Sunday, July 11, 2010


As promised here is the giant sit stand post. Of course this still isn't everything, but it surveys the process pretty well. Not pictured are many many other screenshots, renders, tests, diagrams, and sketches. Oh yeah, and there's 556 maya save files, including model, rig, props, lights, scene, and a great many incremental saves. These are mostly divided up by subject, but of course a lot of this stuff overlaps, especially toward the end.

First comes story, that's where you always start. Along with that comes character design, figuring out how everything's going to look, how everything's going to play out in terms of posing and acting, and how it's going to be presented and staged. At this stage too it is important to look ahead to the technical requirements of your model and set. What is everything going to need to do and are you going to able to make it do that? An example of this is the expression sheet which is great for getting a feel for what the character's face needs to do so you can know what you need to achieve with your blend shapes.

Starting out in maya we modeled our characters. This was my first time modeling a fullbodied/human character and my third time modeling with polygons. Modeling isn't exactly my cup of tea and I'm rather slow at it. It's kind of cool though to build your guy from the ground up though even if 3d is rather dead and unappealing until until things start to get rigged and textured.

If I remember correctly I modeled Carson from a cube using a lot of extrudes. He's modeled using a proxy that would take the low res poly mesh half and create a subdivided smoothed copy and mirror it across the axis. At this point too you quickly run into situations where you have to make decisions about how to translate 2d into 3d. I had to look at my flat illustration many a time and ask myself "what does this shape mean in 3d?" Pictured above is one of those instances where I had to interpret the nose shape. I went with the one on the right.

A lot of the time I had the pleasure of getting the nitty gritty of the mesh worked out. Working to get everything into quads and create a good edge loop flow isn't exactly a walk in the park. Pages and pages from my sketchbook have scribbled mesh diagrams in them from this period. Sometimes even that wasn't enough and I'd have to print off screens like this one I compiled to think through things with paper draw overs. Click the picture to view a .gif of the face mesh at this stage.

This is a screen of the "final" model textured and without a smooth node. (I say final because I later realized that in the excitement of being done with my model I forgot to go back on top of the symmetrical mesh and make the pant cuffs uneven, which I later fixed.) The hands were a pain to do but things became much better when Beavan showed me this awesome hand tutorial. It's not in english but the pictures spell out everything. The feet were a lot of fun and I'm rather happy with how they turned out. The foot is made from his hands. I copied the hand and mostly just pushed and pulled and scaled things to make it into a foot before I attached it to his leg. His geometry is all one piece, except for his hair, and of course, his eyes.

After modeling comes rigging where you set up all the joints, deformers, and controls for your puppet to move. After first semester we really don't do any real rigging. We used the setup machine for our characters which is a paid for third party plug in ($40 I think) which automatically rigs characters after you fit widgets over you mesh, but even that has it's own tricks and issues to learn to work with. And of course after that you still get all the joys of painting weights and tracking down all those little influences that find their way into vertices they don't belong in. Here are some screenshots.

1. It seems like this only really happens to me... but when I'm modeling in polygons I get graphics card issues when using a proxied mesh where whenever I extrude or cut faces parts disappear. Things look normal again but it's still kind of annoying to restart maya every 15 minutes when modeling.

2. Always remember to hide your joints. Weird stuff happens when you put a key on one by mistake...

3/4. It's just fun to mess with rigs in ways you're not supposed to :).

View for a .gif on what happens when you forget to parent eyes in a rig.

Next is blendshapes which is used to rig the face and uses target geometries which have been sculpted in their own ways and deforms the character's face to match the deformations on the target geometries. I wasn't really expecting much out of blendshapes, I just knew going in that I wanted a good set because I found I enjoyed facial animation so much while working on the animation exercises at the beginning of the semester. Turns out I love making blendshapes. It is perhaps one of the more tedious things to do and particularly vulnerable to some technical and user screw-ups but for me it was the first time I saw life flow into my character and it very much revitalized my enthusiasm in the project. Used for this were some very helpful and time saving taper scripts as well as js facial scripts for setting up the controller sliders.

Posing is really just a lot of fun. Often while I was animating and navigating around in the perspective cam some possibility or another would spark my interest and I might just tweak a few things or just use that particular perp view and render it out. Since I used a painting for my background instead of modeling a set and used a 1024 texture map for Carson my render times were very low, I remember waiting at most 15 seconds for a render and usually they were much closer to 5.

Background time! Early on I decided that instead of modeling my background I wanted to paint it. I probably could have stood to model it but it did teach me some very good things about lighting and light quality and applying the concepts of color and value to 3d.

Click for background progression .gif!

This was the first time I had significant issues lighting my scene. I found it very difficult to light Carson since he's so tall and skinny. You've really got to fake a lot of the ambience so that he doesn't look so dark but at the same time you want to preserve a sense of strong afternoon daylight with solid shadows, while at the same time not blowing out highlights on the arms, shirt, and feet. My most annoying problem was dealing with the issue of the hat not casting a shadow at the top of his bangs. I tried messing with every setting on the key light that I could before throwing in the towel and emailing my teacher. Apparently the light was simply too far away so I supposed that just messed up the shadow map calculations. d'oh. The top render illustrates the shadow issue I was having while the lower render shows early lighting and test compositing. The dark stripe is due to trouble with transparency in after effects and I soon just used a surface shaded plane with the image mapped to it and rendered it together natively to avoid the issue.

Some lighting test renders for after effects taken into photoshop and had fun with instead :).

The overall scene with cameras and lights.

Prop modeling! All props had to be modeled in NURBS. This chair probably took 5-10 hours to model. Lots of little pieces.

The cinderblock obviously didn't take as long. I often made plans/thinking diagrams like the one above on paper. This one didn't even get followed really because I changed my mind on certain shapes, but it's always a good thing to figure out how you're going to do something before doing in to do it. Displacement maps are also super cool when rendered at their default settings.

Part way through and all the way to the end you work on animation. The screenshot above shows how I like to work a lot of the time. Having maya on that whole monitor is just too much maya for me. I like to keep it smaller and then put other stuff around it like reference, related inspirational art and photos, drawings from the project, and text files with notes. It helps keep me focused on what I want to get across with this instead of getting sucked in to working ahead in maya without the end goals in sight.

Above is one of the time when I got so stuck with the animation I had to just walk out and figure out just what the motion was. I ran through it a bunch of times and different ways in the lobby, sketched out the intermediate poses, made notes on the timing, even went back and drew over screenshots with notes too work out the silhouette and details further. I still got nowhere. I just couldn't get that arm reach to work and animated it from scratch a few times. At that point I just had to step away and move on because I wasn't getting anywhere with it that day. Later on when I went back to work on that section I realized that that action I had wanted wasn't even the right kind of action for this situation. It's yet another example of unwittingly getting caught up in the here and now of detailed work instead of keeping your eye on the overall piece at hand.

Here is a 3 min (=~16MB) movie illustrating the animation progression from some of the many playblasts that I made and what I remember from the time.

And of course, here's that director's cut, which you can thank Adam for:


~Nicole~ said...

Amazing post! =D

Karl said...

Jeepers Elizabeth, thas' a whole lot of information! Awesome job! I learned tons of good stuff here :)

Elizabeth McMahill said...

Thanks! Glad you guys like it!

Adam said...

Wow, certainly a lengthy and informative post. It's certainly interesting comparing your process to the process we do on the Vis Dev side of things. We only go so far and stop, although try to flush out all the mechanics through model sheets and maquettes to make it a little easier on the 3D modeling part. Still seems like you had a lot more technical hurdles beyond that as well. Bravo for pulling through though!