Monday, 21 March 2011

Practical procrastination

With the impending deadline for our literature reviews dragging its emaciated body closer to my feet, it's about time I hunker down and do some hardcore reading and remain focused on the matter at hand with no distractions whatsoever...

...So I saw Rango again last night.
I never got to praise it properly on here because I was much too busy, but I'll just say this now:
It's probably my favourite film this year.

You don't think Johnny Depp so much. More so, Kermit

Incase you have no idea what you're talking about, Rango is the story of a chameleon who ends up in a western-style animal town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, populated by various desert mammals, reptiles, amphibians and anything else butt-ugly they could think to include.
Seriously, the vast majority of the characters are hideous; Oddly proportioned and covered in wrinkles, wounds, sores and giblets.
I love it!

Rango is also wonderfully surreal at points, blurring the line between reality and dreams and possible desert hallucinations/mirages. The mariachi owls also do a great job of breaking the fourth wall, appearing with the characters thorughtout the film and narrating the story. They are also surprisingly dark, singing about the inevitable death in the desert and in one jail scene, they are all hanging whilst singing/playing a macabre song. There are also a lot of pop-culture references which feel good when you spot them.

The film also looks amazing. Possibly the best looking animated film I've seen (You could also go for Avatar, but Rango has a decent plot). The aforementioned ugly townsfolk look great, with stray fur and feathers covering fleshy and jiggling/straggly
bodies. Everyone is filthy and dirty to the point where it's tangible. The animation is smooth and dynamic, and there are even beaks which lip-sync well. (see Happy Feet's penguins speaking and be horrified)
The actual cinematography of it is great. I made an effort this time around to analyze the shots; their angles, their zooms etc and figure out why they were used, what they were trying to show.
As you'd expect, they borrow heavily from old western films, with the obligatory 'stranger-walks-into-a-saloon-and-everyone-goes-quiet-and-watches-as-he-walks-up-to-the-bar-with-the-camera-looking-down-from-the-ceiling' shot, or the SWIASAEGQAWAHWUTTBWTCLDFTC shot, for short.

Oh yeah, and the water is beautiful.

Water is a substantial part of the film's plot
There is a scene where Rango and a girl lizard named Beans are locked in a container of water, and the way that the reflected and refracted light plays on the walls looks incredible.
Water is a tricky beast to master in CG, it requires a large amount of programming just for rudimentary fluids, and not only does Rango have running water, it has flowing sand, which like the water, has a surprising level of realism.
I noticed a particular shot where Rango walks along a sand bank, and the camera cuts away to show the rivers of sand rolling down the bank with each step.
Now they're just doing it to show off.

So, yeah, it's a great film, go see it.
It has a snake with a gun on its tail, a bunch of animals riding roadrunners and flight of the Valkyries played on banjos.
Why would you not see it?

There's a story to be told with Beans' backstory and her father's ranch which was perfectly open to exploration, but the film left that part mostly unexplained.
I'm glad they did, and that they focused on Rango and the town. I imagine that had they delved into this ranch business it'd just be Australia all over again. And I refuse to sit through that!
I assume that they assumed that we'd already know about plots like that.

So, that post production business.


Well, at least it's over.
It could've gone better.

While I didn't start the project late, as such, it's just that things kept going wrong and I (and later, we) had to keep changing things to make it possible with time constraints.

Originally, the plan was to have a still camera and my disembodied arms moving a sketchbook around, showing off the 3D-ness of it all, with flat doodles popping out of the book and coming to life, even integrating some real 3D in the place of the disc-shaped LifeGiver, which I'd planned to stick on the front cover to animate the doodles.

So after putting the footage through MatchMover and doing some automatic tracks, I found out that my initial footage was too noisy, possibly due to inadequate lighting. So I we shot it again.
This time I decided to use a different book; a small ringbinder. The advantage here was that the pages would stay almost perfectly flat, making integrating the doodles much, much simpler.

So we had all this footage and doodles ready to be smooshed together into something beautiful. That's when we found out that MatchMover was pulling a Steve Jobs and that we weren't doing things how we're 'supposed to'.
I learned that MatchMover is primarily for following stationary scenes with moving cameras, as opposed the still camera and moving objects that we did.
This explained why, even when we had more than enough adequate tracks, we were still given a camera that was seemingly wielded by a naked guy in greenland with Parkinson's having a stroke in a massage chair on an active tectonic fault line.

The two most distant points look about 3 miles apart

And I think that's the point - we were exporting a camera movement. The software doesn't know that this is a book about a foot away from the camera (even though we told it that it was). It just follows the tracking points and does what it's programmed to do.
So, after a swallowing of pride and admission of surrender, I succumbed to reason and we used a piece of still footage, instead.
This saved me and Loz a lot of time without any of that tracking nonsense to slow us down.
We trudged through composite and its lack of a skew feature (come on autodesk, REALLY?) so the shadows (the only thing left to really integrate the doodles into the footage) were complete arse. I did my best by making them at different levels for the pages and other surfaces (most notably the tree).

I'll add a not-quite-as-awful-quality (NQAAQ) version soon
Overall, I feel it was a botched attempt. I tried to do it on my own without realising just how much work is involved in this sort of thing. Oh yeah, that and I still want to do holograms.

So I've learned my lesson, and that's what Uni's about, right?

I've got a plan for something to redeem myself, which I'll probably give a go over the easter holidays.

I'm determined to do well at this.

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