from scratch, it would simply be too much to learn a second full program too. We already felt comfortable that we could achieve impressive results in Photoshop, which I certainly feel we did so. Nevertheless, for a similar project in the future I am definitely interested in learning more about the Flash program.
I am very pleased with the final animation, despite feeling that we could have completed it with more time to better resemble our initial plans. Throughout the course of this project, there were elements that went well and others that did not go so well. I was very pleased with the transition between the intro (where the Tudor man emerges from the door) and the 3D version once he begins to walk. It was a challenge to match the frame exactly so that the transition was as seamless as possible, something which I feel we did as good as can be expected. In order to achieve this transition, the building asset from the 3D file was used in the intro.
The animation is not perfect, and there are some improvements which I would suggest had we more time. The first is that perhaps the video is too long. It would be possible to cut some of the more unnecessary sections and stick to the key recognisable buildings. Maybe in hindsight things like generic warehouses were not necessary additions.
A further improvement would be to make the iconic Typhoo factory bigger. This is one of the key locations in Digbeth, and was certainly to be a focal point of the animation. Whilst we do emphasise the protests, and it is quite clear what the building is, I feel in hindsight that the camera angle could be improved. In the final animation, due to the low angled shot, the majority of the building is obscured by its perimeter wall.
I was pleased with the way the transport section conveyed its message to emphasise just how well-connected Digbeth is (critical for any housing developments). In this section, we chose to include various forms of vehicle in a short space of time, from a car driving past, to a bus, to a train. The short yet spaced repetition makes for a memorable scene.
An improvement over our initial idea, suggested by another group member, was to change the ending of the piece. Originally, the man was to end at the new coach station, before boarding a coach and disappearing from the scene. It was suggested that showing the man ultimately leaving Digbeth did not give quite the right impression, and so we switched a few scenes around and made him finish at the Custard Factory instead. Being the true cultural hub of Digbeth, this makes a lot of sense; that we should be travelling through time as Digbeth gradually improves, to finish in the best environment that Digbeth currently has to offer. 
Overall, I am pleased with our final animation, but more so pleased with just how many new skills I have learnt throughout the course of this module, all of which have been successfully applied in practical scenarios to strong effect. I feel our animation meets the brief in an entertaining and informative video which is sure to make the viewer realise that there is a lot more to Digbeth than you might think.