Research

Research 1: Video Games
How has the video game history shaped your understanding of the industry and what impact do video games have in your life?

As one of the biggest entertainment-related industry, video game industry has been both a new medium for art and innovation, as well as a major driving force in the advancements of many technologies since its commercial birth in the 1950s. People of all ages and genders across the world are playing video games. Looking at how past trends and its innovations have driven the industry would give us a better understanding and insight into where it is today and where it will go in future.

History and Evolution of Video Games

Before the heroics of Super Mario and Lara Croft captured our imaginations, video games were primarily used on an academic basis. In the 1950s, scientists built the first video games as instructional (academic training) tools or to demonstrate the capabilities of new technologies, in rudimentary forms of artificial intelligence on games like tic-tac-toe or chess. By the 1970s, video games were ready for prime time commercialization. The first arcades were opened, compelling games started to hit the market.

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Figure 01: Spacewar! invented in 1962

From the laboratory to arcades and, later, onto shelves and into the cloud, video games have radically evolved in the past 50 years. The evolution is considered impressive when we consider the relatively short time span.

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Figure 02: A Brief History of Video Games

The Impact of Video Games on Culture

It is the year of 2018, we are at an age where technology is a society constant. Today, video games are an entrenched part of our cultures and routines. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 59% of Americans played video games in 2013. According to a report in The Malaysian Reserve (TMR, 2017), Malaysian gamers generated $589 million (about RM2.45 billion) in revenue for the gaming industry this year, the highest in the region. While yes, one may think that video games don’t seem as important as telecommunications, and social media, and all the modern days conveniences we need to live an optimal life, we used to neglect to think about just how much video games influence, shape and impact our culture, history and way of life.

Our culture has been influenced by video games for more than 30 years. Starting with classic games like Pong in 1972 and Space Invaders in 2978, which kick start a cultural revolution. The introduction to Mario has become the mascot of Nintendo for years to come; Pokemon became the most popular children’s toy in 1999; the franchises of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog in 1992 not only served as mascots but also popular culture icons. Feeling nostalgic to all these characters mentioned yet? Explanation in details are shown below on how it impacts the culture.

The present and future

The current state of the video game industry in just as volatile as its past. Companies come and go, only those who can consistently deliver high-quality in the effort of generating fan popularity. Innovation, or lack of innovation, has always been a focal point of the video game industry in recent years. While the volatility of the industry remains, the landscape has changes dramatically.

The industry has reached an era of opportunity where anybody can create their own games.  There are conferences all over the world promoting innovation and originality within the industry. New ideas are being experimented with, testing the fundamentals of what a video game can be- either from big-budget developers, or even the Indie Market¹.

However, where will it be tomorrow? With so many different factors and so many people playing different roles in the video industry, there is a lot that can happen in future. The industry is blossoming with new technologies pushing the limits of creation- new technologies like augmented and virtual reality, ground-breaking games, and consumers getting involved in the development process. The possibilities are endless for interactive entertainment and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Technological innovations will continue to fuel the growth of the industry to new heights. Video games will continue to not only provide new, unworldly experience but also be a platform to train, educate and help people across the world. 

Conclusion

As to answer what impact do video games have in my life. Video games have become an interactive art medium which inspires users to explore and create. (Brown, 2017) mentioned that “the digitalization of games and their extreme popularity are in fact reflecting our instinctive desire to seek out game-playing for its fun, cooperative and competitive nature”, through the plot line, characters and environment design, or even the engagement experience. There’s one aspect of game development that has brought impact to me as a graphic design student- the art and design of a video game. Concept art, particular art style to bring certain mood and feel to the audience, as well as the process of making.

“Graphics are absolutely important,” says Brown in his video, “They are an essential part of video games. A window into another world and a prime indicator of the technology that powers it.” In fact, video games require a lot of time and effort to create and a large part of that is creating the look and feel of the game’s world. Graphic design is undoubtedly a key component in creating video games, allowing gamers to immerse themselves completely in their gaming experience. The technology used in the graphic design component of games is something that people might take for granted, but it has been a long road of experimentation in line with general trends in computer technology to get to where we are today.

¹ Indie comes from the term independent, refers to an individual or small group that develop a game and self-publish it. Independent-developed games usually rely on funding due to lack help and financial support of an outside source. 

Reference List:

https://issuu.com/andreialu/docs/abriefhistoryofgraphics
http://www.gamestudies.org/1302/articles/picard
http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1972&context=cmc_theses
http://mashable.com/2015/01/08/gaming-tech-ces/#nSm3oVqPhsq9
http://www.businessinsider.com/the-history-and-evolution-of-the-video-games-market-2017-1/?IR=T
https://www.cultofmac.com/303913/pixels-polygons-fascinating-evolution-video-game-graphics/
http://www.dailyinfographic.com/evolution-of-video-games-in-one-epic-timeline
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/montclair-diplomats/video-games-and-their-eff_b_9873646.html
https://www.ossic.com/blog/2017/2/28/9-milestones-in-the-history-of-video-game-audio
youtube.com/watch?v=QPqR2wOs8WI&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtPTrc_yg73RghJEOdobAplG

Picture Credit List:

Feature Image:
Frisk is Free Falling by Jakeneutron,
http://jakeneutron.tumblr.com/post/135746968265/frisk-is-free-falling 


Matte Painting

Matte Painting

In the VFX ABC, the letter “M” stands for “Matte Painting”. Before 3D modeling came along, filmmakers had to rely on simpler means to give the illusion of a lavish set: paint. To create a dystopic city or elegant hall without spending the entire budget on a physical set, matte painters would create impeccably detailed backgrounds for the characters to look out into or even directly interact with.

What’s A Matte

Matte painting has been around since the dawn of cinema. To understand its origins, we first have to understand the use of the word “matte”, which in visual effects terminology is really just another word for “mask”.

The original mattes were nothing more than pieces of black material, cut to shape and positioned in front of a camera in order to blank out part of a frame for later enhancement –the top half of a cathedral interior, for example. Thus the use of the term “matte painting” to describe the artwork created to fill in the blank.

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Figure 01: Drawing from Norman Dawn, the Inventor of Matte Painting
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Figure 02: Matte Painting by Peter Ellenshaw

Astonishingly, despite all the changes that have swept through the effects business over the decades, matte painting is still a recognised – and thriving – discipline. Nowadays, of course, it’s called “digital matte painting” – or DMP – and on the face of it bears little resemblance to what was practised by those early paintbrush-wielding pathfinders.

In an era when the movie camera can (and frequently does) go anywhere, the new watchword for all visual effects artists is flexibility. It’s no longer good enough to lock down the camera and let the action play out across a static canvas – even a digital one.

What’s more, it’s now not unusual for a visual effects shot to be tweaked ten, twenty, even hundreds of times, with notes and comments flying endlessly back and forth between artist, supervisor and director. Faced with the need to generate multiple iterations of a shot, what artist would be crazy enough to use a paintbrush? That’s why matte painters have had to enter not only the digital realm, but also the third dimension.

giphy (1)

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Figures 03 & 04: Harold Lloyd hanging off a clock in Safety Last! (1923)

Reflection

As we’ve learned, in the context of visual effects, “matte” means “mask”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “paint” is “a coloured substance which is spread over a surface and dries to leave a thin decorative or protective coating”. Taking those two definitions at face value, traditionalists might argue that the work produced by modern digital matte painters (DMP) should not be counted as matte painting at all. However I strongly agree with Edward (2015) who pointed out “it’s really only the tools that change. Everything else stays the same: the intent of the artists; the commitment they show to their task; the skill with which they wield their tools.” He believes that matte painting has’t changed at all. The skill-sets of the people doing the work may have altered, but their purpose remains what it has always been.

And what exactly is that purpose? To extend reality beyond its natural borders. To create the solid gold setting in which the jewel of performance can shine. To enhance what exists with what we can only imagine, and in doing so makes the mundane beautiful. That’s matte painting in a nutshell. 

Reference List:

https://www.rocketstock.com/blog/visual-effects-matte-paintings-composited-film/
http://cinefex.com/blog/matte-painting/

Picture Credit List:

Figure 01:
https://www.rocketstock.com/blog/visual-effects-matte-paintings-composited-film/

Figure 02:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJfrpEqYbMU

Figures 03 & 04:
http://twistedsifter.com/2017/01/movie-effects-in-the-silent-film-era/


Mise-en-scène

Mise-en-scène

The term mise-en-scène translates from French as literally ‘putting in the scene’ or ‘placing on stage’ and is basically just that- the things you place in a scene. The simplest definition here is the most effective because mise-en-scène covers such a wide area it can get a little confusing. Again, essentially it refers to how all the visual elements are arranged before the camera and this includes; set design, costume and makeup, use of space in a scene/movement of actors within a frame, cinematography and directing.

How these elements are arranged before your camera conveys a great deal of information about mood, atmosphere and even at it’s most basic level, how believable your staged environment is to an audience.

Examples

Mise-en-scène is comprised of Setting & Props (Where it takes place and what they use and see), costumes, hair and make-up (How they look), Lighting and colours (Usage of light to highlight or obscure things and the way that colours convey feelings), Camera shots, Positioning of objects and people (Where to stand, move or to be placed at), Facial expression and body language (Again, to communicate the mood and feel). Let’s take one of my favourite short animations, Alma as an example. 

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Figure 01: Poster of Alma
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Figure 02: The Doll Shop in Alma

Figure 02: Setting & Props!

Scene: A young innocent child skipping around in the street was intrigued by a doll that looked exactly like her appearing in the window of a toy shop.
Technique: The way that the doll shop is designed.
Effect: The shop window is specifically designed to look like an animals mouth with pointed teeth hanging from the top of the window. This shows the shop as a predator preying upon the small children and enticing them into the belly of the beast.

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Figure 03: Alma in Winter Clothes

Figure 03: Costumes!

Scene: Alma in a thick winter outfit as the weather is cold and snowy.
Technique: The winter clothes outfit worn by Alma.
Effect: The outfit worn by Alma appear as though it is not gender orientated and can also appear to have male qualities (the baggy more masculine trousers,) it makes the audience realise that Alma could be a symbol for all innocent children as it helps everyone to relate to the character, whether male or female.

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Figure 04: Alma investigating the window.

Figure 04: Facial Expression and Body Language!

Scene: Alma investigated the window.
Technique: Hits heads off shop window.

Effect: When Alma lightly hits his/her head off the show window to get a closer look at the doll it shows that she/he did not judge the distance properly.

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Figure 05: Alma tried entering the toy shop

Figure 05: Lighting and Colours!

Scene: Alma tried to enter the toy shop to reach the doll.
Technique: The attention to lighting to the overall atmosphere of the two spaces and at the same time, showing the emotion of the child through her movement and expressions on his/her face.

Effect: The outside being light and free and the inside dark and oppressive as shown above. Foreshadows the bad things that might happen inside.

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Figure 06: Alma was being trapped

Figure 06: Camera Proxemics / Angles!

Scene: Alma being trapped in the doll after he/she climbed up the shelf and reached the doll.
Technique: Point of view shot from the perspective of the child inside the doll.

Effect: Symbolizes restriction and lack of freedom. This shot is a brilliant way of showing how Alma has been trapped without showing anything explicit such as being sucked into the doll or disappearing which leaves the mystery and intrigue of how she actually got inside the doll open. It also gives the perspective of the doll from the shelf and a feeling of claustrophobia and being trapped by the physical line around the edge of the vision.

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Figures 07 & 08: Positioning!

Scene: A new doll appearing in the window in the final scene.
Technique: The camera pans out of the shop, revealing a red-headed doll appearing in the window at the same position as Alma’s doll.

Effect: Suggesting the appearance of the next victim. There will be many more children who will continue to be trapped in dolls.

 

Reflection

In my view, Mise-en-scène ikind of a convoluted and overly-complicated concept to understand, but it’s necessary to look at what the camera is capturing from a wider perspective. In other words, it’s a concept that helps to look at the shot as a whole, not just with the cinematographic elements (lighting, camera angle, etc.), character elements (blocking, wardrobe, etc.), or set design (props, decor, etc.) alone.

Reference List: 

http://shohawk.com/mise-en-scene/
https://almashortfilm.wikispaces.com
https://filmanalysis.coursepress.yale.edu/mise-en-scene/
https://nofilmschool.com/2016/09/learn-15-key-elements-mise-en-scene-handy-infographic

http://sophiasmediablog2014.blogspot.my/2014/09/mise-en-scene-comparison.html
http://gorillafilmonline.com/features/film-stuff-explained/mise-en-scene/
http://www.elementsofcinema.com/directing/mise-en-scene-in-films/


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Research 2: Film-making
Film-making is a craft, what are the stages involved from beginning till end and how does it differ between live action and animated films?

Films offer us ways of seeing and feeling that we find deeply gratifying. They take us through experiences. The experiences are often driven by stories, with characters we come to care about, but films might also develop an idea or explore visual qualities or sound textures. A film takes us on a journey, offering a patterned experience that engages our minds and emotions. It doesn’t happen by accident. Films are designed to have effects on viewers.  

Brief History

On December 18, 1895, the Lumière brothers offered the first public screening of a film in Paris. Late in the 19th century, moving pictures emerged as a public amusement. They succeeded because they spoke to the imaginative needs of a broad-based audience. All the traditions that emerged- telling fictional stories, recording actual events, animating objects or pictures, experimenting with pure form- aimed to give viewers experiences they couldn’t get from other media. The men and women who made films discovered that they could control aspects of cinema to give their audience richer, more engaging experiences. Learning from one another, expanding and refining the options available, filmmakers developed skills that became the basis of film as an art form. 

Today, films are more than entertainment. They inspire, inform, and may even become part of our culture. And for many people, films also offer jobs and a career path. The glamour of Hollywood and the creativity of film-making attract droves of people looking to work on the next big blockbuster- and for good reason. The process of film-making involves five main stages that is pretty much standard across the board. The production cycle revolves around these five stages, making it an orderly process that somehow provides structure to the whole production process that typically involves hundreds of people.  In addition, some steps happen simultaneously within each phase.

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Figure 01- Lifecycle of A Film

Development and Pre-production

We all need a plan, and that is no different with filmmakers. The first part of the stages of film-making is where the idea for the film is born, which it covers everything from finding the story, to identifying key personnel. Concepts from a book, a play, true stories, other movies or original ideas are pondered upon and developed to create a viable theme, synopsis and eventually, a script. Once an idea for a story is created, a treatment for it is produced.  

Once a clear picture of the movie is painted, a pitch is then prepared to be presented to potential directors. When a pitch is approved, financial backing is then sought from a major studio, an independent investor or a film council. Negotiations are conducted and contracts are signed. The movie is now given the go signal to be produced. On this stage of the production cycle, plans and designs are made in preparation for the production of the movie.

  • A schedule is drawn up for the actual shooting while budgets are allocated and storyboards drawn
  • Sets, costumes and props, equipment, music, and makeup prepared
  • Recruiting of casts and crew which include director, casting director, location manager, production manager, director of photography, production designer, sound designer, art director, music composer, choreographer and actors
  • Movie is now ready to be made once everything is assembled
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Figure 02: Film Pre-production Workflow

Production

This is when the fun begins- on day one of principle photography- the actual shooting of the movie happens in this stage. When the film-making production process kicks in, the key cast and crew will be in full-force. Shooting involves setting up props, lighting being rigged and actors being put in their respective costumes. It is essential during this process for the director to keep the film on target, on budget and on schedule. All the clips shot in a day are processed roughly and it is then viewed by the director and select members of the crew. This is done regularly so the crew and the cast are kept motivated and aware of how the movie is progressing. The director declares “It’s a wrap!” when the shooting is over and all scenes are done. 

Post-production and Distribution

In this stage, the movie is edited and polished. This is when puzzle pieces all comes together. In many ways, this can be one of the most challenging stages of film-making. Undesirable scenes are cut or shortened to service the overall narrative. The final sound mix is created and the voice recordings are synchronized with the entire movies. Special effects are added, including the opening titles and the closing credits. Once this is done, the movie is now considered locked. The final cut is now ready for printing, duplication and distribution.

When the film is finally ready for fans, many things happen. The licensing deals; merchandising with commercial partners (toy companies, fast food franchises, video game creators, cereal companies, etc.); and saturation marketing through social media; cast/crew interviews; and deciding where (and when) to exhibit the film – all happens within this stage. Domestic, international, and digital distribution rights are all finalized during the first part of this stage well. This is when we as an audience get to decide if we are willing to pay for a future sequel or not. Audiences have the greatest and most significant impact on the success or flop-factor of movies.

Differences between Live Action or Animated Films

Animated videos are most commonly used for any type of explainer video and are meant to educate and advise your viewers while live action videos are beneficial to any company’s marketing content for many reasons. In the past it was clear to distinguish whether a film was live-action or animated. But as digital visual effects become more grown in sophistication and realism, an increasing amount of live action motion pictures are now created in a computer and it has blurred the lines further.

This became particularly apparent in 2002, when Stuart Little 2, which starred a CG mouse in a live action-set story, qualified in the category for the Academy Award for an animated feature. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines an animated film as “a motion picture in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique, and usually falls into one of the two general fields of animation: narrative or abstract. Some of the techniques for animating films include but are not limited to hand-drawn animation, computer animation, stop-motion, clay animation, pixilation, cutout animation, pin-screen, camera multiple pass imagery, kaleidoscopic effects created frame-by-frame and drawing on the film frame itself. Motion capture and real-time puppetry are not by themselves animation techniques.” Other than that, a key point is that “animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time. In addition, a narrative animated film must have a significant number of the major characters animated.”

Before the making of an animated film could actually be started, the initial pre-production steps must be initiated. Regardless of the length and complexity of an animated film, it undergoes the basic preproduction steps that can be summarized in the general steps enumerated below.

Pre-production

Concept Design: What is the story or underlying message of the animation? In the beginning of every film production, regardless of whether it is a commercial or an informative film, there is an idea or a vision of what the film should tell the viewers. This idea or vision can be more or less defined and can vary from five written lines, to a series of pictures or a manuscript. Concept design also typically includes the initial sketches of characters and settings through various brainstorming sessions.

Story Boarding: Once the concept design is established, the storyline is finalized using storyboards. Basically, a storyboard is like a comic strip that is complete with dialogs. It follows a storyline and includes major scenes. This would become the basis of the script and movie sequences. Storyboards are particularly useful as guide. Paperman¹ is used as an example:

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Figure 03: Paperman Storyboard

Layouts: The approved storyboards are sent to the layout department. The artistic team of the layout department is the one that collaborate closely with the director in finalizing the scenes, costumes and appearance of the characters.

Model Sheets: Model sheets are precisely drawn for consistency of the characters. These are groups of pictures that depict the range of possible facial expressions and body movements that a character can make. The finished model sheets are then sent to the modeling department to create the final models. These could be clay models, puppets or digital models of the characters.

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Figures 04 & 05: Paperman Model Sheets

Animatics: The animated storyboards- an animatic is a helpful way to pull together everything we’ve got so far and create a fully timed-out rough film. Its purpose is to demonstrate timing, flow and pace alongside key movements and transitions.

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Figure 06: Paperman Animatics by Clio Chiang

Production

Animated films have different workflow at the production phase. Now that the storyboard has been approved the project enters the production phase. It’s here that the actual work can start, based on the guidelines established during preproduction. Some major parts are layouts, modeling, texturing, lighting, rigging and animation.

Post-production

Post-production is the third and final step in film creation, and it refers to the tasks that must be completed or executed after the filming or shooting ends. These include the editing of raw footage to cut scenes together, inserting transitional effects, working with voice and sound actors and dubbing to name just a few of the many post-production tasks. Overall, however, the three main phases of post-production are compositing, sound editing and video editing.

Extra: Life Action Reference for Animation

They hired actors, made costumes, choreographed dances, composed shots, then had it all edited. (Elaborate and examples)

Conclusion

For about a hundred years, people have been trying to understand why this medium has so captivated us. Films communicate information and ideas, and they show us places and ways of life we might not otherwise know.

¹ Paperman is a 2012 American black-and-white computer-cel animated romantic comedy short film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and directed by John Kahrs.

Reference List:

(Film-making)

https://gwufilmcritic.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/five-stages-of-film/
http://www.brighthub.com/multimedia/video/articles/77345.aspx
http://portalsso.vansd.org/portal/page/portal/Staff_Portal/Staff_Pages/VSAA_STAFF_PAGES/VSAA_ALT_Berhow/Film%20Art%20and%20Filmmaking.pdf
https://www.academia.edu/15208512/Crossover_Filmmaking_Animated_and_Live-action_Films

(Animations)
http://otherthings.com/blog/2008/06/the-difference-between-film-and-animation/
https://www.ryankingslien.com/blog/animated-movies-steps-in-pre-production
https://cgi.tutsplus.com/articles/step-by-step-how-to-make-an-animated-movie–cg-3257
https://animade.tv/notes/the-seven-steps-of-animation-production
http://storyofanimation.blogspot.my/p/concept-art.html

Picture Credit List:

Feature Image:
Step by Step Render of Deadpool’s 3D VFX by Atomic Fiction,
https://nofilmschool.com/2016/03/constructing-mayhem-how-atomic-fiction-pulled-vfx-deadpool

Figure 01:
https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2013/summer/art02.pdf

Figure 02:
https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/the-complete-pre-production-process/

Figures 03 & 04:
http://www.traditionalanimation.com/paperman-model-sheets/

Figure 05:
http://blog.cliochiang.com

Figures 06, 07 & 08:
http://designtaxi.com/news/357187/Side-by-Side-Comparison-Of-Disney-Animation-And-Real-Life-Models/

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