Q: From your lecture, we have seen the many possibilities of traditional ink painting in digital art. I think it's a combination of traditional art and computer skills, as well as a deep understanding of animation. How do you manage the relationship between them?
A: Hiring multi-talented people can help bridge the gaps. I believe they have a higher chance solving problems that have not been solved before. I have been lucky to have some tech-savvy and self-motivated artists to work with. For instance, my friend Shuen Leung, who has been using Expresii since its early versions, can produce nice work without me giving much instruction. Whenever I have some new functionality added to the program, she would just explore it and see what she can come up with it. Our (then) director Angela Wong, soon recognized Shuen's abilities and invited her to join the production team. Having Shuen in the team had been a privilege. She's also a kung fu practitioner, who can inform us on the kung fu moves that would appear in the Mai movie.
In my role, I simply try my best to fulfill the program feature requests from the directors. They are the actual ones managing different people in the production team. I can't speak for them, but from what I've observed, putting people in the right roles would definitely help make things smooth.
Q: How can experts in different fields work well together?
A: Mutual respect and good communication are important. Try understand others' point of view and/or the constraints they have. For example, many of us have opinions on how ink-painting-styled animation should be like. We may offer our views and in fact, there has been some heated discussions. Ultimately, it would be the film director to decide. For the production to go on, we let those in the managing positions do their jobs. As a decision maker, one has to consider all the opinions and make appropriate choices. It surely is not easy.
A: I actually don't see a contradiction here. What you do depends on the project at hand. As an artist in general, I think serendipity is great and that's mainly why I started building my own tool for brush painting. But for animation production, we hire many animators to work on the same film. We need standardization (e.g. style guide) so that the resultant animation looks coherent. Another reason for standardization is that we want to be able to control the amount of flickering between frames due to stroke differences. Some say, "if it's repeatable, it's not art". But here you actually want the strokes to be repeatable with desired parameters! ^_^ Imagine, when you're half way done with your frames, your art director comes to you and asks, “Can you make the tentacles of the octopus a bit thicker?” If your strokes are auto-generated instead of hand-painted, you can simply change the parameters and have the computer re-render it!
Q: How do you see the future of ink-painting-styled animation (水墨動畫) ?
A: Previously, only large studios can afford to do research work. They develop new algorithms for, say, simulating animal fur to support their story telling. Nowadays, more individuals are learning programming, and one can come up with new algorithms specially designed for ink-painting-styled animation so that they don't need to rely on existing software, which may not be suitable for the effects they are after. That said, if some party is determined to invest on new ink-painting-styled animation, they still need to be patient, as developing and putting tailor-made new solution into a workable pipeline usually require a lot of experimentation. The good news is that Angela Wong has prototyped a workable solution that is already used in the animated short Find Find (as discussed in my talk). We just need to further develop it and put it to the test more. Let us know if you're interested to join this journey.
Q: How can artists or creatives get more involved in computer programming or on the technological side?
A: They can learn programming online for free. Just do a search on creative coding and you will find a bunch of tutorials and samples. I think that's exactly how Angela Wong learned programming. I believe you will be easily inspired to use code to do your next project!
Q: A really interesting point was bought up about how technology might be infiltrating art and calligraphy. On that note, what are your opinions on using Artificial Intelligence (AI) for storyboarding and animation? Do you think it will enhance our experiences or just make us obsolete?
A: Current state-of-the-art AI needs a large number of samples as input for it to be able to learn some pattern in the samples and apply that same pattern to perform certain tasks. That means it can not be creative all by itself yet. Computers are very good at optimization. If you have well-defined goal or cost function, computer programs can find the optimal configuration that minimizes that cost.
I think the general public's view towards AI may be skewed by movies or fictions, thinking that AI can already think almost like a human. No, we're still quite far from that. And, speaking of AI, beware there're some opportunists trying to fool you with fake AI!
Here, I'd like to show you a 2018 tweet by a Japanese CG artist commenting on the lost tech of ink painting animation (水墨画によるアニメーション): "When would a hero using Expresii to make animation appear?"