Friday, January 20, 2023

Introduction to XGen


Whether it’s to make grass or hair, XGen is a powerful tool within Maya that can help take your models to the next level. In the tutorial below, AnimSchool Instructor Koji Tsukamoto shows us how to get started in XGen. 

XGen can be an intimating tool. A tool that is well known for crashing and not playing nicely with artists. 
Getting started with such a tool is a daunting task. With Koji's guidance, we can get a better grasp of XGen, breaking down his method step by step. Before we pick up with Koji, take a look at the instructions below! 

First thing to make sure of, set your Maya project. 


Without your Maya project being set, you will have many issues and glitches down the line.
 
Now you would head on to the XGen Shelf. Where we will then click on the XGen Menu Icon, this will start up XGen within Maya. 



Make sure to have your Mesh selected & click on Create New Description. 

The description name will be the portion of the head (or other object) that you will be covering with XGen material. 

The Collection Name on the other hand is the group of hair types on one object. 
For example, a description would be “Back of Head” but the collection would be “Main Hair Style”. 

For this tutorial, Koji elects to choose “Splines” for the primitives options in order to have more control over placement. 



Go ahead and click Create to get going. 

Use the “Add or Move Guides” tool found in the middle of the menu icons. 


Start by outlining the object with guides. 


Once you’ve done this, now you can move on to using the “Sculpting Guides” Tool in order to have more control over the guides’ flow and positioning 




He then goes back to the “Add or Move Guides” tool and places more guides. 
As you give XGen more information with the more guides you place and sculpt, XGen will approximate each new guide by averaging out the guides around it. This happens as you place more and more guides on the object. 

Right clicking, copying and pasting guides also helps expedite the process. 

Watch Koji’s video below for an in-depth look at his technique for XGen.



Examples of Student work with XGen 

AnimSchool Student Charles Lee 



AnimSchool Student Anastasia Generalova










Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Become a CG Artist in VFX & Animation | Interview with Lorin Z. Pillai

 


Lorin Z. Pillai is an experienced and accomplished artist who has worked in a variety of roles in the animation and VFX industry. With a background that includes work on big-budget VFX features, commercials, gaming, and animation, Lorin has a diverse set of skills that have helped her succeed in the industry. 


Lorin learned VFX, texturing and modeling at Gnomon School of Visual Effects. After graduating, she worked in VFX feature, then quickly transitioned to gaming where she shipped three titles. She then moved on to Nickelodeon for almost four years and then worked at DreamWorks for nearly seven years! Currently, Lorin works at FuseFX as an Asset Lead. She serves as a mentor and committee board member for the organization, Women in Animation.

Lorin also teaches Materials and Texturing at Animschool, a comprehensive 10 week course. 


We recently had the opportunity to speak with Lorin about her experience and journey in various industries she’s been a part of. 





Hi Lorin! Tell us about yourself and your journey into the Animation/VFX industry.



I’ve jumped around a lot! My first job was working on a big-budget VFX feature, then I did some short contracts in commercials, onto gaming as an environment artist–which was my intended area of the industry. After a few years and three game titles shipped, I was ready for a new experience. I moved over to animation, between Nickelodeon and then Dreamworks, I had the opportunity to work on hundreds of animated episodes and fourteen shows. I was tremendously fortunate to have a direct hand in creating many of the main characters and sets for some of these shows, as well as leading the look and feel. After ten years in animation, I felt the need for a new experience, I wanted the opportunity to stretch and learn more. I switched over to live-action VFX episodic, and I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working on many shows for Hulu, Disney+, Marvel, and others.


As someone who went to in-person art colleges, can you talk about the pros and cons of doing an online program like AnimSchool compared to traditional universities?

Personally, I lost a lot of time (and gas money) driving to school. And I still had a home system to work on as I couldn’t always be at school. Sometimes teachers could only meet with me when I wasn’t scheduled to be at school, meaning extra unplanned trips. When completing

projects for a reel and finishing classes, time counts. The ability to stay connected while seamlessly switching over from class time to project time (and also not transferring files between my home machine and the school lab also makes a big difference) The main con would be lab access, if a lab at school was empty I could commandeer multiple machines to render out my finished frames.


Who/what are some of your biggest inspirations that influence your work?


Mary Blair is a huge inspiration for me. She was one of the first female artists in animation to really be recognized. Though she was more of a concept artist, she worked in several areas in animation and was one of the first women to be given creative freedom in our industry.





Can you tell a little bit about your experience as a woman in the Animation/VFX industry?

I’ve seen it evolve to be less about my gender over the years. It felt prevalent when it was early in my career, but has seemingly balanced out a lot more.

Lorin discusses more of her experience as a women in the animation industry with ABC 10 News. 


Have you seen and/ or experienced a culture shift over the last 10 years with the rise of communities such as “Women in Animation” and “Rise Up Animation”?

I’ve definitely seen and personally experienced it. I was a bit disheartened to see when I first started in the industry that though there were women employed, mainly they filled out the lower ranks. Very few women were in decision-making positions. And it was not evenly balanced either, it was still mainly men. Now there are more opportunities for women, and choices for who moves up in the ranks feels more merit-based overall.


You’re also an award-winning fantasy writer! Tell us a little about this passion as well as why it’s important for working artists to have passion projects.

I always start my term by explaining how I love the art of visual storytelling because that’s

partly what lookdev is. And I love transitioning that to the page! Storytelling in its various forms is a lot of what many of us do in animation. If you're nearing completion in school, getting that job, or joining that team … may be the biggest, most consuming goal for many of us. After a few years though, it starts to become apparent that we are working on someone else’s ideas many times, which is great! I learn from other visual storytellers, and I’m excited and motivated for the various projects I work on. There are so many talented people I’ve collaborated with. But I also need something that is all mine, my ideas made real, the things I’m interested in exploring. Personal ventures are a great way to keep these skills evolving and growing.



What are some of the most important concepts you try to emphasize in your class that you feel like you didn’t learn in school?

I don’t remember it really being discussed how critical the note process is in production when I was in school. Learning how to receive notes, and how to listen objectively, it’s not easy by any stretch but I like to encourage learning how to navigate it early on. It’s a production mindset that is applicable regardless of the exact spot you fall in asset development.


What was the most unexpected thing you encountered when going from being a student to working professionally at a studio?

How much I thought I knew, versus how much I did know. For instance, I didn’t understand how important pipeline was, I couldn’t completely wrap my head around that until I was actually thrown into it. The importance of file formats, version continuity, save locations, etc. The understanding of what it took to work in a production took some time to learn once I started working.


How do you think working in the industry will be in the future, post-COVID, especially now that companies are being encouraged to go back to business as usual?

Since WFH has proven successful, it is opening the door for more remote work, so though studios are opening back up, a hybrid situation is currently going on. People are contracting to

remain remote for the duration of their project, which is great if moving is not an option. It does seem like even for the studios that are opening, most employees only work 2 or 3 days in the office, the rest are from home.





What are some of your favorite activities to do when you need a break from animating and looking at screens?

Going for a walk or run. Fresh air and letting my eyes get assaulted by the sun (just kidding, definitely wear sunglasses and protect those peepers!) But really, getting outside and getting some exercise.


What is your favorite asset you’ve worked on that’s in your portfolio today?


The Jurassic World Raptors. They represent what is to me the epitome of being a production artist, back and forth with ingesting notes from executives, trying out different iterations for months to land on an approved look. In the end, the final look was sent to Steven Spielberg for his approval. That was a pretty big win in my book, and I was so proud of how they turned out!




You start your lectures with brief professional advice, so by the end of the course, your students have heard about 10 pieces of important advice. If you could pick your favorite piece of advice, which would it be?


I talk a lot about notes, I have 3 different related Business Advice segments about notes, and


pretty much they all culminate in taking notes from your supervisor. It’s probably the best advice I can give artists on how they can continue to be successful in production. Taking notes openly, not arguing them or fighting them, and seeing the “needs of the show” rather than their own feelings about an asset is probably what will do the most for their longevity on a team.



What’s next for you? Are there any other facets of Animation/VFX you want to try out?


I think to stay inspired and fresh, I’ll always bounce around. It’s been exciting to transition from animation to VFX episodic, I’ve worked on a ton of high-budget shows because of it! I don’t know exactly what I’ll do next, because opportunities are always changing and different sectors flourish at different times, keeping my options open will probably mean I’ll potentially do something interesting and different. Maybe I’ll combine my knowledge of games and Unreal with animation, and venture down a real-time or virtual production opportunity. Time will tell!





Sign up today to learn from industry-leading CG Artists like Lorin in our online accredited courses (ACCSC). Apply today at animschool.edu . She is currently teaching Materials and Texturing.


Follow the links below to learn more about Lorin!


Artstation

LinkedIn

Website


Friday, December 16, 2022

Blocking the Torso: 3D Modeling Fundamentals

 

Blocking the Torso: 3D Modeling Fundamentals

When first sculpting a character in Zbrush, it’s important to start with blocking! Beginners can get intimidated by sculpting when they see professionals start their sculpts using highpoly shapes. The blocking method allows beginners to start with low resolution shapes and work their way up, adding more and more definition as you go. It's important to spend time getting things right during this beginning phase of building a character. Having an accurate foundation when you are in low resolution blocking mode will ensure that the character continues to be accurate as you add more definition.. 

In this lecture below taught by AnimSchool Instructor Christopher Wright, you'll notice he mainly uses the Move brush tool. Christopher keeps things simple but very precise, ensuring he's referencing the concept art along the way. Referencing the concept art as you go, ensures that you have the correct proportions for the unique character you're building. As Christopher discusses, because the geo is low resolution, moving verts is easy and fast. 

While in the blocking phase, it's also vital to rotate and look at the objects from different angles, making sure that it resembles a human torso from all sides. 


In this lecture taught by AnimSchool Instructor Christopher Wright, we learn about blocking the torso in a character model. Using mostly the Move brush, Christopher shows us the importance of starting simple, getting the proportions correct and adding more definition as you go. 


For an in depth analysis on setting up hierarchies in maya be sure to watch Christopher Wright’s full lecture 



Download AnimSchool's Feature Level Rig for Free and start animating today!

Start your 3D Animation Journey in our next 11-week term at animschool.edu


Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Autodesk Maya Tips: How to Practice Good Hierarchy



Why should you care about having good hierarchy and staying organized in 3D modeling?

Having good visuals can seem to be the most important part. If it looks good, why worry about what's going on in the back end, right?

Trouble is, a 3D asset is touched by man hands (and computers) in its route through the animation pipeline.

The first place to start is in naming. 

Naming

Naming can vary from modeler to modeler but has to follow some key rules. 

1. Names need to define the object 
2. Names need to be unique 

If there's 100 bolts on a robot, each bolt needs to have a unique name. This is where padding comes into play. 

Padding
Autodesk provides a great definition: Padded numbers are frame numbers that have a specified number of digits, where 0s are used to fill the unused digits

For example: Four digit padding is something like bolt_0003 or leaf_0010

Making sure names are easily readable is also important. This is where Camel Casing comes in. 

Camel Casing 
When there is more than two words to describe an object, lowercase the first letter of the first word and capitalize the first letter of the words proceeding the first. 

Example: pinkyFinger or largeRedBall

Once naming is complete, it's time for group. 

Select Edit > Group or press Ctrl + G

Groups can be made when thinking what objects need to move together like the neck and the head or the arm and the hands. 


Pivot Placement
Next task in setting up a good hierarchy is pivot placement. 
One must consider where objects rotate from. The feet rotate from the ankle area. 

Luis illustrates further why it's important to place the pivot in the right spot. 




For an in depth analysis on setting up hierarchies in maya be sure to watch Luis Labrador’s full lecture 



Download AnimSchool's Feature Level Rig for Free and start animating today!


Start your 3D Animation Journey in our next 11-week term at animschool.edu


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Animating the Eye Dart

 




There is an old famous proverb “the eyes are the window into the soul” which simply means that a person’s eyes can betray what they are truly feeling at any given moment.


Our eyes, more than other parts of our body, make us feel “human”. As artists, they are the key to convincing the viewer that what we have created is real, emotional, and true. Eye animation is what takes an animated character from looking great to feeling real. Emotion and action begin in the eyes. When you turn your head, it is your eyes that lead the action. When you are disgusted and have to look away, it is your eyes that close first. Thought and feeling start with the eyes and then descend to the rest of the body. But how? How can you convey feelings and emotions through two small orbs of geometry? By understanding that eyes are not just seeing the world, but processing it. Take a moment and look at your eyes in the mirror. Do you see that? That small quick motion where your pupils travel across your eye and then darts to a new position. In animation, we call that an eye dart and it allows animators to quickly and simply convey that a character is truly alive. 


Animschool instructor Ricky Renna in his class on Facial Performance makes it a priority to understand, analyze and execute a successful eye dart. An eye dart is not a one size fits all idea but rather the speed and frequency of an eye dart can actually determine how a character is thinking. Are they frantic? Are they scared? Are they exhausted? Maybe they are about to fall asleep and so their eyes slowly dart through the air, unfocused and hazy as their brain starts to prepare itself for oblivion. Maybe your character is searching for an answer under perilous circumstances and so their eyes are quickly darting around,  searching for an answer just out of reach. If an eye dart expresses thought or action in a character, it can also be used to convey a lack of thought or control. Your character could be hypnotized, losing the ability for independent thought and so their eyes remain completely still and unblinking. An eye dart can be as complex as creating the illusion of a character attempting to perform rocket science but it can also be as simple as a technique to keep your character feeling “alive.”



But how can you animate an eye dart? 


Eye darts are a series of small movements within the eye happening constantly. On a technical level these darts average between 2-3 frames and about 80 percent of the movement in an eye dart will happen in just one frame with some small settle on the rest. A two to three-frame eye dart creates a nice crisp movement to patch back into the rest of your animation. But an eye dart doesn't just affect the geometry of the eyeball itself, it impacts and influences the flesh around it, or in this case the eyelids. To really give the impression of a character that is fleshy and real, after completing a full pass on eye darts, go back in and ever so subtly have the eyelid motion follow the eye. If your character’s eyes dart down, the eyelids should subtly follow that motion soon after. Keep in mind that animation is a tool to mimic real life and so since in real life your top lid would move more than your lower lid, use that in your animation. By taking the time to execute a  thoughtful and intentional eye pass, your animation can transform from “student level” to industry professional level work. 


For an in depth analysis of eye darts and eye animation on feature level scene be sure to watch Ricky’s full lecture 




Download AnimSchool's Feature Level Rig for Free and start animating today!

  

Start your 3D Animation Journey in our next 11-week term at animschool.edu


Friday, July 29, 2022

How to Avoid "Spline Depression"

 




Every animator is different and every workflow is different - but there is something we can all agree on, hitting spline for the first time can be ROUGH. 


It's hard to see an animation that has been posed and blocked in so beautifully get destroyed by a computer. Suddenly your timing feels slow, your emotions flat and you fall into a “Spline Depression.”


Spline and Polish can be time-consuming and frustrating. Sometimes it can be hard to push through this ugly phase. For animators who work from stepped to spline, turning your curves into vectors for the first time rarely looks the way you planned in your head. But know that it will get better! Once you train yourself to see the small fixable details instead of the big floaty moments, you will be able to tackle your shot piece by piece and uncover the integrity of your work. 


Simple tips for entering Spline:




When you start to spline, make sure to break your shot into manageable chunks. You can do this by breaking your shot into small amounts of frames, or by focusing on one small piece of the body at a time. No matter which method you choose, remember that all movement starts from the root, and by defining the movement of the root first you will avoid counter-animating down the line. 


No matter where you are in your spline process, don't forget the power of the arc tracker. Animation is all about creating fluid lines of movement, and by tracking your arcs throughout your animation, you will be able to quickly find and fix both timing and spacing. This can be done by using a built-in tool in Maya such as Animbot’s Motion Trail,  but if that's not for you, you can even track your arcs with an expo marker on your screen. 


It's easy when hitting spline to allow the computer to take over and to make choices for you as an artist. Don't let that happen! Trust your eye as an artist and make sure that your character is moving the way YOU chose it to, and not the way the computer interpreted. 


This might be the hardest tip of all, It's okay to delete keys! Not only is it okay, but sometimes it can be necessary. If something doesn't look right, and you cannot figure out why, delete your keys and see where things are going wrong. It may seem destructive at the moment but it will save you time and effort down the line. 


Lastly, make sure to actually look at your graph editor after you hit spline. Sometimes the computer will take your keys and create curves that you never intended to create. By using your eyes and utilizing tools like auto and linear tangents, you can quickly find areas of concern and adjust your keys to create smooth motions. 


For more animation tips, watch our video below where AnimSchool instructor Martin Scotto explains in depth the 6 tricks he uses to avoid losing momentum when entering the Spline phase.








Download AnimSchool's Feature Level Rig for Free and start animating today!

  

Start your 3D Animation Journey in our next 11-week term at animschool.edu

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

It's time to walk the dog - How to Animate a Quadruped

 



AnimSchool Tips: How to Animate a Quadruped

It's time to walk the dog…or at least the quadruped. Let's be honest, learning how to animate a human on two legs walking is scary, much less a creature on four legs! So how do you break a quadruped walk down so that it's approachable? Well luckily, quadrupeds aren't that different from bipedal or human characters. Essentially a simple dog walk cycle is just two bipedal characters walking slightly offset from each other. Sound confusing? Animschool Instructor & Professional Animator, Daniel Paul, is here to “walk” us through the doggie steps.

Become an Animator Online in our next 11-week term at AnimSchool