…The characters, that is.
It’s been some time since the last update, in some ways in seems like equally a-lot and not-a-lot has happened in that time, but it feels good to write one of these as it feels like some momentum has been made, a further step has been taken and to a certain degree, the plate has been cleaned; it’s ready for a fresh helping.
Some new things are: I bought a house, a couple of cats (don’t ask) and have also been working on some other non-film projects. I bought the house in September. It’s my first and most of my time during the latter part of last year/the beginning of this – has been spent building, decorating and furnishing and not much time has been spent working on the film. Prior to the house purchase I also began work writing and working on a short form animation series project which was intended to be one of the simplest, least time consuming, least effort requiring projects, which began escalating with new ideas and breadth to a point where I needed to step back for a moment and consider it more seriously.
That project, I’ve called, ‘Dulcet Tones’. I wont go into it in too much detail here given that this post is supposed to be a film update; I will mention however that the genesis behind it was to create something that is much more conducive to the work of a small studio (or in my case solo), by leveraging a much simpler style, construction and also working on it with the idea of starting small and expanding in stages both in terms of writing and actual character/prop/set assets. I’ve made a decent start of this project and although for the time being it’s been put on the backburner, I’m adamant that I’ll release – at least the first in the series this year.
With the house now coming along and being more comfortable to live in, the past month has been really productive film-wise. Last week I finally completed the weight painting for all the characters. I hate weight painting, it’s not in the least bit a creative/fun task. It could probably be used as an alternative form of punishment, perhaps instead of a jail sentence, certain low level offenders can be sent to animation studios. Though it’s my own doing, the type of characters I’ve gone for for the film require, and are better for it in the end. I still have a fair amount of technical, non-creative/fun tasks to complete over the next couple of weeks but thankfully there’s some more enjoyable work ahead shortly to look forward to. I find if I set myself achievable goals over a week (Thurs-to-Sun) I can get through it. This week my goals are: to give all the characters without teeth, gums and tongues, their teeth, gums and tongues, to provide characters (without) their open mouth corrective morph (to help with a little realism) and also update all but one character with an updated semi-automatic lip sync set-up. Filmmaker/Animator M dot Strange created an automatic lip-sync solution for his latest film, ‘I am Nightmare’, which he gave out for free (the auto lip-sync solution) and I adapted it and implemented it into all my characters. Check out the video test using it. You will see that the mouth simply opens and closes based on the amplitude of the referenced audios’ waveform, which is half the work done there and I think looks pretty decent for what is essentially loading a .wav file. However I’ve since updated my lip-sync rig so that I leverage the auto lip-sync functionality and layer over the top viseme (speech) shapes – so that the lips form the words. So my new set-up is semi-automatic, but the manual work is limited and very intuitive.
So that’s this weeks’ work. My overall goal at the moment is to have all the characters 100%, good to go; which I’m not a million miles from. There’s still the clothes and expression morphs to go, but having the weight painting completed and off the agenda is a big and encouraging step. It’s looking great too, the rendered test frames are what have been keeping me going. I love the style of the 3D and the grading I’ve decided on. Keeping the same quality level is taking time, but with the recent progress I’ve been making with the more mundane tasks, the fun stuff should be a breeze.
Work continues. Since the last update, I now have all the main (written) characters modelled and optimised. I went through the arduous task of creating the rig, the ‘rig’ being the bone/joint construction of the characters which is somewhat like the metal skeletal structure you might have seen inside of stop motion characters allowing them to be posed and positioned, except in this case digital and much more convoluted.
With the rig made, I took a few extra steps in integrating it into the relatively new Cinema 4D Character Rig system which is a system that enables you to re-use rigs and reposition the proportions from character to character in a very easy manner. Having done that I went ahead a conformed all the characters to their respective rigs, so each of the characters have their joint system set up and almost ready to go. What I’m doing currently is working on the characters weights (not weight as in mass, but mesh influence on each joint) and also setting up morphs to be able to control and animate their facial expressions, eye blinks etc… Working on the weights is one of those tasks where you wish you could go to sleep and wake up with it somehow, as if by magic all resolved itself. It’s not fun and I’ve been finding it a quite difficult to sit down in front of the computer and get it done. Nonetheless I’m getting through it, counteracting the mind numbing process of weight-painting with watching episodes of Only Fools and Horses & King of the Hill.
With the characters taking shape, I’ve begun to experiment with test-frames, trying out different looks, seeing what direction to take the lighting etc… I’ve got some great frames on my hard drive that I’m excited about, but will hold off publishing anything too revealing as of yet, there’s still a long way to go and it’d break my heart to see the same (rendered) style replicated in some crappy short about a butterfly trying to find it’s friend (you know what I mean, all animated shorts are the same).
I’m once again looking forward to an upcoming fortnight writing retreat. Among other things I will be looking at the film’s script for the first time for a long time so will probably have a few things I’ll want to try with it, with a fresh view before It’s called ‘done’ done. Other than that the writing fortnight is fairly open, I’m looking forward to writing some completely new stuff, just for writing’s sake.
I guess I’m in production now, those terms can seem a little oblique when working on 3D animation as it often feels like you’re either in pre or post. However or whatever it’s defined as, I’m now working on the characters… and have been making a lot of progress.
Taking a factory-line type approach, I’m working on all the characters simultaneously (the prime cast at least). Firstly I’m modelling each of their heads, starting out with a rough sketch approximation of the character and then diving straight into Cinema 4D to translate the sketch into a final model. I initially created one of the film’s characters and am using that model as a base mesh on which to mold the others. The advantage of this method is that although the mesh’s points are in different locations from a character to character basis, the mesh is similar for all in ways that will count in later stages such as rigging. I will be doing the same for the bodies soon, create the body for the initial character, then use that to mold all the others.
I hope to have all the heads and most of the bodies completed by New Years and having all the characters finished, rigged and ready to go in their entirety by the end of February 2013. There’s lots to do though in that time, outside of the rigging many of the characters will need multiple states, both clothing, appearance and from a facial rigging standpoint, I believe I will need to manually create all the different expressions and mouth shapes for each of them to ensure they can speak and emote, not necessarily extensive, but enough to begin animating. I can always add extra options and functionality as and when needed.
Something really important I’ve been learning about 3D, at least in this ultra-indie approach is how when you begin, you literally start with nothing and it takes a lot of time to accumulate working assets… but the more and more you create, the more time you save the next time around as 3D assets are very malleable. For instance, I’ve made a base head mesh that I really like, am comfortable working with… as I’ve mentioned the base mesh will be used for all the characters in the film, but If I was to create a short, I would likely be able to use that very same base mesh, no matter if the style for the short was completely different from the film. The same goes for most things, I don’t have my own rig as of yet, but when I do, I will use that same rig for all the characters in the film and anything else I could want to do in the future. That’s one nice reassurance from all of this.
I recently created a ‘Porbeagle’ (Film) page here. It has a little early information, some social links and a mailing list if you would care to sign up. If you’re a regular/subscriber it’s not necessary, it’s more for people with some vague interest who would just like to know when the film is released.
I also have been posting some ‘Porbeagle’ updates on Tumblr, I really like the social side of Tumblr, the barrier for interaction is much lower and convenient. So if you are into Tumblr follow me for extra updates.
I had a lot of fun making this, it’s my first real foray into 3D animation and has really boosted my confidence/excitement in the medium going forward.
Preorder the book here: WAX @ RainTown Press
Some info for the tech-eys:
Modelled in Cinema 4D & ZBrush
Animated in Cinema 4D
Composited in After Effects
Edited in Premiere Pro
Scored in Garageband (yep) using a ‘Blue’ baby bottle and a Martin 000-M.
Some stills from the trailer:
Hello reader, thanks for dropping by. You look wonderful, that colour really suits you and I love what you’ve done with your hair.
I just wanted to give a quick update on some recent happenings.
Firstly, a few months back I reduced my hours at work quite a bit. It was getting me down how slow the work on the film has been coming. So now with more time on my hands to put directly into the film, I expect progress to increase exponentially, Yay!
Secondly I’ve been hard at work, testing my newly acquired 3D skills with a video for my buddy, author; @anotherphil. Phil has been kind enough in the past to help me out with some advice/encouragement with my first screenplay so it has been great to help him out by making a cool video and in turn boost my confidence in this whole 3D animation stuff going forward.
Right now I’m putting the finishing touches to this video, I hope you visit again in the next couple of days and check it out!
There’s a few other cool little things I have in the works and am very excited about, but a little more on those when they’re ready to show.