3D Animation
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  • Discussion with Renowned Matte Painter Syd Dutton and Special FX Supervisor Bill Taylor

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    cape fear

    New York Film Academy Los Angeles recently screened Martin Scorsese’s remake of the classic film Cape Fear. The guests for the event were master matte painter Syd Dutton, who was responsible for creating the stunning settings throughout the film including the iconic shot of De Niro leaving prison. This image left such an indelible sense memory for movie goers that it was parodied in a Simpson’s episode where Side Show Bob leaves prison. Our other guest was visual effects supervisor Bill Taylor, who oversaw the trick camerawork on the picture. By happenstance, the moderator was our co-chair of animation Mark Sawicki, who had worked with Syd and Bill on the picture and was responsible for shooting the final composites of the matte paintings.

    The conversation started with insights into the prison shot. Bill said that the shot was originally designed for De Niro, playing “Max Cady”, to walk below the frame but Scorsese wanted him to walk directly into the camera. A special ramp was built that allowed the actor to do just that. Mark shared that the last few frames of the shot cut from the film showed De Niro (always in character) apparently licking the lens. Because of the compositional change, the shot became much more complex, involving hand drawn silhouettes of the actor allowing him to appear in front of the painting. Mark recalled that the shot took eight hours to execute, with a fan blowing on the camera motor that had to run at extremely slow speed to prevent it from burning out.

    Syd said that the older studio system allowed for tremendous care and planning to create the seamless shots that appear in the film. One thing he shared with the current generation of matte painters is to always remember that the Earth only has one sun and one horizon line. Adhering to these facts is essential to create a believable and realistic painting.

    Bill related that lighting De Niro on fire was accomplished by a stunt double. The principal actor pretended to be on fire with nothing more than interactive light hitting the set. At a later date, a stunt double dressed in black against a black background, was set on fire and photographed. The stuntman mimicked De Niro’s performance and the footage of the animated flames were then composited over De Niro.

    In closing, Bill shared the value of control and advocated that shooting the real thing as much as is possible, limits variables and allows the image to remain based in reality.

    Thanks Syd and Bill for sharing a master’s approach for creating seamless visual effects shots in a classic film!

    mark sawicki

    NYFA Instructor Mark Sawicki (left) with Bill Taylor and Syd Dutton.

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    October 7, 2014 • 3D Animation, Guest Speakers • Views: 9174

  • Australian Animation Students Learn Stopmotionpro at NYFA LA

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    animation models

    Our student friends from “down under” had a real Los Angeles experience this past week, as Co-Chair of Animation Mark Sawicki gave a lecture on the use of stop motion in fantasy films. Mark screened excerpts from the works of Willis O’Brien such as Lost World 1925 and King Kong 1932. Mark then went on to show the work of Ray Harryhausen, who set the stage for many of the modern fantasy films we see today like Mighty Joe Young (1949) and Jason of the Argonauts (1963). The talk concluded with the amazing fight sequence from Dragonslayer (1981) which showcased the technique of go-motion that allowed the blurring of motion with stop motion puppets all before the advent of CGI dinosaurs in Spielberg’s modern classic, Jurassic Park.

    What made the lecture all the more memorable was that concurrent with the talk, Mark held an “Ani-jam,” where each student had 5 minutes to animate an object before passing it on to the next student to take over the sequence. In this way, the students not only learned the history of stop motion but experienced the process as well by doing it. The animation was all the more special as they used the Australian software Stopmotionpro, famous for its use on the Wallace and Gromit animated films.

    Both Mark and the students had a ton of fun and turned out several seconds of animation in a very short time. After the event, it was off to Universal Studios for our guests to share another New York Film Academy adventure!

    The New York Film Academy in Los Angeles offers short term workshops and one year programs, as well as BFA degrees in Animation.

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    October 6, 2014 • 3D Animation • Views: 4355

  • Making Magic at NYFA

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    virtual stage

    Director of Photography Yan Rymsha composes the shot of Sawicki playing the giant.

    The students in my Cine 810 class in visual effects cinematography outdid themselves recently by shooting a mock Solar Power commercial complete with miniatures and size scaled performers. Originally, the plan was to have the concept take place during the day but director of photography student Yan Rymsha suggested that it take place at night with mysterious film noir lighting.

    I loved the idea and modified the script just before the shoot. The principal photography took place on a green screen stage in Hollywood and is an example of a poor man’s virtual set. The miniature and myself (playing the giant) was set up at one end of the stage and was shot with a Red Epic A camera. Colin Meyer, playing the solar panel owner, was shot in the same room simultaneously with a Red Epic B camera, using the same focal length lens as the A camera. This enabled the performances and camera angles to be synchronized very easily.

    To “pre viz” the shots a Panasonic AS50S switcher was used to do a rough video composite between the two cameras to make sure the critical alignment was spot on. The crew also used an Atomos Ninja recorder to record the output of the switcher for editing purposes. The giant coin prop was created by sticking a blow up photo of a coin on a film can and having Colin pick it up off of a C-stand. Animation of the giant’s hand holding the coin was then executed in After Effects to link up with the prop coin that Colin picked up at just the right frame. The shoot took all of a fun filled eight hour day. Post compositing was executed in After Effects and saved in our database of real world exercises. The students and I had a lot of fun shooting the project and we look forward to developing more virtual stage projects here at NYFA Los Angeles.

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    July 25, 2014 • 3D Animation, Cinematography • Views: 4021

  • How to Make a Better Zombie Movie

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    world war z animators

    Our students and World War Z fans got a special treat this past Saturday at a New York Film Academy Animation School event where they were introduced to the “pre-viz” team that planned out the remarkable visuals for the blockbuster horror film. “Pre-viz” stands for pre-visualization and it is an invaluable technique for planning out complex sequences to not only visualize what a film will look like using CGI but keep costs down as well. Brian Pohl, a leading pre-viz artist and one of the founding members of the pre-viz society, was our host and moderator for the afternoon.

    We began with an enlightening discussion of the time honored art of storyboarding, presented by artist Robbie Consing. Working closely and quickly with a director to create storyboards is the start of the process. Robbie made mention that as an artist he not only has to work fast but also quickly discern what each individual director means when he or she describes a shot. A tilt up may be described as a “pan up” and the artist will need to understand and accommodate what the director means in order to move the process along. Robbie also shared some marvelous pre-production matte painting mock ups of set ideas that enhanced existing locations.

    animation wwzOur next speaker, Dan Gregoire is one of the founding partners of Halon the company that executed the pre-viz for the film. Dan mentioned that to sell a film today directors are making use of the technology to also make a “pitch-viz” to use as a marketing tool for showing the proof of concept to a studio. The students were shown the chilling pitch-viz for WW Z which was met with a round of applause at its conclusion. Mr. Gregoire continued by sharing his experience of going on location to scout the locations used from all over the world while taking extensive notes and recording video with a GoPro. Dan said that while the GoPro may have seemed overkill the production always came to him later wanting to know about some little detail they missed, but he hadn’t. The images shot on location are used to provide texture maps for the CGI settings in pre-viz. Dan went on to say that pre-viz was invaluable in planning out set construction and letting production know exactly how much green screen was needed for the shoot. Construction is a very expensive proposition and pre-viz undoubtedly saved many thousands of dollars by supplying excellent preplanning.

    Our next speaker was co owner of Halon Brad Alexander who shared many chilling videos of performance tests for zombie movement in which he and his team were often performers. This entailed people acting like zombies while walking or standing up to making running leaps at dummies and biting them viciously. These reference videos were used to provide guidance when animating the CGI characters. Brad mentioned that Halon could work around the clock taking advantage of time zones. Brad would share notes via the Internet from Dan who was just ending his workday in Madrid, and Brad would start his day after the call acting upon those instructions and be ready with dailies for Dan when he started the next day.

    The final speaker was Patrick Ready owner of Digilab who stressed the importance of data wrangling in this tech heavy production pipeline. What came as a surprise was that Patrick is responsible for saving and cataloging all the images from the camera and then after that process “erasing” the files from the cameras hard drive so that it could be used again for the next shoot. You can’t make a mistake there!

    At the end of the presentation, a robust Q & A followed from a long line of fascinated audience members. Our guests and the pre-viz society drove the point home that pre-viz is here to stay and a valuable part of the film making process.

    Special thanks to Juniko Moody co-chair of NYFA Animation along with Clayton Shanks and Brian Pohl of the pre-viz society for making this up to the minute look at current movie practices possible. We hope to see them again soon!

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    July 9, 2014 • 3D Animation, Guest Speakers • Views: 4879

  • NYFA Meets the Hollywood Monster Makers

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    Terminator

    On June 11th, the New York Film Academy Animation department hosted an anniversary screening of The Terminator (1984) to a full house. The film remains exciting as ever as evidenced by the thunderous applause during the end credits. After the film, co-chair of animation Mark Sawicki moderated a panel of artists who created the amazing effects for the film. Guest artists and Oscar nominees Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant were character creators and puppeteers of the Terminator robot for the film. The Terminator was the first film they worked on with the legendary Stan Winston. Upon Winston’s passing in 2008, Shane and John co-founded the Legacy studio to carry on the tradition of excellent character creation and practical effects work on such films as Aliens, Predator, Jurassic Park and Iron Man. Also joining the event was guest artist Ernest Farino who was responsible for the main title and graphics work on the picture. Mark Sawicki worked with Ernest as an optical consultant to help devise the look and procedures to generate the robot’s eye view or Termovision. Ernest is a two time Emmy winner for visual effects and is now directing.

    The group shared marvelous stories from the movie such as rubbing honey into the make up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face to attract a freshly refrigerated fly as it woke from its frozen slumber. Another trick shared by Ernest was a shot of Arnold pushing his fist through the windshield of a moving car. This was accomplished with a stationary car with a mechanical battering ram in the shape of Arnold’s fist. The illusion of movement was created by having a truck drive by with a fake wall of plastic bricks attached to its side. The bricks moving quickly behind the stationary car made it appear that the car was moving quickly past a static wall as the fake hand shattered the windshield.

    Terminator posterBoth Shane and John emphasized the importance of story and sticking to reality to create believable effects. John said that to make a believable dinosaur you have to obey the laws of physics and have a two-ton dinosaur move with heft and weight and not fly around like a bumblebee.

    After an engaging discussion of trends and techniques, the panel was open to questions from the audience. Many students asked what it was that made older practical effects more appealing than today’s CGI. Shane suggested that in the past horror and fantasy films were overlooked as small pictures and the filmmakers had much more freedom to entertain happy accidents or try bold lighting and other techniques. Today’s multi million dollar blockbusters have a great deal at stake and much more input is given from not only the studios but other large franchises like McDonald’s who use movies as cross promotional vehicles. One student compared older effects to gleaming silver while CGI was more like polished steel. Mark mentioned that lighting is very difficult to mimic in a virtual environment and can create the impression the student mentioned but there are ways to improve upon it such as the use of HDRI imagery to light the CGI characters. John pointed out that CGI could be exceptional if done well with attention to detail and dedication to realism as exampled by Jurassic Park.

    There was a great deal of interest among students to either pursue the field as artists or make use of these tried and true techniques as directors in their own right.
    The event wrapped up with our guests receiving complimentary gift bags from NYFA as they graciously autographed their names to The Terminator poster that will soon adorn the halls of our school.

    Thank you Shane, John and Ernest for inspiring us all and reminding us all about the importance of story and characters!

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    June 13, 2014 • 3D Animation, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 5014

  • Space Effects Seminar at NYFA LA

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    Mark Sawicki

    Co-chair NYFA LA Animation, Mark Sawicki

    To celebrate the Oscar winning work of the ground breaking film Gravity, Co-Chair of the Animation Department at NYFA Los Angeles, Mark Sawicki was invited to give a lecture on Space Effects used throughout cinema history. Mark started with a fond look back at a 1950’s Ray Harryhausen picture 20 million Miles to Earth and outlined rear projection methodology. The next exploration were effects techniques used in the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey that is still an undisputed milestone in space recreation. Made in the 60s, Kubrick’s masterpiece made clever use of sets, wire work, mirrors and miniatures, along with pioneering motion control techniques. From here Mark skipped forward to Apollo 13, where actual weightlessness was filmed, and then on to  From the Earth to the Moon where Mark himself had a roll as Co-Effects Supervisor. Mark outlined how Earth to Moon made use of both miniatures and computer graphics. In conclusion, Mark explained how the amazing effects used in Gravity were based on the tried and true techniques of the past, but executed with current digital precision.

    As a special treat, Mark put the students in the drivers seat on the second day by walking them through the step by step process of how one can take clip art from the Internet and create a realistic animation using the same ideas executed in 2001, except with the ease and access of Photoshop and After Effects.

    A grand time was had by all!

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    April 8, 2014 • 3D Animation • Views: 3799

  • Our Guide to the Best Apps for Aspiring Filmmakers

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    Useful Apps

    With the rise of apps through smart phones and tablet devices, visual storytellers of all stripes have more tools with which to complete a project than ever before. At times, an aspiring filmmaker or photographer can get downright overwhelmed by the sheer volume of useful apps out there. In order to help our students, alumni, and other creative individuals navigate the world of visual storytelling apps, we have launched our Useful Apps resource page where we highlight and review the best and most useful applications currently available. Whether you’re looking to work on a script while on the train or have a quick reference guide for a theatre production, we’ve put together the best apps in the following categories.

    • Filmmaking Apps: As any filmmaker will tell you, there can be sometimes more to keep track of on a film shoot than one person can reasonably handle. To facilitate this, our filmmaking apps cover a wide range of the facets from filmmaking, from location scouting to film scheduling and much more.
    • Photography Apps: With more and more people using their smart phones’ or tablets’ cameras to create original pieces of art, our list of photography apps provide the tools one needs to manipulate and perfect his or her images while gaining greater control over his or her camera.
    • Editing Apps: Though most tend to think of film or photo editing as involving sitting in front of a desktop computer for hours on end, we’ve assembled a number of digital editing apps that allow you to piece together your footage or images quickly and effectively, wherever you might be.
    • Animation Apps: Animators looking for new and inexpensive tools to bring their stories to life can find a world of possibilities in our highlighted animation apps, from time-lapse apps perfect for assembling stop-motion animation to creating original animated films on your smart phone or tablet.
    • Theatre Apps: When putting on a piece of theatre or musical theatre, there are countless variables—from set design to lighting to organizing a cast—that one can now control from his or her smart phone with ease.
    • Screenwriting Apps: As any screenwriter can attest, one can never plan on when a good idea might arise. With our list of screenwriting apps, writers can now guarantee that they can always put their ideas down even if they are away from their computers while also being able to work on a screenplay from any location.
    • Acting Apps: From memorizing lines to rehearsing scenes, there are a number of useful and effective apps available for actors to make their jobs all the easier.

    Regardless of the field you are in, click here to view our list of useful apps that will help to simplify and facilitate your future creative endeavors.

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  • VIEW Conference 2014 Contests

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    View Conference 2014 Turin, Italy 14-17 Oct

    Here are some exciting opportunities for our 3D Animation and Game Design students to not only have their projects reach a wider audience, but also win an award! VIEW Conference, an annual international computer graphics conference, has announced a series of contests for 2014 aimed at both students and non-students.

    Firstly, the VIEW Award 2014 is open to any filmmaker who has made an animated short film using 2D/3D animation and VFX in the past two years. Filmmakers can choose to submit in the following categories: Best Short, Best Design, Best Character, and Best Digital Visual Effects. The deadline for submission is August 31, 2014 and the award for first prize is 2,000 Euros.  More information can be found here.

    For those filmmakers interested in using their art to address social issues, this year sees the creation of the VIEW Social contest aimed at artists who have created a 2D/3D or VFX animated feature, short, music video, and piece of advertising with a focus on social themes in 2013 and 2014. Applicants can submit in the categories of Best Gameplay, Best Art Design, Best Architecture, and Best Music by August 31, 2014 to compete for a grand prize of 1,000 Euros. Learn more here.

    Emerging game designers have the chance to submit their original video games by September 15, 2014 in the categories of Best Gameplay, Best Art Design, Best Architecture, and Best Music. View more here.

    For anyone who has a passion for comics, another new addition to this year’s conference is the VIEW Comics Contest in which applicants are encouraged to create an original comic based on a previous edition of the conference. The deadline for entries is August 31, 2014 and entrants will compete for a 500 Euro prize. Discover more here.

    Finally, for those either from Italy or interested in telling stories about Italy, the ITALIANMIX competition welcomes works across genres and visual forms that, if chosen, will be included in the program for VIEWFest 2014.

    So if you’re looking for a platform to showcase your work and win an award, consider submitting today.

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    February 26, 2014 • 3D Animation, Film Festivals, Game Design • Views: 5054

  • NYFA Grad Animates Instagram

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    Yet again, while scoping the Internet, we stumbled across another talented New York Film Academy Animation graduate. Eliska Podzimkova, who studied here in the summer of 2012, created a very innovative Instagram page called eliskap (formerly animateNY). Though she now resides in Prague, Eliska, like so many of our students, fell in love with New York City during her studies. Her admiration and nostalgia for the city inspired her to create the page in which she offers followers the chance to put her ‘personal touch’ on their image, if they hashtag #animateNY.

    Being that we had an “in” with Eliska (she went to our school), we were fortunate enough to have her collaborate with us on an image. We hope this will be the first of many collaborations as we’re huge fans of her creative work! Be sure to follow the New York Film Academy on Instagram to see more of Eliska’s work and other happenings at the school.

    animateNY NYFA Grad

    animation by Eliska Podzimkova

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    February 20, 2014 • 3D Animation, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4211

  • Which Software Does NYFA Animation Use for Modeling?

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    NYFA Animation

    Robert Appleton lecturing to his Animation students

    Over the past few years there have been huge leaps and bounds in the development of modeling software, especially for us folks doing organic modeling– such as monsters, animals and other strange creatures!

    At the New York Film Academy Animation School we have traditionally based our organic and hard surface modeling on Maya software. Maya is pretty much an industry standard and is used at places like Pixar Studios, who work intimately with Autodesk, the developers of Maya software, to constantly refine and improve its abilities.

    More recently, we have introduced ZBrush for high-end organic and hard surface modeling. I especially enjoy using it for concepting – by that I mean quickly sketching in 3-D format ideas for characters and environments.

    ZBrush is not for everybody because it’s quite a steep learning curve, and it is very different from traditional modeling software. I often tell my students that it was probably created by a race of insectoid aliens! That said, it is incredibly powerful and well worth the time invested in learning it, if you are interested in CG modeling for a profession or if you intend to make it a significant part of your 3-D focus.

    We are also using Mudbox as I and many other fellow professionals believe it to be superior for texturing, especially in relationship to Zbrush. The reason being, Zbrush paints individual polygons, which means that the model has to be divided up into many millions of polygons in order to achieve the desired resolution for creating a texture map. This is in contrast to Mudbox, which does not need the surface to be divided up into such small units, and is more efficient for texture painting.

    For smaller studios, especially in New York, Mudbox may be more frequently used (even for modeling). Mudbox is more user friendly (the hotkeys and user interface are very similar to those in Maya) and is much easier to learn. In the long run, these are just tools and it is a person using those tools that really makes the big difference. Ultimately, I am content to let my students choose the software they wish to use in order to create the models they require for their projects.

    -Robert Appleton, Chair of NYFA Animation School

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    February 5, 2014 • 3D Animation • Views: 3669