Saturday, July 22, 2017

Overworked

Man, I am pooped. The last two months have been rough in a variety of ways, all of them work related. Around mid-May, I had a new project dropped in my lap, which required me to fill a role that was well outside of both my comfort zone, and my area of expertise. For context's sake, I was hired on as a concept artist a few years back, although I've filled a variety of roles for the benefit of the company itself. That's really how small studios work, people wear a lot of different hats when they can. So, I've done a lot of programming (due to my previous employment in that field), GUI design, puzzle design, web development, level design, etc.

I wouldn't say I was overwhelmingly pleased to do these things, but I was certainly willing. Illustration and concept design for games is of course what I wanted to focus on, but things don't always go the way you want. On the other hand, I love the people I work for and with, so I was willing to tough it out.

This time, things were definitely more contentious. We took a contract to create a movie, intended for a 360 degree dome theatre venue. The movie, which was to be at least 15 minutes in length, was to be created within Unity (a game engine I am quite familiar with). All that's well and good, but the task that fell to me was to build out the scenes (combining the models we have, using fog, particle systems, etc. to create a believable atmosphere, and so on) and to choreograph the animation. I say choreograph because I wasn't actually animating the rigs myself, but rather establishing the paths things followed, and determining which animations should play where and how. There's definitely a lot of overlap in what I did and actual 3D animation.

Let me tell you - I loathe animation. The beauty of illustration is that you're set within a frame, and you capture a single instant in time. You don't have to worry about how things get to a specific location, or what they're going to look like in the next or previous moment. You don't have to worry about things outside of this one slice of space and time. It can be quite difficult to tell a story within a single shot, but that's a challenge I've always loved to tackle.

The challenges introduced in having to deal with here were a nightmare, especially for the first month. Over time I started to get used to how things worked, and other members of the team developed some interesting tools that allowed us to rely more on procedural animations which freed me up in a lot of ways (although they introduced their own issues). Overall, things got better, but the underlying fact that I should not have been filling that role served as a continual weight on my shoulders. The unfortunate truth was, of course, that I was still the most appropriate person for the task on the team.

So, we compensated for my shortcomings with overtime. Oh, so much overtime.

We ramped up slow. The first few weeks, I was doing a couple of late nights, totaling to 8-12 extra hours per week. Not bad. Then a Sunday. Then a whole work-week of late nights. And finally, my last "week" of work consisted of 26 consecutive days, over which I worked about 280 hours. Overall, the project demanded about 200 hours of overtime, over the course of a month and a half.

Thankfully, that's done now. The result's not too shabby either, and people seem to have a lot of good things to say about it. Sadly the dome theatre itself doesn't do justice to all of our hard work, as despite our best colour-correction efforts, there's only so much you can do to combat the light that leaks in on a sunny day to wash out your colours, and the generally meh-quality projectors.

Despite that, I certainly impressed myself. I don't ever want to do anything like this again, but I'm proud to have stuck through it. We should be getting some well deserved time off soon, but we still have another small project to polish off for that same dome theatre. At least I've got my weekends back now.

Here's a trailer for the show (though it was made from older footage, while we were still scrambling to iron out a lot of animation kinks. A Whale Story: Surviving Against the Odds

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