Monday, 27 April 2015

Sketches 17th - 23rd April

        Sorry for the lateness on this one. I spent part of the weekend trying to save a sketch from midway through the week after a cat peed on it, finally giving up on it yesterday.

 17th April pt1 - Character sketches for super secret project!

  17th April pt2 - Character sketches for super secret project!

 18th April - creepy freaky deaky thing...y. Not a whole lot to say here.

  19th April - Character sketches for super secret project!

20th April - Desolate mountainside. Background art ofr film project.

 21st April - Key frame animatic. The reason for the weird texture is due to file compression.


 21st April - more Keyframes, and some smooth animation. Need to add more movement to that cape.

22nd April - monster design. Again, nothing much to say.

Not an impressive week, huh...
Well, other than the painted background...

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Big Hero 6

                Back when the Oscars were announced, there was a bit of an uproar over the best animated feature list, noticeably that The Lego Movie was not listed, but Big Hero 6 (which wasn’t out yet) was nominated. The other films were How To Train Your Dragon 2 , Princess Kaguya (also not released at the time), Boxtrolls and Song of The Sea. So, did Big Hero 6 deserve the win against all of these films?

                Short answer – No.

                Big Hero 6 follows Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) as he attempts to recover from the death of his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) in a fire that also took the life of Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), the Head of Robotics at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. With the help of Tadashi’s creation Baymax (Scott Adsit), Hiro discovers that a masked villain is in hiding in San Fransokyo, who has stolen and is replicating the microbots that Hiro invented to get into the Institute of Technology (that were destroyed in the fire).
                Assuming that the masked villain is businessman Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), Hiro enlists the help of Tadashi’s friends GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr) and Fred (T.J. Miller) to form a superhero squad to take him down.
                Whilst the trappings of the film may be a rather generic superhero film, the core of the film is about Hiro recovering from Tadashi’s death, and this is the strongest part of the movie. As the film progresses, Hiro is gradually consumed by a need for vengeance, and his attempts to displace his grief and find another target for his emotions (by becoming a superhero, as you do). This core story is the best part of the story, and watching Hiro learn to accept his grief rather than use it as a motive of vengeance.
                Unfortunately, the rest of the film suffers from a wide variety of issues. To begin with, the opening act is incredibly long and drawn out, and repeatedly suffers from feeling too padded. This is especially not helped by the fact that the entire opening is spoiled by the basic synopsis of the movie – we know Tadashi is going to die, we know how, and we know that the microbots are stolen. About the only way you couldn’t know this is if you haven’t read the synopsis or seen any trailers – which is incredibly hard when Disney shoved this film down the throat of everyone on the internet.
                This weak opening then moves into a decent second act, only to be hampered by the rest of the film moving far too fast, whilst also dragging out any scene of Hiro and Baymax. The final climax out lives its welcome far too quickly, partially due to a forced and idiotic moment of tension where the team seemingly fails, but extends after the fight is over into what feels like the visual team simply creating pretty images to extend the runtime. The fact that is also a very similar fight scene to the one that preceded it not 15 minutes prior.
                The plot itself is rather bland. The identity of the villain is waved in your face early on, and is too blindingly noticeable not to be commentated on, and the villain’s motivation feels equally forced, and is hampered by a plan that apparently comes together in a matter of minutes, and is beyond overreaction (especially when logic is accounted for, and that the villain should be aware that scientific trials often go wrong and have a cost).
                The side characters are all rather bland beyond their initial introduction. Some side characters, such as Hiro’s Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) are missing for the rest of the film after the first third of the movie. Likewise, Krei is only ever mentioned after his first appearance and doesn’t reappear until the climax. The film feels unsure what to do with these characters, and simply opts not to do anything.
                This even effects the rest of the superhero team. Almost none of them have anything to do for much of the movement, and are also absent for a large chunk. Even when they become superheroes, they still don’t have much to do, and are mostly there as a brief distraction. This is actually much more annoying as it sounds, as this is one of the most diverse casts in an animated film of late, but they simply aren’t used.
                The film also has a very odd sound mix. Almost all of the sound effects are muted, robbing them of any impact. This is most notable when there’s an explosion, which are way too quiet and feel rather pathetic, lacking any real force. The music, likewise, seems to fade down or, on occasion, is too loud, drowning out some audio. It greatly weakens the overall effect of the movie, and is very bizarre when you consider how much love and effort went into the art.
                Speaking of, the films greatest claim to fame is simply how beautiful the film is. It’s a great showcase of CGI animation, and is absolutely gorgeous. The amount of effects work that has gone into this is amazing, especially when you see the microbots in action. This visual brilliance has also gone into the character designs, giving them all distinctive body shapes and silhouettes. Again, something of a shame that these characters are often wasted.
                Much of the film seems more of an extended piece for Baymax. Whilst Baymax’s lack of understanding of human issues can be mildly amusing, it’s never exceptionally interesting or anything new. Baymax ends up being just another prop in the movie that exist only to provide plot relevant messages from Tadashi.
                But the biggest issue with the film is just how bland it is. Other than the visuals and a relatively decent, if generic, core, the film offers nothing to its audience, it isn’t particularly funny, and it isn’t particularly fun. The drama suffers from going over overly familiar material without adding anything new or interesting.  
                Big Hero 6 isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t a good one either. It feels very safe, with Disney understanding that anything with superheroes will be successful. Unfortunately, it already has a much better, much more interesting film in the form of The Incredibles. 

         Oh, and its based on a Marvel series. Make of that what you will. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Sketches 10th April to 16th April

     Not a lot this week, nor anything particuarly great. This is because I ended up spenidng a lot of time focusing on a written project, and some of the sketches here are a part of this, so there's not going to be a whole lot of description for some of these.

 10th April - As I said, not a good sketching week. And yes, this was when the writting began. 

 April 11th pt1 - This was going to be a storyboard frame, then I changed it to a practise pose, then I never finished it. 

 April 11th pt 2: Practise of a pose from last weeks storyboards. Needed to make sure I can get the pose working in multiple dimensions.

 12th April - Facial expression sketches. These still need refining.

 13th April pt 1: Super secret project sketches. Character designs, focusing on hair.

 13th April pt 2: Super secret project sketches.Grappeling hook sketches.

 14th April - Trying to pin down the design and pose work for the mother character from the beginning of the year. I now have a frmework for her story, so I need to get the art assets down. I also need to work out how to open her story...

 15th April - More super secret sketches! Lead character design.

 16th April pt1 - Super secret thumbnail layouts!

16ht April pt 2 - Danny Sexband boxer pose practise for new Game Grumps animated. Need to work on the face.

One last thing...

Working out cape dynamics. The actual line art here was irrelevant, it was more about the motion. Still needs more work. 

Anyway, more next week. Hopefully better quality work.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Far Cry 3

                Yes, we’re going from Far Cry 1 to Far Cry 3. The reason I’m skipping 2 is because it sucks. Also, I can’t find my copy of it, and can’t be bothered to buy a new one.

                There’s something slightly brilliant about the Far Cry series. Each and every entry in the series has always been to show off the power and capabilities of the hardware of the time – 1 was to show off PC hardware, 2 was to show the power of the PS3 and 360 at launch, and 3 was to show what both were capable off in the last few years of their life cycle (4 was a showcase of PS4 and XBONE, if you wondered). As such, they are almost always are the forefront of gaming tech and innovation.
                That being said, there’s always room for improvement, and always room for criticism and praise, so let’s have a look at Far Cry 3!
                Jason Brody (Gianpaolo Venuta), his brother Grant (Lane Edwards) and Riley (Alex Harrouch), girlfriend Liza (Mylene Dinh-Robic) and friends Daisy (Natalie Brown), Keith (James A Woods) and Oliver (Kristian Hodko) are celebrating Riley getting his pilot license with a trip to Bangkok. From there, they’re invited to go skydiving over some nearby islands. Unfortunately, when they land they are taken captive by a local group of pirates led by the psychotic Vaas Montenegro (Michael Mando).
                With the help of Grant, Jason manages to escape, although Grant dies in the process. Jason is rescued by Dennis Rogers (Charles Malik Whitfield), a member of the local Rakyat tribe. Dennis promises that the tribe will help Jason if he agrees to free them from the menace of Vaas and the islands overlord Hoyt Volker (Steve Cumyn).
                Agreeing to help, Jason is introduced to Citra (Faye Kingslee), the queen of the Rakyat. Citra is not quite as convinced as Dennis, and so insists that Jason must become one of them in order to free the tribe, and forsake his friends.
                Gradually being caught between the two worlds, Jason is faced with insurmountable odds and a harsh choice to make. Just how far will he go to save his friends? And will he be able to live with what he has to do?

                I’m going to be slightly blunt here – Far Cry 3 does not open to a good note. The opening cutscene begins with a home-video of the group drinking and partying and acting like the spoilt rich kids they are, and very definitely not endearing themselves to the player. If it weren’t for the immediate contrast of Vaas’ insanity, the most obnoxious thing about the opening would be Jason and his friends.
                From here, the game moves to a stealth tutorial as you and Grant try to escape the prison camp you’re in. This is a decent segment, and gives you a good chance to learn the ropes, but unfortunately is a terrible story piece. If it wasn’t stated that the two characters were brothers, I honestly would have assumed they’d only just met. What’s more, Grant’s death is not a tragedy, as he is not a character at that point – it isn’t until much later in the game that we see much of Grant’s personality, and this is through flashback.
                Arguably, my experience of this opening scene may have been ruined by playing the much better ‘The Last of Us’ before this, which opens with similar circumstances. The key difference here is that ‘TLOU’ firmly establishes the victim to be, and their relationship with the main character before anything bad happens, and it makes for an incredibly tragic scene. Far Cry 3, on the other hand, is less interested in story than gameplay, which makes this much worse as this is a story based game.
                Much of the rest of the game’s plot suffers for the same reason – if we hadn’t been blatantly told the relationship between these characters, they all could be absolute strangers, and nothing would change. Liza is the one exception to this, as she is the only character that seems to have been written to be more than one dimensional – not that much more, but slightly more.
                It isn’t helped either by the fact that a lot of the game’s story beats are predictable and poorly implemented. This comes to a head in the final act, where too much of the plot is so blatantly obvious that I was surprised that Jason never comments on it.
                Even if we take the games plot in its broadest strokes, it still fails to show its overall theme. The game’s story is very much ‘Heart of Darkness’, in that the further from civilisation you go, the more isolated you are, the more deranged and barbaric you become. The game tries to exemplify this is Jason becoming gradually more violent and more willing to kill as the game progress… but it doesn’t work in an open world game. Actually, it doesn’t work in terms of story progression either, or in the cutscenes, as Jason goes from being a normal person to mass murderer almost instantly with no reaction to what’s happening.
                This is the key issue I have with the game. I understand that it is hard to have a shooting game where a character gradually becomes more violent and is upset by their actions (even the wonderful Tomb Raider reboot stumbled here), but it’s not as if it can’t be done. Point in case, Spec Ops: The Line.
                Spec Ops focuses on a trio of elite soldiers, who gradually become more barbaric over the course of their mission. As the game is a shooter, and these characters are soldiers, then it is assumed (correctly) that they kill before they start their descent. But the game still makes both the player and the character feel the regret and gravity of the situation, and the upsetting course that is taken, by both overt and introvert methods, such as making the player accidentally kill a civilian in the first level, or a turning point where you drop napalm onto the enemy and walk through the enemy ranks screaming in pain. This is how you create a shooter where the characters recoil from their actions – by actually making them react to their surroundings and making the player feel bad for what they’re doing.
                The story also has way too many moments where Jason is knocked unconscious, usually by someone hiding behind a door. This really takes you out of the game as it’s almost laughable after you’ve literally killed dozens of people only moments before (many of whom were hiding behind doors), and my personal play style usually involved clearing a room before I entered it. Usually with grenades.
                There’s also a weird trend for boss fights to be overly scripted, and slightly dull, abstract dream sequences that make no sense in or out of context. These hold several quicktime events, and are mostly just for the developers to show off the graphics and animation, and less about delivering a satisfying experience. Because they are not satisfying. If anything, they’re rather dull.
                I will say that the writing in Far Cry 3 is often laced with a comical edge to it, particularly in the more eccentric characters. This shines through in the journal that is very flippant (and notably written by someone other than the protagonist), and has some of the best writing in the game. It also has some of the most surprisingly serious moments of the game as well, and is perhaps the only part of the game where the game remembers its plot and themes.
                In all fairness, though, Far Cry 3’s plot is a damn sight better than many games on the market, and most other shooters. It just is overshadowed by other games that came before it (Spec Ops, Bioshock), the same time (Bioshock Infinite) and after it (TLOU).
                I will also note that the writer doesn’t seem to know the difference between creating interesting characters and memorable ones. Many of the individuals you meet in the game are all very eccentric, bizarre individuals, and all are very memorable. They aren’t interesting in the slightest, as they’re all underused and only exist to send you on missions, with their pasts only briefly mentioned in one-off journal updates. Again, better than a lot of games, but still not particularly great (and still fails when compared to the above list).
                Moving onto the gameplay then. Much of Far Cry 3 is a traditional shooter. But where it varies is the sheer scope of the game. Far Cry 3 is a sand-box game through and through, and you can spend much of your time running rampant around the world map, ignoring the story completely, and this is incredibly fun and the main selling point of the game.
                In a different take on the shooter genre, and in a reoccurring Far Cry staple, you can tag enemies via your camera (why you still have a camera with unlimited battery is never explained), allowing them to be seen at all times, letting you make a plan of action before attacking someone or something.
                Amongst the many things you can do on the islands, the main tasks are reclaiming radio towers and strongholds. Both of these unlock new content, and both free up areas on the map. Whilst radio towers are straight forward - climb the tower to reach the top – the strongholds can be taken however you want, whether that be by stealth, gunfights or unleashing animals upon them. Yes, you read that right.
                Far Cry 3 is filled with fauna, much of which would like to eat you. Thankfully, it also wishes to eat your enemies as well. If you’re careful you can lead the vicious animals to enemy bases, or, more often than not, you’ll find that they have one nearby in a cage. With a single shot, you can unleash the beasts upon the former captives, and delight in the chaos that follows.
                For example, I stumbled upon a stronghold where a Leopard was kept in a cage. There were about ten or so guards nearby, and I couldn’t pin down their movements accurately enough to snipe them without someone noticing. So, instead, I let the leopard out of the cage. In their blind panic, the guards set the base on fire and killed most of themselves in the process, with the Leopard getting almost all of the remaining guards before I had to fire a second shot. Afterwards, I simply had to cleanup the mess, so to speak.
                And things like that happen all the time. It makes the game a rather wonderful mix of chaos, and it’s occasionally nice to watch as the pirates are killed by nature. You can never be absolutely sure what will happen, and it makes Far Cry 3 such a pleasure to play.
                I should note that the game does reward different styles of play. Shooting rewards you for the type of enemy you kill and how you kill them, as well as combos. Stealth will reward you for clearing areas without being noticed. It’s a nice system that lets you play however you want and get experience either way.
                Experience lets you level up, and levelling up lets you buy perks. What a perk offers you varies immensely based on the discipline you choose, which is strength, stealth and mobility. These can drastically change how you play and offer you more bonuses for using unlocked moves.
                You can also upgrade weapons and equipment.  By killing animals, you can skin them for hides which can be used to make new equipment, such as bandoliers and holsters. You can also purchase upgrades for guns to change up how they function to suite your style.  More weapons can be unlocked by taking strongholds or radio towers, or by buying them.
                There are also many other things you can do in the world map, whether it be the many sidequests, challenges or the hundreds of collectibles. There’s honestly so much to do in the game, that I have a hard time imagining you’ll get bored.
                However, there is a big issue here – as almost all the weapons are unlocked via playing the game, you almost never buy them from the store. All that leaves is buying healing items, maps and upgrades, and the first is pointless after purchasing a few perks. Map will list all the collectibles in an area (and loot spots), and these are great for padding your wallet, and therein lies a problem. Money is far too easy to come by in Far Cry 3, resulting in a lot of playtime being spent with too much money and nothing to buy. In fact, one of the earliest things I did in the game was craft the largest wallet, as I was frequently maxing out what I could carry, and I wasn’t spending it.
                If you do grow bored of the single player (probably after beating it), there’s also a multiplayer campaign as well. The multiplayer is both online and splitscreen, depending on your taste, and follows a group of survivors as they hunt down the captain that tried to sell them into slavery. This campaign is much more linear than the main games, featuring levels with strict routes and a focus on shootouts rather than stealth. Instead of the many features Jason has in the main campaign, the four survivors all have different skills that help out the group as a whole. However, there’s no explanation as to what they do, so I never really used them.
                On the technical side, Far Cry 3 is visually amazing. Even with the dawn of a new console generation. Far Cry 3 still looks great, and is a beautiful and colourful world to spend time in (which made it great to play in the winter, where the world was drab and bleak). The sound and music are brilliant and immersive, making the technical side a complete package.
                At the end of this, I can say that Far Cry 3 is a good game, but not a good story. It’s very enjoyable to play and run around, but I found the plot and characters rather dull and uninteresting, with much of the story being bland. I do thoroughly recommend it, as it’s a great place to spend time, but there are much better games that tell similar stories better.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Sketches 3rd April to 9th April

      Got a lot of sketches this week, so we'll go straight into it!

 April 3rd pt1 - Rough storyboard for film project. The posing was odd on this one, but I like the final image. Background was odd as well, as it needed to feel empty yet contain ruins. Still working on that bit.

 April 3rd pt2 - working on art for a Youtube banner. This is the first rough.

  April 3rd pt3 - monster design, particuarly getting the head working in a 3D space.

 April 4th pt1 - the monster all curled up. Not sold on the pose entirely.

  April 4th pt2 - Location practise. This will also be one of the earliest shots, so I need to work on it.

  April 4th pt3 - The opposite angle of that first drawing. Things may not go well for our intrepid hero.

  April 4th pt4 - notes and pose practise. If you look, you'll see a rough layout of the area.

  April 4th pt5 - The building blocks of the monster, mostly body and legs.

 April 4th pt6 - monster pose practise.

 April 5th pt1 - Detailed head studies of the 'not-a-dragon', from various angles.

 April 5th pt2 - front shot of lead character. The eyes are off on this one.

 April 6th pt1 - pose notes. For full image, look down.

  April 6th pt2 - pose notes. For full image, look down.

 April 6th pt3 - final pose. I need to fix the right leg, as I accidentally inked it at the wrong angle.

 April 7th - definitely not fond of this. didn't even get around to finishing it.

 April 8th - expression practise. these need more work (and I need to do a lot more of them).
 April 9th pt1: Trying to make something more cheerful. Also, I have too many characters with similar costumes.

 April 9th pt2: Maps, from Gotham Acadamy. I was going to draw Olive, the mian character, as well, but couldn't get her design right. 
Also, you should read Gotham Acadmy. It's really good.


Animatic practise. Trying to get the neck movements down.

And thats a wrap!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Ducktales Remastered

               Ducktales was one of the original Disney animated TV shows back in 1987, and it was incredible successful. Based on characters appearing in the Disney comics, the series lasted for several years and gained a movie from its success, as well as more comics, and a videogame for the NES, released in 1989/90. The game is often considered to be one of the best games released on the NES, and is highly regarded, so making a remake was a no-brainer.
                Ducktales Remastered is a 2013 platforming game created by WayForward and published by Capcom. All of the content from the NES game has been included in the remake (though I will confess to not having any idea what was in that game, having not been born at the time), but has an expanded story to it, as well as an extra level and areas.
                After Scrooge McDuck’s (Alan Young) vault is raided by the Beagle Boys, he discovers a map to five treasures scattered around the world (well, four on earth – the fifth is on the moon). With his nephews, Huey Dewey[AS1]  and Louie, and niece Webby (all voiced by Russi Taylor) in tow, as well as assistance from Launchpad (Terence McGovern) and Gyro (Chris Edgerly), Scrooge sets out to find the treasures. Unfortunately, he has competition in the form of nemesis Flintheart Glomgold (Brian George) and Magica De Spell (June Foray), who both want the treasures for their own nefarious purposes.
                First up, I want to note that all the surviving cast of the original series are doing their voice overs here, which is amazing. It’s a serious nostalgia overload to hear these actors playing the cast again, and it adds a lot to the game.
                Secondly, the story for the game is a little pointless. Mostly it serves to add references and call-backs to the series, and arguably gets in the way. On multiple playthroughs/ retries, I often simply skipped the cutscenes to get back to the game. This isn’t to say that the scenes are bad – they’re quite funny and very reminiscent of the show – but they can be a little infuriating, especially when you’ve settled into a flow. This is worst in the Amazon level, where you have to collect 8 coins, all of which have a cut scene attached to them, killing the momentum.
                The game plays almost identical to the NES version, though the controls have been smoothed out a little, especially the pogo stick. The difficulty has also been lowered slightly via more refined mechanics, but the game is still very difficult at times (especially the final level). The hardest difficulty level is actually more in tune with the NES original in terms of difficulty, and it is excruciating at times.
                The gameplay itself is relatively simple. Mostly you just move and jump, using Scrooge’s cane/ pogo stick to jump on enemies/ gain height or hit blocks. Enemies will almost always be coming at you, making most levels (even the simpler ones) obstacle courses that need to be overcome with speed and precision.  The Pogo stick also allows you to move across spiked areas with no harm, though the game also often provides roped and ladders for Scrooge to climb.
                The difficulty in the levels is mostly down to the enemies, as the platforming is often rather easy. What level you play effects the enemies that spawn, with each world having its own unique enemy types, and changes how you approach each situation. For example, some enemies in the Transylvania stage are invincible or constantly respawn, whilst the Himalayas has enemies that burrow underground or throw ice at you.
                The graphics in the game are one of its biggest draws, as the game’s art is deigned to replicate the original cartoon.  All the characters are animated by hand in the shows style, mimicking small little details, and it all looks fantastic. The backgrounds, likewise, are given textures to replicate the painted backgrounds of the show, though it is still evident that they’re 3D models. Not that this is a problem, as the art and colour palette makes sure the stages all look amazing, but it is a bit odd to see 2D character’s in oddly rendered 3D environments.
                The music is also of note, as all the tracks are remixes and modernisations of the original NES tunes. These are all fantastic to listen to, and catchy as all hell. The original versions are also available to listen to after beating the game and unlocking them. And yes, the show’s theme is in the game, though you have to play to the credits to hear it with Lyrics.
                One of the best parts of the game is actually what you can unlock. By collecting Gems and Treasure items throughout the levels, you earn money to spend in the vault (playing the game on higher difficulties gives you better multipliers on earnings as well). Here you can buy concept art from the game, including early sketches of locations to model sheets of the characters. As you buy more art pieces, you unlock more interesting categories, including Art from the show itself. This is actually amazing as an insight into how each frame was layered and the design work that went into the show.
                My only real gripe with the game is the difficulty. There are many times where the game seems to punish you for not knowing what’s around the corner or how to deal with a situation. I know this is leftover from the NES days, but it feels out of place today.  This is made worse by a few weird designs choices/ accidents.
                The worst of these is the inconsistency of the hitboxes on enemies and the environment. I’d often get hurt by being just a fraction too close to a spike block (at times not even directly touching it) and still get hurt. On enemies, I would occasionally be hurt by a dead or dying enemy (which was very confusing), or be so slightly off of the hitbox for killing the enemy. This seems to be worst on the final boss, where I died several times after I hit the boss for no discernible reason over than odd hitboxes.
                There’s also a slight annoyance in that the partial invincibility you receive upon being hit is somewhat temperamental, and will occasionally let you be damaged again by the attack that just hit you. This was a very rare occurrence, though, so it was most likely just an odd bug.
                The worst part of the games difficulty comes from the final level, where the combination of odd hitboxes and simply aggravating level design combines into something that can become incredibly frustrating. At one point, you have to jump across enemies heads to cross a lake of lava. Several times (including several times where this happened in a row) I would be knocked into the Lava by the enemy I had just killed, instantly killing me in return. It was an incredibly frustrating experience that left me angry at a game I had fully enjoyed previously.
                I will stress that the errors I had above were incredibly rare, but were also very aggravating. The rest of the game was an incredible fun and enjoyable experience, and one that was very challenging and I’m glad to have played. I fully recommend Ducktales to anyone looking for a fun, if hard, diversion.