Sunday, October 31, 2010


In pencil animation we just draw clothes on a character, then animate them.  But in CGI, costumes for the characters are more challenging.  Because the clothes, like the characters, will be seen in the round, they have to be designed like real clothes, cut from patterns and “sewn”, all in the computer.
And, like real clothes, it can start with a thread. 
A scientist builds a model of a thread in a computer.
Then s/he weaves the thread, with weft and woof, into a digital cloth, with the distinctive weave of the fabric desired: cotton (the most common thread), twill, satin, silk or wool, or whatever.  Finally, the cloth is lit in the computer to show off the texture.  You can see all the details here (click on the IM06.pdf file)  Thanks to Ian Hopkinson for this link.
These woven digital threads are used mainly in the fabric and textile industry.   If they were to be used in animation, strobing or a flickering visual effect might occur.  You can see this in Figures 12 through 14, in the above article.  This fabric in motion may strobe and flicker even more.

In CG animation, cloth simulation is used.  Here you can play with Andrew Hoyer’s simulated cloth and read his “little explanation” of how cloth is simulated: “…a collection of constraints and point masses in a never ending struggle.”
And here you can see how animator Jessica Hurst uses cloth simulation, including costumes for Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter.
  (Thanks to Eloi Champagne for these and the Syflex links).

In the CGI animated feature "Stuart Little 2," very realistic costumes were required, even though Stuart Little didn't really have a good body being very short, with no neck and a belly.   
Costume Designer Mona May made actual tiny patterns for Stuart Little’s simple wardrobe of jeans and sweaters.  Everyday fabrics like denim and thermal knit were simulated, with dirt marks where Stuart wiped his paws. The patterns were scanned and "sewn" together in the computer so the fabric would exhibit surface tension. Stuart Little was "fitted" in the computer, as well.  And, like an actual fitting, adjustments had to be made, to accommodate Stuart's tail and the thickness of his fur.

Another challenge for virtual clothing, is animating it.
Virtual clothes naturally have to move with the character, so cloth software needs to calculate collisions between the cloth and itself as well as other objects, notably, the body wearing it.  Syflex is a widely used cloth simulator plug-in that can run inside most major 3D apps (Maya, Softimage, Houdini).  But most of these CGI (3D) apps are now also shipped with their own cloth simulation solver.

As amazing as these cloth simulators are, I still notice that the cloth doesn’t always move intelligently, i.e. heavy cloth like velvet should move more heavily, more slowly than lighter cloth like muslin.  But, in some simulations, the cloth seems to move like velvet in some places and in others, it bounces and flies around like muslin. 
Weight is always a problem in CGI animation              

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Chuck Palahniuk has a scholarly look but beefy arms and a muscular body which may explain FIGHT CLUB. Unafraid to plunge into sordid reality with subversive and perverse ideas he uses very little description and there's not a cliché in sight. He’s funny too, in a dark, anarchic way.  He can also horrify you, break your heart and make you think. No matter how weird, bizarre or disturbing a setting he creates, the reader is there in it, feeling the textures, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds: the dank, rotting house in FIGHT CLUB, the dusty wine cellar in TELL-ALL, the asylum in CHOKE.

His "Minimalist transgressional fiction" is refreshingly different.
I hate violence so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed FIGHT CLUB.  The protagonist is a tortured, conflicted soul, insecure and desperate, his violent and non-violent sides fighting each other. Maybe that’s what made the physical fighting tolerable. A thinking man’s violence? Plus, I learned how to make soap out of lipo-sucked fat. The FIGHT CLUB film was remarkably faithful to the book and I think director David Fincher owes a lot of his reputation to Chuck Palahniuk.

There’s a sturdy plot with lots of subversion and anarchy in the books I've read and I couldn’t help liking the characters, identifying with them. They struggle so mightily. I felt for them, I was them. And I was sorry to let them go at the end.

CHOKE is full of original  ideas and themes.
See this extract:
“A blind chicken with half a head and no wings, shit smeared all over it, stumbles up against my boot , and when I reach down to pet it, the thing’s shivering inside its feathers.  It makes a soft clucking, cooing sound that’s almost a purr. It’s nice to see something more pathetic than I feel right now.”
Jonathan Franzen could never write that.
Palahniuk manages not to bore the pants off us with esoteric terms, inside knowledge and research on how the plastic I.D. bracelets worn in an insane asylum work, what it’s like to be a costumed character in a 1737 colonial village, a sex-addict, or Jesus.

I’ve only read three of his books so far and, even though RANT (which I haven’t yet read) didn't get rave reviews and I found TELL-ALL irritating, I still want to read the rest of the Palahniuk oeuvre:
     and to see future films based on Palahniuk books:
•    Invisible Monsters (2010)
•    Haunted (2010)
•    Survivor (2011)
•    Rant, optioned property
•    Diary, optioned property
•    Lullaby, optioned property
•    Snuff, rights bought by a French company

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I love writing about the art of animation.
Traditional, pencil animation, that is.
It’s a very sensual thing, holding a pencil in your fingers, the wooden angles against your knuckle,
feeling the texture of the paper, hearing the hiss of graphite, inhaling the papery smells
It’s intellectually stimulating to write about
discovering the history and literature of the period you’ll be drawing and animating, researching period costumes to match the story, finding the best shoes and hairstyles to match your character.
It’s an adventure to write about drawing a character,
starting tentatively with blue pencil, lightly sketching the first ideas, the construction lines, then changing to graphite and pressing harder and harder until you’re carving your character into the paper.
It’s a bit of a chore to make model sheets
for all the artists on the crew to follow so the character looks as though she’s been drawn by only one artist.
It's a challenge to write about how to measure the character in heads,
i.e. how many heads tall is she?  One and a half is she's very cartoony, five and a half or six if she's a cartoonified human.  And how big is she compared to other characters?  Describe a size comparison chart. Give detailed instructions on how to draw special features, such as eyes, hands, feet and how she should be animated.
It’s weirdly satisfying to describe spiteful studio gossip and the damage it does, artists working hellishly long hours, being fed dinner by the studio so you’ll stay at your desk longer, getting so tired that you get to work by muscle memory and have no recollection of how you got there.
But, best of all, it’s thrilling to explain how a character is animated, comes alive, how he's made to move across the page, in the costume and shoes and hairdo that you’ve chosen for him. How he squashes and stretches and bounces and arcs and overlaps and talks, sometimes with the words you’ve written.
Finally, how breathtaking it is to sit in the dark and see him all painted
on the screen, with music and effects and backgrounds.
And sometimes, to hear applause.
It's very exciting to write about all this.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


This morning, a big, soft mist settled over Los Angeles and finally broke the heat with its little cat feet.  As the heat-induced tensions lifted, I realised just how oppressive the heat had been and to what extent it had curtailed mental and physical activities.  Could this be why most of the great civilisations have evolved in the colder North, rather than the tropics?
During the past week of horrible heat (113º, a record even for summer in LA!), when most of our activities were focused on staying cool (cool drinks, cool meals, cool ice, cool air conditioning), several really big, nasty problems sneaked into my life.  Most arrived in innocent-looking emails that were really landmines and time-bombs, requiring instant action when I was least equipped to deal with such things.  Don’t bother me now, I’m making more ice, I felt like telling them.
      The majority of folks I follow on Twitter spare each other the real tribulations of their life, keeping their Tweets bright and witty (or dark and witty) but definitely on the airy side.  Or maybe they just have carefree, comfortable lives with fairies and flunkies to take care of difficulties.  Occasionally, though, I discover in a DM that horrible things are happening to them and I’ll be amazed that they can Tweet so cheerfully.  Now and then there are Tweets about catastrophes, like the editor whose apartment burned down with all her worldly possessions (she had no insurance) so a PayPal account was set up and money and help poured in from Twitter and that was wonderful.
But Twitter is best for sniveling and whining about life’s little irritations and annoyances and our small triumphs over minor adversity, not Tweeting about tragedy and horrible diseases.
Blogs are a different matter.  Lots of dramatic, heart-breaking stuff goes into blogs.  I understand the need to unload misery, but I don't agree with burdening the reader with it.
The nasty ghastliness of life and the terrible things that befall us are best dealt with in private--then woven into the pages of a best-selling novel or exposed in a prize-winning misery memoir later.
Misery should be made to pay for itself!