My Work in Progress

A sketchblog where I post a few of my scribbles from a variety of works-in-progress, usually from my rather random personal creativity outside of the daily grind. I occasionally, but not always, post the final artwork.


Generally Speaking

Ran across an interesting blog by David Brin, the guy who wrote a couple of my favorite SF books, "Sundiver" and "Startide Rising," both part of the Uplift series. His commentary on SWIII ROTS is pretty much on target. :)

Here's a quote:
"...Hrm. With so many bad reports, what to do? Despite my longstanding criticism of the Lucasian zeitgeist, and its lengthy, high-budget toy commercials, I never kept my kids from playing with Lego X-Wings and such. When Eps I & II came around I was very mild mannered. I urged people to go to a half price matinee after waiting 2 weeks... but otherwise enjoy the crap because it's GORGEOUS crap. Lucas subsidizes 10% of the best artists on the planet."


They call themselves, "A Bunch of Short Guys"
From what I understand, ABOSG was originally created to bring together those guys interested in discussing animation and independent short productions. Mostly animation. However, take a look at the speakers and the last couple of Industry Giants events, and you get the idea that they are interested in more than that. Specifically, the animation and film industry, and the parts that help develop those productions (storyboarding, modeling, software, rigging, character animation, VFX, etc.). So lately there's been a nice variety of presenters talking about their specialties and projects in a way that isn't over my head (mostly), in particular since I went back to school to learn about those things and have kept studying in my free time.

Today's presenter was Will Nicholson, the Senior VFX Supervisor of Lucid Dreams IA. Turns out he was also a founding member of ABOSG. He's worked on projects for Robert Rodriguez' Troublemaker Studios including "Spy Kids" (with ReelFX) and "Sin City" and "Flight of The Phoenix." (both with Cafe FX). His presentation primarily covered some of the production experiences he had with "Sin City" and "Flight of The Phoenix". It was rather interesting to see the raw footage of the "Sin City" film before all of the CG enhancements, because you realized how much work was really involved in making that movie. And for all that I knew that the actors were all filmed in green screen, there was much more 3D than I had realized. That is definitely one DVD that I'll be buying as soon as it's released.

Other bits that he mentioned and/or demonstrated:
- the rigging for the 3D cars used in the car chase scene
- the shader techniques they used for the ground and streets
- the particle fx used for the rain for "Sin City" and the sandstorm in "Flight of The Phoenix"
- being a Maya production pipeline guinea pig (Cafe FX is primarily a Lightwave studio)
- how things can go wrong because of lack of communication (experience gained on "Flight of The Phoenix")
- how bad Broccoli smells when it's growing (the small California community of Santa Maria has two main farming crops: strawberries and lots and lots of broccoli)

There was one other comment he made during his presentation that really stuck in my mind. He felt that people in California think in a very different way about working with CG. That most of the larger production studios in California rely heavily on their CG artists focusing on one skill or talent and developing it to the best of their ability.

So basically, if you're a character animator, that's all you do. If you're an organic modeler, than that's all you do. You become a specialist of your CG craft.

However, Nicholson feels the smaller CG production shops have a different understanding and because of that an advantage: their CG artists need to be generalists so that there's never any down time in production unlike the larger studios. And that's how the smaller shops will get the work out faster and cheaper, and will be involved in more and more in CG animation and film production. Nicholson himself worked as modeler, rigger, texture/shader artist, Vfx artist and compositer on "Sin City". He feels that this generalization will be the only way the larger studios will be able to bring their production cost down and compete with the smaller production studios who tend to use off-the-shelf software and have CG generalist artists.

But, to me, the very fact that he used the term "generalist" makes me feel that most of that kind of studio production work follows the old design formula: you have three variables where you can only pick two: Good, Fast or Cheap. If it's Fast and's definitely not Good.

Although I don't have the production experience that Nicholson has in CG and Film development, I have about 20 years of professional experience in graphic design, illustration, and multimedia development which also uses a wide variety of creative talent and production roles to create projects for clients and their various audiences. In my experience, being a generalist as a senior artist frequently lowers the quality of the end result because they're trying to do everything...although it can be an advantage when the creative director or manager has a broad understanding of the various roles and their tasks needed to develop a project.

As a junior artist, knowing a little bit about everything in order to develop an independent project or get that first CG job is what being an entry-level artist is all about. You haven't had the time or experience yet to develop a focus for your craft or skillset. That doesn't mean they can or should do everything in order to become an excellent CG artist. Jack of All Trades....Master of None.

And that's how I feel about being a Generalist.

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