20 May 2015

Robots, Drawing, Pubs & Rigging........

I'm embarrassed by how long it's been since I last updated my blog.... nearly 6 months... gulp!!

I've just been super busy with work and with my studies but now I have finished studies until September so I will hopefully have a bit of time to follow up on some ideas that I have had for small project over the summer.

So, because I've been bogged down by my studies and I've made no progress with any personal projects for some time I'm at a bit of a loss with what to write about..... I could talk about what I've been doing for my studies.... I reckon it'll be more interesting than reading about what's been going on at work for me for the past few months.

In between work and family stuff  I've managed to complete a few modules towards my masters in animation and digital effects this year WOOHOO! It's been a really interesting and sometimes stressful time but I've made it through my first year with a few projects to show.

So here they are....

For the first module we were required to model a character (check the concept we were given below) using whatever 3D software we were happiest using..... I chose Maya. Although we were given reference for the character, see the image below, we were allowed to embellish the design if we wished.

I decided to make my character a robot roadie, he needed to be a bit heavier, more utilitarian and more beaten up... oh yeah, I figured he should have guitars strapped to his back and be striking a pose on top of a marshall amp.... ROCK'N'ROLL!!!!

While there are issues with the render I'm pretty happy with how R0-D turned out. I managed to find a few new tools to use in Maya and reacquainted myself with Mudbox while making him. I think that the biggest step I took in this project was to finally get around to using some of Mental Ray's shaders, yeah MR has been a part of Maya since version 5 (about 10 years) but it is only now that I have started to really use and appreciate it's shader nodes, yay for personal progression!!

The second module was about drawing, mainly life drawing... before this project it had been a long time since I had picked up a pencil and drawn anything through study so I was a bit apprehensive to begin with, I soon got into the swing of the module and really enjoyed the experience. We had to produce a life drawing portfolio and a humanoid character in a number of poses, the portfolio was really developed through the classes and the  character was done in our own time. Below are a couple of images from my life drawing portfolio.

And here are my final character images, I was reading The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky at the time and so the character was rather inspired by the artwork of Jean Giraud aka Moebius.

My next module was to develop a CG asset, this could be for games or visual effects, I chose the latter. The idea was to select a local landmark building and model, texture and present it, the building had to be at least 10 years old. I went for a small pub beside the university The Globe Inn.

I chose the pub because I pass it on a regular basis, ideal for collecting primary reference, it is a detached building, meaning it can be modelled in isolation and because it sells beer.... which is just a bonus really :)

I had a lot of fun making this, I developed my understanding of architectural and hard surface modelling, texturing and rendering, learnt a bunch more stuff about Mental Ray and had a few pints along the way.

For the last module I had to model, rig and demonstrate a character in whichever modelling and animation package I preferred... yep, I went for Maya again. I really went to town on the technical side of things with this module but unfortunately left very little time for myself to animate the model.... a couple of hours. So apologies for the standard of the animation in the following video but it represents a whole load more than that.

My main learning achievement for this was to create the user interfaces. I really wanted to develop a character which was animator friendly so accessibility of controls was paramount. Making a separate user interface for the animator to be able to access functionality without having to deselect controls or open multiple windows was one way to do this. So I polished my MEL scripting skills, considered what functionality I would like from a character interface and built what I consider to be my most robust rig to date.

I developed quite an understanding of low-tech, home made, facial motion capture for this module, while it was fun and very educational but it was a lot of hard work so I think I wall be trying out more mainstream mocap solutions in future.

So, a busy year with plenty to show for it. I'm pretty proud of the projects and the skills which I have developed throughout this year considering I work and have a family... it's been tough but worth it, roll on next year!!

25 November 2014

Lights, Camera, Scan......

So, today I had a really interesting afternoon at Ten24 in Sheffield where they make their bread and butter through 3D body scanning.

3d body scanning is the process by which a subject is photographed from many angles at once and then a 3D model, which can be used in video games or visual effects, is created from the images. The process is similar to that used by 123D Catch but Ten24, being a specialist company and not a free app, produce a much higher quality product.

Above is an image of their camera rig.... lots of cameras all of which are synced to fire at the same time to capture whatever happens to be in the middle them. As the studio was already set up, the shoot for each person only took a matter of seconds. It was a case of getting into the right position for the hand or head to be captured and take the photos.

With the information captured the next step will be to let the computer do it's job to create a mesh from the images. The raw mesh will be very noisy so then it is down to Ten24's skilled artists to clean it up and make it suitable for use in whatever capacity it has been commissioned for, or to be put on sale in their store. This part of the process can take some time depending on the model and their workload and I am very much looking forward to receiving my head scan when it has been completed in a couple of weeks.

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.


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.

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!!