Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Just Because it's Hard Doesn't Mean It's Better

I've come to the conclusion that we as CG artists have trained ourselves to think that somehow, if the process isn't involved, difficult, and time intensive, it must not give good results.  Too often I have found that we run into problems and issues, and we come up with great ways to solve said problems, but in a way that doesn't really make our job that much easier.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that I believe CG software has a long way to go when it comes to user interface and user interaction.

One example:  Maya corrective shapes, or Pose Space Deformers.

This one has been on my list for a long time, and especially now since I've been at Pixar where we had a relatively elegant way to do this.  Are there any riggers out there who have not wanted to be able to pose a character, and sculpt it to correct the bad deformation?  I think that is a pretty standard desire.  Yet we still have to deal with creating multiple meshes, sculpting each one, somehow mirroring that shape, and then hooking it up via Set Driven Key.  There are so many tools out there to assist this, and in my opinion, none of them address the real problem - I want it to be intuitive and fast.  I don't want to deal with connections, keying, etc.  I just want to pose, sculpt, and let the computer remember what I did and apply that when  I hit that pose.  After all, we invented computers to do the thinking and heavy lifting for us.  I have found only one tool that pretty much does this in Maya, and it's not available, just a personal tool from a genius guy that could probably make a lot of money if he would sell it (I'd pay good money for it).  There are others that attempt to ease the workflow, but none have really done the job.  I'm still on the hunt.

This brings me to my point - it is rare for us as CG artists to look at a problem, figure out what the ROOT CAUSE is, and find a solution for that.  We tend to only look at the top layer problems and find nifty workarounds for those, writing plugins and scripts.  While there is really nothing wrong with that, what we should be doing is looking at the root of the problems and going after those.  Unfortunately, that is where the problems with software exist.  Many times software is not written to allow the artist to just work in a fluid manner.  Most software is meant to cover every topic, but only skin deep.  Instead of really perfecting a certain aspect of the CG pipeline, they get it "working", and then move on to the next "feature" that they can add to their feature list.  The problem that I have seen with this is that almost inevitably, the software becomes cobbled together, a mess of plugins that all try to do the same thing in different ways, and fail to work together.

Somehow, that needs to change.

We all got into this business of CG because we wanted to create.  We wanted to let our imaginations flow unimpeded by the technological walls that we thought software would tear down.  From my perspective, there are very few packages that even come close to letting you really get down to the business of making art.  Most of the time, you need a dedicated scripter/programmer just to allow you to do the simple things that should no longer be impediments.

Software manufacturers - we want speed and ease of use, not menu after menu after menu of useless tools that look great on a feature list but rarely ever make a difference to us.

CG Artists - we need to speak up and let the software developers know that we don't want to spend our creative time writing a new plugin just so that we can get our work done.  Tools should be simple and powerful.  Just because the process is hard, doesn't mean it's going to give you a better result.  Let's try to make CG fun again.