The Pixel Crush

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

Monday, 30 April 2012

Kernel Condensed

Lets try something new:


I'd somehow forgotten about my awesome lambert lighting workflow, its so fast, I love it!
Plus it looks so gorgeous its almost a shame that all that colour gets absorbed by the textures in the final render.

The beauty of final gather, in this sequence the use is minimal and its almost more of a glorified and accurate ambient light. But much slower. Though I have started playing with the min and max radius settings which control the area and therefore speed of the final gather. Above is before, below is after.
These renders are from ages ago. I couldn't figure out how to make this exterior shot look better and you know what always makes things better?...
...rim lights, they emphasise outline and form. and help Leonard stand out from the background, these are special rim lights that only effect Leonard and nothing else in the scene.

Even from a distance they work well. (Enlarge to see them working well).

After referencing in all the props and sets this scene still look worringly bare, so we got our trusty 2nd year Sebastian to jump on it and conjure up some details for the top of Leonard's skyscraper, with limited time he managed to generate some models, and faithful Ryan completed the task admirably with textures, prop placement and cleanup.
 Just when I thought I was done with the greenhouse...

Another sneaky trick in lighting is to create a light that only emits specular (shiny) light rather than diffuse (soft) light, and then attach it to only the eyes of a character. This allows you to create lots of tight highlights that bring out that glistening, alive look, in a character's eyes. As seen below (enlarge to see below).
I was being useless with my feedback for a particularly tricky shot to comp so I made this as a template for the city composites, to communicate the visual style I had in mind. It still amazes me what you can do to a plain render with compositing. God rays, lens smut, and lens flare save the day.
That post was not as succinct as I originally planned, but I think thats a good thing.

Pixel Propaganda

Richard Lemarchand, a great game designer whose words made into into my dissertation, recently left Naughty Dog after working on the Uncharted games. He's gone to teach, travel, and make experimental games. I want to go with him.

The guys at Digital Domain made a making of for real steel and the use of Vray renderer in it. Its really cool, some great breakdowns, and a lot of talk about the est features of Vray, makes me wish mental ray had them.

Creative director at Irrational Games, Ken Levine always has interesting things to say about writing for games, mostly because they way he writes for them work so well with the medium, despite coming from a cinematic background.

I still can't quite believe several things about this trailer. Firstly its running on proprietary technology, secondly that its realtime, thirdly that it was made by 2 people, and lastly that the game its promoting actually sounds legitimately interesting. Very very exciting.

Also legitimately exciting: when people who write interesting things about games fling down their pen and exasperation and go and make them themselves. Nels Anderson wrote a great blog and now he's a gameplay designer at Klei working on Mark of the Ninja. Which looks like an awesome, intensional stealth game, where all the games systemic elements are visually represented to maximise player understanding and agency.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Whole Lotta Len

Weekends are traps. You're powering along one second kicking keys and taking frames, then its friday evening and you go to bed. Now its Saturday morning, late morning, now its the afternoon, your heads so fuzzy you can't get out of bed. Its more like a weakend its so hard to do anything, I swear if you just looped back to Monday on Friday evening this would not be a problem. But I feel better now, and know Monday will be easier for it.

It was a big week with the presentation of the Edit In Progress that Charlie did a majestic job with. SO MUCH ANIMATION got done for it there's only a couple of blocks of scenes left to start, the rest is in hand or finished. We blew ourselves away, which was great for morale.

What I've been up to is scrambling to keep up with the rendering to be done as a consequence of this, its been great to have new environments to light as I am thoroughly sick of the greenhouse, its heavy, and slow, and gorgeous. But there are still some key shots left to do there as the dynamics are now ready for them.

These are two frames from shots Hugh has been working on.

I had a lot of fun lighting the airlock, its a small space with clearly defined sources of light in the two windows and HAL light. Its quick to render and gives a lot of control and definition to the lighting artist. I started by creating the base lights to work from and got some pleasing looks but were too hot looking, almost furnace like.

I experimented a lot with area lights for the windows as they fit the shape well and had a more realistic falloff in terms of shape. But they also had a tricky intensity different to the spotlights I used in the shed which made it had to get everything lit, hence the blow out furnace look. It wasn't until the second airlock shot I lit that I tried the CPU meltingly expensive area light with raytraced shadows. The area light with raytraced shadows is the most realistic lighting tool bar image based methods, and it is slow and stunning. I applied one to the outside of the door and it evenly lit Leonard's face, beard, and mask so realistically it made the old light look retarded. Its something mental ray is moving more and more towards as they refine and speed up their raytracing stuff.

While I love this shot, perhaps my favourite so far, the way the depth map area light illuminates the face, beard, and fur is very uneven and oddly exposed compared to the one below where, his beard in the correct shade of grey, looks soft and realistically lit, his skin shader is scattering correctly, and his mask has a nice rim lighting to it. Its hard to see the direct improvement when I don't have the render of how bad this second shot looked before, the mask was just a white blob.

So now I'm on the last frontier of lighting. The exterior. I already have the city lights to work from but they are by far the weakest in my eyes and aren't much of a starting point. It also doesn't help that the top of Leonard's skyscraper is very barren looking, even the texture is low-res, so we've drafted in Sebastian again to pretty it up after the great stuff he did in the city.

Pixel Propaganda

Our own Tom wrote a good post about what he wants out of our final major projects. He even commends Jake on answering the call of the keyframes and stepping up to a task that he wasn't necessarily prepared for, like many of the Kernel team have had to.

And interesting announcement came from a studio formed by one of the writers at Rock Paper Shotgun about an open world game they are making about AI, autonomy, terrain generation, and not making the player the centre of the gameplay systems. Also it has an English aristocracy themed character aesthetic. Awesome.

Someone wrote a profile on Jonathan Blow, who I love, and there's a bit in the article where he's hanging out playing Littlebigplanet, which I love, with Tom Bissell, an author who I love. Never wanted to be somewhere so much in my life. Though on the whole the article takes a very negative stance on games in general which is a shame.

There's been some controversy due to the amount of bigotry towards EA due to the same sex relationships in their games. As a proud lesbian in Mass Effect 3 I think everyone should read Charlie Brooker's excellent response to these people, even Stephen Fry got involved. Says something about the cultural awareness games now have.

There's a lot of stuff I have to share thats piled up between posts, and this is an amazing interview from the creator of Journey.

Then there's some stuff on Peter Molyneux leaving Lionhead to make 'great' things. I love that attitude at this point in his career.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Painstaking Pixels

I don't know where to start.

When I'm writing these blogs I usually go through the images and renders I've saved over the week that I want to share and base the writing around them, I didn't used to do that, but they've become so long and sprawling and infrequent that its the only way I can remember.

So if you'll please turn to figure 1.0

Here we have an image of Moss Scott, the mascot for Kernel during studio time. He partly exists due to the number of times I asked Ryan to cover everything in moss, partly as a nest for the rivet we found in the studio (I think) that matches Leonard's rivet perfectly, and partly to keep spirits up with his jokes.

Figure 2.0
This is the look of the final knowledge cloud and its thanks to Kai's fluid fanciness that it looks this detailed, I borrowed a combination of his and the script's lights to light it like this. He's also placed a particle system in the center which orbits the central light like a nucleus. This was the first time I'd properly used lights with a negative intensity before. Its great because you can actually subtract light from the surroundings and its what gives the cloud that deep red underside.

Figure 3.0
This is the shot that the mask was made for, to properly reveal Leonard, but that strap has been a complete bastard to simulate. Not only did it take forever to fix as it intersected with his head and face over and over again, when it came to render time Maya just ignored the cache and re-simulated it, managing to get the strap right through his nose and mouth for the last 50 or so frames. Why?
I love the red and blue colour palette of this shot's lighting. What was useful about this shot was it forced me to make some final tweaks to the fur and eye shaders so they held up to close scrutiny a little better.
Figure 3.1
Not what he signed up for.

Figure 4.0
I've taken to lighting Leonard alone at first in some scenes now as they are so heavy with geometry and dynamics that it takes half the render time just 'translating the frame' which essentially is it copying everything to the RAM I think, so it can render. This way it copies relatively little and I can start seeing what changes I need to make without have to wait 5 minutes.

Figure 4.1
I got carried away and starting compositing this one. Delicious. You can just see the beginning of Liam's lights and the animated shader I worked on with him. It should look spectacular in motion.

Figure 5.0
As Len's darkest moment where he realises his oxygen is broken, I figured it was time to take that darkness quite literally. And also time to break out the lens flare, but not too much, keep it classy.
Whats weird is this was rendered with final gather, which seems to have covered up the sub surface effect I was getting through his ear. I believe this is because the diffuse light is stronger than the scattered light, but I don't understand why there are such dark bits in his ear. I may have to fake the final gather to get that back, I'd turned it right down anyway so its only go to speed up render time.

We have around 5 weeks left. Its going to be interesting. I am still optimisitic.

Pixel Propaganda

I'm proud to say I understand 90% of what they're talking about in the new release of mental ray's update notes.

An article I'd been meaning to read for weeks turned out to be pretty interesting. Its on one of Pixar's cinematographers. She talks about how her painting allowed her make some observations that helped improve the atmospherics lighting in one of their films.

A good interview with the father of the Metal Gear games. he talks about why and how he innovates and some of his feelings about his own creative successes and failures.