Category: How To


Making a Title Sequence in a Day

Two weekends ago, I worked on a 48 Hour film  competition. It ended in making this title sequence in a six hour timeframe:

Western Title Sequence from Jeremy Shuback on Vimeo.

The next day, because I’m me, I did a making of video and posted that:

It was easily the most productive I’ve been in a one day period in over a month. Projects like this are what fuel me and keep me going. Here’s a couple stills:

I posted the rest of the images on Coroflot.

It was great getting to hand out the inkings to all of the actors, and I’m excited for the short film it was a part of. A big thanks to Carl Hanson, the person who brought it all together.


Learning Math through Programming

With my last post, Dear Seth Godin, Stop Dealing Steam out of the way, let’s move on to a couple far more constructive / researched articles.

In Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin writes:

43. How not to teach someone to be a baseball fan

Teach the history of baseball, beginning with Abner Doubleday and the impact of cricket and imperialism. Have a test.

Starting with the Negro leagues and the early barnstorming teams, assign students to memorize facts and figures about each player. Have a test.

Rank the class on who did well on the first two tests, and allow these students to memorize even more statistics about baseball players. Make sure to give equal time to players in Japan and the Dominican Republic. Send the students who didn’t do as well to spend time with a lesser teacher, but assign them similar work, just over a longer time frame. Have a test.

Sometime in the future, do a field trip and go to a baseball game. Make sure no one has a good time.

If there’s time, let kids throw a baseball around during recess.

Obviously, there are plenty of kids (and adults) who know far more about baseball than anyone could imagine knowing.

And none of them learned it this way.

The industrialized, scalable, testable solution is almost never the best way to generate exceptional learning.

In part 113, he asks:

Is the memorization and drill and practice of advanced math the best way to sell kids on becoming scientists and engineers?

To combine these sections, the question becomes:

How do you make students care about high level math in the same way they care about video games?

The answer lies in turning math into a project based learning experience. I’ve seen many attempts at this, including my own High School curriculum called C.O.R.E. It was an embarrassing effort to make every math problem a word problem. Instead of creating a purpose behind the math, it put a thin veneer of application that did more to confuse us rather than make us care.

It wasn’t until Sophomore year of college that I got the chance to apply math in an exciting way. I was coding in Flash, and wanted to create a tank game where you bounced cannon balls off of walls in an effort to hit the other tanks. To write it, I had to relearn trigonometry. Sine, cosine, tangent, and far more in depth topics suddenly had an application. For the first time I studied them and had a reason to care. By creating a video game, it all started to come together.

What angle should a cannon ball go at if sent at the wall at a 30 degree angle? For the game to work, I needed to figure this out. While the final results of the game were a bit of an embarrassment, it was an exciting project that made math fun.

How I wish my game was half as awesome as this. And no, I didn't actually play this game before grabbing this picture.

It’s easy to say “That’s nice for people who already know programming and are operating at a college level, but for the rest of us that isn’t particularly practical.”

Yet when I took on this project, my main thought was, ‘Why isn’t this how math was being taught to me since at least 6th grade?

One of the answers is it requires the students to have a computer at their disposal.

The other answer is it requires the math teachers to teach basic programming as a prerequisite to make the students care. It’s not easy to teach this well, but it’s well worth the effort.

In fact, teachers have been using programming to teach math for decades. It’s just in the last five years that the idea has started to spread on a grand scale.


Allison, a math teacher who runs Infinigons in New Jersey, tested the idea of using programming to teach math. She wrote:

Something that became obvious very quickly (and was integral in quelling my fears that I was under-qualified to teach a UC-approved programming class) is that almost every student in the class was into it. This was bizarre, having a class where 25 out of 27 students were really trying to figure out a problem and would literally groan when I told them they had to shut down their computers at the end of class.

It’s fascinating reading how she applied programming to teach math. She even includes examples of the games her Seniors in High School created.

Wikipedia has an extensive list of programming languages invented to teach math to all ages, from Stagecast Creator for Kindergarteners to Lego Mindstorm for 5th graders to Greenfoot for High Schoolers. They’re built to make programming accessible, and in that way make math fun.

There are plenty of books written on this subject, such as Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

In addition, there are books dedicated to teaching just about any of the programming languages. For instance, Introduction to Programming with Greenfoot is aimed at teachers looking to encourage students getting in to programming for the first time.

In 2004, I learned Flash Game programming through Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Game Design Demystified. While the Flash programming side of it is no longer relevant, Jobe Makar does a fantastic job of going over math programming in a fun applicable way. I’m sure there are far more recent books on the subject, but from a math perspective, this is a timeless introduction to the fundamentals of applicable trigonometry in game design.

I’d love to see more teachers take this challenge on. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an expert on the subject, so check out Gameful where teachers discuss the best games for teaching Math, Physics, and Programming.


Further Reading:

Featured image via watz

Mark Behm’s Digital Painting Process – Video

Mark Behm has a fantastic step by step of his process over at Mark’s Sketchblog.

I love his approach of starting with a silhouette, doing everything in black and white, painting in the light, constantly flipping it to maintain proportions, using clipping masks and then flattening, and making a color comp and then sampling from that. It goes a bit fast, so I had to watch it a few times, but I like how it wasn’t 13 minutes as originally intended.

Digital Painting 01 ~ Shoe Salesman from Mark Behm on Vimeo.

Now I want to go off and paint, but it’s Tuesday so first some figure drawing.

Forest matte

So here’s the last one. By this point I was feeling much better about my manipulating abilities, and I really want to start working on more mattes again. I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from matte painting, honing my compositing skills and whatnot. I have done some much more professional yet also more subdued mattes for City of Ember. They’re almost completely hidden, so it was nice being in the lime light for this much smaller production. I can say there’s at least a minute and a half of this movie with my mattes as the background, and I really appreciate the way my coworkers and boss were able to bring out the best in me for these even if they were all done in a fairly restrained time frame.

Image Given. I was told to turn it into more of a jungle from 100 million years ago.

This attempt didn’t include enough of a hill or give room for the T-Rex to stomp through so…

I ended with this. I really had my process down by this last matte, although looking at it now months and months later the colors and tone seem far too uniform. What I’m getting at is I need to start doing more of these cause I think I might have a knack in this area.

Dino Skeleton

Now I’m the first to admit I have a long way to go on becoming a photorealistic painter, so when my boss came to me and decided I was ready to handle creating a dino skeleton I was both honored and terrified. It seemed the challenge escalated with each matte, so by this later one I was feeling quite confident. I said, “of course I can do that” and gave it my best. Next I need to get off of this photo crutch. I still have so much to learn

Image Given.

Here’s what I came out with. For all of these I ended up using Creative Common images I found on flickr. Next time I do this, I’m going on a field trip and shooting my own ref. It will be more my own, more fun, and I’ll have far more control. I don’t even think this way is cheaper, for the time I needed to spend making the found images work. With that said, I think this turned out well.

Bloody T-Rex

These were fun because it started to get into what most background artists work with-namely combining some photographic, some painting, and some 3d. I was given a 3d model, and did my best to combine it. Nothing like spending time at work searching on flicker for pictures of bloody wounds that I could merge into a dinosaur.

The before image. Clearly there was much work to be done.

And the finish. In the final movie they ended up doing a zoom out from this image, which I think worked nicely but didn’t give it as much screen time. With the 10 second holds they had on some of the other mattes, I could live with that.

Dead Pterodactyl

I’m going be honest. Nothing screams awesome more then getting paid to paint in bloody dinosaurs. It was nice comparing notes at the end of the day with my girlfriend who raises funds for homeless shelters.

“So what did you do today?”
“Oh, me? I worked to get funding for a new program that would help over a 1000 families a year get back on track. It’s looking like it will go through. What about you?”
“I painted bloody dinosaurs.”
Yep. I win. Dinosaurs trump all.

The before image. I was told-make it dead and little else.

So I came out with this. Then I was told it was killed by an arrow, not an animal attack so I had to scale it back a bit.

I had Andrew reposition the model, and ended up with this. Clearly not my best work, but good fun all the same. It was held on screen for far longer then I thought justifiable, but who am I to argue?

Cave Entrance

I was really happy with this one for two reasons-first, I thought it ended up looking rather nice. More importantly, if memory serves, I did this towards the end and was able to pull it off in less then a day and that’s where the improvement really showed itself.

The before image.

And the after image. I really wish I could go more into my process of how I did this, but truth be told-it’s been nearly half a year since I worked on it and I really can’t remember any of the details. Damn nondisclosure agreements until the movie comes out…oh well-just enjoy the before and afters, and use your imagination for process.

More Mattes

There’s seven pictures, so I’ll split this into seven posts.

The before image. If memory serves this was the first matte I worked on. I was still figuring out what I was doing with this one.

I got this done, and then went on to the next matte. I knew this was no good, but for the life of me, couldn’t figure out what else to do with it. As I said, this was my first stab at it all and I still had plenty to learn (for that matter,I still do)

So I came back to this image having to put in a path, decrapify the river and make it work a bit more. I came out with this, still not completely satisfied.

When in doubt, smother with clouds. Between that, and fixing the colors, this got much, much better by the time I pronounced it finished.

Some Before and After Mattes

I thought I’d talk a little about the mattes I did for the movie 100 million BC. I spent a lot of time working on these, and they’re the first successful photorealistic pictures I’ve done. This first one I was supposed to make it look like a giant drop down.

The before image.

This picture took far longer then what I ended up going with. It was decided it should be more of a drop and less of an angle so I ended up completely scrapping this.

This final image ended up using reference my boss shot in Hawaii with a couple of clouds slapped on top and some greenery to bring it all together. The final image took less then a day, but the inbetween variations took much longer.

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