Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Men" and "Munich"

The Men Who Would Be King chronicles the inception of Dreamworks in the early 1990s and its fall and reorganization just a year ago.

Munich is one of the last films Spielberg made under the umbrella of the old Dreamworks.

Having finished reading the former, I had a hankering desire to view the latter. (Trust me, it all makes sense.)
Men is essential reading for those who enjoy keeping up with the endless circus of Hollywood hubris and power plays, or put more simply: film buffs and anyone that enjoys ruining rose-colored glasses.
I could write essays about this book; about why Dreamcast failed to live up to expectations, what drove the three giants behind the company (filmmaker Steven Spielberg, animation pro Jeffrey Katzenberg, and multi-billionaire music mogul David Geffen).
I won't. I had some drinks and I'd like to sleep.
But I will say that I sympathize with Spielberg (yes, I had to put that image in here, shut up you know it's cute)
especially the chapter on Munich, when it was blasted in the press, and he was accused of everything from elitism to making a film that was essentially anti-Isreali (it wasn't). The movie follows a group of Isreali assassins on a mission to avenge the slayings at the 1972 Olymics in Munich. I won't go into a review here, though there's much to praise and a couple of things that bug me. I will say that the movie was beautiful to watch, from the rich retro sepia tones to the often heartbreaking performances. Technically, there are marvels in terms of camera work as well.
When I was young, I was afraid that watching the behind-the-scenes of movies on VHS or TV would ruin the magic. Now, having followed the logical course (BTS on VHS leads organically and naturally through film school) I can safely say that it has NOT. However, when I see a shot where a camera is tracking focus on a character's reflection in a car's window, only to pull focus to a character beyond the glass inside the car, then to pull focus back to the reflection passing by, all the while keeping lighting on all subjects perfect and making it all look effortless, I can't help but shake my head and want to high-five Spielberg or cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.

Monday, January 24, 2011


If you desire many things, many things will seem few.
-Benjamin Franklin

In the run of my current project I have the opportunity to create a bust of America's first great lothario-philosopher-enterpreneur, Ben Franklin.

I started out by researching statues and busts of Franklin (in-between bouts of Youtube clips of Tom Wilkinson's amazing Franklin from John Adams) and quickly realized I actually have quite a bit of artistic freedom, since even the great statues and paintings don't necessarily see eye to eye, regarding what Franklin looked like. Nevertheless, I started by researching...

Benjamin Franklin busts.

My favorite is the second, from Lundeen. I like the witty facial expression. I can't afford a bust that probably costs several grand, but that's one I would totally buy.

The next images outline steps in the process. First, a very rough shape of the bust is created. And I do mean ROUGH. You just need to have a very basic starting mesh to begin your sculpt.

Afterward, the head was brought into Mudbox and the fun begins. Thanks to a pressure-sensitive Wacom tablet, slowly but surely, Franklin's face begins to peak out of the polygonal mess. I begin by adjusting the biggest features and work down to smaller and smaller details, increasing the polygonal resolution of the head as I go to accommodate the smaller and smaller details. By the time I reach the final images, the model weighs in at about 4.5 million polygons.

A little bit too "evil emperor Franklin"...

...much better.

The final render was straight from Mudbox, which actually outputs some very pretty imagery thanks to the Ambient Occlusion and Depth of Field and Lighting and Tone control, all in real time. The next step will be to export a reasonably dense mesh to 3ds max, export the finer details as a displacement map, and export the very tiniest bits, like eyebrows, as a bump map. That's a project for another day!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

After Effects Dilly-Dally

"Tell your wife it's After Effects time!"
- Andrew Kramer, videocopilot.net

Not a problem, not married. Anywho, I've recently taken to just playing and having fun in After Effects, not for any particular project but because I learn best when I play or have fun. It's true for my 3D work, when I've got a camera in hand, and when I'm sitting at my computer, compositing. So here's a few projects I've been working with, along with a short description.

I found the image above during some random internet search, I don't even remember what I was looking for at the time. The flare, the different layers of clouds, the deep gradient of blue in the background, is just amazing. So the other day I decided to try to recreate it. I haven't finished it, but for now, what I've got is below. The clouds are two 3D layers with fractal noise and the blacks punched out, rest is a gradient and a lens flare. I'm going to set it up so that I can animate the camera, as if we are seeing through the eyes of a person sitting on a plane, and it will still work. No perspective tricks, the clouds will move, etc.

Another random internet image. Again, no idea where it originated. But the clouds there looked so strange and surreal I sat down and tried to recreate it. A short while later, the image below is the result. The clouds are all procedurally generated with masks and displacement and noise effects. Additionally, the clouds move and roll above the city. Movies > stills, so I rock!

The video below is a project test for a patented dollar bill cannon. Because if you got a ton of chedda, you should blow it out of an air cannon. I may or may not use it in the Anthony Bryant music video (in production currently, see blog entries below). A limitation of the After Effects particles is that they themselves cannot (to my current knowledge, at least) deform, bend, or fold. Maybe it doesn't matter, since the effect is so ludicrous anyway.

That's it. Just some AE fun that may or may not come to anything. Thanks for watching!