Monday 1 October 2012

The Tree of Life: Review

The Tree of Life - 2011
Director - Terrence Malick

1) The Tree of Life - Poster

Plot summary / review
Terrence Malick is a notoriously recluse director with a reputation for experimenting with his films during post production. He achieved critical success with his first feature "Badlands" (1973), going on to direct "Day's of Heaven" (1978). Malick spent two years in post production on Day's of Heaven, exploring different editing and voice over techniques. After it's release, he disappeared from the public eye to work on numerous screenplays and a script, titled Q. He returned to the directors chair twenty years later to create his war epic "The Thin Red Line" (1998) and later "The New World" (2005). Q would eventually manifest itself as "The Tree of Life" (2011).

On its surface, "TTOL" is a postwar, coming-of age story following the O'Brien family in 1950's South America. Brad Pitt demonstrates his diversity as Mr. O'Brien, a loving but overbearing father to his three sons. Having failed to achieve his dream of becoming a musician, he bitterly tells his children "it takes fierce will to get ahead in this world".

2) Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien

In contrast, Jessica Chastain wonderfully embodies motherly love as Mrs. O'Brien, often the children's refuge when their fathers temper gets the better of him. The film proposes there are "two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace". It can be argued that these two paths are represented by Pitt and Chastain. Mr. O'Brien's nature is striving to achieve riches and respect, finding "reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining". Mrs. O'Brien is graceful, "accepting insults and injuries", believing love is the key to happiness. In a whispering voice over she asks her children to favour the grace of God.

3) Jessica Chastain as Mrs. OBrien

At the centre of this complex but recognizable family is the eldest son Jack. We accompany him on his life journey from birth, through his mischievous pre-teen years (played by Hunter McCracken); to his contemplative adulthood (played by Sean Penn). We witness the loss of childhood innocence and the struggle with his parents conflicting philosophies. As a boy, Jack speaks directly to God asking "where are you?". In adult life, now an architect, surrounded by tall buildings made of glass and steel, he challenges God, questioning his life and existence  Which path does he choose, the way of grace or nature? As he reminisces over his childhood, we discover an event that starts the drama, one of his brothers died whilst on duty at the age of 19. 

4) Sean Penn as Jack

Malick's unconventional narrative and plot is fractured over multiple timelines. We float back and forth through the life of the O'Brien family, like memories randomly manifesting themselves. The movie feels like a memory piece, with obvious comparisons to Malick's real life. He was raised in Texas, had two siblings, one tragically committing suicide at an early age. It's a nostalgic look back at 50's America, rendered exquisitely by production designer Jack Fisk and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski. 

5) Exquisite cinematography

The Tree of Life is layered with philosophical questions and quasi-biblical images. Upon its release, critics and audiences were divided in opinion. The biggest discussion surrounds interspersing the O'Briens lives with imagery of the origins of the Universe and the creation of life on Earth. Kenneth Turan from the LA times states "the truth is, unless someone tells you that you are watching, for instance, what is supposed to be the formation of the universe or the day in the distant future when the sun becomes a white dwarf, there is no way to know exactly what you are seeing." (Turan. 2011).

6) The singularity?

Regardless of the audiences prior knowledge of science or religious views, the computer generated imagery is a thought provoking experience and is breathtakingly realised. A.O Scott of the New York times writes "Its most provocative sequences envision the origin of the universe, the development of life on earth (including a few soulful dinosaurs) and then, more concisely and less literally, the end of time, when the dead of all the ages shall rise and walk around on a heavenly beach." (Scott. 2011). This is accompanied by a powerfully emotive soundtrack. (On the blu-ray edition of this feature a short message appears before the film starts. It says; "For optimal sound reproduction, the producers of this blu-ray recommend that you play it loud"). 

7) Earth emerges

8) Soulful dinosaur

The Tree of Life is an emotional, deeply personal movie by one of the best directors in the business. It is praised by some for it's artistic / technical imagery and style, simultaneously criticised for the same reasons. Like his previous work, Malick experiments with non-linear narratives and philosophical voice overs to evoke emotion. He bravely explores some of the most persistent and profound questions, asking "Is this the only message of the universe – pure survival? But then how is it we want something other than survival? What do we want to survive for? And Malick appears, through sheer crazy excess, to bring his movie closer to the ultimate question: why does anything exist at all?" (Bradshaw. 2011).


Bradshaw, Peter. Guardian review. 16th May 2011 Accessed 30/09/12

Scott, A.O.New York Times Review. 26th May 2011 Accessed 30/09/12

Turan, Kenneth. LA Times review. 26th May 2011 Accessed 30/09/12


1. The Tree of Life - Poster Accessed 30/09/12

2. Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien Accessed 30/09/12

3. Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien Accessed 30/09/12

4.Sean Penn as Jack Accessed 30/09/12

5. Exquiste cinematography Accessed 30/09/12

6. The Singularity? Accessed 30/09/12

7. Earth emerges Accessed 30/09/12

8. Soulful Dinosaur Accessed 30/09/12

Sunday 23 September 2012


PRL Studios is proud to present a short film about the primary infection stage of HIV.

I've used the original chat track for now. I am in talks with voice over artists about recording a new version. Hopefully we will get a date in the diary and some studio time this week.

Friday 14 September 2012

New Infected by HIV Update

For the last week I have been tackling the scenes that describe the HIV cell infecting the host cells. I've fiddled around with the old chat track, mainly on the guys voice, however, I will be re-recording soon. To give you an idea of how much is left to do, this update shows the film in it's entirety minus a few scenes. (Plus the soundtrack mixes in with the 2nd Unit Directors mic. Ignore that.)

I'm going away this weekend again so there won't be an update for a while but I will be dropping in on my blog so please leave some feedback.

Friday 7 September 2012

Summer Summary

It's been a hectic summer which has culminated in a fantastic couple of days which I will summarise below.

First of all my blog was featured on "The Post with the Most" for the first time since year one. It's a summary of activity from past, present and future students and is great advert for our course. Have a look, it's a fantastic read with some incredible work and I'm extremely proud to be on there again.

Secondly, in attempt to increase my profile, my brand spanking new website launched this morning! It's an on-line studio showcasing some of the work I produced in the first two years at the UCA. I tried to keep it simple but professional with a lot of time and thought put into branding. View it at . I would appreciate any feedback. I've looked at it on my iPhone and it seems to be smart phone friendly.

Thricely, I have set-up a Vimeo page in conjunction with to advertise myself and increase the amount of people viewing my work. I am setting up quite a maze on the web, hopefully an enjoyable one. I now have a youtube channel, Vimeo channel, a website, a facebook page, a linkedin page and this blog which all inter-connect.

Regular visitors to my blog and/or youtube channel will recognize the select vids on my Vimeo page. But, keep an eye out for tiny changes that are inkeeping with my brand initiative. Plus Teaser Trailers for my Minor Project and the top secret "Project Goose".

That's all for now. I'm having break this weekend to recharge the batteries. Upon my return I will be resuming with "Infected by HIV" and completing my dissertation.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Infected By HIV - Update 6

This is a test composition describing the cameras journey into the vein. Not sure if this is common knowledge but I found a nice free plug-in for after effects called "Knoll UnMult" which enables you to create an alpha mask for an image or movie with a matte black background. It hasn't given me the desired results but it will definitely come in handy in the future. Another night of rendering awaits before I can complete this sequence.

Monday 3 September 2012

B.A. Work Experience

This is a little overdue this video is a summary of the animations I did for work experience. We had to create bespoke animations for two projects with different themes. The company specializes in projection mapping for VIP parties, music events with visuals and digital decor. takes its first steps

Whilst the next scenes on "Infected By HIV" are rendering, I've spruced up my blog and looked into building my own website. I was advised by my brother to check out and within ten minutes I was constructing my first website.

It took me about 8 hours to set everything up once I got used to the interface and I'm pleased with the results. It set me back about £50 to register the domain names "" and "" which I will have for 2 years once it has been processed. It's in a beta stage at the moment but here are some screen shots of the layout.

Saturday 1 September 2012

Brand Experiment

I've been thinking about a brand logo to sign off my animations and for pre-production art. I wanted to keep it simple but professional with minimal colours. This is what I have so far:

Here is an animated version:

Thursday 30 August 2012

Infected By HIV - Update 5

Still working away on this one and really enjoying the results. I'm beginning to arrange the voice over artists whilst making the next the scenes. Next up will involve the camera swooping into the bloodstream where we will see the HIV virus infecting a white blood cell.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Infected By HIV - Update 4

The pieces of the puzzle are starting to slot together. At this stage I have edited together the live footage, added ambient noises and key sound effects and merged it with the crossover CG shots. I am at the point just after the camera has flown through the epidermis, through the basal epidermal layer and into the dermis layer of the skin. It is now approaching the metacarpals or bones of the hand, so we can see tendons, veins and arteries. Here are is a sneak peak before I load the video.

Friday 24 August 2012

Project Goose

For the last week I have been working on a project which I'm calling "Project Goose". It's a joint project with a friend which came about after we discussed viral videos and advertising online. As I'm moving into my last year of university and the world of work is beckoning, I want to see if it is possible to increase my online profile and create a viral video.

My friend has similar ambitions, we talked about popular videos like "Snatch Wars" and "Brokeback to the Future" and have come up with our own idea. It's a true post modern project using the video mashup technique, taking material from two sources and combining them to make a parody film.

I have gathered the source footage and made a rough cut. Along the way I have added tongue-in-cheek visual effects using maya / after effects and made a professional looking title sequence. We sat down to watch what we have so far and agreed it is heading in the right direction. It's very funny, but the jokes are spread out. At the moment the film is 16 minutes long, my friend will be trimming it down to around about 5 minutes and will dub the voices. Because of conflicting schedules and other commitments we estimate that "Project Goose" will go live mid-September. Watch this space.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Dukebox Work

I was lucky enough to get talking to a producer /  director at a friends stag do last weekend. Thankfully for me he was looking for someone to animate a title sequence for one of his clients. I offered my services and when I got back home he emailed me the brief with reference photos and videos.

Graphics brief:
1. DUKEBOX logo appears on screen with an option for viewer to select the 'O' box within the logo (the cursor could probably turn into a hand when it passes over the box to indicate this to the recipient - just an idea)
2.   Once the recipient clicks on the box the crank begins to slowly wind (we will need the crank to be animated for this) to the slow/ somewhat eerie tune of pop goes the weasel (Audio Links below). Once this tune ends though we would like there to be a sort of explosion of logo itself whereupon the 'slideshow' of images, as it were, begins in sync with the track we've chosen.

Emails bounced back and fourth and the video evolved into two. I'm pleased with the results and hope the clients like it:

Thursday 9 August 2012

Infected By HIV - Update 3

Here is another update on my revisited Infected by HIV animation. It's still in post production, the final shot where the camera finally zooms down the hair follicle is only the beauty pass. Unfortunately I have to stop work over the weekend to go home for a friends stag do, but I will resume when I return.

Monday 6 August 2012

Infected by HIV - update 02

I've been working on this scene for a while in attempt to make the crossover from live action to CG as smooth as possible. Starting to get some nice results. Next up I am modelling the scene where the camera will zoom down a hair follicle and into the body....

World Animation Review (USA) -The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - 2011
Director - Steven Spielberg

1) The Adventures of Tintin - Poster

Plot summary / review:
Based on the popular comic strips by Belgian writer and illustrator Georges Prosper Remi (aka Hergé), Tintin gets a modern day digital makeover by Steven Spielberg. Joined by his faithful companion Snowy, the intrepid reporter is thrown into a world wide adventure that would make Indiana Jones gulp. Tintin buys a model ship from a market stall, a replica of the Unicorn which was famously ransacked by pirates three hundred years earlier. When the sinister Sakharine tries to buy the model from Tintin, he discovers it holds the secrets to a hidden treasure. By chance, Tintin and Snowy are joined by drunken ships master Captain Haddock, whose ancestral links to the Unicorn run deeper than originally thought.

Fans were unsettled when it was announced that Spielberg's Tintin would be made using motion capture technology. Previous features made using this technique, such as Robert Zemeckis' Polar Express (2004), divided critics opinions. Many claimed the characters promote an uncanny feeling and appear zombie like. It can be argued that Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, has suffered from the same problem. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian writes "It's a photoreal approximation of live action that is technically outstanding, but it has, for me, none of the charm, clarity and style of Hergé's drawings and none of the immediacy and panache of actual, flesh-and-blood human beings." (Bradshaw. 2011)

2. Uncanny Tintin

The uncanny feeling evoked by the dead-eye looking Tintin maybe explained by robotocist 
Masahiro Mori. He observed that when robots reach a level of realistic human appearance, people were put off by them. By stylizing them, or making them more "cartoony", they were generally accepted. Spielberg's Tintin does have a hint of Hergé's original design, but he is predominantly human looking and not entirely successful. However, the overall look and design of the film is realised expertly. "Spielberg and a team of artists and animators have copied not the literal look of the Tintin strips, but the feel." (Ebert. 2011). Certain characters benefit from more artistic licence and caricatured features, for example the Thomson / Thompson detectives voiced hilariously by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

3. Thompson and Thomson or Thomson and Thompson

The Tintin universe is vast with Hergé completing 23 comics in the series between 1929 and 1983. This foray feels like the first instalment with producer Peter Jackson rumoured to direct the next. Spielberg's Tintin has his stamp all over it and can be compared to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981).  Like Indiana Jones, "there is hardly a moment of downtime, a chance to catch your breath or contemplate the tension between the animated Expressionism and the photo-realist flourishes. Relax, you think, as Tintin and the story rush off again, as if Mr. Spielberg were afraid of losing us with European-style longueurs." (Dargis. 2011). With the characters established and with a few tweaks and refinements, Tintin's adventures could be in our cinemas for a long time. What do you say Snowy?

4. Snowy


Bradshaw, Peter. The Guardian review 27th October 2011

Dargis, Manohla. New York Times review 20th December 2011

Ebert Roger. Chicago Sun-Times review 20th December 2011


1.The Adventures of Tintin - Poster

2.Uncanny Tintin

3. Thompson and Thomson or Thomson and Thompson

4. Snowy

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Infected by HIV - update

@ Alan: I've posted a question on the group blog but i'll repeat it here. I can preview render the luminance depth pass ok, but when I batch render the entire sequence I only get black screenshots. Can you help?

Here is a review of where I am so far. I have been cracking on with the cross over scene from live footage to CG:

 Here is a screen capture of the final frame of live footage:

Here is the first frame of the CG takeover:

And here it is again with a luminance depth pass controlling the depth of field:

Here is a another example but a few frames down the line:

Without Luminance depth DOF control:

With Luminance depth DOF control:

So this is beauty pass sequence WITH OUT the luminance depth pass, hopefully I will be able to fix the batch render problem asap:

Friday 27 July 2012

Commission - Revisited

It's been a busy summer moving house and catching up with friends and family back home. Uni work wise, I've eased back into things after a week or so off by catching up with tutorials and other work I missed out at the end of the academic year. I've also been brainstorming ideas regarding my minor and major projects for year three, (more on that later). Plus I will be starting on my dissertation in the coming days. A little late compared to some but I'm confident about my subject and the research I did for the framing practice unit.

I've also had time to reflect on my transcription project and absorb the feedback from Alan and Phil after hand in. I've realized that in order to make "Grandad's Story" the best it can be, I need to address minor issues with the first act before I move on to complete it. Hopefully with the help and advice from my course mates and tutors this will be achieved. For now it is on the back burner but not forgotten.

The rest of my time I've spent revisiting the commission project from year one. I've looked at the piece I handed in and gone over the research that went into making it. I've identified what I think needs to be changed but I welcome feedback from everyone else too. Here is the final piece which I'm treating as an animatic for its newest incarnation:

I'm still really pleased with the live footage shot by my friend Pete Latham. This won't be changed. However he may return to the project to help redo the voice over work. Speaking to him over summer I discovered he has a lot of voice over experience and access to professional equipment. Although the voice over work in the above version was done for free, I feel it doesn't match the emotional highs and lows inherent with  the narrative. Before I forget I'd also like to mention course friend Kayleigh, who I forgot to thank for her help recording the voices for the 2D animatic. Thanks Kayleigh. (Sorry it's late).

One of my issues with this piece is the cross over from live footage to CG. The project duration was set at five weeks and to meet the deadline I feel I cut a corner. So... I have been building a digital set to make this transition smoother. Here are some progress shots with comparisons pictures of the live footage:

I still have a few more bits to model but, the hand is rigged, UV mapped and the weights painted. The next stages for this particular scene will be texturing, lighting and then rendering. As the camera will be shrinking on it's journey down into the hair follicle, I will be looking into creating dust via Maya's particle system and After effects. I will also be putting into practice everything I have learnt with regards to depth of field over the past two years. I hope this will sell the realism of the piece before I delve into the next scenes. 

I want to improve on the visuals as the camera travels through the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin before reaching the bloodstream. I will also redesign most of the cells that feature in the story, from the white blood cells to the dreaded HIV cell. Hopefully this will bring the consistency to the same level as the red blood cells.

That's all for now. Got lots to be getting on with!

Thursday 26 July 2012

High Res Body Modelling Progress

Maya Tutorials: Lighting and Rendering - Mental Ray

Sub Surface Scattering grapes:

Sub Surface scattering cartoon shader:

Ambient Occlusion Lighting & Light Decay:

Lighting Profiles: IES Lighting

Maya Layered Shaders with Mental Ray Nodes:

Mental Ray: Round Corners Node

Depth of Field: Using Luminance Depth: