Tuesday, January 12, 2010

French music video tribute to The Muppet Show

This is the second French CG animation homage to Jim Henson's Muppets I've seen so far.  Many elements of the Muppet Show are here -- the red curtain, musician Muppets, audience Muppets, a human performer singing a classic song.   No heckling Statler and Waldorf-like characters though, sadly.  Since these are all key-framed CG characters, these puppets do things no ordinary foam hand-and-rod puppet can do!  Dance with legs showing!  Throw things! 

Unfortunately, the animators focused so much on exaggerating the "puppety-ness" that puppetry basics like lip-synch and eye-focus are less than stellar.  Still, it's great to see a large-scale Muppet Musical Number again. 

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Animated Short "Oktapodi"

Two cephalopods in love. A kidnapper. Greece. Enjoy!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Videogame + Toy Theatre?

There's a whole burgeoning world of augmented reality technology and new ways to interface with computers these days. As you've read about here so far, there's Johnny Lee's Wii white board, the Reactable collaborative musical instrument, and the amazing 3-D rotating textured stage in the Cirque du Soleil show, KA in Vegas. What do all of these have in common? Tracking.

This morning I found this video of levelhead, an installation game where the player's only interface is one or more plastic cubes on a pedestal. The game itself and the player are shown on a projected screen, and the sides of the cubes are replaced by tiny virtual rooms with a little avatar.

Yesterday I went to a Dorkbot event where we learned about RoboRealm, a free Windows toolkit for adding Computer Vision to your projects. It takes care of a lot of the complicated linear algebra and programming for you, essentially turning your webcam into an eye for your robot, a tracker for your interactive art piece, or whatever you can come up with. There are modules to send data out to your own electronics or robotics kit or your own software.

Besides this kit, there is the software library used in levelhead called OSGArt. Lots of other tools out there too.

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posted by Brian at 1:25 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, January 11, 2008

Puppet Torture Game on the PS3

Do you remember the boy named Sid in the movie Toy Story who tortured and mangled toys? Do you have a Sony PS3? (No? Very easy to get, unlike the Nintendo Wii™). Well now's your chance to have Sid-like fun as you wreak havoc on your own virtual character doll.

In Sony's new PS3 game Pain, the goal is to fling your puppet (via sling-shot, cannon, what-have-you) into brick walls, bowling pins, glass and other shatterable material. Seems like not so much a game as a toy to let out your aggressions that you've culminated from real life or perhaps your deep-rooted hatred of representational inanimate objects.

Or looking at it another way, this game is the interactive, digital puppet equivalent of those Jackass movies.

Wouldn't it be cool if you could load in puppet characters / avatars from other games? (Take that, Mario!) Or build your own? Seems like there's a lot of cross-licensing opportunities.

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posted by Brian at 3:03 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Oh yeah, Beowulf

So there's this entirely motion capture movie out there, technically similar to and same director (Robert Zemeckis) as The Polar Express. I worked on it in the character pipeline group for about 8 months. Now, a year later, I saw it and was surprised to see my name in the credits. Whohoo!

Too bad I can't get excited about the movie itself. Why oh why do we need to motion capture people (and horses, even) if we're just going to use their same exact image anyway? (Ok, Beowulf himself is a composite of two different actors with an artificial body...) Come on. There's a much better, proven technology for capturing performances from people -- it's called film. Is it so we can get away with a PG-13 rating? How much hotter would it have been to use the real Angelina Jolie. Leave the computer graphics to Grendel, and the very nicely done dragon (done with keyframe animation, not motion captured) that seemed to be more alive than any of the videogame characters running around. The women looked especially fake.

The script is horrendously dull. Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) asks Beowulf (Ray Winstone) half a dozen times "Are you gonna kill Grendel?" John Malcovich loiters around as the lone Christian somehow cavorting with the Vikings. The only true acting I could discern came from Beowulf's sidekick. The movie has almost no humor and takes itself incredibly seriously even during the absurdly silly moments, like Beowulf fighting Grendel in his birthday suit, a la Austin Powers. Once everybody stops talking and start getting their limbs ripped off, or fleeing from a gold-plated dragon, things get a little better, but not much.

I had the fun of getting to watch the videos of the motion capture sessions. Low and behold, it was as if the actors were given the direction "Ok, be really stiff. Stare a lot. Your motivation is that you're in tight lycra pants with dots all over face and body and the sooner you finish the take, the sooner you can go home. Action!"
The entire movie has the tone of a bad high school Shakespeare production.

If you do decide to see it, go to an IMAX 3-D screening (which I hear is out-selling the normal theatres).

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posted by Brian at 8:53 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, December 03, 2007

KÀ in Las Vegas: Videogame as Theatre?

I just got back from Vegas this weekend, my first time there. Naturally I'd heard all about some amazing Cirque du Soleil shows there, like "O", "Mystere", and "Zumanity," but when I got there, my native Las Vegan friends told me they loved a newer show called "KĄ".

Well, they couldn't have picked a better show for me to see.

Imagine if you will a multi-story tall auditorium stage that appears to have no bottom, out of which a myriad of theatrical environments emerge. A ship atop a stormy sea. A sandy beach. A monstrously high cliff. A wall for shadow puppets. Battlefields. A forest. Or, during the pre-show, intermittent bursts of flame. To the left and right are illuminated copper cage towers. Think H.G. Wells meets Ewok tree condos on Endor.

Of course there are the Cirque trademarks -- dancers, acrobats, twirlers, and people flying through the air. (If you have not seen a Cirque show, go rent Mystere, Quidam, or Dralion and come back. Or better yet, go see Varekai or whatever tour is out there now live) There is the fantastic music. Though in KÀ, the music is blended with extravagant sound effects, playing through speakers in everyone's seats. But this is the first of their Vegas shows to have a plot*, albeit a relatively simple one. Two twins are kidnapped and must be rescued across varied landscapes full of strange creatures and peoples.

Hmm. Sound videogame-esque? We'll touch on that shortly.

Unbeknownst to me while I was watching it, the Cirque du Soleil troupe brought in two of my theatrical heroes, Robert Le Page and Michael Curry to work on it, as director and puppet fabricator respectively. I wrote a review of Robert's amazing earlier work "The Far Side of the Moon" back in 2001 and got to talk with him a little about how he was experimenting with moving set technology and puppets. Of course, Michael Curry is the genius behind the Lion King Musical puppets, masks, and its morphing cliff stage.

The fusion of all these talents adds up to an unbelievable, jaw-dropping, almost indescribable experience. However, I think I've stumbled upon the right analogy here, although please don't assume I mean to undermine its theatricality in any way: KÀ is part live-action, ultra-high production value videogame sequence, part Cirque du soleil show, part martial arts.

To make my point, here is the state-of-the-art in camera-oriented videogames Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii™:

Now picture something along these lines, right in front of you, live with human beings, scaled to the size of a good-sized hotel. (Ok, not a giant orb spinning but I wouldn't put it past these guys to do something like that next time.) A giant spinning rectangular plane. Two, actually, both acting as stages so capable of transforming they might as well be virtual.

In a sense, KÀ really is part videogame with its use of real-time, tracked projected animations. The larger of the two stages in KÀ is not limited to physical texture, thanks to a clever use of computer vision and projection techniques. It becomes a cliff, or the dark sea with bubbles following a diving actor. Through the combination of this and flying rigs, the stage becomes more like the eye of the camera, with moves previously reserved for Film and now videogames.

Will this make good theatre? Or just another technological exercise like the motion captured, virtual camera move-fests of recent Zemeckis films like The Polar Express and Beowulf? We will see.

Coming soon, I'll try to go into more detail about how this technology works and how it will change live theatre.

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posted by Brian at 5:41 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Physics Engine PC Cards? What about Magic?

First, there were graphics cards for computers that let those of us without Silicon Graphics computers to have 3-D graphics. Now, there are physics cards, which are supposed to bring more realistic physics effects to games.

What I want: magic cards. No, not Magic™ cards. I mean cards that enable impossible things to happen in the computer. Why keep trying to replicate reality in your PC, when you could simulate magic instead?

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posted by Brian at 1:38 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, May 07, 2007

Conan O'Brien visits Industrial Light & Magic

Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien got much of the same tour as I did when he visited ILM. He also tried out their amazing motion capture system. Check it out!

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posted by Brian at 11:49 AM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 04, 2007

Communicating Emotion in 3-D graphics & Machinima

CartoonBrew posted the original Tootsie Roll Pop commercial from the early 70s (animated by the great Fred Crippen, who did many fine Sesame Street animated shorts over the years) alongside the newly updated CGI version. Check them out here.

I think it would be difficult to argue the new version is better. But why, precisely? What is the visually fancier version lacking that the first has? The answer is found in a blog entry from the Free-Pixel blog: Emotion.

The blogger fiezi attended a presentation by Gilles Monteil, an animation researcher at Ubisoft, called "We All Want Emotions in Games!" He describes how three audience members were given laser pointers to aim at the screen, and to do whatever they wanted. (I've seen this happen spontaneously while waiting for Dailies to start at Sony) The audience reacted to what they perceived as a chase going on, but in reality, there were only moving dots. No textures, no geometry, no perceivable characters in the traditional sense. All that was there was rhythm, a sense of space, and a sense of interaction between entities.

This is basically the core of all visual design, and of performing arts like mime and dance, and it turns out, in computer games as well. The extras, like how characters are dressed, how spectacular the sets look, are secondary to the audiences emotional involvement. Yet, in game engine design (used by Machinima), the focus is on texture, lighting, and making things look spectacular.

That's great, but make certain you can invoke an emotional response, with your character design, posing, and motion first, then your textures and lighting.

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posted by Brian at 5:20 PM 0 comments links to this post

Spidey III

I went with some UCLA Animation Graduate students to see the 12:15 AM 21+ (i.e. we could drink alchohol) screening of Spidey III.

My overall impression? *na-na-na-naaa-naaa* My Spidey movie's better...

But I was impressed with the FX (particle-ly Sandman) Sorry Imageworks folks, I caught some of you in the credits but missed a lot. I'll look more closely when SP3 is on Netflix.

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posted by Brian at 3:16 AM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Compulsive Knitting Disorder

I'm told by several lady friends that knitting is a compulsive, addictive hobby. This animation by Finnish animator Laura Neuvonen demonstrates the potential consequences of too much knitting.

from CRAFT magazine by way of Spirits Dancing.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

CG Animated Short: Burning Safari

Brother Henry wrote in to let me know about this very cool CG Short, Burning Safari.

Now try doing that with Machinima, eh? Though you could do the Rough and Final Layouts with Machinima techniques, in a fashion similar to how Phil Tippett used Star Wars action figures and fake trees to film a rough version of the Speeder Bike sequence in Return of the Jedi.

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posted by Brian at 10:00 AM 2 comments links to this post

Friday, August 08, 2003

Adventures in Southern California

Spent the last week in San Diego & Los Angeles in an unplanned adventure to find work at Siggraph and help my friend Sam with his puppet TV show pilot. Sure enough, I got a job offer from Sony Pictures Imageworks!! Wow.

It was a bit of coup getting the interview. They weren't taking reels or resumes at their booth. But for some reason they put up a sign advertising a "Production Services Technician" position over on the memoboards (where people leave notes that get placed alphabetically in vain attempt to reach other people). So after arriving at 8 AM I had the crazy idea to leave a note -- on the sign itself. Sure enough, the note was gone a few hours later, and then I got a voicemail saying I had an interview scheduled for the next day at their booth. Whoa! I guess it pays to deface posters now and then!

The interview went well. It's the only time I've had three women interview me for a tech position. Thanks to the free Starbucks frappucino cans at Dreamworks/PDI's booth, I nailed it. But the next challenge was getting to LA to stay with my friend Sam. Fortunately our LA friend Eric (whom I had seen at Comic Con a week or so earlier) had mentioned he might come down for Siggraph. A quick call to him, and voila! A ride back.

Meanwhile I was staying with a crew of Pixelcorps artists. We could have easily formed our own production company. John the Modeller, Scott the Compositor, Robby the R&D guy, Greg the Animator and me (running the thing, probably). I definitely had the most luck finding work, and getting into the cool parties. My friend Nick is moving up the ranks at PDI now and when I saw him at the booth, he gave me and Greg two invites for the exclusive Dreamworks/PDI party. Yayy! It was pretty sweet -- free booze, food, and the chance to see Jeffrey Katzenberg perform a meager puppet show describing one of their upcoming films ("Over the Hedge").

LA was fun too. Got to build and paint sets for a pirate ship filled with ogres, hamsters, and a pirate named Sid. Did I mention it was in the desert? Yep, 1.5 hours east of LA in the town of Phelan (the location of a woman I just met in Comic Con... Random!) I also performed right-hand for Victor Yerrid, a puppeteer from Crank Yankers and Greg the Bunny. Performed a hamster, and an Easter Island puppet too.

And of course, the interview with Sony! Their facility is rather nice. Marry gave me the tour and despite the weird hours, the job sounds great! They train you to do whatever you want, and try to make you want to stay rather than burn or kick you out like so many places. She told me if the crew liked me, they would email me a technical test. When I got home, it took me about a day to finish 3 questions (it didn't say anything about a deadline) involving a lot of scripting. Today I got the offer!

So I'll stop it with the "sure enough"'s and sign off so that I can go say "I got a jobb, I got a jobbb" to a dozen more friends.

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