Thursday, May 31, 2012


All the action is in my head.

There's not a lot of actual art production happening right now, but lots of thinking and working nevertheless. 

I'm learning a lot of new software that will make my 3D animation process a lot more fluid. At the moment it feels like I'm back at square one, but that's the way it always is with growth and learning. If I felt totally comfortable with what I was doing, I wouldn't be learning, would I? 

Many thoughts about projects - too many thoughts, maybe. 

Two big paintings are almost finished. Those, and storyboards, and my break from reading instruction manuals and fiddling with buttons. 

On rainy days like this, the clouds come in low over the hill across the cove, shrouding the evergreens with greys and whites. 

Last night I had a swim in the rain. Water drops bouncing around me like silver beads. The soft but powerful exhale of a seal. Crows flitting through the Douglas Firs and Arbutus. A Great Blue Heron takes a nap on a dock. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

outdoor studio

There are few things in life I enjoy more than painting outside in the sun. Every minute I can spend doing that is a blessing.


Today is damp, cloudy, but warm. The ocean will be a little colder on the surface, but the weekend boat traffic will be gone. I might wait until sunset to swim, because the tide will be higher and I'd like to see some wildlife. 

Friday, May 25, 2012


The ocean is warmer every day. Only the first couple of seconds are shocking - after that, you can stay out for a long time before getting cold. Get out there, West Coast Canadians!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

sketching the movement of an imaginary lizard

Sketchin' movement. Lookin' at trees and imaginin' the creature I'm building leaping around. I'm keeping these loose because I want to reference them directly when I animate, to maintain that same unrestrained feeling in the motion. I like some of the compositions as well.


I just started school today - the Low-Residency Masters of the Applied Arts Program through the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. It's very exciting. I have to learn some esoteric words like Ontology, but I promise not to use them on this blog.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

thinking with colours

A couple acrylic sketch-paintings from my acrylic sketch-painting sketchbook.

They're another step towards figuring out how I'm going to do backgrounds on this film. It's taking some time because I want to do it differently than I've done it before, and I have some specific thoughts on how I'd like to merge painting with 3D lighting.

This line of thought is actually something more than just backgrounds to a film... I love painting and photographing outdoor scenes, and I keep trying to things of ways I can animate them. Later this summer I'm actually doing a two-week residency at Chilkoot Trail National Park, on the borders of Alaska, Yukon, and BC, with this kind of project in mind as well: How to animate wilderness scenes in a painterly way?

Such are the earth-shattering questions that I am fated to pursue the answers for.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


 Whoa dang! Those Dogwoods are purdy!

Same with them fresh Maple leaves!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

To The Water

My route to the water - straight down from my deck.

I try to get into the ocean all year 'round. Usually there's a three-month period (Jan to March) where the weather is so lousy that I start to slack off, and usually only jump in for a quick splash a few times per month. But this time of year, - April and May - are probably the most exciting for me. Every day the water gets a little warmer, and every day I can stay out for longer. Yesterday I pushed it for a little too long and had to spend the rest of the evening wearing three layers to warm back up.


When I first moved to this place, I was a little disappointed that the nearest water was through other peoples' property. I didn't like the idea of sneaking around to get to the water - carefully picking my way along the no-man's land between the properties that lie between myself and the ocean.

As time goes on, however, I'm taking great delight in my trip to the water. Especially as the weather starts to get warm, I know that the properties (which have been mostly vacant all winter long) will soon be occupied, especially on weekends. So I can't just let my mind wander as I stroll to the ocean. I have to always be aware of the spots where I could be visible from a house, and I have to listen for people. On the parts where there's a trail, I'm always watching for people tracks (so far, only deer), and I'm very careful not to leave any tracks myself. I step carefully on rocks and roots, or walk softly by rolling my feet.

The walk has become wonderfully meditative. In stopping to listen for people, I catch the sounds of ravens, eagles and songbirds. In watching the trail for tracks, I see the passage of deer. Picking down a dry ravine under the twisting boughs of giant cedars, up onto a grassy meadow dwarfed by a huge Douglas Fir, down over a cascade of moss-covered rocks, taking shelter under an Arbutus for one final careful look at the most exposed part of my trip, where I climb down a big rock to a sheltered nook at the water.

My favorite time to swim is sunset, which is perfect because the fading light is easy to hide in and people start heading inside. I suppose that's one reason why the animals are so active at sunset as well - there's still light to see, but it's easier to hide from predators. I always see a lot more wildlife at sunset.

It will be interesting when the water is warm enough for me to swim way out in the cove. People will be able to see me swimming from their houses, so I'll have to be tricky like an otter when I come back in, so they can't tell where my beaching-spot is.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Here's the geometry (sculpt) of one of the characters in the film. I'm calling him Dragon Bug. He moves through the branches like a squirrel, jumping fearlessly from branch to branch. It's going to be interesting (impossible?) getting good movement out of him with his short legs, but that's a challenge I'm looking forward to.

Now I need to texture him, which means giving him colour and deciding how he'll actually look in the scene. Which leads to a big question - what's this film going to look like?

From my last short, "The Perfect Detonator"

My past four shorts were flat-shaded, meaning that the characters looked more like drawings or paintings. I don't want to do that this time. If I'm going to flat-shade a character, I'll animate him classically. This time around, I want to make better use of the strengths of 3D animation than I have in the past.

A huge difference between 3D computer animation and other forms of animation is that you can play with light - you can move lights around just like you would in a movie set. Characters and sets can be lit in all kinds of gorgeous and complex ways that aren't even possible in reality. And I'm finally realizing what I've heard one hundred times before - that, when it comes to visuals, light is everything. It's how information is transmitted to our eyes. If you're creating work that people will be looking at, you'd better be thinking about light!

All the paintings I've been doing for the past year have been exploring light in some way, and I want to continue to do that.

Intention 1: "Paint with light" in every shot to create mood. This includes character lighting, set, and background paintings. I would like to have some really abstract backgrounds like the one above in some shots.

I want the film to feel loose, both in the process of creation and in the final product, so I don't want to restrict myself to one level of detail. Also, I tend to get bored pretty quickly with some parts of animating. I think this is because of the traditional way films are made: Design and storyboard first. Then animate every shot. Then edit it together. 

I far prefer the painting process because I'm designing and laying out big ideas at the same time as refining and editing. My mind can jump around all these things at once. Can I do that with a film?

Intention 2: The process of making this film should be a constant discovery. I should always feel actively engaged and challenged by the work. 

This is a 30-minute acrylic painting I did a couple nights ago - just a sketch, trying to think about how the world is going to look when the background is more realistic. I don't know yet. Maybe too literal? Maybe I need to apply that painting onto 3D objects as textures (like decals), then light the object, to get nice rimlights and shadows?

I feel like this is already getting too tight. Maybe the foreground tree is okay, but I should try a far more abstract background that just gives the impression of light filtering through trees. Actually, I like that idea a lot.

I'd also like to have a bit of this jumpy randomness that you see in stop-motion films. This is going to come down to a different way of animating in 3D. I talked about this a few posts back:

Intention 3: - In the final product, we should be able to feel the spontaneity of the creative process. 

But at the same time...

A test shot I just found from about twelve years ago, for a film I never did.

Intention 4: I also want to use stylized motion. 

This is another place where animation excels. It's a delight to watch characters move a little differently than they do in real life. I haven't done this kind of animation in way too long. I always loved it when I first learned animation fifteen years ago, but got into a job where the motion had to be more realistic, and every job afterwards was the same. I followed the pattern and used the same semi-realistic animation in my past four films. Time to get back to the craziness! 

Intention 5: The film will be as much about sound and music as it will visual.

I strongly believe that sound is the most important thing about an animated short film. Music and animation is like music and dance - I think the two are very closely linked. Look at all the greatest short films since the medium was first born, and almost every one has a huge element of sound or music to it. 

This time around, I'm working with an original piano composition which is being written as the animation progresses. I listen to the rough chunks of it as I jam out wild storyboard ideas in the morning.

Intention 6: I need a fucking story!

Most important! The story is everything. If you don't have a story, there's no point in making a film. Where's the fucking story? I have one fleshed out, but I'm not sure about it yet. I think it's just going to appear as I keep making stuff, so maybe I shouldn't worry about that. I would like the look of the film to reflect the story, though - everything should serve the story. So maybe I need to step back a bit and do a little more writing.