Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Slow and Steady

One of my goals for my sabbatical project is to fill in the gaps I have from learning 3D modeling and other techniques on the fly as I've needed certain pieces for projects.  So I've been methodically working through video tutorial courses on, and finally understanding how to, for example, make my own UV map to be able to apply my own texture to a complex mesh object with less distortion.  It's been hit or miss in the past, and I'm glad to have a finer degree of control over how objects look.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

And that settles that: Thoughts on Sabbatical Process

About an hour ago, I was about to make some notes on the reading I'm doing today, the classic Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics by Maureen Furniss.  I'm working through some classic animation texts and also some newer work.  I wondered, should I make notes in my sketchbook, by hand, or on the computer? Maybe on this blog? What should my process be, and who are the notes for?  I know that I would be slower and more self-conscious if they are on the blog, and decide they are only for me.  I think I would probably work slower if typing, but the notes would be more useful in the long run if typed and digital (easy to pop into notes for writing, future lectures, class materials, etc.).  Maybe it would be more enjoyable to write by hand in the notebook, where I also sketch, and then type what I need to later, but would I ever type them later?

Anyway, I sat down at my computer, and here it is an hour later.  I've gone through email, joined Women in Animation, and various other things that I wouldn't call unproductive BUT that are NOT notes on Furniss.  Would I have been just as distracted by my sketchbook?  Is my propensity to be distracted the issue here, or have I fallen into the habits I've formed when I sit behind my desk at my computer?  I'm trying to create a sensible, creative practice for myself for my sabbatical project that includes the reading program, some writing, some animation tutorials, and some animation-making, in varying proportions on different days of the week, so there is structure to my days and weeks, and I can accomplish over time what I've planned.  Part of the challenge is figuring out how to implement.

Whatever the reason for the failure to make some simple notes, the result is my decision to move away from the computer for the short term at least.   If I decide I need the digital form, maybe I'll try a laptop someplace the than my desk, or taking the notes on a tablet.  I'll probably continue to use this blog for weekly or biweekly progress notes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September 1: Sabbatical Officially Begins!

It feels like the last days of summer vacation, still a few days away from Labor Day weekend and my kids' school starting, but it is indeed the official start date of my sabbatical.

Last Thursday was the final class meeting of the Animation course at the MFA.  It was an excellent whirlwind 5-week introduction to traditional animation techniques. We used the class time to make our animations, so they were short, and there were more/other things I would have done for each had I been working on my own time, but it was also great to push through the cut-out animation (2 sessions) and also the claymation stop-motion technique.  Being able to use the camera setup was also terrific and helped me focus on the animation.  I had very little sense as I was doing it, though, what I would get as a result.  Maybe that's what experience gives you as you get used to the medium in which you're working.

Here is my cut-out animation, and I'll post the stop-motion claymation one when I have the file.

The idea is that the robots have time traveled to the 1920s.

When I was on the Cape last week, I found some great rocks that I thought I could use in my claymation animation, and so instead of working with the bots again for this, it has a sea theme.  Here are some pictures of the puppets.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sabbatical Project Update 2: Cut-out Animation in Progress

In class session #3, I began shooting the animation.  Over the week, as I worked with the digital images I had of my bots and the Dover clip art flappers that intrigued me, a crazy plot emerged that combined them both.  I spent way too much time looking for, then trying to make, then finding a photo, then trying to draw, then printing at the correct size . . . an art deco background for the animation.  This project blends traditional and digital techniques (rather than using found images and collaging them as is), because it relies on scaling and modifying the images digitally (although it could have been done with a photocopier).   

As I made decisions about the story the animation would tell, it became clear to me that if I had a specific story in mind, I had to make the assets or spend way more time hunting for images in more specific magazines or books than I had, and so I made them.  Fiddling with them in Photoshop led to other ideas, like making scaling integral to the story.   If I were to do another cut-out animation, I would scour used book sales for material, or let the story emerge from the assets I found.  Another thing I'd like to try is to use hand-drawn elements in the background (which I did for a virtual art installation to good effect).   

My awesome teacher Tim McCool set up the camera and my background and cut-outs on the copy stand and helped me see how much to move the objects for each frame.  It's challenging to imagine what the animation will look like as I slowly move the cut-outs according to my storyboard sketches.   No automatic tweening here!

Check out, which may be the most clever webpage I've ever seen.

We'll finish shooting the animation next week.  I've been listening to 20s music for just the right choice, but the traditional animation process is so different from how I would do this digitally, which is to animate to sound.  Moving the legs of  the robot dancing the Charleston was guesswork, and I know from doing digital animation of dance, how precise it can be.  So I am very curious how it will turn out!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sabbatical Project Update 1: Animation Studio Art Course at MFA

My sabbatical doesn't officially start until September, but I'm getting a jump start on it this summer.  Last night was the second week of the Animation course I'm taking at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The first week, we did some hand-drawn animation, and last night started cut-out animation.

Terry Gilliam of course is the master of that form, and because his failed attempt to make a film of Don Quixote features so prominently in my What Is Being? course, that is my primary association with his work, in addition to the animations in Monty Python.   Since 2010, every time I google Gilliam and Don Quixote, I find a relatively new mention of the film project.  Today's is

Gilliam's choice to make a live action film of Quixote instead of an animation is interesting.  All of the problems that plagued his film production, from uncooperative weather to injured actors, don't exist in animation.   But the challenge for him is to make the live action film.

For me, animation is plenty quixotic.  As I embark on taking what has become easy for me to do digitally into puppetry, actual world installation, and now traditional animation, I am continually confronted by pesky physics, the lack of the undo function, and my limited abilities to manipulate physical materials.  But I'm curious to see what my bots from HouseSmarts will do as cut-outs and claymation figures.
Two of my bots, and an art deco person 

Cut-out animation character and background possibilities

Saturday, February 28, 2015

12 Core Principles of Game Design

I've been thinking about Game Design Principles and although it seems arbitrary to list a dozen, as opposed to 100 (see Wendy Despain's book), or thirteen (see Matt Almer in Gamasutra), here are my essential twelve.  There are of course many more, and some of them are more fundamental than others, and have sub-principles.  But, not in order of importance, here they are, offered as a place to start, rather than any kind of end point.

PRINCIPLE 1: Use design thinking
The iterative process of design thinking, in which we understand who is going to use what we design, then come up with ideas, prototype, test, and revise, is an approach that focuses each stage of the process where it needs to be.

PRINCIPLE 2: Create meaningful play
This fundamental principle refers to Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's approach to game design in The Rules of Play, and everything else flows from it.  All your design choices have to result in meaningful experiences for the player.

PRINCIPLE 3: Use player expectations and knowledge from genre and style
Work with, and play with, what's come before, because your player will.  You can go against those expectations, but do so from a place of knowledge.  And of course, not all players will be familiar with genre and style, and your game has to meaningful to them, too.

PRINCIPLE 4: Focus on the player experience
This is as fundamental as it gets, and it's a reminder that your journey as the designer may be the means, but it's  not the end.

PRINCIPLE 5: Consider aesthetics
Always remember the aesthetic experience of your game, and make it beautiful (or cute, or shocking, or ugly) as suits your game.

PRINCIPLE 6: Focus on behavior
Games are about doing, so how the player--and all the objects and characters--behave is central.

PRINCIPLE 7: Shape the arc of your game
Not all games have story, but they should all have an arc, a shape to the experience.

PRINCIPLE 8: Create spatial awareness
Whether 2D or 3D, abstract or realistic, each game represents space in a certain way, and how you create a sense of gamespace for your player is an important part of the game experience.

PRINCIPLE 9: Think of the player in terms of relationships
Your player is in relationship with others, whether they are characters and other components of your game, other players, or other people in social networks and in life.

PRINCIPLE 10: Design for flow experience
This is another fundamental principle, because it addresses the holy grail of optimal experience, including designing a game with a good balance between challenge and boredom, and an experience that the player want to keep having.

PRINCIPLE 11: Test your game on others
An essential step in design thinking is testing on potential users, getting feedback, and then revising the design based on the feedback.  You can't be the only one who playtests the game, unless you plan on being the only player.

PRINCIPLE 12: Imagine the future
The newest, hottest games are the end result of the designs from the past, so in order to innovate and design something original, you need to think about the future.  What do you think and want gaming to be like? Design for that.

These are my core principles of Game Design, each of which are umbrellas for sub-principles. 

updated 12 March 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

ShadowLoop 2015

Pictures from ShadowLoop interactive media art installation, January 2015.  See: ShadowLoop page