Monday, 19 March 2012

Business of animation- Kino 10: building the scene

It has been quite a while since my last post regarding my Kino 10 ident animation! With having worked on other projects for this module as well as others, and getting sidetracked with tasks from various lessons and tutorials over the past few weeks, I felt it was necessary to press on and continue to ensure I could complete the animation by deadline. You can find my previous post here.

Initially, I had hoped to include some stop motion in this project, but ultimately decided that there was not enough time. Based directly on my initial test, featuring an old cinema projector and film reel, it was my intention to begin with a stop motion homage to classic film, before panning away from the screen to reveal a CGI cinema- and finally zooming in on the camera itself in a higher quality version of what is seen in my test animation.

The idea that I decided to progress with therefore eliminated the stop motion element, but the focus on CGI forming the basis of my animation remained. For some time I have been looking to increase the amount of CGI in my portfolio and this project proved a good opportunity to do just that.

After deciding to use a mix of Autodesk Maya CGI and Adobe After effects to create my animation, I created the scene in 3D, learnt about lighting (a major component to 3D animation, and something I did not quite get the hang of during my last CGI project), and built upon the existing foundation of modelling skills developed previously. Perhaps the biggest and most notable change in this respect is my newfound focus on good geometry. I learnt a little too late in my last CGI animation that my geometry was terrible! Of course, for still objects it was not a problem and the models looked great, but there were simply too many polygons to texture, and characters (e.g. the gorilla) were not in a suitable pose to do rigging. These were elements that I saw a great opportunity to get better at.

Despite having often stated that I wish to specialise in a mix of 2D and stop-motion animation in the near future, I feel that it is important to develop a decent range of skills in all fields. For this reason, I have been looking to expand my repertoire of CGI capabilities.

The first asset that I created was the old cinema projector. This was based directly on the design seen in my test animation, aiming to be as faithful a 3D recreation as possible. Some modifications were necessary however in order for the design to remain believable in a 3D world.

As you can see, the tripod legs have been repositioned such that there would be better balance for the camera. In addition, the reels are now supported by arms, which albeit basic, do ground the camera in reality. I appreciate of course that this is an animation with heavily stylised visuals, and that things can be exaggerated, but when working in 3D there are a different set of expectations when it comes to believability. Objects need a sense of weight, mass, and connection to the world around them.

The next element I created was the cinema chair. The decision was made to make the objects first so that I could create the room to scale afterwards around them. The chair was based on my reference images (in fact a mix of a couple of different chairs) to create something simple and stylised, yet detailed and aesthetically pleasing. I opted for a red colour scheme as this appears to be most recognisable and synonymous with cinemas.

As you can see here, the chair was created from basic shapes and later smoothed. I shall not go into too much detail regarding the actual modelling process as the tools used are the same as detailed for my last CGI project.

One change to my technique here seems to have naturally developed. Often, I would preview the smoothed model by hitting 3 on the keyboard, and manipulate edges and vertices whilst in this preview mode. This is something which I did not do before, and I must say that it was very useful, enabling me to create the exact shape I wanted. The low poly model may look very angular in places as a result, but it is the final version which counts after all.

The cinema setting itself was created using a box, with one face removed to see properly inside. Details for the walls were based directly on one of my reference images, though simplified. It had been my original intention to keep the background incredibly simplistic and more of a solid colour like my test animation, though as I progressed I wanted to challenge myself further and push the limits of what I could create.

Details were created separately according to the dimensions of the room, using the basic manipulator tools and a lot of edge loops! The border, coving and skirting board help to make the cinema feel like a real functioning place, whilst their colour scheme (shown later on) means that they do not stand out too much to detract in any way from the more important details.

A detail I decided to add a little later was the curtains. This was a good decision, as their bolder colour is a nice contrast to the purples of the room, drawing the viewer’s attention to the front of the cinema. They were time consuming to make, though very simple. I began with a flat plane, with many vertical divisions, and moved vertices to create a crinkled look. When smoothed, the curtains have a nice folded/bunched material feel which looks very natural. Here you can see the room in colour for the first time.

The projector screen was also created with a plane, with boxes shaped to form the roller parts at the top and bottom. This was based directly on my reference image.

I decided to add the chairs in rows of three. This was a small enough number to keep the set quite contained, in-keeping with my ‘home cinema’ design, whilst allowing plenty of space for a central walkway, in which to position the camera. The cinema needed to look populated yet at the same time not too big or extravagant.

The next part represents a major learning curve for me. As mentioned previously, I did not really understand how lighting works for my previous CGI piece, instead using the mental ray feature ‘physical sun and sky’ which automatically generated lighting for me. Of course, my setting this time around is indoors, and on top of that pretty dark, and so this option was out of the question. I also needed to use the spotlight to create the visible cone of light emitting from the projector, since adding this later in After Effects would undoubtedly have been problematic.

After watching tutorials online about lighting, I added a range of point lights and spotlights to my scene, helping to create the sense of an artificially lit room. The initial results were ok, but clearly needed more depth and detail:

From this first rendered image, I could tell exactly what was wrong. Firstly, I had added a ‘light glow’ effect to the point lights in the ceiling, giving the impression of dimmed lighting, though did not realise at the time exactly what a post process effect entailed. Added after the initial rendering is completed, they appear above the image, and so shine despite objects being in the way. To counteract this I would have needed to render the lighting on a different pass, and composite the two in After Effects- a lot of unnecessary work which frankly I did not have time for. I chose alternative lighting instead.

Secondly, the light fog on the projector spotlight has quite a hard edge, particularly toward the screen. Unfortunately, having tried all of the appropriate settings, there seems to be no way to correct this. The workaround that I used was to actually have two spotlights for the projector; one without fog to illuminate the screen, and a separate with fog, but set to a linear decay, so that the cone cannot be seen as far as it would begin to appear harsh.

I noticed that the lens of the projector still looked a little dull, and added a point light close to it to make it glow. This was the point where I realised the light was passing straight through the object and lighting the wall behind. I needed shadows, something again completely new to me in Maya.

Once gain, I watched a range of tutorial videos on how to enable shadows, something which was surprisingly easy. I chose depth map shadows since mental ray options take longer to render, and in this case did not look any better.

As a further detail, I chose to add more realism to the scene by adding an exit in the far corner, with some blue lighting coming through the windows and an illuminated ‘fire exit’ sign on the wall. The texture was found online.

This light really completes the atmosphere in my opinion, and is one of the elements I am most pleased with. It makes the scene look far more interesting, gives a far greater sense of depth to the room, and brings out the projector with a kind of rim lighting, perfect for when we zoom in on it at the end of the animation.

In the next image, you can see how the inclusion of shadows gives everything a sense of weight and density. The room now feels like a believable real place:

By this stage, I was incredibly pleased with the results, and for a while content with using this in my final animation- with the posters of course. But I thought back to my original plans, that I was initially going to have people in the cinema, and thought there was enough time to give it a go.

This was something I had not planned on doing! Modelling people is still a little advanced for me, I will admit. But outside of university, I had recently begun making a man in Maya with the intention of learning rigging and character animation in my own time. This gave me a strong foundation to build upon, to give the model a few tweaks etc. and use it in my scene.

Here you can see the model at the stage I imported it into my scene. The model had no hands, and was in the standard ‘T’ position ready for rigging. I most certainly did not have the time to learn rigging, and so opted instead to duplicate the model, and move it into the seated position by manipulating vertices. This was a very lengthy process, and one which I’m sure CG experts would laugh at, but for now it was the best that I could do- and most importantly, got me results I am incredibly satisfied with!

As said, when I began this project, I had not at the time added hands to my model man. The man was made in half, so that I could mirror the model, therefore the hands were the first thing to do.

In the previous image you can see the model half. Note the ear taken from my human head modelling test created last year. The geometry was very bad, and so I took the time to clean it up quite a bit- a process still much faster than making new ears from scratch! The body was mirrored about the centre point, shown below:

Note that the arms look short as they angle backwards slightly. The model was built low poly so that it could be smoothed later. Naturally, since I was going to need to move vertices to reposition the character, I would want to move the fewest points possible. Trying to reposition an already-smoothed model would be near impossible!

Clothes were added to the model by duplicating the body, enlarging it slightly, and deleting certain sections. Some minor tweaks needed to be made to ensure that the parts did not intersect one another.

In addition to learning rigging, I have not had the time to learn how to unwrap a model and create its UV texture in Photoshop. As a result, I was unable to texture the man properly, resorting to applications of solid colour materials. This did suit the simplified cartoon visual style of the animation though, and combined with the various lighting effects the model does in my opinion look good.

Hair is another element I have yet to learn! Time was very tight for this deadline and it was a stretch to get the animation completed regardless of learning extra technique, though this is something else I shall look into in my spare time, or for a future project. For now, I created hair using the ‘Sculpt geometry tool’, which I employed for my previous CGI work to create realistic rock models. I began with a cube, positioned it in the head of the character, increased the divisions to 100 by 100, then used the sculpt tool to push and pull the mesh, creating spiky looking hair. Considering my no doubt unorthodox method, I think the results were pretty good!

With the low poly man complete, I combined the various meshes and began to reposition the model to being seated. I imported the chair model into the scene, and used this as a constant reference.

First, I moved the legs out in front of the model, using the move and rotate tools, before bending the knees and turning the feet out slightly. The body was angled backwards following the contours of the chair, and lastly the arms were moved into a casual position resting on the arm rests of the chair and the model’s legs.

Since this was so difficult in and of itself, I had no intentions of making other people due to time restrictions, though it would be odd if everyone was the same! To add a little variety, I decided to edit this model with different colour schemes. Once again however, ambition got the best of me and I made geometrical changes to the entire model, to create a female character to use in my scene:

The face was completely altered and in many areas remodelled, and the body was slimmed down. The pose was also edited slightly, as well as the model having completely new hair modelled in the same way as before. With some colour changes, it was relatively simple to create a small crowd of people that each looked individual:

Naturally, I wanted to make my cinema scene look populated but not too much. Not every seat has someone sitting in it, and I tried to even out the crowd for an eye-pleasing balance. The exact locations of the people were made random, some in twos and others alone, to try to make the scene more realistic.

Back to lighting! Looking to create as believable scene as possible, I added an area light in front of the screen, to create a reflected glow bouncing off the screen surface:

If you look closely at the image above, you will see that the chairs are actually floating above the floor! This is something I did not notice until shadows were added, as the ground was a solid colour before. After this image was taken, I edited the chairs.

Now for the movie posters! I mentioned a while ago about how a ‘coming soon’ poster would be a nice way of referencing film future, and that the posters should be in-keeping with Kino 10’s established pastel colour scheme. Intended as light-hearted humour, I devised two movie poster designs and created them in Photoshop, before applying them as textures to the boards in my scene.

The first is a direct reference to the future illustrating my point from before, and so this poster is positioned to be on screen the longest, and is one of the last elements you see before the logo shot at the very end of the animation. The second poster arose from a conversation I had recently with a friend regarding how Disney no longer make animated movies, and instead adapt their theme-park rides in an attempt to create the next big ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ style franchise. We joked at the possibility of an eventual ‘Teacups 3D’ when they have finally run out of ideas, and so just for fun I added this into my animation!

The scene was finally complete! Having been quite a test of my abilities with Autodesk Maya, I am pleased not only to have made a scene with people and lighting, but to have created something detailed yet simple at the same time! Nothing feels out of place, and the ‘world’ of the piece feels cohesive.

With the modelling of my scene complete, I proceeded to animate after a quick refresher watching tutorials online. The animation is actually quite basic in this piece, with the camera panning, reels turning, and lights changing intensity- but it is effective, and meets the requirements of motion graphics perfectly! I am also pleased to say that I made use of the dreaded Graph Editor this time around, and found that I coped with it a lot better than before (perhaps due to having grown competent with After Effects since my last Maya animation, which uses a similar editor).

The final element to add was the film countdown, created in After Effects. This was very simple, and for inspiration I looked at a couple of examples on line. Elements such as lines moving across the screen, a grid pattern, scratches and wobbles were common through all, and so I created an old-style countdown with the aim of making it look worn and out of date. This fits perfectly with the Kino 10 brief for referencing film history- the film countdown is iconic in the industry.

The ‘wiggle’ expression was used on nearly everything here, on opacity, position and sometimes scale! This created a random wobble which was a great representation of a flickering old movie projector. Other layers were used to add scratches etc, set to the ‘luma’ blending modes. The text was animated to change every second, and a ‘radial wipe effect was animated in conjunction. I think the final countdown (no pun intended) looks very authentic! It was a relatively simple task key-framing position, rotation/orientation and scale to overlay this correctly over my Maya animation. Here are the textures I used for scratches:

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