Howdy


 THE NEXT STEP…
 Last time, the story took us from inception — no, not the movie — to what was close to being the present. That present has now moved further back on the timeline to the point of being classified as a shadow of its past. However, here are a few images that act as a bridge between then and now.

There have been some creative and technical developments which I feel the story benefits from, you don’t have to agree, but for me, progress is as progress does.


One of the ‘middle path’ versions of Howdy, the antagonist. Originally he was to look like a fat banker with a wild hairstyle and receding hairline, but as the story developed he took on a more sinister, amphibious/reptilian hybrid look.
The smaller thumbnail sketches are perhaps more close to what I had originally envisioned.



The Future Is Howdy! — An industrial propaganda sign that Howdy has around the local town/city when he first arrives, before the ensuing conflict.



One of the many ‘labs’ that have a sinister purpose within Howdy’s underground research base facility.



Manny locates a Control Room within the base, as he searches for clues as to his whereabouts.



THE LAB — This scene was one which I’d conceived early on in the story notes. One where Howdy is looking at his collection of specimens within large vats in a lab. As you can see from the original sketch, Manny was originally meant to be the source of focus, with Howdy and his assistants discussing his fate.



THE ‘SECRET’ LAB — In this unfinished rendition, the mood and lighting is more sinister, with a silhouetted Howdy looking silently on like a predator.



SCOUT SPEEDER I — After months of prep I’m finally entering the third dimension with this story. There’s a 3D animation software package called Carrara that I used to model this scout ship. It’s instrumental in helping Manny gain his temporary freedom from the Lab.
Once the modelling was done in Carrara, I rendered the image out, imported it into Photoshop and then added some wear and tear to the ship using mainly the Dodge tool.



SCOUT SPEEDER II — Here’s another rendered image in relation to the previous one. This one shows the scout ship in flight, noticeably without the wear and tear on the engines and fuselage. The motion blur was added in Photoshop.




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BACKSTORY...

“The path to enlightenment is slow, not swift
And goals are reached with wits and gifts
And trials and wisdom passed on down
Like Family Heirloom's minted crown.”


The road for this project is a long one which began in late November 2000. I’ve always been interested in telling visual stories through my paintings, but what prompted me to actually tell them visually by way of animation was when a good friend of mine showed me Tim Burton’s Stain Boy animation shorts.

My friend was part of a group of graphic and web designers over in Barcelona who were in the middle of organising an international online Flash animation film festival called OFFF (the Online Flash Film Festival).

Whilst I was there, they showed me some of the entries but the submission that really captured my animation was from a studio that was working with the director Tim Burton. The animation was of course Stain Boy, and from the moment I saw it, I knew that that was what I wanted to do.

Tim Burton’s Stain Boy animation, Toxic Boy, circa 2000.


My friend had given me a sketchbook so I immediately began sketching and writing furiously an idea that had germinated in my mind and was rapidly growing in my head faster than I could get it down on paper. That concept presented itself to me as ‘DNFTB’, but I chose to develop it under the working title of “A.I—ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”.

Back then, even though I didn’t see myself as a ‘traditional’ storyteller, I almost feverishly continued sketching out ideas for various animations. Not being a ‘character’ artist, coming up with something that I could draw well and then animate was difficult to say the least, so I started off by drawing an artist’s manikin for the various poses, figuring that I could use that as a template for a character later on. Then it hit me; “I’ve got an idea, why not use the manikin as the character?” — “Nope,” came the reply from the other little speaker in my head. “It’s too easy, way too easy.” — “Yes, but not if I find a way to humanise it!” — “Hmmm… not convinced, but I suppose you could give it a try.” So I did, and thus, ‘Manny’ was born.

Coming from a more ‘traditional’ arts and urban arts background I was still making the transition over to digital artist. I knew my way around Photoshop but was still not too keen on delving into other software packages that I had acquired such as Poser (for doing the various character poses) and of course, Flash (for doing the animation). I loved the possibility of what could be achieved but felt frustrated at the snail’s pace of the progress of my ideas; something which was not an issue with more traditional media.

I imported the series of ‘stills’ I’d put together in Poser as jpegs into Flash and used them as templates for the Flash drawings, whilst at the same time creating the backgrounds for each of the completed ‘scenes’. Working on the mannequin in Poser seemed like a perfect choice for an ambiguous character. Plus, this way, I could eventually go for complexity on the inside of the character as opposed to on the outside.
Strangely enough, I was aware of Illustrator and Freehand as vector drawing packages but had never used them. But with Flash, I found it pretty straightforward in getting through the basics and the drawing tools very intuitive. Which just goes to show that if you know what you want out of a tool or software package then that’s part of the battle won in learning how to use it.

The plan next was to import the original Flash scenes in to Photoshop for post-production, export them in to After Effects and then make an animated movie from that. However, I couldn’t get the character to move as I’d envisioned with Flash so I decided to put it on hold till I worked out a solution.

I stepped away from the whole process for a while to focus on other graphic activities such as logo and poster design. The inspiration to get back into animated graphics came in the form of another digitally animated character called Rustboy.


STORYBOARD - THE ORIGINAL (i) - These basic sketches were just to get used to the feel of using a mannequin and seeing it in various positions before graphics software came in to the picture. I was going for a more stylised form to begin with before deciding on a more ‘traditional’-looking mannequin.


POSER (i) - Poser was chosen as the next step rather than just jumping in to Flash because the right pose/camera position as well as the direction of light could be worked out beforehand.


FLASH (i-a) - A still image from the Poser scene was exported as a jpeg file and then imported in to Flash as a template. The bug was drawn directly from a rough sketch and featured more heavily in the story further on down the line.


FLASH (i-b) - A still image from the Poser scene was exported as a jpeg file and then imported in to Flash as a template. The bug was drawn directly from a rough sketch and featured more heavily in the story further on down the line.


INFINI-D (i) - A.I Project —the roughly modelled basic version of the A.I scene. Also, By the time Infini-D was introduced being able to navigate through an actual 3D environment gave strength to the scene. It was also decided to give the scene more of a night time waste ground feel and a blue tint. Basic lighting was also added to the 2 street lamps.

By the time the character was ready to be ‘reinserted’ into the overall landscape with the other elements, he’d acquired more of a real-world looking mask, a rucksack and cans of paint. Attention then shifted to his body, which originally was to be chrome.


STORYBOARD - THE ORIGINAL (ii) - This was more about deciding on the style of mask that was going to suit the character. It was decided to forsake complex-looking respirators for a more simplified look. The idea of having a mask with 2 filters though remained throughout.


POSER (ii) - Various camera angles were worked out in Poser for secondary storyboards, so that at this stage, focus could be kept solely on the (look of the) character before being placed within a scene with other elements. The background was kept to a neutral grey.

Although no actual animation was done using
Poser to see how an animated character would actually look, it was still crucial for angles and lighting when using 2D animation software.



FLASH (ii) - With the absence of hands, the scenes where he’s shown painting had to be thought through so that it didn’t look, well, stupid. So I came up with the idea of always showing his hand covering the can so that on a subconscious level it would register as him actually holding it without any emphasis being placed on how.


TO INFINI-D, & BEYOND!
In a nutshell, Stain Boy got me in to Flash but it was RustBoy that got me in to Infini-D (a 3D animation package).
As with a few creatives out there, I had a graphics programme (which in this case was Infini-D) sitting on my hard drive for about 2 years that I’d barely touched, simply because I hated manuals and written tutorials.

Created by a Scottish illustrator and animator called Brian Taylor, Rustboy was featured on the cover of a magazine I used to buy regularly called 3D World. Reading the interview with Brian as well as seeing his detailed working process gave me the inspirational kick that I needed, so I decided to resurrect the then comatose A.I Project and do the whole thing in 3D.




3D World Magazine featuring Rustboy on the cover, July 2001.


Brian Taylor’s Rustboy web page, 2001.


Brian Taylor’s Rustboy web page, 2001.


As I said, I hated manuals, but fortunately I managed to get hold of a couple of easy-to-follow magazine tutorials from old issues of Computer Arts Magazine, that brought me up to speed with the basics. Then I got an Infini-D training CD, which had loads of lessons as QuickTime tutorials and that helped me fill in a lot of the gaps.

Ironically, I began to create models for one of my more long-term ideas at first, as it was easier to construct the various elements piece by piece, whereas the A.I idea all took place in one scene and required more processing power than I had at the time.




INFINI-D (ii-a) - A.I Project—the more complete version with a more grimy-textured Manny.


INFINI-D (iib) - A.I Project—after learning modelling and construction, next came texturing. The pieces (images) you see on the walls were all scanned from actual wall paintings. Also decided to give his body more of a grimy, well-worn look. The scene here is shown pre-lighting, hence the absence of shadows. Next on the agenda is to learn effective lighting to really bring the scene to life!


Over a period of about 4 months, I expanded the story and completed the modelling. The next step was to sort out the lighting, the texturing and then finally the animation.

Rather than jumping in and tackling the whole animation package at once, I decided to go through it as needed. In other words, learning it each stage at a time. Why? Because it suited my methods of working and felt right. Once I've gotten over the initial learning curve my working methods with any tool are usually instinctual and working with Infini-D things weren’t going to be any different. So the next step was moving on to the lighting of the scene before finally tackling the animation.



L’ARRIVO DI MAYA (THE ARRIVAL OF MAYA)
As I said, to really make this work I needed more processing power than I had on my computer (I was running a first generation 12-inch black Mac G3 laptop), so the next step was an upgrade. I got myself a next-gen 17-inch titanium Mac G3 PowerBook, which at the time was top of the range for Mac laptops. Put it this way, t was a markable difference. With my previous G3 laptop, whilst running Infini-D I was not able to run any other software at the same time, not even my web browser! With my new G3 laptop, I could run Infini-D, Photoshop, plus at least 5 other programmes without it affecting the performance of my Mac.

With an upgraded computer came thoughts of upgraded animation software. Fortunately I found out about a part-time animation course at Tower Hamlets College teaching Maya, Toon-Boom Studio and After Effects. Perfect!

When I began the course and started using Maya (another, yet more powerful and extensive professional 3D animation software package), though still a beginner, I decided to push myself to see what I could achieve in terms of the modelling. The mask/respirator itself has about 21 separate parts to it, and constructing it was a definite step up from the Infini-D version. The modelling was a lot smoother, and I felt as though I had more control. However, there is a trade-off when stepping up with a high-end animation package such as Maya, such as the level of complexity you could work at. With this, came a steep learning curve; it was literally like learning a language.




MAYA (i) - When I started using Maya on the part-time animation course at Tower Hamlets College I decided to push myself to see what I could achieve in terms of the modelling. The mask/respirator itself has about 21 separate parts to it, and is a definite step up from the Infini-D version. The modelling is a lot smoother, and I feel as though I have more control. However, there is a trade-off when stepping up with a high-end animation package such as Maya, it has a steep learning curve with the various areas of the programme (modelling, lighting, texturing and animating) being like complete packages within themselves.


MAYA (ii) - Here’s a ‘promo’ image for A.I/DNFTB which is a slightly stylised version of what would have been intended for the animation. As you can see, it’s a definite step up from what I had originally done in Infini-D.


Once again, other work projects and commitments stepped in, took hold and the DNFTB idea was put on the back-burner. Which brings us to the present.

I may not have gotten as far as doing the animation and rigging, but the groundwork was still set for me continuing it further...



Once again, other work projects and commitments stepped in, took hold and the DNFTB idea was put on the back-burner. Which brings us to the present.
I may not have gotten as far as doing the animation and rigging, but the groundwork was still set for me continuing it further...


It was like things were coming full circle, and the faint idea of a graphic story or novel seemed like a viable option now that I was into my writing. So, returning to the digital pages and scribbled ideas, I refashioned the tale into a new image, as a graphic story, deciding to use Photoshop composited with a few 3D-rendered objects and buildings for the graphics. It’s an interesting choice, and one which I’m sure will go the distance.

Now… Let’s go to work!









2 comments:

  1. Do you do wall art commissions for businesses?
    How can I get in touch with you?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi,

    Sure, I do various commissions, and can be contacted at the following email;

    adee001@hotmail.com

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete