Tag Archives: layout

When the intro- has the wrong -duction..

And now for a little 22 to 28 January 2017. It’s a long-ish post this week so I’ve put in lots of layout pictures to break up the text. 🙂

This week I started layout on the scene where we meet the robot for the first time.
There’s literally two more shots left in that scene to do layout for and I may even get to those later today. Hooray! I even managed to avoid doing a minor rewrite earlier this week after I spotted a conflict between staging and continuity. Hooray! 🙂

“Amazing! A rewrite was averted! Full water vapour is ahead!”

Once the robot intro scene is laid out, I’m going back to the opening scene that I started layout on at the end of December 2016. I was having trouble staying motivated so I halted layout work on the introduction and cut my teeth on the more fun scenes towards the end of the movie instead. It was a good move, because now every scene except the introduction is laid out (aside from those two shots but who’s counting?)

I like how “Robot” has come together – it’s anarchic and silly and quirky and fun. The “introductory” scene on the other hand has a few too many problems to ignore:

  • the story just blips in out of nowhere
  • the “intro” feels like an escalation scene, not an establishing scene
  • it doesn’t have the same tone as the rest of the story, so it doesn’t set the tone like a good introduction should
  • we don’t really get to know the characters or understand their relationship to one another (also a note I got from “Sombrero”) which can be a sticking point for some audience members
  • it uses characterisations which are more “Sombrero” than “Robot”
  • the focus is Gronky goofing off, but should be more on Pointy’s struggle to fit the rest of the story
  • nothing particularly funny happens, though it is kind of playful and cute which I’ve discovered is an acceptable stand-in for funny – but funny is better!
  • it doesn’t set up gags and cause-effect scenarios which play out later, not as strongly as it should at least
  • it also sets up ideas which don’t pay off
  • I never actually finished writing it – there’s “insert gag here” panels in the thumbnail sheet, and doing those gags is going to take a lot of time
  • somehow it’s still over-long

When I wrote it back in December, I was trying to give the story a concise introduction to keep the running time down. However, mere conciseness isn’t enough! A lean introduction is great, but not if it misses setting the right tone, meeting the characters and their situation properly while keeping the tone funny and sweet and a little bit quirky. There’s only one thing to do.

“Wait — you’re rewriting AGAIN!? You’re going to give yourself a rash or something!”

There’s another good reason to rewrite the introduction but it takes longer to explain:

I got notes at Blender Conference 2016 about “Sombrero” (thanks Colin!) about how Pointy’s problem was repeatedly being solved then unsolved to create another problem. It made the pacing very stop-start. In “Robot”, the only time Pointy’s problem gets solved with any certainty is at the end. To do that, any solutions to Pointy’s problems have to be an obvious, unacceptable compromise upfront. That compromise isn’t obvious in the intro at all, and to make it adequately obvious I have to shift the focus of the scene dramatically. Frankly, the scene isn’t that amazing that I feel a need to salvage it in its entirety. More than anything, the start of the story wants a re-think.

And it’s already begun to get one! I mentioned last week that I started thumbnailing a new introduction. I’m going to develop that as the new opener, if for no other reason than I think it’ll be cute when Gronky imitates a car immobiliser, much to Pointy’s confusion.

“A what?”

You’ll see. Catch you next week!

Layout gets crazed, Pointy gets chased, deadline gets erased

It’s been 15 to 21 January 2017. This week I started and finished layout work on the chase sequence where Pointy gets chased away by the helper robot. AMITS has never had an action sequence before and it was really good fun to draw.

Quollity practices for quicker layout

I’m working much smarter with layout this time. Here’s some workflow changes I’ve made to get through more work quicker:

  • Instead of leaping straight into drawing the AMITS cast, I’m settling in first with a throw-away piece of unrelated warm-up art. It gets me thinking about perspective, construction, staging and generally gets me in a better mood to draw than starting cold.
  • I’m reusing existing assets whenever I can.
    • I draw my layout images on layers so if a background or specific character doesn’t have to change from image to image, I don’t have multiple copies of it to deal with in case of corrections.
    • If one shot has the same element as another shot except at a different zoom level (e.g. cutting wide on action), I scale and reposition elements appropriately.
    • If there’s a shot setup which is identical to something in one of the older movies, I’ll reuse it out of the old source files.
  • I’m rendering out quick scale references in Blender so that the framing and staging can be more consistent between hand-drawn layout and rough 3D. It’s super useful when I’m struggling with proportioning the characters correctly. I can also trace and tweak the 3D versions more exactly if I’m feeling particularly dumb or tired that day (most days).

Robot, Gronky and Pointy models posed roughly in Blender.

Robot, Gronky and Pointy in hand-drawn layout. Notice how Pointy’s much more panicked, Gronky’s much more tense and the speed trails indicate movement.

  • Finally, I’m heavily using Krita’s G’MIC Colorize tool in interactive mode for making mattes where characters on different layers pass in front of one another. It is a godsend to be able to draw loose and still get fills. Krita demigod David Revoy made a video which explains how to use it.

Like I said a few weeks ago, I push the ideas and expressions in layout hard, sometimes harder than the 3D can cope with. I don’t have a rig yet to capture the utter anarchy of Pointy’s “pose” in this layout drawing, but I have a few ideas. 🙂

A confused ball of Pointy rolling at high speed.

I also started sketching out an introductory scene where we see what Pointy and Gronky are doing before they meet up. I don’t know if I’ll actually use it in the finished film, but it’s a fun little bit and worth recording in some form before I forget I even dreamt it up.

The deadline goes ker-POOF!

I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that the day job was promising to be much more intense this year. It’s turned out worse than I anticipated at least in the short term.

For the sake of controlling my own stress levels, I’m not going to hold myself to the October 2017 target date I mentioned at Blender Conference 2016. The scope and difficulty of “Robot” should mean it’s ready late this year, but if I badly need downtime, the movie will just have to wait for me to collect my wits again and get back to work.

The severity of the situation is a little new so I don’t have any further insights as to how it’ll play out. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing, and I’ll keep beavering away on my little cartoon whenever I can.

Thanks for reading!

Laying out and burning up

It’s been 8 to 14 January 2017. (How many times have you got the year wrong so far? My grandmother gets the actual century wrong, bless her.)

I had to squeeze my layout work around a family event on Sunday, but I did get another scene finished. I spent the rest of the week on miscellaneous things like catching up on unwatched animated movies and getting my sleep schedule back to something sensible. (Sleeping right during the week means having less sleep to catch up on during the weekend – and hence more production time!)

I finally started reading “Elemental Magic”, the standard texts on effects animation by industry veteran Joseph Gilland. The first Elemental Magic book is more “philosophy and approach” while the second is more practical instruction. Despite speaking from the perspective of hand-drawn animation, the author more than touches on CG. Simulations (like hand drawn) should fit a particular look and feel, even when it’s a particle system and mesher responsible for putting something on screen instead of an animator’s pencil. It’s great to get a sense of how an animation veteran observes and approaches their work and “Elemental Magic” is chock full of insight.

Pointy leaves a trail of dust in his wake in AMITS: Sombrero (temp materials)

I’m reading up on effects animation because there’s smoke and fire in AMITS: Robot. I’m not sure whether to go hand-drawn, wrestle with simulation or even adapt the metaball particle based smoke from AMITS: Sombrero – but whatever strikes the right balance between ease, speed, quality and art direction is what will get the movie made. Also it’ll make my layout more meaningful if I can draw smoke and fire more convincingly. 🙂

See you next week!

Chugging along through layout land

Welcome to the new year! Here’s a quick update for the week of 1 to 7 January 2017.

On Sunday, I finished up a whole scene full of layout images and they’re looking pretty good. It’s the last full scene of the film and it’s looking pretty fun. There’s more of a silly beat at the end now. This is nice to have because without it the movie just kind of ends.

What happen? You’ll have to wait and see!

The day job is promising to be much more intense this year than last year. It could be that I just use Sundays and public holidays to create Gronky and Pointy’s first outing and reserve weeknights for keeping myself sane. Or maybe it won’t be that bad. Or maybe it’ll be worse. Who knows! Either way, slotting in movie-making alongside a full-time day job is part of this long journey so I’ll keep you posted! 🙂

A quick Xmas break

The week of 25 to 31 Dec 2016 slots neatly into the end of the year. No split year entry, hurrah!

It would be nice to say I’ve been hard at work on my week off from the day job, but I’m having a quick gaming break instead. I’m really happy that Blender doesn’t crash as often as Fallout 4 does otherwise I’d probably give up on 3D animation altogether. So frustrating!

The new layout images started this week. Gronky hears a noise behind him..

This week I started drawing layout images for AMITS: Robot. I’ve already got a sheet of rough thumbnail images with dialogue and action which map out the story. During layout, these rough thumbnail images are fleshed out into clearer images like the one above.

The layout images serve multiple purposes – they make my pitchamatic and story reel much clearer, and once I start rough animation I use them for a blocking and staging reference. They’re almost key pose drawings, but not quite…

A comparison of layout and rough animation from AMITS: Sombrero.

But this is 3D animation! you may wonder. Why not go straight to 3D and skip all the drawings nobody will see?

For one, the right expression is much quicker and easier for me to find with line drawing, whereas 3D character animation is an ongoing battle against the character rig’s limitations. A good character drawing is a tangible visual idea which gives that battle a focus and an aim. With that tangible idea in front of me, I can concentrate on the task of bringing the character to life; without the tangible idea, there’s potentially too much for me to invent out of thin air.

In short, experience has taught me I’m happier and more productive when I’ve figured out what I’ll be doing before I open up Blender, and layout drawings are a key part of that planning process. Also, funny drawings are more interesting to look at than words on a page. 🙂

This week I also experimented with Blender’s new micro-displacement feature for the desert ground cover. It shows some promise but I feel like I’ll end up using a mixed solution with procedural shading and geometry, especially in the foreground. Here’s a sneak peek at the ground cover in progress.

That’s about it for this year. Here’s to a tolerable 2017, hopefully made actually nicer by me finishing an actual movie for people to watch.

Now, back to hiding from Super Mutants and wishing I’d put more points into melee..

Robots and bus stops

I won’t lie – 11 to 17 December 2016 was rife with distractions. Rife. Like the English actor. In order of distractiness they were: Oculus Touch controllers; a not-very-good banjo ukulele; 14-year-old video footage that loads into Blender without extra conversion; and lovely relaxing warm weather. But I still got a few things done!

I’ve got a rough draft of 3D visuals on a stinger shot which takes place at a majestic bus stop. I’m already considering ways of re-doing it to make it funnier, including a poster instructing Gronky not to bury the bus stop.

Bus stop (without signage which I haven’t done yet)

In my head, Gronky’s compulsion to bury things is building up to a backstory where he’s been sent to the desert to bury things and mark where they are… possibly even created to bury things and mark where they are. Not that it needs to be part of the story – it’s vague sub-text and only makes Gronky compulsive about burying things and putting little flags next to them. Maybe I’ll explore Gronky’s situation more in a later story.

I’ve also built the layout version of the robot. It’s a bit crap and low poly at the moment, but it should be fine for layout with a couple more tweaks (like a Floor constraint on the mono-leg). Here’s a sneak peek of the robot flying around.

Robot fly!


It is the 12 to 18 June 2016 and off we go. Pointy is very talkative today.

At the last blog I had 55 shots covered in layout. As of right now I’ve got 64 shots covered and 14 more shots to go. Five of those are titles of one sort or another, and nine are narrative shots. Five of the narrative shots use a camera framing that I’ve already established, and after that there’s four shots with framings that I’ve yet to set up.

Let’s talk production management for a bit.

How do I choose which shot to work on next, given that not all of my days have an equal amount of time?

Here’s the shot list for scene 1 as of today. Completed shots are buttery yellow. Shots which already have a complete camera setup in another shot (e.g. all the 01_03 shots) are white. Shots with no camera setup are coloured anything but yellow or white.

Note the one row second from the right with single letters in it. y means “shot’s done”, e means “easy”, t means “tricky”, h means “hard”. (That should really be two rows.)

For weekday evenings after the day job (Mon-Fri), I tend to tackle e shots
where the camera and assets are already in place. On Sundays and public holidays, I tend to do new camera setups or tackle tricky/hard shots. The idea is to create as many easy shots as possible for the coming week so that I can maintain some kind of momentum even when on days when my time and energy are limited.

For example, dialogue shots and simple reaction shots are best left for weekdays. Camera moves, complicated animation, character interaction, sims and anything else with the potential to be a runaway timesink is better left for days when I have the time and energy to stick with it.

For instance, last Sunday I was using particles to roughly simulate flying dirt. You can key a texture that controls Density with a cyclic F-Curve which makes particles emit in discrete puffs instead of flowing at a constant rate.

But in the actual animation file where Gronky’s digging, I could only manage a stream of dirt. What worked in the test file didn’t work where I needed it to. Since it’s only layout, I postponed any final solution to when it’s time to do it for real. It was definitely a timesink. And hence, something better attempted on a weekend where I have time to sink.

So why not stick with the particles and fix them? Again, it’s a question of setting priorities and maintaining momentum.

During this first pass, it’s OK if shots are less than perfect – if sims malfunction, if the action is underpolished, etc. It’s more important right now to get coverage in layout rather than slowing down to nail any given shot on the first try. That means embracing the reality that anything could be redone – even a really nice shot might not work in the edit. Nothing has to be perfect yet. It just needs to be there at all.

Even though I’m only creating one tree at a time, the forest has to look nice too.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you again next week. 🙂

29 May to 4 June 2016. We’ve been expecting you…

This week I took Sunday off to catch up on a backlog of movies but I made up for it during the week. I’ve now got more shots covered in layout than not. The end of June target for full layout coverage looks achievable after all. Woo!

This layout feels nicely different to anything I did in 2015. I’m treating it much more like animation

– using stepped/constant keys instead of interpolated keys. This gives it a much rougher yet snappier feel. Hopefully steppy layout will carry through to snappy animation!

It’s a long weekend here in Western Australia. I’ve taken an extra day off from the day job to stretch it into a four-dayer. There’s at least another twelve hours of work to get full layout coverage and I’ve got three free days to play with.

So. Will I smash through the remaining 39 shots like a demon or will I go and look at quolls on my day off? Hopefully both, but find out next week for sure! 🙂

Hellooooo, 22 to 28 May 2016 Nurse!

So when I woke up last Sunday, I had 12 shots in layout and no scenes complete. As I write this today, I’ve got 28 shots in layout and I’m one shot short of covering two entire scenes.

I’ve been using the Non-Linear Animation editor a lot. Shot 03_02_A contains dialogue and gesturing as well as a walk cycle where the character is moving across the screen. Even though the NLA can be a pain to work with, managing all of these separate sub-actions in a single action would be even more unpleasant. 🙂

It’s really nice to see Pointy and Gronky moving around again, even if said motion is very low def and provisional.

What’s not so nice is discovering bugs in the rigs. Gronky has a weird one right now where turning his wrist changes the curl of his fingers. Pointy’s face also contorts unexpectedly when the rig is scaled -1. The plan is to press on until I’ve got complete coverage in layout – no point stopping and losing precious momentum to fix minor problems. I’m carefully logging issues to one side and they’ll all get seen to before animation proper begins.

I’ve been playing with my shiny new Oculus Rift a bit too. Did you know that the latest builds of Blender have a “spherical stereo” rendering mode? Did you know this mode lets you render 360 3D videos that are fully compatible with the Oculus 360 Video software (as long as you render out in H.624 and name it correctly)?

I’m not sure how much traction a 360 degree promo video would get, but a short test could be fun to try. 🙂

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again next week. 🙂

Right. 15 to 21 May 2016. Let’s do this. Sorry for today’s delay but I’ve been waiting for a storm to die down. 🙂

Last week was quiet. On Sunday, I tore through my to-do list for the 2D animatic like a thing possessed and knocked it on the head. This gave me a draft soundtrack and shot list which I was happy with, so it was time to kick off layout again. This means I get to play with the 3D versions of Gronky and.Pointy again too. Yaay!

The layout stage is for figuring out where to put the camera and where
the characters, props and scenery go in front of the camera. Basically I’m composing individual shots and making sure they flow nicely from one to the next while telling the story effectively.


Before I started working on shots, I created a template file to serve as a starting point for the majority of the shots. The screen is set up how I want it, there’s a render of the 2D animatic set as a background image with the soundtrack set up in the VSE, and all the assets are rigged and constrained and ready to animate.

In the template file, I’ve split up the assets like so:

  • Cameras and light on their own layer
  • Terrain on its own layer
  • Pointy and Gronky on their own respective layers with empties following Pointy’s head and Gronky’s hand
  • Pointy’s hat on its own layer parented to an empty which tracks Pointy’s head using location and rotation constraints
  • Gronky’s walkie talkie on its own layers parented to an empty which tracks Gronky’s hand through constraints
  • The plastic kangaroo on its own layer parented to an empty which doesn’t currently track anything

any given layout shot, I can just turn off any layers I don’t need and
get to work. Setting up the template took me a couple of hours but it’ll
save me a lot of repetition.


To start work on a shot, I set the start and end frames to the start and end of the shot in the 2D animatic – the animatic is visible as an overlay through the camera. I place the camera and assets to match the sketch, then I remake the 2D frames in 3D with a few extra bits like you can see above. The 2D version is of course just a starting point.

Once the shot is finished in rough, I boomsmash (playblast) it using OpenGL render, then drop it into the master edit over the 2D version.


I’ve got eighty shots to draft up and eleven of those are roughed and
in. The beginning has been slow going –
mainly fixing the assets and working around the usual health problems.
The current objective right now though is to have a first draft for
every single shot, then fix the problems in a refining pass.

So the movie’s pottering along. Not racing and not dead still or going backwards, but definitely moving forward! The more shots I do, the more I get back into the flow of it. I’m hoping to have layout all done by the end of June in time for a short winter break before I push ahead into animation. We’ll see!

Thanks for reading and I hope I’ll see you again next week!