|A Guide to Computer Animation for tv, games multimedia and web by Marcia Kuperberg|
A Creative COW "Real World" Book Review
Traverse City, Michigan, USA
©2002 Mike Kroes and Creativecow.net. All rights reserved.
Mike Kroes takes a look at A Guide to Computer Animation for tv, games multimedia and web by Marcia Kuperberg. This book is in the Focal Press Visual Effects & Animation series.
As video, animation, and multimedia professionals, you Creative Cows have a broad and varied background. To do the magic that you do in your everyday work, you have had to learn a lot of stuff. You may not consciously think about it anymore, but you've covered a lot of ground along the way.
This book is the summary and survey of all you've had to struggle through to get where you are today. Marcia Kuperberg, not surprisingly a teacher, looks at the big picture and tries to break it down into all its little pieces.
This is an interesting book in a lot of ways. First off, it is a visual treat. Lots of beautiful pictures, illustrations, and examples make this fun and easy to follow. Then, there is the approach the book takes. It is written with those who know nothing about the process of animation in mind, and starts at the beginning with a history of animation (animation--not computer animation) and a discussion of its roots. It then takes us through a number of almost step-by-step descriptions of the actual creation of computer animation--a scene for output to a film or video, or the design of a game character and scene, and the making of animations for the web or other "new" media. There are case studies, there is a discussion of narrative and characterization, and there is a chapter of project briefs, self-tests, tutorials and resources.
I liked the approach of this book. Though Marcia Kuperberg gets the author credits, there are sections written by other experts as well. Rob Manton handles the section on technical constraints of the various media, Martin Bowman does the section on animating for computer games, and Alan Peacock takes care of the section on new media and multimedia. Taken as a whole, this approach allows the book to cover a lot of ground intelligently, and from the point-of-view of working professionals.
One of the things I really liked about this book is the notion that there are certain core principles which are important for the animator to be familiar with and that those principles can then be brought to the project you are working on--no matter what hardware or software you are using. For example, in the chapter called Techniques and Stages of Creating 3D Computer Animation, Kuperberg begins by discussing what I would call the thought process and mind-set stages of the work. Pointers on dealing with the client/customer, scheduling work, doing research and thinking about the most efficient way to make models are important to the project as a whole, and they are transferable knowledge. No matter what the specifics of your project are, these are things that can help you tackle it confidently and can save you a lot of time and trouble.
Only after discussing these issues does Kuperberg go into a step-by-step look at how she created every item in the final scene. She talks about alpha channels, mapping texture bitmaps, and tiling. She puts the whole scene together and discusses lighting. She talks about the most effective use of the camera, the lenses, camera movement and paths.
What a great resource for people new to the world of computer animation. The overview of the process will be a real eye-opener for those people who thought computer animation was just sitting at the computer and drawing images. While the book is not designed to make you an expert in all areas of computer animation, it will go a long way toward pointing out the areas of expertise involved, and perhaps remind the student of areas that need more study.
The next two sections of the book follow pretty much the same approach--Animation for Multimedia and New Media, by Alan Peacock, and Creating Artwork for Computer Games: From Concept to End Product by Martin Bowman, both assume little or no knowledge of the subject, but they provide an overview of the whole process. In the case of Bowman, the section even includes a discussion of career options and what employers in the computer games industry are looking for.
The case studies from actual industry projects are very useful, too, in providing an overview of the actual process once you get out of academia and into industry. These are fun "how-tos" from people who do this stuff every day, and obviously know what they are doing.
The next section of the book is a look at storytelling and characterization. This is an important aspect of animation that is not a part of most books that teach specific animation tools. Once again, starting with theory and moving to specific, Kuperberg explains the narrative process and tells the reader how to take an idea and follow through with a narrative, write a synopsis, and translate that into both script and treatment. She talks about storyboarding, movie-making terminology, narrative structures, and the importance of characterization. Along the way she hits on the concepts of design, facial expression and lip synch.
The book's closing chapter, Project Briefs, Self-Tests, Tutorials and Resources really brings home the fact that Marcia Kuperberg is a teacher. Since the book is essentially a survey of a whole industry, Kuperberg realizes that some discussion is necessarily brief. Here is a list of questions for each chapter (gauge how much you really learned), projects to help your understanding and reinforce your learning, tutorials, and resources to point you in the direction of more information. This is especially useful to the person trying to make some sense of the animation industry on his own. I was interested to see how many of the resources listed are websites or magazines that I refer to regularly, or books that I already have on my own library shelves.
This book is great for people who are not yet professional animators. It describes the world and work of animation and explains why and how. You know this stuff if youre a professional, but if you are not, and are trying to understand computer animation, this is the book for you.
Having "lived with" this book for the last few weeks, I find that I really enjoyed reading and referring to it. As a teacher of video production and a student of animation, I find the approach a very good one, the content very helpful, and the writing and illustration very good. As a creative professional in the animation field, you won't find anything new here, though you might find inspiration in some of the techniques and illustrations describing approaches you don't ordinarily use. If you are someone starting out in animation, or someone who wants to learn about animation from some other discipline, you will find this a great book. As an overview of an industry, from history, through technical constraints and conventions, through cross-platform techniques, and including planning, design and creative considerations, this book is unparalleled.
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