The Pixel Crush

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

Sunday, 30 May 2010


Production Evaluation
Having not actually seen the whole of our animation running together, one scene after another, it should be hard to evaluate the group’s success.  I know that in some ways we have succeeded, whilst in other, perhaps more obvious ways, we have definitely failed.
Pre Production:
The storyboarding and character design processes began early on and panned out as expected, Dan was assigned the role of director so it was his responsibility to storyboard the script and produce a corresponding animatic. While the storyboard continued to subtly evolve throughout the project the essence of the narrative was decided early on. The animatic took a little longer and while it did not give a great indication of timing it really helped establish things like shot angles and the scale of the sets we would have to build. We all contributed to the character designs and soon had begun modelling.
As primary character modeller I began modelling the Policeman character. Though this was initially my job solely, we soon realised it was too much work for one person and Dan lent a hand modelling two of the five characters. As we are all still learning the software this stage took far, FAR longer than anticipated and ended up dragging on into the final stages of production. This made it hard to progress at the necessary speed because we couldn’t rig unfinished models. I was the texture for all the models and environments except the external establishing shot which Hugh did. This meant learning the ins and outs of UV unwrapping, another CGI discipline I was comparatively unfamiliar with. Thanks to a plug-in called RoadKill, an increased understanding of seem layout and some knowledge of Photoshop I was able to create detailed textures that didn’t distort too much and created a lot of extra detail o9n the character models enhancing their look in the final renders.
I also spent time experimenting with different shaders to achieve an aesthetic that looked appealing and unlike the “tacky” CG Dan wanted to avoid. While this produced excellent results later on it probably also cost us a lot in render time and probably is what ultimately doomed the project to be nothing more than a polished work in progress. Though I wouldn’t have done it any other way, I already sacrificed 1080p for 720p and set the quality preset in mental ray down to “preview” rather than production. Anyway, I’ll explain about that later on. The shaders that were the most successful (synonymous with render expensive) were the “Maya fast skin SSS” for the characters skin, the “mia material”- mental ray’s own architectural design material, and the trusty Blinn. During this phase in production Hugh was modelling the one detailed and big set we’d need along with a couple of smaller ones, this was starting to take shape at satisfactory rate and we were feeling optimistic that production would pick up soon.

As the character models finally started being finished around two to three weeks into the project Dan began rigging, a process he was loosely familiar with and it soon became apparent that due to the amount of time spent ,not making, but FIXING the rig, he was going to need assistance. I began the rigging process having never done it before and had to learn the entire process apart from the bare bones (pun intended) that Georg had taught us in setting up for 3D. This meant slow, frustrating work that yielded amateur results on my part. UV unwrapping it turns out, is like a massage compared to the torture of weight painting, a process of assigning deformations to the mesh for each bone in the rig. Problems with the rigs spread through the project like a disease and we realised just how ambitious we’d been to attempt a full CG animation featuring fully animatable characters that were capable of lip sync. Random spikes appear on the body, elements of the mesh intersected each other, Maya even changed my move tool settings so I couldn’t move my rig without crippling the character or create double translations on the eyes. Aside from that we could finally start animating! Hugh began animating the opening shots using my dodgy rigs and it was at this point that Dan had to return home for family matters. Much as I don’t want to make excuses we were missing an animator and, through no fault of Dan’s own, we got more behind schedule. He spent 5 days away that week and the last 9 days too, this totalled two weeks’ worth of Dan power lost. So Hugh continued to animate while I continued to rig new characters, 3 weeks ago we had our first 5 second shot rendered. It was another two weeks before we had another shot and we were starting to worry. Render times were up and moral wasn’t. We forged on and Dan and I also started animating a scene each but even now after 7 days, the 600 frame epic in the studio is still not done, me and Producer Hugh are hoping a last stand on 4 PCs will tip the balance but it’s a slim chance. Quality not quantity is certainly true in terms of the final render’s shininess.
Post Production:
 As the frames came through they were brought into after effects to compile, a Z depth channel was extracted (after much experimentation and research into the art of faking depth of field) and one shot even has ambient occlusion. Here the depth of field was applied according to the luminescence of the Z Depth channel, a glow effect, a de-saturation , and film grain to enhance the nourish style we had been aiming for in terms of visuals and narrative. Just today me and producer Hugh cleared up any confusion on the promise of an extension and proceeded to loan a portable sound recorder to do some last minute foley and add the music in after effects before rendering the whole thing out. The music was something I asked a friend of mine on a creative music technology degree to compose and he did a great job with only the animatic to go by for cues and tone.

So we failed essentially. Thing is only half rendered, half animated and we have two characters who never even got used because chronologically we didn’t get far enough. But I have learned so much from this experience, not in terms of “never be ambitious”, in terms of actually how Maya works, how to rig, how to model, how to create a (bad) production pipeline, how not to pitch, how to delegate, co-operate, and work as a team. And we were a totally badass team...
I’ve never worked quite so hard, so consistently, with such great people, and got so annoyed with one piece of software. A worthwhile experience; and in that light this whole thing has been a success. Plus what we did get rendered was sic.

Here it is, please double click to open it in youtube and watch it full screen HD.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

11th Hour

It's 4pm on Thursday. Things left to do:

Weight paint Detective.
Rig Killer.
Finish rendering corpse scene
Finish rendering the victim typing.
Finish animating the Victims Death.
Animate the Detective arriving and the Policeman eating his donut and then being sent out.
Animate the Policemans Death.
Animate the Detective confronting the Killer.
Render all those.
Do sound effects/foley and add the score.
Composite everything together.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010



Me having some trouble with the rig.
Me getting it right and texturing a tasty wound.

Me celebrating PC Plod's completion

"The Forty Minute Render of Dreams" in which Olly grasps desperately at photorealism with his array of Mental Ray lights, 1080p's of definition and a gamut of production grade preferences. credit to Hugh for the original model. PLEASE click to enlarge:

Me mastering z depth and the art of depth of field. (among other post processing and render techniques: Ambient Occlusion, Grain, Glow [Bloom], Colour Balance.)

My blog posts have become increasingly dominated by pictorial documentation, one way to look at this is I've just written thousands of words according to the old proverb. Another perspective might be that production has ramped up to the point where evidence is more efficient than descriptive prose, or there's no space in my head for much analytical thought on the images we're creating. The work is just inches from my nose and its hard to see the bigger picture. Me, Dan & Hugh have become a f*cking kickass team though, we charge on every day, animating weaponry raised, battle cries ringing in our ears. Or this is how it feels in my delusional state... I don't mind too much what the end result looks like, the journey has been ridiculously educational, and fun, and useful. Ok I lied about the first part, I care deeply how this whole thing turns out, I would so love for it to be the noirish 2 minute epic that plays out in my head, we've even got our own composer working on a score for god's sake, we can nail this. maybe. Thats a huge maybe. I won't say its not possible til the last second though. Well, better sign off, its 3am, its been too long since I worked til this time. My favourite time ;)
Just me and Jethro Tull wrestling the Maya beast. Night.

First shot in the can.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Less than 3 weeks til deadline.


I finished modelling the victim character and, due to Dan's distressing situation with the forensic rig I volunteered to rig this guy. So more hurried learning, the best kind! and viola, I had made a model, skeleton, and weight paints in a week. Though that doesn't change the fact that we're so short on time, hooray for ambition...

Here is a render with some post processing tests we might do for a more noirish effect, e.g film grain, desaturation and glow:

Though there is little temporal space for much besides the all consuming WHAT, I have mananged to design three animal firm characters. I intend to colour all these nicely in Photoshop and type up the character bio's.
Click to enlarge.

Firstly there is Piglet.

And Bakon the Baker

And Undertaker Shelby (the Sheep)
Thats all for now. Everybody go out and see Iron Man 2.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Saga of the Policeman

This group project has completely consumed my time. I have done a few sketches for the sketchbook project and some preliminary designs for the animal firm design bible. But other than that its been all WHAT! And I'm loving it. I nearly lost the policeman to a corrupt maya file, or possible photoshop texture but I managed to restore him to his former self (thank god) and save losing hours of work. He has now gone through the entire design, modelling, shading, texturing process. I'm stupidly proud of what I've ended up with and cant wait to have Dan rig him and see him situated in Hugh's environment. I've learnt a ton along the way, so much so that UVing no longer scares me, I feel slightly more comfortable using maya's nodes in the hypergraph editor and texturing is a fun process of scanning interesting materials and imortalising them digitally (my clothes, a flatmates belt, a tea bag, ink splatters, asda plastic bag.) Ive also been hard at work texturing Dan's forensic model and that now too is finished. While displacement maps still elude me as they insist on displacing everything in ridiculous amounts, the bump map is my very good friend and will serve as a worthy substitute, also hopefully saving on render time.

Click to enlarge:

Here are the texture maps i made, most of them are diffuse but a couple show how i controlled the bump and specular values.

Also blu ray copy of Mary & Max arrived all the way from Australia! After two weeks in the post and volcanic dust delays its here and its exciting :) Bonus features and all!