How 3D/Animation Has Changed My Life

The past four weeks have seemed like a whirlwind of information and learning with regards to my most recent class, 3D graphics/animation.

There is truthfully so much that concerns the 3D/animation world and only so much can be covered during a four week span.  However, this class and everything that I have learned has without a doubt left an impact on me!

Even though my animations are simple animations, I have learned how much work really goes into animating figures.

I have always been a huge fan of animated films and now I can begin to understand just how much all the teams of illustrators put into the films that we enjoy.

Recently, my wife and I watched the 2013 Pixar film; Monsters University.  We are like children in the way that we love watching animated films as often as we can!  When I was watching this movie most recently however, it was like my eyes were opened for the very first time.  Even from the very first scene with the scene being set with a row of houses surrounded by trees, and the morning sunlight shining brilliantly through those trees; I was able to see a glimpse of what those animators went through even to make just those few first seconds of the movie!

Animation takes so much patience and so much manpower.  I am even more impressed with everything that is able to be accomplished with todays animated films.  It really isn’t a surprise at all that these movies take years to complete!  All the folks involved in the animation process are superheroes in my book, and I just can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Animation Studios + 3D Printing

When I discovered 3D printing, my mind was pretty much blown (which I think it is safe to say is the reaction that most people have when they discover the magic behind 3D printing).

An industry that has benefited from the use of 3D printers is the movie industry.  I recently read an article that discussed the animation studio LAIKA that relies on using the software and 3D printing hardware to make its films.  With recent improvements on the technology that the [really good] 3D printers use, LAIKA has the ability to print thousands of precise colors and subtle gradients in plastic, which achieves color accuracy that has not been accomplished with 3D printing before now.

The way in which LAIKA most utilizes the 3D printer for their films is pretty simple in concept:  faces.  LAIKA’s designers produce the puppets’ (they produce stop-motion animated films) faces, and they the 3D printer is used to print literally tens of thousands of slightly different facial expressions for each character that is utilized during filming.

LAIKA actually pioneered this specific technique on their first film Coraline and they have continued to continually change things up with each film that they have produced.

3D technology is amazing and is constantly changing, and it has produced incredible applications to so many industries including film.  I cannot wait to see where this technology goes in just the next few years!

Animation in Disney’s Moana

While I have always been a pretty big fan of animated movies, I am pretty new to to the animation “scene” as far as beginning to understand what actually goes into making one of these masterpieces.

I have been reading a fair amount of articles that discuss Disney’s newest adventure in animation.  Every single review that I have read about the movie says that Moana is not only visually breathtaking; it is one of the best animated films they have ever seen.

From what I have read, the amazement that comes from watching this film comes from a few factors.  I have read that nearly every frame of each scene in the movie was beautifully animated and rendered so well that the textures, hair, fabric, water and lighting make each scene seem all too realistic. Even from the short “bursts” of scenes that I have scene in previews, I can say that this observation is certainly true.

I think that with the deep history that Disney has cultivated with animated films, this is definitely saying something.  Disney has literally defined for generations what an animated film experience should look like.  Because each film that Disney has cranked out has consistently been better than the previous ones, they have set an almost ridiculous bar height for them to soar over.  Audiences go into these animated films just expecting to be blown away, and I have to say that I am in this crowd as well.  I am always blown away by not only the great experiences I have when watching one of Disney’s animated films, but also by how far technology has come even in just the past few years.  Animators have to stay on top of the ever-so-quickly changing technology, and now having nearly completed an introductory class to animation, I can begin to understand what a feat it is for an animated film to be made; especially for it to be a good one!

I can almost not wait to get to the theater and see Disney’s newest gem, Moana.

Real Graphic Design Solutions: Adobe Creative Cloud at Work in Pete’s Dragon

I love movies.  Plain and simple.  Something I am also a big fan of are smart reinventions of movies that I loved from my childhood.

I was beyond thrilled when I found out that Disney was remaking Pete’s Dragon!  I loved this movie when I was a kid (even though this movie was technically a little before my time) and it just brings back great memories from growing up.

What makes me most excited about this remake is knowing how much technology has changed since the ’70’s.  What is even cooler is that Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps had quite a bit to do with the process of creating the giant green star of the movie, Elliott.  In a recent interview with Adobe, one of the supervisors involved in the creative process told how the team used Photoshop CC and After Effects CC a lot during the visualization of Elliott.

Since one of the fun aspects of Elliott is his disappearing trick, the team had to get creative   with finding ways to make him disappear (and reappear!)  They were able to use Photoshop render layers to create multiple looks, and then they were able to finalize them in After Effects.  Illustrator was then used to create visual diagrams that the team actually used while on set.  These diagrams main purpose was to show where the camera was in relation to the actors, including how high it is and where it moved.  All this came together to make sure that the vision the creative team had makes sense and lines up with what the actors are able to re-create in real life.

This, I’m sure is only scratching the surface on how the creative team for Pete’s Dragon was able to use some of the Creative Cloud apps to their advantage.  Each day I learn more and more about how the apps are able to be used other than their obvious ways for design.  I love reading about these real-life applications of graphic design!

Technology Review: Moleskine Smart Writing Set

To start off, let me just say that I absolutely love Moleskine notebooks.  I have had many notebooks throughout the years (mainly used for my to-do lists and to simply get some of the thoughts out of my head and on to paper), and Moleskine has always been my notebook of choice.  I’m not even sure what it is about them, but they are just so nice to write in.

Well, Moleskine has created something to take note-taking to the next level, and that is their Smart Writing Set.  This set includes a notebook, pen, and app that when combined, really maximizes your time spent writing.

A couple of cool things to note about this technological trio:

  1. The notebook is actually encoded with dotted paper that helps the pen you are writing with recognize where and what you are writing on the paper.
  2. The pen that is used with the notebook is (quite) a smart pen that has an infrared camera at the tip of the pen in order to track and then digitize your writing.  The pen also contains a micro USB port used to charge the pen as well as a LED light that alerts the user as to the current battery status.

Now to the good stuff:  after your pair the smart pen to your phone/tablet (the app is free), the user writes/sketches whatever they wish in the paper tablet, and the pen immediately digitizes what you are writing to the app as you write it.  This is seriously mind-blowing!

Below are some of my favorite features that can be of use:

  1. Notes can be replayed in the order that you wrote them down.
  2. Auto page detection tells automatically when you start writing on a new page.
  3. You can export specific page(s) to other platforms like iCloud and Evernote.
  4. If your handwriting is not exactly the most legible, do not fear!  You even have the option to automatically change your handwriting into a specific font once the page is automatically synced to your device.

I am a big technology buff, so I am completely nerding out about this find.  I absolutely love how it combines old-school writing in a notebook with 21st century convenience with your writings able to be accessed on a mobile device at any time.  Even with the somewhat lofty price tag of $200.00, I just might have to give this one a try.

Technology Review: Amazon’s Echo

Well, it’s finally happened.  Amazon’s star, the Echo has gotten even smarter.

Even though Amazon released Echo; the hands-free personal assistant disguised as a speaker a couple of years ago, it still remains incredibly popular and a very cool piece of technology.

To put it simply, Echo is a hands free speaker that is entirely controlled by the user’s voice.  Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service (users may refer to their own echo simply as “Alexa”) to access any information the user could possibly want to know.

Here are some of my favorite things that Alexa can do:

  • Stream music:  Alexa can play a song, artist, album, playlist or genre from the Amazon Prime Music Library.  She is also able to access services such as Pandora and Spotify, as well as Internet radio sites such as iHeartRadio.
  • Read the headlines:  Alexa can not only stream your local news from over the Internet; she can compile a “news brief” of headlines and audio clips of news outlets of your choice.  Just ask Alexa and she’ll do it.
  • Set timers and alarms: setting a wake-up alarm for each morning or a timer for the banana bread that’s in the oven is not a problem for Alexa.
  • Answer general questions: Alexa is able to look up basic facts, solve math problems, converse with you, and she is even quite skilled at telling jokes.  The more you talk to Alexa, the more she will learn about you and adapt to your speech patterns.
  • Control your smart home: Alexa has the capability to control light bulbs, switches, thermostats — pretty much everything.  As long as the smart home technology is paired up with the user’s mobile devices, she’ll be able to control it at their command.

Now for the updates.  Since the Echo was released a couple of years ago, the artificial intelligence has only continued to develop and mature.  Developers have created add-ons for Alexa, which are referred to as “skills” (pretty much apps that can be downloaded to Alexa to teach her even more new tricks).  Alexa is now able to call the user an Uber, order a pizza, and make Capital One credit card payments.  Over the weekend, Amazon announced that Alexa’s new downloadable skills have reached over 1,000!  This past January, Alexa’s skills section had just over 130 apps.  That’s pretty incredible growth.

I will say that I am incredibly impressed with Alexa and all that she can do, and I just might buy one if I weren’t (a little more than) slightly scared by all the technology and access to information she possesses!  Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that we live in a time where we can talk to a smart speaker in our home and it can give us essentially any bit of information that we could want to know.  We are literally living in a Science Fiction movie.

Regardless of how scary I might find this technology, this is the world we live in and I am excited to see how Alexa’s technology develops and what Amazon comes up with next.