The Pixel Crush

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

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cropuscular Pixels

Another week, another two shots reaching completion, granted these shots are from the same angle and required no animation but texturing, modelling, and lighting were all necessary to their success.

The majority of the week has been spent tweaking blockthroughs, adding camerashake, remaking cameras that have renamed themselves into a non-editable and incompatible naming convention, and then playblasting for Charlie to put into the edit. But in terms of more interesting and visual work:

I started by texturing the oxygen mask which Leonard wears when leaving the shed.
It all looks a bit WWII but I made sure the colours matched the browns of Leonard's gloves and the blues of his jacket, rather than go for a more futuristic spray painting mask.
I didn't want to have to sculpt this so I spent ages trying to cheat wrinkles in the bump map using Photoshop with limited success, I am however quite pleased with the creases in the leather.
Final Mask
I wanted to show a render of the mask being worn but dropbox has been hell the last 24 hours and while we still have a rigged version of the mask I cant seem to find a working version of the unrigged mask, its in there somewhere I just need to salvage it from the mess of sync points and backups.
Dawn Lights 1
The shot we aimed to render was this one (though from a higher angle) where we see the journal and the chalked message, we decided that in terms of visuals and symbolism this scene should take place at dawn, also the scene kicks of when its still dark so this made sense for plot consistency too. I wanted all that dawn colour to fill the shed and so set about the lighting workflow, first starting with just a lambert render to nail the palette.
Dawn Lights 2
I spent a while figuring how I wanted the sun to spill across the desk and decided that it should highlight where the writing will be on that nearest board.  Like this:

From this angle you get a better sense of the room at this time of day and I'm really pleased with it, now that the books have been scattered around what resembles some kind of knowledge throne, the post it notes on the blackboard (courtesy of Jake), and the general clutter is in there it feels lived in and natural.
Here is the effect of the dawn lights I've stuck round the portholes, with final gather it cascades really nicely. Sometimes very soft depthmap shadows are like free ambient occlusion.

Pixel Propaganda

This is the very useful line of mel script that helped me make those messy camera nodes deletable, also enabling me to delete the numerable image planes that were stuck to them.

David Jaffe gave a great talk at DICE on why games shouldn't tell stories. While the headline instantly makes me foam at the mouth with enragiatedness the title is misleading and the talk is impassioned, thoughtful, and funny. It talks more about why games shouldn't emulate film and should instead work to different strengths. How pertinent to my dissertation.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Lights, Camera, Pixels!

We have an animated, textured, modeled, lit, and rendered shot. Its four seconds long, and its gorgeous. The push to get it ready for Friday's production meeting was intense to the point that I was wandering around hugging people for my own moral support, and losing my train of thought every 30 seconds. But get it done we did and I'm actually pretty proud of my team for knuckling down and everybody taking responsibility for their portion of the work load. Special mentions to Jake for getting the shed Leonard calls home into ship shape and jumping on all the odd jobs that popped up, and Nigel who rose to his new position of texture king with aplomb and finesse, even maintaining a digital presence in the studio on the last day through an all day skype video call as I monitored his texture progress in between putting out render brushfires, and Luke for managing the herculean feat of fixing Leonard's awkward wrists at the last moment. Dan finished up the animation and I threw in the remaining lights before clicking render at 10:30 the night before. I won't be posting the whole 84 frames because that would ruin the surprise and I don't want to end up posting the entire film in pieces on my blog. I will however, offer this single frame:
Please Fullscreen It.
Leading up to this mad rush I had been pre-occupied with blockthrough and getting the 'kernel' seed itself ready for its inclusion in this scene and it was also required for some dynamics tests. You can see it in the frame above filling the flasks in the corner on the shelf, nice and out of focus. Here's a better indication of them making up the shed's mis-en-scene.
You missed the final gather didn't you?
Test renders are great as they point out all the things left to fix, for example in this frame I need to turn on reflections for the fur on Leonard's beard and you can also see why we chose the shot we did as they pipe in the background hasn't been textured yet.
Youthful As Ever
The fun/tedious part of the blockthrough is putting Leonard in outrageous poses as me and Hugh layout the cinematography and poses in each shot of every scene. With the kernel I adapted the brain from before and retextured it to try and match a more organic looking haze nut exterior with moss filling the folds of the brain, then I wanted to give the stem the look of the white top to a conker as it merged in the sycamore seed style wings. These wings fold up or down according to whether its growing on the try or mid-flight.
Here it is folded, and it'll be hanging upside down from the branch, or perhaps growing upwards from the branch as per the design of the tree.
I kept redoing the moss to try to get it to actually look like moss rather than toxic waste splattered across the shell.
The simple sycamore seed model in their folded out flight mode.
Getting the translucence right for both the kernel and the wings was tricky but using the mia_material_x_passes I could control it pretty well using the existing diffuse textures and setting the advanced refractive settings to thin walled so that with a little bit of transparency the light scattered through the shader nicely, and much quicker than a sub surface scattering shader would have down. It also avoids sampling issues and grainy  illumination inside the shader.
And then it was all done, probably at slightly too high or a resolution and poly count than was necessary for a background prop so I'll need to finesse it for other shots and keep this hero asset for the small number of close ups it features in. Maybe I'll even turn the displacement back on for those hero shots, if I'm feeling opulent.

Pixel Propaganda

Clint Hocking wrote another of his great columns this time addressing the standards by which game dialogue is often judged as awful and contrived, but that we are judging it against the wrong things because it serves a totally different function than it does in film or theatre.

This last week DICE took place, a convention akin to GDC but seemingly more holistic and people-centric. Bethesda's Todd Howard lead with a great keynote talk that's worth watching if only for the sizzle reel of cool stuff created in a game jam at Bethesda that was omitted from Skyrim but might yet see light in DLC or free patches.

Short and sweet this week.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

I Am The Light

The weeks go by so fast that its hard to know what I did and when I did it.

This week we moved production into the studio which was pretty awesome. Not everyone is always in, but the people that are can communicate with each other and solve production problems much quicker. I get almost nothing done as (literally) every 60 seconds someone has something to show me or a question to ask, and its BRILLIANT. I love it, I can direct people properly, giving feedback, getting their suggestions and ideas. Being able to monitor people's progress allows me to help them do their job better (or be their pain in the neck) but it also means I'm painfully aware when work isn't being done.

The blockthrough continues as me and Hugh lay out each shot's camera move with its accompanying poses for Leonard, we're rapidly closing on the final two mighty scenes. It's going to be interesting. It's essential, I now appreciate, as this way we are forced to notice the flaws in each set and set it up to be production ready, scale, translating, referencing so every prop, texture, effect, and light is in the right place doing the right thing. Dan has even started animating with a sweet shot of Leonard leaving the shed and entering the greenhouse, before he processes the thought cloud into mulch for the tree. Our production target as set by Rosa is to get a render out of that animated shot by this Friday's presentation. She suggested a test render but if we can get that corner that's in shot textured, which is totally possible with Nigel now king of the textures, then I feel it would make sense to push it that extra bit further and stretch for a final render. Obviously using the word final curses it but I don't see why it couldn't be final. Hence me jumping back on the lighting, just try and stop me, I Am The Light...Mwahahahah!
Mmm....Perhaps not
Yeah. I forgot how to light, Shame. After a few more attempts it started coming together, using only depthmap shadows (uber-speedy for the rendering). I had to go into all the prop scenes and delete all the duplicate sun and sky nodes along with all the fur attributes because I'll be damned if I'm going to use that mental ray crutch forever, it felt like it was about time stopped using physical sun & sky and relying on it. Plus its quite tricky to break out of its default look when using it as a starting point. and its not the quickest of lighting setups when working on an interior.
Better, Closer, Warmer...
With depth map shadows, I've found so far that the 'regular shadowmap' setting in the light attributes provides this soft faux ambient occlusion effect that I much prefer over the 'detail shadowmap' option which only looks less detailed to me but that might just be to do with this scene. I could never for the life of me figure out how a soft depth map shadow could appear grainy but I finally found the samples section under the mental ray overrides. Smooth as you like now.
Leonard Even Turned Up To Watch.
Instead of using a standard directional light for the sunlight coming through the portholes I set up two spotlights so that I could control the angle of each light individually, this way more light is coming in and while its not physically accurate its more cinematic and shiny. I was talking with Charlie about how the colours are a bit busy, too much colour variation, and either we'll need to unify the textures more, or de-saturate the lights, or be very cunning with colour grading during compositing. I'm guessing it'll need all three.
Grappling with Exposures

Also rubbing final gather all over everything boosts those same colours in very lovely ways, note the bounce lighting on the underside of Leonard's stool for example. But it also adds a good 2 minutes render time at least, this is not too much of a problem though as it will only have to calculate it for the first frame and merely add to it for each subsequent frame of a sequence.
Beginning To Look Homely.
In the name of this colour study here is a before and after comparison with the textures.
Lambert only
The green tinge on the centre column is me trying to give the feeling of a green light coming from the greenhouse through the porthole just off screen to the left.
Rendering the textures too adds almost exactly a minute to render time which seems wholly acceptable, I reckon we'll keep them...
Much as I completely adore final gather these test renders are reaching a level of softness without it that makes me think if things got really dire we could forego it but only if it was really really necessary.

I've also finally given Leonard shaders for his mouth. His tongue is now pink and teeth a pearly white. Tweaking the textures for Leonard's feet and face were also on my list of final changes for him as my secret scrutiny committee had noticed he had no lips in his texture, also that his feet should be dirty if he never wears shoes. I made these changes and then figured I should finally apply the shaders to the rig. Problem: the UVs had changed since rigging commenced. This meant a ridiculously convoluted method of applying the new UVs to the shapeorig node in the hypershade, therefore allowing me to delete history on them without removing them from the bind. It worked beautifully and the rig still worked. That is until Hugh noticed the mesh and skeleton were displaced in all the referenced scenes. Oops.

Pixel Propaganda

This is the unbelievably useful tutorial I used to add the new UV's to the rigged mesh.

Someone made realtime subsurface scattering look the best it has done since arkham city.

Here's a video that's been circulating recently and its just too accurate. Its hilarious.

I was reading an article brought to my attention by critical distance: this week in videogame blogging (something everyone who is writing about games for their dissertation should subscribe to) about the different approaches to narrative delivery in Fallout: New Vegas and Bastion.

Here's an amazing guide to texturing which uses some very clever but simple tricks, written by the lead texture artist at double negative, who is also part of the CGconceptShare thing.

I've been using a copy of Lenscare from Frischluft which is an extraordinarily pretty depth of field plugin for After Effects. I thought it'd be great to have a full version for Kernel when we get to compositing so I emailed Frischluft hoping to maybe get a student discount off their $70 plugin. They gave me a free copy! So thankyou very much to them, they will no doubt receive a special thankyou in the credits when we finish Kernel. Maybe we can figure out a way to sneak their logo into an environment somewhere as a homage, or would that be copyright infringement?