Sunday, November 25, 2012

Blender Lip Sync Rig

I've been developing a version of my facial animation rig for Blender:

As you can see I use a very simple face for my characters,  I find 'normal' CG face rigs and lip sync to be very stiff and wooden, due to the 'uncanny valley' effect, best avoided if you don't want your film to look terrible.  They've managed to overcome this in recent years,  Avatar was the first film that I can recall where the facial mocap / animation system was pulled off convincingly... fun-ortunately this means you have to throw tons of money at the lip sync alone to make it look *acceptable*   My approach is to establish a consistent stylized look and concentrate on the story, characters, and action to carry the film.

The eyes are another conscious choice to avoid 'Disney' or 'Anime' style eyes.   This is again a stylistic choice with the intent to set my work apart from the 'mainstream' and already well established genres.

I have a few more controls to add to the rig seen above,   mouth smiling and frowning,  a 'yelling' control... then it's a "simple"* task of creating a Python script to parse lip sync data from Papagayo into the little '+' mouth control seen here.   Papagayo is a free lip sync tool that lets you align text with a wav file, then exports a list of frame numbers with corresponding "phenomes"  (the yellow U,  FV,  E  etc seen above)    I use three simple mouth shape keys which are mixed together using Drivers, controlled by the XY controller I've built, mapping out the various positions where these phenomes appear on the controller lets me lip sync manually,  the Python script (which I have yet to learn how to make  :(   ...)  will let me do this automatically...

... because there's nothing more tedious than lipsync :(

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Blender render output styles

I've been doing some tests with the blender scanline renderer and the Freestyle NPR renderer:
From left to right here are a few tests with mr paper bag head guy here, starting with the straight 1 pass scanline render with no other effects added to it. In all the cases here I've used the Catmull-Rom antialiser set to 0.65, as this seems to give the best antialising of all the settings I've tried.

The images rendered here were taken from a wide camera angle, so the model is actually a bit further away from the camera vs the other close-ups I've shown recently.   This is important to consider, since the toon line rendering will appear to be wider in proportion to the scale of the model, the further the model gets away from the camera. 

In the second image from the left, I've applied a 4 pass HF Sketch effect using the displace modifier, you can see how the silhouette of the model is broken up and will blend better into the background.  At this distance the 'painted' effect is less prominent, but this does help to soften the image and blend objects together.

Third up is the 4 pass sketch with the bog standard blender Edge pass turned on.   This works ok for models that are close up to the camera, but for objects further away, you can see how the toon lines get ridiculously wide in proportion to the actual model.  There's no way to control the line width in Blender (...yet...) 

Fourth up, the Freestyle renderer does a fairly reasonable job, with much better artistic control of where lines will go, and a global width control to change the base width of the toon lines for an entire scene.   This could be handy for actors who approach the camera, for example, since this control can be animated with an IPO curve.

So it looks like my rendering pipeline will be a layered approach like in my previous productions, with the backgrounds given a liberal dose of the HF sketch *without* toon lines (as in image 2 here)   with the actors using a combination of the standard blender toon renderer and the freestyle method depending on if it's a closeup shot or not.

Time to go pester the Blender devs to integrate Freestyle into the main Blender distro for an upcoming release ;)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Engine and mechanicals sound effect synth in Reaktor - Updates

Props to user Yanni Fyassas who has updated my Engine and Mechanical sound effects generator to work in the newest version of Reaktor (which I don't actually have either...) Grab the updated version here:

Blender Tutorial - Multipass Sketch Effect

A quick tutorial on how I get the multipass sketch effect in Blender using the Displace Modifier and the Multipass motion blur effect in the render settings panel.

Blender Tests

'Been testing out some of the cool new shizz in Blender:
The physics engine opens up some interesting possibilities. I was quite surprised how well this chain worked with a little tweaking and finding the right mesh collision settings, and it calculates a lot faster than I would expect too. Just have to figure out how to get it to 'read' the motion of an object or character (or bounding boxes attached to a character to get some cool 'walking through spooky chains' type scenes going.
The Blender Freestyle development fork is looking promising for some NPR rendering, here's the monkey head with my usual multipass sketch rendering effect, PLUS the edge enhancement of the Freestyle render passes. This wiggles like shit when you move the camera, but it would be great for matte shots, skies, and distant objects that don't have to be animated. Look to see Freestyle incorporated into the main Blender distro once it's a bit more refined.
I'm not happy with Blender's volumetric shadows... too slow to render and not enough artistic control over them. Some things are still best done in post fx.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Script Writing and Character Modeling

I'm busy writing the script and developing characters for my next film, which will be a bit of a departure from the Archon series, and a short film at that (in the 20 mins or so range) as a way of learning all I need to know for Blender to ramp up for production of the third feature in the Archon series, "The Secret Of Sound"  

In the meantime though, it's witches, cats, and spooky things for "Cold Dark Mirror" which I'm aiming for actual full on production over the xmas and into new years 2013.  I'm aiming at a few months (3-4 ish tops) similar to my production on 'Tales From the Afternow"  This one will be released straight online as well, maybe to a few of the cool film fests, like Dragon*Con and MIFF.