Monday, 30 April 2012

Revisions of Shot 2 and Shot 8

I have recently redone some of the animating for two shots of the Synaestheisa film for several reasons.  These are shot 2; in which she approaches the cooker and looks at the kettle and shot 8; in which she approaches the piano and sits down.  Shot 8 has seemed to take the longest to do out of any shot as it has a range of different types of animation.

Shot 2

This shot was reanimated to have more shoulder movement in her steps because in the first version of this animation, she was gliding along and her movement was incredibly upright.  Our tutor, Dan said that she needed to have much more rotational movement in her upper body and that I should focus less on the vertical movement of her body for this shot.

Furthermore, her focus needed to be more on the kettle; I initially animated her head looking up at the particles that would eventually be present, but we decided that her focus should at least start at the source of these particles; the kettle.  Once Amelie has created the Dynamics for this kettle, I may perhaps add some upward head movement as then, there will be something to animate the head against.

In order to work out how she should approach this kettle, I decided to record myself in Valentino and Arpit's kitchen approaching a cooker with a kettle on it to figure out how one would make 1 or 2 slow steps towards the cooker.

As you can see, this movement is very much driven by the rotation in the shoulders; as Alex's legs are not visible in this shot, the main way that I will be able to convey a walking forward movement is through the shoulders and arms.  In this video, my shoulders start off aligned, but then when I make the breakdown movement, my right shoulder come forwards and then my left shoulder eventually snaps back into alignment.

I have incorporated that movement into Alex's movement as this is a very short and slight movement, yet effective in conveying a walk.  You will also notice that Alex now focuses more on the kettle, but that she slightly moves her head up and smiles.  When I first joined this project, I initially imagined that this Synesthete is "suffering" from her condition and possibly timid as a result of her Synaesthesia, and she was therefore animated by me in a way that conveys this.  However, when I had a listen to her recorded dialogue, I found that she has actually adapted very well to her condition and is content with her condition and herself.  As I will elaborate on when I talk through shot 8, I have reanimated these parts to present a more confident and joyful character.

You will also notice that there is a brand new shot that has been added to this scene, which is a close-up shor of the kettle, which will eventually have some Dynamics applied to it.  We added this extra shot mainly because we found that the previous shot was going on for too long and we could not come up with enough poses or variety in the poses to last that long.  We got the inspiration for this shot when we were filming reference for Alex to approach the cooker and we tried different angles; one of the angle we came up with was an extreme close-up of the kettle, which you will see in the video below.  We decided that this extreme close-up would make a good climaxing shot to this scene.

Shot 8

Most of the animation for shot 8 has been redone to accomodate this more confident character that I now know I need to portray.  The previous animation was very rigid and had a lot of anticipation which indicated that Alex was perhaps unconfident, hesitant and maybe even reluctant to play the piano.  First, she approached the piano and stood for a few seconds and then she awkwardly pulls herself on to the stool before moving up and waiting a few more seconds before she plays.

After giving the audio a proper listen, I found that she is not awkward about her condition and she is in fact confident in her ability.  In this scene, we will see that she knows how to play notes on the piano to orchestrate the patterns and colours that she sees.  Her movement in this sequence would need to involve her approaching and sitting at the piano more swiftly, with any anticipation added just to emphasise the natural movement.

The shot originally had a few technical errors which needed to be amended.  Firstly, there was not enough rotation in her shoulders and chest during the walk cycle.  In addition to this, when she sat at the piano and put her hands towards the piano, her hands make a strange circular movement in which the rotate around the keyboard before touching the keys.  In reality, this would be a more diagonal movement.

With these points in mind, I decided to film myself approaching and sitting down at the piano in Valentino and Arpit's house to figure out how one would sit at a piano naturally, so I could apply the same to the Alex character rig.

Several pieces of movement in this clip caught my eye and helped inform the animation work; first of all, rather than pulling myself onto the stool or focusing to lean on the stool, I make the rather simpler movement of stand in front of the stool, which I approach by putting one leg forward and then simply sliding the other into position.  Secondly, I do not use my arms to aid myself in sitting down, I look to see where the stool is and I just rest my weight down on it; my arms move to rest my lap during this piece of movement.

As I mentioned, the movement of my hands from my lap to the piano keyboard is simple and diagonal rather than the circular motion I came up with previously.  I used these aspects of my movement very strongly in the revision of the shot 8 animation, which made for a much more natural and relaxed piece of animation.

This walk cycle and sitting animation is far simpler than what I had come up with in the previous post, but then again, it is a simple set of movements.  There is still anticipation in this animation sequence, when she looks down at the seat, but this is merely for the character to calculate where the seat is and therefore where she should aim to rest her weight; her focus is very much fixed on the piano itself.  Interestingly, Arpit and Valentino both really liked this looking down action before she takes her seat.

The shoulders in this walk cycle sequence are more animated now and do move forward with the weight of the body.  Lastly, her hand move in a more diagonal direction towards the piano keyboard; in order for the hand to not go through the keyboard, I broke the tangent right at the end of the Translate Z  channel in the Graph Editor and rotated it to accommodate for of a curve.

As these two shots have been redone or tweaked and shots 3, 4 and 5 have also been finalised, this now means that I have completed a total of 5 shots and that I now have 5 shots left to animate.  I am halfway towards finishing now.  Next, I need to start working on the dog scene in which Alex strokes her dog, shortly before it dies and fades away.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Playblast for Shots 3, 4 & 5

These are another set of shots which had quite a lot of revision.  This scene originally consisted of an over the shoulder track shot to the book room and a POV of the book, with words coming out.  We decided to make this more succinct by transitioning from the previous scene to a long shot that pans slowly from left to right of Alex sitting at the table reading a book, with the cup of tea that she made in the previous scene (probably with a small amount of Dynamics omitting from the cup to follow on from that scene).  The shot then cuts to an over the shoulder shot in which we see the words coming out of the book.

This then cuts to a POV so we can get a better look of the words leaving the book.  In an interesting twist,  she puts the book down and then we suddenly see her walk out of shot.  This means that shot 5 functions as both a POV shot of what Alex sees but then seamlessly becomes a long shot of her walking to the next room.  This is where I animated a walk cycle of her walking to the next room to have the next experience.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Shot 8 Final Playblast

Shot 8 is finally done; Valentino wanted me to increase the overall speed of the walk.  I initially made it a lot faster than I originally had it, but then Valentino asked me to make it a little slower again.  He also wanted each step to be slower than the last.

As for the sitting movement, they liked it, but they wanted a little more anticipation when she approaches the stool before she sits down.  As for the part when she moves up the stool and into the correct position, they thought her behind went too far up in the air, so I took that down and made it flatter in the Graph Editor.

With all the relevant changes made, here is the unrendered playblast of shot 8.
I am back in line with my personal schedule for the Synaesthesia project and I am intending to start work on shot 3 and shot 4, in which Alex sits at a table with a book and words start to move around.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Shot 2 Playblast

Shot 8 is not yet finished, but just needs a little cleaning up; however, I have been working with Arpit and Valentino and in that space of time, I have got all the main poses done for shot 2 of the film (technically shot 2 and 3).  This shot consists of a POV shot of Alex walking through her hall and is eventually followed by a cut to a Mid Shot of the kettle boiling; in this shot, Alex approaches the kettle and sees patterns omit from the kettle, a phenomenon that she describes as a "heat mirage".

This is a very simple shot which consists of her taking one slow step towards the cooker, looking at the kettle and then looking at the colours that emerge from the kettle.  This shot has been altered from its original form, which originally consisted on an over the shoulder shot of Alex approaching the cooker, after being tracked all the way through the hall and simply standing and staring at the kettle, before it transitions to the next shot.

Here is a playblast of the whole shot and Alex's actions as she approaches this kettle.  This is accompanied by her dialogue.
This shot was altered mainly because Arpit and Val had words with Dan, who helped them out with cutting it down and only including necessary shots.  When Valentino was putting together the camera shots for this scene, I helped him out and suggested possible transitions between each shot, such as with the transition from the POV shot to the Mid shot, where I suggested a straight cut, rather than camera movement which moves away from Alex's perspective and to the Mid Shot.

It is not yet apparent in this playblast but we have come to the conclusion together that the first piece of dialogue ("Every frequency is a different colour...") coincides with the POV shot and the second piece of dialogue, where she talks about her "heat mirage"should be placed over the Mid shot in which she approaches the kettle.  As for the final piece of dialogue ("It's like seeing that, but coming out like a huge plume..."), this come over the transition from this mid shot, just as the scene is flooded with Dynamics, to the next shot which we decided would be a Slow Panning Mid-to-Long shot of Alex sitting at the table with her cup of tea and a book, ready for the next piece of action.

As she displays very little movement, I decided that in order for it to still look alive, I included a slight swing of her arm, which would continue very slightly after she had finished her walk.  The only thing in this animation that is not quite finalised is her head movement; the plan is for her to look down at the kettle and as the patterns start to omit, she looks up at them.  This piece of movement cannot be done properly until the dynamics for this shot are completed by our Dynamics Artist, Amelie Lim.  Once this is in place, I will be able to animate her head (and chest movement if necessary) to follow the movement of these patterns.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Blend Shaping for Alex

I am still working on the walking to piano shot, but I can say that it is nearly done and ready to be sent to Arpit and Valentino; I just need to smoothen one or two hip tangents and also feminise the walk a little more (probably with the aid of a Digital Tutors tutorial).  Towards the beginning of this process, I was chronically stressed over it, but as it has gone on, I have become more relaxed; mainly because I feel as though I have been reacquainted with the Graph Editor and I have remembered what I useful tool it is and that it I can become easily confident just with continuous practice.  The animation for this has taken a while to perfect primarily because the animation must look realistic and natural, as opposed the the exaggerated cartoon effect that we have done several times in the past few years.

In the mean time, Arpit and Valentino have asked me to do some blend shapes for Alex's face.  I have created separate sets of blend shapes for the eyebrows, eyes and mouth.  The eyebrows can be raised or lowered separately or together, the eyes can blink and can also be creased, which is particularly useful for creating a realistic and convincing smile.  In order for her eyebrows to raise, I set the drivers that control her brow blend shapes to also drive the eyebrows that have been modelled in either direction.

Her mouth can be widened or narrowed and her upper and lower lips can be raised.  I have also set the drivers that control the movement of the lips to also drive the Translate Y axis of the jaws in the relevant directions.  I have also created a special driver and respective set of blend shapes called "Mood", which if the user sets in the +20 direction, she smiles whereas if the user sets it in the -20 direction, she frowns.  This mood driver can bring the smile or frown pretty far and exaggerated, so I suggest keeping the Mood to a minimum on either side of the scale for more subtle and natural results.  Doing the smile and frown blend shapes took me the longest to perfect until I could make convincing smile and frown shapes without making her look like The Joker.

Here is a video demonstrating the range of expressions that Alex can now convey.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Female Walk Cycle + References

I have been working on the walk cycle part of shot 8, but while I was animating the walk cycle, using the methodology that I adapted in the first year (two central points, keyframes, breakdown, inbetweens, etc.), I did find that the walk cycle had a huge amount of gravity; particularly for a teenage girl who was just supposed to be strolling.

This makes Alex look as though she is almost trying to force herself through the atmosphere of the scene; it also makes the character seem more manly.

In order to create a younger, more serene and ultimately more feminine character, I started to look for references that would help me in creating a convincing walk cycle.

Synaesthesia director, Val gave this link which features a woman walking.  Her walk here is very elegant, and furthermore, I notice that one of her arms sways considerably more than the other; the other arm is even completely still at times.  Her hip movement is also very prominent in this walk.

In addition to this, it is apparent that females tend not to lift their legs from the ground as far as males and that the movement between each foot is far more slight.  This is a theory that is demonstrated very vividly and humoursly by good old Richard Williams in this video below.

This video also has a good example of a female walk cycle being animated in the newly released Maya 2013.

In all honesty, it has been a little while since I animated a pure walk cycle so I have decided that there is no shame in once and a while, reading over various manuals and notes that I have acquired over the past 3 years just so I can brush up on what I already know.

For extra reference in producing a walk cycle I have used this image on the break down of a single walk to create the poses for my own walk.  This is taken from the blog of James Dunford, which was sent to me by Valentino.

I have also been reading this tutorial that I downloaded from Erik Westund's site just to make sure I have not left anything out.

Here is a video of the walk cycle that I animated and smoothened in the graph editor.  She has a very slight walk to establish her femininity and youth and also that she is strolling at a very leisurely pace.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Shot 8 - Block out

Here is a playblast of the block out for shot 8 of the film Synaesthesia so far; where she approaches and then sits at the piano.  I have not yet animated her walk cycle.  I have decided to animate her approaching the seat and then leaning on it as she sits down.
I think I will need to have a little more bounce when she moves up the chair and adapts the posture for playing the piano.  For reference on how she should sit at the piano, I have been looking at correct posture  for sitting at a piano.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Dog Rig in demonstration

Here is a video demonstrating the fully skinned and weighted dog for the film Fools Gold.  The skeleton, controls and drivers were all constructed by me, whereas the weighting was done by Richard Eglinton.

Friday, 13 April 2012

News regarding Cat & Rat + Fools Gold Dog rig

As I stated in my last blog post, I have recently got work on two new projects in the past 2 days alone.  Unfortunately, also in that space of time, the Cat and Rat project that we have been working on for the past few months has now been shut down.  The reasons for this were that we had experienced too many technical issues over the second term and into the Easter Holidays, which severely hindered our productivity and creativity and caused a massive delay in our schedule by about 8 weeks.  These ranged from software failure to needing to redo certain tasks (sometimes more than twice) because they may have been left undone for too long.

After having a word with our tutors, they were very honest in telling us that we will not be able to complete this film in 7 weeks to a standard that industry would like and they stated that we had three options:
  1.  either to have a massive (and rather unrealistic) turnaround in the space of a week
  2. find other projects to work on and focus on creating work that displays our specialism(s)
  3. use the models and rigs to create a much shorter and simpler piece of work that is to the point and displays each of our abilities
I am going with the second option anyway, as I already got some more rigging work and finally a huge chunk of Animation work which I had been longing for, so I can fill up the Animation folder of my portfolio and include more recent animation on my showreel.  So far, my Animation folder is the most important one out of my three folders as I am an Animator first and foremost, but as of yet, it is the smallest folder.  However, this term, I am expecting that to change and I am expecting to have a lot more focus on animation this term.

As for the group that I was working with on Cat and Rat, we have unanimously decided that although the "Legend of the Chinese Zodiac" concept has now been dissolved, we will remain together as a group and try to use the rigs and models that we built to create a shorter and snappier concept and build up our portfolios.

So far, I have been working on a rig for a dog character as part of the Fools Gold project.  The plan is that I build the skeleton, controls and drivers for the rig, whereas Richard will paint the weights.  Here is a demonstration of the skeleton rig.  At the moment, it is not bound to the dog model.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

New projects

Even though much of the work that I have published in this blog has been Character design and Rigging, I am actually an Animator first and foremost; it is just that the Cat and Rat project has not come to the stage where we can start animating quite yet.  As the third term has started, many of the projects have come to the stage to start animating so I expect that this will be my time to shine and that there is going to be a large boom of animation work available for me to do so I can build up my Portfolio, and in particular, the Animation folder of my portfolio.

I have therefore decided to do animation work for a project called Synaesthesia, which is currently being made by Valentino Lazardis and Arpit Achha.  They primarily want me to do walk cycles of a 19-year-old girl who is intrigued and enraptured by the colours and patters that she sees around her, as a result of her condition.  They also want a few point of view shots which consist of her hands doing things such as playing the piano and stroking a dying dog.  This will amount to around 8 shots of animation; I am going to be given the relevant character rigs and the relevant environments.

This will mean that I will potentially have a broader range of work to include on my showreel for when I graduate and more films that I will be credited on.

I also potentially have another project to do work for called Fools Gold which is being directed by Richard Eglinton.  He approached me after seeing the quadrupedal rigging (the Cat and the Ox) that I did for the Cat and Rat project and he has informed me that he may need me to rig a model of a dog, complete with controls and drivers.  He may contact me soon when he has completed and finalised the dog model.

Emperor rig demo

Here is a video to demonstrate the Emperor rig and its capabilities, including an extensive demonstration of the facial controls and customisation of the facial expressions.

Complete Ox rig demo

The rigging stage turned out to be a never ending story as we had to go over the weighting numerous times but the Ox rig is now complete and here is a video of the Ox rig in action.  The Emperor rig video will be posted up shortly.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Blend shapes for Jade Emperor

I am in the process of rigging the Emperor character for the Cat and Rat film.  For this character, I also needed to blend shape the facial expressions of the emperor, primarily his brows and his mouth/beard in order to create convincing and expressive animation.

Although I understand the concept of blend shaping, as well as the procedure, I have actually struggled with this quite majorly.  Although it is something that has a straightforward method, it can be very hard to locate and rectify errors when they arise.  I pretty much learnt how to do blend shaping properly through trial and error, perhaps the most frustrating style of learning.

One error that kept coming up was that when I produced variations of the Emperor model to be part of a blend shape, instead of the original model staying in its place, it would move into the same position as the blend shape.  In addition to this, it would also make certain controls unmovable when a blend shape is turned on.  I learnt that the way around this was that prior to beginning the process of blend shaping and indeed skinning, all transformations must be frozen and ALL history should be deleted so that there are no odd inputs and outputs to the model that are disrupting the blend shaping.  Freezing transformation and deleting history are two fundamental elements of modelling that I have discovered that far too many modellers seem to forget about, leaving us riggers to clean it up.

Another problem that arose frequently was that when I tried setting up blend shapes at times, it was not possible under certain settings to have two blend shapes switched on at the same time.  I.e. if a blend shape to make the mouth wider was switched on then it would not be possible to simultaneously raise or lower an eyebrow.  I resolved this by resetting the Blend Shape settings to Front of Chain and then began making the blend shapes from scratch.
I am uncertain as to why Front of Chain permits simultaneous blend shapes and the others do not, but if I manage to figure it out, I will be sure to write a blog post about it.

As well as learning from my errors, I have also learnt how I can have numerous expressions (i.e. variations of a model that will influence how the original will alter when the blend shape is switched on) assigned to one blend shape, as opposed to having loads of blend shapes for every tiny action.

This can be done two ways, either by opening the Blend Shape window and creating a blend shape.  For each expression (or part of an expression) select the original model, click "Add Base" to create a copy of the model and then alter that model to convey the expression.

The other way is to create the model from scratch and then to go to the Add Blend Shape Target Window, in which I then shift select the target model, followed by the original model and then select the relevant Blend Shape from the Existing Nodes menu.  Either method will work fine.
I managed to create two blend shapes for the emperor, one for the brow movements and another for the mouth; each contains the relevant movements for their respective area of the face.  I then created a driver in the neck so that the animators just have to adjust the attributes to alter the facial movement.  The blend shapes of the Emperor character are demonstrated in this video.