Pisces: August-December

August 14, 2014


This was the day I started to pitch my new, revised film, but as a 3-5minute short for CN Summer 2014 Intern Pitch Week. Just to see the kind of reaction I was going to get, but at the same time have fun and enjoy pitching something that’s close to me. I thank the Adventure Time crew and other Cartoon Network crew for giving me support and such good feedback. So, far the animatic is getting good ratings from them, which means there’s no doubt in mind that I have found the storyline I have been waiting to stick by. It was challenging at first to cut down the film to 3 minutes, instead of 5 minutes, since I wanted the story to be nice and sweet.






These were the storyboard panels I’ve done from June-August 2014 with just a pencil and small yellow sticky notes. Click on each image to see it enlarged, then to go back to this page, push the ‘back’ button on your internet browser:


panels-pg01 panels-pg02

panels-pg03 panels-pg04 panels-pg05

From there I scanned and cropped them into an animatic. I inverted the color channel of the panels to make them look dark blue with white chalk-like pencil:

*Click link to view Animatic version 02


I presented these backgrounds for the intern pitch, but may be changed into 3D underwater environment for the film as planned. But these are the colors I like to see:



September 1, 2014

Going back to the basics. While revising my animatic for version #03, I’ve recalled some things that I have mentioned during my CN Intern Pitch. I had to first understand Nicole’s world. The world where she “lives” is a dream-like sequence based underwater where she is able to discover herself and regain her relationship with her father. This underwater world is surrounded by neutral-greenish seaweed, red blood cell fish, and fireflies that hold Nicole’s memories. I look back at my colored backgrounds and felt that “hmm, I might as well do this entire thing in 2D”, but I think I can still accomplish the 2D/3D mashup with 3D environment and 2D characters. Some things still undecided; but I have a feeling my gut instinct was already my first instinct when first thinking about my thesis film topic. So as my gut feeling, once the story is tighter, I will start with the camera movement and 3D environment for at least one scene/shot.

*Click link to view Animatic version 03


September 8, 2014

The hardest part of being an aspiring abstract artist is to make things clear for your audience to understand. Though the story is self explanatory, the sequence of events especially on my animatic are still a bit foreign to see because of the “one-tone” line quality. But at least I understand it, which is why it will actually make sense when I start animating. Also, as I was staying up until 4:00am on Sunday/Monday, I just had an epiphany!

Here are the backgrounds for the underwater world (thus far):

*Click on each picture to enlarge the photo

BGP_underwaterBGP_underwaterSCARFBGP_underwaterSEAWEED02 BGP_underwaterSEAWEED BGP_underwaterSCARF02

Though, it looks like I could do this entire film in 2D, one of my goals for this film is to achieve unique blend of 2D and 3D styles. And I figured out that I want to model the seafloor, rock formations, African scarf, and necklace in 3D (including the camera movements) AND the red blood cell fish, fireflies, seaweed, and Nicole will be in 2D. Nicole’s father is a toss-up between 2D and 3D, depending on how the 3D smoke effect works out, but if the 3d smoke does not work out then I don’t mind roughing it to 2D. Completely do-able and interchangeable.

Here is also a rough pipeline (no dates) for at least the Fall semester:

1. Model ocean environment (block)

2. Model assets (scarf and necklace)

3. Animate Camera Movements

4. Block animate Nicole

5. Model seaweed, RBCs, and fireflies

6. Clean-up movements (camera and Nicole)

Tomorrow, Sept 9th, I will be attending an pitch event to find a potential composer for my film from the USC Thornton School of Music. So hopefully I will find the person to make this film come to life. Goals by the next post: 1. post all of my animatics, finally! 2. upload a camera test 3. post a film design style sheet, including character model. Production starts….now!

September 15, 2014

Started to do a mini camera test in Maya and mapping out my underwater environment. Used green cylinders to represent the seaweed, and a pyramid to represent the mountain Nicole faces in the middle-end of the film. This is the scene where Nicole first meets her father (in ghostly form):
*Click link to see the test.
Circle = Nicole
Star = Father
Most of the time spent this past week is organizing my files and data, so that when I hire certain people to help to me, they would know how to name the work and make it easier for me to find stuff. On the bright side, have a composer from Thornton School of Music interested in collaborating with me, which is awesome, and will discuss formalities (e.g., budget and deadlines) this week. Here’s a basic list so far for my color style sheet:
When I get to color correcting and/or ready to mess with material shaders in Maya, then I will become more precise, but otherwise this is as close to what I am using for the entire film. So far so good. Now to just speed up the process a bit, and really finish modeling basic underwater environment by the end of September. October will be the month to start block animate Nicole in accordance to Maya environment and its camera movement. And also finish another version of the animatic with colored backgrounds. I know there will be changes to the story along the way especially the beginning and end, but as long as the underwater world is solid and the most important visual in the film, then I’ll be on the right track.

September 22, 2014
Revamped my animatic with colored backgrounds. Though this is the color scheme I am shooting for, the background will mostly be in 3D:
*Click on the picture to view the animatic
Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 6.57.16 PM
The temp track of the animatic comes from Mark Isham’s “Our Eyes Aren’t What Make Us See” from the film “At First Sight (1999)” directed by Irwin Winkler. Giving this as inspiration for my composer.

Because of dealing with a cold throughout last week, I’m a bit behind on trying to model my environment, but on the bright side, working on a beauty pass of the overall look of the film just for fun. Several months ago, I had tried modeling a miniature underwater environment in Maya, and it looked very decent and rather pretty close to my film’s vision. All it required was a wavy geometric plane above the scene, a sky sphere-dome, and fog. The items (bottle and wine opener) were from my previous short project called “Guessing Game” that I modeled while studying in Florence, Italy:
Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 9.53.08 PM

And goal for next week to try keep modeling my environment. By the end of this month or end of first full week of October, will finish my blocky underwater layout. This is so that I can block my character silhouette, Nicole into the scene. I’m leaving the beginning and ending last-ish since it doesn’t require too many elements, until I can revise a bit more on the establishment and conclusion. Not fully panicking…yet.

September 30, 2014
Steady as she goes. I’ve mapped my entire underwater scene for Nicole and her Father with camera movements, angles. Have the scarf modeled and temporarily textured. Had to make sure the model isn’t a huge file to export into actual underwater scene; otherwise Maya will be too slow to process each change, but I’m trying to fix that issue ASAP. Here’s what the scarf looks like (with default Maya lights):

scarfBLOCK scarfSMOOTH01 scarfSMOOTH02 scarfSMOOTH03 scarfCOLOR

Also I am working on modeling my treacherous mountain (Nicole climbs up in the middle of the film) this week:
(To be uploaded soon)

After this week, the goal is to start animating the camera and Nicole for one scene. Though I have 1 year to finish this project, want to make sure I get most of these tasks done Fall semester and then focus on compositing during the Spring. The idea of how I’m approaching this film is to work in layers, just like Photoshop, and this way I can tweak each part by it’s speed/timing and color correction. Noticed that while I was modeling that some shots had gotten tweaked not only to fit Maya’s camera capabilities but also to simplify some compositing with the seaweed added and make sense of the story’s flow:
photo 1photo 2photo 3
Continuing with my progress…

October 6, 2014

Yes, starting to animate! Here’s my character model of Nicole (click to enlarge):


I’ve created my own camera rig (thanks to USC Animation Chair, Kathy Smith) so that I can better control the X, Y, Z axis when I make any cool transitions within the underwater space. Did the camera animation in Maya, play-blasted the sequence with correct dimensions (1920 x 1080), and then animated Nicole in Photoshop with converted image sequence from camera animation. Finishing Nicole’s animation from Scene 02 where Nicole first meets her father in ghost form all the way until Nicole and her father reach the treacherous mountain. There may be some sections later on I will have to change slightly but as long as it matches Nicole’s animation then it won’t be too bad. Again, working my project in layers. Here’s a rough block of Nicole with camera animations for a couple of shots (filmed through my iPhone; quality’s kinda terrible when compressed but you get the idea):

Gives a sense of my timing. Note that I will add the father pretty soon, since he’s the most important part of the story. Will post character model of him too on the next post. Also expect a post of different assets of the underwater world, so that you can get an idea of what the world may look like when I start post production.

Coming along progressively (excluding having to deal with midterms with other classes)…

October 13, 2014

Nothing new much for this week besides continuing animating camera moves in Maya and lock animating Nicole. Suggested by my mentor, Trixy Sweetvittles, I have cleaned up my character Nicole and will use her to create a puppet in After Effects for my animation with Maya image sequence to save me more time. The puppet tool in After Effects can be a bit wonky, but I can fix that in “clean-up” since Nicole is a silhouetted character. After all, it will be exported in TIFF or TARGA sequence, and I can edit or remove frames. I am at that point of becoming more reluctant to work on my thesis because of external things like midterms, school scheduling for Spring semester, and even just the thought of a lot of things that need to get done in general before Fall semester concludes. But nonetheless, no matter how many times I change my workflow and production schedule, I am still considered in my mind “on-time” with my progress. Weird, right? At the end of this process, I still have my motto: “Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” Hopefully by next post I can post something awesome 🙂

October 20, 2014

It’s one of those moments where you felt like you had a weird day or set of days. According to my schedule, I should be working on scenes 3 and 4 where Nicole is doing the mountain climb and dancing her last moments with her father. Reluctancy does continue to build because there are just so much that needs to be done academic-wise for my very last semester at USC, but I just continue to be hopeful and try to finish a good chunk of my film. Great news that my animation lil’ sib, Deena Baum, is helping me with some underwater coral models to add to my underwater environment, and plus give her a chance to practice in Maya and put something in her portfolio. Once I have more of a peace-of-mind of my Spring classes and negotiating whether to keep my minor or not, then hopefully when November starts (and I registered for classes) my mentality for this film will be back in full force. At least Duik plugin for puppet tool in After Effects works and I can prepare Nicole’s model even better without isolating the limbs in Photoshop.

“Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” -me (Alexis Jackson)

October 27, 2014
Figured out how to convert rasterized images into vectors, since vectors are resolution independent and I wanted Nicole’s silhouette to be as clean as possible when I move the puppet. I know I will have to do some cleanup since tiny remnants of Nicole’s puppet stays in place, but that’s the least of my worries. Goal is to get some underwater animation scenes mostly complete by Sound Spotting session (November 11) so that there will be a better idea on the flow of the film. And also give more of something my composer can use, but I know by Winter Break there will be more animation and modeling of environment so that we can start scoring. I am starting to get a better idea of my workflow. Met with Darren Kiner (who I took his “Intro to VFX” class like 2 years ago), and discussed on the 3D side of things how to set up my project so I can composite in Nuke, which I remembered since his class. Reminded me that I can import image sequences of Nicole into Maya on a plane with a Surface Shader (which does not react to lights in the scene). Exactly what I wanted. And as I have intended much earlier in the process, to make use of the Render Layers and matte in/out objects which interact with each other in the scene. Same concept when they exposed filmstrips in order to make it seem like an actor or object is a part of the scene. Gives me more relief that 1) My gut instincts are right about my process. 2) I know that this is do-able.

I know it seems like I am going back-and-forth on my workflow but that is why I initially set up this project with simple geometry and 3-4 minutes of film time.

“Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” -me (Alexis Jackson)

November 2, 2014

The moment you feel you should have trusted your 1st instinct on something. It’s not that my Nicole puppet isn’t working…the way I had built it to function makes it pretty limiting in the animation. Instead of creating bones with one solid layer of the character, I rather separate the limbs in different layers in Photoshop (and convert to vectors in Illustrator). That way each limb as more freedom to rotate. I’m animating Nicole swimming and makes me cringe when I cant rotate the foot (because I forgot to create another bone) or the arms I cannot control its z-axis. Spending today separating the limbs. Then Monday, to power through animating entire Scene 02 and 03. Tuesday and Wednesday animating Scene 04. Thursday blocking Scene 01. Friday blocking Scene 05. Saturday and Sunday compiling animations and sounds for Sound Spotting session. Next week will be the time regardless to add the Nicole’s father.

“Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” -me (Alexis Jackson)

November 9, 2014

Finally some progress. Spent the entire weekend chugging some animation of Nicole for Sound Spotting session. Also, allowed myself to revamp each scene according to the capability of my new and improved rig of Nicole (using the Duik plugin in After Effects). I at least have basic and decent animation of Nicole for 3 scenes, and am continuing to animate her. Will fix a few timing issues once all the animation of both characters are complete. Starting this week will be animating Nicole’s father, so that we can see both of their interactions play out altogether in the film. As I have been putting together the sounds for the Sound Spotting session, though the sounds are mostly underwater ambiance and the ocean waves, there are still a few nuances of sounds to consider and will more likely end up hiring a sound designer to speed up the process. At any rate, here is current animatic with some animation:
Animatic Version 06

“Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” -me (Alexis Jackson)

November 18, 2014

Biggest thing this upcoming week (before Thanksgiving) is to finish general movements on Nicole and her father for most of the film. Then during Thanksgiving break is to dress up the environment more. The necklace may have to wait until Winter break since I want to make sure I don’t rush modelling it for faculty review. While I finish the general animation, I am working on creating more precise limbs for Nicole’s mountain climb and other scenes. Mainly hands. Coming along nicely. Here’s 95% of what the film will look like for reference:


“Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” -me (Alexis Jackson)

November 24, 2014

Never felt this excited about finishing a scene that looks decent in its animation and timing. Goal this past weekend was to finish scene 03 and 04 where Nicole is climbing a mountain and dancing with her father. Tricky part was figuring out how to revise my staging of shots with the puppets I have for both characters since they are flat. Using cuts of course made it a bit simpler, but I have also solved certain parts by either zooming into a body part as a transitional method from a profile to the back or front of the model. And also have the characters move off-screen and on-screen. Along with the goal for Thanksgiving holiday to build more of my 3D underwater environment, I will continue to fix minor timing issues at least for the underwater scenes (only 3 out of 5 of them in the film). After Thanksgiving, will prepare for faculty review. Plan is to show the animation I have done so far (with just the characters) and separately create a “mini-tour” of my 3D environment thus far. The animatic will be cut in most likely as still-frames so that the timing will not become “janky”(slang for messed up or crappy). Anyways, here’s scene 03: The Mountain Climb:

Scene 03: The Mountain Climb

December 1, 2014

Now winding down in preparation for the end of Fall semester. Main goal for the faculty review is to make sure the story makes sense with the visuals presented. This is the order-ish in which I will present my progress:

  • Logline
  • Character Models
  • Beauty Shot of Underwater World + Mini 3D underwater tour
  • Assets used in film (e.g., African scarf, RBCs, mountain)
  • Schedule + Budget
  • Current Animatic
  • Hopefully this should be all needed. I am however still tweaking animation (since I decided to rest Thanksgiving break) and will try to catch up building the 3D environment so I can match the animation with Maya environment. I can import image sequences on a 3D object in Maya with its alpha channel to do that. For the review, there wont be any special effects such as fog or special lighting or fractals, and instead it will just be the scarf, mountain, seaweed (maybe), and a ground plane. The necklace will be just a picture for now, along with the rainbow puddles Nicole steps on in the beginning of the film. If time, I may try to add in the baby footage before scene 01, since I got created a nicole-baby rig with Duik plugin in After Effects. The only scene I wont have is the very end Nicole returns to the beach, but it’s super short. Lastly, for music, my composer will still be on-board and already with the discussion that he will be more of my focus in the Winter/Spring or rather once I can present a more clean version of my film thus far. Otherwise, for the review, I will use my current temp track with a few temp sounds. As for a sound designer, he or she will be my top priority of hire during the Winter.

    “Everything will work out no matter the circumstances.” -me (Alexis Jackson)