Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Character project: A New Style Hero

  I have had a good break but now it is time to get back to work. I'd say I am getting close with an idea for my hero character - a large figure with long hair who wields a sledgehammer. To give distinctiveness I considered exposing his torso and arms. It may not be too appropriate but I the altenative is a larger version of the previous character. To emphasise this character's strength, I plan to give him a decent gut, which would be visible on a side view (yet to be drawn, but on the to-do list), The other idea I have is instead of bandages around his abdomen, he wears a vest of some kind.

  This is one of the first attempts outside of my sketchbook. More work will hopefully come in the coming days.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Narrative Project: Improving The Environement

   Today I considered perhaps making short clips to show that Forge had considered an animation. I learned however that the environment had been designing had been discarded for a completely different arrangement. It was discussed, I expressed my concerned and it was decided that perhaps I could attempt to make the scene.

  With two and a half hours before the deadline before me I felt there was no time for texturing. So I took the assets that had been made - the plants and the rocks primarily - and looked into setting them into the environment I had been working on.

  When complete I made two render sets: The first set above are ambient occlusion passes while the set below are the objects with a default shader but illuminated with an ambient light.

  It is not much, but I felt it was better than trying to work on a sequence in a set that from my perspective lacked the feeling of upward travel. In the scene I was presented with this was resolved with a dead end, I looked at using geography to imply the only way is up orther than use a dead-end style barrier of rock.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Narrative Project: Occlusion Maps

  With many of our assets completed I looked into a few of the models I had contributed for and looked into creating occlusion sets for them. This helps give an idea of these models in their purest form with no textures, no shiny effects and no animation and a good idea of where things overlap, stand out in terms of geometry and cast shadows.

  I only made the scales of the fish, but part of their creation involved mapping their arrangement on our fish characters.

Narrative Project: Scales

  With other aspects out of the way I felt it was high time that the scales had their own texture maps. I created a somewhat quick but workable texture and created a shader that included a reddish specular light and an ambient occlusion node.

  When rendered the structure does not appear to look too bad. I looked into a render pass that included the figh's body to get an idea of how the body would look with the scales on. This was particularly important as these scales had to look convincing.

Narrative Project: Rigging Complete

   I can say with confidence that the coral is finished. The skeleton within allows for the coral branches to be posed, which will be useful when the coral is needed to pursue and surround our fish characters.

  There was a little refinement to do with the skin weights as there was a sizeable spread especially further up. This was cleaned up mostly with a bit of work and the use of the 'prune weights' feature, which removed some of the more persistant abberant weights.

  For the most part, rigging has worked. The coral is flexible yet rigid and aside from maybe one or two points at the very tips (fortunately not all the coral branches do this), the integrity of the coral holds up well.

  The stage after this was to set up a control network to position the coral branches, which took some experimentation to strike the right balance between amount of control and number of control nodes to use.

  As of writing, now that it is completed, the current number stands at six. With each control unit controlling between three and five joints. Where there was a split, the joints were labelled "-A and -B" in the channel box.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Development: Coral and Scales

  The final phases of mapping the coral are done and after a tweak to the shader the quality is solid enough that I can present this as a demonstration video. As well as a sequence showing the coral growing from a bud, I also created a turnaround to show the model as it would look in the final render.

  As well as these tasks, I also took on the task of adding the strange growths to the body of our fish. While my initial plan was to use a lattice, this fell flat when I didn't fully consider the eye, but I compensated, as the manual application turned out to be rather therapeutic and progressed relatively smoothly and promptly.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Coral Development

   I spent most of today working on correcting the UV map for the coral. The reasoning for this was an attempt to have the shader's progression up the coral correlate better with the contours of the geometry.

  The methodology seemed straightforward: Cut apart the UV map at each split zone, modify the UVs to give a flat-on shape, straighten everything out. As can be seen in the picture below, the new strategy allows the gradient map to better follow the flow of the model. The main reason for this was that on tests the model's gradient colour was static, so to give the effect of older parts of the coral darkening I had to animate the shader parameters.

  Using a shader I think gives me some freedoms, as it means I do not have to completely unfold the model in order to get the desired result and anywhere that appears non-existent (such as side-on faces) on the UV plane is not stretched to moment-ruining distortion.

  The effects are subtle, but the model is certainly proving complex as working on it ate up most of the day. Nonetheless this is time that might be useful. Even if we have to use a playblast for our animation, the effect is still there in the workspace and therefore will be visible on the playblast. 

  It's not quite finished yet, perhaps an hour or two to finish the final branches on Tuesday and I can move on to other tasks. So far the shader works okay although I might need more difference in coloration for the effect to be noticeable. While working I had noticed that the topmost buds (that have been mapped) aren't actually sprouting, indicating I missed a step. Fortunately this hiccup is hardly noticeable on the model and probably will remain such when the structure is used in the animation.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Coral Branch: Nearing Completion

  As on schedule, the coral has been assembled, staged and animated. I might look into rigging if we want to give it some freedom of motion and perhaps a few driven keys for the animation but at present this is the construction so far.

  It was discussed about adding a gradient to give the coral some life as it becomes more complex. There was gradient on concept art and there may need to be a little tweaking of the clolour values, the core animation (the progression from one stage of complexity to the next) does not appear too bad.

  I've come to appreciate the subtle details. When compiled, the final branches were less visible than the beginning stages. In terms of geometry it doesn't seem so complex when a single model is around 1.8MB of data. That may multiply considerably when there are lots of these but as mentioned in an earlier post some work was put into minimising the geometry so that lots of these could be on screen at once.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Narrative Project: Bringing A Branch Coral To Life

  Today was the commencement of one of the most important elements: The coral that would chase our fish through the canyon. Since the start of the production phase of the project the idea was the coral would grow in order to pursue the fish. For this reason, what we needed was something that could look like it was expanding during its pursuit. We agreed from the early stages to see what we could do about  making this possible with blend-shapes. And there was talk of interpolating various bend-shape scales.

  To do all this I ended up considering a few methods. The one I have currently settled on was suggested by Alan, where I create a blend-shape stage for each set of buds that would then be combined into one slider sequence. I have spent a healthy portion of the afternoon preparing all stages.

  To make this work, I have grouped each budding into a set starting from the top, I have marked buddings using NURBS circles and grouped each budding that forms simultaneously into their own groups, using the NURBS circles as identifiers. These groups were then added to their own render layer for easy toggling so that I can work my way down. I then set about the long task of compressing the whole coral down to the base.

  It is a painstaking process but currently I am a little under halfway through the process, which makes it worthwhile foresight to have created the anemone tendril yesterday. My hope is to have this structure complete by the end of the weekend and possibly rigged for flexibility. But rigging with a skeleton is on the 'maybe' pile as this might be able to work well enough on its own. I estimate that I will need perhaps twelve different models to create the blend sequence.

  I had a few other ideas that worked in a similar fashion. These involved rigging the coral to expand sequentially, however as can be seen in the image above, previous attempts had a few visualisation issues. Attempts to rectify this with proper timing proved rather time-consuming in order to hide the visual errors and I I progressed I discovered that the meshes were folding themselves inside out.. 

  I learned early on that when compressing a model, using the central square in the scale manipulator will quickly invert the model. So each compression to nothing was done by way of compressing the dimensions on each axis, which unlike the uniform manipulator, didn't invert the model.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Narrative Project: The Reacher

  The development of the scales yesterday has given me enthusiasms for the technical side of Maya. The task I looked into today was making the coral/organism that would chase after our fish. Originally the plan was to use coral, but there were a few scenes that involved the coral reaching out. I looked up some source material and found some similarity to the tendrils of sea anemones. Which were a lot more flexible. But the stuff on the storyboard was still distinctly coral.

  First tests however resulted in a few errors that I managed to fix with later models that stemmed from the orientation of the joints. Turns out the joints were orienting themselves differently on occasion due to not being entirely vertical from the last.

  Initial attempts at a cleaner model involved joints at every lateral edge, but I discarded this as a control group would have 30 different joints to manage.

  To cut down the number of joints, instead of one joint per lateral edge I looked into one joint for every two lateral edges, which halved the original number. Still quite a few but now much more manageable.

  Each joint has three controls: X, Y and Twist. One bends the joint forwards, another sideways and the twist helps with curling. It is very flexible with little deformation. Hopefully it is simple enough to be used en masse. And it should also be useful for wrapping around things.

  The final parameter I added was a length control. Unlike the others, this one control affects the entire skeleton, which could really help with any scenes of the construct launching itself at our hapless fish. 

  I didn't forget the coral though, and looked into methods of construction. I've had ideas about making a model like this before and although I had a more advanced version that is now missing, I have developed a fairly sound method of reproduction. My plan is to work in a blendshape that will have the coral branches growing from a point of origin. I might simplify the geometry as the shapes get smaller, but right now the current shape is a hexagon which might make things a little tricky.