Sunday, December 29, 2013

Modeling sets and characters over the holidays

I've been busy over the holidays modeling sets and characters which I had not gotten around to building yet, some of these are only in a few shots as well, but they still have to have enough attention to detail to fit in with the other parts of the film.

The Grand Hall of Craftminster, seat of the Alchemic Council

Getting a mesh driven by an armature to clone properly in Blender is a bit of a trick...
...but I got it to work ;)

Today was "spiral stairs" day, made easy thanks to the Array modifier in Blender

I'll we working on a few more sets over the next couple days then it's back into production again.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How to do storyboards the Uberector way.

How to do storyboards the Uberector way:   Get a bunch of recipe cards from the office supply store, I usually get a 3 pack of about 300 cards... get the blank ones, or use the blank side (unlike these shown here) For action scenes I divide a card into 3 sections, and draw action sequences. If it's a fight scene, for example, I then mix and match these sequences until a bigger sequence starts to take shape. Coloring the storyboards can help to keep track of characters and make it easier to follow what's supposed to be going once you come back to them after a while. Here are some storyboards from 'Archon Defender':

Archon Defender is out on VOD, get it on Itunes and google play today!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Teaser Trailer for Cold Dark Mirror

Just in time for halloween, I'm happy to announce a new teaser trailer for Cold Dark Mirror:

Set in a realm where magic and technology co-exist as the Discipline of Craft, Cold Dark Mirror follows a young Witch-Hunter, Lydia, who stumbles upon the dark secret of the Unseen World; a shadow world of dreams and nightmares which lies just beyond the mirror’s edge.

A dark and ancient power, the Time Shadow, seeks entry into the corporeal world, a power some on the Alchemic Council are in league with, and whose existence they seek to keep secret above all else.

Together with her Cat Familiar Callista, Lydia must face the Shadow Council, and avenge the death of her mentor, the Maegis Acheron.

I'm working solo on this one, as with all my previous films (visit for a full rundown of these ;)   I'm just over 20 mins in runtime at the moment, with some furious set building and secondary character modeling in the works over the next few weeks.   Follow my intermittent updates and progress reports on my production right here on this blog.

This will be the first film I've done entirely in Blender, start to finish, for everything except the sound fx and music.  I'm aiming for a 2014 release at some point, in the meantime you can catch up on my previous works at the links up above, including my first feature film Archon Defender out on DVD and VOD in USA and Canada right now.

Grab your 3D glasses for the extra awesome version:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Animating some dialog shots

I'm working on some dialog shots, these are easy to crank out, and are necessary to balance out the film and advance the plot along.  As long as your entire film isn't dialog (unless you're making an Ayn Rand Ninja movie...)  and you've got enough action packed sequences...   You'd think these kind of shots are pretty straightforward, though there's actually quite a bit of animation and shot timing necessary to keep these interesting.  The performance of the characters, and the emotional performance of your voice actors, has to carry these shots,  and with the camera locked down there's not a lot of room to hide mistakes with an excess of motion blur here.

Modeling this cloister set was actually pretty quick, the arch elements are instanced using Blender's null object group instancer.  I made the 'master' (hidden on another layer) exactly 2 'blender units' wide, so I can move these around, snapping to the grid, and they'll stay in place.   The most complex part of the set is the angel statue, which I modified slightly from a model downloaded from BlendSwap which is a great Blender community website where users can post models, and assets (animation clips, textures, materials, etc) with various licenses according to the taste of the creator.  This one is CC0 - public domain.   A lot of the BlendSwap models are CC0 or 'Attribution' , some have Non-Commercial licence, but the site makes it clear which is which. 

For a project like Cold Dark Mirror,  I'll go onto BlendSwap and look for CC0 or Attribution models, whenever I feel like saving some time in modeling.  I ususally have to modify models to fit my own visual style:  this angel model I severely ran through the decimate modifier which cuts the poly count and makes it look blocky, then I added my 'HF' sketch method on top to give it the 'painted with polygons' look.  But this whole scene took me only 5 hours to setup from scratch, using preexisting models (the wall lamps, some of the statues in the back.)   The architectural look I've established in this shot will be carried over into a few other sets I have yet to build.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

20 mins done

20 minutes done, an important milestone which means that I'm starting to get an actual film going here ;)   And it's almost 20 continuous minutes too...    So if the film is supposed to be 80 minutes or so, then I only need to do that 3 more times and then it's done.... easy stuff...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Archon Defender - Canadian VOD Release on Google Play

Archon Defender has finally been released in Canada!  Visit Google Play to buy or rent this special digitally remastered edition.  USA DVD and VOD release to follow shortly.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

15 minutes...

Actually more like 16 and a bit minutes...  but the major milestones are always 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 mins.   Once you've got 20 minutes, you only need to do that 3 more times and you have a finished 80 minute film.

So in the next little while I'll be grinding away on the shots that I can do quickly, a lot of them are dialog shots which are relatively easy to finish compared to action shots.  By Action shot I mean anything that is more involved than 2 or more characters standing around talking.  Now there's a certain school of thought that says you should be showing not telling in a film.   I like to strike a balance between the two, there's times when a dialog shot can be used to fill in the back story and establish the world of the film.  These sequences should fit in with the visual elements of the film and provide clues for the viewer to grasp exactly what the hell is going on in the film.

The overall arc of a film should be set in a consistent mythology, and the elements of that world should slowly unfold, and in a non-linear way so that the viewer can go back and watch the film again, each time discovering new aspects of the world which were not apparent or evident on first viewing.   There's a common thread uniting all the films which I have done, and I'm revealing a little bit more of that thread in Cold Dark Mirror...(if you know where to look ;)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Yup... pretty lazy updating this again lately ;(

Yup, I've been pretty lazy updating this blog lately... however I do have almost 15 minutes finished on Cold Dark Mirror.

At the moment I'm rendering a big sweeping landscape shot (which flies through this stone circle as shown here)   Right now it's clocking in at 8 mins per frame, and there's 1056 frames... per eye, so that's 2100 ish frames to render over the next week or so.   I'm also rendering the sky separately and doing a bit of tweaking in the blender node compositor to brighten up and soften the shot, comp in some extra atmospheric haze etc...   But this shot will tip me over the 15 mins mark..

Here are a couple of other shots with the main character Lydia from the beginning of the film.

Friday, May 10, 2013

First batch of shots for Cold Dark Mirror

I've just finished off the first batch of shots for Cold Dark Mirror,  80 seconds done in the last 2 weeks.  These shots have been a test bed for developing a Blender workflow, getting network rendering ironed out and a stereoscopic 3D workflow ironed out in Blender as well.  I'm using the Loki Render network render manager to post the shots to my 'grunt' computers as I work on them.  Stereoscopic 3D is simply a matter of saving two .blend files, one each for Right and Left camera; adding a job in Loki is easy, especially adding two similar jobs when one is called 'ACH010-R.blend' and the other is 'ACH010-L.blend'  

Then I let the render nodes go overnight, or while I'm working on the next shot.  These shots have been full frame renders, due to the moving torch light you can see the character Ibecc carrying above.  Longer render times than I'd be usually happy with, but worth it because the shots look great.  The library scenes here are all put together from a small set of building block elements which I clone using group instances, this makes building each set super easy, to the point where I can just build each set on the fly, in a matter of minutes, using a simple set of common repeating elements, with enough flexibility and variation to maintain a complex visual interest between shots. 

The workflow in Blender is really fast once you get the hang of the interface, and learn a few of the keyboard shortcuts you're going to use most often.

It's off now to build the 'library rotunda'  where a lot of the cool action of the film happens.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lip Sync with Blender and Papagayo


Papagayo is an open source and freely redistributable lip sync tool by Lost Marble. Lip syncing is the most boring thing you can do by hand when animating... I have created python script to take .dat files exported from Papagayo and import them as position keyframes on a control object which drives (using drivers ;) the morph targets of a face animation rig.

The linked zip file has the script, a slightly modified version of Papagayo (with my face rig images instead of the stock distro version) as well as a blend file with my full (simple and low poly) facial rig. See the included readme.txt for a step by step how to use this script.

The version here is slightly modified only by the addition of a new set of default 'face shape' images to match my Blender face rig.

The included Blend file: Face Rig - rev004.blend has the facial animation rig I use on all my characters, applied here to a slightly modified Suzanne monkey head. The face rig is obviously low poly and simple (I like to avoid the 'uncanny valley' effect) however this rig and script could be adapted to a more complex face rig if you were so inclined.

  • Step 1: Install the Papagayo application 
  • Step 2: Learn how to use Papagayo to sync up text to a sound .wav file Export a .dat file from Papagayo Step 3: Copy the script to blender's add-ons directory 
  • Step 4: Activate the script in the Addons tab of the user preferences window. You'll see a little control box appear in the 3D view tool shelf ("T" to bring this up) 
  • Step 5: Load the Face Rig .blend file Select the "Plus" control called "face.mouth.ctrl" 
  • Step 6: Pick a .dat file (saved from papagayo above) and click on "Process Input File"
  • Step 7: A bunch of keyframes should appear in the timeline. Scrub back and forth to see the keyframes in action You can load in your wav file into blender at this point to hear the audio synced to the mouth (but this isn't necessary for the script to function)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Building sets and characters

It's been a while since my last post: over Jan and Feb 2013 I was working on script revisions and storyboards for Cold Dark Mirror. I'm now working on creating all the 3D assets in Blender which I will need to start animating: Characters, Sets, Props, Models, etc:

There's kind of a 'book' theme going on in this film, so books feature quite prominently throughout. The only problem here is that you end up having to model a lot of books, and to keep things visually interesting, there has to be a lot of variation in the layout and positioning of books on the bookshelves... I'm still working on a way to easily set this up... maybe something with particles. One thing Blender does well is handle lots of particles without a low memory overhead.

I've intentionally been keeping the backgrounds simple, at least for the interior shots. A lot of the background elements are just going to be shilouette or total darkness. There's a darker feel to this film than Archon or Origin, so the backgrounds are going to be less 'busy' and let the characters and action stand out.

Blender has a lot of great smoke, fire, and fluid simulation tools, I may even use them in this film ;) Only trouble is there's a lot of pre-calculation involved which I don't want to have to sit through, especially to tweak values until they're exactly what I want. The candelabra flames here are just mesh objects which I've rigged with a simple set of morph targets which I can manually animate to flicker when I need them to.

Layer compositing is the best tool for independent 3D animation production, in terms of getting shots done quickly. You don't want to sit through a bunch of full frame renders if you can help it, so the technique is very similar to the traditional 2D cel animation technique where characters are animated on top of a painted background. In this case, the 'cels' are PNG files with an alpha channel.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Some Blender Tutorials / Demos

A few quick Blender demos / tutorials that I put together over the holidays for the character design and rigging for my next film.  Thought I'd document it as I go this time and show the various steps, setup, and methods I use to create my films:

First up is a short tutorial on creating realistic plant models quickly using the Array Modifier (with a second object controlling the axis origin and scale for the transformation) The key is using a golden ratio Z axis rotation of 222 degrees:

Next, a demo how to achieve a 'squished against glass' look for your models, useful if you have a character trapped behind a force field or a big glass plate window or something:

And two videos showing my dress / robe rig, for the legs and for the arms, which allows the sleeves and bottom of the robe to dangle and move in the correct fashion without having to use cloth simulation.

And returning for a one night limited engagement: the infinite inception goldfish: