Digital Guyana

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Day 3 Morning – Beginning the Assignment

The project set comprised of making a short animation in which a character walks up to a car, enters, and drives off. I thought this was an apt choice of project as not only did it cover all the skills that the students had been learning (with the exception of lip-synching, which they had all mastered very well) but it also encouraged creative application of the skills they had learned. For example the car, in order to be animated more realistically, would need spinning tires – a use of the MovieClip symbol that I had not taught them, but could be figured out from what I had. The same goed for animating the character opening the door and getting in the car.

Most of the morning session comprised of me answering and questions the students had and assisting them with any problems they encountered.

Day 3 Afternoon – Further Reading Plus Inspiration and Group Assessment

In the afternoon session, whilst the students finished up their work, I introduced them to the popular website Newgrounds.com. Newgrounds is a web-based animation forum for animation mostly made in the flash environment. It is a completely user-generated content website, and so finding high quality animation can sometimes be difficult. However it is a great resource for seeing what the flash environment is capable of. Whilst the students worked I played a series of my personal favourite animations which showed various different styles and complexities of approach to animation.

I set a deadline for the projects to be completed, exported to Quick Time and on a memory stick for about 3:00pm. At this time I uploaded all the files onto the computer I had been using (which was hooked up to a data projector) and played the animations back for everybody to see. There were some impressive, creative responses to the project and I am very proud of the work the students did. Of course they are not quite professional quality yet, but for a week long project they did incredibly well. In addition they now have almost all the skills they need to, with enough passion for it, push the finesse of their animations toward professional quality.

I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my hearty congratulations to all the students who took part and to thank them for the opportunity to share my knowledge with them. It has been an absolute pleasure and I hope that got as much out of it (or even more) than I did.

I will include a list of resources and a few of the animations I showed my students in a further post at some point in the near future.

Day 3 Morning – MovieClips and Tweens

The first part of the morning was spent showing the class the two major tweens used in flash before CS4: Motion and shape. Tweens are a kind of shortcut for animation in flash. You put the object you want to animate in a position at the first and last frames you want to animate and flash does the rest of the work.

The students learned that a shape tween can only be applied to the area between two keyframes on a layer without symbols in them. Similarly, they learned that motion tweens can only occur between two keyframes on a layer that have only one instance of the same symbol in that frame.

The second part of the morning introduced the students to MovieClips. MovieClips are a type of symbol that instead of being a static graphic can be a looping animation. I showed the students how to put their lip-synched animations into a MovieClip and then animate that MovieClip using a tween.

Day 3 afternoon – Walk Cycles, Motion Guides and exporting to Quick Time

After instroducing looped animation using MovieClips I continued to show the class what a walk cycle was. A walk cycle is a looped animation showing a character walking. Making a walk cycle and then animation the movieclip with a motion tween is a great shortcut to get characters moving quickly and effectively.

We started off with a very simple walk cycle for a stick man – each arm and leg was a symbol, then each one was put on a seperate layer and animated using tweens in order to give the feel of a walk (even if it was very stiff and stilted). After they each had a simple walk cycle I got the students to break the arm and leg symbols up into forearm, arm, thigh and shin, so that the character would have working knees and elbows. I then got them to analyze somebody walking in order to find the best way to make the walk look realistic.

A lot of students at this point took the opportunity to use their lip-synched face animation as the head for their stick man. I commend their creativity.

Once everyone had a walk cycle completed, I showed the students motion guides. Motion guides are a line that can be paired with a layer in order to manipulate the path a tween follows – so that you can create a more diverse movement than just a straight line.

Finally, I taught the students the procedure for exporting an animation to the Quick Time .mov file format for use in video

The final part of the afternoon session was setting a quick one-day project for the students to consolidate the skills that they had picked up. Details to be posted in the day four post.

Day four will be posted up shortly.

Day 2 Morning – Phonemes:

The morning session for day two comprised firstly of importing a set of elements into the flash interface. These elements are known as phonemes:

Phonemes are the positions the mouth moves to in order to create the individual sounds which make up speech. The students imported a .jpg of a phoneme set I constructed, traced them and saved each one as a symbol of the same name as the phoneme. (E.g, “Rest Position”, “A and I”, etc.)

Whilst doing this, students learned a new keyboard shortcut:

  • F8 (Convert to symbol)

Day 2 Afternoon – Lip-Synching to Audio:

In the afternoon the group learned how to import a sound file into the flash library and play it in the movie time line.

The rest of the afternoon was then spent adding keyframes in the right places to sync changes in mouth shape (phonemes) with the changes in sound in the speech. At this point a few more shortcuts were introduced:

  • F6 (New Keyframe)
  • Shift + F6 (Clear Keyframe)
  • F5 (New Frame)
  • Shift + F5 (Delete Frame)

Once the illusion of speech was attained I encouraged students to make new symbols for different facial expressions in order to add an impression of depth to their animation.

Day 3 will be added soon.

The flash animation course was a precursor to the main web skills course which was taught as a week long ‘slab’ to a select few students.

The high intensity four-day course which was broken down into:

  • Day 1: Introduction to the flash interface and familiarisation with keyframes (simple facial animation)
  • Day 2: Lip-synching and introduction to tweens
  • Day 3: Walk cycles, advanced walk cycles, and motion guides
  • Day 4: One-day assignment: Create a short animation of a person walking up to a car, getting in and driving off.

Day 1 morning – introduction to the interface:

The morning section took the form of a lecture that introduced the main tools and elements in the flash interface, these include:

  • The stage
  • The toolbar, which included:
    • The selection tool
    • The free transform tool
    • The pencil tool
    • The line tool
    • The rectangle/oval/polystar tool
    • The paintbrush tool
    • The paintbucket tool
    • The inkbottle tool
    • The magnifying glass tool
    • The contextual menu
  • The properties bar
  • The library
  • Colour swatches
  • The timeline

Day 1 afternoon – familiarisation with keyframes and the timeline:

The afternoon was a more hands-on period where I got students to explore simple animation with pre-prepared artwork. First importing it into Flash, and then converting it to a low size, more animation-friendly format.

The afternoon session was broken down like this:

  • Importing images and trace bitmap
  • Frames and Keyframes
  • Keyboard shortcuts including:
    • Ctrl-C (Copy)
    • Ctrl-X (Cut)
    • Ctrl-V (Paste)
    • Ctrl-Shift-V (Paste in place)
    • Ctrl-Z (Undo)
    • Ctrl-B (Break apart)
    • V (Selection tool)
    • Q (Free transform tool)
    • N (Line tool)
    • k (Paintbucket tool)
  • Symbols
  • Simple animation: switching between different symbol instances between keyframes to create the illusion of movement (like smiling or blinking) using two static frames.

Day 2 to follow soon

Matt and me bought a guitar in downtown Georgetown a few weeks ago.

Kitty the guitar

As you can see, it’s a peculiar, rustic looking thing. We were informed by the seller that it was locally made but that the guy who crafted it is now dead. Whether that makes it cursed we’re not sure – though Matt does like to describe it as the evil twin of the resonator guitar from the cover of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album.

Despite this, it plays pretty nicely – even if the action (the distance from the fretboard to the strings) is way too high further up the fretboard – and it’s been great having it in the flat. We can’t get the TV and DVD player to work and Matt and myself both play in bands (although I play the bass) so the practice time has been handy.

Matt’s off to Mexico after Guyana and plans to take ‘Kitty’ with him. I hope it survives the trip there and the subsequent flight back to London. Matt loves his flamenco so he’s going to put nylon strings on it and see how that sounds. If it’s not as good as his classical guitar back in London (which he suspects it won’t be) then I get to keep it. Fingers crossed. I’m getting quite attached to it.

Tonight Matt’s going to play a couple of tunes at an open mic / performance poetry night. Expect a blog post about that in the next couple of days. In the meantime, in the spirit of making lists for no good reason other than it’s sometimes fun to, here’s the five tunes you’re most likely to hear if you drop by Lot 6D Station Street in Kitty…

1. Hey Hey, My My
It feels like loads of my friends have suddenly really got into Neil Young in the last couple of years. I’m not complaining – the guy is a genius. Different versions of this tune bookend his ace live album Rust Never Sleeps and is one of my – and Matt and Pontus’s – faves.

2. Waterfall
I endlessly played this technicoloured baggy ballad by the Stone Roses during my teenage years so I guess it was inevitable it would pop back into my head during my time here. Guyana means The Land of Many Waters after all. Once I’d worked it out again I taught Pontus, and in return he taught me Hey Hey, My My.

3. Don’t You Forget About Me / Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam
Glasgow band Simple Minds’ breakthrough single – which memorably soundtracks the bratpack classic The Breakfast Club – happens to have the same chords (we think) as this tune by the much more obscure Glaswegian indie band The Vaselines (you might know Nirvana’s cover from their Unplugged  in New York album), so a rendition of one inevitably turns into the other – and back again.

4. Folsom Prison Blues
He may look like a malnourished Mexican bandito but Matt’s voice is unexpectedly full-bodied. Part Johnny Cash part Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, it’s no surprise he can pull off this blues stomper from the Man In Black with aplomb.

5. The Needle And The Damage Done
What can I say, we’re big Neil Young fans.

Black water. Also note the mosquito bites on Chriss feet

I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about water.

Guyana is known as ‘the land of many waters’, indeed water out here is slightly more prevalent than back in the UK. It is also more of a national resource. For a start the tap water is not safe to drink. In fact we’ve been highly advised against using it for brushing our teeth. This means that there are a huge amount of water butts constantly moving around Georgetown. You only need to glance into one of the many roadside ditches or get close enough to smell one to comprehend why. They appear to be a breeding ground for mosquitos and I’ve heard the some people have even seen the odd dead dog in them.

A few days a go we saw a dead dog on the beach, mercifully a photo was not taken. It was lying on its side, peacefully looking out to sea. ‘How cute’ I thought, ‘the dog’s enjoying the sunset.’ Then I noticed it wasn’t breathing. As some consolation it died peacefully. Looking out to sea is an odd phenomenon here. When you think of the Caribbean, crystal clear blue water inevitably follows, which makes cresting the summit of the sea wall a slightly disappointing experience.

Not my photo, will take an alternative one soon.

Not my photo, will take an alternative one soon.

First impressions might lead you to think that the photo was taken through a brown filter, but I assure you that this is its true pigment. Brown sea water could easily be a factor in why the tourism trade is underdeveloped here. Going for a paddle doesn’t feel like the most appealing thing I’ve ever considered, though we may well have to try it some day before leaving. I’m going to have to try very hard to not think about standing on that poor dog’s skull.

The sea and river water out here is brown due to the muddy sediment it contains and is nowhere near as dirty as it looks. As Hugh mentioned before we went out to arrow point which rests on the bank of one of Guyana’s many ‘black water’ creeks. Having been used to seeing the rolling brown sea stretch for miles into the distance, the idea of black water sounded even less enticing. Black water, it turns out, really is black.

The reason for this (so I’m told) is because of a large amount of tannin in the water from the surrounding forest. The upshot of all this is an experience akin to swimming around in a giant cup of cold black tea.

The water is drinkable and feels fantastic to swim in, if you can get over the slightly disconcerting fact that you can’t see anything. This becomes a more prominent disadvantage when you realize that caiman crocodiles take residence in that same water. It also undulates between startlingly cold to pleasantly warm over traveling a couple of feet. It’s an incredible experience and if you ever have the opportunity I highly advise the reader to give it a try.

At a slight tangent, I believe the local alcohol deserves a quick mention… Well, it is a sort of liquid so it kind of works. Beer here is generally under a pound ($300) in the local shops, and around or just over in a club. Wine is about six pounds a bottle ($2,000), but for stuff that is surprisingly good. Rum, however, is about two pounds ($600) a litre which is absolutely incredible, especially since it tastes fantastic as well. For nearly three pounds and a death wish you can also get hold of a litre of high wine. At 69% alcohol it’s about the strongest bottled spirit I’ve ever encountered and tastes like it too.

The Gaffen cocktail of choice out here would be a ‘Pirate’s Bloody Revenge’, which is easy to remember; one measure of rum to one measure of cranberry juice. Enjoy.

Hugh will include a longer post about the guitar we have bought out here. However, whilst we’re on the subject of water I thought it’d be appropriate to say that at a couple of the VSO gatherings we’ve been to I’ve been feeling increasingly like I’m turning into this guy.

Me and Chris bartered a wager over what would come up if you searched ‘Flickr’ on the flickr website.

It was a fly.

A Fly

A Fly

Chris owes me $10 (Guyanese)

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