Friday, 30 January 2015

Sketches January 23rd - 29th

        I'm sort of resigning myself to the fact that these will never be uploaded on time. Part of this is because I usually start sketching late at night, so chances are I'm still drawing by the time it strikes midnight, which is when these are supposed to be uploaded, and seeing as how my scanner is incredibly loud, I'm not going to use it in the middle of the night. Guess I should resign myself to uploading this at midday on Friday rather than midnight.
        Anyway, this week is a little sparse in terms of content due to illness. I've been a little light headeed for the last week or so, and that really doesn't help with creative work. I've still managed to do a drawing a day, though, so that's still decent.

January 23rd: Practising trying to draw a character that leans more towards beautiful than my uusal sketches. As you can see by my very informative notes, I was feeling terrible when I drew this. 

January 24th - Ironing out the elf warrior design. I've just noticed that the quiver is on the wrong side. 

January 25th: Playing around with angles on a face. I need to strengthen my 3D perspective skills, as I keep making the same mistakes when drawing the neck and jaw.  At one poitn I noticed that every drawing was a little angry, so I cheered the guy up a little in the last couple of sketches.

January 26th - SKetches of Arin Hanson aka Egoraptor. In preparation for an animated short, I sketched out Ego a couple of times. The top left is the original with no reference, and top right and center pictures were done with reference. The remainder were informed by the reference. 

January 27th: I was feeling particuarly bad on this day, and matterws werent helped by a wisdom tooth flaring up in pain. As such, all I really managed to do was these few face sketches. I'm not particuarly happy with any of these, so I'll be working on these for a little longer.

January 28th: Character turnaround. I screwed up the 3/4 perspective, and my inability to keep a straight line means that none of the are level or in actual scale to each other. The jist is there, though. As noted in the top right, this is a costume for a dream sequence - actualy costume (and posture) is different from the characters actual reality.

January 29th: Character concept. In my notes, Cecilia is described as being sharp yet beautiful, and the design is focused on creating harsh shapes that, when combined, look quite nice. This extended to her body structure, where pyramids and triangles are used as a guide opposed to spheres and cylinders in order to create a strong, atheletic body. 
Also note that I still suck at 3D perspective (see top right).

 Thats all for this week. As said, due to illness, it's not as much as usual, but hopefully my health will recover this week,and I'll be able to actually focus and work.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.

                The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies marks the last of the Middle-Earth films that the Tolkien estate has permitted to be made, a truly saddening affair. For over a decade, Peter Jackson’s masterful direction and wondrous imagination has enriched cinema with some of the finest fantasy going, both in text and on screen. It marks an end of something truly special, something glorious, and, quite possibly, may be the last good fantasy film for a very long time.
                Picking up a few seconds after the second film ended, Five Armies opens to the great Dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to Laketown, with Bard (Luke Evans) struggling to find his way out of jail to protect his family whilst the residents of the town flee in horror. From their safe perch, the Dwarves and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) watch the destruction they have wrought, but Thorin (Richard Armitage) does not care. The Arkenstone calls to him, and his greed begins to overcome him.
                Meanwhile, in the ruined fortess of Dol Guldur, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and the rest of the Grey Council seek to defeat Sauron the Necromancer (also Cumberbatch), knowing that they must be quick, for they have witnessed the great army that the white orc Azog (Manu Bennett) has summoned to storm the Lonely Mountain. Worse news comes when Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) spy an army marching from Gundabd, also intent on securing the mountain.
                Thorin’s desire for the Arkingstone comes to a head when he turns away the survivors of Laketown from the mountain, convinced that they have come to steal his riches. Even when the elf king Thrandull (Lee Pace) threatens him with an alliance of elves and men, Thorin does not back down, for he knows his dwarf kin will come in mass. As the five armies march towards each other, the Fate of Middle Earth hangs in the hands of Bilbo, as he does all he can to stop the madness around him.
                Much of this last Hobbit film is actually the titular battle, with approximately half of the run time dedicated to the fight, though Jackson works his pacing so that the film never runs itself into the ground. The same, however, cannot be said of the first act, which feels too much like it should have been the ending of the previous film. Five Armies opens to quickly and chaotically as Smaug descends upon the town to give the audience time to catch up with its characters or plot. The film doesn’t care how lost or forgetful you are, but instead barrels forwards without you, before grinding slowly to a halt for a much more introspective and slowly passed second act.
                This is, perhaps, the problem with Jackson’s adaptation of the books in general. The trilogy has been rife with plaguing issues throughout, with the first film dragging too much and the third too fast. I feel that, at some point, an editor could have been brought in to have fixed this.
                On every other level, though, Five Armies matches its predecessors. It is still a tightly scripted and surprisingly human affair, and Jackson’s development of characters has been beneficial to the plot and makes for better cinema. The exception comes in the extra members of the Dwarves, most of whom are cast aside here, some not even getting more than a few minutes screen time. Whilst this is disheartening, it should be noted that the film is already filled with plenty of characters, and following the exploits of all the dwarves would be largely pointless and add more to the already long runtime.   
                Aesthetically, the film is up there with the rest of the series, with the exception of the troll designs. I’m not quite sure what has happened here, but all of the trolls are too human looking, and less troll like, with their designs being less interesting than previous films. For creatures that aren’t in the film overly long, this does seem nitpicky, but it didn’t sit well with me, almost as though the designers were growing bored.
                This final entry into the Hobbit films is also largely less comedic than the previous two, which fits well with the more dire tone. There are still comedic moments, and plenty of them, but it feels more subdued here, with much of the laughs coming from either small visual moments or two characters – the snivelling Alfrid (Ryan Gage) and Dain (Billy Connolly).
                One last thing to note is the general feeling of melancholy with the films ending. Whilst it is fitting for the film to end on such a sad note, it’s something of an odd feeling, and it just feels like a reminder that this may well be the last Middle Earth film. It is hardly the triumphant ending one would expect, but rather a small whisper.
                The final Hobbit film is, with all pacing issues accounted for, still a good film. It may not have been the best in the Middle Earth series, but it was certainly much better than its competitors and still an enjoyable, and emotional, watch.

In the past 14 years, Jackson has taken us on a glorious trip through Middle Earth. Over Hill and under Mountain, through the darkness and the light, we have seen wars unthinkable, faced fire and flame. We have seen the rise and fall of kings, the death of Dragons and a truly epic journey across a world that felt all too real. The Lord of The Ring films inspired me as an artist, as a film maker. It is a film franchise that has a place near and dear to my heart, and I thank Peter Jackson, thank the talented crew at WETA and thank every actor, artist, musician and crew member that worked on these films. I hope that, one day, Jackson will have the chance to revisit Middle Earth, but in the meantime I will watch these few films countless times, wishing that they will never end.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sketches Januray 16th - January 22nd

        Belated post again, sorry. I was out of town for part of the week, and my trip ended up being extended somewhat. Without further adieu, here are the sketches from the past week. 

January 16th: More face practise, because you can never have enough practise! That top drawing would be so much better had I got the eyes on the right level. Elf lady's face is a little streched (I drew that at a stupid angle), but Sophie is fine. I also included a rough body sketch of the girl as a new reference when I get off my butt and start working on Touch and Go again. Unfortunatley, I screwed up her proptions a tad.

 January 17th: The armoured warrior from the unfinished sketch a while back. I seem to be destined not to finish this design. ANnoyingly, it's a little too close in design to the Warriors of Chaos line Warhammer army to count as original.

January 18th: The Butcher. There are no bakers or candle stick makers, I'm afraid. I honestly don't remember what I was thinking when I drew this - it was after a long train journey that added an extra hour to my journey time, and I was a little tired. So we got this.

January 19th: The school. A rough image using designs from across the last year to demonstrate ideas and atmosphere. A test image more than anything.

January 20th pt1: The reason I don't draw superheroes. Ok, not really. It's an attempt at Superman. The pose is off, as is the detail on the face (especially the eyes). I need to sort out that fringe and forehead.

January 20th pt2: Back in my ballpark. Face designs for 'The Father', a giant bloated monster that chases the mother character from a few weeks back through her nightmares. The first few designs are mor pig-like, but I moved away from that as I went. I will explore that later.

January 20th pt3: Designs for The Father's second head. Three guesses as to where it is.  
Note the slight variations on the 'head', ranging from the more obvious penile to the more headlike.

January 20th pt4: The Father's body, a large bloated mass. Nothing much to say here.

January 21st: Designs for a knight character. I was looking over the designs for Sword Art Online, and got inspired. Also, elf lady from last week needs friends. There's not a lot of actual armour, though I thought the coats and trousers would be made of hardened leather or some other tough material.  If you look closely, you can see that the design is made of hearts.

January 22nd: finishing this week with a whisper. Sword and shield designs for the knight. Not sure why it took me a couple of designs to remember the heart motif, but it took four designs to get there. I still want to go over these a couple of times, just to solidify a design.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

      Continuing on my PS2 catch up is Sly Cooper or Sly Raccoon, an action adventure stealth game from Sucker Punch Productions released in 2003. I could never find a copy of this game, and couldn't even find the re-release on PS3 - even the PSN store didn't seem to have the game for the longest time until the Christmas sales.
         Sly Cooper follows the titular Raccoon (voiced by Kevin Miller) and his friends - the tortoise Bentley (Matt Olsen) and Murray (Chris Murphy) as they plot to steal back the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, the Cooper Clan's family book of thievery, from the villainous Fiendish Five. As they travel the world looking for the pages, they are followed by the lovely Carmilita Fox (Roxanna Ortega) and the menacing form of Clockwerk (Ross Douglas).
            Sly Cooper is very reminiscent of PS1 platformers, especially Crash Bandicoot, in that you navigate a series of linear levels that are more or less straight lines littered with obstacles. You select each level from a hub world that requires you to complete a selection of stages in order to progress, with each world finishing in a boss fight, and opening up the next area.
            The stealth aspect comes into avoiding the sight of certain enemies or spotlights to keep traps from activating and instantly killing you - something that everything does regardless, but traps are much more effective in murdering you. Being stealthy actually helps in the speed running mode, as being caught speeds up your timer by ludicrous amounts.
                Sly Cooper is a ridiculously hard games at times. By default, you're killed in a single hit, and you can't swim or fall off pits. You also only have a limited amount of lives, but the only thing that a game over does is kick you out of the level - though that is still very annoying. You can grab lucky charms to add an extra hit, and every 100 coins you collect gives you an extra hit.
             This difficulty really spikes in the boss segments, where you will be sent back to the beginning of the fight if you die. This is most annoying on the last battle, which takes a while anyway and being sent back to the beginning is a massive pain.
             The platforming in Sly is incredibly precise and fun, with the game being just lenient enough that it allows a slight mistake on the jumping whilst never being too easy or too hard. It strikes that sweet spot that all platformers should strive for. The combat, on the other hand, falters due to weird collision and an indeterminate range, and the instant death just adds to that annoyance.
           Each Level also has a bonus objective - collecting clues to unlock a safe and gain an extra page, giving you a new ability. These clues are scattered liberally throughout each level and can be difficult to find, but enough patience and searching will lead you to getting some pretty useful abilities, including being able to find clues by entering the first person mode. Neat.
          There are also a variety of minigame levels that range from shooting to driving. Whilst these aren't as fleshed out as the main game (obviously), they're fun diversions despite their vaguely shallow nature.
            Story wise, Sly Cooper is a very tongue in cheek tale that feels as though it could have been pulled out of a Saturday morning cartoon (helped by the cartoony visuals). It's funny and charming, though the characters aren't developed all that much and the voice acting can be a little forced.
           Visually, the game is beautiful, even for a PS2 game. The Cell shading is lovely and the character designs fun and imaginative, and each level and world is wonderfully rendered. The colours pop and the animations are fluid, and theres no visual issues to speak of.
            The games biggest flaw comes from the fact that all the special abilities you unlock are activated by the same button, and you have to manually scroll through them in order to find the one you want. This prevents quick on the fly changes, and can lead to accidental deaths when you forget which ability you have selected. Even then, not all abilities are useful, and I found myself not using any extra moves for the last part of the game. 
            Sly Cooper is a hugely fun game, and I severely regret never playing it until now. It's charming, fun and plays like a treat, making it one of the best platformers of the PS2 era.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Sketches January 9th - January 15th

 Sorry for the slight lateness in the post - had difficulties with the scanner.
This week is the week of the unfinished sketches, apparently.

January 9th: Very earlly sketches of an insect-like monster. This proved more difficult than expected, as the gneral proportions and features of insects are extremly bizarre when compared to most other life forms. The eyes are proving most frustrating on this design.

January 10th: Building concept. There was no clear aim or direction here, so it just became a miss-mash of elemnts before I abandoned it.

January 11th: Rock Golem. The idea here was that the Golem head was manufacterd, and when activated draws in rocks to form its body, giving it a bizarre asymmetical design. I drew it punching the ground simply to add a great variety to the posing in these sketches.

January 12th: Mounted warrior. I need to work on my animal anatomy - I simply suck at non-humanoid drawing. The riders decent though.

 Janaury 13th pt 1: Early sketches of a character's costume. Not much to say here. Also unfinished.

January 13th pt2: I started a 3 day course on Tuesday, and was told to make sure my booklet was easily distinguished. The head is a little streched (result of the angle I drew it at), but otherwise ok.
Ohg, and the course was a massive waste of time where I learnt nothing and achieved nothing. If you're paying attention, this is the same warrior design as the rider a few sketches up.

January 13th pt 3: Another monster design. Nothing much to say for this one.

January 14th pt 1: Monster design, under the idea of mental stress - the feeling you're head will explode. The creature holds its head together, but when it drops its hands its skull bursts apart to reveal the cancerous creature within.

January 14th pt 2: The warrior, again, this time in an action pose. I screwed up the waist down here -The legs in particular are the wrong length and the persepctive of them is wrong. 

January 15th: Last image for the week is also unfinished. This was to be a battle between the warrior from the previous days and a lrge amoured foe, and traces of that are in the image. I just never finished it. 


Pt 1: My figurine shelf (aka window). I should probably find a better home for them, though my room is too small to add a display cabinet or anything like that.
I should also find better ways of spending my money...

Pt 2: 
Finally got around to doing backgrounds for that animation I started last year.
Remember when I was talking about that? Yeah, it's been a while...

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Ratchet and Clank

                I missed out on a lot of Playstation 2 games during the consoles heyday, mostly as a result of spending way too much time with its rival, the gamecube. As such, I missed out on the Ratchet and Clank series for much of its life, and it’s though the HD remix that I’ve managed to actually experience the game.
                Ratchet and Clank is a 2002 game by Insomniac Games, the creators of the Spyro franchise, and is currently their longest running series that has remained in-house. The game follows the Lombax Ratchet (Mikey Kelley) and the squat robot Clank (David Kaye) as they attempt to find inter-galactic superhero Captain Qwark (Jim Ward) and inform him of the nefarious plan of Supreme Executive Chairman Drek (Kevin Michael Richardson), who plans to still parts of planets to rebuild his species home planet (which they over-polluted).
                The plot is slightly silly, and rather familiar if you’ve seen Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, but serviceable enough and allows you to travel across a galaxy exploring different planets and meeting their inhabitants, as well as giving you plenty of opportunities to blow stuff up (which is always fun).  The plot is the main driving force, and actually does carry with it plenty of dark overtones, as well as a less than subtle jab against corporations and their owners.
                Much of the game is an evolution on the typical 3D platformer gameplay, combined with added third person shooter mechanics. Bear in mind that this is pre-Resident Evil 4, so the over-the-shoulder camera and gunplay hadn’t been mastered yet, leaving the game with a drawn back camera and auto-aim, or an alternate first person mode. Also, this predates cover based shooters by a lot, so you find yourself circle strafing and hoping like all hell you don’t get hit.
                Ratchet and Clank’s biggest assets in terms of gameplay are the levels, which are well designed and fun to run around, as well as contain several hidden areas and often require backtracking to find all the hidden goods. Throughout these areas, which are all quite large, for the time, you’ll find yourself grappling to and fro, grinding on rails, diving deep underwater, making perilous long jumps with nothing but a propeller to slow your descent, sneaking through a robot factory and racing through numerous challenges, all of which are designed to test your skills. The levels never repeat themselves too often, and almost everything is incredibly fun to play through, thanks to the games tight control scheme and easy quick select of weapons and gadgets.
                There are a few moments, of course, where the game can get rather frustrating in terms of design or specific sections that are quite a chore to get through – the stealth sections being the most noticeable. Whilst the stealth isn’t poorly executed, it does slow the pacing of the game right down as you’re forced to walk at a snail’s pace or be very quickly killed, redoing the entire section again.
This is where the game gets particularly harsh, as checkpoints are rare, never acknowledged or declared, and dying does not restore your ammunition, despite the enemies re-spawning. This can make some parts of them game brutally difficult, especially in sections that demand you come prepared with high ordnance or face death. Whilst the basic melee is effective against 90% of your enemies, the remaining 10% are either distance enemies with missiles or have a brief moment of invulnerability after being hit in which they will kill you.
Oh, and you only get 4 hits before you die. Assuming you don’t fall off of a ledge. You can upgrade your health, but you have to have collected a ton of money in order to do so.
Speaking of money, Ratchet and Clank can be a royal pain when it comes to getting the cash to buy upgrades. Since much of your money will go on replenishing ammo or story relevant items, your first play-through will result in you quickly discovering you’ve misspent your money and causing much rage. As it stands, the best weapon in the game is almost impossible to get the first time around, and you’ll need the money simply to stay alive against the final boss anyway.
                As far as its story goes, Ratchet and Clank does a decent enough job and rarely breaks pace with the story – almost every level ends with story progression, no matter how slight. Each cutscene is also filled with rapid fire quips and visual jokes, most of which hit their mark perfectly, resulting in the game being a very humorous affair. There are a few moments where the storytelling is interrupted by a card telling us where and when an event takes place (particularly annoying early in the game), and it has that early PS2 roughness around the editing and pacing.
                Visually, the game is beautiful. The art style is bold, colourful and charming, and summons up memories of 50’s and 60’s sci-fi with a slight modern(ish) twist, and the entire production makes it seem like an interactive cartoon show. The music is less cartoony, but enjoyable and fun in its own manner, though mileage may vary – it’s all very mechanical and funky, but very charming. Again, very sci-fi.
                As a whole, Ratchet and Clank is a fun and interesting platformer, whilst it may not have added much new to the genre, it certainly excelled in its field, providing a fun and funny adventure.

                 On a side note, the game has one of the most aggravating trophies to obtain, which asks you to get 1,000,000 bolts (cash). Not all at once, thankfully, but it’s still a pain as it requires you to play through the game at least four times, depending on how thorough you are in bolt collecting. To hell with that trophy.

                …I did still play through the game four times to get it though…