Sunday, 21 August 2016

Artstream 20/08/2016: Minotaur

  Over August I felt I needed to do a little brushing-up on my painting skills. As painting is a skill one has to practice to maintain, not just to develop, I keep feeling like I'm not painting enough. This Minotaur was a half-finished development from a previous streaming session that I ended the stream on half-finished. So my decision was to go back and see if I could finish it, or at least improve it. The current result I'd rate as decent, I think I am getting a better handle on of light patterns, brushes and adding a creature into the background. I still have a ways to go but it's an improvement; with every picture it feels like I am getting a better grasp of digital painting.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Major Project: Ideas For The Alien

  I might be close to the starting point for a script. Something that might come to fruition in early September. For now I had been thinking of the content, as the concept of the scientist is at a fairly solid state at the moment. The logs and the world will contain scientific notes, so there is a benefit to nailing the creature's form early for the benefit of the script.

  I had some inspiration after some food I discarded a while ago attracted flies. Days after disposing of it, the food bin sustained a colony of maggots but that is when the inspiration hit me: It seems quite common in the bug world for insects to begin life as an ugly grub, a mass of flesh that exists only to eat and fatten up, before engaging in a metamorphosis into a new kind of creature. I don't like flies, and this inspiration could help me avoid that cliche that an ugly grub turns into a beautiful butterfly - the creature could emerge as an adolescent, but instead of being graceful, it's the monstrous fish-creature I was experimenting with the other day. A possible maturation cycle could be as so:

  • The initial sample will be in an egg or maybe a fluid state. Maybe this creature starts life as a kind of moss. It'll be dull, but that'll spur the resentment the scientist has for the project.
  • As the moss matures, it develops a pupa underneath itself. This pupa will then emerge once it is large enough.
  • The pupa develops, before creating some crystalline substance that it covers itself in in order to metamorphose into the adolescent form.
  • The adolescent phase will be a juvenile form of the adult creature, it could develop features that would help it find a mate in the wild.
  As for a timescale, perhaps something somewhat brief like 5-12 years. Short enough that a mature scientist can watch it develop at a speedy pace, but long enough that his bosses will question the cost-time effectiveness of studying a creature from birth to adulthood.

  I will have to consider that the more life-phases I have, the more models I will need to build. The adolescent and adult will be fairly similar, and the moss form could be a surface that uses hair to give the impression of foliage. So in a sense the older this thing gets, the more complex the model. Two or three feels like a magic number. Or perhaps the adolescent grows into the adult.phase by way of extra bones or blendshapes.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Sketchbook: Fish and Aliens a Colourful Mix

  I was still felling inspired visiting the London Aquarium so while they're not the best studies, I decided to draw some fish, thinking it might help with inspiration over the creature that will appear in the film. Although I was also inspired by watching James Cameron's Aliens on Sunday night (somewhat fitting given Weyland-Yutani's obsession with acquiring a Xenomorph for use as some experimental bioweapon reflects one idea that the creature in the project could be there though some big company looking to use it for commercial purposes.). Halfway though, as demonstrated on the right-hand size of the page, I decided to see what beasties I could fashion out of fish parts. It still feels a little generic at the moment but with time, revision and further inspiration will come something distinct.

There are some truly bizarre creatures that lurk under the surface of our oceans. Not just the classic bizarre creatures like the Angler fish. While at the aquarium I encountered two species of shark in particular: One swam like a manta ray and the other, the aforementioned Nurse Shark, had catfish-like whiskers attached to its nose. Unfortunately I only had my phone camera which takes terrible pictures in low light conditions.

  Still it gave me a few thoughts on how to make a creature that was otherworldly and grotesque. Sketching while watching James Cameron's actionised sequel for Hollywood's most iconic kill-happy alien monsters may have also contributed towards a bit of inspiration. To ad a bit of ferocity maybe adding a touch of shark or eel to the creature is going along the right lines.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Film Critiques: Star Trek: Beyond

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster
(Byzantine Fire, 2016)
  • Director: Justin Lin 
  • Native Title: Star Trek: Beyond
  • Primary Language: English
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2016
  • Budget: $1850,000,000
  • Film Length: 122 minutes
  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Alibaba PicturesBad Robot

  Released in the midsummer of 2016, Star Trek: Beyond is the third installment of J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek universe. Unlike previous instalments however, the film was directed by The Fast and The Furious director Justin Lin. In Beyond, the crew of the Enterprise are stranded on a strange planet by the alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba), who holds an intense grudge against the Federation and it's ideas. And plans to destroy it with an ancient weapon.

  They say that 'the third time is the charm'. This may be the right thing to say about Beyond as out of all three new-generation films it feels the most like classic Star Trek. It feels the most like the film is trying to emulate what made Star Trek famous. One of the shining examples being the characterization between Spock (Zachery Quinto and "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban). In this film, McCoy and Spock are stranded together "here, he [McCoy]’s given so much more to do, as Bones and an injured Spock become a virtual double act, a space-age Abbott and Costello, bantering and bickering with each other as they face what seems to be near-certain death." (Hewitt, 2016). Here the classic double act of logic vs passion that characterised their dynamic in the original series is in full bloom, as McCoy makes it clear time and again that the last thing he ever hoped for was to be trapped on an unknown planet with "the green-blooded hobgoblin" as his only companion. But we also get to see Spock's more human side as he comes to terms with his place in the universe, and generally gets philosophical over the prospect of filling the shoes of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Figure 2: Never mind the debate over Sulu now preferring men, here's a bro-pairing that's been simmering since 1967.
  Krall and his forces are perhaps the strongest villain of the series so far. "Attention was paid to the villain, and even under makeup and effects, Idris Elba registers." (Movie Nation, 2016) Krall is professional, sly, but overall it turns out that he's a representation of a fundamental problem with the Federation. He talks about the Federation pushing back the frontier, that it is something that is not logical, That it is a place where you have everyone holding hands. Krall claims he was born into a world of strife and struggle, so we assume that he's talking about some kratocratic death-world where the strong rule over the weak. But near the end of the film, after an impressive climax we learn that Krall is in fact a former soldier, who found himself abandoned because the Federation is something alien to him. A video diary reveals that far from being some tin-pot alien dictator, Krall's beef with the Federation is very personal, and Idris Elba plays well that it is the Federation that is a difficult thing to accept and not Krall's aggressive ideals, and that he didn't just leap off the insanity deep end to get there.

Figure 3: Krall (Idris Elba) is no pushover. But he's no "just because I can" tyrant either.
  The fundamental issue Krall presents is that no matter how utopian a society may be, there are always going to be people who don't fit in. The Federation has long been portrayed as this progressive, co-habitational utopia where everyone cooperates and there is total equality. "Krall would be the first villain of the new Star Trek series to go against the Federation itself, and its ideals that may not be so easy to impose on another foreign culture -- a situation more than relevant to today's times. " (Dougherty, 2015) Krall is, essentially, a representation of any culture that is stubbornly resistant to adopting Western values as American and European media try to impose their values on the world. The list of countries is long, but the climate is there. There is a a strong opposition to "westernisation" but the common rebuttal by Westerners is that these people would be much better off with democracy and individualist thinking. As Krall finds the idea of relying on the strength of others to be a weakness, so do the Chinese question how much better their lives would actually be if the government had to put more focus on keeping its politicians elected in order to get things done when they can effectively build cities over the course of a few months under the current system while it takes a western government the same amount of time to build a single housing project under it's  own supposedly-superior system.

  This cultural questioning could be in how the planetbound adventures kick off. While there was a lot of death in Into Darkness, this film is one of the bloodier incarnations as "[the] Enterprise is destroyed with sadistic thoroughness, taken apart by scores of little ships that swarm and strike like bees." (Edelstein, 2016). Any crew that is not unhesitantly gunned down (one moment having five redshirts quite literally fall like dominos) are captured in the escape and the Enterprise itself is shattered into ribbons. At once showing how ruthless and well-prepared the enemy is (who go around in in full suits of sci-fi armour and armed with arm-mounted disruptor guns), and how ineffective the Federation is against an actual army (boarding-response teams are little more than random crewmen wielding phaser rifles). Possibly suggesting that Admiral Marcus may have had a point back in Into Darkness. The changes in uniform and the disappearance of all the militarasation suggesting that his point was ignored because he was trying to turn Starfleet into something it is not.

Figure 4: No matter who they are, the bad guys always seem to have the cooler toys.
  Star Trek is historically a franchise that is political but it is also a franchise that likes to be spectacular. "Not only have Lin and company |...| created more than 50 alien races, they’ve come up with some nifty alien worlds, especially the enormous spaceport of Yorktown, whose streets were shot in futuristic Dubai." (Turan, 2016) the Yorktown Starbase is a designer's fantasy that takes full advantage of building in an environment with no natural gravity and the climax of the film (something that has to be seen that while not quite old Trek, and quite over-the-top, will certainly entertain viewers of the current generation) does not disappoint, and the film has plenty of visual spectacle that is certainly memorable. The film indeed goes a long way towards looking good, with a visual quality that stays strongly in your mind.

Figure 5: Such a beautiful project that for some reason is built a five-minute hop from a region of space no one knows anything about.
  After the copycat attempt at the franchise's strongest film that was Star Trek: Into Darkness; Beyond feels like a return to what made Star Trek the talk of prime time entertainment and one of the most recognisable, beloved and long-running sci-fi franchises to date. While also updating itself to chime with modern audiences in a way that feels like it knows what it is talking about rather than some shallow attempt at looking trendy. It's funny, philosophical, and a treat with something for audiences as varied as the hundred types of latex head that wander around Yorktown station.


Image References

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Adaptation B: Colo Colo Remake Part 2 Started

  I'm working on getting back into refining Colo Colo. What I plan for te moment is to modify the geometry of the limbs, then sculpt it in Mudbox after a UV remap, where I can better work on texture and form. The key differences with this model, compared to how Colo Colo used to be is that he now has a more rounded pair of thighs, more clearly defined calf muscles, his ankles are clearer, and I've gotten rid of the segment between the ankles and the rest of the leg.

  In preparation for reworking the beak, texture and normal map wise, I decided to use photo references to look further into what the transition area between the beak and the skin of a plucked chicken looks like, to get a better idea of how bone and skin merge on this part of the body.

  This is but the start as there is a lot to do. Once UV mapped, the skeleton will need to be rebuilt, the blendshapes will need to be remade, it's possible that by September (due to other commitments) the best I might have is a working but inanimate model.

Monday, 8 August 2016

New ArtStream Layout

  Lately I got thinking that when it comes to my streams I need to be a little smarter with screen real-estate. Learning the benefits of talking while working I realise that when the full video is played back, conversations can look out of context or answering comments can be potentially mixed with musings I make. I managed to get my webcam back so I can now record using its mic as well as my face (this might help with engagement and ad a bit of personality, it might help with presentation but we'll see.)

  The format had to also take into account that these videos are compiled into time-lapse videos several minutes long. So it had to be uncluttered. This reason is why the chatbox, webcam and referrals are separate from the screen itself, so that when the video is converted into a time-lapse I don't have to edit out a gap in the corner where my face would be.


Original "Please Stand By" image available form James Vaughn under a creative commons non-commercial share-alike attribution. I modified the image to replace the Sioux bust with a Colo Colo drawing.

The image will only be used for as a placeholder for setups such as these.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

@Phil Year Three Brainstorming Part Two

  I got into thinking a little more on the scientist. A hurdle that currently exists is that I risk falling int stereotypes: A monster that represents a line not to be crossed, a scientist who puts results over the significance of the moral or ethical questions, a scientist who puts work above all else. To make a story stick, it is good to be impressionable but not so good the content is practically box-ticking.

  Maybe the scientist was a charming man in his youth with a few achievements under his belt, that are being outshone by the achievements of younger scientists. Maybe he started off missing his family when the company asked him to work late more and more, and obligation became preference. Perhaps this could be a warning to the compulsion of putting work ahead of family - a problem that is hurting modern Japanese culture, where young men are just not bothering with looking for a girlfriend, nor are they interested in raising a family because work demands so much of their time.

The company itself might be an influence. The architecture of the lab will help sell what kind of place it is, as the design needs of a lab dictates what kind of facilities it requires. A biology lab is like a hospital: It needs to be kept sterile to avoid contaminating staff or subjects with unwanted dirt or microbes. A chemistry lab, also a place of cleanliness, does not need to be so squeaky-clean. These considerations stem from what the company wants with the alien. Why are they studying it? What do they hope to get out of it?

The core of the story, as mentioned previously, is that management gets impatient. It is taking too much time to get results and rather than wait further (at a cost), they're pulling the plug. What could they gain form this specimen? An attack animal for the military? Military applications for its unique biology? Regenerative properties? An exotic pet? Their intent will convey to the viewer who they are (think how Weyland-Yutani wanted to make a weapon out of the Xenomorph, their decision to install Ash on the Nostromo, its "shake-and-bake" approach to colonisation or how many 'failed samples' they went though to get a stable clone of Ripley the Queen. These details tell us what kind of company YT is.)

Working out these motives might also tell us what its field is. Weyland-Yutani appears to deal with pretty much everything. But while it makes sense for a company funding an ambitious alien study, does the story need a provides-everything megacorp? Probably not. There could be a few branches; billionaire Elon Musk, real life's closest equivalent to Tony Stark, is a leading figure behind SpaceX, Tesla and PayPal, all of which he holds a leading position in. Richard Branson's Virgin group offers airlines, train fares, telecoms, and space tours among other things. So while the company the scientist works for could be part of a larger conglomerate, it could be he only receives notices from the executives of his branch. Or maybe it's only a few ventures.

I might stick with the idea this is a branch of a business group, specifically some biotech firm as this sort of science more closely ties with studying a creature as it matures. Still early days but it's good to make progress.