Semester Two: Major Project

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This is the end

The term zemblanity was coined by William Boyd and is meant to convey the opposite of serendipity: “making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries occurring by design”. A zemblanity is, effectively, an “unpleasant unsurprise”. It is because of this and because of the close alignment with unexpected trauma and PTSD that we chose to name our website Zemblanity. During our project we got some incredible feed back from our user testers and have been able to incorporate it into the final result. This has all come together to result in a tasteful exploration of the psyche behind PTSD.

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We received a really lovely review of our idea from Jennifer Cairns a Community Psychiatric Nurse who spoke with James about our project. This was particularly nice piece of feedback and has really encouraged us as a team in our idea and instilled us with a lot of confidence in it’s narrative and explanation.

The piece we are handing in has been edited and refined in this video by Dervla to showcase the best parts of our project.

I’ve really enjoyed working on this project and have managed to pick up a lot of new skills particularly when it comes to asset creation and using different programs outside of my normal set. I didn’t get to do as much character animation in this project as I would have liked as we ended up using a lot of static poses or resting animations, but I made up for this by helping another team with one of their scenes where I got to animate an engaging and emotional scene between 3 characters.

Nearing the end of the tunnel

Throughout this piece of work my team and I have been creating a virtual reality experience based around what we believe it would feel like to have had flashbacks to ‘World War I’ while going through life on the cusp of ‘World War II’. All of the accounts we have read and the interviews we have conducted have allowed us to see that there is not always a clear way of defining the experiences had by PTSD sufferers. We cannot say for definite that this is exactly what someone living in the era between WWI and WWII would have experienced but we believe that this is an interesting way to communicate the feelings of that experience to our audience.

“Combatants of the WW1 faced extremely harsh conditions in the muddy and rat infested trenches. The soldiers suffered physical and psychological consequences of the trench war. Estimated suicides during the World War One still remain unknown. According to the Military Historians a large number of combatants committed suicide between 1914 to 1918. Depressed and physically worn-out soldiers took their lives inside the trenches. The trench suicides became common during the WW1. Some suicides occurred after the demobilization. Captain Guy Nightingale was one of the WW1 soldiers who witnessed the horrors of the war in Gallipoli. He was haunted by combat related reminiscences and in 1935 he took his own life. At the time of his death Captain Guy Nightingale was 43 years old.” – Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. ‘Death of a Soldier

Trying to understand the mentality of someone who has gone through these experiences has been a huge part of our project and figuring out the best way to create a character who can accurately portray this through their responses to the scene. I wanted to keep the scripting itself simple with no dialogue and from the veteran who the audience sees through. Just having changes in their breathing or being able to hear their own heart beat to communicate their emotional response to the flashbacks could have been quite  difficult but myself and my team have worked very hard to create a natural soundtrack for the character which does this very well. The expression of emotion through nonverbal features of speech is known as prosodic communication and it has been one of our more important features in the characters in our virtual reality. I am still gathering relevant sounds for this piece and trying to record our own as well but thus far we have and acceptably well developed reactive soundtrack of breathing, heartbeats, coughing and some general background chatter. Over the next week before our final hand in I still hope to record some 1930’s slang to add to our over all finished piece in order to more firmly establish our time period through vocals as well as visuals.

Visually our virtual reality is almost finished to our teams set target. We have created some beautifully smooth transitions between the train scenes and the trench scenes which help to create a stronger intensity for our flashbacks and which we have seen, from our user testing, helps our users to really empathise with someone who’s state of mind can be changed by even mundane things like flickering lights of loud sounds. Our characters are much more developed now and our script has changed slightly so that the passengers on the train will begin to move away and filter off the train, as they become alarmed by the veterans reactions to his flashbacks. We had some problems with bringing animation into Unity but we have resolved that issue and are now going to bring in more character animation to the scene.

During this last week before our hand in we just have a few finishing touches to add to our project but overall we have created something we feel we can be proud of. These last few fixes and add ins will give a feeling of fulfilment and completion to this project so that we can all be wholly satisfied with the end result. I am still working on the website we will use to showcase the visuals of this piece and the reactions of some of the users who have tried the experience themselves. This website is something I believe will give the project itself a very professional feeling once it’s over especially as I’m creating a part of it dedicated to the making of this project so that others can see a little of what went into it. The ‘Making Of’ section of the website will mainly be Dervla’s interviews of myself and the rest of the team as well as footage of users experiencing the project and their thoughts on it.

Environmentalism in Animation: Dissertation Research

These are just a few videos which are relevant to some of my research on environmentalism in animation. I want to examine ideas of why environmentalism is becoming more commonly used as a subtext in almost all forms of animated media. Children’s series are more and more showing good characters acting in environmentally conscious ways and subtly showing how good values and traits run parallel to preserving nature and good environmental practices. I also want research why the idea of the apocalypse occurring due to human fault and neglect of the environment has become such a popular theme. In the “Mad Max” (1979 – 2015) series particularly the latest “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) explores the idea of the post apocalyptic future and having to find pockets of natural environment “the green place” in order to survive.

I am also going to be looking into creators and audiences opinions on environmentalism and why American audiences have such strikingly different views on environmentalism than other parts of the world. The way in which we talk about environmentalism is changing. More and more people are choosing to say it’s a myth because they feel they haven’t seen a fast and dramatic impact. Japan’s ideals regarding environmentalism are much more commendable than most of America. This is mainly from the vast differences in large companies environmental practices. Most of Japans larges companies try to keep themselves ‘green’ and eco-friendly while American companies are very slow to change any of their own practices to create a more eco-friendly outlook.

Exploring the symbolic nature of ideals and movements in animation is also going to be a key part of my writing. When comparing films created by people with very different cultural backgrounds it becomes much more interesting to see how symbolism is used. In “The Last Unicorn” (1982) and “Spirited Away” (2001) the different mythos supporting these films ie; Japanese mythos vs European mythos and how these have effected the narrative and the types of symbolism used there in.

Immersive Experience

To see whether or not what we’re creating will be successful we’ve been doing some user testing. So far the results have been quite positive and our guinea pigs have enjoyed the experience in the VR and had the appropriate emotional responses to the visual stimuli. In order to keep up the immersive experience we’ve been using very realistic assets with the platform, tube and characters appearance,  to further keep from breaking the viewer from the experience we’re are keeping the characters animations as realistic as possible, having them subtly move and breathe so that this VR experience feels real.

Some of our testers noticed cutting in our geometry such as in the seats or being able to stick their head out of the tube wall. we’re working out  way to prevent this and ensure that the viewer is more securely inside the train. The also found some of the sounds a little too loud at the start of the experience but found that they adjusted to them after a few seconds but we may reduce the overall volume a little just to avoid the jarring start as this feels a bit more sensible.

We found that in our testing some viewers were flinching a little during some of our cuts as they were a little too sudden. So to get around this we’re blending the trench and tube a lot more so that there’s a less definite break between the geometry of the two. I like this way of doing the transitions better as I think it speaks more appropriately about how PTSD affects peoples everyday lives, in that it doesn’t completely remove you from where you are but it deeply affects how you perceive the sounds and sights around you.

Concentrating on the sounds in our VR we have begun to consider more the sorts of Foley sounds we will need to create. I’ve also found that it’s very difficult to find pre-recorded slang or colloquialisms and voices from the 1930’s or people acting as though they are in the 1930’s. Because of this I know that myself and my team may have to record some background dialogue of 1930’s slang I may also see if there are other members of our class who would like to join my team in doing this as I think it could be quite fun, but also I feel the VR will sound better if we have more of a variety of voices rather than the same four used repeatedly.

Our progress through making the VR has been recorded by Dervla Hillan, she’s been incredibly helpful in photographing sources for some of our models as well as helping us to document our work. Because of the way this is being set up I’m creating a website to showcase the VR we are creating. Once finished this website will feature our finished product and the filmed reactions of some users as well as Dervla’s footage of us. I’ll also create a gallery section on the website where I will feature all the concept art from myself and the team which went into the project, this will be kept separate from my blog except as a link in my posts about this terms final hand in.

Asset Creation

At the moment I am mainly creating assets for the characters on the train, particularly the females as it has proven quite difficult to find ready made models of clothing in the right style for the 1930’s period we’re researching and basing our experience in. I am still using Marvelous Designer to create the majority of the clothes but I am also using Maya, Mudbox and Z-brush to add details or to create smaller articles of clothing such as shoes and hats.

The history of the fashion trends we’re using in our animations are in themselves quite interesting and are highly indicative of the period we’re looking at. I want to make these characters clothes as accurate as possible for the time period in order to show the viewer not just where they are but also when. As the the entirety of the VR takes place in fairly closed off areas such as; the platform, the tube and a trench, I think it becomes very important to use the characters style and design as the biggest indicator of time period and also the mood of the scene the viewer is in. I feel that because the style an designs are so important to the creation of this VR it’s very important that we know the history around them as clearly as possible.

Cloche hats were a particularly popular style during the 1930s, as our animation is set around that time I thought it best to use this style of hat. Art Deco influence can be seen in the zigzag seaming and construction lines of many cloche hats.  Art Deco appliqué was a popular embellishment although, it was never used in an overt fashion usually remaining covert in it’s use to maintain the simplicity of the design.

To retain the helmet like appearance of the cloche, trimmings were generally kept to a minimum with surface appliqués and other decorative pieces usually applied to one side only.  Feather fans at the side and scarves swathing the hat and falling to one side were a usual trim.  That side was of generally the right side of the cloche, but not exclusively so.” Pauline Weston Thomas – 26/11/2016

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Unfortunately I was only able to afford a trial version of Marvellous Designer for 30 days so I’ve had to get the bulk of the large clothes made quite quickly. My experience with it so far has been amazing though and I may try and save enough money to buy the personal version for future projects, I’ve found it incredibly useful for creating very specific designs from the 1930’s period because the software is pattern based. As you can see in the demo reel The Marvellous Designer site put up it is a fantastic piece of software for period clothing or anything with a more stylish cut then something you might make purely in Maya or Mudbox. I think this was perfectly suited for our project and I’m really glad I learned how to use it as it felt right to create our clothes and designs using real patterns from the 1930’s.

Marvelous Designer is a great program, but it isn’t always reliable and you do need to  be able to sculpt clothing on your own, especially items like hats and shoes. While this program is amazing for getting the bare bones of clothes together it’s not very commonly used so it’s nice to be familiar with it as it’s an uncommon skill. One of the main problems with the clothes made in MD is that there needs to be a lot of clean up before you can render it or put it into game engines like Unity. There can be a lot of overlapping geometry which, was a little hard to work with but after a bit of time is spent on them the results can be quite lovely.

The strength of Marvelous Designer tends to lie in its ability to create near-photorealistic cloth simulation, and it can potentially save a lot of time and tedious effort if you learn to use it effectively. There are plenty of tutorials available online that explain how to use the software in a successful way for realistic creations.” Steve Holmes – 30/11/2016