The Pixel Crush

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

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Business Time!

Everything has been so fantastically busy I have neglected all sorts of things, including sleep, domestic responsibilities and the blog. So there won't be much poetic introspection in this post but I'll make up for it with "the Shiny's", as Tom calls them.

Much has been learnt on the importance of workflow during the Animated Exeter project, namely get  UV unwrapping done early, gathering source material for texturing that is high quality and varied, and if something feels wrong because the solution is arduous and frustrating- its probably because that's the right way to do it. I went scouting with my camera and managed to find two churches to use as reference and took many a picture of stained glass windows which made for a nice Photoshop collage when I got back.
The sparkly results (with the help of a mia material shader) speak for themselves. The first shot of the sequence has been rendered, and while compositionally it looks a bit sparse, I'm hoping the epic detail of the cathedral and grand reveal of the robot will create a dramatic contrast to the minimalist blue hues of the laboratory interior. It occurred to me just how blasphemous the concept of a laboratory in a church actually is, but it's only served to endear our crazy Thunderbirds-esque animation to me further. Please, for my sake, click the image to see all highly polished 1080 pennies:

So with all the texturing done I can finally look to animation, or I would if I wasn't re-installing Maya because she misplaced her license, how thoughtless of her...

I now spend my Mondays and Fridays in the studio from 9 til 5 working on The Last Trophy with a fine team who have been great fun to work with/for, whilst also commanding an impressive work ethic that keeps me improving my skills. I have been charged with constructing some lighting set-ups for the cabin scene to begin with.

Using key frames from the storyboard I have been placing cameras around the scene to match the composition of the storyboard and begun to place lights to firstly fill the room. The are the obvious and necessary things like sunlight and the physical light sources like lamps and things, and then I have added strategic lights that act to bring out the details in the modelling and create a visual style that is more cinematic. I can't take credit for the gorgeous models and texturing as those were ready to go when I started.

Using individual groups of lights unique to each camera I can control the lighting shot to shot, this hopefully create a more cohesive aesthetic and facilitate general awesomeness. This way I can also get quick ideas of what things will look like at render time without spending too much time in the light linking editor. I have been instructed to use the linear 32bit format for the renders but display it with an sRGB gamma correction. This is basically a way render the entire range of luminosity and colour while still getting an image that represents the final appearance on a TV. I've been using mia simple exposure nodes to control the overall brightness and look of the renders specific to each camera to achieve effects like the silhouette above and the soft shadows below. The sun & sky nodes used by the final gather don't bring much character to the lighting as the physical sky is a standard blue, but if a digital matte background is painted the variation will hopefully create more interesting bounce light, making a more realistic and pleasing image.
In the name of research I set up my camera and tripod and endeavoured to create my own high dynamic range  panorama  to test as a light source, but Photoshop's panoramic and HDR merge tools aren't particularly good so the result was interesting but ultimately useless, it remain in the archives until its called into action.

This week's special moment: I have had my laptop in power saver mode for the last 5 days or so without realising, no wonder every render is taking an age, it's trying to save power...IDIOT.

This weeks interesting prose consists of two pieces, one on the importance of game mechanics that tie into the themes that the game is trying to express and does a good job of explaining why makes certain less appreciated titles more worthy than an initial glance would imply.
game mechanics and themes. And a second that explores the way games present morality and how when its less overt, its more affective. The game in question is Metro 2033 and while it does some very interesting things I found the lack of feedback frustrating, while I don't need a good and bad meter or renegade and paragon points, I wouldn't mind character interaction indicating their reaction, or clear consequences to my choices.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Animated Existance III

I didn't get onto the GDC volunteer program.

I don't know anyone who did, and don't know how to find anyone who did, it'd be really great to know what they wrote on their submission.
I may try and volunteer for something a bit smaller and closer to home, give them more reason to pick me when I try again next year. Also I aim to sort something out for FMX, which is taking place in May I believe, anyone whose interested in coming along let me know because if there's 10 of us we can get a small discount off the already fairly reasonable £105.233 down to £75.7545 (90 Euro) which is amazing for an event like this. Though anything looks amazing next to GDC's $1300 price tag.

I've reached a near final stage on the Exeter Cathedral model, just the towers at the back remain to be done and some details round the doors at the front. I am now well into the UV unwrapping and as usual my plugin of choice, RoadKill, is screwing me over just as much as it makes my life easier. Not the most soothing of ways to spend almost an entire Sunday. But I know you came here for shiny so here you are:

This render was actually a test to see how the passes worked when I composited them in Photoshop. There's ambient occlusion, indirect lighting, shadows and diffuse.

Here are the Final Gather points as computed at render time from the perspective of the camera, they are added to the final gather map with each consequent frame so that it doesn't have to be re-calculated.

The generic looking but so easy mental ray Sun & Sky node. I think it should be renamed the Pixar button.

Behold! Image based lighting. Impressive no? that took one click and 20 minutes to render. The panoramic image it drew the lighting information from courtesy of Tom Gameson. I'll have to do some reading on how it actually works this out but its very accurate in how it matches the lighting conditions of the image, because our dull English weather creates such soft shadows and diffused light sources it takes quite a bit of time to render but I was amazed with the results.

In other news, which is slightly out of date now, the entire sequence of gameplay footage from the Uncharted Demo was released a few weeks ago and its too stunning not to share, here are all three parts:

I also came across some amazing work by Autodesk master Wayne Robson, this guy has a pretty enormous ego, but he's pretty good at what he does. The first Autodesk master to specialize in Mudbox.

Another interesting piece of game journalism from Michael Thomsen in which he interviews one of the designers working on Homefront and  gives him a hard time on why certain game mechanics don't better serve the overall themes of the game.

Pete Collier's excellent blog post explores where we draw out creativity from and how its necessary to seek that inspiration lest our work turns stagnant.