Thursday, January 28, 2010

No More Heroes 2 Review Coming Soon

As the title and drawing may suggest, I picked up No More Heroes 2 today.  I had planned on buying it a bit later on but my brother was going out to Best Buy to pick up Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, so I decided to tag along and grab the game I was after too.
I haven't started playing it yet so I can't say how long it will be until I'm ready to review it.  Shouldn't be too long.  Enjoy the wait.

UPDATE:  I just finished playing through the first level and beating the second boss (first boss comes at the very beginning of the game) and I'd like to give some first impressions.
To start, the game looks a bit better.  I always liked the concept of the high-contrast cell shading the first game used but it wasn't pulled off all that well.  On top of the graphical improvement (which isn't major, but very noticeable), the game also runs a lot smoother.  The original No More Heroes saw a lot of issues with lag and framerate drops...this time around, none of these as far as I've played.  This is probably due in part to the removal of the open world Santa Destroy (not really a loss since it was pretty much an annoyingly large menu).
The game definitely seems more difficult and the story a bit more serious, though not without the crude, fourth-wall-breaking humour that made me fall in love with the first game.
There's a bit more to the combat this time around as well, still keeping it simple but adding more options.  This is a very welcome update in my mind.  The only thing I don't like is that you no longer have full-control over the camera when not locked-on to an enemy.  Instead, the D-pad now allows you to dodge whether or not you're locked on to anything.  The camera does a decent job of keeping a good position though, and the C button centers it behind you.
That's all for now.  Expect a full review (hopefully) in a week or so.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Animation Tips for Beginners Part 2

Alright, now for my next post of advice for aspiring pre-post-secondary (ah redundancies) animators.  Note that most of these are in no particular order, but Part 1 was definitely where you need to start.  From here on out, these will probably be a bit random but all should be a worthwhile read.  I should also note that I'm writing these in the perspective of hand-drawn animation.  However, much of it relates to other forms as well.
Here's something that's taught first year but has come up in a refresher for us second years.  Respect the process.  I'll delve into what exactly 'the process' is in a bit, but you need to pay attention to this.  If you stray from the process, your animations only have luck to depend on in turning out good.

The Process
Step 1:  Planning.  Consider what your animation is, all the actions and thoughts that go into it.  If it is a character animation, you need to give deep consideration to what's going through the character's mind.  Draw out thumbnails of the keyframes.  Don't get concerned with making thumbnails good drawings, these are not used in the final product and are only here to get the idea down on paper.  Grab a stopwatch and act out what's happening in the animation, time the whole thing and time each little part of it.  Do this several times and record the timing.  Take averages or the timing you think will work best and make a note of them.  If your teacher/boss gave you a limit for how long your overall animation can be, make sure your planned timing can fit this limit.

Step 2: Storyboards.  In little assignments like the ball-bounce and the tail-wag (something I haven't mentioned before but it's self-explanatory), Storyboards aren't really necessary.  Those, however, are teaching assignments.  Full animations will require storyboards.  Now you can concern yourself with decent drawings.  Storyboard sheets generally give you a panel to draw in and two note-boxes; one to note any dialogue, the other to note the action taking place.  Storyboarding an animation works very much like making a comic out of it.

Step 3: Animatic.  Take the rough keys you drew for the storyboards and compile them into a video in which each key takes up the amount of time the action it represents is supposed to take.  This is one of the most crucial steps because if you go ahead without doing it and the timing doesn't work, you end up wasting a lot of time.  Here you can see if the timing will work or not.  It's not too late to tweak what you've done or even start over if you feel it doesn't work.  If the timing works, then you're pretty much reader to do your rough animation.

 Step 4: Path of Action Plans.  The path of action for something is simply the invisible line it follows.  For example, if a character is waving their arm then, before animating, you would take an extra sheet of paper/layer in the program you're using and draw the arc that the very tip of the arm follows.  On this line, you mark where all the drawings go.  Mark off where the key drawings would go (generally at each end of the line), then the breakdown (around the middle, depending on the spacing worked out), then the in-betweens.  Just like the ball-bounce, avoid spacing drawings evenly in any animation.  If everything moves at a constant pace, it just breaks the believability.  So even a character waving their arm needs 'slow-ins' and 'slow-outs' where the drawings get closer together at each end of the arc.

Step 5: Breakdown & In-betweening.  And here is where you finally get to really draw.  Remember, as said in Part 1, do not simply start with the first drawing of the animation and go through it one by one.  By now, you effectively have your keys as they were in your storyboards so you start by drawing your 'breakdowns'; the drawings that come just between (more or less) your keys.  I highly recommend updating your animatic once your breakdowns are done because you'll often want to adjust how many in-betweens come before and after them.  After that, you get to fill out the drawing with the in-betweens.
This probably sounds easier than it actually is.  You should note that you always do the drawings themselves in passes, never each one all at once.  With each pass, the structure gets more developed until you have finished, rough drawings.  Getting in-depth with this is worthy of its own article so just keep this in mind for now.

Here's where things start to break off.  If everything went smoothly, you have a finished rough animation.  If there's a problem you didn't notice in the early stages, do not simply try to tweak the end product and hope you get it right.  Go back to the thumbnail for whichever part is wrong and work it out from the beginning.
Once you're confident in your animation or it's been approved by your boss, it's clean-up time.  You'll be hard-pressed to find a job where the clean-up won't be digital so familiarize yourself with graphics tablets.
I'm going to end off here.  Clean-up is a tedious process but straightforward enough that it doesn't really require any long-winded explanations.

Side-note:  You won't face a lot of this right away if you take animation in college, my program at St. Clair does a pretty good job of building you up to it from scratch.

Good night.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Boy and His Blob

A Boy and His Blob (Wii) Review
A game where you can give hugs at any given time.

 Now, I must be honest and say that I have not actually completed this game.  However, I am very close to the end (have a huge headache and didn't feel up to continuing), have a very clear picture of what the game is like overall, and I needed something to post for today.
A Boy and His Blob, the 2009 Wii game that is, is a unique experience as far as recent games are concerned.  Being a remake, it obviously isn't one-of-a-kind.  Like all games, it has flaws but this time around, they're extremely minimal and don't hurt the experience in any really significant way.
What pops out first to me in A Boy and His Blob (and probably to others as well) is the appearance.  It is a 2D sidescroller on a 'next-gen' (ish) system, though this is not new for the Wii.  This is what made the game immediately promising to me as I loved Warioland Shake It! and my brother seems to thoroughly enjoy Muramasa.  The hand-drawn animation is simplistic but effective and overall very eye-pleasing.  What I find really stands out are the absolutely gorgeous backgrounds.  Vivid colours and the perfect amount of detailing are present just about everywhere.  Long story short:  Beautiful 2D Graphics
For those who don't know the basic concept behind the gameplay, you play as a boy with a pet blob that morphs into different things when you feed it jellybeans.  You can turn the blob into a ladder, a cannon, a hole in the ground, a ball, etc.   In most 2D platformers, you deal with enemies with basic attacks and make your way to the end.  A Boy and His Blob takes the route of sidescrolling-puzzler.  Effectively every piece of every stage, and even the enemies (though in small ways) are puzzles.  That note can pretty much decide whether or not you will enjoy the game.  I like both formulas for platformers but I just can't say no to a good puzzler.  In spite of the very kid-friendly presentation and simplistic controls, A Boy and His Blob succeeds in delivering very solid puzzles.  Even the boss fights offer some brain teasers; though pale in comparison to some of the level-puzzles.
Well now that the praise is out of the way, let's take a quick moment to view negative issues with the game.  The game has 4 worlds, each with 10 levels.  While the game progressively gets harder (not counting the third boss which was way easier than the second), playing through still won't last a player more than maybe 10 hours (and I'm being generous).  It does give replay incentive though, as there are three treasure chests hidden in every level, some you really have to hunt for.
My second issue with the game is the soundtrack.  The music is very calm, very quiet, out of place at parts, and just completely unmemorable.
And my third, biggest issue with the game...well, it goes away after the first world, but it still bothers me. The game holds your hand very tightly over the first 10 levels.  Large wooden signs can be seen in the background about every five steps you take, all of which give you very obvious hints (i.e. showing which form you should get Blob in).  The signs still appear after the first world, but nowhere near as frequent and it can take some time to understand why Blob needs to be in the form it's showing thanks to the puzzle design.  The signs seemed obtrusive and pretty much insulting early in the game though.
Before I end off, I have a few random thoughts of the game, none that necessarily effect my viewpoint.  As parodied above, the game gives you the option to hug the blob at any given time.  It's cute and I enjoy the gimmick, as completely pointless as it is.  A Boy and His Blob gets by with effectively no dialog whatsoever.  The only idea you get of the story is from the instruction booklet.  I have to say that I highly prefer this to the game describing every one of Blob's forms through text; something I dreadfully expected.

I guess that wraps things up.  Simply put, it is a great game.  If you own a Wii and are fan of platforming puzzle games, I can't recommend this enough.  Good day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Animation Tips for Beginners Part 1

Well, I'm not very far into A Boy and His Blob yet so I'm not going to review that today.  Instead, I think I'll start giving little bits of advice for aspiring animators.  I do not claim to be an expert by any means (because I'm not, awesome as I may be) but these little tips will give you a nice head start on your first year.
First off, get familiar with the principles.  Timing is the biggest principle of animation and coincides heavily with all others.  Most college courses begin with you animating a ball bouncing (for my class, we had to animate a ball bouncing in from the left of the screen and eventually coming to a stop at the right) and they do this because it is a simple and very effective way to get your head around showing weight and velocity when animating.  To work out the animation, you would first draw your plan; draw the arcs the ball is going to follow.  Then, draw ticks on the arcs where the drawings will go.  This is where you add in the timing by ensuring the drawings are not evenly spaced.  When a ball bounces, it moves slowest at the top of the bounce, so more drawings should be around the peak of the arc and they get spaced out further and further as they reach the bottom.
The next basic principle you should familiarize yourself with is 'squash and stretch'.  This is something else the ball bounce demonstrates quite well.  Stretching an object shows an increase in speed and squashing shows a force of impact being applied to it.  For the ball bounce, the ball itself would be its standard circle at the top of the bounce.  As it goes down from the peak, it should stretch out more and more (not on a huge scale though, make the differences between the drawings fairly subtle and avoid changing the actual volume of the ball).  When the ball hits the ground, it will be squashed.  It's important to note that you shouldn't ease in to this drawing.  Less is more.  That is, less drawings between the movement and the impact creates more of an impact.  The drawings that come immediately before and after the squashed  impact drawing should be drawings of the ball fully stretched.

That covers the two most basic and important principles.  Other principles, like secondary action and the wave principle, are either more for character animation or should really have an article to themselves.  But that's not all I'm going to leave you with, we're going to take a quick look at some key terms (one of which I've already used).

Key-frames:  If you've played around in Flash, you probably understand what these are.  The key-frames should always be done first when doing the actual animation (there are a few steps that should always be done beforehand).  These are the drawings that show the main poses of the object/character.  Admittedly straight-ahead animation (in which you start at frame one and do all the frames in the order they will appear) can be more fun but will never look as good as animation done by the proper process.

Breakdown:  Similar to keys, these are simply used for less important poses and are usually, more or less, directly in between the keys.

In-betweens:  These are the remainder of the drawings that actually flesh out the animation in full.

At this point, everything else I can think of to say will just lead off into another long description, so I will leave it at that for now.

No More Heroes 2 Review Will Come Later Than Expected

So in my last post, I mentioned that No More Heroes 2 is coming out on Tuesday and I'd likely be reviewing it.  However, just today I bought A Boy and His Blob for Wii and I like to space out my game purchases.
I haven't gone far into A Boy and His Blob yet, but I do plan on reviewing it as well.  I have fond and surprisingly vivid memories of the original NES game and I'm hoping this game will occupy that special place as well.
For anyone who hasn't played the original NES game..I highly encourage you to do so as soon as possible.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Couple Days for Planning

Well, something occurred to me today.  My original post for the blog said it would be a daily routine, but I already know that can't be done.  On the weekends I often head home to Chatham where I do not have an internet connection.  So unless I can manage to piggyback on an insecure network, I likely won't be posting over the weekends.  However, I plan on taking some time over the next couple days to flesh out some of the articles/reviews I had planned to post (as mentioned in yesterday's post).  At the very least, I should be able to keep this blog updated every weekday.
No More Heroes 2 comes out on Tuesday and the original is one of my favourite games ever; so you can fully expect a review for the second soon.

See ya next week.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Current Endeavours & Digital Art

I'm finding myself with not too much to talk about at the moment.  I recently returned from school with an assignment for my 3D animation class almost fully roughed-out.  This will be one very busy semester.
With my free time today, I watched a few episodes of Futurama and started on a 2D Bender walk cycle (not an assignment, felt like doing it).  That reminds me; readers should take note that I own a Cintiq tablet.  It's a (pricy) graphics tablet with a display built into the drawing area so that you can draw right on the screen.  I saw this as an investment for myself and if you're interested in any digital art field, (especially animation since these tablets are what most hand-drawn cartoons are made with now) I recommend getting one.  If you're not interested in a profession in the field but love to draw, I would advise to stick with what you already have.  Of course it's your money so it's your decision, I just can't think of any reasons to pour so much money into just a personal hobby.
That brings me to a couple of images I'd like to post.  The first is a drawing of Optimus Prime (from the recent movies) that I drew from scratch, cleaned, coloured and rendered all on my Cintiq.

Not entirely accurate, still an image I'm very happy with.

The next image is something a little simpler.  In my last post, for my review of The Princess & The Frog, I posted a snap of a sketch I did of Dr. Facilier.  Earlier today, I decided it would be interesting to try and clean it up in ToonBoom and the end result isn't too bad (though I should have had the smoothness up a little higher since my hand isn't quite steady enough for clean-up).

As you can see, I only did the head and didn't get around to adding tones or highlights.  Again, though, I like how it turned out.

Other than that, I don't have much of substance to talk about tonight.  I have some other articles planned but not very well fleshed-out yet so I decided to leave them for later posts.
So that's all for now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Princes & The Frog

Move over Scar, I believe I have a new favourite Disney Villain.

So earlier today, I saw The Princess & The Frog for the second time so I figured that it was time to give my take on it.  This is a movie I was really looking forward to and was not completely disappointed.  As everyone I know is aware, I'm very supportive of this movie.  My class had been told by two different professors; one of whom worked for Disney some time ago; that if this movie didn't do well, Disney would be shutting down their 2D animation.  I'm not sure if that's entirely correct since Disney themselves had already said in the past that Home on the Range would be their last 2D film; a claim they have clearly since negated.  Regardless, this was the source of my supportive nature for the movie.  I had hoped the movie would be a bit better but there's not too much to nitpick at.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's very very good.
The animation is masterful which isn't too surprising coming from Disney; the effects in the song 'Friends on the Other Side' were so cool.  The songs, while ultimately forgettable, were enjoyable while listening to them.  The best part, as far as I'm concerned, had to be the villain.  Dr. Facilier (A.K.A The Shadowman) was a great character.  While not entirely a new concept (I'm sure I've seen it in other places), Facilier's shadow is often animated as its own individual character that interacts with him and others in really clever ways.  Unfortunately, the overall story left the character to be treated in an awkward pattern.
For the first give-or-take two thirds of the movie, you really don't get a good idea of what Shadowman's trying to accomplish.  He seems to simply be a voodoo man who just likes to toy with people's lives, but suddenly a much larger motive behind his behaviour is introduced rather late into the film.
While I'm touching on the topic of the story, there's an unusual sequence involving three hillbilly frog hunters right around the halfway point of the movie.  It's a very funny and enjoyable scene, but it takes up a fair amount of time to accomplish little more than to bring the two lead characters to warming up to each other.  The hillbillies never show up again and were only slightly alluded to prior.  I guess what I'm saying is that the sequence had substance, but didn't need to be as long as it was to provide that substance.
Moving on to some secondary characters.  Louis (an alligator with a huge love of jazz music) and Ray (a very friendly, Cajun firefly) are very fun characters.  Both are likable and have some of the most humourous lines in the film.  However, the roles they fill are small, quite similar to each other and probably could have been better filled by a single character.
For the moment I can't think of much more to touch on, so I'll just get right to my closing comments.
One thing to note is that while Dr. Facilier is my new favourite Disney villain (replacing Scar), The Princess & The Frog is not my new favourite Disney film.  My favourite Disney film is Atlantis, followed very closely by The Lion King.  Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly support The Princess & The Frog and recommend seeing it and/or buying it when it's released to home video.

Side-note:  I have nothing against computer animation (Wall-E and Up are among my all-time favourite movies) but I'd like to make clear that, as you've probably guessed, I highly prefer hand-drawn animation.  The Princess & The Frog has done extremely well which is, hopefully, an indication that we'll see more traditional animation in theatres in the future.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Daily Routine

Welcome anonymous people who probably stumbled upon this place for no real reason.
This is my first blog as up until now, I never felt fond of the concept. On the other hand though, it recently occurred to me that I like sharing my personal views on certain media; at least 80% of said media is video games. So I'm going to try to make it a daily routine (don't be surprised if the 'daily' part of that slips away quickly) to update this blog with quick reviews of games, movies, and some other stuff (perhaps some toy reviews, but beyond Transformers, I don't have many).
I may also put up some stories about my animation program. It's a fun course and I'm certain there are people out there who aren't yet in college and would like to know about it.
There probably won't be anything else up tonight as I have to get working on an assignment soon. Thanks for wasting your time reading this.

Quick Edit: Decided to add a quick personal touch by replacing my Batman display image with a cartoon version of myself. Note that the character's apparent height is ironic as I am 6'4".