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Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

Space Bunnies: Technical Snags

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Computers are complicated. Animation is complicated. 3D graphics are complicated. Using a computer to make 3D animation is just begging for trouble.

soda jerk with ducks
Could be worse

I come from hardworking salt-of-the-earth stock, optimized for simpler times and wilderness survival, and guided by a number of easily-memorized, frequently-rhyming dicta, including: “Never pay anybody to do anything you can do yourself for free.”

The trouble with that particular dictum is that it’s bunk. Doing things is never free — you pay in time, and thus in opportunity cost. It ought to be something more like “Never do anything you can pay somebody else to do while making more money than it costs to pay them,” but that’s not very snappy, and doesn’t dovetail quite as neatly into the Puritan work ethic.

My Space Bunnies animation was a labor of love, made on the cheap with second-hand machines and as much free software as possible. The choices I made — ostensibly to save myself time, money, and effort — ultimately cost me more of everything.


Comping With Z-depth

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

This article describes a way to use z-depth data to composite 3D layers.

two linked tori
Comp this, wise guy

When rendering a 3D scene, it’s often convenient to render separate elements on their own layers and composite them together. This method has two major advantages: 1) if you make a change to your scene, you can simply re-render the appropriate layer rather than the whole scene; 2) you can make adjustments to specific layers in the comp rather than re-rendering.

However, when comping together 3D projects, it’s not enough to put the elements in the right place on the screen. There’s a third dimension, or “D” as we call it in the industry: depth. Objects in your scene may move in front of objects they once were behind, or may be intertwined in some way. In these cases, simple layer-arrangement in the comp won’t do the trick.

Maya 6 and the After Effects 6.5 Production Bundle both have the rudimentary capacity to handle files with z-depth channels, which store information about how far from the camera objects are. Here’s one way to use RLA files and AE’s “3D Channel Extract” plugin to comp most intersecting layers without any special shaders or passes.


Space Bunnies: Bad Rigs

Monday, June 4th, 2007
Chinese opera singer
Shake those structures

I’ve played nearly all the parts in the giant space opera that is 3D animation. Lots of it is lots of fun, and some of it is genuinely rewarding. But by far the most difficult, arcane, and thankless part of the process is the rigging of 3D characters in preparation for animation.

I did all the rigging for Space Bunnies myself. This included seven full character rigs, some with unusual structures and dynamics simulations. Some of these rigs worked as expected, but some fought me all the way to the comp, taking my attention from basic functionality, getting in the way of the animation, and even causing trouble at rendertime.

Now that I’ve stopped crying, I’m ready to talk about it.


Space Bunny Confessions

Thursday, April 26th, 2007
Kali from 'Space Bunnies'
Not bad, just rigged that way

I started the Space Bunnies project in August of ’05, planning on a three-month project. I worked out a storyboard and a rough animatic in a week in Flash, and followed up with detailed character and set designs. With those done, I had a pretty good idea of what certain aspects of the the final product would look like. However — I severely misunderestimated three dimensions which pentupled, or possibly septupled, the amount of actual labor involved. Not to blow the surprise or anything, but those three dimensions were BAD RIGS, TECHNICAL SNAGS, and COMP TIME.


Hard labor

Monday, April 9th, 2007

or, Conception to Delivery
or, More Fun to Put In than Get Out

Once upon a time, I wanted to get more work doing 3D animation at home, but I didn’t know how. As I’m a recluse by nature, my vestigial speaking skills tend to confuse people, and typically I get more work if I stay home and keep my mouth shut. I suspected that my “demo reel” might possibly be a factor in finding work, and at the time I didn’t have a lot of 3D on my reel. So partly to flesh out my reel and partly as an ability-stretching exercise I conducted a test to see what sort of piece I could come up with in three weeks flat — design, model, animate, bang. The result was the 30-second piece with the orca and bear bouncing around.

flying bear from 'Tlingit vs. Haida'
I can hear the floor!

It wasn’t groundbreaking, strictly speaking, but people seemed to like it, and I got some interesting job offers. Not bad for three weeks, I thought. What could I do in three months?