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Interview with Arjen Klaverstijn

AREA | Posted 1 December 2010 12:20:26 pm

Software

  1. Autodesk Maya

Industry

  1. Film & VFX

Project Links

  1. Autodesk Maya

Homepage

http://www.arjenklaverstijn.com/
Arjen Klaverstijn- Photo

Arjen Klaverstijn

Arjen Klaverstijn is a freelance animator who recently graduated from the Utrecht School of Arts in The Netherlands with a Bachelor of Art & Technology. There he studied” 3d Computer Animation & Visual Effects”. He currently resides in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Despite his choice of study, Arjen has managed to retain passion for two dimensional animation as well. Arjen’s philosophy towards art is that, rather than be limited by the confines of one specific art form, it is preferable to combine a variety of different media to achieve the desired effect. Besides animation, Arjen Klaverstijn is also an illustrator, graphic designer, and web designer.

The area avatarThe Area:

Welcome to the AREA Arjen - and thanks for sharing the first episode of "Manfred" with us! "Manfred" is an animated short that you produced and directed while studying at the Utrecht School of the Arts, in 3D Computer Animation and Visual Effects. Tell us, where did the characters and story of Manfred start from?

The area avatarArjen:

At the Utrecht School of the Arts, students can finish their education with a graduation project of choice. Basically, the student is free to approach the graduation project in any way they please. When the time came for me to choose my own graduation project, I had so many things I wanted to do and learn that I had a difficult time making a decision. I finally settled on making an animation that was conceptually as pure and simple as possible: a micro-series with a very defined main character that had a specific set of character traits, which featured this character in a number of everyday situations. I was instantly drawn to the idea of an antisocial, difficult character who stood in stark contrast to easygoing, friendly side characters. The most appealing every day situation I came up with was “waiting at the bus stop” which would be the first episode. As I worked on it, the script became longer and longer and it ended up being a single short rather than a micro-series.

The area avatarThe Area:

Who/what was the influence for this particular visual style?

The area avatarArjen:

All of my work is influenced by studios such as Studio A.K.A, Studio Soi, and 3 Legged Legs. I am always drawn to the way these studios design characters that are attractive and well-animated but consist of very simple forms and shapes. What look like basic designs really ‘come to life’ through smooth and professional animation work, which is something I wanted to achieve in Manfred. Another element that really influenced the visual style was hand-drawn artwork, since I wanted to give these 3D characters a 2D ‘look’ by giving them pencil-drawn surface textures. Trying to give the elements this appearance really influenced all aspects of the visual style.

The area avatarThe Area:

With your graphic artist background, it may have been easier to create Manfred in 2D. With 3D applications having a rather steep learning curve, why did you decide to make Manfred in 3D?

The area avatarArjen:

At the Utrecht School of the Arts, many of the projects needed to be completed on a short deadline and we were free to choose whatever technique worked. I often turned to 2D animation in order to get things done quicker, but when my graduation project came, I wanted to stay true to my education as a 3D animator and make a 3D short that really suited my style. I felt I hadn’t done this yet, despite my ambitions to do 3D animation after completing school, so making a 3D film was important for my development as an animator as well as for my portfolio.

The area avatarThe Area:

Why did you choose to use Maya?

The area avatarArjen:

At our school, Maya was the software package we learned to use, and therefore the program I felt most comfortable with. Also, with the geometric but bendy characters I had decided to use, I felt that the modelling and rigging options in Maya were the best choice for my project. Finally, the Maya user community is very large and I knew I could depend on it for support and tips if needed.

The area avatarThe Area:

How long had you been using Maya when you started work on Manfred?

The area avatarArjen:

Before entering the Utrecht School of the Arts in 2005, I had the learning edition of (the then Alias|wavefront’s) Maya which I played around in. At school, we used Maya version 6.5 frequently, with lots of lessons in it during the first year and later on in the context of different projects and assignments, when I finished Manfred my school was just upgrading from Maya 2009 to Maya 2010.

The area avatarThe Area:

The illustrated-style of Manfred takes us back to the good times of classic animated stories. Did you hand-paint the textures?

The area avatarArjen:

The textures were indeed hand-drawn with rough pencil strokes. These were scanned in to Photoshop where basic colors and some details were added before applying it as a texture. The background and clouds were drawn by Lois van Baarle (http://www.loish.net), my girlfriend and a fellow animator who I got to know at school. She paints digitally using a rough, painterly technique which suited Manfred quite well. She and I have similar taste in colors and in adding an organic feel to our digital work, so after handing her my concepts and sketches for the background, the final product supplemented the 3D character designs quite well.

The area avatarThe Area:

What did you use for the deformations and rigging of the characters?

The area avatarArjen:

From the beginning I knew I needed a rig that could make Bendy arms because I wanted to stay true to my style and I seldom draw characters with straight IK like arms. It also adds to the cartoony feel of the animation. Constructing bendy arms contains a lot of vector math, nodes and expressions. I didn't feel like doing it over and over again, so I decided to work with a MEL script that automated the rigging process and contained stretchy and bendy controls. I ended up using John Doublesteins script JD rigging tools (http://www.johndoublestein.com/). He hasn't updated it since 2007 but his script did the job and I recommend it to all who want to start animating after modeling. It was also easy to add/remove objects to the rig, with objects like hats, briefcases, and so on. Of course I had to add custom parts to the rig for facial animation like blendshapes and clusters. Because Manfred did not have a jaw, I added a cluster to his lower jaw and painted in cluster weights to control the lower jaw. His hair was made out of some bones with IK splines attached to them. I then turned the control curve into a softbody with the original curve as a goal object. Then I decreased the goalPP with the Component Editor, decreasing it towards the tip of the hair strand. I think I could have used dynamic hair curves, but I used this approach instead. I applied the same technique to Granny's skirt.

The area avatarThe Area:

The background elements appear to already contain specific lighting information, which play an important role in setting the mood of the animation. Can you describe to us how the scene was additionally lit?

The area avatarArjen:

The lighting of the scene was really simple. No tricks here. I used a dome with a blueish gradient on it. That dome took care of the global sky light together with mental ray's final gather. The sun light and soft, raytraced shadows came from a single directional light. It was a fairly basic lighting setup, since the lighting was quite generic and I wanted to let the characters and their textures do their thing. Also the fantastic background did the job. I created the glowing light from the background in the composting phase, together with the depth-of-field effect.

The area avatarThe Area:

Did you render out the entire scene or keep elements in separate layers to be edited later in comp?

The area avatarArjen:

I rendered out everything in passes and contribution maps in 32bit float. Just the standard mental ray passes: diffuse, iridescence, reflection, specular, shadows, depth pass, matte pass (to separate characters from background). I wanted to learn how to render/use these passes, and have maximum flexibility in the composting phase, but found that I needed very little of it. In the end I only mostly used the depth pass. The rain was rendered on a separate layer, those were the only layers that were really rendered separately from the characters and background. The sky (plus clouds) were added in the compositing phase. Also the weather change in the middle of the movie was pure compositing.

The area avatarThe Area:

What did you use to generate the rain?

The area avatarArjen:

For the rain and splashes I used standard Maya particles rendered as streaks. I rendered them out with the Maya hardware renderer. The splashes and dust were generated with the collision event editor. The dust was rendered with the Maya software renderer. To make the particles collide I made collision objects out of all my characters and the scene floor. This all was really easy to make. When I was done animating I made a particle cache for all the softbodies and rain particles to speed up render times.

The area avatarThe Area:

Which renderer did you use and what was the reason to choose it?

The area avatarArjen:

I choose to use Mental Ray as it comes with Maya. I like mental ray because it works with passes and I like final gather because of the instant global illuminated look. I also use it because I have little experience with other render engines. The look and my experience in it makes it an easy decision for me. In the future I’d like to explore other renderers.

The area avatarThe Area:

How many people contributed to making Manfred and how long did it take to complete?

The area avatarArjen:

Manfred was mainly a solo project, but I also worked with Lois, who as mentioned earlier provided some 2D graphics and a lot of emotional support, as well as Thilo Schaller (http://www.thiloschaller.com/ ), a good friend of mine from Germany and a talented musician who composed the original score. He actually did the score in 3 days in close collaboration with me via Skype. He did an amazing job as he was in the progress of emigrating to Canada. He is currently working as a professor at the Music Department at the University of Lethbridge.

It took something like 4 months to formulate the concept, which I was doing at a time that I was also working with a few other concepts and trying to choose the most ideal one. I also made a storyboard and animatic in this time. Once this phase was locked, it took about a month and a half to finish the final animation, although this was very intensive non-stop work that continued in the evenings and weekends.

The area avatarThe Area:

In your sketches, we noticed that there were designs for additional characters. Will you be working on extending the Manfred episodes?

The area avatarArjen:

The original concept was indeed for a series. However, this was more intended as a way to create a context for the animation and keep the concept for the short as simple as possible. At this moment, I’m looking into numerous job opportunities and seeing what I can do with my skills, so I basically don’t have time to create more Manfred episodes. However, if time opens up, I’d love to make more episodes of Manfred in other daily life situations or maybe even very extraordinary situations.

The area avatarThe Area:

What has been the reaction to Manfred so far?

The area avatarArjen:

The reaction has been much more positive than I expected. I graduated with very little criticism on the final work, and soon after posting the animation online, it spread across the internet, getting posted on numerous personal blogs as well as websites like Cartoonbrew.com and 3Dtotal.com. I have also received a large number of requests to send the work to animation festivals.

The area avatarThe Area:

In retrospect, what were the biggest challenges in making an animated short?

The area avatarArjen:

I have the personal flaw of easily getting lost in details while making animation. I want to learn everything immediately and already start looking into rendering techniques when making concept art so to speak. I can get ahead of myself and eventually lose momentum and focus in the project. For me, it was definitely a challenge to stay focused and work in a structured way, taking everything a step at a time and working at a steady pace.

I also found the hardest part of the animation process the concept phase, evidenced by the fact that this took so much longer than the production process. It’s hard to find a concept that you feel totally good about and want to put so much energy into. You have to really like your concept to put so much work into it, so it helps to create a character and story that you like and which stays entertaining for you throughout the production process.

The area avatarThe Area:

And now a few quick questions :) … Favourite animation artist?

The area avatarArjen:

Sylvain chomet (les triplettes de belleville) Studio AKA's Marc Craste The animations of Eran Hilleli (Between Bears) All the Pixar animations Spirited Away (and other Myazaki movies) Tekkon Kinkrete I like the student work that is made at goblins and the FilmFilmakademie Baden-Württemberg And many more!

The area avatarThe Area:

Most impressionable comicbooks/novels?

The area avatarArjen:

I have to admit that I don't read a lot of comics. But I really was impressed by Mouse, by Art Spiegelman.I really like the work of Tomer and Asaf Hanuka. But I mostly read collections of short stories like 'The best American comics'. I really liked the style of Seven Sacks by Eleanor Davis.

The area avatarThe Area:

Music you last listened to while working on the computer?

The area avatarArjen:

I listen to: The New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Beirut, Foreign Born, Caribou, the Shins, broken Bells and Vampire Weekend the most, but just as my book, movie and animation taste it's really broad and it's sometimes really hard for me to pick something that I like the most.

The area avatarThe Area:

Biggest wish for tool/update in Maya?

The area avatarArjen:

It would be really awesome to have some rigging tools for the more artistic animators integrated in Maya. Tools that are tailor made for animators that make cartoony animations. There are some really great rigging scipts out there. But I think Maya could use some more standard tools with a strong GUI.

Thanks for hanging with us and sharing your experience, Arjen :-)

Additional Link

Manfred: Making-of Tutorial

Arjen Klaverstijn

2 Comments

mir tohid

Posted on: 7 December 2010 3:39 pm

Nice JOB Arjen


Ann40

Posted on: 8 October 2012 6:11 pm

Really love the style, and want to know how to achieve this kind of 2D visual feel...


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