Monday, March 31, 2008

Computer Surgery

I've been spending the good part of today distracted by a misbehaving computer which has been freezing up on my the last couple of weeks (ever since I bumped into it with the vacuum cleaner, it would seem..)

I finally tracked down the problem to the video card (I think) and the "new" video card (actually a really old 8 meg PCI video card) seems to have done the trick. Now seeing as this computer is strictly a render slave, it doesn't need much except for a bare bones video card. It just needs to stay on without freezing, is all.

Let's keep our toes crossed for now...

Today's 3D animation lesson will be:

redundancy redundancy redundancy redundancy redundancy

Always have lots of computers. Old computers, new computers. And never pay full price for anything new. I swear by off lease and factory outlet refurb stores.

Friday, March 28, 2008

You learn a new thing every day...

DDClip can show time values in following formats:

Time in Frames

The time is measured in frames. Current Frame rate (see Video Settings) determines duration of frame playback. For example, at 25 fps frame rate one second time label will be displayed as “25” or “25fr”, and 25 video frames are played in one second.

Hmm.. And to think I've only been using DDClip since 2001, and I only find this feature now. Well, this will make life slightly easier when I have to do Vox and Timing for my shots.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dojo scene

This set took the good part of a day to put together, luckily I had it pretty much sketched out while I was bored at work (hmm... I need a scanner to scan in some of my sketches...)

I did a quick mock up of the shaft of light to show what the final shot will look like after I give it the ol' After Effects treatment.

Oddly enough, this shot is only planned for like 5 seconds max, unless I decide to put back in a whole scene that I've decided to take out. We'll see how it goes...

click for bigger image

The mountains in the back, that you can't see very well, I'm totally recycling for the shot that comes after this.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fresh trax from

Check out the newly released Wires 5 from

Wicked hella mad awesome electronic music release, check out the previous releases as well.

Track 21 Radius / Levitation Aum is mine, and is also music from Archon Defender (actually a sequence from the film, stripped of any dialog that would give away too much ;)

I've got other tracks on previous Wires releases under the names 4096 and Radius.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mon Mar 24: +40 sec

I got 40 seconds done yesterday, filling in a major hole in the film, and bringing the running length up to 38 min 26 sec.

Dialog scenes are the easiest to do, the hardest part is the lip syncing, after that it's simply a matter of animating gestures and movements. I suppose if you wanted to make a film really fast you could simply have 60 minutes of dialog, it would be more boring than an Ayn Rand book, but you could crank it out in no time.

Here's a film idea for you: Two ninjas talk about Ayn Rand. For 3 hours. (no lip syncing even required...)

Check out some stills from yesterday's render fest:

"I like reading Ayn Rand.. Have you ever heard about Ayn Rand?
Let me tell you in excruciating detail about Ayn Rand...."

"...blah blah blah capitalism blah blah blah bromide blah blah..."

"...Ayn Rand Ayn Rand Ayn Rand Ayn Rand Ayn Rand~~~~1111oneoneone"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

3D made easy #6: Lip Syncing Rig

I'm in the middle of lip syncing 600 frames of dialog:

This image shows my lip sync rig. Every character has a set of controls linked to morph channels applied to the various elements of the face. The eyebrows, eyes, and mouth are all separate meshes with different morph targets set to express a wide range of emotions and facial expressions.

Now, how you set up this rig is specific to 3D max, and better explained in a video tutorial, so I'll have to put that on the backburner list of things to do. A quick description of the controls:

Blink varies the shape of both eyes from wide shock or surprise, to fully closed.

Anger / Fear adjusts the angle of a taper modifier on both eyes to express anger or fear

This can be used in conjunction with the Eyebrow Anger / Fear control which adjusts the angle of the eyebrows.

EyebrowHmm ':| is used to lift one eyebrow, just like Spock in star trek.

The XY controller is set to control 4 morph channels of the mouth to express a wide variety of shapes

The Yell contoller is used to widen the mouth for shouting or emphasis

The Smile and Smirk controllers are used to control frowning, smiling, or smirking where only one corner of the mouth is intended to move.

I've refined and expanded this system as the film has progressed. Early versions only had the eye, anger/fear, and mouth XY controls. I've added on the other controls as I've needed to in order to express a wider range of performances out of my characters

The facial animation system I've developed is simple, but I think it works a lot better than trying to model and animate the actual geometry of a face due to the uncanny valley principle. Take a look at the facial animation attempts in most 3D animated films, like Final Fantasy or Skyland. It looks bad, because it take a lot of detailed subtle animation and movements to make it convincing. Due to the uncanny valley principle, my face models fall far enough out of the 'human normal' trap that a simplified animation can be applied without detracting from the overall experience.

Keep this in mind for your own films...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

While you're waiting...

While you're waiting for me to finish Archon Defender, why not watch my previous films:

Rocketmen vs Robots

Rocketmen vs Robots 2: Rocketmen Space Patrol

Two more I'll be posting to youtube in the future:
Rocketmen 3: Rocketmen Timecube
Rocketmen 4 (aka Rocketmen Zero)

I live for....

Alternatively, you could make your own 3d animated films...'s the same kind of rush when you watch a completed sequence and say to yourself "f***** that's tight.."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

3D made easy #5: Design inspiration from unsuspecting places...

Something I've noticed lately at work:
(aka boredom makes work for an idle mind)

I routinely deal with maps at my job, and I've noticed that the layouts of airport tarmac would make great industrial / technological building elements

check out some examples from google maps:

The Denver airport is girders and ceiling joists just waiting to be traced and replicated in 3D (not to mention it harbors a secret underground alien base)

The Philadelphia airport looks like the some kind of steampunk blade runner sidearm

Dallas Fort Worth. They really do build everything bigger in Texas, eh? I can imagine a hundred uses for this design. Cyclotron robotic death chamber much?

These would make a great starting point for any technological or industrial design. Post apocalyptic pieces of twisted metal sticking up on the horizon, while the protagonists duke it out with glowing red eye killbots. It's pretty much up to your imagination, although imagination is made a lot easier when half of the thinking has already been done for you ;D

Getting close to 40:00 mins :D

Today I got +32 seconds done (bringing up this week's haul to +42 s) Total running length is now 37:42 getting close to the magic 40 minute mark. It's good to set goals, and I plan to make as big a bite into 40 mins by the end of the month.

Here's some screencaps of this week's shots:

Of course, I can't show you the good stuff, 'cuz this is one of those pivotal moments in the plot type scenes. It's good, trust me ;D

Saturday, March 15, 2008

4 Seconds per day

4 Seconds per day.

That's all you have to manage, on average, to make your film**

4 sec / day = 30 sec / week (more or less... you can cheat a bit)

= 2 minutes / month

= 30 minutes / year (remember cheating: add an extra frame in every shot or so...)

If you want your film done faster, just work at it faster (or have lots of long static shots)

** well, that's about what I manage...

Friday, March 14, 2008

How to understand Archon Defender (part 1)

The universe was created out of a singularity of nothingness known as the origin, the origin being a point of infinite possibility surrounded by the void, which is the absence of all things. This is supported by the Hindenburg's uncertainty principle which states that for any particle, you cannot simultaneously know both location and vector of motion, because by measuring one aspect, you irrevocably affect the other. A single particle alone in a universe of space has nothing by which to measure it's position, because measurements of position are by definition relative. Therefore that particle has a known position, which is at the centre of the void surrounding it. It's motion vector consists simultaneously of all possible directions and speeds of travel, which average out to a motion of zero when considered in a spherical context. This has two effects: The single particle contains infinite possibility, and also knows it's position and vector which is a violation of the uncertainty principle. Because of this violation, the particle (aka the origin) collapses (or rather expands) and the infinite universe that we see is created. Thus the origin undergoes the intent of creation.

Because the origin contains infinite possibility, it can be considered as what we would understand as the consciousness of god. At the creation of the universe, the infinite consciousness of the origin was shattered into infinitesimal fragments of which the universe we see ( ) is merely the smallest part. All the fragments are connected back through time to the origin, and it is Time which allows all things to exist. The mind of God is described in the Catholic religion as the Word of God. A word is an idea, and an idea representing a thought. A word is a sound representing a thought, and a sound is defined as the propagation of waves of energy vibrations through a medium over time. Without time, there is no sound. The word of god, in the context of the origin, is the entire universe. That is the Secret of Sound, that all things are connected to one, and that we are all one, we are all fragments of the origin which is the consciousness of god which stands at the singularity beyond all space and time, surrounded by the void which is eternal nothingness.

All worlds exist at certain vibrational frequencies. A multitude of universes exist atop one another, at different frequencies (similar to radio stations on the AM dial) There are worlds we cannot see above and below our level of awareness. Directly below our world, at half the vibrational frequency, is the world we experience as the dream world. Dark things dwell within the dream, darker things within the dream of the dream. Above our world, the realm we would attribute as heavenly, is inhabited by those known as the Octavien, due to the fact that each level of separation exists at the octave frequency (double or half ) of the underlying layer.

All pervasive through the universe is the remnant energy known as the Shard, which is the fading echo, or the dimming ember of the intent of creation. Minuscule by comparison to the infinite of the origin, the Shard is vast and inexhaustible by human measures. The Shard is the remnant of creation, it links all life, but lies just beyond our conscious grasp. Everyone has a connection to the shard, it is the connection that flows from the origin. Only some will awaken to their connection. As the Shard is a fragment of the intent of creation, it has the same power of the origin, except on a far lesser scale, although this as well is vast and inexhaustible by human measure. It may be manifest as psychic ability, artistic talent, 'paranormal' occurance, religions can be based around those who have a strong connection to it. Active, conscious control of the shard and it's effects takes mental training and meditation, a student of the Shard is known as an Adept, and with enough training to ascend to Master. The meditations that control the Shard and tune it to your conscious will are called Aum (for example, the Levitation Aum, Illumination Aum, the Silent Aum which can have a counteracting or dampening effect) Conscious use of the Shard is not without risks, because it is guided by the total intent of the Adept, conscious and subconscious. The subconscious intent of the mind is emotional reaction, so it is necessary that the adept focus their will in absence of the color of emotional response. Action flows from intent. Reaction is emotional cascade. When the Shard gets the better of you, or you lose control of your Aum to emotional intent, the result is the Black Shard (...which I have represented in Archon Defender as the black fractal crystals that spread everywhere...)


There's more to it, but that's the kernel of it. Other things I would say we need in a film would be honour, sacrafice for freedom , and defiance to tyrrany. Those are some of the aspects I've tried to embody in my film Archon Defender

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An excerpt from Archon Defender

An animation editing job came up that I'm interested in, so I though what better way to showcase my skills than with an excerpt from my film Archon Defender.

Some people have been itching to see the final product, but as these solo efforts can take some time, here's a little clip to hold you over for a while. The sound is clipping a bit in the middle but I haven't finalized the levels yet (and this is the only sequence with music and sound effects done, out of the whole 35+ minutes that I have animated.)

Also, I have to say that youtube compression doesnt do the final product much justice. (1280 x 640 hd to be specific) I wonder when / if they will ever have an hd version of youtube.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

3D made easy #4: Toon rendering in 3D max without extra plugins

Creating the toon rendered line art look is easy, and you don't need any expensive plugins to achieve this look. The following information is based on 3D studio max, but the concepts should translate to any 3d app as long as it supports user setting for surface normals. Let's start with the standard 3dmax teapot:

Now to create the main tooning line around this object, you simply create a duplicate, and apply two modifiers to it:
  1. Push polygons - to push the geometry out along the surface normals, think of it as 'inflating' the model like blowing up a bicycle tire. Apply the push modifier with a value of .25 to 3 or so, to your artistic taste. The more you push, the thicker the toon lines will be.
  2. Flip normals - to flip the normals of the copy, so that any faces originally facing the camera now point away, and vice versa
  3. Assign a flat black material to the copy

The idea is that you should now have a teapot, surrounded by a second teapot which has been puffed out at every polygon, with inverted surface normals. Now, no matter which direction you look at this object from, it will appear to be surrounded by a cartoon line.

Now for the cartoon shading material:

Click for full version 1280x640

  1. Create a new material (I called mine 'Tooning")
  2. Set the ambient, diffuse, and specular to black
  3. In the self illumination channel, add a MIX map into the map slot (image step 1.)
  4. Set color 1 in mix to black
  5. Set color 2 in mix to some color that you want for your model
  6. In the mic amount slot, select a Falloff type map
  7. In the falloff map, set the falloff Type to Shadow / Light, to make it receptive to the lighting in the scene
  8. Set the mix curve to resemble the stairstep pattern here. This will generate the toon shading effect. The widths of the bars determine the amount of shading for each coor level, the heights represent darker (lower) to bighter (higher) colors
You should end up with something like this:

You can adjust the softness of the toon areas by experimenting with the shape of the mix curve. You can add bands, have bands slightly gradiated, etc. Experimentation is always the key to figuring this stuff out.

This method, contrary to typical 3D setups, works bets with a single, or as minimal as possible, light sources.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

3D made easy #3: Super Slick compositing effects

Getting that slick professional sheen to your production is easier than you think (in fact only involves 2 steps, as i shall demonstrate. Think of this as the video equivalent of printing on expensive glossy shiny paper instead of that el cheapo stack of recycled photocopier paper that you stole from work.

Consider the following example:

This is not a 3D image, sorry if half of you have crossed eyes right now.
You'll have to click on the image to see it in it's full lossless .png glory

The panel on the left has no post processing
The panel on the right has my top secret method.

The difference is subtle, but you might agree with me that the right panel has just that exact indescribable quality that melds the whole image together.

let's zoom in a bit:

Again, you'll have to click on the image to get the full .png version, as blogger seems to reduce image quality for the main blog article pages.

This is how you get this look:
  1. Take your frame and gaussian blur it by 3 or 4 pixels.
  2. Apply a minimax filter set to the same pixel radius
  3. Mix this layer on top of the original frame at 20% to 30% transparency
  4. Mix animated noise or grain at 2% transparency over your entire frame
Of course, play around with the settings until you get a look that you like

And avoid step 5:
  1. Figure this out 2/3 into your film and now you have to go back and add this effect to 20 minutes worth of shots :(


"...either I'm very excited to be on top of this giant machinery,
or else I have multiple bananas in my pocket..."

Ooops... That wasn't supposed to happen. 3D max has ways of acting in an unexpected manner, even after years of experience it's still possible easy to screw up.

This is why it's best to do one or two shots at a time, I would hate to come back to this in comp to find a surprise.

3D made easy #2: Free tools for the 3D filmmaker

Making your own 3D animated film is getting easier every day. You can get the computer power you need cheaply, and the tools you need are free (and you don't even have to resort to software theft these days either)

I'm going to have to check out MovieStorm at some point. It's a machinima production tool that looks promisingly flexible, at least for banging out animatics or if you just need to get your film done fast.

Of course, for full on 3D production, there's blender, which has a set of features to rival the big ticket 3D animation packages like 3Dmax, Maya, or Lightwave. You can even do all your compositing in blender, and it has some really cool looking features, like texture replacement after rendering, fluid simulation. Check out Elephant's Dream to see what blender can do. And lastly, the Blender community is only rivaled by Amiga users for fanatic devotion.

And for editing, I swear by ddclip. There's an older freeware version, but at $48 for the full version, you aren't exactly breaking the bank the way Autodesk or Adobe would have you. Think of ddclip as notepad for video. It doesn't do transitions or video effects of any sort, but it does do sound editing and effects, it's perfect for syncing sound to video and doing foley and soundtracking. All your clips have to be the same avi codec, but given the limitations, it's brilliantly fast for editing, and there's no waiting to 'render' a preview, as it plays back everything from the harddrive.

Day 5 of set building

Over the last 5 days I've had off from work, I've been busy building the sets I'll need for the next round of shot production.

Today I finished the garden tree set:

In the last week I've also done the zone plate set:

The destroyed zone plate com bunker:

Now with these sets all done, it's a relatively simple matter of recording the vocals, lip syncing, animating, rendering, compositing, and editing the shots.

Easy stuff, now that all the hard work is done.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Garden tree location

Hmm, what's missing here... ah yes, the entire rest of the set. Well, that will be faked in aftereffects with a standard set of trees I have saved as .png files, and I'll have to import the sky from a previous shot to fill in the background, but the main parts of this set are done, except for some edge details like planters, columns, and bushes (again all to be recycled from previous scenes.)

The framing of some shots won't even need much in the way of post production. I'm thinking a 3d camera pull in (something i try to avoid as much as possible) to show off the 3D detail of the tree model here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Zone Plate - Final

Short update with the final revision of the zone plate battery, now to find the most dramatic angles that fit with my storyboard. This is where I re-edit the storyboard to show off the model a bit.

Check out this AMV

I was sent this cool amv on youtube today:

Now, what I got out of this is that you gotta be careful of what you rip off for your own films. Lucas ripped off akira kurosowa's 'hidden fortress' for star wars, for example. (apparently, I've never actually seen hidden fortress)

Also you cant help but rip off something when you make a film, because every thing's already been done.

So the solution is to rip off as many things as you possibly can, then when the inevitable comparisons are made you can say "nope, sorry I didn't rip off star wars, I ripped off dark city kthx thanks for coming out"

I've 'ripped off' (or more accurately, taken as inspiration) the following films, tv shows, or books to make archon defender:
  • Dark City
  • the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
  • Memphis Belle
  • This comic book i had when I was a kid... I can never remember the name of it, so hopefully someone out there may remember this: It was one of those el cheapo comic companies from the 60's or 70's like charleton, and the comic was about these flame men from the sun that attack earth, and these rocketmen guys have to fight them off. In particular, everyone flew around in these rectangular hovering space ships. I think they defeated the flame guys with liquid nitrogen guns or something.
  • The anime series Noein (to some extent)
  • The anime setres Last Exile (to some extent)
  • The anime Hoshi no Koe (to some extent)
  • The Fountain (after the fact... a lot of my symbolic imagery is similar to scenes in this film, which I saw after I was well into production)

  • Skyland - to no extent was I influenced by nor used ideas from. By the time I found out about this series, I was 20 minutes into archon defender. When I watched this, it was like watching a whole bunch of my ideas (and a bunch of everyone else's ideas, I could totally go on a big rant about this series). Whatever..., I've never even heard of the creators of this before, and I've been pretty top secret about archon defender for the first little while. The only idea of mine they should have stolen is: Lip synching in 3d animation should be sytlisticly simple or else it will look terrible. (more on this at a later date)
  • Veggie Tales. - do not compare archon defender to veggie tales. See my previous post if you need to know why.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Zone Plate

I'm just getting done the finishing touches on this technological monstrosity known as a 'Zone Plate Battery', which functions as both an anti aircraft defense system, and a long range surveillance system.

In Archon Defender, a zone plate acts as a type of resonator, focusing and amplifying energy

In reality, zone plates actually exist. They focus light based on the quantum principle of diffraction, and are used to focus microwaves and xrays, wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum which cannot be focused with lenses.

Of course, once I found out about them, I simply had to put one in my film ;)

Read more about zone plates on Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Medic! (not for the faint hearted)

Oops, seems I post a graphic (well not in my opinion, but maybe to others) pic and lose subscribers. Whether this is coincidence or not, I should 'warn' that Archon Defender is fairly graphic in it's depiction of war and tyranny. At the same time that it's graphic, I have refrained from any profanity or nudity at all, so you can consider the graphic depictions of war as an artistic necessity.

You can see images in full resolution if you click on them, so click only if you dare...

3D made easy #1 Surface Normals

This is the first in a series of tips and hints that I'm going to call "3D made easy" As you can guess, I'll make it easy for you to understand important concepts that you need to know to make your own 3D animated films. Let's start with today's topic:

Surface Normals

The image to the left shows your typical 3D animation scene. In this case, a sphere is being viewed by a camera (the eye)

The blue area shows the area of space visible to the camera. The front of the sphere is visible, the area behind the sphere is not visible.

The red arrows poking out from the sphere represent our surface normals. Each red arrow is perpendicular to the surface at that particular point.

In a similar fashion, 3D models made out of polygons will have one surface normal per polygon, pointing perpendicular to the surface of each polygon.

Surface normals tell the 3d renderer which polygons are visible or invisible in the rendering:

In the second image, as far as the camera is concerned, the back facing half of the sphere doesn't even exist.

The only surface normals visible are those pointing towards the camera

(well, technically speaking, normals between 0 degree and 90 degrees to the camera)

This has many practical applications, assuming your 3D application lets you set the surface normals of the polygons in your 3D models.

Cartoon rendering
I'll get into this later, as it's a bit involved, but still simple to achieve

If you have a room where the walls are the inside of a cube, with the surface normals pointing inward, then you can dolly the camera 360 degress around the room, only ever seeing the walls opposite from the camera (and contents of the room), ignoring the walls directly in front of the camera. This is difficult to duplicate in real life.

Read more on Wikipedia