Saturday, 30 May 2009

Developing Ideas for 3rd Year

I am looking forward to working on my project next year. This year has taught me the importance of time management and organisation. A group production would mean that my third year project could be longer and more detailed however from experience it is apparent that group work is more difficult to organise and unfair when work load is distributed. I hope that next year the motivation to get the animation complete will spread across the whole group rather than individuals working harder than others. This means that if I were to work in a group the idea and workload would have to keep the whole team happy throughout the course of the year to minimise stress and build a friendly team environment.
I have recently started developing ideas. I originally wanted to produce a controversial artistic piece of animation that would hopefully get noticed nationally for its explicit content and underlining meanings but I have no narrative, character or ideas to represent. I began looking towards what I already knew and thought about the characters in the real world, researching social groups and music. Eventually I ended up focusing on locations like Brighton, Bristol and Camden. I started developing my original first year character 'Bobo da ASBO' t5o use as maybe one of the characters in my third year animation. I hope to be able to work with mixing live action and Computer animation and create a something similar in controversy and graffiti style to Ralph Bakshis 'Heavy Traffic' and 'Coonskin'.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Knights Project: Lighting, Rendering, Comping

When the animation was complete the C.G team had to focus on lighting the shots. Originally we were going to use the mental ray sky feature to light are scenes because it would avoid problems when matching the lighting in the 2-D backgrounds to the 3-D animation but there were problems with the shadows and it would be bad practice to use the feature. Instead I carefully placed directional lights with different intensities into the scene and created good lighting and shadows based on the light direction in the storyboard. When Rendering I needed to create layers that included the lighting on the models (beauty) and the shadows created by other models (shadows). Because the 3D is being placed on top of 2-D it was important to render out shadows on objects that wouldn't render out for example the floor. The software renders out the shadows and beauty separately so that they can be edited in comping.
I originally wasn't expecting to do any compositing but I couldn't resist completing the shots I had created. The Art Director ( Justin) wanted the shadows to be less harsh because although the lighting looked good the shadows suggested the wrong time of day needed for the shots. Finally shots were being finished so we dropped them into the block through so at least the team had evidence of our work.

Knights Project: Problems with Rendering

Like most animation productions there are always technical problems especially when working in 3D. The team struggled after the textures were applied to the models. Firstly we had to make some U.V adjustments so that the textures looked right. Then create maps so that when the models were re-referenced into our animated shots the textured models would be animated and able to render. It took the team a while to get the textures correct but eventually we solved the problem however more problems came soon after. When creating the models I hadn't run a practice smooth render to see what they would look like in a rendered scene. The Squire models head and can style suits wouldn't render out in the mental ray settings. The team and I couldn't work out why and ultimately lost a lot of time trying to solve the problem. It turned out that some of my geometry on the squires head hat and can was wrong and wouldn't render. The simple solution would be to go into the original file and cleanup the model mesh which worked for the Red Squires can but changed the model slightly meaning that i had to make some quick adjustments so it looked like the original model. The Blue Squire was harder to solve but eventually we realized that the connection of the ear to the head was causing the problem. By changing the geometry on the head the team feared that we would loose the blend shapes which would have meant that i would have to re-create all the blend shapes for the model. Luckily the blend-shapes were not lost but some of the blend shape animation in one of my scenes vanished when I re-referenced my Red Squire character. I solved this problem by referencing another model into the scene and turning its visibility on and off when I need facial expressions. This was extremely annoying when the team thought we were getting close to the end of the project but it cost us heavily and we wouldn't make the deadline. The silver-lining though was that I feel I have learnt much more about dealing with technical problems and for my next production will leave much more contingency time for problems such as this.

Knights Project: Animation

To help with organization the team numbered the shots on the story board, making changes to the shot order after closely analysing the block through and animatic and realizing the continuity was lost in certain shots. The animation was split between three team members. We replaced the models in the Block-through scenes with the rigged and ready for animation models. Although I wanted to animate more scenes that included the knight characters it would be much more beneficial for the team if I concentrated on animating shots that included my squire characters because I am very familiar with the models rig and animation capabilities. Of course most of the shots included two characters and my responsibility was to complete the animation for the opening scenes where the Red Squire character is putting together the knights armor. I also had to animate both the squires running to there coloured tents. I needed the Blue squire to be slightly different in character to the Red Squire so i decided in making is the character more clumsy and the whole team would have to incorporate this into the animation of the Blue Squire. I created run cycles for both characters, usually I wouldn't do this when animating a run but because we weren't using 3D backgrounds or floors it wouldn't make a difference to the animation in the final comp. Because of the cylindrical shape of the squires they waddle which adds humour to the scenes. I included the Blue squire tripping over and rolling down the hill to add to his clumsy character. The characters have to pick up objects and move them around. In an animation i had done using the Andy rig I had worked with parent constraint animation but during the project learned that it is always best to parent and object to a joint on the body (in this case the hand) and animate the movement in the object as opposed to animating the characters hand. this was good information to have considering that are sketch is based around a sword fight. I also learnt that in many studios when animating high action shots they leave the leg animation till the end but because my legs were separate from the body i animated them at the same time. This was one of the most rewarding tasks, finally being able to see my models come to life. I enjoyed using my blend shapes to get across emotion through the expression in my characters. When animating it is important to refer to the play-blasts just to check that the timing is correct. This has been the most enjoyable part the project mainly because it requires little technical knowledge of Maya and is more about the skill of animation.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Knights Project: Blendshapes

This whole enormous rigging process continued. This is by far though a more exciting part of the process creating blend shapes and assigning them to my squire characters. Blend shapes work by duplicating a piece of geometry e.g. a head and altering the shape. My blend shapes didn't work if any geometry is added or taken away. The soft modification tool in Maya means that the object is treated almost like a piece of clay and moves the edges and vertices to my desired look. In the latest version of Maya they have included a soft selection tool that makes altering the vertices on an object much easier. For facial expressions it is important that there is a blend shape for each half of the head for example instead of creating a blend shape that had both eyebrows up it is much better for the animator if two separate blend shapes are created, one with the left eyebrow up the other with the right eyebrow up, this gives the animator more control. Mouth shapes for lip-synching are done this way. My characters however have no real dialogue therefore I didn't have to worry about getting the correct shapes for certain letters. I mainly concentrated on the emotions in the eyebrows for my red and blue squire characters. For my green squire character I created basic mouth movements that could suggest emotions like happiness, sadness and concern. The character also need to be able to blow a trumpet in one of the shots therefore I created an appropriate blend shape. After the blend shapes have been created and assigned to an object they appear as animation sliders in the blend shape editor, this was originally where all the animation was done until animators developed controllers that an animator could use on the screen next to the character to make it neater and simpler. This process of creating controls is very complicated and due to my time restriction and lack of blend shapes my team decided it would be best to use the traditional slider method.

Knights Project: Rigging Controls

After creating the skeleton for the rig and binding the skin you have to create controls that make the character move. Its always best to keep a clean looking hierarchy at the side of the interface by parenting certain geometry and joints to controls also makes an animators job a lot easier. My characters have I.K handles and pole vector constraints that control the movement in the arms and legs and angle of rotation in the knees and elbows. The upper body including the arms, head and helmets of the squire character are controlled by C.V curves and work on the rotation. The larger circular curve controls all the upper body including the rotation in the arms, it doesn't control the arms individually but if the top of the character moves forward or rotates then the arms simply move with it. I have separate controls for the head and helmets. I used aim constraints to controllers for each eye and parented it to a controller that controlled the movement of both eyes. For things such as ankle rotations, foot movements, finger rolls, wrist and hand movement’s controls need to be added via the hypershader. I selected controls that move the o.k. handles for my arms, I then added attributes to the control such as "wrist roll" and "index roll" and made sure that all my hand and wrist movements were named properly so that the animator could easily understand how to animate my model. I assigned each individual joint to an attribute using the hyper shade making sure that each rotation was correct. This means that instead of having a control for each finger bend the Hand control can be selected and the attributes appear on the side of the screen, the animator just selects the movement i.e. 'index finger roll' and slides the cursor across the screen making the joint rotate in either x, y or z depending on what rotation it was assigned to. The same process took place when including the ankle and foot controls in the Foot I.K handle control. Although this seemed to be a daunting slightly complicated task it wasn't and I actually found it quite therapeutic as no problems occurred and the process was quite repetitive.

Knights Project: Painting Weights

My lack of experience rigging characters in Maya meant that I hadn't taken into consideration the time it would take to fully complete. The rigging process has taken so far the longest. Although I was taught the basics of rigging in a short tutorial I hadn't heard about painting weights and didn't realize the potential difficulties that could arise when finalizing a decent rig. Unfortunately this process took much longer than anticipated and the timetable was completely ruined. Because I wasn't totally comfortable with the whole rigging process and painting weights I constantly had to go back and alter the rig and play around with the controls. It took me nearly a whole day to figure out how to paint weights properly so I retraced my steps and re-painted the weights on each model. I also struggled with creating controls that functioned properly which meant that with all these problems I had lost nearly two whole weeks and started to cut into my animating time enormously.
The idea behind painting weights is to make sure that each individual joint in the characters rig moves the right part of the body and the skin correctly. After creating a rig and binding smooth skin the model can move but sometimes certain joints move different parts of the body that shouldn't be moving. The bind skin tool does work quite well but painting the weights correctly means that the rigger can achieve correct looking creases in the skin when for example the fingers roll and the knees bend. The trick with painting weights is to replace the weight first before adding weight this makes the process a little bit easier to control. I prefer working in the black and white mode. Black means that the skin will not react when the joint is moved or rotated white means that it is highly reactive to the joint. Between these two colors are plenty of shades of grey that will react slightly more to the joint the whiter the skin is. To prevent horrible looking creases in the skin it is best to paint the areas that will react totally white and other areas totally black then smooth the weights using the smooth/ flood buttons This blends the black into the white creating different grades of grey shaded skin. If a rigger would prefer he also has the possibility to work in multi-color mode but I found this more difficult to distinguish where my weight painting was going wrong. The most challenging thing about this task was the finger. I had to redo the fingers for all the squire characters at least three times because I couldn't get my head around how to paint them correctly. Eventually the models were painted. I will always dread this part of the Maya character building process but now that I have practiced o should find it a lot less time consuming in my third year. Online tutorials that I have recently seen show more how to paint weights with my knowledge already combined with hopefully more teaching and online tutorials should mean that it wont take me this long in my third year projects where I hope my characters and rigs maybe a little bit more complicated. I have included a link to a You Tube video that quickly shows the weight painting process.

Painting weights