Meet The Team – Post Mortem

In Studio 2 the first major project was once again a team one, this time it was a project called Meet The Team. This project went for the first nine weeks of the Trimester, however lasted until about week twelve for me for reasons that I will outline throughout this blog. Alongside this I will be going through and evaluating how I did on the project and reflecting on how I went. You could see this as a continuation blog from this one here where I go over the research I did for the project, and describe the steps I took through the pre-production and production phases.

How The Team and I Performed

Effort

The clear distinction in this project was by far the amount of effort that each individual was putting into it. This served as arguably the biggest issue throughout the project. From the start it was pretty clear that some member were far more invested in the project than others, one more than all. This reflected in the quality of work that was produced, and became a consistent thing through from pre-production right to the final product. There was one group member who went above and beyond, and the rest, myself included, put in fairly minimal work and more or less aimed for the baseline required to pass.

An issue like this puts a huge burden on the one person who is pulling their weight, and not only do they have to do their own work, they end up shouldering the responsibility of the whole project, which is incredibly unfair. This kind of problem really does just stem from the fact that most of the team was putting in the minimum individual work required, leaving the group work all to one person.

In hindsight there are a few ways that this problem could have been tackled. One of the suggestions would be to have had a less group orientated opening. Something like the Borderlands opening sequence (linked above) would have been ideal as each character has their own moment in the empty bus. Alongside this stronger leadership and discipline was probably needed in order to make work was being completed and to a good standard. I definitely think I was a big cause for the problems that occurred in this project as when I dropped the ball (which I will discuss as the next big event/issue) the responsibility being split among myself and the other leader, it all fell onto just him instead. This left him with a huge amount of responsibility and pressure, which just isn’t fair on the individual left to burden it all.

Balancing Life and Full Time University

balancing-1
I wish my life was as balanced as these rocks. My goal is to be as balanced as rocks ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For me, this was the biggest issue in our team, more so because it was all me. When the project started I dove right in filled with motivation and drive to make a sequence for a series I love. Up until the end of the pre-production phase I was on it, helping with documentation/planning and other group work. I also completed my individual work to a fairly high standard, which up to that point was mostly just referencing and concept art. This kept up until the end of week three, and was due to my motivation, but also due to the fact that I was trying to keep myself as busy as possible.

Just before University started back (literally the day before) I had some massive changes happen in my personal life, which really left me pretty fucked up. As soon as I got a small break (from finishing pre-production) it all caught up on me, and I just broke down. I pulled away from all my university work and just disconnected from everything, which isn’t a healthy way to handle things at all, especially when you are a third of the way through a big team project. I stayed like this for a few weeks, with very minimal appearances in lectures and not much work being done for the project. Maintaining contact with the group was the only thing I managed to keep on top of, and this was because the other group leader was practically my support in both the project and in life.

A solution to this problem is really hard to find, even now after having dealt with it. I believe it really is kind of a case of having life experience. There were definitely better ways to handle it, and letting it interfere with my entire life to the extent it did was nothing short of toxic. Seeking help was probably something I should have looked into, as at the time I wasn’t confronting it at all, and was just going through the motions of self loathing. One thing I am incredibly thankful for is that even with me neglecting the entire project, the other leader was still there willing to help me not only through the problems, but also through the project, even after he had done all the group work and his individual work to a high standard.

a3IWyhkEC0p32
Couldn’t have done it without my boy

Communication

Our team was constantly hit and miss with communication. For the majority of the time, only half our team communicated, which consisted of myself and the other team leader. Instead of using Slack we opted to use Discord. This was so that we had access to voice communication and so we could avoid other people’s prying eyes. The only problem was that the voice chat, and text channel for the project, as barely used by the other half of the team. This meant any feedback or criticisms, especially throughout the pre production phase, was more or less just bouncing the ideas off the other leader and vice versa. Communication would only pick up around key times when something was due, and this was because it would be prompted by the main team leader, and because he would need their work so he could finish it off (for things such as compositing and importing into engine).

A lot of this could have been solved if we kept with Slack, that way we could have had a more formal form of communication. On top of this the pressure of other people looking might have kept everyone communicating. The voice channel was definitely a positive though and it was a shame it was neglected by a couple members. Finding a nice middle ground would be a good alternative, where Discord could be used for voice calls and slack for notifications. Organised calls could also contribute to better communication, as well as set topics, much like when we have the five minute catch up meetings answering what we have done/plan to do/ etc.

As a side note I thought the success of our pitches were alright. We had a strong start in the first few weeks, with good pitches that backed the project with confidence. However I think as the production phase started our pitches weren’t as strong. This is mostly my fault as I was one of the leaders and therefore the responsibility of the pitches was on me. These could have been more successful had I stayed focused on my university work and kept attending classes.

Project Plan

The project documentation was handled primarily by the other team lead and myself. Not to toot my own horn but I was fairly proud of the documentation we put up, and thought it was not only easy to navigate and view, but also tasteful at the same time. The information provided throughout the project plan was relevant throughout the project and consistently effective, however this doesn’t mean it was used. I personally found myself going back quite a few times, whether it be to check the deadlines or to check the task list. For the Asset/Task list we used Wunderlist, which is a simple but clean to do list, with the ability to set due dates/sub tasks/ remind me times/etc. It was a shame not everyone updated the Wunderlist as often as some of us, as I felt it went pretty underrated. Even something as simple as the ASMR ding it gives you when you finish a task is extremely satisfying and helps you move onto the next thing. The project execution differed from the plan a bit, but not enough for it to be detrimental (except for my list, which I ended up skipping half of due to my terrible time management).

To Do List
My personal task list for the project

Final Product and Key Creative Processes

Modelling Techniques

Prior to this project I used to think my modelling technique wasn’t so bad, but after I had to go through the nightmare of skinning it I realized just how poor it was. When modelling I mostly use box poly modelling, and attach/detach things that wouldn’t be part of the main body. For example when modelling the leather straps on the boots I would first detach a ring around the leg as a copy, apply a shell modifier, then apply a FFD 3×3 modifier. I would move it around until it looked like it wrapped around the leg properly. Next would be the turbo smooth modifier, just to make it look less blocky, one iteration would do fine. This process worked fine for the belts, however when I try and translate the detach method over to something a lot larger, it can get fairly messy. Especially in areas where parts of the model will go across multiple bones once I get to rigging.

One thing I could do is start modelling for efficiency next time. Most of the time when I model, I try and create something that looks visually stimulating, however when it gets to things such as rigging and skinning it gets butchered due to the fact that it wasn’t done well technically. Another example of this in my model was when I moved vertices on the cape to create a natural shadow to it, however I later found out for cape it would be better to leave it flat for cloth simulation and easy rigging/skinning.

Rigging

 

Rigging could have been a lot better, although I decided to go with a CAT rig as I was running out of time and desperately needed something. CAT rigs usually end up as a pretty crude makeshift rig, which could perfectly describe the one I had created. The first big issue I can think of was the fact that I had heels on my character, however only made one foot bone. Not only this but the foot bone didn’t end at the ankle but rather the heel, meaning it rotated awfully. This made animating it a nightmare, and is one of the causes of that awful walk introduction to our sequence.

It’s pretty disgusting, and I hate the fact that I put that up as a final product. The solution to this problem is next time create a better animation ready model, and also spend a bit more time on the rigging phase and have a go at creating a custom bone rig.

Rig
It doesn’t look that bad in a neutral pose at least

Skinning

This phase was so bad, due to a combination of both a poor animation ready model, and a shit rig. With all the overlapping clothes, as well as the fact that they were shelled, it made skinning to the thigh bones a huge nightmare. Also thanks to the cape not being completely flat it had weighted itself to every single other bone in the rig and also made it extremely difficult just to weight to its cape bones. Another spot that also caused me trouble was the leather belt around the ankle, as it went across the ankle diagonally, therefore the weighting wouldn’t blend well between the leg and the foot bones.

The solution to a lot of the skinning issues is preemptively fixing things. If I had a good animation ready model, and a nice rig, skinning probably wouldn’t have been such a nightmare. These two factors were the cause of my issues and next time I really need to just commit more time and effort to my project. A lot of these problems relate back to the balancing of my personal problems and university.

Improving my art

There are two areas that I really need to improve on, and sadly they didn’t even play a huge part in the project. One of these areas is improving my drawing ability. Lately I have been having a lot more fun drawing, and find it fairly relaxing drawing something I really enjoy. It really is a case of doing things I enjoy and being productive at the same time, so I plan to pickup sketching once a day as a thing to get my day started and hopefully keep the momentum from that throughout the day. Improving this skill will transfer into concept art for future projects, and will help improve fundamental things such as anatomy knowledge etc.

Alongside drawing I also want to have a good go at sculpting. These two skills go fairly hand in hand, and being able to sculpt something from nothing would be a dream. I will be taking a look into ZBrush workflows and plan to practice on sculpting busts, as that is something that is interesting me more and more lately. Sadly I didn’t incorporate high poly sculpting into this project which was a real shame, and was a direct cause of me not managing my time properly. I’m hoping by practicing these things, and remaining disciplined (oh god please stay focused and disciplined) I can improve these skills substantially.

Roles Within The Animation Production Process

 Time Management

This one is almost a no brainer. Being able to manage my time and myself better is an essential transferable skill that I need to not only acquire but also improve. Alongside this I also need the discipline to stay organised and on track of my work. Being able to balance everything instead of having tunnel vision and focusing on one thing is probably the biggest one. Focusing on just work isn’t healthy, and focusing on just my personal life isn’t productive, so finding the nice little spot in the middle is something I am aiming for.

Improving My Performance

hacknplan
Hacknplan

One of many strategies that I could do to improve is to use software that will help me stay focused and on track. There are heaps of different software that are all really helpful, however each person finds their own way that works. I have tried a few different pieces of software at this point and so far I have found Wunderlist as something that helps me out a lot. The night before the next day I right out everything I need to do during the day. This includes even the most basic of things such as “Get out of bed” and “Shower”. It helps me build the momentum into the work that I need to get done.

Other software that I want to try is Hacknplan, which is a project management tool created for game development. I am also thinking of trying out Google Calendar again, as I felt last time I didn’t use it properly and instead suffocated myself by assigning every waking second a task. By taking more of a easy approach to it I might be able to make better use of it.

Ownership of Responsibilities Throughout The Project

Throughout the project it was pretty clear who shouldered all the responsibilities. At the start the group work fell on the shoulders of both team leaders, however once I pulled out of the picture it was more or less a one man army in terms of group work. There is only so much one person can do. I mean when you have one person who has done a large majority of the art bible and project plan, storyboard, animated the whole previs, the environment, compiled everything into unreal, fixed almost all technical issues, rendered out the final scene, what else can you say about ownership of responsibility. Alongside this he also managed all the communication between audio students and the team.

No one apart from him really owned up to do any work. There were times early on in the project where help was offered, although the standard to which the work was completed was fairly sub par and usually had to be redone, so whether it was helpful or not is questionable.

My Role

When the project started my role was the group leader alongside Harley. Throughout the first few weeks I would have considered myself useful, as I played an active role as a group leader and worked on things such as documentation. Once we went into production though my role as a group leader became nonexistent, leaving Harley the burden of shouldering all the responsibility. This kinda shows that I wasn’t really suitable or effective in my role. Having a group leader is super important, however not everyone can pull it off, and I don’t think I was fit to be one, especially because I didn’t lead by example.

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