Thursday 22 August 2013

Why I love Teaching...

My love for teaching is one of those things that caught me by surprise.  I was never one for public speaking, or oral presentations.  I sucked at it.  Ironically, when I was offered a temporary teaching job in the 3D Animation program at Dawson College in Montreal, I said yes instantly.  

The thing I love most about teaching is that I get to fall in love with animation all over again.  I see the look on my students faces when I show them something awesome, and it's so rewarding.  Getting back to the fundamentals of animation and really dissecting it not only gives them a good foundation and understanding, but also reinforces it in my own career.  

I'm not one to recite the Animator's Survival Kit from Richard Williams, nor do I bombard them with cool scripts and tech knowledge about Maya.  I'm more of a show and tell type of teacher.  I love to get my hands dirty and show them how to animate a basic walk cycle from the ground up.  Students want to see you set keys, figure out spacing, add in betweens and settles right from your computer screen.  As artists, we absorb information with our eyes the most, so I find it important to be as visual as possible in my lectures.  

My next teaching gig is with the awesome people at iAnimate.  I'll be teaching the "Intro to Games Workshop", which is mostly about the fundamentals of animation and working with Maya.  Really looking forward to it!

Check out the class ouline here:

Monday 17 October 2011

Change of Scenery

It's been a year now that I'm back at Ubisoft (3rd time stint), and I've changed department within the company three times already.  I can't really go into specifics about the projects I've done and am currently working on, but I can tell you that the animation styles have changed dramatically each time.

The first project, which lasted a month, was really cool.  It involved 100% key frame animation of some really interesting characters in the early stages of the game.  There was lots of brain storming ideas with game designers and producers concerning character traits, concepts, and just overall feel of the game.  We were working in Softimage XSI with the hi-res models, coming up with animations that would dictate the look and feel of the in-game actions.  I really enjoyed that project, but it was short-lived.

The next project I worked on was also 100% key framed, but required a ton of work.  Also in XSI but in the cinematics department, this project called "Assassin's Creed - Embers", is a 22 minute short which follows the final days of Ezio Auditore.  I've played all the Assassin's Creed games, so for me this was a great project to have been a part of.  I guess the only complaint was that it required a minimum of 30 seconds of animation per week.  For the non animators reading this... that's a lot!  You can see the trailer here:

Which brings me to my current project.  On this game, I've taken a 180 degree turn.  I'm currently working in the cinematics department of a specific game which requires 0% key frame animation.  Yes, zero.  Nada.  It is all motion capture, including the characters face. In a month and a half, I've learned 2 different animation softwares (3DsMax and Motion Builder) and learned some of the ins and outs of motion capture and the video game pipeline.

I won't lie.  At first I was extremely discouraged.  In 10 years in this industry I've worked so hard to reach a level of quality in my animations that I can be happy with.  And now I'll be editing motion from a guy in a spandex suit.  I miss key frame animation terribly, but so far this experience has challenged me to think about animation in a new way.  Motion capture data can only work as well as its editor.  Sometimes the data doesn't work as well as you'd like, so it's up to us to make sure every emotion and every gesture is translated to the viewer.  Motion capture is just another medium of animation, and one I plan on learning.  

I still get to work in one of the coolest jobs in the world, with some of the most talented people in the industry.  

- Johnny

Thursday 28 July 2011

Vacation time...

  Vacation is one of those times in life where you get to step away from your job and enjoy some R&R. Well, I have done overtime in that department!  I got to sleep in, watch movies, play video games, went to New York City, bbq with friends, and spend time with my wife. Not one time did I think of animation, and in a way it felt great. I love animating, don't get me wrong, but I was so immersed  in my work that I began losing sight of my other passions. I don't know about other jobs, but when I take a step back from mine, I still see through the eyes of an artist. 

  Stepping away from animation for 2 weeks has got me more interested in photography. I recently got a Canon Rebel T2i for my birthday, and it just took my interest in photography to a whole new level. I've spent some time with a Canon Powershot Pro (which is a more advanced point and shoot camera), but it just didn't have enough control. I really wanted to play with depth of field, focus, long exposures, and other things a regular camera just can't handle. 

  Just like everything else, I'm looking forward to some practice to sharpen my skills as an amateur photographer. Click on the images below to see some of my recent shots in New York City. Please feel free to leave comments! 

Johnny.Spinelli's photostream

Pickled Mussels - Momofuko NYStools - Momofuko NYPasta Pans - Eataly NYCool_VaseSTK Bar - NYBanksy - NY
Broadway - NYBroadway & Bleecker - NYOld Dog - NYLast Slice - Numero 28 NYBest Pizza - Numero 28 NYPizza Oven - Numero 28 NY
Tiles of America - NYCoffee Break - NYBreakfast - NYCoffee heart - NYCab Ride - NYEmpire - NY
Meat Station - Eataly NYRose Wine - Eataly NYPeppersCheese Station - Eataly NYEspresso Machine - Eataly NY5th_Ave_Building

Sunday 8 May 2011

Animation... What is it?

Many of my friends and family, even after 10 years as an animator, don’t know what I actually do. I get questions like, “So you draw on the computer, right?” and “Do you have to wear that suit with the white markers all over?”

No and No.

So what do we do as animators?

Before I can explain what our job as animators entails, I need to tell you a little about other important jobs. Without these people, it would be impossible for us to animate.

Concept Artist:  These are the people that basically get the ball rolling when it comes to the design of the characters in a production.  Once their concepts are approved, they are passed on to a Modeler.

Modeler:  This is the person that uses the concept art to create the character in 3D.  Think of it as sculpting using a computer.

Rigger:  This person’s job is to apply a skeletal system or “bones” to the character. These bones allow us to manipulate parts of the model. The end result can look something like this:

Animator:  Now this is where we come in. Notice all those colored rings and cubes around the character? Well those are the controllers we use to manipulate the individual joints so that the character can be animated. A basic animated walk cycle can look something like this:

We set positions, rotations, and/or scaling (i.e., changing the size) to the controllers called “keys” on various frames which are on the timeline. The software fills in the gaps. Animators use what is called an Fcurve Editor (F stands for Function) or Graph Editor to see the value of the keys in the animation.

Here’s an example. I have a character turning his head from right to left. So I’ve set rotation keys on frame 10 and frame 19. The software will fill in the gap:

The Fcurve editor looks something like this for this particular animation.  The green line indicates the value of his head from right to left, the red line is the value from up and down, and the blue line tells us the tilt of his head.

In this next example, I have the same head turn but I’ve set two additional keys to give it a little life.  In the middle of his head turn he dips his head down, and then it settles into it’s final rotation at frame 22.

Here's the Fcurve editor of this animation. Notice how the values look different. Animators always try to control as much of their animation as possible, and try not to leave anything for the software to interpret.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it takes a lot more time than you think.  The average animator has a quota of around 8 seconds a week.  Yes ... 8 seconds!  In one year working on Rango, I calculated having worked on 5 ½ from a total of 107 minutes in the film! 

As animators it’s more than putting together a few keys and poses, but rather, it is giving the character life and emotion.

Here’s a youtube video that gives a pretty good representation of what it takes to make a 3D film. Pretty funny too!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

I’ll never forget…

             …the first time I watched Jurassic Park.  For some reason I did not see it in theaters, it was actually on television at a good old family gathering.  I tuned in when T-Rex was chasing the Jeep YJ down a muddy path.  The heroes were in peril, but I could honestly care less for Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern.  I was mesmerized by the legendary dinosaur tearing up the screen.  I couldn’t believe my eyes…  I was looking at a real dinosaur.

I ended up buying my very own copy of Jurassic Park and watched it so many times.  I had the movie memorized.  But what was so capturing, each and every time, was how they brought those dinosaurs back from extinction.  I remember telling my parents, “I wanna learn how they did that”.  Being eleven at the time, it would take me a long while before I’d grasp what CGI was.
As a young boy, I loved drawing and being creative.  I watched Mr. Dress Up and Bob Ross, but nothing could compare to what I experienced on that TV at that family get together.

My two young brothers were definitely more inclined to sports. When my parents gave me the choice to play hockey or to take drawing lessons, my reply was instant… “I wanna learn to draw”.  I figured it would bring me one step closer to bringing an extinct creature back to life.

In 1995 Toy Story came about and I was stunned, once again.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that these toys weren’t drawn.  They were cartoony, but yet they didn’t have the drawn lines around their bodies!  I read up everything I could to learn about how it was done… something about wireframes, meshes and 3d geometry.  I still needed to see it for myself. 

Next came Twister and I, once again, found myself trying to understand how they had done it.  I was so obsessed that I even based my high school science fair project around tornadoes and cyclones. 

After high school I chose to study in Illustration & Design at Dawson College.   It was a great program and I learned a lot about drawing and architecture… but I wasn’t happy.  I wanted to see my drawings move.  I wanted to give them life.

I decided to leave Dawson College and look elsewhere for another program, something that would interest me more, something that would bring me closer to my dream.  A year later I took a one year intensive 3d Animation program at Inter-Dec College and the rest is history.  I loved it.  I put all my time and effort into my animation projects.  I came out of it ten pounds lighter, ten shades paler, and with a chance to animate in a feature film called Pinocchio 3000 as a junior animator.

Animating is my passion.  I don’t call it work because I enjoy waking up in the morning.  I feel liberated every time I create an animation, from a simple walk cycle to a complicated acting scene.  For me, it never gets old.  I’ve been doing it for ten years now, and never once did I consider doing something else.  I have other passions in life, but for me nothing gives me more joy that to animate.

Welcome to my Blog!  I hope to offer some insight and advice to the up and coming animators out there.  And to the veteran animators, maybe you can teach me a thing or two ;)