Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Big Switch - II

The title says it all but to recap from part I, I had to switch from Maya to Blender and I was a very unhappy camper. Its not like I had stock options in Autodesk that I was getting separation anxieties, but I read somewhere that it if you have a strong will it takes only 30 days to get into a new habit. Lets just say my ‘will’ had not had a workout in a while. It was quite the weakling.

My first week at Blender was nothing short of a car crash. More like multiple car crashes with some helicopters thrown in for effect. I’d been a Mayan (how cool does that sound) for so long that just basic moving around in Blender was like writing with my left hand (I’m right handed in case you didn’t catch that). Stuff that I could do in Maya with my eyes closed with one hand tied behind my back, become tasks that took me hours, well not hours but much, much longer than usual.

I was well and truly on my way to hating the software when I had a couple of really fascinating experiences. The first was when I tried using Fur in blender. Now every Maya user will agree if Maya has a pain point (and I’ve admitted it has a few) it’s the hair and fur system. Fur in Maya requires some very special handling. A. You need a bad-ass system that can output the fur B. you need to pray that Maya had gotten up on the right side of its bed, cause I don’t remember ever trying Fur in Maya without it dying on me. And by dying I mean smoke coming out of your system and you pulling out half your hair in frustration. But Blender, Blender was just something else. It has something called Quick Fur. I almost chocked on my coffee when I heard this. The words Quick and Fur don’t really go together when it comes to 3D software, but when I tried the option it was amazing. I’m not saying I created fields of corn and grass but the ease of handling and the fact that the system didn’t die and continued to work smoothly was just too fascinating to ignore.

So, reluctantly at first, I started to dig deeper. I started to see that the tools in Blender were at least as powerful as the tools in Maya, if not more so. Though it was like learning a foreign language, once I got over the initial learning curve and the many many, many keyboard shortcuts, I found working in Blender was blazingly fast. I’m not just talking about rendering the output, I mean the process of creating models, animations, particle systems, all the usual and some of the not so usual things that one uses when working on a 3D project. I started feeling like Blender was freeing my mind. I could turn my ideas into reality a lot faster.

Besides its workflow and such, there were other things in Blender that I found too amazing to wrap my head around. For starters its latest version weighed 106.8 MB… 106.8 MB! A full-fledged 3D software!! To give you some perspective, Maya’s installer file stands at 1.8 GB… GB. Shockers. Makes you wonder what the hell is packed into it when they both let me do the exact same thing.

My curiosity now fully ablaze, I found more and more things in Blender that were quite fabulous. Besides letting you work on your 3D elements, Blender also has a Video Editor. Even though it looked a little different to your typical Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro set-up, all the tools were there. But wait it didn’t stop there, I could Composite in it, I could Sculpt in it and and and.. it had an inbuilt Game Engine … The OpenGL-based engine uses a graphical interface for building game behaviors without coding. It features a bullet physics engine for real-time collisions and interactions, and has support for vehicle dynamics. Oh yeah and all this was free. Like free free. Blender is an open source software. You can download it off the Blender website... again, for free. This is the part where I stood up and gave the Blender guys a standing ovation.

The thought that Blender is a free open source software hadn’t even crossed my mind yet. After working on Blender I feel like it’s amazing that companies and production houses would want to spend bundles of money on their setup with Maya.

The winds of change were definitely blowing. I had this renewed fervor to want to do as much as possible in Blender. Push it to its limits so to speak. It was like reading a really great book that you just can’t put down. So I have to say coming out of the storm, after Blending (that sounds pretty cool too huh!?!) for a couple of months I’m officially converted. I feel like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Maya will always be my first love but Blender is definitely where the future lies.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Big Switch - I

Have you met people who seem to thrive on change?!? You know the type that quotes stuff like, “The only thing constant in life is Change,” and all that at you. People who seem to switch jobs and career paths; even lifestyles as easily as changing a pair of shoes. Well, I’m not one of those people. When I pick something, I’m pretty much signing on for life. I’m not saying I’m rigid, I mean I shuffle what I have for breakfast now and again, but I kind of like being in my comfort zone.

So the story that follows didn’t start out as a happy one. I’d been a 3D artist for a bit now, mainly working in Maya (3D software), sometimes in 3DS Max (also a 3D software) dabbling in Zbrush (a different type of 3D software) now and again. But Maya was where my heart was. Sure we had our tiffs, Maya can be quite stubborn sometimes but mainly we got along. Work was good and as an unsuspecting soul, I was on my merry way to understanding all I could about said software.

I want to say we had a long and prosperous life and Maya and I sailed into the sunset happily every after. Unfortunately, life is hardly ever a Disney movie and the storm clouds (as I saw them then) were gathering.

One day I came to work and there was this buzz going around about this new software (when I saw new, I mean new to me).  Blender they called it. I scoffed it off and got to work. But a few days in, I realized this buzz was pretty persistent.  There were talks about us changing our software pipeline from Maya to Blender. What started out as denial for me slowly led into panic and finally into fully blown out hysteria. I couldn’t believe that we were going to have to leave Maya and switch to something else. I mean come on I spent so much time mastering one thing and you’re telling me I had to walk away from all that and pick up the reins of a new software? 
Management said its still CG, the work you do is still basically the same. But as an artist I felt like I was betraying Maya. Also, I could do things in Maya with my eyes closed, I knew all the hotkeys, almost had reflex actions when it came to doing several functions. Imagine unlearning all that. I felt like a superhero being asked to put down my cape and be human again. I know, I know, I can be very melodramatic. But it was nothing short of trauma at that time.

Now since we’ve already established that this is not a Disney movie you know that instant happiness was not on the horizon. I didn’t make the switch smoothly. But the important thing is… I did make it.

(I have a word limit so I’m going to pull the plug here.. but come back next week to find out the whole deal on the BIG SWITCH.. My journey from Maya to Blender).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Crash of 2014

Tell me this, have you in your life, created a spectacular piece of work, be it in CG or VFX or Digital Art or any time intense field of art (not that there are any other kind, but you catch my drift!). Then taken a moment to hit the render button or go to full screen or even something trivial like change the view and suddenly the worst thing possible happens - your screen freezes!!! Have you then prayed on your knees to every possible God you know (yes even Loki counts…) to give you one chance, just one measly chance to hit the save button before the evilest thing technology can do to you happens – the file Crashes.

 Well I was a recent victim of just such an event. I had worked the better part of my night on this major exterior environment in CG, and for once it was coming out exactly the way I envisioned it. Like I was Michelangelo and I was creating my own personal David. One of those beautiful moments when you’re Midas and all you touch is Gold, only in a good way. All the modeling and textures had come out beautifully and I had started to get into the groove with the lighting. I spent 3 hours getting the scene to look just the perfect temperature of scary and decrepit when the thought that I hadn’t saved in a while and how awful it would be if it crashed now, crossed my mind. I cursed myself for putting that thought out there in the middle of a test render and bit my nail to the bone when the render seemed to get stuck at 89%. I prayed for the file to survive and magically it churned out the remaining render. Having the attention span of a teaspoon, I immediately got lost in the absolute beauty of the output and forgot about that small voice in my subconscious screaming save, save now you crazy person.

You would think something bad happened right about now… But no! When I learn a lesson it’s never just half-baked, the misery of my action has to completely scar me so I never forget the pain I go through. After getting the lights right, I did half an hour’s worth of experimental changes to the settings. Now any self-respecting artist will tell you that they always know exactly what values they tweaked, well the term experimental is used to cover up just that. There are times when you randomly tweak some settings over and over again and suddenly you get absolutely smashing results. Only after you see the result do you go back and check your stroke-of-genius changes.

I was glowing with my own brilliance and clicked on the minimize render button so I could check out what I had done with the settings, when things started to go wrong. I felt like my mouse pointer was stuck. I rattled (banged) the mouse for a bit and tried again. No response. Swallowing hard with a growing sense of panic I decided that I better hit the save button. I hit the save button about 50 times all the while saying “please God pleaseeeee..”. I made quite a few large promises to God about how I would be a better human being and eat all my veggies if only this work would get saved, but the tech Gods were not listening. Or probably standing by saying, "serves the bugger right."

After working at full throttle for a good 5 hours my machine had decided it had enough. Everything just stopped working. With the temperament of someone letting go of a loved one, I banged my head a bunch of times, cursed everyone and everything, threw some papers around the room but finally accepted that shutting and restarting was the only way to see if anything had saved. Nothing had. It was almost a career altering moment for me.

Needless to say I now save every 5 seconds. And no for once I’m not exaggerating..!

Friday, July 4, 2014

National Award Winning Director Hansal Mehta Conducts an Exclusive Seminar at FX School

On 21st June, Filmmaking students at FX School were privileged to attend an exclusive seminar by Director Hansal Mehta whose film Shahid won the National Award for Best Direction in 2013 and whose recent release Citylights received enormous critical acclaim.

In an intimate, candid and enlightening dialogue with students, Mr. Mehta shared his experiences and his method of working. Mr. Mehta’s matter of fact, down-to-earth persona made the interaction engaging and lively, with questions and answers flying back and forth. Methods of directing actors, approaches to script-writing, ways to motivate and inspire team members, the importance of sticking to a film’s budget and many other topics were discussed.

The most important learning that students came away with was to focus on their storytelling and constantly work on their craft.

Raj Devjani, a Filmmaking student who attended the seminar says, "It was illuminating to have Mr. Hansal Mehta speak with us about his work.

Having embraced digital filmmaking methods, he reinforced our faith in the fact that analogue may not necessarily be the best way to make movies today. This was heartening for the students of FX School, who have only stepped into the digital era of movies and are not acquainted with analogue.

Further, when sharing his experience while making Shahid he emphasized on the pragmatic. It was singularly inspiring to learn how he made that film almost without any conventional resources and got people to take notice of it. He underscored that whatever one's tools are to make movies, one must be brave to venture into the unknown and that nothing is above storytelling."

CB Arun Kumar, Academic Director of FX School says, “FX School is becoming a leading film institute pioneering in using the latest tech innovations and this, combined with the quality of our education allows us to foster and deepen relations with the best in the industry such as Mr. Mehta.”