Thursday, 31 March 2016

Film Review: Belleville Rendezvous

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (MoviePosters)
  • Director: Sylvain Chomet
  • Native Title: Les Triplettes de Belleveille
  • Primary Language: French
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2003
  • Budget: est. $8,000,000
  • Film Length: 80 minutes
  • Production Company: Les Armateurs, Vivi Film, Production Champion
  The Triplets of Belleville, also known as Belleville Rendezvous is a 2003 French animated film that follows the elderly Madame Souza (not named except in the credits) as she pursues to save her grandson Champion, who is kidnapped from a run of the Tour de France and taken by shady characters to the city of Belleville. There she comes across three elderly women, who were once renowned Broadway singers the Bellevilel Triplets, and together they work to rescue Champion as he is forced to ride in a mock Tour De France by French gangsters.

  Perhaps the first initially striking thing is how the characters in the film are portrayed. "Chomet relishes caricaturing the body shapes of his characters - whether it's the overly muscular thighs and protuberant nose of Champion, or the grotesquely obese residents of Belleville." (Dawson, 2003). The cariacatures we see are so illustrative of the characters they portray that it is easy to see the comic-book past of the director. It could be argued that these cariacatures easily appear lifted out of a political cartoon, for a few characters in particular - aside from Champion's oversized legs and the ball-shaped Bellevillians - are the two other horse-faced cyclists (one of which, after falling over lets out an very horse-like whinny as they are executed for collapsing, not unlike stories of injured racehorses) while the stunted mechanic who takes care of the cycling machine posesses a tiny frame, enormous ears, tiny buck teeth and a twitching nose, squeaking uncontrollably as if he were a rat posing as a man. This serves to make the film's impression stick, perhaps lightening the mood to a rather serious situation.

Figure 2: Despite all these features and holiday snaps form Disneyland, we saw no cheese. (unknown)
  There is more to the expression than cariacatures however. There is very little dialogue but this is not to the film's detriment. Instead it might be to its merit. "Dialogue is left aside as a tool to impart meaning; the film prefers to use clever sound design and dynamically drawn characterisation, explored through expression, physicality and movement along with the occasional musical rendition, as the major device to drive the plot." (Huggins, 2003). Without using dialogue to explain everything, what's going on is conveyed using visual or audial metaphors such as the aforementioned racehorse-like qualities of Tour De France cyclists. The French mafia consists of armies of identical, square-shoulderd hunchback goons that through the power of dark colours and uniform clothing can meld with each other to form a gestalt entity, or act as carry support for their gnomish bosses who wear suits with similar qualities to be carried around like babies. The visual metaphors could be listed endlessly, thus the short of it is that like Paprika, The Triplets of Belleville sets aside realism to fill the screen with metaphor in the form of some visual aid, a trait often shared with political cartoons that attempt to convey a message using every line and shape even if it means the portrayal is completely off-the-wall.

Figure 3: Are their suits that inky, ir is their boss wearing a concealed baby-carrier? (Beenjammin, 2011)
  Like all political cartoons, there is a level of social commentary written within the visual gag. And the film relishes in the suggestion. "From the opening musical number, Chomet throws in terrific set-pieces (Mme. Souza chasing an ocean liner on a pedalo, a last reel getaway that would put Hollywood to shame), subtle cultural commentary (Belleville is a thinly-disguised America)" (Thomas, 2003). The final scene could very well be, as Thomas suggests, a jab at American spectacle cinema; the cycling machine, chased by a dozen Mafia cars with sun-roofs used as shooting ports, that tip over easily, catch fire with the slightest imbalance and grip to the road like the city is paved with banana peels. One gangster goes as far as to draw out a rocket launcher, only for the rear-heavy car to tip backwards the moment he fires it. The body count for this one scene alone is also astonishing, as we quite clearly see gangsters crushed and thrown about by the chaos. As enjoyable as this scene is, it can be seen to satirise many common tropes found in American car chase sequences. Combine this with the rather unpleasant portrayal of Americans as spherical and obsessed with food, the film is perhaps a critique of American sensibilities when it comes to entertainment or drama.

Figure 4: Just one of the many over-the-top ways that Mafia cars are disabled in the final chase. (Fabic, 2015)
  On the surface, The Triplets of Belleville is an entertaining satirical comedy. Beneath the surface, the film uses this comedy and the appearance of a political cartoon given life to make a point about the growing predominance of American culture, particularly with visual media. Despite this critique, it is a deeply enjoyable movie that feels as though the director took a political comic and with immense love gave it life for the big screen with all the crude humour and reality-bending flair that comes with that sort of medium.


Image References

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Colo Colo: Geometry Done, UVs Now

   Much of this afternoon has been spent on finishing the geometry, adding a few flourishes, but the thing that took most of my attention was preparations for UV mapping. Maya 2016 allows for a new unfolding process which considerably speeds up the process. However there was still a little modification work to be done, mainly smoothing out the body UV to alow a smooth transition between the components.

 The night previous I also looked into working on the tongue, a long tube with flaps on the end that open up into a receding cavity. This tongue will go inside the mouth and into the throat. Colo Colo does bite but much of the material suggests that it subsists on liquids, so perhaps this tongue dominates the throat, which will definitely be useful when it comes to putting it inside the mouth.

  In terms of rigging, my plan is for there to be a series of bones in the tongue, a mouth with bones in the lower but not in the upper jaw, and an armature based on the skeletons of rats and dogs.

  The main reason the body UV was evened out was because this creature is bound ot be very flexible, so I wanted a UV map for a body that will likely do a fair bit of bending and stretching. The above arrangement will theoretically give the most even  amount of stretch and compression as it representes a midpoint.Though more likely this is something I will have to test once I set up the armature inside it.

  I may have to look back into the iris. It has a very large one, compensated by the fact that in a neutral state it would look slightly outward, but I also hope I can mask the black behind with some form of reflection from the cornea. A lot of this came about because I discovered that unlike humans, a lot of reptiles havr irises so large they completely hide the sclera in most circumstances. For all animals, light is refracted within the cornea to give the illusion that the iris is a convex, rather than a flat or concave surface. An alternative I suppose is to tweak the iris so it is a dome.

  below are the current UV maps. The ideal situation is to have everything on one large map but two 2004x2048 texture maps (I might make more lower-resolution textures for distant shots) will probably do for now. However the quills still need to be made, but they could potentially share a single UV.

  I might look into doing it for more given the mirrored nature for the creature but I looked into mirroring the interior of the mouth. I could do this to the tail and the body, which should give me room on the first UV map to include a UV for the quills.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Adaptation B: Continuing Modeling

  It's taken some effort to continue with the project, but I have made a start on using this week to catch up and continue on what I have built so far. Today was primarily abotu getting the foot done, but I also spent time correcting some geometry in the mouth, connecting up the the ankle and heel and smoothing out some of the geometry.

   Aside from the tongue, eyes and quills I think I am almost ready to start UV mapping. My strategy for this is to start with the legs, then with that done I can map the inside of the mouth, the head, torso and tail.

  The more I get to grips with modelling, the more I feel I am getting used to the way these creatures are built. The rear foor was built on what I cane to understand about the underside of the front paw, and in essence, feet (unless we're dealing with hooves) could be considered hands that the creature stands up with. Some of the positioning is odd, such as the leg, but this is something that will be corrected by the rig.

  Overall the creature is really shaping up. It's been interesting working on it even if the blog has been quiet for a week.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Adaptation B: Post-Crit Work

   Back to work on Colo Colo, this time focusing on refining some of the details as feedback for what I received on the interim presentation. This has mainly involved tidying up geometry, getting a proper pattern going on the underside and making the whole thing generality less of a mess.

    As well as neatening the feet up, I also looked into setting to work on the rear feet. I returned to my references as these are vastly different in composition to the feet at the front, and primarily started out by copying the toes from the front foot, as it had the geometry for the nails and bends laid our, and stretched or added to them. These will require a slightly different palm / sole as I am dealing with five toes, one of which (the leftmost toe at the front) is built more like a highly atrophied thumb.

It was discussed that due to the concept art, what will become necessary to give it a fleshy look will be the use of  sub-surface shaders, possibly some animation regarding veins to give it that extra 'creep' vibe. There was an image in some feedback of the creature swelling up like a leech as it feeds. But I don't know if that's plausible for a creature this size (I understand it's possible with leeches because a few milliliters of blood can be a sizable volume on the micro-scale). Alternatively the feeding could induce a colour change, or maybe the revealing of veins. Which could potentially be made possible with a GIF or some form of animated texture layer.

  I know Maya is capable of playing moving images on surfaces, and last year tried that with a background in Infiltrate Exploit Spread before eventually deciding on three planes, one with motion. So I'm exited to get a look at how animated textures could be achieved.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Adaptation B: Interim Presentation

Adaptation B: Environment Idea

  With the creature itself some way done I thought that one of the crucial things I needed was an environment to put it in. A creature needs a home to interact with, after all; a place where its existence makes sense. Nothing too fancy, and inspired by the slums of South America I looked into creating somewhere grimy, perhaps already influenced by Colo Colo's presence. Or perhaps simply an unfortunate circumstance regarding the accommodation itself.

  To get the right colour for the might-time scene I started by creating the location as it would look in the daytime, then adding an intense blue filter over the top. The daytime scene helps show some of the grime. More could be added to the scene, I admit as these places from my research appeared quite small, there would not be much for the person living here. Colo Colo itself will likely be hiding in the dark places during the day, perhaps under the wardrobe or in a hole in the wall out of shot.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Adaptation B: Colo Colo Concept

  Two thinks occupied my time today: the interim crit presentation and any assets that will be useful in it. So my afternoon was spent creating a more refined concept image of the creature, settling o na crest design and a colour scheme. I considered the above scheme because it resembles pallid skin, while with the darkened legs I tried to go for a colour resembling a blood-deprived (but still living) extremity. One of the key ideas for how the creature would be represented is by introducing it via its eyes. So a strong, intense pair of eyes felt essential.

  Another key feature that maybe doesn't come across so well is an attempt at a sickly skin look, inspired by images of bald rats (though I found a big difference between a bald rat and a naked mole rat). The pale colour and reddish tinges could help it fit but stand out in an earthy-colour environment. I have considered that much of the demonstration will take place during the night inside a shack located in a South American slum.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Film Review: Persepolis

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (Lavoignat, 2008)
  • Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
  • Native Title: Persepolis
  • Primary Language: English
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2007
  • Budget: est. $7,300,000
  • Film Length: 96 minutes
  • Production Company: 2.4.7 Films, France 3 CinĂ©ma
''Persepolis''' is a 2007 French film composed by French-Iranian graphic novelist and illustrator Marjane-Satrapi. The film - adapted from a comic series of the same name, and named after a major city within Iran - documents the writer's life, particularly as she lived though Iranian Revolution of the 1980s. As she grows up, she comes to terms with politics and her faith, her place in society as a woman both in the Islamic and secular world, as well as coming to understand how the world sees her home country of Iran. All this told with a bold monochrome style, an elastic sense of exaggeration and a tone of reflection as Marjane tells her story to those who would listen. A story that ,as it turns out, could definitely be felt by anyone and not just someone having to live under an unfair government.

Figure 2: As dissatisfied with her government as Marjane was, I don't think anything could have prepared her for the level of non-conformism her friends in Vienna advocated. (Lavoignat, 2008)
  What surprised me most was that despite what sounds like a French accent, Marjene came to feel like an outsider in Vienna "where she experiences the finest condescension and misogyny that the west has to offer: in fact, something of the exploitation inherent in sexual-liberalism that the mullahs warned her about" (Bradshaw, 2008). While in Vienna she was ashamed of her Iranian heritage. She claimed herself French, yet eavesdropped gossip shows though: The people around her saw her as a "savage", a woman from a backwards nation with primitive ideals. She came to associate herself with her school's outcasts; anarchists and non-conformists, one of which regularly talked in condescension of the establishment. They were drawn to Marjane, as she had lived through a war in their eyes. But unlike the Marxist intellectuals that were her family's friends, these outcasts chimed more of the infamous Hipster movement. While Marjene's parents spoke of collective opinion as something suppressed by the elite until boiling point, Marjene's Viennan however friends spoke constantly as if living anything but their outcast lifestyle is a willful form of delusionary bliss.

Figure 3: Throughout the film, Marjane is forced to choose between fitting in and being herself. But being made uncomfortable with either. (Panic Manual, 2009)
On reflection, much of the film argues between fitting in and standing out. "Ultimately, Persepolis is concerned with the state of exile, a condition that, as evidenced by Marjane’s teenage stabs at trying to ingratiate herself into various social scenes (nihilistic punk, groovy disco, anarchic hippie), hopelessly frustrates identity formation." (Schager, 2007) Thoughout the film Marjane does not feel connected, whenever she tries to integrate, she's something that makes her fundamentally different, be it as innocuous as being a Bee-Gees fan when her friends like ABBA, to more crucial traits such as her political mindfulness keeping her from forever enjoying her time among Nihilists. Marjene is someone who doesn't fit in anywhere, travelling a rocky road of self-discovery where she has ups and downs (such as breaking out of a drugged-up depressive phase by literally and figuratively waking up and restoring herself to tune of Eye of the Tiger). She becomes more of a distinct woman embracing what makes her different than she does trying to pretend she's something she's not. Whether she's happy about it however is the difficulty, and what she struggles with for much of the film.

Figure 4: Marjane's visit to a Viennan supermarket is but the first step as she learns how thematically different Vienna is to Tehran. (Soares, 2007)
  The conflict between standing out and fitting in "It is in Vienna that the full pathos of her situation becomes clear, a dilemma that is hardly hers alone. Either she can be more or less free and give up her home, or she can return home at the cost of her freedom and individuality." (Scott, 2007) The two cities represent the two sides of freedom against belonging. Vienna, offers personal freedom, as Marjane has access to parties, men, drugs and a philosophical yearning. Yet she feels alone, unable to find people to talk to. Her outcast friends mature or move on, leaving her to find another network. While she lives with an eccentric lady with a nice apartment, but is forced to move on after lashing out using the bottled-up feelings still fresh from an unfaithful lover.

  Persepolis is a deeply insightful film, one that deals quite solidly with the challenges of fitting in and being yourself, how the search to find who you are can be at odds with what society wants or expects you to be. Even in Europe, where you might think she is free to be herself, she has problems as she is judged by where she comes from. The film thus could be considered a thought-provoking metaphor that the struggle for individuality can happen even where one might think they are free from the idea that some greater entity - be it a diety, the government or a large network of strangers - expects you to act or be a certain thing.


Image References

Friday, 11 March 2016

Adaptation B: Friday Cleanups

  Much of today was spent refining the head geometry of Colo Colo. I received some tips from Alan on cleaning up the geometry, and for the most part I don't think the geometry is too bad. So with some advice I moved ot add some depth to the crest to make it less flattened. The aim was to add definition, to resemble bone more than a flap of flesh (which is what a cockerel's crest consists of). THere could still be some more work to get the desired effect but I am confident at my progress so far.

  With the crest roughly complete I looked into working on the interior of the mouth. To get the mirroring right, I worked on the mirrored version, which included extending the seam. So at present the three sections of the beak are of roughly the same length from the corner of the lip to the end, as they share the same loop that rounds out the lip's geometry.

Perhaps what the crest needs is a head ridge so that the features do not look completely flat across the highest point of the creature's head.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Adaptation B: Cleaning Up and Expressions

  Today I have continued work on the creature. After a response from Alan regarding aspects of the geometry I looked into correcting or cleaning up what I could. I think compared to the previous versions it is flowing considerably better. than before. There's more bulk to the beak, I have managed to trim off a few triangles and the crest smooths up much more neatly. There is also some work around the eyes in preparation for any blinking this creature will do.

  With this refinement of the head and some torso refinement out of the way, I looked into the feet. This had an added layer of complexity to it as unlike previous hand designs I had to factor in the claws

  My main concern at present is how well the geometry on the underside flows, as it still appears a little messy. With a pair of fresh eyes I can see areas where it could be neatened up, something I can look into when I return to working on it. UV mapping however could take time compared to other parts of the body, but I am prepared for it as I am enjoying how it is turning out so far. At present each element is staying separate to ease the UV mapping process. Because this is a creature with a flowing body I may consider using a single large texture map for it. The alternative is to combine it all but assign the right texture map to different regions.

The quills on the creature's rear-end might be the only thing to stay visually separate. During a streaming session Wednesday night I came ot the idea these quills could be controllable; the creature could flatten them to increase maneuverability during running or fan out to make itself seem larger if it felt hostile or under threat.

  Wednesday's stream was primarily an expression exercise. I wanted to understand this thing, as if it were truly alive. The beak and staring eyes make expression difficult, but conversely I got ideas for the cute facade from looking at pictures of small lizards, particularly one or two of a Gecko licking itself with its large, flat tongue. Which for 14 and 15 I twisted into an act of salivation. Something it would most likely do when it spots a victim.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Workshops: Improvisation During Acting Week

  I've been neglecting mentioning these but lately I have had immense fun with the acting classes that have been happening on Wednesday afternoon. With the basics covered over the past few weeks, this class focused on improvisation. The images above and below were of the second group performance of the day. The first was we were to get into pairs although I was in a trio, and we had to say yes to continue a story. For instance "It's raining cats" was followed up by "yes it is, can I get under your umbrella?" then "Yes you can." I was paired with Lewis and Jack White, and after a few attempts we ended up with a story with Jack as a lemon who was a lemon salesman with a special lemon for a nipple that gave him a life-threatening side effect, and I knew because I was a lemon doctor.

 The task of the second performance was that we would improvise a scene that would be devised by someone else from the pose we took. When the lecturer clapped to single the end, the second person was to freeze and another person came up to repeat the process. It was interesting seeing how people responded to our poses, of particular note was one I did with Dan Reason, where he moved his arms about and I acted like he dropped an expensive painting. He pulled funny faces and whenever I said "wipe that smile off your face" he would pull and even bigger, funnier grin.

  An interesting occurrence was that Vlad made several scenes with Andy when their turns came around, where Vlad would agree on a date with Andy. This culminated in the final scene of the exercise - Vlad remarking there's a meteor coming ot Earth while Andy pulled a horrified "we're all going to die" face. They then decided that then would be the right time for a date.

  After the break, Dan - our lecturer - scattered the floor with various objects. The task was that while one person stood outside, the group decided on a desired performance with an object, with the main condition that it had to be guessable and  unrelated to the object's real purpose. (such as using the belt as a towel). The task for the performer (who was outside the room and so couldn't here) was to try and make the action though guesswork, the only indicators they'd be on the right track is by the volume of an applause as they got closer and closer to the desired performance.

  This led ot some rather interesting situations such as Vlad passing around the silver ball around his body (his performance was to be "alas poor Yorick" from Hamlet), Dan Reason kept wrapping the belt around his legs and my performance was supposed to be that I was a mummy. The only indication of what the action was to be was however was that people clapped as a wrapped toilet roll around my head. So I spent most of my time covering more of my head with toilet roll until Dan the lecturer stepped in.

All-in-all it was an amazing experience. It felt good to attempt these things and reminded me of the term "weird is good" that I concluded on during a life-drawing class. So while it was peculiar to be put into these situations, I far from hated it.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Adaptation B: Basics Are Almost Done

  One of the first things I considered today was fixing some of the geometry. There's still a degree of messiness but I wonder if some of this could still be improved. After time was spent improving on this, I moved on to the legs and tail.

  For these I felt glad I put time into modelling the dinosaur man for Mudbox in Maya. It gave me some initial practice in connecting limbs to the torso which I could improve on with this creature.

  As I said there's still work to do regarding the head, but I am optimistic. There is some interesting ridging going on with the double-banding I tried to add on the ends of the frills. So far all this geometry has been given planar maps. For the torso, tail and head I will repeat initial UV mapping before unfolding the nets while the legs are perhaps already in a state I can unfold them.