Trailer launch and ANNECY 2019!
This was a shocking moment to say the least!

This was a shocking moment to say the least!

Where to begin!?

What a spring this has been! Lets start with May.

May 15th I posted the trailer for Normans Island to youtube and other social media outlets. The feedback has been great! Check it out below if you haven’t seen it yet. Lots of great folks helped me with sound and music, mainly my pals Toby Hulse did the sound design and mixing, with David Menzel doing the music. My friend Barry Duncan of IF did the title designs as well. Thanks so much guys!

So beyond that, the trailer consisted of work done mainly by myself, Nathan, and one of my oldest buddies, Brad Sorochka. He’s a fantastic 3d modeller and I couldn’t have done anything without him. His work really elevated this piece!

Also, another old pal Ryan Olson, lent his animation skills to the piece and animated a number of shots. He killed it!

The kind folks over at Unity helped us spread the word with this project by writing up a nice blog post, and an in-depth interview cataloging a behind the scenes look at how we made this thing. Having your work featured next to Pixar, Disney and Valve is pretty insane. We are incredibly humbled by all that!

Unity’s “Shrine page” that features some of their highlighted works.

Unity’s “Shrine page” that features some of their highlighted works.

After about two weeks of the trailer stuff, I headed off to the Annecy International Film Festival in France early June! And let me tell you, it was INSANE.

So shortly after landing my friend Dave from Real Good Liars tweets out the image linked at the top of the page. The kind folks at Unity really got behind Norman’s Island and were promoting it quite heavily at the festival.

As a complete indie studio with no budget, seeing your project featured on a billboard in the center of a film festival is completely mind blowing. Its a dream come true. I could not ask for a better introduction to potential business partners than “Hi! We’re making Norman’s Island. If you’d like to see it, just look on that billboard behind you!”.

One of the many posters featured around Annecy

One of the many posters featured around Annecy

I pitched the project to anyone that would be interested in hearing me talk about it. Thankfully, most people seemed to like it. Some thought that it was too action heavy for their network etc - which is fine, great feedback! But most folks that I pitched it to seemed to like it, so with any luck at all perhaps we will find a partner for Norman and bring it to life for all you!

Besides all the buisness-y stuff, Annecy is a great place to explore and connect with other incredible artists. Let me talk a bit about that!

Behind that building is Cafe Des Arts, where all the animation folk grab a beer and connect!

Behind that building is Cafe Des Arts, where all the animation folk grab a beer and connect!

Animators and Animation type people are all super friendly, and I learned that everyone goes to Cafe Des Arts after the festival to grab a beer and chat. I met so many incredible people from all over the world. I went from knowing almost no one at the festival to knowing so many people by the end of the week! So fun!

Here are a few other photos from the week in France!

I hope to go back next year, and bring the rest of us Little Mountaineers along!

The Unity booth with some art from Norman’s Island!

The Unity booth with some art from Norman’s Island!

I did an on camera interview talking about the project and how we made it!

I did an on camera interview talking about the project and how we made it!

Beautiful town, great people!

Beautiful town, great people!

nathan thomas
Performance capture using VIRTUAL REALITY!

The future is here!
I’ve always wanted an affordable simple solution for homebrew motion capture. It allows animators such as myself an quick way to iterate and try ideas as we work out the story and performance.

I may have found that solution, and its called Glycon! Check out the video below!

You can check out glycon here:

https://www.liberty3d.com/2018/09/glycon-vr-motion-capture/

Let me know if you have any questions :)

nathan thomas
Handheld camera motion capture using virtual reality!

One thing I’ve been chasing with this project is an quick and affordable way to capture a naturalistic handheld camera.

Ideally I’d like to set up a virtual camera, but since I haven’t found something affordable (aka dirt cheap), I had to think outside the box a bit and try something new.

First of all, I taped my oculus rift controller to a heavy tripod, so I could emulate the weight and feel of a real camera.

I used a VR program called Glycon, which is still in early beta testing, to capture the data off that controller I taped to the end of a tripod.

I exported that data, cleaned it up in maya, and tossed er’ into unity! worked great!

Alternatively, I could film something, track the footage in PfTrack and then import that into maya, but I felt like this would be a bit faster. Fun way to experiment anyways.

Let me know what you think!

nathan thomas
Still alive!

Hey everyone! It's been a crazy spring for us here, as my day job took priority and consumed the last few months. However, we're back at it and producing great stuff!

The trailer above was what has consumed my time for the last few months! It was really great animating on such an iconic project with a great team! Can't wait for you all to see it!

In the meantime however, lets talk about Animation and how its going for Norman's Island. We are also hard at work creating a big yellow robot! (No connection to Bumblebee!)

For Norman's Island I am using a heap of my own acting reference. Here's a sample of me acting a shot out, compared directly to a rough blocking animation. Take a peak at my cheesy acting!

 

Its also important to exaggurate your acting once you find a nice performance! I will get into that a bit more in the next post! Hope you all enjoy this for now.

nathan thomas
Happy new year!

Happy New Year everyone! 
Hope everyone had a restful break and is back at it. 

I've been keeping busy and decided to branch out and hire some help with my character designs. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not much of a modeller or designer. Our main heroic robot friend Tex is looking a little simplistic these days, so I reached out to the amazingly talented Sheng Lam For some assistance.

Check out some of his amazing concept work on Tex below. What do you all think? 

tex.gif
nathan thomas
HomeBrew Motion Capture

In addition to my previous post about animation for Normans Island, I've been playing with the notion that I can use some really affordable Motion Capture solutions from home. These solutions are never perfect, but allow me to move quickly and try as many ideas as I can while I search for the performance of a character.

In the past, I was tasked with animating dozens of Aliens in prison cells for "Independence Day 2". This would normally be a very time consuming task, but we had a few Xbox Kinects lying around and we were able to knock out a few iterations really quickly. Here is one the shots from the final film.

Some quick and dirty alien animation acted out by yours truly.

Some quick and dirty alien animation acted out by yours truly.

So, first thing's first. If you want to set up something like this at home. You'll need a Kinect 2 (I got mine for $50 off Craigslist). You will also need windows 10, usb 3.0 and this cable from amazon.

After that, purchase or try out IpiSoft. There are other packages, but I've found this one works great and is easy to use. There's some great jitter reduction features which for this type of data is really important, I've found.

I only have a modest sized apartment at my disposal, but the less "busy" your background is, the cleaner the capture. Also, avoid having other people/cats/ghosts in the scene, as it can get messy quickly.

 

My cheesy mocap setup. Cat for scale.

My cheesy mocap setup. Cat for scale.

Alright! Time to DANCE!

Cringeworthy, I know.

Cringeworthy, I know.

So the data worked out fairly clean, like I said earlier, its not perfect, but its a start!

I'll go ahead and export this now as an FBX and import that into Maya.

Check out that hip shake!

Check out that hip shake!

After we have imported the raw data, you could be really smart and do some fancy retargeting, but that is a lesson that I am still unsure how to approach, so for now I'm just going to constrain my animation rig to this skeleton.

 

Beautiful

Beautiful

And there we have it! some rough poses and timing that will serve as a great base for my first animation pass.

Did you like this post? Have anything you'd like to add? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more awesome posts!

nathan thomas
Creating a shot for Normans Island
fallsm.gif

I thought it might be fun to document my animation process and workflow for "Norman's Island", an animated action comedy series rendered in Unity.

Above is a near final shot. I would still like to tweak a few things, but for now let's call it done. I'm trying to work as fast as possible, which is a big reason why I decided to use a game engine and reduce my render and compositing time. All in all, I'd say this shot took me about 4 hours to complete. I'm just doing this little project while my kids nap in the room next to me, so it's really important to me to work quickly and efficiently. 

At my day job, I work on big movies and at studios like that - quality is everything. We have the time afforded to us to comb over each frame in precious detail - and while I love that process, it's expensive. This show has to be done as quickly as possible, otherwise I will never complete it.

In part, I can move quickly because of the small team size. It's just me. Who needs sleep anyways? (I've had a few friends lend helping hands here and there, which I'm so thankful for!) Because time is so valuable, planning is really important.  Every shot has been storyboarded before I start animating. It's pretty common in the animation world to board your film before you dive in, and this is no exception. Here are the boards for this shot:

Early development boards for Shot0012 in Norman's Island

Early development boards for Shot0012 in Norman's Island

Wow, great drawings eh?

So things have changed a little since I've done these storyboards, but the general idea is there. The story is being told and the camera language is spelled out. Cool! Next we head to animation.

I'll be honest, I've spent a majority of my either sitting on my ass animating, or obsessively consuming information about animation. So forgive me if I gloss over anything, I'll do my best to keep it general!

I built a simple animation rig in Maya, which was challenging for me as I have no idea how to rig. I did an okay job on the body rig, but for the facial animation rig I had to reach out  to a good pal for some assistance. We have a simple rig with a few blendshapes and additional joints in the eyes and brows. I think we will keep refining this rig as we move forward, but for now it gets the job done and tells the story. 

First animation test with Normans Facial rig

First animation test with Normans Facial rig

So keeping on theme here, I like to work as fast as I can. In Maya I animated this shot in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Its not great animation by any means, but its fun and makes my daughter smile, so mission accomplished. I'm trying to adopt a style that has some humorous poses and timing and then move on to the next thing. Here's what the shot looks like in Maya:

Quick animation pass in Maya

Quick animation pass in Maya

After this, I export everything as an FBX and move it to Unity. I can talk about that more in depth later, if there's any interest. 

All animators know that there are the 12 golden rules of animation - super talented folks way wiser than I came up with them, and I'm not going to add to them. Instead I have 3 questions every time I approach a sequence in Norman's Island. I ask these three questions before I can move on with the shot.

1) Is it funny?

2) Does it look okay?

3) Can I do it fast enough?

If I have two of the 3, (not all shots are supposed to be funny) then I'm a happy camper. 

Anyways, its late now and my kids are probably going to wake up in 25 min. I should get some rest. Hope some of you found this helpful!

-Nate

 

 

 

nathan thomas