The Pixel Crush

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

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Evolution of an Ident

14th of January, negotiations begin...

David's initial design with directions

My grand ambitions...
...and unrealistic expectations

Modelling begins

Animation begins

Manuscript ideas are protoyped

An extreme example of the mental ray bevel shader

A classy example of the mental ray bevel shader

Many months pass- employment, side projects, and apathy prevent further progress.

16th of May, production resumes but quickly falters again. Creative dead ends and  over ambition takes its toll.

Tuning peg, so far so good

Cello Head? Just give up now.
Many more months pass, same feeble excuses.

9th of October, David breaks radio silence and I threaten myself with a fictional deadline while he posits a real one.

Text and motion blur are introduced!
Textures appear and I make use of little spheres to help me gauge how the materials are working.

I use a layered shader to blend between paint and scratched metal.

The layout of the scene

A text change is requested, and the box gets the axe too

Re-texturing and final logo

Specular highlights: check.

I use NUKE for the first time on a side project

Saturday, 19 October 2013


I've recently been working on my game modelling in my spare time, with hope of relevant work next year.
The brief: make crab tank, make painterly, make low poly.

Here is the concept, cribbed from cghub courtesy of one of Naughty Dog's concept artists.

While its quite lovely, it leaves a lot of the form of the tank to the imagination, relying on a strong silhouette to convey all it needs to.  Thats fine, until you have to figure out how it might work in three dimensions, so I took the concept into Photoshop and tried to create solid shapes from each of the different parts. Also there are some crab diagrams, never know when they might be useful.
That ultimately was not as useful an exercise as I had hoped and it turnout out the tried and trusted technique of blocking out the shapes in 3D was far more effective. From this blocky outline I was able to then begin adding more detail while retaining the proportions I had laid out.

This is the high poly (lots of faces on the geometry) mesh, I made a couple of mistakes here because I was too eager to get the things into Mudbox and start roughing it up in the sculpt phase. I should have gone in and refined the mesh, some of the unsubdivided meshes were too low poly. Another thing that would have been good to take into account would have been the distribution of edge loops, as I had only added them where needed- as you do when modelling for games, but Mudbox actually works much much better with evenly spaced faces so it can subdivide more cleanly.
But I went into Mudbox instead and added pitted surfaces, scratches, gouges, it was good fun.
Unfortunately I went to town and ended up creating a 7gb sculpt that no longer ran properly on my desktop, weirdly my laptop has twice the amount of RAM and Griffith saved the day, I was able to export all the AO and Normal maps from there.

Then began the texturing, I was trying to go for a cross between the texture style of Journey and the messiness of the original concept. These two styles are slightly at odds due to the clean gradients of Journey and the dirty oils of the concept.

Pretty pleased with how it was looking at this stage:
Maya render:
I then exported the whole thing into Unity. I recently bought the marmoset skyshop in a sale and used some of its image based lighting and shading techniques to creating a little scene with the crab tank in.

With a lot of luck you can actually walk around in that scene yourself using the webplayer below. W,A,S, D to move, mouse to look around.

Edit: Yeah screw that, you can download the folder here if you want to play

Monday, 30 September 2013

Grumpy Downton Deer

Perhaps the greatest dramatic climax in 2012's pivotal Downton Abbey Christmas special.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Reel 2013, plus extra Chevron bits

I cut together a new showreel from the work I have completed over the last year, it can be seen here:

I wasn't able to include everything I would have liked but hopefully this gives a fair impression of how I've developed. It was especially cool to be able to show a piece of Darkside, and the Chevron commercials.

But not everything is shiny enough to fit into a two minute reel, so I've made the breathtakingly arrogant assumption that people want to see all the work-in-progress bits. So here are some of them, presented in the fashion that one might present the bed with a pile of washing.

Chevron Bird

This is the process of building one of the main cars used in the commercial that I didn't light.

In preparation for lighting I had fun tweaking the shaders and making them look as much like fruit as possible.

And a disco ball, as a parting gift.

Time from a break from all this money and success...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

I Made Some Unimportant Things

When you're stuck, making anything at all is a victory.
Sometimes you need a new tool.
 It doesn't have to be a sunset, a grey day will do,
 You just need some friends
To inspire you.

And then you can make again.

I'm slowly starting to create things again, me and Jenny made this time lapse together. It took me a long time to finally accept that not every idea I have has to be the most important thing ever conceived to be worth pursuing. How obvious is that? I made a (self indulgent) investment in my creativity and bought a beautiful journal to scribble and write things in, it came highly recommended from the Cartoleria behind the Pantheon in Rome, so it clearly has mystical qualities. All these things are small steps toward rehabilitating myself, I feel better already.
First Person Journal Action: Immersive
P.S After Effects has a raw editor for RAW sequences!? Very, very cool. Lovely to work with but slow to load images, unsurprisingly. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

If Pages Were Polygons

Gone Home is so honest, it has no hook that pulls you in on pretences of addictive mechanics or xp systems. This is not really a surprise from an indie game about exploration but its (seeming) lack of  guidance allowed me to finish it in 3 leisurely sessions. Its not that its not compelling, it is, but its also so much less clingy and demanding than the honed structure of a AAA action game that refuses to leave you pause for breath. The details, of which there are many, had time to mingle and form the sense of history that lent the house, and my time inside it, an authenticity.

The best writers are the ones who tell you about thoughts you've had, but you subconsciously thought you were the only one who thought that way. Its such a powerful way of creating a bond with a character or authorial voice to have it reveal a part of yourself and say "me too". There is much of Gone Home that is just so human that its so easy to care about and empathise with these characters, regardless of their gender or sexuality or upbringing or ideologies, you identify with them as people. They are so totally undefined by these labels which are undeniably diverse.

When theres so much scrutiny on representation in games now, for good reason, it makes perfect sense to rebuild how to do that from the ground up using some of the oldest tools in the box. 90% of what you learn about the characters is from text relating to them, letters they've authored, notes crumpled into the bin, university leaflets, a gig poster. Literature allows the characters to have a very pure voice, there is no physical appearance or actions to distract from the words and thoughts that come from that person.

Unless effectively making a novel in three dimensional space is cheating and does more problem dodging than solving. But it works, so it doesn't matter.

So all this stuff exists around the house and some totally masterful level design acts as the structure that lays it all out into a coherent narrative. Of all the games this draws from (Bioshock being the clear example given the team's heritage) Cluedo seems to be the most apt comparison. But if Cluedo were a drama rather than a murder mystery. Who did what in which room is the process that plays out continuously, but rather than reaching for the most dramatic possible outcome at every turn like The Last of Us, Gone Home is restrained to the last. Not allowing itself to undermine its story with spectacle or shocks. 

Some slightly contrived key based gating aside, it feels so natural to follow the architecture of the house as an allegory for the chapters of a book. The foyer, an introduction. The study, a man's struggle with his career and the relationship with his daughter. The bedroom, a woman's struggle with her marriage. Each environment betrays it's inhabitants past, which makes sense in the medium of games where the currency of meaning is so often the movement through spaces.

It always comes back to Sam, she connects every room  with a secret passage like she connects every character with an interaction. Who didn't have a love affair with the word 'juxtaposed' during secondary school? Its that kind of observation in the writing, the one off use of a word that denotes a specific time and a specific kind of person- and it spans years of character's lives, and renders layer upon layer of believability until I just wanted to meet her.

I feel like metaphors only reveal themselves to me after words have been written, and I've churned out a few redundant ideas before things start to make sense. The house representing the family, a group of units that connect and coexist, each with stories to reveal. Its really lovely, and effective. I feel that maybe Gone Home as a role model for games is perhaps more significant than it is as an experience. Its a great experience, but the statements it makes about how games like this can be seem far grander than the small and personal story it contains. But there is little more affecting than a grand statement illustrated through a personal story.