Six Mind Tricks to In­spire Creativ­ity

Animation Magazine - - Opportunities - By Martin Gre­bing

We are all cre­ative be­ings, de­spite what the unin­spired might say. For some, be­ing cre­ative is not only a state of mind but the cor­ner­stone of their ca­reer. For those whose liveli­hood de­pends on the abil­ity to use cre­ative thought on a pre­dictable, con­sis­tent ba­sis, what hap­pens when the imag­i­na­tion well runs dry? Here are six tech­niques to help re-open the cre­ative flood gates. Binge on Com­edy

Co­me­di­ans (or “stand-up philoso­phers,” as Mar­cus Aure­lius Comi­cus would say), are some of the most cre­ative thinkers on the planet. They ded­i­cate their lives to tak­ing ideas and premises and in­ter­pret­ing them in new and of­ten bizarre ways that, chances are, you’ve never con­sid­ered. These hu­mor­ous out­looks on life can help open up your mind to new con­cepts and new ways of look­ing at things. Plus, laugh­ter has been proven to help re­duce anx­i­ety and stress, which, in turn, makes you more re­laxed — which is fer­tile ground for cre­ative think­ing. Look Through a Dif­fer­ent

Look­ing Glass Imag­ine an­other per­son — a fa­mous artist, philoso­pher, celebrity chef, former pres­i­dent, or any­one that comes to mind. Now, imag­ine what they would be think­ing if they in­hab­ited your body at this mo­ment, do­ing what­ever you’re do­ing, see­ing what­ever you’re see­ing. For ex­am­ple, if you work in an of­fice at a com­puter and you choose Bugs Bunny, what would he say, think and do if his con­scious­ness was sud­denly trans­ferred to yours and he could see through your eyes? Think about his voice, his at­ti­tude, his an­tics, and how he would re­act. Next, imag­ine your life through some­one else’s eyes. For ex­am­ple, if you choose Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, what would you see through her eyes? What was life like in 1900? How badly would you botch the paint­ing she was work­ing on? The more de­tails you clearly visualize from this new per­spec­tive, the deeper down the rab­bit hole you go.

Prac­tice Mir­ror Writ­ing Mir­ror writ­ing is the process of script­ing right to left us­ing back­wards let­ters which, when fin­ished, can be read prop­erly in a mir­ror. Per­haps the most no­to­ri­ous ex­am­ple of this is a sig­na­ture scene in Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing (re­drum, any­one?), but has been prac­ticed for hun­dreds of years by such ge­niuses as Leonardo da Vinci, Lewis Car­roll, and now you. Give this a try and your brain’s left and right hemi­spheres will be chit-chat­ting like never be­fore. Bonus: Try writ­ing and doo­dling with your non-dom­i­nant hand.

The Paths Less Trav­eled As crea­tures of habit, we of­ten en­gage in rit­ual de lo ha­bit­ual. While mind­less rep­e­ti­tion can sti­fle cre­ative thought, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing new things can lit­er­ally build new neu­ral path­ways in your gray mat­ter.

Mu­sic: Find two or three songs from two or three dif­fer­ent gen­res of mu­sic that you’ve never lis­tened to.

Travel: Walk, ride or drive some­where you’ve never been. Once there, soak up the am­biance and ques­tion why you’ve never been there be­fore.

Food for thought: Find a place to eat, prefer­ably fea­tur­ing an en­tirely new cui­sine that you’ve never tried be­fore.

The nose knows: It has been said that the sense of smell is our strong­est sen­sory re­minder. But what hap­pens when you smell some­thing en­tirely new? Try find­ing a new cologne or per­fume that is for­eign to you and, bet­ter yet, a fra­grance you would not nor­mally wear.

Shop: Blank Can­vas

Ap­proach Clear your mind and close your eyes. Pic­ture a brand new, pris­tine-white can­vas. Now, let your mind paint this can­vas with the first thing that comes to mind. It can be a word, color, an­i­mal, ob­ject — any­thing you like — as long as you let it come in­stantly and with­out scru­tiny. Once your ini­tial idea has been an­chored, con­tinue build­ing on this with new thoughts un­til the can­vas is over­flow­ing and your stream-of-con­scious­ness work of art is com­plete.

Word Flow Pick any ob­ject within eyesight and start writ­ing a story about it, the more fan­tas­ti­cal the bet­ter. The only rule? No punc­tu­a­tion. Make this the big­gest run-on sen­tence of your life. The goal is to have an un­in­hib­ited flow of ideas with­out your tech­ni­cal side (the side re­spon­si­ble for punc­tu­a­tion, for ex­am­ple) get­ting in the way. Only when your tor­rent of ideas has dwin­dled to a slow drip are you al­lowed to com­plete this ex­er­cise with a sin­gle, con­clu­sive pe­riod. [ Martin Gre­bing is pres­i­dent of Fun­ny­bone An­i­ma­tion and can be reached via www.fun­ny­bonean­i­ma­tion.com.

work­ing on the movie were a trio of French com­pa­nies: Mikros, MacGuff and Dig­i­tal Fac­tory. The fi­nal film has 2,355 ef­fects shots.

“It was also Luc’s clear vi­sion of what he wanted, and ex­tremely clear, tar­geted com­ments that al­lowed all the VFX ven­dors to work very ef­fi­ciently,” says Stokdyk. “Luc was able to edit his movie to­gether al­most a year be­fore the re­lease date, and didn’t change from the very first blue­print that he gave the VFX team.”

The most com­pli­cated ex­am­ple of this was the Big Mar­ket se­quence, set on a desert planet where tourists put on head­sets that let them see into a mar­ket in an­other di­men­sion and shop for the most unique items in the uni­verse. The ac­tion takes place in two dif­fer­ent worlds, with the aliens within the mar­ket hav­ing a third point of view on the ac­tion.

“There was a rather com­plex set of rules about what some­thing would look like in one of the two worlds, and what sci-fi tech­nol­ogy was be­hind it, and what could be af­fected in each world,” says Stokdyk.

Bes­son had such a hard time at first ex­plain­ing this com­pli­cated se­quence to the cast and crew that he spent three weeks shoot­ing a full pre­viz of the en­tire se­quence. Us­ing as ac­tors some 60 film stu­dents from l’École de la Cité — founded by Bes­son as part of his Cité du Cinéma stu­dio com­plex in Paris — the pre­viz was cut to­gether with color coded tint­ing for each lo­ca­tion, guid­ing the cast and crew through the mak­ing of the se­quence to its fin­ished form.

The Alien Hordes The alien crea­tures in the film were a huge chal­lenge given the num­ber and va­ri­ety Bes­son’s script called for. Stokdyk es­ti­mates there are about 200 CG crea­tures in the movie, as well as live-ac­tion cos­tumed ac­tors.

Most no­table among them are the Pearls, whose plight drives the plot and serve as the emo­tional heart of the movie, says Stokdyk. “They are in sync with their en­vi­ron­ment, and their en­ergy is re­flected via chro­mat­aphore an- ima­tion in their skin when they emote,” he says. “Weta had to de­velop a com­plex skin-shad­ing sys­tem to han­dle what was ef­fec­tively ‘ter­tiary’ or ‘ qua­ter­nary’ an­i­ma­tion, on top of the pri­mary and sec­ondary an­i­ma­tion for the char­ac­ters.”

Mu­sic artist Ri­hanna ap­pears in the movie as Bub­ble, an alien who trans­forms her cloth­ing and her shape at will. “The story re­quired trans­for­ma­tion from hu­man to crea­ture VFX, and we did not want it to seem mag­i­cal or too much like a sim­ple CG morph,” says Stokdyk. “Weta solved the chal­lenge on a shot-by-shot ba­sis, us­ing both 2D and 3D tech­niques. Cre­atively, it was al­ways about an­tic­i­pat­ing where the au­di­ence would be watch­ing the tran­si­tion, and try­ing to move the shapes in those ar­eas around in an in­ter­est­ing way.”

Le­clerc says Bes­son had his film edi­tor work­ing in par­al­lel with prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy, al­low­ing the crew to turn over early en­tire se­quences to the VFX ven­dors, which each had a year to com­plete post pro­duc­tion.

“(Bes­son) knows ex­actly what he wants, which helps a lot with plan­ning — lo­gis­ti­cally and fi­nan­cially,” says Le­clerc. “He very much

those close­ups, you get not only a higher sense of fidelity but you also get bet­ter shad­ow­ing,” Let­teri says. “The de­tail re­ally comes out be­cause now every hair is cast­ing ex­actly the right shadow on its neigh­bors and on the skin, and that ex­tra kind of de­tail gives you the con­trast that your eye can pick up on.”

“The preser­va­tion of the per­for­mances is para­mount for us,” says Weta an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Dan Bar­rett. To­ward that end, each shot uses mul­ti­ple ref­er­ences to get it just right.

Per­for­mance Ref­er­ence One of the big­gest mys­ter­ies of the process is how much of what’s on­screen comes from the ac­tor’s per­for­mance and how much comes from the an­i­ma­tors. Let­teri says in the case of Apes, most of the cap­tured data is still there, with amend­ments mostly made to trans­late the hu­man’s per­for­mance to the anatomy of a chimp.

For ex­am­ple, an ac­tor play­ing a chimp trav­el­ing on all fours would use arm ex­ten­sions to get ac­cu­rate move­ment. But if that chimp was to stop and pick up a prop, like a gun, the ac­tor would need to drop the ex­ten­sions and use his or her hands. That’s a change in anatomy that in­volves the length of the per­former’s arm seem­ing to change, which needs to be smoothed over dig­i­tally to ap­pear nat­u­ral.

“A sim­i­lar thing hap­pens with the face as well be­cause chimps have a very pro­trud­ing muz­zle and they tend to make very wide ex­pres­sions and that doesn’t al­ways work for di­a­logue,” Let­teri says. “So a lot of times with di­a­logue we’ll have to kind of fo­cus the ex­pres­sion a lit­tle bit more, you know, in to­wards the cen­ter of the muz­zle so you read it in a way closer to how you read hu­man shapes.”

Each ape is dif­fer­ent, as well, re­quir­ing the trans­la­tion of ex­pres­sions to fac­tor in tim­ing as well as anatomy all on top of the cap­ture data.

One ex­am­ple is a scene in which Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn, is talk­ing and eat­ing. When Bad Ape is talk­ing, the per­for­mance is timed to match Zahn’s per­for­mance per­fectly, but the eat­ing had to ex­ten­sively re­fer to real chim­panzees and their anatomy. “Chimps have a very dis­tinct way of eat­ing, and they’ve got these pre­hen­sile lips that kind of con­trol the food, so an­i­ma­tors re­ferred to chimp ref­er­ence on a shot like that.”

Weta took a new ap­proach to ex­tend­ing the en­vi­ron­ment via a new soft­ware ap­pli­ca­tion called To­tara that grows veg­e­ta­tion and land- scapes. For ex­am­ple, in ex­tend­ing the moun­tains and trees around the prison, Let­teri says Weta cre­ated a land­scape and then let To­tara “grow” the pine trees to match the way real trees grow, fac­tor­ing in el­e­ments such as how close the trees were to each other, how much sun­light they re­ceived on which sides, and whether a tree was older or younger.

Look Out Be­low! The cli­max to the film in­cludes an avalanche that was cre­ated us­ing a se­ries of sim­u­la­tions. “Avalanches are in­ter­est­ing be­cause when they’re mov­ing they al­most be­have like a fluid, but when they hit things they be­have like a solid,” Let­teri says. “It’s con­stantly rock­et­ing out­wards as well which gives it a lot of its power and its re­ally scary na­ture, so we tried to play that up wher­ever we could.”

As a fan of the orig­i­nal Apes films, Let­teri says it’s been a thrill to re­visit this world and cre­ate apes that are con­vinc­ing as real char­ac­ters. “Be­ing able to cre­ate that kind of a char­ac­ter arc on a species that’s not hu­man but ob­vi­ously close to hu­man has just given the films a re­ally com­pelling rea­son to watch them,” he says. [

idea when we were shoot­ing what CG shots we would be ex­pected to do, which made it easier for us to cap­ture the right type of ma­te­rial,” she says. “That meant we wouldn’t have to do full CG builds, but could tar­get the needed area.” Dig­i­tal Hair

Styling There were times when a dig­i­tal sword and shield re­placed the prac­ti­cal ver­sions, but the most dif­fi­cult task was sim­u­lat­ing Gadot’s long, flow­ing hair. “We de­vel­oped new con­trols for her hair sim­u­la­tions,” says Nor­man. “It al­ways gives the best re­sult when you try to get the sim­u­la­tion to get there but her hair needed to look fan­tas­tic so we would go in and con­trol it when needed.”

Parts of the Bel­gian vil­lage se­quence were shot in Lu­ton Hoo, out­side Lon­don, with the rest be­ing cap­tured on a back­lot set at Leaves­den Stu­dios that con­sisted of a town square and street.

“We did top-up work on the build­ings and on the roofs,” says Nor­man, who made use of the pic­ture li­brary at MPC to as­sist with the set ex­ten­sions. “They built a prac­ti­cal tank, which we scanned. For the shots where Diana picks it up, we had a big foam green thing held by two guys on ei­ther side so that she would have some­thing to in­ter­act with.”

Nor­man adds: “There are a whole range of shots with a lot of stunt ac­tion. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of face re­place­ment, full CG, and wire re­movals.”

Diana is not in com­plete com­mand of her pow­ers. “When she first runs into the Bel­gium vil­lage, an ex­plo­sion throws her into this build­ing and, at that mo­ment, Diana has no idea what she can do but still man­ages to re­cover and kick­off,” says Nor­man. “Im­per­fec­tions and sub­tle things were put into a lot of those shots to make it feel that this is not easy or an ob­vi­ous move for her.”

The ti­tle char­ac­ter was the big­gest chal­lenge be­cause there were so many as­pects that had to work well, such as her skin, fa­cial per­for­mance, hair and mus­cle sys­tem. “The an­i­ma­tion was key in mak­ing sure that it felt like Diana was real and could do spe­cial things,” Nor­man says. “I’m happy that ev­ery­one likes no man’s land but we also had a lot of fun with the beach bat­tle.” [

At left, Dane De­Haan and Cara Dele­vi­gne play Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line. Be­low, a Pearl watches the un­in­ten­tional de­struc­tion of her planet. At bot­tom, the Big Mar­ket.

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