Friday, January 20, 2012

"What the Hell is Updown Town?"

You know, I've been developing this whole Updown Town business for nearly eight whole years now, and though I've certainly shown a lot, I haven't actually told much. A few of my friends have been very interested in knowing what this little universe of mine is all about, and I figured I'd try to oblige them with a few blog posts.

Let me try to start out as generally as I can: Updown Town is a comedic action series starring a group of anthropomorphic animal heroes who keep the titular city safe from a cast of eccentric villains. I've taken a lot of bits and pieces from superhero media I've digested over the years, and I'm sure those nuggets of inspiration are visible enough if you look for them! I intend to turn it into an animated series, feature, or short one day, but we'll all have to wait and see how that turns out.

Updown Town itself is a fairly large, bustling city; think of it as a mix of San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles, all with a bit of futuristic tech thrown in for good measure. There aren't any humans in the UT universe, but I don't have a convoluted reason for them not being present other than some kind of alternate universe nonsense.

The heroes of Updown Town are the color-coded agents of the Updown Town Patrol (usually shortened to Updown Patrol or UP). Being a publicly funded agency, the UP deals with threats to the city that are deemed too dangerous for Average Joe police officers to handle. Usually, this means having to confront an assortment of odd villains ranging from a de-scented mad scientist skunk to a lover-boy marten who dabbles in corporate warfare for kicks.

Let's meet some of the characters, shall we?


Frankie Ancelotti [Agent Red] is the generally affable, anxiety-addled one-man bomb squad of the Updown Patrol and is Updown Town's main protagonist. He's always worrying about something or another and has developed some nervous tics as a result of his work with explosives. Though demolition and things that go boom are his forte, he tends to favor taking on more general field agent duties. He's also typically the first to report to the Head Agent when things go sour during mission-times.

Likes: A good cup of coffee
Dislikes: Loud noises

Rinaldi Vitello [Agent Purple] is second-in-command at the Updown Patrol and is Frankie's older half-brother. The no-nonsense, sourpuss attitude of his can be off-putting to some, though he manages to maintain a fairly healthy friendship with his teammates and an even stronger one with his younger sibling. His expertise in stealth comes from his days as a burglar for one of Updown Town's most powerful gangs; it's a past he's come to terms with but would rather not discuss.

Likes: Cool jazz
Dislikes: Obnoxious jerks

Suko Kiyama [Agent Yellow] is the team's resident tech guru and inventor. His happy-go-lucky demeanor and eagerness acts as a direct contrast to the short temper he has toward technology that doesn't function the way he expects it to. As much as he loves tinkering with existing tech and developing new gadgets, his love of sweets has outshone this passion on more than one occasion.

Likes: The latest model
Dislikes: Black licorice


Victor Stunkov [Dr. Stunkov] is a villainous scientist with a penchant for dodgy English and maniacal cackling. Having lacked a scent gland since birth, he's always been an easy target for ridicule in the skunk community. Rather than dealing with his status as an outcast in a more level-headed way, he instead intends to prove his superiority by attempting to take over Updown Town with the aid of an acid-spraying gun and lots of shouting.

Likes: '80s New Wave
Dislikes: Most things

Spencer Finneau is the heir to one of Updown Town's most lucrative security companies and a smooth-talking Casanova-type. Being the business-savvy marten that he is, Spencer's worked out that it's much easier to make oodles of cash through causing chaos than it is through playing nicely. He splits his money evenly among the girls he fawns over and the most out-there weaponry money can buy, the latter of which he and uses to crush and/or extort the hell out of rival companies.*

Likes: Pretty ladies
Dislikes: People who mock his accent


Kiyone Ono isn't exactly a villain, but she sure does want to be one. Though she aspires to reach the same level of villainy that the likes of Stunkov and Spencer have achieved, she lacks the capacity to do anything that could be considered evil. As a result, her “crimes” consist of innocuous stuff like jaywalking, littering, and loitering where prohibited. Her cheery attitude and position as “Top Frogurt Seller” at her day job don't do much to help her achieve her goal.*

Likes: Strawberries
Dislikes: Being ignored


There are several other secondary characters and a major villain I've yet to formally introduce, but you can look forward to information on those later. What, you thought I was going to give you everything in one go? You are a crazy person!

Check back soon for more on Updown Town; it'll be worth the wait!

*Kiyone and Spencer haven't received redesigns like the others have yet, but they may or may not get that treatment depending on what I feel like doing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Rise of Fall 2011: 3D Computer Modeling

Recently, 3D Computer Modeling was added to the list of required courses in LCAD's animation program in what I assume is an attempt to expand students' skill sets and job opportunities. The aim of the class was to model and rig a character from scratch, though admittedly the rigging part was more of an extra credit deal than it was an actual assignment. Some of my classmates chose to try and model stuff from outside/licensed properties, though most of us attempted to model our own characters. I chose to model good ol' Dr. Stunkov because I felt that many aspects of his design would lend themselves well to a three-dimensional format.

Despite what the course title's name led me believe, we didn't start out modeling on the computer box right from the get-go. Instead, we were tasked with modeling our character of choice out of Super Sculpey modeling clay to use as a reference for the CG model.

 The pre-baked Stunkov maquette, complete with unblended lab coat!

I kind of stressed myself out a bit going all perfectionist with Stunkov's maquette, but I did eventually come to a point where I had to move on and begin modeling him in Autodesk Maya. Maybe someday I'll come back to that little statue and paint it.

As for the actual computer modeling deal:

I think I was pretty successful, though there are some missing details that I will attribute to my inability to wrap my head around UV texture mapping. Stunkov may not look like he does in his redesign, but he ended up working well as a solid model.

It took me about half of the semester to finish modeling Stunkov, so I figured that I'd dedicate the second half of the class to getting him rigged for animation (sans facial controls).

Rigging Stunkov was a pretty straightforward affair thanks to the aid of some video resources over at, but skinning the model is an entirely different story. For those who don't know what "skinning" refers to, it's something that modelers/riggers have to do to the model to bind the character geometry (the stuff made out of polygons and whatnot) to the rigged joints/skeleton beneath. The problem with skinning the character is that some points of the geometry end up binding themselves to joints that they have no business going near, resulting in the geometry stretching out unnaturally and generally giving the model a lousy look.

I'm pretty glad that skinning is something that can be done automatically these days, because I'm pretty sure I'd go nuts over having to manually change the influence each joint has on the countless vertices that make up a character's geometry.

That being said, I definitely enjoyed the class and feel like I got a lot out of it. Like everything else, good computer modeling takes time and practice, and I can see myself returning to that polygon shelf in Maya to bring some of my other characters into the THIRD DIMENSION.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Rise of Fall 2011: Figure Drawing for Animators

Hey, I said I was going to make a series of these, and I sure as hell ain't skimpin' out on my word! Today's special: Figure Drawing for Animators 3.

This was my third semester taking a figure drawing class tailored specifically to animators' interests, and the first to be heavily focused on digital media. My past two Figure Drawing for Animators classes were all strictly traditional charcoal-on-newsprint affairs, but with a new professor comes a new set of rules and media to work with. I did pretty much all of my drawing in that class in Corel Painter 11, a program which definitely took some getting used to, but not so much that it impeded my progress throughout the semester.

What I really found odd was the multi-layered disconnect that happened with drawing from life on a tablet. It's difficult to articulate exactly why it felt so weird, but I guess it was just the whole... new-ness of the experience. We focused a lot more on drawing clothed figures this semester than we have in the past, but we did still have out fair share of nude models to work from.

This entry is kind of short because I've always felt that gestural figure drawing has been one of my biggest weaknesses as an animator. Getting the whole figure down on paper (or digital canvas) turns out to be a rare occurrence when I'm faced with drawing from shorter poses, and the whole act of figure drawing has a bad tendency to easily frustrate me. I know I'm not terrible at it (I wouldn't have passed the classes if I were!), but I definitely feel it's an area that I could improve a whole lot on.

Luckily, my bad luck with gestural drawing doesn't seem to have a direct effect on my ability to animate, so maybe I'm not a lost cause after all!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Rise of Fall 2011: Animal Drawing

Man, I really am bad at keeping a regularly updated blog, aren't I? I've got nobody to blame but myself regarding these long stretches of inactivity, but at least I was doing some really productive things at school in the meantime!

My most recent semester at LCAD was an unusually breezy one; I rarely found myself on the breaking point of an anxiety attack unlike with some previous semesters, and the projects that were assigned across my various classes were all fairly easy to handle for the most part.

I have to say, though, I never suspected that my Animal Drawing class would have had as much of an impact on me as it ended up having. Little of the artistic growth I experienced as a result of my professor's teachings in there had to do with studying animal anatomy or figuring out how the muscles are arranged in a big cat's hind legs, though it still did play an important role in my learning how to draw non-anthropomorphic animals with confidence. What really contributed to this growth were my professor's lectures and demonstrations on classic draftsmanship. Having a sense of solidity in one's drawings lends even the most unbelievable subjects a sense of believability, therefore making having strong draftsmanship skills one of the highest priorities for traditional animators.

The final project for the class was pretty free-form. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted as long as it related to one or more of the major concepts that were taught in the class. Being the incorrigible dork that I am, I chose to redesign a trio of my Updown Town characters to look more like their respective species while taking some artistic inspiration from Team Fortress 2, Blacksad, and the work of Milt Kahl.

Frankie was the first up to plate (he is my avatar on the intertubes, after all), and I think he ended up with the most successful redesign of the bunch. He definitely looks much more stoaty than he used to, and a lot of his little accessories have helped sell more people on the whole "demolitions weasel" angle he's got.

He may not have changed too much from his original design, but I still think that the villainous Dr. Stunkov looks more like, well, a skunk now than he did before. Unlike with Frankie, Stunkov's real-life animal counterpart doesn't really have much in the way of physical features to exaggerate beyond the large, bushy tail, pink nose, and fur pattern. In the end, I decided to play up all three of those some more and make him a bit stouter for good measure.

The final candidate set for a redesign was Suko, a character who a lot of friends and family had mistaken for a fox for some reason or another. Raccoons have a very distinctive football shape to their heads, and I've found that giving him one has helped many more people correctly identify his species. Suko's role as the Updown Patrol's resident gadgetry expert and tech guru has also been made more clear through some of the changes in his costume accessories and that handy copter contraption.

These redesigns have done a whole lot to endear more people to my work and whatnot, but as far as I'm concerned, there are two versions of each character in my mind now: these new, redesigned versions, and the more human-proportioned versions that you've come to know me for.

I've still got plenty of room for improvement, but I can say with certainty that my spending those hours drawing nothing but cubes and cylinders has had plenty of positive results on my artistic output.

Be sure to stay tuned for some more posts regarding my thoughts on the semester! They'll be accompanied by more work than you can shake a stick at.