Finally I am getting round to writing up a blog about my adventures at FMX!
This Easter I took a trip to the FMX festival in Stuttgart and to sum up, it was amazing. It was four days of incredible talks and invaluable industry advice. I had such a great time, it was not only lots of fun, but so useful for me for my course. Even talks I went to just because I was curious turned out being applicable in some way to my course and what I want to do.
My original plan was to take a few notes in some of the talks but everything was so interesting and useful, the notes soon got out of hand. This is pretty much everything I got up to at the festival over the four days...
Art of Animatuon
Advanced Visual effects in 'How to Train Your Dragon 2'
Scott Peterson, Dreamworks.
The first talk I went to was about the VFX on the upcoming film 'How to Train Your Dragon 2'. This was one of the talks I was looking forward to a lot as 'How to Train Your Dragon' is one of my favourite films. Although I’m not planning to get into the VFX area, I would like to get into full feature animation and I was very interested in how they go about creating the effects for those films.
All the effects for their films used to be created in Maya but now they use Houdini. I don’t know much about this program, but seeing what they produce with is makes me want to have a play with it.
We got to see the first five minutes of the film in 3D which was really exciting. The film looks very very pretty (which is what I loved about the first one) and I am very excited to see it in full. After seeing the work that goes into each scene, from the different fires of the dragons to the water and snow in the backgrounds, everything is thought about, planned and is executed to a beautifully high standard.
I really enjoyed having an insight to a different area of the industry I would like to be involved in. When I watch the film now, I know I will have a new appreciation for all the VFX.
Kenneth McDonnald, Teppei Takehana, Quantic Dream
I went into this talk not really knowing what it was going to be about. It turned out to be a talk about the process of the motion capture and animation in the game 'Beyond Two Souls'. It was a very pleasant surprise as I thought the game was brilliant and I was especially interested in how they got such realistic performances.
There was around 60 hours of performance capture on this game because of all the different routes you can take through the game. They have to film many different options for each scene because each choice caused a different outcome. Personally, I never thought about how much they had to create vs how much you see on your play though. Its a lot of work but I think it pays of in an immersible and believable game.
They only had a maximum of 15 animators at any time for this game because of the use of high quality performance capture. They still use Maya but its a very different process as you only have a very basic rig (ie no foot roll). In Maya they have a technology that can re-target the animation to any rig they choose. This means they can use the performance capture from one actor and place that onto the rig of another. They showed us some very funny examples of this and it proved how advanced and accurate the technology was.
They also talked a lot about the process of creating a game in general. They explained how usually in games by the Beta version, the game is pretty much finished, but they continued to edit and change things “because its more fun”. It showed how dedicated they were to making a great game and how passionate they were about the process.
Lastly they spoke about edits they made to the animation. The briefly spoke of how much time they spent getting the eyes right as they keep the performance alive. The same person worked on 'The Polar Express' and admitted that the “got smacked” for being in the uncanny valley with the eye animation on their characters. I like that he admitted to mistakes in the past and clearly learned from them for this game.
How we see
Ken McDonald, Quantic Dream. Pepe Valencia, Baraboom. Kevin Glasier, TACTICA.
This talk was a discussion between people form industry talking about the importance of how we see and communicate. There was discussion about how it is very important to communicate between all departments to learn and grow a an industry. It is important to analyse what you have done in the past and learn form it for the future.
They also brought up the subject of change within technology. People arent just watching things at the cinema now. There are so many ways to take in media, but what must be remembered is that what makes the core of a story will never change. This has and will always stay the same, we just have to update our methods of communicating that. From different technologies to different cultures, people see things differently.
What we see
Nuno Bernardo, beActive. Tore Blystad. Doug Cooper, DreamWorks. Nonny de la Pena, USC, Immersive Journalism Lab
During this talk they discussed what we see and the development of new ways to see. Exploring more immersive storytelling through things such as arena shows and theme parks. Doug Cooper talked about 'The Dragon Flight' which is set to be an immersive experience where in a theatre on a 60ft curved screen you ride around Berk on Toothless. You will have a 180 degree view which I think sounds very cool. I cant wait for this to become a reality.
They went onto talk about making everything important and relevant to the situation. Tore Blystad worked on Hitman and he explained that people play the games slow. The payers take their time so to add to the story of the game, they would add things in rooms to find. This adds another layer to the plot and story of the game and makes the game more enjoyable and engaging.
Dennis Lanert, Telltale Games
This talk really took me by surprise. I know Tell Tale Games from playing 'The Walking Dead' in the past so I was interested in hearing more about it. The talk turned out to be a walk through of the companies development from beginning to now. It was incredibly interesting to hear the process of developing each game and learning how to improve so the next game can be even better.
Dennis Lanert explained that the company wanted to create episodic content and were really the first company to try it. They made many games and before each one they had a formula they wanted to stick to. As each game was produced they observed what worked and what didn’t and updated the formula for the next game.
Originally they didn’t set out to make serialised episodic content. They wanted the player to be able to miss an episode and it didn’t matter. They had many concerns with the idea of episodic content. One of which was the customers had to trust that they would produce the content. As a new company this was their greatest challenge.
The rough formula they had to begin with was they had to have
- comedy- People are more wiling to accept humor then having to invest emotionally.
- one off story telling
- characters stay the same- no development
- wrap up each episode – neat ending
- puzzles are the main game play
Problems with this were that people were not playing every episode but they were happy. When asked, nothing was wrong with the game, they just weren’t playing. Nothing was bringing them back. This spurred them to develop story arcs, emotional investment and character development. They also eventually scrapped the episode wrapping up and just had one over arching story.
With regards to game play they found that the puzzles slowed the game down because of difficulty and there was no story to the puzzles. They found balancing game play and story was difficult, they didn’t want to just end up with a film. They scrapped the complex puzzles but still included basic puzzles to keep the player engaged. They moved to make action the main game play.
Learning and changing all of these things led them to a great new formula where they added a 'big choice' moment. This moment would not change the story in the game but it was an emotional impact. In the game, you ended up caring about what people thought of you and that made the choice harder. Adding these type of moments attached players on a deep human level and is a reason 'The Walking Dead' is so popular.
After talking about the formula of the company he discussed how the episodes continued to develop as they were being released. As always, they listened to players thoughts and feelings. They added things to upcoming episodes to feed that want some players wanted. They also made this play into the story, sometimes effecting you negatively. I love that they continued to learn how to make the game better by listening to the fans. I feel its a rare thing to be able to change things according to the fans. Because these games are episodic, it gives the developers a chance to tweak and change things to get the best game possible.
I have such aeration for this company. How with each thing they make, they learn something from it and use that to make the next project better. 'The Walking Dead' is a compilation of years of learning new things and tweaking a formula. This is why they produced such and amazing game and why I will continue to support them.
“Toward the next Avatar” with Jon Landau
Jon Landau, Lightstorm entertainment
Jon Landau in this talk discussed the technology used within the first Avatar film and what made it so successful. He explained how “the story was all about the close-up” and the technology wast here until recently. The technology was the way to tell the story, but the story was the most important bit.
When filming, they had 6-12 reference cameras and a real-time render so they can see, while filming, what the shot will look like. The actors performance was very important in the film and the technology they had aloud them to capture the best possible performance. Because they could film and capture the whole scene, the editors would choose based on performance and then later decide the shot. Because of this freedom with the shots they were not held back and could pick the best of the best. An actors performance can get stale but they could capture the “magic” moment and use it however they needed. He said how people these days are 'wowed' all the time, so now we must go the extra mile to really effect them. You cant rely on the technology to wow them, you have to add and make something more.
It was really interesting to hear a little behind the scene insight to 'Avatar' as it was considered such a leap in film-making and technology. Im always interested to hear the views and opinions of people involved in things that have become so popular.
Early look at Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I was very excited about seeing Andy Sirkis at this talk, he has kind of become the face of motion and performance capture and I was interested to see what he had to say here.
During this talk we saw a lot of unfinished scenes from the move and stuff thats still being worked on. It was very interesting and exciting to see things that no one else would see. We weren’t aloud any recording equipment in the room because of this. It was very secretive and it made me feel very lucky to be one of the few who could be there to see this.
During this talk Andy Sirkis discussed his role as the actor during performance capture and what he adds to the film. He explained that, unlike in some other films, the director wanted a very raw performance with the characters of the apes. This meant very little change from the actors performance on the day to the final result. It was interesting to hear an actors point of view on performance capture and although he has done it may times, he still stays on the acting end of the production pipeline.
Simulating Monsters University
Samantha Raja, Pixar
I really enjoyed 'Monsters University' so I was excited to hear anything on the subject. It was also one of the few talks on a full feature animated film (which is an area of the industry I could see myself in) so of course I had to go.
Like VFX, simulation is not my main focus and a future animator, but I am still very interested in how it works and would like to be able to understand it, at least on a basic level.
I have no prior knowledge when it comes to simulation but Samantha Raja explained everything in a was I understood and I found it incredibly insightful. I didnt realise how much the simulation department is involved and used in film-making. After seeing the progression shots I can now see how much they are responsible for.
I learned there is a lot of back and forth between simulation and animation departments as they need to work closely so the end result looks believable. Simulation often has to “go against physics” to get a nice shot. Some things in the orignal simulation may be technically correct, but they can also be detracting. Simulations best work often goes unnoticed but that means they have done their job right. Simulation keeps your head in the story of the film and helps the audience believe what they are seeing.
I now have a massive appreciation for simulation and would love a chance to play with things like hair and cloth at some point in the future.
The Application of Robotic Technology to the world of film-making
Tobias Kinnebrew, Bot & Dolly
This talk was about the robotic technology used for the film Gravity. It was very interesting to learn about other kinds of technology that are involved in the film making process.
The robots they use are extremely precise and are utilized by the company for many creative and innovative purposes. The robots can be animated in Maya and then that animation translates and controls the real life thing. This is amazing and aloud them to get such creative shots for the film.
As well as talks at FMX, there was the chance to talk to people from industry. There was a room full of booths with different people representing many big names in the industry. Here you have the chance to ask questions and have them look at and give you advice on your work. I took full advantage of this opportunity which you could get no where else. I had created a rough show reel of the work I had produced up to that point and asked for advice on where I should go next.
Wednesday I first spoke to a lovely lady from Animal Logic. As this was the first person from industry I had talked to and showed my work to , I was very nervous. My nerves soon calmed when speaking to her though. She was very nice and complimentary about my work. She gave me some very useful advice and said I should maybe add some more action and body mechanics work. It would also be great to have a big emotional scene in my reel as I have very calm subtle acting.
Next I spoke to The Mill. They were also very nice and informed me of their internship opportunities. There you can go in as a runner and work your way up to junior animator. While you are a runner you have someone teach you in your free time. This was exciting information and definitively something to think about for the future.
Thursday there were a lot fewer talks that I wanted to go to. This worked out well as I had the time to talk to the people from industry. I had talked to two the day before (because they were not going to be there the rest of the week) but Thursday I had planned to talk to the rest.
First I started off with a big one, Illumination Entertainment. This is a company I would love to work at and I love each and every one of their films. The woman there advised me ot go bigger with my animation. More over the top poses and I should really push the poses. They also had an ongoing internship opportunity which again, is something I would look into for next year.
Next I talked to Disney. This was very a very surreal experience as I think of Disney as a far off unreachable company. My talk with them was very helpful with what to work towards. They talked a lot about containing story within my animation. I need to work on selling the character in a short amount of time. We should be able to read the body language instantly. I was also shown some work that got people jobs in the company. This was amazingly helpful as I have an idea of the standard a company like Disney are looking for. They encouraged me to work on more dialogue pieces with more character. I was also told that next year I should try applying for their summer intern scheme which was really nice to hear. (especially from a person from Disney)
After Disney I moved onto MPC. MPC is a different sort of company to most of the others I had talked to before, as they do not produce full CG animated movies. They work on CG animation in lice action films. This is another area I am very interested in working and was the side I knew much less about. The advice I got form MPC was different but equally as useful. They liked my subtle and realistic animation and encouraged more of that. She said that they often get people showing them very 'toony' style animation so it was nice to see something that looked more aimed towards their company. I had missed the chance to intern this year but she encouraged me to apply next year as she thought I had a good chance. This was a nice boost for me and has opened up the idea for me to work on live action films and not just full feature CG animation.
Lastly I talked to double negative. I wanted to ask them mainly about the opportunities they had for future animators. I was told that they very rarely hire animators but soon they will be opening a new animation department and will need a new team of CG animators. This is exciting news as I love a lot of the work Double Negative have produced and would love to be involved in the company.
This part of the trip was, in my opinion, the most valuable. Being able to talk to recruiters form BIG companies is something that would never happen outside of something like this event. Talking to a range of companies helped highlight what to work on in the future to appeal to each company. I have an idea of what each company want to see form potential employees and the quality I need to be at for work there. Now the only thing I have to do is decide where to aim for.
Concept Art and Storyboards
As well as talking to industry, I made it to a few talks. This was about concept art for 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'. I really enjoy seeing the work that goes into these movies and it was interesting to hear about the process of getting the 'look' of the film right. He always works from reference, no matter how obscure the concept. There needs to be a real, believable quality to the work which you cant get without the use of reference material.
Blue Sky Studios Recruiting Presentation
I was very curious as to what the recruiting presentations where about, so when I had a bit of spare time, I made it to Blue Sky's. During this talk they were selling their company as a place to work. They informed us as to how to go about getting a job at Blue Sky and what its like working there. I found it odd that they were selling themselves to us as I wouldn't need to be sold on the idea of working at Blue Sky. It was really interesting to have an in depth look at the workings of a big time animation company as its information you never really find elsewhere.
They discussed interns and junior animators at their company to. They seem to really help them grow and develop their skills. Next year I will attend more recruiting presentations as I think they will be very useful when looking for jobs.
The Art of Animation
The LEGO Movie
Damien Grey, Animal Logic
This was the last day of FMX but it was probably the best day for talks. The first was 'The LEGO Movie' talk. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this talk, but I loved the movie so much, I had to see anything about it. The LEGO movie was probably my favourite animated film of the past year so when Damien Grey began to walk us through the whole pipeline of the movie making process, I was very excited.
They had a few requirements when making this film. They wanted it to have a photo-real, hand made, they wanted the story to seem like it were made my a 10 year old child and they also wanted it to be epic and absurd. I think they succeeded on all fronts here.
They were very adamant that EVERYTHING was made out of LEGO brick so a lot of work went into making the LEGO look as real as possible. Having the technology to have sliders adding things such as jitter, grime and sun bleaching to the bricks all added to the believably of the over all look.
Many things inspired the team working on the film during the process. Things such as the AFOL (adult fans of LRGO) community got the creators “pumped up” for creating amazing things from LEGO bricks. They were also inspired by stop motion animators and macro photographers.
Before production on the film, they did a test of a whole scene from beginning to end. This was to find any problems in any department early. This lead to minimal problems during the actual film making. It also helped the animators get clear the style of animation they would be creating. They wanted to make sure that pretty much every pose could be reached my a real LEGO figure.
This was one of my favourite talks, not only because it was about 'The LEGO Movie' but because I got to learn a little about the whole production pipeline of one film. This was very useful and reiterated how important every department is in creating the final product.
(the rest is on its way shortly)