The Pixel Crush

-------------------------------------------|Digital Animation & Game Criticism|-------------------------------------------

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Red Room

I ended up going for my second idea, of the city skyline and a track down into the underground music scene.
This involved both 3D and 2D elements and a lot of particles generated using the AFX plugin Particular.
I set up a 3D comp in AFX and spent too long making nice smoke plumes for the skyline, a skyline which I had drawn in ink and then scanned in. I then went on to create a flock of birds in the sky using particles where each particle was its own comp of a bird doing a simple up down wing flap animation, this worked suprisingly well.

By now I had hit a dead end as to how the tunnels under my city were actually going to appear but in the end, I drew the tunnels in Photoshop, and then lined the up in the comp, then made an enormous mask that could reveal them as the camera tracked down. Really simple and not as elaborate as what I originally had in mind but effective. I then spent a while making sure the mask and camera move timing were really tight together so that the red room would be revealed just as the camera reached the correct depth.

This then brought me to the cassette. I had looked at some reference (the ever useful google) and picked a suitably retro looking tape to base my model on. I ended up using this reference as the texture too seeing as it would already fit the model-theoretically. Thanks to some stupid modelling discipline on my part: smooth shading it beyond reason, the UVs were a bit of a nightmare as always. Anyway, I modelled it, applied the tecxture, tweaked the UVs, made specular transparency and bump maps in Photoshop. This greatly enhanced the realism of the way light fell across the model. As always click to enlarge:

And one with motion blur ;)

This took quite a while but it was worth it for the chance to add a bit of dimensionality and hone my modelling technique, despite the tapes bit part in the ident as a whole.

Here is the Bearded Man from the first idea which discarded because he looks like crap, apart from the awesome beard, I just couldnt get the look I was going for. Wierd, the human form eludes me yet again, no matter which medium I try my hand at.

 I then went on to add some dust to add the sense of descent as the was nothing but the tunnels to convey the camera's movement down the Y axis. Having reached the denouement of the ident I was unsure how end it. After much procrastination I settled on a wonky camera angle and the big shiny words appearing as the music began to play after cassette clicked into place in the red room. A lot of this was reliant on sound so I rendered the comp and imported into Pro Tools which worked extremely well, it had no problem playing the video alongside whatever sound recordings I downloaded from I then placed some of my own music underneath these effects as if it were underground and then had it play in all its glory as the tape clicked into place. Copyright infringment cunningly avoided. Here is the final 1080p render:

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Round 6

Just stumbled on this INSANE short film, whilst searching for an explanation for mental ray and motion blur crashes, from Snowball studios who appear to be a small studio based in Isreal who have made this intensely cool film.

The best part is that they have have a blog detailing every piece of software they used, all the shader materials, techniques, animation, reference, pre and post production. Just to see turntables of their models is phenomenal, the mind blowing amount of detail hurts my eyes. Its a thing of beauty.

Round 6 from Snowball Studios on Vimeo.

I Dent In Your Face

We pitched our ident ideas for the Virgin online music channel for unsigned bands, Red Room.
Mine was very basic and I talked to a couple of people about it as more of a joke and came to conclusion of "why not?". A man wearing heaphones with a waveform emerging from his ears as he listens to classical music, as the music reaches a crescendo and becomes something more contemporary the waveform becomes lightning and his head proceeds to explode, his mind having been literally "blown"!

Pretty simplistic but I liked it. No longer though. The model I made in Maya looks fairly horrible, though I did have some fun with the fur tool making him a tasty beard which I will render out at some point as proof I wasn't idle for weeks.

I had a second idea which was more subtle and based on the theme of underground music the sense of discovery you get when you hear a new band and go on to champion them for a love of their sound.
This involved a cityscape in silhouette where a number of tunnels appeared and mazed their way underground to a red room in which was housed this coveted unfound music.
This idea is nopw well underway and the skyline has  become FAR more elaborate with the particle plug in "particular" fueling several industrial smoke plumes and a flock of birds set against a golden sunset. One of the city's many manholes pops open to reveal the first tunnel then revealing numerous others and the camera sinks down into the city's depths to reveal the red room. I have modelled a retro cassette in Maya for some nice 3D at the end where the cassette will slin past the camera and fit into the red room triggering some music to play.
The two coils for the tape will form the OO in rOOM for a cool red room logo that shall resemble something like this:

More on this when its done i think as deadlines loom and i can always come back in the holidays and blog all about it! I cant wait, im quite proud of what I've done so far.

Story Time?

In a miracle of modern technology I have, after much failing, managed to present my storyboard in a from available to all.  I really enjoyed the initial stages of storyboarding as I was able to tell the story from the script frame by frame and it was quick and creatively liberating after the inch by inch progress of normal animation.

Then it came to the neatening up stage and, I made a quick start, the standard of drawing gradually increased meaning each frame took longer than the last. In the end I was doing elaborate character poses, colour, dodging, burning, and shading. I much prefer the second half of the storyboard: less pirates dancing, more pirates being struck by lightning and falling overboard.

Loving the extreme close ups and epic long shots. Crazy angles at time too. I hope the hyperbolic composition fits the story, though we weren't given an audience to keep in mind, I fear the gore in one panel doesnt quite match the tone of the script. Oh well, it made me happy.


Thursday, 4 March 2010

Writing As An Artform

I finished the flash animation, a while ago actually but hadnt done anything about it. I had some problems exporting it but got there in the end with the right amount of quicktime compression. Why cant youtube upload SWF goddamnit!?! (I know why).

The absence of motion blur is rather painful as I chose to set the project to 24fps out of habit, this means that the quicker movements appear jerky without blurring to support the illusion. Nevermind. At least its 1080p :)

Monday, 1 March 2010

CGI Skillz!

I think I've finished my 3D environment. After initial doubts about the simplicity of my scene I pushed on and worked more and more detail into the environment and it looks a lot better for it. I also toned down some of the hideous colours after remembering Georg warned of this and tried to keep it to a defined palette. I also added some puddles in strategic places for some nice reflections which made me happy. I have spent way too much time on this project just experimenting with rendering techniques like ambient occlusion, final gather, caustics and global illumination; which is a bit redundant seeing as we're not allowed to use them in the final submission. I did however managed to tweak certain shaders glow attribute to create a nice softening effect. The thing I most struggled to model was the bed, partly because I made the mistake of modelling it all one thing thinking this would be neater and better practice. WRONG! its a pain to texture something using faces, I havn't used UV unwrapping at all, it makes my head hurt just thinking about it. I used several components when necessary thereafter.

Here is one of the intial, and very sparse, renders using maya's renderer before I switched to mental ray
As always click to enlarge:

I wanted to portray the warmth of the light contrasted with the cold of the prison cell.
I quite like this next one just for the softness of the shading and the gradual transition into darkness:
Quite a lot further on in the process and I've added my gorgeous puddles, it took forecer to get the right balance between refelctivity and transparency and here's me getting it wrong:
Then there were numerous lengthy renders most of which turned out looking ridiculous or having no hardly any effect at all. Firstly ambient occlusion which I love, it essentially takes your model and creates darkness in the right places regardless of lighting, this makes for far more detail to be seen in the geometry. Apparently this can be textured on to save render time but I tried applying it using render layers with no success. I just love the way it brings out the three dimensionality of everything according to its shape and proximity to other objects. Plus it makes everything look like playdough.

Here are some close ups of the various props and different angles of the environment.
Light Bulb:




Chamber Pot, Loo Roll & Puddle:


This is the final image minus whatever tweaks I add between now and submission:

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain. The game I've been going on and on about to anyone and eveyone who'll listen, the game I've mentioned several times on this blog, the game I've heaped mountains of unreasonable expectations on, is here...

...and it blew my fucking mind. (enough so to warrant expletives).

Its gameplay is unique, its approach to story is unique in that its all about the story rather than the high score or the next headshot. Its handling of emotion is unparralled in gaming. It looks gorgeous too.

The only reason I'm not still playing it and unlocking another of its multiple endings is that the PSN is down and a trophy error is preventing me from loading it up.

I've mentioned before why this game is so important, not just to me but to the entire gaming industry. In summary, its pointing the way, maybe not in terms of design but in terms of tone. This is what this medium can do at the highest level, unmatched interaction storytelling based on a massive range of emotions.
What I love about Heavy Rain is the way consquence is engineered. There are no game overs or retrys. You carry on regardless of wether a character dies, screws up, you make a specific moral decision on in their shoes, or they succeed. This means when you arrive at the ending the context and weight behind every decision is so much more profound because it belongs to you. Your choices, your mistakes. And, in the end, your feelings.

Thats why Heavy Rain is both hard to concisely explain and experience with constraints. You need to sit down and experience it in it's entirety. And probably more than once too.

I mean, how many games can boast of scenes in which the player (spoilers): changes a nappy, prevents a suicide, has a shower, kills an innocent man and has to live with it, cuts of his finger, has sex, sits bored, plays with his kids, loses his son in a shopping center, performs first aid, cooks an omelete, saves a life, takes drugs, kicks the habit, frees a innocent man, plays piano, makes an architectural drawing, plays basketball, falls in love, dies permanently. And you feel every minute of it, its powerful stuff.