21 November 2014

Bradford Bound.....


The Bradford Animation Festival has been running this week and I've been lucky enough to be able to attend along with students from the course I teach on.


BAF has been running for 21 years which makes it the UK's longest running animation festival and when you attend it is easy to understand why it has been so successful. the atmosphere is friendly, the events are excellent and the venue, the National Media Museum, is wonderful. 

The future of BAF appeared to be on the rocks for a while last year when budget cuts threatened to close the Media Museum. Fortunately though, for Bradford and the Festival, the Museum was saved and will hopefully remain open for a long time to come.

So, the festival, what did I see... I felt the majority of the animations that I was able to view this year have had a serious tone or have been rather abstract and, while I can appreciate a merit in the technical aspects of these pieces of work and the labour that has gone into their production, I found it rather difficult to engage with many of them. This hasn't diminished my enjoyment of the festival in any way though, I believe that it is important to personal and professional development to view art in any form as it can inform decision making and offer questions which, in response, may led to creative opportunities.


The festival speakers were, as always, excellent. In particular I enjoyed the presentation from Mark Shapiro of Laika. He talked about their most recent film, Boxtrolls, and the work that went into it's creation...One thing that stands out for me from his presentation is the importance of team work and hopefully everyone who was there understands and can appreciate, if they didn't already, that creative practice need not be a solo effort and, that by working as a part of a team in which each member has their own specialist skills, it is possible to create something far beyond that which might be possible if you are working alone.

Take a look at the festival site for a more in depth account of the goings on there this year and for an opportunity to listen to some of last years guests in podcast form.

4 November 2014

New Project Alert!....

I'm really pleased that I've begun work on a new project, it's the one that I mentioned in the end of my post about the CMC.

This project is going to be big and so I felt that it deserved it's own blog, check it out HERE... I've attached a link to the side of this blog which can also be used to navigate there if you like.


Virtual Puppeteer will document my journey towards the development of a control system that I will be able to use to animate characters in my masters animation project. This project doesn't actually begin for a year or so but I feel that I will require this time to learn the skills that will enable me to develop a controller which I can use to emulate the movement of a muppet style puppet.

Don't despair though, I will continue to use Polygon Soup in the same way that I always have.... by posting whatever I've been doing at irregular intervals.... the new blog is exclusively for the research and development of my puppet project.

So, it's exciting times as I take my first steps on this journey of awesomeness. Feel free to drop by and check for updates or you can follow the blog by clicking it's subscribe link.

Mat.

8 July 2014

Childrens Media Conference 2014


July 2nd - July 4th this year saw the Childrens Media Conference being held in a number of venues across Sheffield city centre and I was able to attend as a part of my CPD through my work.

This was my first experience of the CMC and my initial impression was one of anxiety and of being overwhelmed by a large room full of strangers. Strangers to me at least, as it appeared that I was the single person to have arrived without a colleague, without an agenda and without an idea of what to expect.

Thankfully there was free wine and after becoming acquainted with the bar I felt confident enough to reconsider the environment that i found myself a part of.... the First Timers Reception.


That's me coming down the stairs, wine in hand.....

Despite everyone being friendly I found it quite difficult to simply approach people and speak with them in this networking event. This was most likely because most people there had reasons to be there and speaking to a lecturer from an art college wasn't one of them.

The thing is, the CMC is a very industry oriented event in which people meet people they want to meet, pitch ideas to whoever they hope will think their idea is great and chat with old colleagues from various arms of the media industry.

My appraisal of the First Timers Reception may appear to be a little cynical but this is simply because I felt that there was no reason for me to be there.... I had nothing to pitch and I had nothing to offer those who were there to pitch. This doesn't mean that this event is a waste of time for anyone who works in the children's media industry though and it certainly didn't tarnish my opinion of the conference events which I found interesting, thought provoking, entertaining and inspiring.

Rather than write a long piece about each of the events that I attended I have simply listed them below with links attached to their official, and much more professionally written, CMC report.



Unfortunately because of work commitments I was unable to attend any of the sessions on Friday but each of them has been well documented on the CMC website which, while it is not the same as actually being there, offers a good opportunity to catch up with what happened.

Since attending the CMC and reflecting on my experience in the First Timers Reception I have formulated an agenda for my future attendance at the conference. As I study towards my masters qualification I aim to focus my efforts towards the generation of a new narrative, educational and entertaining IP that, ultimately, I hope to pitch at the CMC as I near the end of my studies in 2 years time.

Whether I will be successful in my attempts at having an idea commissioned is very uncertain or even quite unlikely but this will not deter me from trying. The process will require me to learn everything that I can about the children's media industry and to develop my professional network alongside my practical skills which can only be a good thing for me, my studies and my students.

16 April 2014

No Spring Chicken....

A bit more progress on the digging character, this time he's rather worryingly doing the chicken.....



This is really just an exercise to test the bind on the character but it was peculiar enough to make me render it out and present it as part of the workflow of this project.

I downloaded the mocap data from the Carnegie Melon University database.... it's pretty extensive and most importantly it's free for anyone to play with!!! The data hasn't been cleaned up or adjusted and, as you can probably see from the rendered animation, I've not bothered doing any of that for this test as I am just checking the bind.

Initially I wanted to rig the character with IK, FK and a third skeleton that could be controlled by mocap data but I have decided to forgo the IK and FK parts and have opted to have only mocap driving the main body of the rig.I did still bind a version of the character with a manual rig and IK FK switching on the arms and legs.... I will probably only use it for posing still renders rather than animation but it was a good refresher exercise in rigging and binding.

The hands and face of the character do still rely on manual keyframes which, in this video I have not demonstrated but please believe me... they work. I have used a couple of simple lines of MEL script to drive the mouth and the eyes, it uses noise over time to drive the rotation of the joints... I felt that the lack of movement ni the face of the last video was a bit unsettling... I suppose that in it's own way this new video is equally, if not more unsettling but it's not because of the face being motionless.

The next stage for this build is the blend shapes for the facial expression and geometry correction in extreme poses.

6 April 2014

Texturing & Re-targeting......

So, a progress report on my character is probably about due so here goes.....

Since my last post I've made quite a bit of progress on the old guy character that I'm working on. I spent a little more time on sculpting and then moved onto texturing the mesh.

As I'd been using Mudbox for the sculpting I thought I might as well investigate it's texturing tools as well, these allow you to paint directly onto the model in 3D space.... this workflow was a revelation for me. For years I have created 2D textures in Photoshop using the UV maps that I have made in Maya as a template, this workflow is fine but even the best UV maps can distort the finer detail.

Mudbox still uses the UV map as a template but being able to paint directly onto your model means that what you see is what you get, there's no need to jump between Photoshop and Maya to check that the texture is fitting properly or to tweak UV's after the texture has been applied. Obviously, 3D painting tools are not a new thing, it has actually been possible to paint textures in Maya for many generations of the software but the functionality has been more suited for roughing out rather than detail work. The painting tools in Mudbox, are fantastically responsive, working on layers allows the build up of texture and being able to use reference images as colour stencils is genius.....


The above image illustrates a visual evolution of the shader network that I have used in Maya for this character. Until this point I had never really used the Sub Specular Scattering (SSS) shader so I figured that with all of the other new knowledge that I have crammed into my brain through this project, a little more development wouldn't hurt.

The SSS shader works like skin, different layers allow light to penetrate and scatter as it interacts with the material. Rather than my getting bogged down trying to explain it all here's a link to an explanation from Autodesk.......

Mentalray Fast SSS Tutorial

Another area that I've been looking at since my last post is joint re-targetting through the Human IK (HIK) system in Maya. Since this character is going to be used as a motion capture puppet I figured it would be prudent to begin to develop my understanding of how this system works.

I figured it would be more entertaining to see the old guy move than a naked rig so I quickly bound a very rudimentary skeleton to the mesh and defined it as an HIK character. The fundamentals of the HIK system are pretty straight forward and the GUI (see below) pretty much guides you through the process of setting up the character.


It is as easy as selecting a joint on your rig and then assigning it to the relevant indicator on the GUI. So, after defining my simple rig as Character 1, I defined a mo-cap example rig as Character 2 and used it as a motion source for Character 1.... it's really that simple.

Below is a render of the driven motion..... Like I said the rig is very rudimentary and there was no attention paid to setting the joint influence but it kind of works. I find that because there is no facial or finger animation the resulting motion is rather unsettling, dead eyes and limp hands give it a peculiar reanimated appearance reminding me of Overtime, a dark tribute to Jim Henson from Supinfocom



The actual rig that I eventually apply will have facial controls as well as hand controls which will be animatable through keyframes... I don't think I want to start looking at facial mocap for this project but who knows I might end up doing just that!!

26 March 2014

Getting Muddy....

In the little time I've had to play recently I've managed to make some progress with the character that I started in the previous post.


One of my aims in this collaborative project is to develop an understanding of the sculpting software Mudbox, it's toolset and the workflow between it and Maya. Up until this point I've never really had the desire to sculpting software but packages like Mudbox and Z-Brush are becoming a more and more integral part of the production pipeline and so I figured it was time to get my hands dirty.

I think that my reticence to use sculpting software stems from the heavy handed approach that so many artists have demonstrated through their practice. I have found that there is an abundance of work created through these packages which carries a certain look, a look that screams "sculpted" at the top of it's voice. Deep gouges and symmetrical lines are the most common offences and it is this style that I am hoping to avoid in my efforts.

Anyway, once I got over my fear of carving heavy marks into my model found the transition to sculpting pretty rewarding, the tools in Mudbox are very intuitive and after I had learnt to navigate 3D space with my Wacom it became a rather therapeutic exercise. Developing a workflow took a little time but I soon realised that, much like sculpting in real life, it's best to work down to the building finer detail from larger strokes.



Now that I have a project that benefits from the use of this software I am beginning to understand it's potential and will most certainly be using it again in the future. I still believe that it is important to understand that not everything needs to be sculpted and good old fashioned texture and bump maps are still absolutely valid practice in the professional workflow.

5 March 2014

Can U Dig It?......

I've recently been working with artist Garry Barker to realise one of his characters as a 3D model and it's already been an interesting learning experience for both of us.


For me, this project began when Garry and another of my colleagues, Annabeth Robinson, had been discussing ways that Garry's digging character could be presented through alternative media, this led to talk of motion capture which ultimately requires a 3D model which in turn led to my own involvement.

Although there is plenty of reference through his work and the attributes that make up the character are pretty identifiable, it was difficult for me to consider it as a 3D model so I figured I might as well ask Garry to provide me with some orthographic drawings to work from. I thought  that this wouldn't be particularly hard for him considering it is his work after all and the character shares a very similar blueprint to the rest of the figures that he draws but, it turns out that asking an artist who deals in two dimensions to consider anything that they've created and then drawn countless times as a three dimensional object that can be animated might throw up all sorts of new thought processes for them. He got there in the end and produced some images that I could easily work from in Maya.


The character style is rather doughy, no insult intended Garry, which leads to interesting proportions and an asymmetric look which is very different from the style of character that I might normally build. Still, modelling is modelling and this figure didn't really cause me any problems in it's construction.


I'm pretty pleased with the base mesh, pictured above, the geometry is clean and even without textures and bump maps it has a pretty good level of detail... I could feasibly rig it right now and have a nice model to animate or motion capture but why have a nice model when a flippin' brilliant one could be the order of the day..?

So what's the plan?

I'd say a bit of learning in the form of Mudbox, sculpting software which I am a familiar with but have never tackled anything like this before, and muscle systems, dynamic deformation that has been available in Maya for some years now but something that I have never really had the desire to use. I also intend to develop my understanding of Mental Ray shaders, in particular the SSS (subsurface scattering) shaders that allow rendering of realistic skin.

So, I've got my work cut out for the next while..... I'm not sure how long this is going to take considering the limited free time I have but I'm pretty excited about developing it into a pretty amazing puppet that can be used to bring Garry's art to life.

I'll be posting progress here as and when it happens.