The Pixel Crush

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

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Professional Pixels

New work shirt with my super awesome access card
This post was entitled semi-professional pixels. It is now entitled professional pixels, I got employed! I'm currently freelancing at Aardman for 2 weeks, after transitioning smoothly from my work experience there. I'm working on some pre-rendered assets for a game that the "Digital" department downstairs are working on. Its more than a little exciting and I'm really enjoying the miniaturisation effect of viewing my models from an almost orthographic camera. At that kind of distance modelling almost becomes like impressionism, the model looks pretty basic up close- blocks of simple geometry here and there (lots of polygon primtives), but zoom out and the collective components come together to give the impression of lavish detail. The camera distance does mean however, that things like the bump properties of the shader have to be pushed to 10 times what theyd usually need, in order to be visible. Also the advantage of being pre-rendered is that the assets can use very fancy shaders and lighting, so many materials look much better than they would if shown running in a realtime 3D game engine. The picture above is of my access card for the building which everyone I've excitedly shown it to has beem thoroughly underwhelmed by.

The view from the drive back from work
They have a crazy workflow at Aardman, its a hybrid between linux and windows involving two workstations each running a separate OS. This means I've had to learn how to set projects and launch programs from a "shell" by typing lines of code. Clearly, buttons are for amateurs. I've been using a lot of Vray, I made sure I knew the basics before going which has been a massive help but I've continued to learn a lot more, both about that renderer specifically and shading in general. Mostly from the talented and humble Ali Dixon. For example, everything has reflectivity, and with modern raytracing its actually possible to factor this into your shaders without killing render times. It means colours reflect better between objects and details can be emphasised by controlling things like the glossiness attribute. I really, really wish I could show renders. That was always the most enjoyable part of these posts for me. I textured an old wireless radio recently and tried to give the impression it had been tuned by the greasiest fingers imaginable. By having shiny plastic with more diffuse finger smudges in the glossiness I could realistically recreate this effect. Breaking up specular highlights in this way is an almost guaranteed route to more pleasing renders that avoid looking overly CG.
My monster pasty kindly supplied by the grandparents
 Another revelation has been my old friend fresnal, now while I knew everything was slightly reflective, I did not know that every reflection is fresnel, even if only a little. Fresnel reflections are what determine the angle at which an object is moat reflective for example water and glass are most reflective when viewed at an angle, for example the sun setting on the sea, but looking straight down into water and the reflection is weaker allowing you to see below the surface. Its rim lightings best friend basically, helping to outline objects with glancing angle reflections. When metals have fresnel, its just handled differently, usually controller by the shaders reflective index. Ratchet it up to 5 or 10 and it starts to act more like chrome. In this way you can create great reflective metals that act realistically driven by reflection alone. I've also had some fun with sub surface scattering and 2 sided shaders for wax and leaves respectively.

Rendering Shiny Things: Fresnel Reflection from yeoldebrian on Vimeo.

Also, there's a recording of Wallace's voice is in the lift. And there are stop motion sets in reception. Everyone is friendly.

Pixel Propaganda

Extra Credits recently did a couple of videos on meaning and mechanics, a favourite topic of mine as most of my dissertation centered around it. One game they wanted to address it in specifically was this one, entitled Loneliness. It takes 2 minutes to play is really worth the time, all it requires is the directional keys.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Party Pixels

Sorry about the novel, and I can't even be bothered to break it up with pictures...


Which is a weird milestone to reach now that I have less stuff to post and almost all traffic has slowed to a trickle.  So here I am belatedly trying to figure out how I've managed to be so busy and have no tangible results to show for it. Since last I wrote, a number of us from Falmouth attended the Skillset event in soho. This comprised of accredited animation courses turning up, decking out their stalls with business cards and showreels, and then mingling with the members of the industry who were present at for the evening. There were also some great round tables which consisted of students asking questions of an industry professional, while a skillset representative guided the discussion. These were mostly focused on how to present yourself to industry with a view to getting employed- the purpose and theme of the entire day.

I don't know what the best practice is when it comes to naming people you've met and spoken with so I'll just give their titles. I met a guy who was a VFX supervisor at one of the big Soho VFX houses, I recognised his name because he commented on a thread I started on CG Society about lighting artists. He chaired one of the round tables, we had a good chat, and then I showed him my showreel/ got asked for my business card afterwards. It felt great to start eroding my hero worship of these people in this way, not that I have any less respect for them, just that they now seem more approachable. This is an increasing trend as our story continues.

A few days before I had made a last minute invite to my mentor from the last term at Uni, who was (extremely luckily for me) able to attend. We met and and had a wander around and he managed to get me a tour around Rushes, another post production studio in Soho. He was doing some freelance there on some commercials. The Rushes producer who met me the next day was also a skillset representative, and so was interested to hear my experience at the event the night before, which luckily was positive. The tour was great, I made attempts at interesting questions (I found them interesting) things about Nuke workflow, and incompatibilities between the motion graphics department on mac and everyone else on windows, and what using Renderman was like. Then me her and mentor sat down and talked for a bit,  I was told I "seemed to be doing the right things" in terms of my showreel and stuff and we parted, with much gratitude on my behalf, the best of friends.

In the build up to this event I'd been solidly applying for jobs, getting encouraging rejections, one call so far, zero interviews. This is to be expected I think, though I have a no doubt false feeling of constantly being on the cusp of employment, despite the rejections. I think the rejections are encouraging because they are replies none the less, its rubbish hearing nothing at all. But no one can reply to 80 applicants a day.

So, Dan suggested I get in touch with a gaming site called Rebel Gaming as they might be interesting in my writing, turns out my timing was good and I'm now a freelance writer there, though its only a volunteer position. The Fallout: New Vegas piece I wrote last week was a sample for that position. While I've been working solidly since then (what on I'll reveal in a moment) I hope to have some time to write something when I get back home, I can't wait do the writing I usually do but have that discussion exposed to a wider audience.

Right now however, I am in the middle of a 2 week work experience in the CG department of Aardman. Aardman are practically a part of British culture at this point and I say this out of awe than arrogance, I can't believe how fucking lucky I am to be there and its all thanks to a Mr Richard Spence who I actually met doing a different work experience in Bristol years ago. For those who don't know they are the creators of Wallace and Gromit as well as feature films like Chicken Run, Flushed Away, and the more recent Pirates: An Adventure With Scientists. So far its been fantastic. Though I've signed some kind of 'don't steal our work' agreement, I plan to write a post about what I've learnt there if nothing else, but hopefully I can negotiate a few renders out just of the props I've been working on texturing and shading. We shall see...

Pixel Propaganda

Tom Bissell is still writing amazing stuff about games. This one focuses on the ever discussed but not widely played Spec Ops: The Line. A game I will check out some day.

A slightly more thoughtful preview of one of the many amazing games that have been delayed until 2013, Metro: Last Light. (Yes, its another sequel with a colon in the title).

The Reset game is still looking great and this post talks about how they're taking the most important elements of photoreal CG lighting and distilling them to run at realtime, specifically in this case a sun & sky setup much like the ones that appear in Mental Ray and Vray.

This article made me feel good because I sound positively well read in comparison to the game design students that appear in the opening anecdote. Formalising theoretical definitions is important. It helps us communicate better.

As one of the many many unemployed graduates, this Guardian video painted a pretty bleak picture of how even competent graduates are struggling pretty badly. Sigh.

I drank this question and answer thread from Jonothan Blow and Chris Hecker like nectar in the desert. Two amazing game designers bringing the wisdom to the masses.

More great Rango character behind the scenes footage.

This post is so old that half these links are over a month passed their sell by date so the entire olympic trailer has now aired, but this was the teaser I caught and I just love the style. The freckles, red cheeks, scrawniness, brawniness. Its in the details, great job from passion pictures, must get round to sending them a speculative CV. Along with the rest of the industry.