Tag Archives: Pixar

Guest Post by Victoria Findley: Review of the Movie “Brave”


A tale of a fiery headed princess determined to be independent of any authority at any cost.

Summary (spoilers)

Merida is the eldest daughter of a King and Queen Elinor. Father rescued her from an evil bear at an early age. She is taught school and ladyhood by her mother and taught how to shoot an arrow, fight, hunt and ride by her father. Her mother tells her how important her marriage is to unify the clans and tells the story of a brother that destroyed others because he refused to work in unity with his brothers. However, she rejects the proposals by suitors from other clans. Her mother and father (who thinks the young men are not worth much, rightly so, but still knows the clans must be united as promised by marriage) have set them up for her. She defeats their plan  by winning the archery contest to deny any suitors.

Merida and her mother fight, refusing to listen to each other, causing the daughter to destroy a tapestry of the family. The mother in anger threw Merida’s bow into the fire. Daughter runs off in anger, mother angry, but pulls bow out of the fire. Instead of the daughter repenting, she follows spirits/wisps (aka fate changers) and makes a deal with a witch to change her mother. the witch gave her a potion for her mother to eat. Meanwhile Father hosts the deserted men and clans, while the daughter tricks her mother by offering the food as a peace offering, which turns her mother into a bear. Because her father hates bears because of the evil bear that attack them early on, the daughter sneaks her mother/bear out of the castle while father and clans chase them around. Meanwhile her triplet brothers eat remains of the food and also turn into bears. The daughter still insists the whole time that she hasn’t done anything wrong. Daughter tries to find the witch again in order to turn her mom back. Meanwhile her mother feels so helpless as a bear since she was anti-weapons, fighting or hunting, since it she considered it ‘unladylike’. The daughter finds the witch’s house but the witch is not there and leaves a message that unless she remembers these words: “Fate be change, mend the bond, torn by pride” her mother’s fate will be permanent.

While mother bear and daughter hide in the rainy woods, daughter remembers the love mom had shown. Mother and daughter bond as daughter teaches her how to survive and not to be too dependent on being proper in the woods. However mom is slowly turning into a real bear on the inside. Wisps show up again and show mother and daughter the old and fallen home of brothers from the story her mom told earlier. Then daughter realizes that the big evil bear that her father hates used to be the oldest brother. He had also gone to the witch and asked her to give him the strength of ten men so she turned him into a bear. The bear was at the ruins and chased them off.

The daughter realized that tapestry was the bond that was broken (torn by pride) and needed to be mended. Mother and daughter get back to the castle and the daughter skillfully talked to the clans like a lady. They were were beginning to fight among themselves because she did not give an answer yet. She reminded them that they chose to be united because of friendship and loyalty not just because of marriages. However, father finds mama bear, not knowing it was his wife and chased it down. Mother and father fight off evil bear and spell is broken when Merida says “I’m sorry and it was all my fault.”. The sons and Merida all agree to only marry for love providing the clans agree to stay united otherwise and they do.

Objectionable parts: some male nudity (butts), traditions were made to be broken, follow your heart instead, father and other men come off as nutcases and goofballs, being a lady is overrated.

Excellent parts: daughter admits she was wrong and has to work hard to change the consequences, parents love each other and their children, father is the leader of the family and clans do respect him, hunting and weapons are not bad, making deals with a witch is dangerous, excellent 3-D animations, parents may be hard but they love their children, repentance is the first step to fixing serious problems.

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3D Animation Work

When a person begins work as a 3D animator, he has to keep in mind that he will be expected to work as part of a team and be productive. There are different methods of determining productivity, but usually he will be expected to come “up to speed” quickly. A military background, for example, should give a person an edge in understanding the need for being disciplined and prepared to contribute to the team from day one.

Two basic aspects come into play. One is that an employer will expect certain skills with a fair degree of mastery. The other is that additional skills which are not necessarily a spelled-out requirement will be a big help in increasing productivity.

Suppose you were hired by Pixar to work on the movie Monsters, Inc. While it would be nice to choose the storyline, the types of monsters, etc., in reality those decisions are made by people far above you. Since you are a new hire you will be on a team of 2-4 people doing something tedious, difficult, mundane but absolutely essential. When I make 3D animations and movies, they sometimes do not turn out as expected. But as a “solo act” I can say, “That’s still cool. I will change the story to fit it.” As part of a team you will not have that luxury. You must perform your assigned task and make it fit in with the team’s and with the project as presented.

Suppose your assignment is to make hair for Sully. In the real world this might not have been a separate assignment but this is an illustration. This will require a fairly thorough understanding of Pixar’s Renderman Software. Is the hair a plug-in module? How thick do they want it? How long should it be? How should it move in relation to the overall model? Stiff like a bristle brush? Like a horse’s mane? Will a special program be needed for collision prevention? Co-operation with other teams might be required if your project integrates with theirs. Some decisions must be made very quickly. Other things such as color might not even have been decided yet, but will need to be acted upon as soon as they are made.

Is it fur or hair? A 3D animator is expected to be able to distinguish certain things as soon as he starts a job, to bring certain specific abilities with him and understand certain things the first day.

1. Really boring stuff you have to know

High end 3D animation software operates on multiple computers at the same time. UNIX is a system designed to operate on multiple computers. Linux is a free (open source) version with many similarities. You must learn UNIX to be productive in this field. The book UNIX in a Nutshell is a good beginning for learning the commands. You will need a computer with UNIX or Linux installed in order to get familiar with the systems. There are differences between the two, especially the fact that Linux works with smaller systems and UNIX works with much larger, sometimes worldwide ones.

Most 3D animation programs are written in a high-end language called C++. While understanding C++ is not essential, since there will be others on the team who specialize in that, you need a basic understanding. Take at least a semester of a programming language, such as Pascal, and avoid programs such as Basic which rely on Spaghetti Logic.

While you don’t need to know Calculus all of this is based on higher math and you need a solid background in non-linear Algebra. All the talk about model placements in a scene are done through Cartesian co-ordinates and is the basic language you will use every day. While you don’t usually talk about vectors per se, every model, every light ray, every scene or set, and every motion is using vectors. You need a very thorough understanding of what they are and how they work. If you have no concept of vectors or Cartesian coordinates a good introduction is Albert Einstein’s Evolution of Physics.

Stephen Hawking’s book a Brief History of Time deal with vectors and similar subjects in chapters 2 and 3. The illustrated version has lots of cool pictures.

2. Really boring stuff that is helpful but may or may not be necessary

The instruction manual of whatever 3D program you are working with could be thousands of pages. At first you will be concentrating on one small section because you must begin producing before you achieve complete mastery of the program.

How the hardware works is another area where you will be unable to achieve complete mastery before becoming productive. Has the program hung up simply because it is ray-tracing? Does it need to be reset to free up the computer? Will you wipe out the work of several other teams if you hit reset at the wrong time?

Do you know how to compile the program? Usually someone on the team, or on another team altogether, specializes in that. But if you have a basic understanding you will be more productive.

Probably no one will ask how well you type or at what speed, but you will be more productive with fast and accurate typing skills than someone who lacks them.

Personal discipline means you can’t spend time on Facebook, chat or emails but take your assignment seriously. Pieces of hardware that you might be more comfortable with or familiar with will increase productivity. Trackball versus mouse, something as simple as desk height, easy ability to stand up and stretch or get some exercise. Interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate, will make everyone’s job easier, or perhaps possible in the first place.

How well do you get information out of other people? No torture techniques, but the ability to obtain needed information rapidly by asking the right questions, making only a minor interruption in the other person’s productivity.

Do you understand the goals and objectives of the company you work for? Do you enjoy your work? It’s possible to be productive and good at what you do without enjoying it, but enjoyment helps you and the people around you create a better work environment.

3. How 3D software operates or works

All 3-D Software programs have certain ways of operating, certain divisions of labor. Different programs use different names for the same thing. The first thing that needs to be done is to build a model. It could be something as simple as a ball, as complex as a person, or a spaceship. Most programs use a system of connecting polygons where the program will render the polygons. Hash Animation Master uses splines and patches. Others use nurbs and metanurbs.

If you are making a chocolate donut with sprinkles on top, you will begin with a primitive called a torus, deform it and add to it. You can add each individual sprinkle, made of polygons or patches. You could also apply a decal of sprinkles to it if it need not be as detailed.

Once the model is made, it is placed in some type of scene. Hash calls this scene a choreography. Bryce makes the scene separate from the model. Setting up a scene can be simple or difficult. Scenes are often a flat panel with a video background. Shadows of objects that cast on the scene give a realistic cue to the eye to make people see the object as part of the scene.

Determining motion is the next consideration. The donut might only move if someone picks it up and throws it. The camera might move around it. In the example of hair for Sully in Monsters Inc., it must be attached and move when he moves, when the wind blows, when others brush up against it, all in realistic, believable fashion. A particular patch of skin might need 10 hairs. Or would four be enough? Will you need 100? All of this must take place with the least amount of rendering time and computer processing power.

After putting the models in the scene, figuring out the motions, completing it as a scene, the computer must be told how the light should fall and what it will look like to the camera. Usually the largest team working on a 3D animated movie will be the team responsible for lighting.

Once all this is done, rendering of each individual frame takes place.  Many quick renders will be done along the way to make sure all the parts work together properly and the details are correct. The final render should be a large scale version of the quick renders.

4. Putting It All Together

A movie director will have many things going on at the same time which must be coordinated. 3D rendering is the same way. The leader of the team or teams has to put them all together. The scenes with the simplest sets and the fewest number of actors or models will be finished and set to render first, since rendering takes the longest time. Meanwhile more intensive projects taking more “people power” will be allocated and coordinated after those are set up and running.

Staying with the Monsters, Inc. example, Mike has no hair, only one eye, and he is sometimes seen talking in a relatively bare scene with no one else present. Such simple scenes can be set up and rendering while more difficult characters like Sully are being worked on. This also applies to more difficult scenes like many doors running on tracks in all directions.

Many skills operating all at once must come into play with 3D animation. The desire for this career might begin with learning to play video games. But loving video games, even being good at them, will not make you a 3D game designer.

Some people want to be automotive engineers when they don’t yet even know how to drive a car. There are drivers, there are mechanics, and there are engineers. It’s a process, an acquisition of various levels of skills. These skills have to be learned and used together or nothing is accomplished. To progress to a higher level in a career, you must take the first step to acquire the first skill. But you may not be able to do anything with it until you master the second skill. If you can get these skills down and make them work together, 3D animation can be very rewarding.


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