Thursday, 26 January 2012

Texturing/Shading: Wood Grain

Just tried out adding a wood grain in maya using the 'Wood Grain' 3D texture.

Once I get this working well I will apply it to the wooden 'writer' character - but as the little boy model is further along I'm using that one for now to test things on.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Reflection on Practice: Developing Critical Thinking

Creating a Mood of Suspense

Using the Reflective Critique Model I've analysed a sequence from Sid's Room in Toy Story 1 to look at how a mood of fear and suspense can be created.

In summary I felt that the director, John Lasseter, was successful as the sequence was genuinely creepy (thought at a level appropriate for an animated film aimed at a young audience). A number of techniques were used which are common to scary sequences across film and TV.


Visibility and Vulnerability: 

Overall, watching the sequence I got the feeling that making the hero appear vulnerable is one of the key factors in creating fear and suspense and a number of ways in which this is done are outlined below. 

One technique that has been used really effectively to make Woody seem vulnerable is his exposure and visibility. He is very visible whilst threats lurk unseen in the shadows and has a large open space in front of him that he needs to cross to get back to safety. In crossing this he would be in clear sight for whatever’s lurking in the shadows, but wouldn’t be able to see them. Woody also uses a torch: unfortunately whilst this only illuminates a limited field of vision for him it makes him far more conspicuous to anyone watching. Overall, we get the sense that the hero is very visible and exposed, whilst the monster has the advantage of watching things unfold and this seems an important trick when trying to generate fear and suspense.

This sense of visibility when your opponents remain hidden can also be found in a sequence from Hitchcock's Psycho. 

Here Aborgast, the detective, is permanently at a disadvantage when it comes to visibility. He treads the well-lit path to the house, which is in shadows, and his opponent always has the better vantage point in the form of a house on a hill, a clear view of the door as Abergast enters the house, and a room at the top of a staircase. 

Another thing that both sequences do to emphasise the hero’s vulnerability is to plays on the idea that we don’t know exactly where the danger lies. This is done extensively in Toy Story, sinister noises come from all angles, a dark shape flits in front of camera in one corner of the room, and a yoyo rolls out of the shadows from another. 

Hitchcock uses a similar technique, though to a lesser extent, when Abergast enters the house and his gaze flits from hall, to doorway, to stairs as he tries to decide where his quarry might be lurking. 

Finally, both sequences use camera angle and physical positioning of the protagonists to generate fear. 

Hitchcock makes extensive use of high camera angles to make his hero appear small and vulnerable, and underscores this by placing Aborgast physically below the threat at all times (the house, the front door and the bedroom where “mother” hides are all up flights of stairs). 

This approach is also evident in Toy Story, though to a much lesser extent. The shot where the yoyo rolls out is filmed from Woody eye level and, when combined with clever set dressing, emphasises his small stature and vulnerability. Later, in the sequence where the mutant baby rises up in front of Woody the vertical position of the baby has been cheated in the reverse shots to make it look as though he is towering over Woody, increasing the sense of threat. 

Other techniques for inducing fear: 

Having discussed different ways to make the hero feel vulnerable I will now go on to outline some of the other techniques that I noticed which all combine to create a sense of threat and fear. 

Lighting: The Toy Story sequence is shot with low light and “noiry” shadows – a classic ploy which plays on our instinctive fear of the dark 

The environment is full of creepy things, which hint at macabre and sinister goings on. Lasseter draws our attention to these with a long POV shot which not only showcases the scary environment but also puts us into Woody’s shoes, making us emphasise with his fear. 

The sound effects are typically scary, full of creaks, squeaks, and shrieks. Sound is also used to disorientate both the viewer and the hero: threatening noises seems to come from a number of different angles, creating a sense of vulnerability and suspense as we wonder where the monster lurks. 
The music is a combination of suspenseful and action-packed, and moments of shock are marked by a crescendo of noise. The use of a nursery tune in a creepy context is also a classic ploy to generate fear (e.g. Omar, a stick up artist in The Wire, announces his presence before a raid by whistling the nursery rhyme The Farmer in the Dell).

Character design:
The design of the scary characters is brilliant; full of stuff that we innately find creepy – disfigured babies, spiders, disembodied limbs and strange modes of ambulation.

Shot where yoyo rolls into view shot from Woody’s POV and set dressing emphasises his small stature and vulnerability. Shot of mutant baby rising up: vertical position of mutant-baby has been cheated in the reverse shots to make his look as though he’s rising up to tower over woody, increasing the sense of threat.

Woody is lured into a false sense of security when he first sees the mutant baby, which exaggerates the shock of the reveal when he turns and shows his full face. 
Overall the action builds over the course of the scene starting with a couple of noises and a stray yoyo, and building up to mutant toys emerging from all angles in quick succession. 

Monster’s eye view: 
One trick that the Lasseter didn’t choose to make use of was the POV shot from the viewpoint of the “monster”. Often in a scary or suspenseful sequence you’ll have a couple of shots that look like they could be from the POV of the monster who is observing the hero. This definitely adds to the sense of vulnerability and the feeling that the odds are stacked against the hero and may be another thing to consider including in my piece. 

Relevance to my practice: 

Analysing the creation of fear and suspense in the Sid’s room’ sequence from Toy Story has given me much food for thought when going back to my own piece. A couple of things that I’d now like to try to work into my animation are listed below.

Lighting: dimming the lighting (by having a cloud pass across the sun?) would help change the mood from innocence to one of suspense. 

Environment Design: I’ll look at including some more macabre elements into my environment design, such as leaning buildings, creepy signs etc. 

I love the way that Lasseter disorients us (and Woody) by making it feels as though the threat could come from anywhere. I’d love to include a sense of this, and may play with things such as sounds coming from different angles, pub signs beginning to swing for no reason, glimpses of dark shapes flashing past etc. A darting POV shot as these things happen would encourage the viewer to empathise with the boy’s anxiety. 

One thing that neither Lasseter or Hitchcock used was the monsters-eye-view, making it feel as though the hero is being watched my a concealed enemy. However, I think that this is a really effective technique, and will experiment with including this when I get to the 3D blocking stage.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Look Development: Woolly Jumper Tests

Here are some very early tests for the woolly jumper worn by the boy. Textures are very provisional (the stripes were painted very roughly so I need to line them up properly with the UV map, and the wool was just plonked on as a uniform texture with no reference to the UV map at all!) but I think from these early tests that it has potential to look good with a little more time and effort.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Research: line art

Here's some of the reference that I've gathered for the "drawn" look that I want to emulate in the environments: