Monday, 30 April 2012

Animation/ VFX Showreel Progress

In this post is the record of progression I have done for elements produced for my showreel, elements that were relevant and would show the type of work I specialize in. As I was producing a showreel for visual effects/ animation, I decided to combine a sequence of clips that I had produced either in previous years or developed new stuff to show off my skills. 

Originally I was planning on producing a showreel on traditional (2D) animation, as that is the main field in animation I like to be involved in but sadly as not many companies specialize in 2D animation nowadays, I turned my attention to visual effects.

Earth in Space Scene

For one sequence to add to my showreel, I decided to produce another CGI shot in Adobe After Effects, based on another piece of work I had done the previous year. I had already produced a similar shot but I wanted to create this one so as to show a breakdown of how the shot is developed. This is where I made use of most of the effect modes and good use of the 3D Layer mode, which allows you to manipulate the scene in three dimensions.

I imported a JPEG image file of the world atlas and use the CC Sphere mode to make it spherical so it actually looked like Earth. Then I activated the 3D Layer mode on the layer as I wished to make the shot more three-dimensional later on and I set the Earth image in the lower left corner of the screen. Then I added a new solid and applied an effect preset called "Sun" that I had developed previously, which is composed of fractal noise, glow effects and levels (brightness, contrast, etc) combined so it simulates the hot fiery sun up close. 

Then I activated the 3D mode on the sun layer and set it up near the top right of the screen, being sure to change the position so it's further away from the POV than the Earth layer. Then I went back to select the Earth layer, opened up the Effects Controls box and used the Light Settings to change the lighting of the image so it looked as though light was shining off it from the direction of the sun while the rest of it was engulfed in blackness.

For the stars in the background, I decided to use two assets for the desired effect.  First I used another solid and assigned a CC Ball Action mode to it, when I use a 3D camera later on, this effect would make the shot more three-dimensional. I altered the settings in the effects options to make little white glowing stars and made them small enough. Then for the background, I developed a huge image file, using the same effect. Saved the image as a single frame file and then imported it again to use it in another layer. Once again used the 3D mode and changed the position and scale to make it into the background so it looked as though both the sun and Earth were engulfed in space.

Then to further produce light that would emanate from the sun, I added another solid to the timeline and applied a Lens Flare effect. Then I used curves to change the light, brightness and contrast of the lens flare to make it look a bit better. But of course the flare was against a black background so I set the blending mode on the solid layer to "Add" so the black became transparent and it looked more like light was generating from the sun but I did not apply the 3D Layer mode as I assumed it would not have the right effect.
Then to make the scene more interesting, and of course three dimensional, I applied a 3D camera to the timeline and applied key frames to the camera layer so the camera would slowly move towards the Earth layer and make it look as though it was actually floating through space.
Another effect I used was an adjustment layer with a photo filter added to it to add a bit more tone and density to the shot.
Afterwards, I rendered the entire shot in one AVI movie file and produced a breakdown of the progress by saving a frame of the scene in different stages as image files, imported them back into After Effects and edited them all together in another composition, using a series of linear wipes effects to transition from one stage to another. Then I rendered the entire sequence to be used in the final showreel.

Submersible Pod

I also wished to show some form of CGI modelling that I had done before so I pick one of the best wavefront .obj file models, in my opinion, to put into my show reel. Also this is the same model that I used twice for two earlier projects titled "A Deep Sea Encounter." On a note though, I did not use Autodesk Maya to construct this model, but on a less advanced 3D computer graphics software called TrueSpace, like I said it is not anywhere near as advanced as Maya but good to use for beginners.

I imported the original wavefront .obj file into Maya and began to give each section of the model a separate texture in order to simulate different surfaces such a shiny metal and glass.
It was during this stage that I learnt how to develop a glass shader through research and trial and error. I achieved this shader by using a small combination of nodes, including remap value, sampler info and of course connecting one of these to a specific material asset.

Of course, when I produced the model, I applied a texture asset to each particular part, such as the spotlights, port windows and even the body of the model so as to save me the trouble from any complications in the future, including having to apply any more material assets to the object in Maya. To start off, I gave each material asset a new texture, mostly phong materials, and altered the controls to suit the condition of the object.

For the glass shader, I went into Hypershade and selected a new sampler info node and then a remap value node.  The sampler info gives you information about each point's position on a surface for rendering purposes and the remap value remaps scalar input to both scalar and colour outputs. I connected the sampler info node to the remap value node by connecting the Facing Ration (facingRatio) attribute to the remap value's input value (inputValue)

Then I connected the remap value node to both the Transparency and Reflectivity attributes of a particular phong material. Then I selected the remap value node and in the Attribute Editor, I altered the appropriate controls. With it all connected, the colour attribute controlled the transparency, thus making the surface clear yet with a coloured tinge and the value attribute controlled the reflectivity of the phong material.

I changed the interpolation on both attributes and set specific levels until I found the desired effect for rendering, also I activated the refractions attribute in the phong material and set the reflection limit to 2 or 3. Of course this wouldn't work unless I also set the appropriate render settings, so I selected refractions in the Render Settings box and changed the settings so that when rendered, not only did the surface look like glass but also caused reflections and slightly distorted the background behind it.

For the main body of the submersible pod, I assigned a 3D texture map to the material asset by applying a new texture to the colour value of that material. I chose the "crater" texture for this as I wanted to have a sort of rust texture to the body. Then I altered the colour of each shade so that it looked grey with specks of grayish red. Also used the same crater texture for bump maps for certain parts of the pod, such as the gas tanks so it looked like it was aged and dented.

Once I had the pod set up,  I set up two polygonal planes for a simple background and then I key-framed the pod to rotate around 360 degrees so that I could create a turntable of the pod and then I rendered the pod scene several times in different stages such a wire frame, smooth shaded and final render. For the final render, I added a single directional light to activate shadow mode to add more depth to the object. Imported all finished files into After Effects, put them into sequences and then used Linear Wipe effects to transition from one clip to the next, showing yet another breakdown of the scene.


For another visual effects asset to my show reel, I decided to add my own simulation of clouds through use of a 3D fluid attribute. I achieved this by using a fluid container and altering controls such as temperature, density and texture.

Wireframe mode with fluid simulation shown as particles.

In order to get a clearer view of how I wanted the texture to look, I changed the view to smooth shaded and selected Hardware Texturing in the panel menu. Using the Attribute Editor, I selected the modes of Colour, Texture and Opacity and altered each mode to a certain level so as to add depth and shading to the fluid simulation.

Smooth shaded mode with Hardware Texturing mode selected.

The modes shown in the Attribute Editor in both images show the correct settings for the quality and texture of the cloud simulation, which will result in looking like in the image below.

Final render with directional light added.

Once I had the cloud texture completed, I key framed the texture time attribute just to let the clouds form over a short period of time, similar in style to time lapse photography. Then I rendered each frame as a bitmap file and then imported and put them into a sequence in After Effects, using a photo filter effect to add a bit more density to the shot. Exported the final result as a rendered sequence and then simply added it into my showreel composition.

Ball with Tail Shot

For another part of the showreel, I decided to show a shot of subtle character animation that I had done two years previously. This shot was part of another assessment which involved character animation and secondary animation. An example of this was using a ball with a tail attached to it and animating the ball while making the tail move realistically to whatever movement the ball made. 

In this shot, the ball was to bounce onto the screen, look up at the top of the stairway and then proceed to climb up it and bounce back down. This scene was composed to two camera shot and was originally more than 15 seconds long but I only used part of the first camera shot for the final showreel, the shot where we see the introduction of the character and its first interaction with the stairway. 

A screenshot of the early stages of the custom made rig. Animated the ball first before I could animate the tail so as to know how it should react to the ball's movement.

Applied the squash and stretch technique to the rig as well to give the character a bit more life and how it would react to the stairway when it first bumped into it. Also keyframed the camera along with the ball so as to track it while it moved and give it a sort of live action feel.

Note all the keyframes used at the bottom of the image just to move the camera throughout the entire scene.
Musical Ident

This other asset was for an experimental ident that I produced for another assessment, mainly my E&E project (Enterprise and Entrepreneurship) and thought it was a nice simple advertisement to be used. As me and my E&E group were working on a marketing campaign for a music website named Audio Jack Musicians, I developed a short clip that showed messages of what the website was about in a visual way and that was to have sheet music form in front of a camera while musical instrument passed on by, showing the variety of music associated with this website.

As I write musical compositions myself, I took the template for a music sheet stave from a music notation software called Finale Allegro. Then I manipulated it in Photoshop, ready for use in After Effects. Also produce images of a quarter note and an eighth note and collected images of instruments, again manipulation them in Photoshop, so I could use them for simple animation.

Once I set a new composition, I imported all necessary files and set them up, selected 3D Layer mode for all of them. Then using keyframes in position, rotation and orientation, I made a few quarter note and eighth note images line up on a music stave, forming a sort  of melody.

Then I lined up all of the musical instrument images that I wanted to include in the shot, even moving them with key frames so it would all flow in sort of a slow but steady pace. Then I added a 3D camera mode to the timeline and set keyframes on the camera so that it moved and panned from one end of the stave to the next just as the notes landed on the staves and the instruments moved on by.

3D custom view shown.

Final Editing Progress
Finally, when all segments were either chosen or completed to add to my showreel, I added a simple introduction and ending by using another solid and using the Text mode to add information including my name, the theme of the showreel and added contact details at the end. I edited them all together using After Effects before rendering it as a complete AVI movie clip. Could have used Premiere Pro to do the whole thing but I wanted to keep the good quality when I rendered the sequence out. Then I imported it into Premiere Pro, rendered it again and then exported it in Quicktime format, managing to reduce it to a reasonable size so I would be able to upload it later on.

Originally, I was going to add music to my showreel but I decided against as I didn't want to fall victim to any copyright issues should I have chosen to use existing material composed by other artists. Though I do think appropriate music could have made it a little more interesting. One piece of music that I did consider using was "Clubbed to Death - Matrix Soundtrack" as I thought it had good synchronization in some areas of my showreel and also fitted the mood of the shots involved.

Link to Final Showreel

Below is the link to the final movie clip of my showreel, located on YouTube.

Overall, this assessment has been very interesting and educational for me, once again I state that there are some areas in this project that could have needed improvements or could have been changed but I think the showreel's good, simple and straight to the point of what field of animation/visual effects I like to participate in, even though there's more vfx shots in the showreel than animation.

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