Today was officially the first day of the semester, and the Mizzou campus is now brimming with students. First thing this morning I was invited to Mike McKean’s (Director of the Futures Lab at RJI) Convergence Journalism class, from which I’ve been allocated three students to help out with the set up and launching of Empathetic Media’s first proof of concept project. The team has grown significantly in the past few weeks: I now have three animators (all 2D specialists at present), 2 developers (one mobile, one more js/web focused) and a handful of 3D Unity artists and programmers to choose from before the production side of the team is complete. Add the three students from Mike’s class and that’s quite a cluster of talent.
I’ve had a chance to make my way around campus and met with other RJI staff and fellows, one of whom is Bimal Balakrishnan, an Associate Prof in the Architecture dept whose focus is on building 3D immersive worlds. Last week he showed me his state of the art mo cap rig – featuring 8 cameras – that can record up to two people in those oh so trendy spandex mocap suits. Hoping to test those out soon. Here’s a screen grab of the camera in action.
Bimal also introduced me to Google sketchup, a program I first came across many years ago, when fellow cartoonists promised me it was the easiest way to figure out the perspective on tricky panels. At the time I dismissed it as being too time intensive to bother with for a 2D artist, but now that I’m embracing 3D, I’ve come to see how impressive a tool it can be. Especially when paired with the might of Google Maps. Surveillance state or not, I’ve spent the week importing geolocated terrain from Ferguson into Sketchup and building a 3D replica of the scene of the protests – something that would have been unfeasible without access to wallet-busting technology even a decade ago.
In tandem with the big push towards 3D, I’m also trying to accelerate the move from comics to animation by using photoshop and after effects to produce a cut out style of motion. The key, it seems, is in the prepping of assets before they’re imported into After Effects. It involved making every layer invisible and ensuring that all assets can stand on their own and with other assets place on top of them without looking like they’re either missing a part or overlapping too obviously. Here’s a screenshot of one of the scenes I”m animating from an interview with a survivor of human trafficking I recorded in Kathmandu, Nepal last year:
I’ve also taken the plunge with some digital tutorials to learn Unity, 3DS Max and Maya (not to mention polish up my rusty After Effects), so you could say I’m keeping myself busy! The gauntlet of having a working proof of concept by ONA (Sept 25) has been thrown down. Stay tuned to check in on my progress and sneak peeks at the workflow as this all comes together.