Following my initial learning contract, I’ve decided to start planning out my final animation and begin creating all the necessary assets and models I will need. Animating even short, minute long films can be a lengthy process—especially for a newcomer like myself—so it is best that I start working on my final animation early on to ensure I do not feel rushed in the future.
Professional modellers will commonly draw 2D concept sketches of characters from multiple angles (character turnaround) to use as a reference when modelling the characters in 3D. In my animation projects, I will use free-use concept art drawn by other artists as reference for my models. My main goal is to practice and showcase my 3D modelling skills, not my artistic and creative ability.
The model shown above is the first character model I’ve made without following a tutorial or template. I opted for creating a low-poly model instead of using the sculpting tools to create a smoother, more intricate model. A low-poly model will have less polygons, making it easier and simpler for my computer to render. It was troubling not knowing where to start when creating the mesh of the model, as usually I follow instructions or guides that tell you which polygons to construct for the best result. Despite having to start over and scrap work several times, the experience in the end was quite rewarding. All the skills I’ve built up to this point were finally being put to use in the creation of this model; I was able to prove to myself that I now could create 3D assets from scratch, without guidance from a tutorial or teacher.
I am also in the process of creating several storyboards to roughly plan out the actions and positioning of models, as well as the positioning and angle of the camera. This is in preparation for the first stage of animation known as “blocking,” where only key poses are animated to establish the placement and timing of character actions and props. I plan to post these finished storyboards alongside a blocked out draft animation in my next blog post.
Building off my last post on the new version of Blender: both my mentor and I have now realized how game-changing the new update to Blender is, even if we struggled to adapt to the new interface at first. For instance, Blender can now handle an infinite number of layers in a scene, compared to the 20 layers scenes were limited to before. This upgrade makes modelling process significantly easier for me; I no longer have to worry about traditionally taught strategies for reducing a scene’s layer count, such as joining together objects. Additionally, the new viewport rendering engine allows the program to run much faster on my computer. The improved performance means decreased wait times when rendering changes in real-time, and the live viewport now produces an more accurate representation of what the final rendered animation will look like.
What has been your most difficult mentoring challenge so far? Why?
My most difficult mentoring challenge so far has been communicating to my mentor exactly what skills I want to learn or what type of feedback I need on my work. Many concepts in Blender do not have obvious names that relate to their function. Without sufficient knowledge of the proper vocabulary for working in a 3D workspace, I find it difficult to pinpoint the exact names of the skills and techniques I want to learn, which can lead to confusion and mix-ups when working with my mentor. For example, I asked my mentor how I could change the appearance of my objects to look “smoother”. My mentor showed me a method for smoothing the faces of my object by averaging out the angles between vertices. However, the method I was actually looking for is called “subdivision surface“, which splits edges and faces into smaller units; this method gives objects the more organic and smooth shape I was trying to achieve.
What is working well? Why?
In Lois J. Zachary’s book The Mentor’s Guide Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships, Zachary describes the phases of progress mentoring relationships go through: “preparing, negotiating, engaging, and coming to closure” (49). Currently, I believe that my relationship with my mentor is at the beginning of the enabling phase of mentorship. We’re starting to implement the project into full force, initiating work on my final animation while developing the array of skills I need to fulfill my vision. At this phase of our relationship, my mentor has now taken more of a facilitating role rather than being a tutor. I am taking more control over my learning, working autonomously on my own mini-projects and practice exercises, while my mentor steps back and acts as a resource for me to inquire.
As a teacher, my mentor often naturally takes the “lead” in our conversations and meetings. However, he does a great job leaving room for me to ask questions and provide my input. I direct the conversation by introducing the topics I want to discuss, and from there my mentor elaborates on what I already know by sharing his expertise and experience. Overall, I believe we have a good mentor-mentee dynamic, and we are consistently able to keep a productive conversation going for the duration of a meeting.
What could be working better? How can you make sure this happens?
With his busy schedule working in multiple school districts, we’ve found it difficult to consistently meet as often as I would have hoped. It is difficult to find times and dates that will work for both of our schedules, as my mentor is often called away to emergency meetings and is not always available to meet at Gleneagle. While we try to make up for these lost meetings by rescheduling them to a later date, there are long stretches of time where I do not get the chance to update my mentor on my progress. This inconsistency in meetings is worsened by the fact that, due to recent events, we will not be meeting in person anytime soon.
It will be challenging to work with my mentor over the next few weeks. To help remedy this situation, I’ve established several means of remote contact and methods of working together online. At the beginning of the project, my mentor and I set up a document online where we established several goals and projects to work on throughout my inquiry. Periodically over the next few weeks as I complete each step of the animation pipeline, I can update the document with my progress and check off the goals I’ve reached thus far. This way, my mentor can stay up to date on what I’ve accomplished. Additionally, my mentor and I have also installed an addon on Blender that allows us to work collaboratively in real time on the same scene. My mentor can demonstrate what changes he would make to my models, just like he would during an in-person meeting.