Tag Archives: productivity

3D Animation Work

When a person begins work as a 3D animator, he has to keep in mind that he will be expected to work as part of a team and be productive. There are different methods of determining productivity, but usually he will be expected to come “up to speed” quickly. A military background, for example, should give a person an edge in understanding the need for being disciplined and prepared to contribute to the team from day one.

Two basic aspects come into play. One is that an employer will expect certain skills with a fair degree of mastery. The other is that additional skills which are not necessarily a spelled-out requirement will be a big help in increasing productivity.

Suppose you were hired by Pixar to work on the movie Monsters, Inc. While it would be nice to choose the storyline, the types of monsters, etc., in reality those decisions are made by people far above you. Since you are a new hire you will be on a team of 2-4 people doing something tedious, difficult, mundane but absolutely essential. When I make 3D animations and movies, they sometimes do not turn out as expected. But as a “solo act” I can say, “That’s still cool. I will change the story to fit it.” As part of a team you will not have that luxury. You must perform your assigned task and make it fit in with the team’s and with the project as presented.

Suppose your assignment is to make hair for Sully. In the real world this might not have been a separate assignment but this is an illustration. This will require a fairly thorough understanding of Pixar’s Renderman Software. Is the hair a plug-in module? How thick do they want it? How long should it be? How should it move in relation to the overall model? Stiff like a bristle brush? Like a horse’s mane? Will a special program be needed for collision prevention? Co-operation with other teams might be required if your project integrates with theirs. Some decisions must be made very quickly. Other things such as color might not even have been decided yet, but will need to be acted upon as soon as they are made.

Is it fur or hair? A 3D animator is expected to be able to distinguish certain things as soon as he starts a job, to bring certain specific abilities with him and understand certain things the first day.

1. Really boring stuff you have to know

High end 3D animation software operates on multiple computers at the same time. UNIX is a system designed to operate on multiple computers. Linux is a free (open source) version with many similarities. You must learn UNIX to be productive in this field. The book UNIX in a Nutshell is a good beginning for learning the commands. You will need a computer with UNIX or Linux installed in order to get familiar with the systems. There are differences between the two, especially the fact that Linux works with smaller systems and UNIX works with much larger, sometimes worldwide ones.

Most 3D animation programs are written in a high-end language called C++. While understanding C++ is not essential, since there will be others on the team who specialize in that, you need a basic understanding. Take at least a semester of a programming language, such as Pascal, and avoid programs such as Basic which rely on Spaghetti Logic.

While you don’t need to know Calculus all of this is based on higher math and you need a solid background in non-linear Algebra. All the talk about model placements in a scene are done through Cartesian co-ordinates and is the basic language you will use every day. While you don’t usually talk about vectors per se, every model, every light ray, every scene or set, and every motion is using vectors. You need a very thorough understanding of what they are and how they work. If you have no concept of vectors or Cartesian coordinates a good introduction is Albert Einstein’s Evolution of Physics.

Stephen Hawking’s book a Brief History of Time deal with vectors and similar subjects in chapters 2 and 3. The illustrated version has lots of cool pictures.

2. Really boring stuff that is helpful but may or may not be necessary

The instruction manual of whatever 3D program you are working with could be thousands of pages. At first you will be concentrating on one small section because you must begin producing before you achieve complete mastery of the program.

How the hardware works is another area where you will be unable to achieve complete mastery before becoming productive. Has the program hung up simply because it is ray-tracing? Does it need to be reset to free up the computer? Will you wipe out the work of several other teams if you hit reset at the wrong time?

Do you know how to compile the program? Usually someone on the team, or on another team altogether, specializes in that. But if you have a basic understanding you will be more productive.

Probably no one will ask how well you type or at what speed, but you will be more productive with fast and accurate typing skills than someone who lacks them.

Personal discipline means you can’t spend time on Facebook, chat or emails but take your assignment seriously. Pieces of hardware that you might be more comfortable with or familiar with will increase productivity. Trackball versus mouse, something as simple as desk height, easy ability to stand up and stretch or get some exercise. Interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate, will make everyone’s job easier, or perhaps possible in the first place.

How well do you get information out of other people? No torture techniques, but the ability to obtain needed information rapidly by asking the right questions, making only a minor interruption in the other person’s productivity.

Do you understand the goals and objectives of the company you work for? Do you enjoy your work? It’s possible to be productive and good at what you do without enjoying it, but enjoyment helps you and the people around you create a better work environment.

3. How 3D software operates or works

All 3-D Software programs have certain ways of operating, certain divisions of labor. Different programs use different names for the same thing. The first thing that needs to be done is to build a model. It could be something as simple as a ball, as complex as a person, or a spaceship. Most programs use a system of connecting polygons where the program will render the polygons. Hash Animation Master uses splines and patches. Others use nurbs and metanurbs.

If you are making a chocolate donut with sprinkles on top, you will begin with a primitive called a torus, deform it and add to it. You can add each individual sprinkle, made of polygons or patches. You could also apply a decal of sprinkles to it if it need not be as detailed.

Once the model is made, it is placed in some type of scene. Hash calls this scene a choreography. Bryce makes the scene separate from the model. Setting up a scene can be simple or difficult. Scenes are often a flat panel with a video background. Shadows of objects that cast on the scene give a realistic cue to the eye to make people see the object as part of the scene.

Determining motion is the next consideration. The donut might only move if someone picks it up and throws it. The camera might move around it. In the example of hair for Sully in Monsters Inc., it must be attached and move when he moves, when the wind blows, when others brush up against it, all in realistic, believable fashion. A particular patch of skin might need 10 hairs. Or would four be enough? Will you need 100? All of this must take place with the least amount of rendering time and computer processing power.

After putting the models in the scene, figuring out the motions, completing it as a scene, the computer must be told how the light should fall and what it will look like to the camera. Usually the largest team working on a 3D animated movie will be the team responsible for lighting.

Once all this is done, rendering of each individual frame takes place.  Many quick renders will be done along the way to make sure all the parts work together properly and the details are correct. The final render should be a large scale version of the quick renders.

4. Putting It All Together

A movie director will have many things going on at the same time which must be coordinated. 3D rendering is the same way. The leader of the team or teams has to put them all together. The scenes with the simplest sets and the fewest number of actors or models will be finished and set to render first, since rendering takes the longest time. Meanwhile more intensive projects taking more “people power” will be allocated and coordinated after those are set up and running.

Staying with the Monsters, Inc. example, Mike has no hair, only one eye, and he is sometimes seen talking in a relatively bare scene with no one else present. Such simple scenes can be set up and rendering while more difficult characters like Sully are being worked on. This also applies to more difficult scenes like many doors running on tracks in all directions.

Many skills operating all at once must come into play with 3D animation. The desire for this career might begin with learning to play video games. But loving video games, even being good at them, will not make you a 3D game designer.

Some people want to be automotive engineers when they don’t yet even know how to drive a car. There are drivers, there are mechanics, and there are engineers. It’s a process, an acquisition of various levels of skills. These skills have to be learned and used together or nothing is accomplished. To progress to a higher level in a career, you must take the first step to acquire the first skill. But you may not be able to do anything with it until you master the second skill. If you can get these skills down and make them work together, 3D animation can be very rewarding.

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Book Review of The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr

Men’s minds and thinking are getting shallower all the time, but it’s wrong to blame that on the Internet. Many things are just as powerful as the Internet in changing our lives and our thought patterns. Rock music, television, video games and addiction (alcoholism) still play a greater role in “shallowing” the mind than the Internet. The human brain works the same way it has since Adam. The Internet is a minor cultural change compared to the Civil War in the American South, Concentration Camps for Jews, the ten plagues in Egypt and the decimation of Native American culture by Europeans.

(Note that all quotes below are from Carr’s book unless otherwise stated.)

Sabrina’s “workaholic” Linus Larrabee shouts, “My life makes your life possible!” “And I resent that!” playboy younger brother David shouts back. “So do I!” Linus retorts. This popped into my head as I read the repeated descriptions of the deep readers and contemplative thinkers. Nathaniel Hawthorne lay back and experienced nature for hours. Trains and busy working people disturbed him. The “shallow thinkers” Carr brings up are productive people, people with jobs. They have always paid for the lives of these deep thinkers.

Deep thinkers may not be playboys. They still need to be supported to lie in the grass listening to the breeze. Artists and writers from ancient times had patrons or they starved to death. Today their support still comes from those who can handle the world’s distractions. I say this as an artist and writer forced into the distraction of working or helping my husband work to pay bills and buy books like The Shallows.

Carr’s concept of “deep reading” sounds like Eastern Mysticism, opening the mind to everything, rather than reading as the Scriptures teach, “to know wisdom and understanding,” “comparing Scripture with Scripture.” If you can’t lose yourself in a long book you don’t learn properly? Then why does he reduce the Nathaniel Hawthorne tale of his Sleepy Hollow reverie to “snippets?”

Carr quotes wicked men as praiseworthy examples. Emerson, Freud, Nietszche and Marx are just a few of his favorite secularists. Studies are automatically authoritative. In our book Antidisestablishmentarianism we include this: “Dennis Prager, anthropologist and historian, laments the unthinking reliance on pseudo-science in today’s society. ‘In much of the West, the well-educated have been taught to believe they can know nothing and they can draw no independent conclusions about truth, unless they cite a study and “experts” have affirmed it. “Studies show” is to the modern secular college graduate what “Scripture says” is to the religious fundamentalist.’” (Prager quote from “Breastfeeding as a Religion,” World Net Daily, wnd.com, posted November 11, 2003 1:00 am Eastern.)

Carr’s “facts” are lies or skewed into lies. Plato’s Phaedrus strongly supports oral tradition. Theuth and Thamus illustrate oral versus written traditions. “Unlike the orator Socrates, Plato was a writer, and while we can assume that he shared Socrates’ worry that reading might substitute for remembering, leading to a loss of inner depth, it’s also clear that he recognized the advantages that the written word had over the spoken one.” Carr twists it to say Plato is supporting writing over oral tradition.

Plato knew of the honored Spartan tradition that their laws had to be memorized. “Plutarch, in his discourse on the life of Lycurgus and his rule in ancient Greece, expresses the belief that oral tradition is a way of making the law more firmly fixed in the mind.

“None of his laws were put into writing by Lycurgus, indeed, one of the so-called ‘rhetras’ forbids it. For he thought that if the most important and binding principles which conduce to the prosperity and virtue of a city were implanted in the habits and training of its citizens, they would remain unchanged and secure, having a stronger bond than compulsion in the fixed purposes imparted to the young by education, which performs the office of a law-giver for every one of them.”

Carr says Plato’s Republic opposes the oral tradition. “In a famous and revealing passage at the end of the Republic, … Plato has Socrates go out of his way to attack ‘poetry,’ declaring that he would ban poets from his perfect state.” Book Ten of Plato’s Republic starts off by saying that he wanted to banish the type of poetry that did not support his state. His goal was to rewrite the religious and imitative literature. Plato wanted absolute regulation of content, not the banishment of the oral tradition, as stated in Book II. “Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction (which includes the Poets) …and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.”

The book relies on the shallowness of gleaning opinions from others without testing them by researching in the work itself. Carr didn’t seek out the real meaning of the discussions in the Republic and Phaedrus for himself. This would be almost comical if it weren’t for his repeated emphasis on deep thinking and reading.

Carr talks about the cool serenity of library stacks, but we went to a college where the stacks were closed and the frustrations of getting the right books were endless. Open stacks are still time consuming if the book in the card catalog isn’t on the shelf. Leisure reading and research reading are very different. Long novels like War and Peace and Bleak House and technically difficult works like Einstein and Infield’s The Evolution of Physics are worth the time to read cover to cover. But the library is confining and the Internet is liberating when there is time pressure.

Carr loses the struggle to define determinism because he is thoroughly deterministic in his approach to the studies, the experiments, and the use of what he condemns (superficial research and study) to prove his point. He mentions a couple of histories of societies making technology choices, but, “Although individuals and communities may make very different decisions about which tools they use, that doesn’t mean that as a species we’ve had much control over the path or pace of technological progress.”

How dare he say the brains of London cabbies won’t be as interesting if they start using GPS? That thinking isn’t much different from withholding medicine and clothing from jungle tribes. They’ll be “less interesting” for anthropologists to study. “Anthropologists are often faced with situations where members of the tribe they are studying die on a regular basis from easily curable diseases. But administering medicine may be the first step toward the loss of a culture. Many tribes actually express desire to become more technological. Anthropologists usually pressure them not to do so. One Brazilian indigenous tribal chief, after hearing such a recommendation, is quoted saying, ‘Do they think we like not having any clothes? It may be the way of our ancestors, but the bugs bother us…’ Should tribes like these be exposed to the modern world? There are no easy answers.” (Quoted from BBC online, updated April 10, 2002, in our book Antidisestablishmentarianism.)

E-books already outsell paper books on Amazon.com, and have for over a year. The Kindle is easy to read, keeps your place, allows written comments and highlighting. It’s a “real book.” Many small and medium conventional publishers are out of business. Only publishing giants and specialty “boutique” publishers can sustain the costs of producing paper books. The minimal costs of e-books will force this trend to continue.

Carr even quotes Psalm 115:3-8, a description of the deadness and powerlessness of idols, and warps it to fit his thesis about “technology’s numbing effect. It’s an ancient idea, one that was given perhaps its most eloquent and ominous expression by the Old Testament psalmist.” The creation of idols didn’t just “amplify and in turn numb the most intimate, the most human, of our natural capacities — those for reason, perception, memory, and emotion.” This is blasphemy. How can he equate the deadly sin of idolatry with the mere loss of “natural capacities”? He does this because he’s a secularist. (The passage is included here) “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” ( KJV)

Placing of scientific journals online does not narrow the scope of research and scholarship, which has always built on past scholarship. An article from 2005 need not cite one from 1945. That research was incorporated into, for example, a 1960 article. Further study, experimentation and research would occur by 1960, or more recently.

At one time many libraries had that 1945 issue, interlibrary loan privileges or microfilm. Libraries today rely on online research, which requires membership fees, payment by the article or both. Some of these charges are prohibitive to keep paying and paying for every article an author wishes he could study and reference. Newer articles are more readily available, often free or cheap, and easier to find.

We have been bombarded with distractions and choices and sensory overloads for centuries. It was happening before the Internet, before Gutenberg, before Plato. It’s up to us to filter.

Nicholas Carr pays tribute to the Scriptures by calling Psalm 115:3-8 a “most eloquent and ominous expression.” Hear then, more of the Scriptures and judge whether Carr has any conception of how eloquent the Word of God can be, and how little he understands about how it should shape our thinking. (The following quotes are from the King James Version)

Ecclesiastes 1:8-11: “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.”

Ecclesiastes 12:11-14: “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.  And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

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