Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Low poly clones

In the future, only the clones will police the clones.

Low poly clones: the easiest way to fill a shot where you need lots of characters, but don't want to spend forever animating. 3D max has a handy object called the 'mesher' (seen here to the left) This does exactly what you'd expect it to do: it creates a copy of any object you pick in your scene, matching any animation frame by frame. The time offset value lets you adjust the timing of the clone, so that the copy isn't doing identical motions as the master.

A couple things to keep in mind when using this:
  1. Your model has to be one mesh, if you have separate objects for the hands (like I do) or for prop objects (like the shield and billy club the SWAT guys above are using) then they need to be welded to your model, and the proper vertex weights assigned in the 'skin' modifier so you can animate the model properly.
  2. Your clones are all going to share the same motion as the master. To add variation to the models, you have to animate a 'lead in' time 5-10 seconds (or more) depending on the length of your shot, and set the time offsets so that it's not too obvious that you are cloning the motions
  3. I'll typically have 3-4 master characters, and 6-8 clones off them with random time offsets, then scatter those clones around (color coordinated) so that no two clones from the same master are standing side by side
  4. It can become a pain to choreograph all your clones if they are doing much more than standing around, I have yet to try this with an actual action scene where characters are fighting each other, for example.
  5. You should vary the height of the clones by 97-103 % to add further variation.
  6. Not to mention, slight variations in materials between characters: assign slightly different skin color / clothing color / variations in procedural texture 'seeds'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Two days of modeling from scratch... (actually from my 1/2 of a human generic form scaled to my standard biped size model) ...and my general purpose Swat / Guard / Soldier model is done, complete with M16 and gas mask:

Boots are too shiny though,
I'll have to add some vertex colors
and dirty up this fellow a bit.

Go ahead. Make my day >:|

Still have to make a riot shield for when I use these guys for riot police, maybe some of those clear plastic face shields they use too instead of gas masks. Plus I can totally change the insignias and uniform colors to vary the characters a bit too.

I've been recycling a lot of the Archon Defender characters for Tales from the Afternow, but I've also been creating all the main characters from scratch. This way I can use pre-existing models (fixing the arms and applying the 'sketch' effect modifiers) cutting my development time for this project considerably.

I should really go through all my project files from Archon Defender and save out individual models of every object I created (furniture etc...) Could come in handy in the future.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Main character modeling

This is the main character for TFTA, Independent Librarian Dynamic Sean Kennedy the Sixth, who I will hereafter refer to simply as "The Librarian" for short. I finished up the modeling on the main character faster than I thought I would, although I still have a younger version to make who will appear through the majority of the short.

Notice how the toon shading is responding to colored lights a lot better than the method I used in Archon Defender...

You can see the polygon paint technique gets quite exaggerated up close, I was going to fix this but I've come to like the look of this, so it stays.

Some Technical 3D max stuff that might be boring to you:

One thing I've noticed is that this method lets you get away with lower poly models than I had for Archon Defender. Let's say you make a low poly character mesh, and put the meshsmooth modifier on it to smooth out the polygons (which is what I did here.. and for Archon Defender.)

Meshsmooth will divide polygons into 4:
  • step 0 ... 1 poly
  • step 1 ... 4 polys- This is where I have it for these models
  • step 2 ... 16 polys - This is where I set it for Archon Defender
  • step 3 ... 64 polys - ouch onoes you are starting to hurt your computer
  • step 7 ... !!!!!!! over 9000!!!!! polys
Some More Technical 3D max stuff that might be boring to you:

This technique is designed to maintain the 'painted' look by shifting the geometry of the models using a noise modifier, synced to the frame rate of the animation, so that the effect is consistent from frame to frame, and doesn't 'wiggle'

What I noticed from my test animations so far, is that this technique actually 'wiggles' the polygons visibly when *skinned* characters move. This is simply a result of where I have put the noise modifier in the object's modifier stack. Above the skin modifier, it wiggles when they move. Below the skin modifier, it doesn't.

So it's well within my ability to "fix" this, I just happen to like the way it works. My reasoning for this: It serves to separate living elements from inanimate objects and mechanical objects, which are not 'skinned' in 3dmax, and therefore will not have a visible wiggling effect when they move.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Character modeling - updated models

I'm updating some of the Archon Defender characters to use as extras and background characters in Tales From the Afternow.

Step 1: A quick fix of the arm length, to silence 50% of my complainers.

Step 2: A new lighting method that reacts to colored lights and allows me to fine tune the highlights on the models

Step 3: Adding the polygon sketch process to these models, which is easy now that I have it fine tuned to the look that I want.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Official Rejection: Why Film Festivals Suck

Less self referential than a documentary about itself would be: Official Rejection is a new documentary film about the film festical (*1) scene (and why it sucks) I haven't seen the whole film yet, but I'm ordering the dvd as I type this:

Now I could go on at length about how I've come to hate film festivals (and rather quickly since I've only been finished Archon Defender for about 4 months now... I'm a fast learner... it comes with being a solo animator ;)

M dot Strange has a good blog entry about film festivals:

Here's how it goes...

You pay a fee... $50 - $100 for a feature

A) You get rejected AND they are nice enough to keep your money
B) You get accepted THEN they send you a page of EXACT technical specs you must meet so they can screen your film

Example: "We are the Strange" was HD.... so my cheapest full quality option was HDCAM which cost about $1,500.00 for one copy

Now in just under a month (3 weeks actually) since Archon Defender was featured on the front page of YouTube, the film has been viewed over 200,000 times, with 500 feedback comments both good and bad (and of the "complainer" comments, 0 postings of their own solo animated feature films) Not only that, but the first batch of DVD's I sent to sold out already, with a new shipment sent to restock them today.

You just aren't going to get this kind of response from the film festicals. At best you'll be faced with general apathy (from both the festivals and the 'film media') At worst, you'll end up out big cash, selling off the rights to your movie to some distributor who will use fancy accounting tricks to further screw you out of your due, or just sit on your film while it languishes in obscurity.

YouTube has been a fantastic outlet, and I encourage any indie filmmaker, animator, or episodic 'original content creators' to approach them with your project. In terms of building exposure while sharing in ad revenue, you come out ahead on both counts. This is also why I am supporting and their efforts to set up a system for indie filmmakers to screen their movies to their target audience, an audience built online through word of mouth. The future is crowdsourcing, the old models of media monoliths are obsolete.

(*1) Not a typo ;P

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to build a dump truck (made easy)

3D Modeling time again :) Time to build all the sets, models, vehicles, and actors for my next film project. One of the things I need are dump trucks, so it was off to google image search for some reference material, and then 3D max to push some polygons around.

I based this model on the CAT 769 dump truck. It's not super accurate by any stretch, and in fact I eyeballed the whole thing instead of actually measuring anything. The total build so far is just over 12 hours over the last several days.

Now I didn't build this exactly in this order, but it shows the layout of the model:


Engine block. Not at all accurate, as it'll be hidden in the model most of the time but it is visible dimly from the side at points, and has to just look mechanical enough to fool the average movie watcher.

Wheels. The wheels on this truck are as tall as a person, so I had to load in a character model as reference to base the rest of the model on.

Adding the cab. The best thing here is I can build other stuff on the back if I want to change the truck. (Which I will need to do :)

And the dumper, ready to cart away the mountains of cash that will be coming my way soon.

All that's left is to 'dirty' up the model with some procedural noise and some vertex colors, and to apply my 'polygon paint' effect to the whole model.

Update with the texturing and paint method applied to the model:

Monday, November 9, 2009

My next project is already looking cool...

My next project is already looking cool (if I do say so myself, which I do)...

(and I haven't even really started at it hard yet.. :P

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Character Modeling

It's been a while since I've had to do character modeling. For Archon Defender, I based all the characters on the same original model and modified them as I needed to make new characters. This is one reason why the characters look similar, though I did tweak the face and body proportions for each of the main characters. Having a pre-rigged character that I could go back and edit the clothing for came in quite handy.

It's also the reason the characters have (apparently) "short arms" (a major "complaint" I've received) That's because I never noticed the arms were short until I had 20 mins of the film done and I wasn't about to go back and re-do all those shots. So. If you want to complain about short arms to me, you should have mentioned it 3 1/2 years ago when I modeled the first character >:P

Yesterday and today I spent about 9-10 hours total modeling and rigging my latest character, for the Tales from the Afternow short:

Too Much TV: A victim of the Couch Potato Famine
'cross eyed' 3D pair
(the actual film is not going to be in 3D :(
I'm not going to sit here for the next 2 months
cross eyed or wearing stupid glasses)

This is the character 'Icuubi' from afternow Episode XV: The Digital Totem. If you haven't checked out Tales From The Afternow yet, you should. (It'll at least keep you occupied until I finish this next film... not no mention it's the shizzzzzzzzz)

Icuubi is kind of a bit player in the film I'm working on, but an Afternow animation just wouldn't be right without him ;) Plus, it was good to warm up the modeling skills to get the main characters ready in the next week or two. Starting off from a box, with cheerful source material (pics of death camp victims and anorexics :/ ...) the modeling took about 7 or 8 hours and then the texturing and fine tuning, plus the robe, and then rigging and fine tuning vertex weights (fun stuff) He's pretty much ready to go (aside from the hands, which aren't fine-poseable yet) Plus I've got a couple things to add onto him that I thought up after the fact...

You can also see the 'polygon paint' sketch effect at work on this example, It's turning out really good, and I can't wait to see what a full sequence animated with this technique is going to look like.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Concept art continued...

More sketches for Tales From The Afternow:

Yup I'm going to have to build all this in 3dmax. Luckily, a good portion of the film takes place here, so it's important to plan this in detail before I get started.

Not precisely to scale or accurate or anything, more of a way to get down the ideas and elements that I want to build for the actual scene.

Random video stuff

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Previs Sketch Process

I'm working on my next project, a short film this time based on Tales From The Afternow by Sean Kennedy of RantMedia. The script is done (more or less, with some finessing as I go along in production) It's going to be a short film (the animatic came just over 10 mins, but there will be a bit added on at the beginning and 12 mins or so) The main storyboarding is done, so now it's time to do a little previs concept sketches, so I know exactly what I'm going to have to build in 3D. I'm starting with the environments, for example this storyboard frame from the introduction:

When I storyboard, I'll sketch in some details and ideas for the shot, but obviously not in too much detail or it would take forever. Sometimes it's just stick men and arrows, depends on how complex the shot is or what I'm trying to convey to myself later. This is the stage where, at Pixar or Disney, you would "pitch" your storyboard to a committee of people whose job it is to ruin your movie.

A quick sketch of the environment as I had originally imagined it as I was doing the storyboard frame, with details embellished and added (like the water, the debris) Planning out small details like the electrical connections on the walls, the steel framing beams and metal details will make life easier when it comes time to build this in 3Dmax.

Color adds a lot to a scene, which is why I use it even on storyboards, you can clarify a lot with colors, in these concept sketches I'll try to keep the colors close to the intended texture colors as possible. If I'm doing storyboards, the colors are a little looser: I may use purple or green or something to keep track of a certain character through shots, for example.

I also did a mockup of the lighting which I will be reproducing in after effects for the final comp.

Now the main goals of this project are to:

A) Improve my 3D character modeling and rigging skills
B) Develop the 'polygon sketching' 3d technique and adapt that to the 'tooning' style I used for Archon Defender.