Tag Archives: VFX

June 2, 2013

So, Final Major Project is over and handed in, which means my degree is also finished. There have been odds and ends requested from tutors and its left me feeling like I’m in some sort of strange limbo. The degree is finished, but with all these extra hand ins (that dont even affect my marks) its hard to move onto the stage of tidying up my CV ready to apply for jobs.

Anyway, here is my final showreel, which has a variety of my best work from 2nd and 3rd year.
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This is the deformations and rig demo for the elephant rig.
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This is the deformations and rig demo for the toony monkey rig.
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This is the unfinished version of my elephant advert. As I have mentioned previously, this project had a bumpy journey to get to hand in and sadly it never quite made it to completion. However, I thought I would upload it anyway for those curious about the project.
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There is no doubt in my mind that what I have learnt, more than anything else, during this project, is be confident about who you choose to work with. Any concerns or worries you may have about an individual’s ability, enthusiasm or productivity probably exist for a reason. If you choose to work with them, make sure you have a contingency plan in case things fall through. A project is only as good as the sum of its parts. If one, or more, of the collaborators is unreliable then the parts they are creating could well be unreliable too.

Working in a student environment differs from the workplace in one major respect, and that is your ability to replace team members. In the workplace, if an employee is not hitting their deadlines, or reaching their targets, the employer has several options. The employee must be warned and spoken to about the problem, but if their work does not improve, the employer can take action. They can shift the individual onto other, less important, projects and, where necessary, make more meaningful threats. At university, there is a limited pool of “employees” most of whom are already “employed” by someone else. You cannot remove someone from your project if things go wrong, all you can do is look for someone else to also do the work, and use the most successful version. If every other student is already working on other projects, then there is little you can do but try to encourage those you are working with to work harder and produce something better.

In the workplace, it is also very clear what level of authority an individual has. You know who your managers are, who you need to listen to and who you should respect. As a student director, you may be in charge of the project, but you have no more real authority than any of the students working with you. This makes it much harder to put any impact or strength behind the words of a verbal warning. There is very little that you can back it up with.

These lessons were, unfortunately, learnt through the unreliability of those I worked with this year. Trying to pull everything together has been extremely stressful. Last year I promised myself I would leave at least one project that wasn’t a collaborative effort, so that if anything went wrong I had a project I could drop in an emergency so that I could devote the time to whatever needed it the most. For some reason, I forgot that promise and once again, all four of my projects were collaborative. This meant that not only were other people relying on things from me before they could start working, but I was often waiting for work from them. When there is a personal project to work on, this eases the tension of waiting for work, because you still have something to devote your time to.

Some essential time was wasted on this project due to having to find new collaborators at such a late stage and I wasnt able to start rendering until May. This meant that many of my planned scenes had to be dropped and I cut down the advert to a more manageable format. Unfortunately, in the end, so much time was lost that even this shortened version was not achieved. All three shots were rendered and passed on to the compositor, but with only a week to try and complete everything, she didn’t stand a chance. This was made harder as the animation for the final shot did not match up with the movement of the bear. The new animator had been unable to get things any cleaner in the short amount of time I gave her and my compositor was unable to match move the bear without a lot more time, which we didn’t have.

I am disappointed that I was unable to pull the elephant project through to completion, but I believe that I did everything I could to get it as far as possible. If I were to do the project again, I would pick the team I worked with more carefully. I would respond more quickly to late work and give verbal warnings sooner. I would also be faster to look for alternative collaborators if my team ignored deadlines and feedback. However, this final option would be very dependant on other students having projects they could change/drop.

April 25, 2013

Yesterday was the deadline for our first hand in. Its a chance to collate everything we have done so far and hand it in to the tutors to get some feedback before the actual deadline. Obviously nothing is finished, because we still have three weeks of work left to do, but its nice to be able to show the progress so far.

When I hand in the final versions of these I will be adding text to explain the rig demos and make them a bit clearer.

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February 23, 2013

So, it finally happened. Yesterday was pretty intense and incredibly cold. Apparently one of the weather sites quoted Cardiff centre as being at about -6C (with windchill). It was absolutely bitter. I felt ever so bad for Rachel, Dylan and Hazel, and indescribably grateful that they had come to help despite the icy conditions.

We decided to get the biggest and most complicated shot out the way first, before Rachel, Dylan and Hazel arrived in Cardiff. Amy (my graduate compositor) and Jon (my 2nd year Motion Design cameraman) were an incredible help throughout the day. Helping me to judge camera angles for the best shots.

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We spent some time setting up outside Cardiff Library before we finally got the green screen out and set to work. It was great fun, but since I managed to land the job of running from the elephant, it got tiring quite quickly. All too soon I needed to go and pick up Rachel and her kids from the station and I left the rest getting a few more takes of the elephant shot as well as some crowd shots and general reaction shots.

Once we got back I sent everyone but myself, Amy and Jon back to uni to warm up as Dylan was feeling shy and didn’t like such a large number of people. Dylan was an absolute natural. He rarely looked at the camera and he got almost every shot right first time. What a fantastic little star.

By lunch time we had got every shot we needed and I sent Rachel, Dylan and Hazel off to have some lunch and warm up whilst we got a few more shots with the monkey toy. In the end, Dylan didn’t want to take the monkey back home with him, so he now has pride of place on my desk.

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After a stop in the union for lunch, we headed out to try and get some more shots. However it was getting a quite overcast and dark, even at half two, so I think it likely we will have to reshoot those. We finished the day with just two shots we hadn’t managed, and possibly an extra one if the afternoon ones turn out to be too dark.

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Whenever we filmed something that would include the elephant, I made sure to take a set of photos of a chrome ball at various exposures. These will be used for the lighting in Maya. My chrome ball was a bit smaller than ones I have used in the past, and the camera’s zoom quite small, so I will have a bit of work in photoshop getting rid of myself and the camera in each shot.

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February 19, 2013
Posted in: Glamorgan

The basic rig is now complete, which means I can now create the deform test and actually skin the low poly mesh to check how everything deforms.

Deform Skeleton

It was such a relief to finally be doing something that felt constructive. My first step was to build the deform skeleton. This is the set of bones that the mesh will be skinned to. It is important to get the bones placed correctly so that joints bend in the right place and the deformations of the mesh are as natural as possible. With the skeleton built, I used comet tools to help get all the bones aligned correctly. This ensures that the axes of rotation are where I want them to be, and therefore the rig will be easier/neater to use.

At this point I also made sure all my bones were named correctly. Every joint name starts with either C_, L_ or R_. This denotes whether the bone is down the centre of the body (C_), on the left hand side (L_) or on the right hand side (R_). This is then followed by the name of the bone, and possibly a number (ie spine01 or trunk03). Finally, every joint ends with _jnt. A good naming convention is essential when rigging as it makes things much easier to find with a search tool etc.

IK Spline Spine

Once everything was named correctly I set to work creating a control system for the spine. I used an IK spline set up. To avoid causing problems and having to rebuild the deform skeleton, I duplicated the spine and placed the IK on the duplicate. I could then parent constrain each individual IK bone to its equivalent on the deform skeleton. This causes the deform skeleton spine to do whatever my IK spine does. I chose to create an IK spline with just two spans. This means the spline has three control points: one at either end and one in the centre. I turned these into three clusters which I could then parent to various controls.

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I created a simple cube control for the hips and shoulders of the elephant which I deformed slightly so that they fit the contours of the elephant slightly better. I then parent constrained the corresponding clusters to these controls. I used a simple circle for the middle of the spine and again parent constrained the centre cluster to this control. This provided a way to control the spline curve and so control the bones. However, if a control was moved too far away and the spline curve became too long, the bones did not stretch and so only covered part of the curve.

This was an undesirable result, so I set up a fairly simple wiring system in the hypershade. I created a node for the spline curve with a single attribute: the arclength of the curve. This value changed whenever the curve changed, meaning I could always know how long the curve was. Using this changing value, and the curve’s original length, I set up a divide node that would calculate the current length divided by the original length. Then I used a condition node that was connected to the x-scale (length) of all the bones in the spine. If the curve was the same length or shorter then the scale of the bones remained at 1. However if the length of the curve was ever longer than its original length, the scale (length) of the bones was changed from 1 to whatever the divide node calculated. This meant if the controls were ever moved too far apart, the bones would scale and still fill the entire curve.

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However, I discovered that while this worked really well when the curve was long, it didn’t work very well if the curve got too short. Some of the bones started flipping to try and remain within the length of the curve. As such I decided to completely remove the condition node and simply wired the divide node straight into the x-scale of the bones. The spine now stretches and contracts brilliantly.

IK leg

The next step was to create an IK leg set up so that the legs could be easily animated. I debated for a while which two bones to put the IK on before deciding it definitely needed to be shoulder->wrist/hip->ankle. Like the spine, I duplicated the deform bones and applied the IK to the duplicates. I created a foot controller which was, again, a slightly deformed cube. I parented the IK target to this controller and orient constrained the ankle joint. This meant that I could move the controller and the leg would bend, but the foot would remain in whatever orientation the controller was in. Finally I added a controller to move the top of the leg around. I then repeated this for all four legs.

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The rest of the body I decided to keep simple for this basic rig and I used simple FK set ups in the neck, head, trunk, ears and tail. With all the controls complete I decided to try and make the rig clearer to use. I started colour coding my controls; green for left, red for right, cyan for anything down the centre. I also made a centre of gravity controller which could move both the hips and shoulders at the same time, in case the animators wanted some FK control from the hips. This I coloured yellow to make it stand out.

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However I decided that the cyan was too close in colour to the “selected” colouring that Maya uses. As such I changed things again:

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February 17, 2013

I finally received a low poly model from Paul that I could start rigging. At this point, what I really want to check is how the mesh deforms, especially around the legs. As such I plan to build a deform skeleton with some simple controls that will allow me to create a quick deform test so that I can skin the mesh.

The low poly model is looking pretty good, and its definitely nearly complete.

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I have however warned him that we will likely need to change where the mouth meets the head, as currently it is quite square. Left like this, the corners of the mouth won’t close properly. As such, I’ve asked that he try to turn that square flat edge into a sharper corner.

I feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall whilst trying to organise the film shoot. I originally wanted all my footage shot by the end of January, or at the latest, the first week of February. Well, thats all out the window now. Its not going to be shot until the end of February, which, of course, throws my schedule out the window. I feel a lot of this is simply down to the fact that getting hold of Motion Design has been “interesting”. I never seem to get replies to my emails, although I have at least established they are getting read. Im not sure if knowing they are being read and then ignored is more or less frustrating than them not even being read.

The past two days have left me feeling drained and panicked after it seemed we would have to do an emergency last minute shoot to get as much footage as possible with only a day and a halfs notice. Gareth, my tutor, had helped me organise a meeting with some of the Motion Design course for the 18th February in order to do the filming on the 21st/22nd. However I was then informed that this clashed with the annual Ffresh festival, which the Motion Design course is often quite involved in. Unable to get any response or confirmation from Motion Design as to whether this was an issue or not, I started trying to make emergency plans to film today (which at the time was less than 48 hours away). My graduate compositor advised against the whole situation, certain that last minute shoots never work out. This of course made me feel worse since noone was really presenting me with any other options, and shooting couldn’t be pushed back further as my animators are meant to start animating at the beginning of March.

Thankfully, it turns out my worry was for nothing and the students involved in my filming would unlikely be attending Ffresh on the Friday 22nd. As such, the last minute shoot was scrapped and I was able to breathe a big sigh of relief.

My artist has been creating a low poly version of the elephant for me. I am trying to see the model as often as possible so that any mistakes or problems can be caught early and therefore minimising any time wasted. This method of checking in regularly has been great and has already caught several issues that have been rectified as soon as we found them.

The very first model had some fairly major flaws, and in the end we decided it would be best to scrap it and start again.

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The model was out of proportion, with legs that were too long. The front leg was also too far back, causing the head to seem stretched or out of position. The long legs also made the body seem too thin. The legs did not go far enough underneath the body, leaving the impression that they were thin sticks coming out the side of the elephant, rather than the strong sturdy supports they really are. I also advised my artist that the mouth would need to be more complex than just some extruded polygons.

He provided me with the new version the next day and despite it being lower poly, it already looked stronger. The proportions are far more accurate. I did however advise him to keep the trunk as straight as possible so that it will deform in every direction as well as possible.

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The following day he had continued working with the elephant, defining the legs and body more. Its now beginning to really take shape and I can begin to picture what it might look like finished.

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I have advised him to keep an eye on where and how the joints in the legs bend, as well as ensuring there are enough edge loops where the legs meet the body.

January 29, 2013

We had another compositing project last term. Whilst the technical side of things were very successful, the animation suffered. It left me content with the idea that my interests, and skills really do lie more with the technical side of things. Although its really satisfying to produce an animation that works and looks great, I just cant seem to do it as quickly or easily as others on the course do. I can pose the model, create some really strong poses and silhouettes for the camera. However when it comes to linking things together and getting it smoother, thats where I struggle.

The camera tracking was really successful for this project, mainly, I think, because of the location and contents of the shot. There were lots of trees at multiple distances from the camera. This provided Boujou with lots of large tracking points the calculate the cameras position in every frame. The success of the camera tracking really helped to make it feel as though the raptor was there in the shot.

Unfortunately, the camera that we used just wasnt good enough quality for the project. The final video had compression artefacts and the low quality lense meant the footage was grainy and blurred. This meant that when I came to composite the raptor into the scene, I really struggled to make the crisp CG render look as though it were as blurred, grainy and unclear as the original footage. I added several different blur types as well as a grain. Sadly, what I couldnt see in the playback in after effects, was that the grain I added actually changed every frame, causing it to appear animated and making the raptor appear slightly sparkly.

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I used the Dino Rig for this project, which I got from Creative Crash: www.creativecrash.com/maya/downloads/character-rigs/c/dinorig

January 23, 2013

So, the production section of our major project has officially begun. Eeep. Time has flown by, it feels like no time at all since I was starting my major project in 2nd year.

Our final major project is broken down into four chunks, each four weeks in length (giving a total of 16 weeks production time). Three of these four chunks will be used to create a VFX insurance advert that I will be directing. Two of the three will be mainly directing, with some lighting, rendering and (probably) camera tracking where necessary. The third chunk will be for rigging and skinning the elephant model for this advert. My final chunk is a much smaller collaboration. I will be rigging a “toony” monkey modelled by one of the second years. Another second year will also be animating it.

Right now, I am trying to coordinate with the Motion Design course to get some help with filming my footage for the advert. They have a lot more experience of filming as well as access to much better equipment. The third years have shown little interest in getting involved, but I have been reassured by staff that I should be able to get some second years involved instead.