A meeting with an animator

Today I was sitting in a design studio working on a 3D model of an Uzbek knife for 3D printing and rehearsal. It was a silent day as most of the students here just finished with their final thesis presentations. As such, all the visitors the studio had was few and rare.

However, there was one animation student who had some life experience behind him looking for some help to cut some of his presentation paper. Well, as a service person I left my work for a moment to make measurements to his work and properly cutting with one of the worst cutters I have joy to use.

What’s the point in this? The man used to be a painter, an artist by his words.

We talked about creativity within field of design and animation, and he agreed that using the word creativity is dangerous. While this man did hold back from completely agreeing, like any sensible person would, he did saw the value from both sides. He put the difference between his paintings and his new studies with animation like this;

Creative painting is free and I always could do whatever I wanted, whereas I’ve found that with animation I need to take care of what I do; I need to check the measurements and make it right and better time after time because it’s not just for myself. With animation, I have to face the reality and try to become a master craftsman in what I do.

After this, he had to leave to return his presentation paper.

If we have people like him aiming to become masters in order to go beyond, then there is a glimmer of hope. That glimmer tells that there should be people who think the same way.

However, he said something that I had never stopped to wonder before; as an animator he had to face reality. This reality he mentions is nothing but real life, the places we all work and where we need to make ends. We are here, interacting with each other. Often you hear and see artists being in he league of their own, that they are special and unique in ways that we can’t understand. That’s all good and fine, and that also means that these same people usually live in the cloud castles and are removed from the daily lives of people who pay money for their art.

You can’t remove yourself from reality if you wish to make your living through it. Of course, there are people who are willing to fellate these artist and enforce the delusions. It’s not just creators need to aim to make past works obsolete, but those who are willing to dosh the cash needs to enforce that as well by demanding high quality.

Limitations are STILL your friend

How’s that creativity working for ya, SquEnix? Japanese developers have an obsession for creating something new. Whenever a game designers from East comes in with an idea for a game and its design, the Eastern man will tell you how it will be new and nothing like has ever existed because it was the creativity he holds that gave the design birth. A Western developer will be more grounded and explain that his design will be like this game with elements of this and that game, but mixing with something his own or tweaking these elements.

And it’s the Eastern games that are in dire situation.

A long development time has always resulted in mediocre game at best. Eight times out of ten the game is nothing short of disappointment and falls into bargain bins faster than rock tied to a brick sinks to the bottom of the lake. Final Fantasy Versus XIII has has been under works for six years. In that time Squenix could’ve released at least four or five games with the same budget and they’ve could’ve made money. I’m adamant that creativity was reason to this elongated development time, if you can call it that. Most likely they were trying to do something new in their minds, but as with many artists, the developers most likely never understood what they were aiming at, or didn’t have a clue what they were supposed to be doing. In other words; they were not crafting anything, but sitting on their assess and telling each other how awesome their creative ideas are.

When it comes making a product that you want to succeed, you need to remember that creativity isn’t the key. It’s the lock. Knowledge is what you need. Creativity is not knowledge, it is the anti-knowledge, fiction of the mind.

A Final Fantasy game is actually easy to craft properly. Combine elements from both computer role playing games and arcade simplicity to create deep but simple gameplay, much like what Dragon Quest did. Final Fantasy games could be played with the D-Pad and one button alone if done properly. A computer RPG has a lot of content, and story is there to frame the world and this content, not the other way around like Squenix thinks. If they want to make story the foremost thing, then they should just make new Final Fantasies into million dollar Visual Novels with quick time events. They wouldn’t be making games any more, but they would be making better products. Final Fantasy XIII was an abomination of a game. The staff wanted to avoid making cities because it was hard and lot of work in HD. Tells the tale of creative developers and how HD is taking its toll on game development. On the NES and SNES you saw large cities and beautiful forests everywhere. The story was there to make the player travel throughout the world and fight against whatever evil was there. Final Fantasy games actually need purely evil characters much like Ultima games. That’s why Xenosaga’s story isn’t as compelling as it tries to be.

I’m not even interested in Final Fantasy. I was around FFVI, but it wasn’t until much later I visited the PlayStation and later games. They were pretty horrible. At least Dragon Quest games let me play the damn game. Final Fantasy Versus XIII would’ve followed the same line of downwards spiral that the series and company has been in for the last ten to fifteen years. The merge with Enix didn’t do anything to lift the quality of the games either. Some have argued the other way around. People may blame on bad sales or disinterest in the current franchises, but the main reason is creativity. Creativity won’t bring in any money.

Final Fantasy I was created under heavy pressure. It was supposed to be the last game developers were to make under the same roof, so they put in a simple but complex story for a NES game, refined command system from Dragon Quest and overall polished product. It was made in about a year, and it saved the company. There wasn’t just limitations from going out of business, but time was limited as, as was the resources they could pour in. With such limitations they made a product that launched the company into a new age.

You can’t have a successful product without limitations
. Allow creativity to take control and all the work has been for nothing.

This attitude really pisses me off. I’m willing to pay for my games the full price if they’re good. I paid full price on DonDonPachi Resurrection (shooting games will never be massively popular due to their nature) but I can’t recall what was the last game I paid full price before that on either HD console. Wouldn’t it be better if more people would pay full price on their games rather than waiting for sales and second-hand stores to have them?

Even if this rumour on Versus XIII is called false later on, you can mark my words that this product can never the money SqueNix has invested into it. As such, I’m glad that they decided to outsource their games to other developers. This way developers who want to make good Final Fantasy game are able to make more money and show how’s it done. This would be the best case, but seeing how the industry’s rolling I doubt that this’ll happen any time soon. Developers, please prove me wrong.

Creativity needs to be cut

During the last decade the way we watch television and films has been changed. We went from VHS tapes to DVDs, and we’re gradually changing to Blu-Ray (BD) until the next format war comes. I can’t but admit that BD format does allow better image quality and better sound, the only things that matter when talking AV quality.

Above: You can barely make it out in the DVD version, but there’s a tomahawk and a baseball bat on Gunbuster’s shoulder. The image is from, unsurprisingly, from Gunbuster the Movie BD release. Remember to click the image for larger scale

BD goes hand in hand with HD display sets. They’re sharper, more vibrant and all that. They still can’t beat nature’s wonders thou. On top of that we’ve been almost literally forced to see more 3D films than ever before. Outside those three people in Iowa and Zimbabwe, normal films experience is almost always preferred over 3D. The only film I’d like to see in proper 3D would be Avatar, but then again that film is dull as a butter knife and that money can be saved for better films, like Redline.

While the way we watch films and play games have been getting better in quality the content has not. As mentioned the Avatar film is dull. It’s nothing more than few hours of beautiful scenery with stupid plot. Games have become more “streamlined” and are about making the player a computer. Computing the gameplay should be the developers job, not the players. Modern games and modern films have one thing in common that prevents them being anything more than shade of the past; creativity. As the displays have grown the demand of use of those displays have grown within the industry. Games have more refined graphics and effects than the gameplay, and films have more and more advanced CGI and special effects than ever before. Only few people in film industry actually notice how people are laughing their assess out when coming out of movie theatres after seeing a bad CGI wolf. Even the most successful blockbusters have the same problem. Pretty much nothing looks real or assuring.
Let’s take an example of that wolf. In American Werewolf in London the whole transformation scene us made with practical effects. It nearly lasts three minutes and looks real enough to convince the audience that it’s painful and real. On the other side of the coin the transformation scene in Twilight: New Moon, which is made completely with CGI. It looks fake, as does the wolf that comes afterwards. It doesn’t even warrant laughs. The change is almost offscreen in one scene and basically happens in a puff of smoke. It’s like Magica De Spell had thrown one of those puff grenades at Scroode. Even the original The Wolfman transformation from 1941 looks superior to this in every aspect. I recommend watching this film anyway, so go watch it after you’ve read this. While the new Wolfman looks pretty nifty, it still looks fake because of CGI used.

Star Wars is perhaps the best example of all. I’m not going to go how he changed the original trilogy because we’d be sitting here for the next few days as I scream my lungs out.

What I’m going to into is the 3D. Lucas has similar fatal 3D fever as Nintendo. The prequel trilogy suffers because Lucas went all creative with it. Most of the scenes look empty, lifeless and fake. Ships are far too shiny and designs look more evolved than what came afterwards. They tried to explain this my that the ships were crafted by hands before the war but we all know that just a load of bantha shit. The spirit isn’t in there any more. The creativity of George Lucas wrecked the series. When he was in a tight schedule, had very little money and under surveillance he could do a masterpiece.
The same happened with Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto. When Shigsy was under pressure to make a good game, little resources and only six people with him he made the Legend of Zelda. Now, with 3D, pretty much all of Nintendo’s games have a become something completely different. Sadly, this time the change wasn’t for the good. I dare anyone of you to say to me that Mario Galaxy is still the same game as Super Mario Bros., or that the Skyward Sword (or any other 3D Zelda) is the same as original gold cart Zelda.

But Aalto, the Starfox 64 3DS is still the same game! tells a squinty reader. They just added 3D effect and better graphics! And that’s what’s wrong with both film and game industry; the 3D.
Just like Lucas, Nintendo feels that they have to keep adding stupid stuff that nobody cares about. At least Lucas hasn’t remade the original Star Wars with new actors and plot, unlike what Nintendo did with Lylat Wars. Why won’t Nintendo admit that the original Star Fox exists? At least Lucas admits that original Star Wars exists, but like Nintendo he refuses to release it.
I find it laughable that either bunch of people never realized that the older products have always sold better. The rather limited run of Star Wars DVDs with LaserDisc edition of the original trilogy sold out pretty much everywhere and are sought after. Super Mario Collection on the Wii outsold itself twice.

People who put creativity over their job need somebody to bring them back to ground level. Sadly, very few companies are going to have proper censors and editors telling them what works and doesn’t. Artists, directors, designers and all who need to use imagination and creativity in their job are like rough diamonds; they need somebody to cut them, grind them and polish them. Ideas need to picked up and selected, just like stories and ideas. Without somebody doing this the results become something that the audience might reject completely. Examples of rejection would be the re-edited Star Wars trilogy and the 3DS.

In June 2008 the Universal Studios had a fire which burned down their King Kong ride that had basically inspired Jurassic Park. The new ride uses Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong in 3D with some practical effects.
What I’ve read the new ride is thrilling for a second, until the the realize that it’s just a screen. After that it becomes a novelty that can be seen at home in Jackson’s own film. You could never see and feel the “real” Kong outside the original ride.
People who preferred the new Kong were people who never had experienced the older ride. A friend of mine told that it had become a shadow of what it used to be.

What 3D effects in films should be used it just that; as an effect, not as the main dish. Star Wars shone when practical effects were at large, and then it suffered suffocation when CGI was introduced. Super Mario Bros. shone when it was 2D platformer, and when it was turned into Super Mario 64 it became completely different game.

What games do not have to do is to convince the player that something they see is real. Games do not aim for realism, or at least they shouldn’t. Films on the other hand need to look real in order not to break the illusion. Unlike films, games are born from imagined things, stuff that are beyond anything physical. Films on the other hand are there, everything that exist on the screen has to make the viewer believe that it could exist in real life.
I’m saddened to see that there hasn’t been a film that has done that any better than Jurassic Park.

I’m going to do a post filled with screenshots from Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs. Not from the film, but from the Making of.