Be an Expert

Be an Expert, image
What makes an expert? Why do companies want experts? These are examples and thoughts of a 3D artist working in games.

Lately I’ve been happy to see game industry growing with the expansion of consumer base which has lead to more jobs. This very clear locally here in Finland – the games industry is blooming. There’s a Finland-special in Edge magazine 04/2013 that touches on the bloom. Another even more entertaining read, though not as recent, is this VG247 article which is available online for free: http://www.vg247.com/2012/02/03/scandimania-adventures-in-finnish-games-part-one/

There is demand for artists, programmers (especially server-specialized) and more, and one thing always looked for, and often found lacking, is expertise.

What makes an Expert?

Common definition for an expert is deep knowledge and experience of a topic. 10000 hour rule is often mentioned for mastering a subject. 25000 hour rule also comes up since these days. Have you noticed how many people ‘graduate’ as Doctors these days? Lucky for us working in games and in other creative fields the important bit is actual experience.

Experience and knowledge makes it easier to solve problems and to do it creatively, and more so it gives base for coming up with new solutions and identifying problems that others haven’t noticed or anticipated – even solving problems that have no pre-existing solutions to look up. This is why, in games industry, anything beyond a junior position requires solid working experience. Hobby projects do count – it is a matter of showing you have done the work.

Experts can also communicate. An expert understands the idea well enough to tell others about it and has some social skill to deliver it. The other skilled people, ‘backroom pros’ do still have a place in the games industry, but a social and communication skills make a difference and create leaders.

Finally and I think most importantly experts are good students before anything else. People become experts only because they study, try, work, learn and teach. And a person who is so invested in learning a subject does more than learn to do it – she finds the core information, brakes it down to base parts – gets to the system within. Knowing a thing so well helps her use it effectively and improve it.

In the end it is a matter of curiosity and love for the subject – the things that make you put in the required hours and thinking. I don’t believe in shortcuts.

What about Natural Talent?

I’m not getting into subject of talent or how it would help. Superb Radiolab does it so much better. Listen to Secrets of Success. http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/jul/26/secrets-of-success/

Personally I don’t think I have any particular talent for art. I just like creating things and work at learning it.

Why companies want experts?

Experts are people who know their craft exceedingly well and can work together. Working with such people is good. Sure they make mistakes but those are rarely spectacular. And because experts are such great students they can also teach, help others get there. And being students the experts also know that they can’t know everything and don’t pretend otherwise.

There you go, my take on experts. I have the pleasure of working with them 🙂
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Personal Animation Production Critique

I feel it is only right I rip into my own work just as I did earlier with work of others.  So here is a personal animated short movie of mine from 2009 and critique for it.

Animation

I made the animated short Flight or Fight in spring 2009. It was a technical exercise that got out of hand, big time. It goes against what I recommend, to begin with I had no story to tell. You can read about the production process here, a sort of an making of. I’m a bit ashamed to show this short for it is anything but my best work, but having said many times that I’ve learned by doing I think I am obliged to show this, too, as I learned so much from it.

Short is also available in HD(recommended) at Vimeo.

Critique

I will judge the animation on how it achieves the illusion of life, or not – following the animation principles which I wrote about here.

Story takes place underwater.  One of the top animators in game industry told me, kindly, that it was an extremely silly choice – very hard animate.
Underwater setting provides water resistance which acts like a brake and a force, both at once.  It will have effect on Dynamics, Balance, Follow Through and in small ways pretty much everything else. In short it will make the animation look floaty, artificial, which is a problem already with normal 3D animation and underwater setting only adds to it.

[styled_table]
IMPRESSION PROBLEM AREA DEFINED
All animation seems to forget water resistance except when convinient. Underwater, especially with any type of current, holding balance and staying still would take far more of an effort than shown here. Moves are also too effortless and he Fishman stays on the bottom like glue when he wants to and he sinks too fast. Dynamics, Dynamic Balance, Anticipation
Fishman movements lack fluidity, the round flowing feel and and up’n down and side to side movement you’d expect from underwater motion. Arcs, Variance, Anticipation
Fish movements in particular lack weight and strenght – the speed and acceleration and decelartion is not quite right. Dynamic, Anticipation, Arcs, Timing
Neither character changes their volume in motion. Lack thereof is best seen where the fish is caught under the big root and fights free. Squash and Stretch
[/styled_table]

In addition to the above, my animation has acting problems.  The fisman doesn’t convey his thoughts well enough.  Stronger poses and better timing would help – and really better acting, too.

Post scriptum

Regardkess of the short not meeting my standards in animation, I’m quite happy with it as a technical achievement – that I got it done despite the problems.  The colours are nice too and the mood works sometimes. Of course the most important thing is I learned a lot.
What about you – any production experiences to share, or anything related? Feel free to write below.

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Character Story

Previously I introduced the coming tutorial and shoved a timelapse of base head modelingThis one is about the character design, about character backstory.  This was supposed to be a video as well, but I’m having trouble with my computer – can’t do video edit just now.
Giving your character history is part of character design and a good place to start.  You need to know WHO the character is to make an animation with him/her.  The following is a bit of story for the tutorial character.

Our character, I call him Curt, was an orphan and grew in time of unrest – grew to violence.  And just when Curt became an adult the unrest became a war.

War needed strong men capable of violence, and Curt was a perfect fit.  He was mayhem on the battlefield, a bloody champion.

However since he never was much of a thinking man and was most useful as a human weapon, he was used as such and was never rewarded for his dedication.

Eventually, after many years fighting and death, the war ended.

Suddenly there was no more work for Curt.  Also unlike many other champions he was not knighted or rewarded in any way.  He was just a man with lots of blood on his hands and a problem to his superiors.  He was told it was better he left.

For long years Curt traveled, took odd jobs and slowly took stock of the bloody work he had done.  He began to drink his sorrows away.


Then, in a border city in the middle of nowhere, where Curt’s war record was unknown, he finally had a bit of luck.  He was hired as a guard – was a man of uniform again.  It was something he knew how to do.

This is where our backstory ends and visual character design begins.  Thanks to thinking up a story I know better how he acts and thinks.  I know he wants to do his job well and perhaps someday redeem his past.  Maybe the animation, if I were to do one with this character, could be about that.
I know, I know – this is no revelation, just a simple point I wanted to make.  Character design should  include a story and I think making one up is a lots of fun (even one as dark as the story above).

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Teaser

This has been requested enought times, so here I go, finally. This project is loads of fun to work on and really time consuming too. I hope you’ll like it as much as I do.

You can also watch it in HD at vimeo.

Tutorial Details (in short)

Contents

Covers a bit on character design, then goes deep to modeling a character for animation, uv-mapping, sculpting, texturing and finally quick posing and to a promotional render. On the way I tell you why I do things the way I do.  Tutorial video duration will most likely be 10+ hours.  The base head & eye-modeling alone is around 1 hour 40 minutes.

Software used

Luxology Modo (for 3d) and Adobe Photoshop (2d). However no part of the tutorial needs just those two softwares – you can use any similiar software to get the job done. I will list 3D-tools used(such as bevel) in the tutorial details, so you can see what your software can do and what, if any, you need to employ another software for. And instead of Photoshop you can use any capable bitmap painting/editing software.

Aimed for / Level of difficulty

Anyone who knows how to operate a 3D-software. I’m not explaining very basics – software manual and generic tutorials can tell you that. However I do go over what tools we will use and where.

Format

Tutorial will be in HD720P video, quicktime-files, and with a menu to easily access them.

Delivery

Tutorial will be available from a reputable online vendor as a download or on a dvd.

Cost

The price won’t be low but not scary either and the value for money will be high.

Future plans

Tutorial is planned as the first in a series that goes from design all the way to animated short film production and finish.

That’s it for now.  More will come, at least a trailer, before the tutorial releases.

What would you like to have in such a tutorial?  Please feel free to write comments and questions below.
Update: Tutorial is delayed for unknown time -a LONG time- due to other work taking my time. I rather not set a date for release and miss it again. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the release without coming back here to check over and over, subscribe to site RSS feed or Email Updates.

Hobby Project Benefits

Oftentimes people have hobbies that either offer a fun challenge they can’t get at work or help them learn new things. Some take on hobbies to learn and to grow resume – to find a work in the field of their hobby. In my article Stay motivated one thing I suggested taking on a project together with others.  It is what I did, and now I wish to tell you how it was for me – the benefits and the costs.

I joided Ultima 6 Project in December 2005. I’ve written more about the project and what I did here. The game was released in July 2010, after 9-10 years of production.
My motivation to join was to learn more about game production and low-poly work and because I like old Ultima games.  And I did indeed learn by doing – within year or two it became easy, like a fun part-time job.  Being in production meant working with others, meeting common goals, having deadlines and management reminding of things to be done – you know, all the stuff that makes team projects addictive, rewarding and at times stressful.

Now before going to the cons and pros, please note U6P is unique and a seriously long venture, way beyond anything sensible. So the ups and downs of more reasonable project are probably different.

What project as a hobby cost me

  • Oodles of free time – poof, gone. I don’t care to think what else fun or useful I could have done with that time. Especially after noticing I was no longer learning, just working, I couldn’t help but wonder what other game project would give me a tougher challenge and more current generation work samples or even, you know, pay.  I did consider several times if continueing was sensible.
  • Some dark brown hair – gone grey.   A serious hobby is at times tough like any job.
  • Some paid work. Sometimes it has been so intense, I have let freelance opportunity(nothing big) slide past to meet project goals first.

Having said the above costs, dealing with them or not was completely up to me.

What I gained

  • I soon learned what I had wanted to learn.
  • Motivating and encouraging enviroment and a fun part-time job, though no pay.
  • Friends.  Project drew together some great people.
  • Credit of being an important part of a game project like no other(very large in scope and in work years) – probably certifies all main team members as insane.
  • An Intel-interview about my work.
  • Loads of work samples from the field of low-poly 3D.  And I am happy to say that despite my initial worries about the usefulness of such skills, they are very good to know and low-poly 3D is anything but dead as a field of work.
  • Tutorials. Made a few to assist our team members and, later, for anyone interested. assist new folks wanting to join our project.  Sort of got me started with the whole learning blog thing.
  • [highlight type=”light”]6 months after this article:[/highlight] A job in game industry. Having released a big well rated game was a very important factor in landing a job.

So yes it was worth it.  Especially now that the game is out the good things come rolling in.  It is possible some other project might have given more and in less time, but that is not a way to think about these things. If a person is always looking for something better and moving on, they may not finish anything. Committing is important.

Will I join another freeware project?  No, I will no longer work without payment. Don’t have the time.

What about you – have you considered taking on a hobby project or have you already done something like that – and how did it go?

Stay Motivated

Hey all dear sentient beings out there.  I missed the update last week – sorry about that.  I have fever but damn me I won’t let this week pass by unblogged.  So here is little something that’s been on my mind..

How to stay motivated? This was one of my problems several years ago but I didn’t recognize it as such.  What I knew is I kept starting on ideas but finished very few.  I thought it was matter of technique, that either I wasn’t fast enough or just did something important all wrong.  That wasn’t it.  Rather I didn’t have proper motivation.  Motivation is what makes you productive, keeps you going and pushes you to finish.

For most folk motivation is the pay they receive from work and that’s that.  For most creative people it is the work plus the pay.  For creative people starting out there is no pay, just personal work, and unfortunately often that isn’t enough.  So, what to do?

Ways of motivating yourself

  • Don’t get discouraged.  You don’t know if you’re cut out for it or not until you give it your best shot, and you can’t do that without strong motivator(s).  Well, some rare people have discipline and faith in themselves to keep personal work rolling like clockwork just by deciding to do so.  You don’t have to be one of them to succeed.
  • Find colleagues, a group with similiar interest. For those lucky enough to have a suitable school around that is your best ticket.  Number one benefit I hear from people that have had the schooling is the connections they make while at school.  That’s networking for future jobs and those are the people that you can work and compete with – kick each other forward.  If there is no school to be had, why not join some active online community for artists?  I see lots of people making friends of sorts online and collaborating, giving each other feedback and critique.
  • Develop goals, an inside motivator.  Simply write down your short and long terms goals and then sub-goals, tasks, that push you towards the major goal.  Then do a task-list for, say, a month.  Set deadlines.  Likely you will at first have too high aims and fail, but that’ll just teach you make the next list better.
  • Join projects, competitions and the like, get outside motivator(s). There are lots of quality game and other collaborative art projects online.  Many are willing to take on people, even folks with limited experience, to help them grow and go forward.  Even better if you can have project like that with colleagues you already have.  There is nothing like a common goal with a producer breathing down your neck or team members waiting your contribution to get their task done.  If you can’t find or get any of these, try joining a competition like CGchallenge.  That gives you a goal, competition, possible rewards and critique for your work.  Or start something like a scetchbook thread on a forum with strong critique and put new work on it as often as you can.  Granted not all who comment are pros or good educators, but on the whole it helps.  And the thread and the people there are your motivators.
  • Find a mentor for the best critique. This is an option for only a few, sure, but those of you who spot the change to connect with a professional do yourself a favor and jump for it.  There is no critique like that of a pro you know.  That feedback and advice will keep you going for a long time.
  • Blog about your work. Blog is an easy way to document your work and to setup a personal gallery.  Blog also nags on the bag of your mind to keep on updating and the more followers you have the worse(=better) it gets.
  • Send your best work out to competitions, galleries and such and hopefully get accepted/rewarded.  Some recognition goes a long way in keeping your creative engine eunning.  And if all you get is no reply at all, perhaps it will piss you off enough to make you try harder.
  • Find someone to share your life with, the significant other.  There is hardly any better motivator to improve your craft and to find a job than having someone to take care of, possibly also financially.

Certainly there is many other ways to keep your motivation up, but that’s what I got right now.  Feel free to add what I forgot or critique things listed.

Low-poly 3D for Ultima 6 Project

I’ve finally compiled a video about my low-poly 3D work for Ultima 6 Project.  You can watch it below or in HD at Vimeo.  All shown in the video is low-poly to fit the game engine limitations and overall design.  These days low-polygon 3D, the likes of what I’ve made for U6P, is used more on mobiles and portable gaming decives than on PC.  Funny how fast things change.

Ultima 6 Project is  a soon to be published freeware role-playing game for PC(works on Mac, too, with some tricks.)  For me the project was first like a training ground for low-poly 3D game assets, though without a teacher, and later became a job just like any other.  I’ve been working on U6P part-time, on and off, since early 2006.

My contributions are items, creatures, characters and structures – most notable being the gargoyle race.  I’ve also done one cinematic and some 2D-stuff like the ingame-journal graphics(actual content, incl.images, is by our great team).

Ultima 6 Project is a remake of an old classic game, Ultima VI(by Origin).  Like U5 Lazarus, a remake of Ultima V, we bring a classic to modern computers – with a lot more than just visual improvements.  1.0 release is coming.  U6P is free to play, but you do need the game Dungeon Siege(1) to run it.  DS is an old game and should be available at a very affordable price.

Any comments or questions regarding low-poly 3D or Ultima 6 Project are welcome.

Learning by Teaching

I blog to teach about characters and animation and help people teach themselves.  What may not be apparent is that I also learn by teaching.

When I choose to write an article about something, I have to build examples and/or research the topic more to ensure I’m not in error after all or that somebody else hasn’t already said the exact same thing.  Of course nothing can be confirmed to 100% certainty, but I do my best.  Doing these checkups and examples I learn more about the topic.  It all takes a good amount of time, especially with the more ‘researchy’-pieces.

I also learn while explaining.  I don’t usually plan ahead with something like modeling – I just do it and make decisions while working.  Having to come up with logical steps, something explainable, forces me to examine what I do.  Then writing it down helps me organise my thoughts better.  Writing things down helps me learn them  ‘on another level’, as silly as it may sound.

Finally doing a tutorial on the subject, like modeling or lighting, forces me to apply the logic and try look for the shortest and simples steps to get it done.

I believe the more you teach the more you learn.  Explaining something well to others you have to first master it – just being able to do it on your own isn’t enough.  What do you think?  What type of learning works best for you?