Archive for category short film blog

catching up

Lots of things going on, but I didn’t want to talk about some of it until the details were more concrete.

The first big news is that I’ll be starting a new job with March Entertainment this Monday, as a CG Animator. Apparently there’s some difference between “CG Animator” and “Character Animator” that I was unaware of, where CG Animators deal with more parts of the pipeline, so I’m expecting to have as much fun on the projects coming up as I did at Rover. Bonus points: I get to work with Dimos again. Nothing like doing a project with people you already meld with. Anyway I’m animating on the first project, which excites me a lot.

Ever since Ollie finished I’ve basically been on an enforced vacation. I say enforced because I generally don’t do the relaxing thing — traditionally I use downtime to learn or catch up on personal projects. But instead of doing that this time around, I’ve been doing absolutely nothing. For a few days I sat on the couch and caught up on DVR’d TV shows, especially Heroes and Chuck. I bought and played through most of Prince of Persia on PS3, which surprised me — unlike the last three, the fighting is great and doesn’t detract from the game at all. In fact, I’d say the balance is perfect. Story’s not bad either. I’ve also been going through Final Fantasy XII. I never had a chance to finish it after I bought it a year or two ago and it’s been waiting on me all this time. It’s also quite good. It’s the first FF I’ve enjoyed this much since FF7, and that’s saying something. The voice acting is superb, the plot is great, the writing / translation is well above the normal level, and even for a PS2 game the graphics are extremely well done.

Not that I haven’t been studying up on things. I’ve been doing some rig tests in Maya, working out some issues in Blender, and learning waaaay more than anyone should about using cloth sims as rigid body generators in Cinema 4D than anyone should.

I’ve also been framing through the Bolt Blu-Ray, as I have time. In the disc extras they mention how they simplified the paint on the backgrounds to keep the focus of each shot prominent, like the old 2D cartoons used to do. You don’t notice it unless you look for it, but it’s everywhere throughout the movie. Certain things are rendered in high quality. Others are so simplified that when you pause the movie you can barely tell what they are. Paint strokes are visible everywhere. If you’re an animation geek and are interested in seeing this, check out the distant skyscrapers in the city. Also check out the scene where Buttons is looking for something to bash Bolt over the head with, when they’re both in the moving truck after leaving NYC. That particular scene really shows what’s going on. It’s amazing I watched through the movie and never noticed it, not once.

What else… A lot of Papervision playing. I’ve had a look at all the 3D engines for Flash and out of all of them I like the way Papervision renders triangles the best. A lot of the other engines have issues with gaps between triangles and quads, and none seem to have any serious benefits over PV3D. There are a few limitations that I’m still trying to get over, especially with the limit on the number of triangles. It’s a bit like the DS, which can’t draw more than 2000 triangles per frame. (Or faces; I’m not sure which.) Even on my dual-core laptop the number of triangles you can use is pretty limited. Note that I don’t say limiting — a ceiling on the number of triangles you can use just means you have to be creative in your use of them. There’re also other things to speed up how the system works — anything I do in PV3D will used baked lighting, for example. I also plan on being very aggressive on keeping poly counts down. I’ve also been reading up on BSP tree creation (finally understand how portals work).

That is, if I use PV3D.

I’ve had enough time to think about games I want to make, and what I would need to know in order to get them made. I know that everything has to be done in stages, and that to make the game I really want to make, I have to build a better foundation. I need to build something small and simple to see the extent of what something small and simple takes, in order to use it as a lens to look at a larger project. Kind of like how doing a short film is like a microcosm for a feature, or even a TV show.

Every so often when I’m really bored or full of insomnia I’ll hit up The Video Game Name Generator and write down some of the best ones, like Go Go Basketball Gladiator or Nuclear Transvestite Experience. I write down the ones I love for possible future games (or domain names). One in particular would be good for a short game. We’ll see how that goes. Either way, I’ll probably end up using Unity. 2.5 just hit, and I could make web versions of the game just as easily with it as I could do something up in Flash.

Oh, and I rewrote the first chapter in my book. I don’t talk about the book on here hardly at all, but it’s something that’s always going in the background despite everything else I’m doing.

Heh… I guess I didn’t do “nothing” per se, but I do feel a hell of a lot more relaxed. Oh, and did I mention that I did a quick redesign of my main site?

exciting developments

Been too busy at work to thing about anything other than fur and rendering, buy a lot’s happened in the past few days in 3D and with school.

For starters, the story for my short film has totally changed. ^_^ It’s become a merger between the story of the grandmother and the cockroach, and the original Ramswoole maide story. I’ll post more about it when I have a finished leica reel, which should be some time next week.

I was finally able to get the Wipix no-flip leg working in Blender and that makes me happy. I still need to finish the rig and get Briar weighted, but I’m feeling a lot better about my decision to go with Blender for this short. Every time I have time to sit down and work in it, things just flow along.

As far as 3D news goes, Modo 4’s first set of preview vids are up at Luxology. Normally I watch Modo with only a passing interest, but there’s one video where a few thousand instances of a Rhino are spun around in the preview renderer, with full radiosity / GI going and volumetric lighting. It’s not unlike the speed of FPrime, although the instancing is something the old LW couldn’t do without third-party plugins (and I don’t think FPrime worked with them).

But that brings me to the second big CG thing of the week: Lightwave Core was announced and Newtek is already accepting pre-orders. There was a serious snafu with how the reveal went, but what was shown has me pretty excited– essentially an underlying architecture not unlike that of Houdini / Maya, but with Lightwave workflows and a fully-open C++ / Python SDK. It’s also using the Collads format as its regular scene format, which means it’s already a step ahead of all other packages with regards to interoperability. They said they’ve made a few extensions to the format, so just how compatible the LW Core files will be with other Collada-reading apps remains to be seen, but it’s a step in the right direction (IE: away from the horribly flawed and closed-source FBX).

There were a lot of buzzwords bandied around, and you can see the full tech FAQ on the new Core site. If you preorder (they call it purhasing a HardCore membership; man was that a bad name choice) you get access to the betas, with an apparent release date of the first build sometime in Q1. I’m remaining cautiously optimistic. If they deliver, they’ll be in a good place to pick up disgruntled users of Maya and XSI.

Okay, I’m actually hitting “post” this time; I have about three drafts on my iPhone that are now irrelevant. ^_^

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little victories

We continue to push on at work. I reasoned out a few things about Maya’s internal workings this week (in particular, how references interact with each other), and I feel like, for the first time in all the years since I started using the program, that I might finally be getting used to it. That thought scared me.

On the Ramswoole front, I got an initial approval from my Mentor on using custom rigs and models. I need to have a test done using Briar (the main character) within the next week or two, though, and probably one with the Rock Titan done soon after. I have a working model of Briar already that’s unrigged, but I think I can have all but her face rigged up this week. Also need to change some of the model’s topology and fix her proportions but I think thats only an evening or two’s worth of work. Luckily because of how Blender uses rigs and applies them to meshes, I should be able to swap out my old model for the updated one I plan on creating when I get the new designs from my friend.

I also need to slightly redesign my current Wipix leg, reverse-foot IK setup for a character with animal legs.

The next challenge is the Rock Titan. I’ve been working on the design and I think he’s going to be modular now, with different rocks for different parts of his body. It’ll cut down on skinning time and I’ll also be able to have a bit more fun with his reveal.

cinema 4d scripting, part 2

Three posts in three days! I don’t actually have as much time as It appears I do; the iPhone WordPress app is very useful.

I’m finally at a good place with my rigging library of COFFEE functions that now when I code out a set or rig steps, things are behaving as I expect. I’ve recreated the “Wipix Leg” in code (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s a method for making a stable IK solution without the 90 degree pole vector flip trick in used in Maya), and I’m now at a point where I have to do some rig redesigning. In other words, I’m no longer fighting the code misbehaving– now I’m back to working on conceptual stuff.

I do plan on releasing some of what I’ve learned either for free here or on a DVD at some point down the line, with my function library.

One thing I found out that really put a thorn in my side is that my constraint code was made useless by changes to the Constraint tag in R11. By cleaning up how the tag works, Maxon has rendered the tag completely useless when working from COFFEE. I’m not sure whether Py4D will be able to do what’s needed; I won’t be able to begin porting my rig to Python until the whole thing is finished. However, because you can get selected objects as arrays through Py4D (and not through COFFEE) maybe there will be better constraint code workarounds in my future.

Also nice to discover was that the Wipix Leg works just fine in Blender. Stable leg IK was the one thing for which I didn’t have a setup I liked in Blender, but that problem is now sorted. Still thinking I’ll be using Blender for my short film because of it’s speed of use. I can build that leg from scratch in Blender in twenty minutes; it takes significantly longer in both C4D and Maya.

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story pitches

This week’s homework was to make up three story pitches for our final project at Animation Mentor. I’ve actually been working on this one idea (really, anything surrounding this original character I created) for some time now, and I’ve wanted to do my short film on her since before I applied to AM. However, we did need three ideas to meet the grading requirements, each of them in the format you see below.

Here are my three ideas:

Pitch #1: “A Cross Titan” starring Briar — A Ramswoole Maide Adventure™

We open: on a close-up of a flower in a clearing after a forest. The titles fade, what looks like roots on the flower twitch, become legs, and the flower walks away. As it leaves, Briar enters. She’s a faun, young and thin, with ram horns on her head.

She’s obviously hungry, and is looking around for edible things as she walks down the path out of the forest. Then she sees it: across a bridge that spans a gorge, there’s a single tree with a single, ripe, delicious-looking fruit hanging from a low branch. She is elated, and walks quickly towards the bridge

Until: she steps on what looks like a stone, until it opens its eye and glares, angrily. We see her from behind as she nears the bridge, and a shadow overtakes her. She turns just in time to see a rock Titan swinging an arm down to smash her. She ducks, and it misses her but demolishes the bridge anchor posts on her side of the gorge. The bridge collapses. Briar exclaims wordlessly at the fruit, and at the Titan.

And then: the Titan attacks again. She dodges to the left, trying to circle around it, but it’s too large. One massive arm comes down to block her way; she turns tail and runs to the right. The Titan shifts, bringing its other arm down. It lands inches from her feet and the ground shatters.

She looks left, and right; she can’t see a way out.

And then: she notices that the Titan has plenty of space between its legs. It is closing on her now, pushing her to the edge of the gorge. She steadies herself, waiting for its swing. Both arms come up, and as it brings them down for the killing blow she dives between the Titan’s legs. She tucks into a roll, and on the other side of the Titan she mule-kicks him as hard as she can. The Titan loses balance and falls.

Close up on her as she waits for the inevitable crashing sound!

Until finally: she turns to see why the Titan has not crashed, and she sees that the Titan is just the right length to act as a temporary bridge. She crosses happily, pausing while on his back to give him a victorious face, then runs to grab her fruit.

(Optional, depending on time:) After the credits roll, we see her standing near the Titan’s hands, eating her fruit. She’s slowly kicking the fingers on each hand off the edge of the gorge.

Moral: In every obstacle there is opportunity. Also: Never cross a Ramswoole Maide.

Pitch #2: “Not My Kind of Dinner Guest” starring Granny MacGee

We open: on a kindly old woman in a living room. There’s a television, a reclining chair, and a TV tray atop which is a smoking TV dinner. The woman sits gingerly and looks about to enjoy a quiet evening in with her stories and meal.

Until: a cockroach appears from behind the television, frightening her. At first, it stays near the television so she tries to ignore it, but she can’t seem to take a bite with it there. She throws a ball of yarn at it. The cockroach dodges.

And then: it advances towards her. She freaks, stands (more nimbly than one would expect), and backs away. She grabs the knife off her TV dinner tray and tosses it, expertly, at the cockroach. It dodges again and continues to advance, pushing Granny MacGee down the hall. She tosses things she can put her hands on — a vase (from which she gently removes flowers beforehand), a coat rack, even a bowling ball off a bowling trophy on a table in the hallway. When that misses, she throws the table.

And then: she is backed into a corner with a closed door blocking her path. She feels for the knob but can’t find it. The roach comes closer, and closer. She feels her clothing and pockets, patting down her body to find anything else to throw, and her hands find her mouth. A light goes on. She pulls out her dentures and, just as the roach gets within arms reach, she brings the dentures down as hard as she can, splattering the bug.

Finally: she returns to her chair, picks up her fork, and flips on the TV. Then she realizes she can’t eat without her teeth.

Moral: Desperation in moderation.

Pitch #3: [ Untitled at the moment ] Starring Roger Jolly (Yes, the One and Only)

We open: on a pirate ship.

There’s a pirate with a sword, pushing a man tied with ropes to walk the plank.

The man pleads for his life. The pirate yawns.

The man gets on his knees and begs and begs! The pirate gestures with the sword for the man to get on with it.

The man comes off the plank and kisses the pirate’s boot. The pirate gets fed up (“Oh, for the love of Davy…”), and kicks the man backwards, off the plank.

The man scrambles! He holds on with his teeth! Then he falls.

He screams and screams and then: He finds out the ocean is only ankle deep.

The pirate looks over the edge, smiling, and loses his grin when he finds the man not dead.

The man in the “water” sniffs the water and throws up a little, you know, in his mouth.

Zoom out through a series of quick cuts! We find out that the entire thing happened inside a sky-colored cereal bowl.

The man who was eating the cereal is caught with the spoon in mid-air, mouth wide open. He picks up a carton of milk from OS and sniffs it. He throws up a little, you know, in his mouth.

Finally, we see the milk carton land in a garbage can.

Moral: Don’t drink expired milk unless you’re ready for wicked hallucinations.

There’s one other thing I wanted to post today. Last week I did my first bit of texture painting at work. That alone was interesting, but I also used Blender to do a bit of texture baking onto the character so that I wouldn’t have to paint the whole thing in 2D in Photoshop. The essential technique is to import the mesh of the character with UVs into Blender (or to UV it in Blender, seeing as Blender is still the best UVing tool on the market), then to add a texture that’s projected differently and bake the projection down into the UV layout. This way you can more easily lay complex patterns and colors onto your mesh without having to pay for ZBrush or BodyPaint 3D. Both of those packages are great at what they do, but for AM students just trying to spice up a character they’re a bit expensive.

Anyway, here’s the video I made. Hope it helps someone.

back at work

I had planned on heading in to work Saturday and Sunday after I got back from Puerto Rico, but was told to enjoy the last two days of my vacation before coming in for two more hard weeks. Score.

I did get some sleep in. A friend of TJ’s whom I met Friday night reminded me of keeping the room dark, so I’ve been playing with a sleep mask which seems to have somewhat of an effect.

As far as my film goes, I spent most of Saturday in Lightwave 9. I’d had a lot of crashing issues before when using dynamics in the beginning; under 9.31 the cereal tutorial on the official videos site was impossible. However, all’s well now.

There were two things that I wanted to use dynamics on: one is a sugar cube for this site. I tried a bunch of different ways to make sugar cubes using only textures / displacement with simple geometry, but nothing looked right. Then I had the idea of using hard-body dynamics on a bunch of tiny cubes and letting them settle into the shape I wanted.

Interestingly, bounding-sphere collisions between the few hundred or so tiny cubes ended up creating a nicer-looking sugar cube than using bounding-box collisions. The boxes also took a magnitude longer to calculate. Anyway, I won’t bother posting the interim images since it’ll become the header of this blog once get it finished.

The other thing I wanted to test in LW was whether or not I could use it for the effects shot in my movie, the bridge collapse. I’m almost 100% sure I can do what I need with ClothFX and a hard-body FX link, and it’ll be easier to accomplish in LW than in anything else I have. People told me when I bought it that I was crazy for doing so, and still tell me that, but I keep finding new reasons that warrant my purchase.

On the Cinema 4D front I made some scripting progress. The supplied language, COFFEE, lacks a lot of what I consider necessary utility functions, things like easily applying constraints or even something as simple as being able to tell which object was selected first in a list. Yesterday I got through making a function for applying IK constraints. It’s really simple, taking the starting object, the ending object, the goal object, and the pole vector object as parameters. I went through a few versions of the function (again, it’s really simple — only five or six lines long) until I was happy with how it worked in the scheme of the whole script.

The next thing is aim constraints. They’re a little harder because of how C4D handles them, but I think I sorted out one of the issues I was having late last night, so all that’s left is to test out my idea.

puerto rico at the half-way point

Well, not actually half-way. I leave on Monday. But close enough.

It’s been a nice trip. Mostly I’ve been rampantly narcoleptic; two days ago I fell asleep at around 9pm and managed to stay asleep for twelve hours. That’s an impressive feat for a chronic insomniac.

My mother loved her gift, and my sister is slowly using hers (she was promised a shopping spree up to an unspecified dollar amount; she’s planning on spending the rest at Eaton Center when we get to Toronto). Me, I got this really lovely hand-bound, calf-skin journal filled with blank pages. It’s the kind of book you’d open, expecting to find an Age of Myst. It’s lovely and I as yet have no idea what’s going in it. That’s the problem with really nice blank paper — you want to fill it with really nice words and sketches.

My sister and I saw Desperaux on Christmas day, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plotting was well-paced, the animation was mostly nice (some lip sync and the motion of secondary characters notwithstanding), the rendering was top notch (with depth of field used sparingly, but to good effect), and while the story did feel cut a bit short I thought the overall piece came off quite well. It’s not the kind of fairytale to which you’d take a Disney-loving crowd– for one, it begins with the death of a Queen. And technically it’s a death due to idiocy; since I doubt the rat gave her a heart attack, then I have to assume she drowned after fainting into her bowl of soup. Anyway, it’s a very nice film that I almost skipped and am glad I didn’t. Sigourney Weaver’s narration is icing on the cake.

The weather’s been nice (nice being a relative term, as I don’t consider 31 and humid nice), and there will be many pictures uploaded to Flickr once I’ve returned and have had a chance to sort through them. Bringing my camera but leaving my laptop turned out to be a good idea. Aside from photos, I’ve gotten some design work done on two projects I’m looking forward to starting on come January, and worked out a few other things on paper that I’ll be needing for projects already in progress.

Speaking of which, my current project at Red Rover will be winding up soon(ish) after I get back, but Class 5 will begin at Animation Mentor, so time’s still going to be at a premium for me for a while. Lots of research to do for my short film. I feel like Maya may be the only software that can accomplish everything I want to do in the timeframe I have (since I’m modeling and rigging both characters in my short on my own and will also be doing a bridge collapse), but at the same time there’s this one thing I learned about myself over the past few months that keeps nagging at me:

The less time I spend in Maya, the happier I am.

Naturally I’m torn. I’m also torn on the rendering, although that’s a problem that won’t really need tackling until after animation is finished. Still, I’d like to have a least an idea of how the final stills are going to look before I start animating, because the look may limit the kinds of motion I can use. Dimos said something that I took to heart a few weeks ago: a strong silhouette isn’t just about the outline of the character, but can also incorporate the color of the character’s skin. For example, if a character has light arms but is wearing a dark t-shirt, you can get away with the arm passing in front of the chest more easily because the coloring will make it stand out. I’ve been mulling that over in my mind as I start planning out my film, as well as a host of other tidbits he’s passed along over the past few years.

On the animation side of things, it’s down to a race between Blender (possibly 2.5, if the release hits in time), Maya 2008, Lightwave 9.6, or Cinema 4D R11. I’ve had this dream of doing the final renders using a Renderman-compliant renderer like 3Delight, but since I already own C4D and Lightwave and both have decent renderers, I may end up importing the animation into one of them and using one of their renderers. Of the two I’d lean towards Lightwave because C4D’s subsurface scattering leaves a lot to be desired (or requires more tricks than it should before becoming useful, tricks I don’t really have the time to learn at the moment). When I get home one of the first things I want to do is a few render tests out of Lightwave to see how easy its node-based system is for getting some of the looks I want.

So much to think through, so little time!

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