Friday, February 12, 2016

What is Architectural Visualisation and Where is it Heading?

Presentation, they say, IS everything. Nowhere is it more important than in the field of Architecture & Interior Design Visualisation. For Architecture firms, the presentation of their designs is as important as the designs themselves as millions if not billions of Rupees worth of projects are dependent on it. 3D renders and walkthroughs bring blueprints to life and help to create a feel and atmosphere in a way that old-fashioned paper plans could never convey.

Architectural Design Visualisers play a key role in conveying the vision of an architect or interior designer by creating accurate representations of the final outcome of a project to prospective clients.  They are skilled 3D artists with an in-depth knowledge of lighting and texturing and the ability to create photo-real renders. Visualisers must understand the vocabulary of architecture to faithfully translate architectural designs to 3D.  The success of a project requires close coordination and communication between architects, engineers and visualisers to ensure that a client has a clear understanding of the project. Visually appealing and accurate visualisations are today the key to selling a project to the prospective client.
See this extraordinary visualisation made by an FX School student

Most architectural and interior design firms employ 3D architectural visualisers or hire the services of freelance visualisers or visualization/animation studios. But practicing architects and interior designers can also benefit greatly from learning visualization and adding it to their skillset.  Familiarity with the tools and techniques of Architectural Design Visualisation will ensure a greater understanding of the results that can be achieved by the visualiser and also facilitate better communication between the two. Also, the ability to create visualisations can come in very handy for an architect or an interior designer when budgets are limited.

Over the last decade, we have seen a quantum leap in the quality of visualisations and walkthroughs to the point where we can barely discern if it is computer graphics or video footage!  Applications are moving from simple view only "walkthrough" videos to interactive "design your own space" in real time capabilities!

Virtual reality is new frontier.  It is fast becoming an important component of high-end visualisations as a client can literally walk “inside” the interior of a building or a room. This is a far more immersive and convincing experience than merely viewing a walkthrough on a computer screen.

With high levels of Photorealism and Virtual Reality, clients are now able to actually experience their living spaces at an inception stage bringing a whole new level of excitement to this field and wonderful new opportunities for the creators.

For information on Architectural Design Visualisation with Blender, check out these links:

Monday, April 20, 2015

The A. C. Cobra project in Blender

The A. C. Cobra project was a test I did (mostly to prove to myself) that Cycles (Blender’s inbuilt render engine – read “free”) gives just as brilliant and realistic an output as any other industry standard (read “$$$”) render engine out there!

Recently there’s been a lot of hype with some “industry-standard” render engine being supported for Blender. But, I wanted to see for myself if this was really even necessary to bother with. The output here is pure Cycles.  Meaning – this is the Base Render with no compositing or jazz added in Photoshop or any other software. No enhancement whatsoever! Wow!

I was blown away with the versatility and power of the Cycles nodal system. It has great flexibility when setting up both simple and complex shaders and I feel it gives far superior and realistic results then has been attributed to it. The car body shader in this example is a very simple mix of a bunch of Glossy Shaders in addition to a Musgrave texture (also inbuilt) and is probably the most unpretentious system I’ve ever set up to get a “highly pretentious” Car Paint effect. A simple HDRI and one sun lamp are all that have been used to light this scene. With the bounce light, reflections, caustics, shaders, depth of field (also not done in compositing) I used in this scene, and with the moderate machine that I have, I was expecting a massive render time. But once again Cycles surprises by giving this output – Full HD with 1000 Samples -- in just an Hour and a Half.

Now, more than ever, I’m a bigger fan of Blender and Cycles for its ease of use and realistic output. This test very simply goes to show that you don’t need to put in 100s (if not 1000s) of dollars to get a better or more professional result from your 3D software!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Smells Like Team Spirit - I

“More hands make for lighter work.” “Two heads are better than one.” “The more the merrier.” As a kid I always thought these sayings were just that—sayings. Who needed other people when I had Me! I could work faster, better and best of all I didn’t have to worry about anyone slowing me down. After all, like I said, I was second only to The Flash at everything I did.  All this was of course before I graduated and joined a production house. 

Now saying that you can’t go solo at a project is absolutely not true. Of course you can! That is, if you have unlimited time, patience and you have the knowledge to do everything in said project. ‘Cause when you’re ‘on the floor,’ as they say, time is a luxury you don’t have (try having a supervisor breathing down your neck as you’re doling out a masterpiece) and knowledge is more instinct then anything else. 

I learned early on that being a ‘Team-Player’ is almost as important as having a killer skill set. So many supremely talented people I know crashed and burnt because they couldn’t communicate with their colleagues or were too uptight about sharing their knowledge or were just plain old lone players. A good team is any day more productive, creative, and motivated than individuals on their own.

As a student, a group project is the most effective way to build your ability to work and deal with other people early on. I say ‘deal with’ because when have 2 individuals come together and had less then 3 ideas? It’s not a cakewalk and you don’t find like-minded soul-mate type people every time. But you got to work with what you have.

Here's one way to work around this. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Cannot not say this enough. That doesn’t mean that you become a problem-sprouting machine. It means that unspoken assumptions and issues are the curse of working in a team. You just have to talk to each other about what works and what doesn’t.  In a production environment, a bunch of people with varying talents and egos are usually thrown together to work on one project. If you sit quiet a 100 times out of 10 (yeah, that’s the ratio) you’ll have people dumping work on you and basically walking all over you. If you are too aggressive people will cringe from wanting to work with you.

So what do you do? Play it cool for one. Don’t be a doormat but don’t shrink from work. I wasn’t born with this insight—I actually lived it. I was part of a project right out of college and it was just 4 of us. We were building a game module and that needed boats of research, tons of creativity and some killer organizational skills. Since we were all relatively new we didn’t assign a clear team lead (we all thought we were too awesome to be reporting to any one person) nor did we lay down too many ground rules on how things should be done. We were too pumped to get the idea running and take it to a potential buyer to worry about ‘trivial’ things like this.  Not too long into the project these so called trivial things started to become major hindrances. I felt too many responsibilities were being dumped on me alone. One felt that his ideas were being steamrolled over by the others. Three of us felt the fourth person in the group had just stopped being productive and was just not interested in being part of the project any more.

If we hadn’t met a mentor who had taught all of us in our college days, we probably would have parted ways and let the project die. Thankfully said mentor knocked some sense into us. He told us that we had to be professional in our outlook and not let personal friendships or new rivalries get in the way of a potentially great idea. The concept of ‘Weeklies’ was introduced to us this way. ‘Weeklies’ are meetings held every week by a team to assess progress made on a project, areas of difficulty, set new targets, do creative brainstorming, talk about any existing problems or ones that could crop up and ways to tackle them. Also, a ‘Weekly’ is the best time to thrash out any issues that group members have with each other—someone stepping on someone else’s toes, someone slacking off and so on.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much this helped us. Our productivity must have gone through the roof in the few weeks that followed. We worked far more cohesively and professionally than even teams in big time production houses do. What happened with our project is a story for another time but I like to think that students at FX School get to learn this even before they hit the market. The group projects that they have to work on in the classroom are a staging ground for them because when they do hit the ground or ‘the floor,’ unlike us, they hit it running.

I could go on and on, but information overload is a buzz kill. So tune in for more such nuggets of wisdom in next week’s blog.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Not Another Brick in the Wall

It’s been 2 and some years that I started my teaching career and I have to say I’m loving it!

As a person who’s worked crazy hours on projects in a bunch of production houses, this career choice was most unlikely. I met a friend recently, who couldn't believe I was teaching. Why?!? Because teachers, to a whole lot of people, are strict old people with spectacles and a stern look in their eye. Some memorable, some not as much, but all by the book. My friend was very curious to know how someone like me ‘teaches.’ “Are you the stern type? Do you make them stand outside class if they don’t do their homework? It’s so much power right?!?”

It is a lot of power. Power because a ton of young people look up to you for not just getting knowledge and helping them fine tune their creativity (we are a ‘Creative Field’ institute after all), but also to help them believe in themselves. My ‘job’ is not to just impart knowledge and then walk out of the room. I need to be sure that every kid in the class stays on track and also stays engaged. My challenge is not just knowing the topic that has to be taught, but also how to make it so interesting that no kid ‘phases out.’ The days of talking down to the student are long gone. Interaction is the key word now.

And then there is the other role. The one of mentor, friend, confidant. To not just be a facilitator of knowledge but also someone who can be counted on. A shoulder to cry on. Someone who can help their parents understand that what they are doing is actually a valid career choice. Someone who can talk them ‘off the ledge’ when they feel disappointed about their work. Someone to be trusted.
It’s been quite a joy ride so far, challenging and exhilarating at the same time and I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds further.

[Ruth Mapgaonkar is a full time CG Animation faculty at FX School.  When she’s not teaching kids in classrooms, you can find her in the institute’s café competing on the latest Sony Playstation video games with the kids she teaches.]

Monday, December 8, 2014

Are Actors Born or Made?

Acting is often seen as an innate talent, as something inherent or intangible, which has more to do with an actor’s genes rather than training. If that is the case, what then, is the need for trained actors, acting teachers, methodologies and acting classes?

Acting is a craft just like any other performance-based skill such as singing, dancing and to some extent sports and athletic activities. A singer or dancer has to learn the craft and keep working on the skills to improve. Why should acting be any different?

Let’s take a look at some of the skills that an actor has to build to move forward in the world of acting.

“Inner workings” such as thoughts, emotions, feelings and imagination that an actor is required to draw upon to perform whether on stage, the street or on screen is a critical skill. Can a person be taught how to think, imagine, feel or emote? Perhaps not. However, thinking can be nurtured, feelings can be brought out and imagination can be enhanced.

A good acting teacher or mentor will not tell students to see through his eyes or tell them what to see. But a teacher can and should enable students to open their eyes and see, to live in the moment, to enhance their imagination, to observe life and characters from their surroundings.

The field of acting requires many such “skillsets” that a student must build and hone:
1.     Optimal use of voice, its projection and modulation
2.     Body posture
3.     Action and reaction among actors
4.     Precise movements to be made for stage and screen (in front of camera)
5.      Memorization of dialogues and scripts
6.     Improvement of listening skills
7.     Taking direction from directors and technicians

Skills, training and talent will only take you so far. Actors must also have enough confidence to go through the challenges of an actor’s life. The rollercoaster of hectic work schedules, too much work and sometimes no work at all. Being judged and evaluated constantly. Frequently facing rejection, yet not letting it dampen their spirits. Actors also have to manage the stress of living in the limelight, where every minute action is scrutinized and judged.

To succeed, it is essential for an actor to be motivated internally as well as externally and make his/her presence felt while enacting different roles and characters. In all of this, there is definitely a need for a mentor, coach, guide, facilitator and a friend.

An acting teacher has the onus of fulfilling this role fully or partially and must motivate and keep the flame of passion and dream for acting alive!

Monday, October 27, 2014

In The Know!

You know the number one question you get asked when you meet new people or go to family events and meet uncles and aunts  – “what do you do a nowadays?” It’s October and family events are on the rise so I’ve been subjected to this question over and over again. For those of you in the average (sarcastic snigger) medical, engineering or MBA programs, this is a relatively easy answer. You say it and it’s accepted with a general nod of the head and wise look in the eye. But what do you think happens when you say you’re in CGI (Computer Graphics Imagery) or VFX or Digital Art?!? For folks like me the 'what you up to now' question is a flincher. Because here's your average reaction to the answer – skeptical look plus narrowing of eyes.

So I've been a CG artist for a while now, and I'm tired of people looking at me like I'm speaking Morse code when I tell them what I do. Most people try to break it down for themselves by saying, you make  cartoons?!? Well I can, but that's not all I do. Or the public favorite, 'Ohh you’re in Animation.' Again No. I can animate but no I'm not ONLY in the animation department. Of course by this time people have decided that I am in 'Animation' making 'Cartoons' and it takes a couple of cold glasses of water and finding my inner peace to actually explain to them what I'm a part of.

Lets start with a basic example. Meet Richard Parker (the tiger) from Life of Pi. You think good old Richard was sitting in a zoo somewhere doing tricks until he caught the eye of Ang Lee (the Director). Hell no! Richard didn't exist. Richard was imagined by Yann Martel (Author of the book) and brought to life by people like yours truly. I mean not me me. But CG VFX artists like me. Richard was drawn out on paper by a concept artist in a studio and then taken from 2d to 3d. Lost you yet?

Walking you through the CG pipeline for creating “someone” like Richard Parker starts with Modeling the tiger. Imagine molding clay, except you're doing it virtually on a computer and three-dimensionally. The modeler makes Parker look big and well fed or starving and half dead based on the requirement of the shot. Once Parker is modeled and roaring to go, the Texturing and Materials team steps in. They give Parker the color and coat that turns him from a dull grey into a vibrant golden-orange-black-striped mean machine. So we create Parker, color him exotic, now we got to put some bones into him, I mean literally. The Rigging team makes sure that Parker has joints in his legs and movement in his jaw and can swipe his claws. I mean so far Parker was a static statue; after the rigging team is done with him he can now jump into action. That is Animation. Whether Parker is supposed to look like a ferocious bad-ass, roaring and walking with the swagger of being a royal beast, or he's half dead, barely able to stand, hobbling around with an expression of death, is all done by the animator.

Then there’s the Lighting department—mood setters. Should Richard be traumatised by lighting strikes and light blitz, or is it harsh daylight with stark shadows, or is it a cool night with soft moonlight filling the scene? So once we’ve created Richard, textured him, put bones into him, lit him up and basically got him all ready to go, the Rendering team takes it from here. Very simply, it is the last major step where you take everything done so far and put it together so that it can play as a movie.  

I‘ve merely scratched the surface and given you just a taste of what the world of CGI is  made of. This world is far more humongous then you can imagine. Books could be written on the different levels and departments it consists of. While hoping you'd read these books might be asking for a bit much, I guess you now have a little insight the next time you ask someone like me what it is that I do. Roar to that!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Odd Ball

I love Family events. Since you are reading this you can’t hear the heavy sarcasm dripping from that sentence. Now don’t get me wrong—I love my family.. well my immediate family. It’s the extended family that can get very, you know.. extended. Let me give you a little background. I come from a family of engineers and doctors. If someone walked off the trampled path they’d go become a CA. One cousin even had the cheek to go do an MBA—now that was different. Until, well, I came along.

I started off with engineering and realized early on that it wasn’t my cup of anything. So of course concerned family members subtly (same heavy sarcasm note as before) pointed me towards the medical field, then (a little frantically) towards accountancy, then (with a gun to my head) towards an MBA program. But every family has a black sheep and I spectacularly disappointed everyone by announcing that I was entering the ‘Creative Field.’

Three basic reactions met me everywhere I went (remember those family events I mentioned earlier) 1 Blatant Disbelief; 2 Unabashed Shock; 3 The Head Shake / Look-of-Shame. Blatant Disbelief came from the younger crowd. Mainly because they realized that my days were numbered. I was definitely going to be cut out of the will. But also because they never really thought ‘Creativity’ was something you turn into a career option.

Unabashed Shock was from the parent-age crowd. Mainly shock towards my poor parents, who everyone assumed had “let me go out of hand” (literal translation from the Hindi “haat se choot gayi hai”). “If only you would have been more strict.” Also it doesn’t help that my elder brother is one of those mathematical child prodigy types (I never stood a chance, see). The shock was more since my ‘gene-pool’ was obviously so strong.

The Head Shake / Look-of-Shame thing happened from the grandparents’ gang. Since they have seen the world, this anomaly (yours truly) was something to be expected. The proverb should have been ‘A Look is Worth a Thousand Words.’ With the looks I’ve faced, I swear, less thick-skinned people would have dropped like flies. But luck favors the brave and I’ve withstood all the Head Shakes and Looks-Of-Shame with a smile.. by that I meant skittish simper.

Now that I have all your sympathy and you are feeling like I come from a family of weirdoes (its not their fault.. it's society playing safe as a whole), let me assure you, I’m no unique case. In our country where ‘trend-changer’ is only a thing for the big cities (that too only some parts of big cities) a ton of my friends have faced and battled similar reactions. I’ve done an earlier blog on ‘the not so beaten path’ which was basically my journey from aww-some.. to awesome (wrong blog if you were looking for modesty). But I recently had a chat with a couple of people who told me how they were struggling with getting their families to understand what they wanted to do—their ‘Passion.’ And I just wanted to reach out and say.. hey.. you are not alone (I just felt like Charles Xavier… how cool is that!!!).

Some of the greats all started under family pressure but stepped out from under-the-wing so to speak to achieve nothing short of utter greatness. Alfred Hitchcock, started as an estimator (esti…whaat) for the Heneley Telegraph and Cable Company (oh and you thought you had it bad). Bill Cosby was a bartender (that’s a pretty cool job actually). Ashton Kutcher was studying engineering and working odd jobs as a carpenter and farm laborer (how can someone so good looking be allowed to do that!!). James Cameron majored in physics before changing his ‘Avatar’ to become a filmmaker. I mean, wow!!.. can you see where I’m going with this.

The stories of so many people who have made it massive in the creative world started just like us (may be farm laborer is stretching it a bit). But my point being if these people had buckled under family pressure or gone with the flow and continued down the path they originally were put on, the world would have been at a loss. (Tell me you’re not inspired yet). Since I’m going all Professor Xavier on you, I’m going to quote from the man himself to keep the fire in you burning, ‘A new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate: each choice, each moment, a moment in the ripple of time. Enough ripples, and you change the tide... for the future is never truly set.’