Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Owl: Animation. More.

A classic bout of pre-winter lurgy has curtailed my productivity a little but I'll keep on fighting the good fight. Here's another snippet of animation. This shot I'd argue is pushing the limitations of the believable illusion slightly to breaking point, but I'm interested in what the audience reaction to it is. Bearing in mind that in the final animation the clip itself will be broken up into single second shots with fairly dramatic spacing between.

There's unlikely to be anymore updates until next week as this week I'm mostly dedicating my time to finishing off the shots which I left unfinished due to various reasons. In this case, silence is good!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Owl: Some more animation

I've shared still images of these two scenes before, but I thought I'd also share a little bit of animation to give a flavour for how they move. Although me being the exemplary showman I am, I'll keep back the more dramatic bits of animation for a little while longer.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Owl: Animation still image

Progress continues. Here's another shot.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Owl: A couple more rendered sequences

Ah, the fruits of labour! While you're animating it really is hard to get a gauge for what the final render is truly going to look like, so I'm always rendering out the final sequences with a bit of nervousness and excitement.

Now that I'm seeing more of the animation reach finality, I'm reminded a lot of old museum dioramas with painted backdrops. Both of these renders only represent their initial shot in the animation. As the background image is static, my philosophy when animating is to make sure every object, no matter how small, has a movement. It produces a strangely rhythmic and slightly hypnotic effect at times.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Owl: In-progress animation shot.

Provided I don't have a dramatic technology malfunction, the hardest part to make of Owl is going to be finished in a couple weeks. One of the biggest challenges is finding interesting ways to animate models which I didn't build with the intention of animation. It's certainly stretching my unnatural animation brain a little bit. To combat this, I've always tried to keep within the theme of metamorphosis or life cycles. Sometimes I achieve this through editing, sometimes it's purely animation, most of the time it's a combination of both. The image below is from a sequence inspired somewhat by the way sea creatures deposit their eggs. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Owl: Comparing Vignettes and Parallaxing

There's a degree of artificiality in my animation which I think audiences will find either: quite interesting or absolutely terrible. Since using photographs I've always had the idea that you would be 'looking through' something to view the action, which has its roots in seedy Victorian Peep shows and moving picture machines. This has pretty much driven the entire visual concept of the animation. I guess it's going to be the thing which defines it the most. I'm not sure it's a reference many will get but consider my animation an updated Victorian erotic peep show, without the vintage erotica! 

A vintage Peep Show box, essentially what I've been making in Maya.
With that in mind, here's two videos for comparison on a particularly tricky scene.  The way I've set up each shot is that the photograph acts a background on a 2D place within a 3D space with XYZ coordinates. 3D objects sit in front of the image. When you move the camera, depending on how far the image is from the object you get a certain degree of parallaxing. The problem comes from the fact that because the photo is completely flat the parrallaxing stops at the photo, rather continuing infinitely like it should in real life. When the camera moves a lot it looks a little bit hokey. The first video is the camera  moving a considerable amount, and the second demonstrates the camera moving much more subtlely. The second one works better, but only marginally. It certain instances it's going to be easier and more effective to keep the camera almost completely stationary.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Owl: A bit more animation.

I thought I'd upload another little snippet of animation, This one demonstrates one of the multi-layered sequences where as the last upload was just a single image with the vignette.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Owl: Animation Sneak Peak

As promised, a little sneak peak of the animation!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Owl: Final Comped Render (Still Image)

Tweaking and optimising the rendering has been a very time consuming process. I think it's important that the image itself holds up to scrutiny which means finding ways to incorporate the bells and whistles needed to make a convincing CG shot.  I do have a good recipe now, so my workflow is going to speed up dramatically.  While I'm not ready to show off animation just yet (because I'd rather it viewed within a final render, rather than disparate rendered elements) I am ready to demonstrate what a final render will look like. This is 95% close to the final image as it's going to get, so if you don't like it, you better stop reading this blog and start paying attention to some other animation! :)

The final composite is made up of a number of render layers, spread over a two different scenes. The scene in focus is a flat 2D plane with an animated sequence applied on top. The out of focus shot is another separate render. It's unconventional but it gets the job done. 

Generally, I keep specular and reflections within the same beauty pass, mostly because I've spent the time tweaking them within Maya that I never really have to adjust them anyway, and also because keeping track of reflections with lots of objects and layers in a scene can be tricky sometimes. In this case, I prefer ease of rendering. I do have a layer for shadow, as it's easier to mess around with the opacity and softness in post-prodcution. Otherwise, the beauty pass is very simple but with a few added effects. The only thing missing from this shot is Ambient Occlusion, which will be present in other scenes.

Motion Blur: With Mental Ray's Rasterizer, motion blur is a piece of cake to add. It's brilliant, with some limitations depending on the scene of course. You do have to sacrifice some image quality and I've found the edges aren't the cleanest (anti-aliasing) compared to scanline rendering, but it's the quickest and easiest way of adding motion blur. You can get the quality to a very high standard, but then you lose the benefits of the quick render. This is one of the things I've gone back and added to all the animated scenes which didn't have it in the first place. 

Depth of Field: DOF has been massive pain and has caused a few days worth of headaches. The problem is it's fundamental to the way I initially visualised the animation, so I can't sacrifice it. True DOF is easy to implement but very difficult to render out in a reasonable time. For a small time operation like myself, it's practically impossible to produce a 5 minute animation with high-quality DOF. 

Camera DOF AND 3D motion blur in an animation? You might as well aspire to build a giant render server on the Moon. Not that it being on the Moon would help, but that's certainly is how far out of reach it feels to be able even think about rendering an animation with both. Z-Depth isn't really a viable alternative in this instance either. The only way I've found of doing both (and someone please correct me if there is another way)  is to render every object requiring blurring onto a separate layer and apply lens blur in post-production, compensating the blur manually based on the objects position the scene. It's cumbersome and hard to keep track of, but it works and achieves roughly the same effect. I'm operating under the suggestion that my final 'camera' inside the vignette is set to infinity focus so I can get away with not blurring objects in the distance. 

Not a lot of posts recently, but I hope this post sheds some light on what I've been doing. I should be able to get a sneak peak of the animation uploaded soon.

EDIT - Some other stuff that will added: a film grain layer and a subtle telecine wobble applied to  the final comped animation.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Owl: Animation Philosophy

Each model will get roughly 10 seconds of screen time. Speaking loosely, I would describe the philosophy and theme of the animation (as in the actual movement of the models) as 'metamorphosis'. That is to say, I want the models to come alive, rather than move in some an arbitrary way. This isn't going to be easy to achieve, but I hope my experience in making mushrooms come alive will prove quite useful!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Owl: Test Renders Continued

Last batch of renders for a little while as I'm working on other parts of the animation. Again, not final. Lots to change and tweak but essentially what I've shown is the bulk of the imagery from the animation.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Large Format Photography: A Journey into the Unknown.

Just a quick break from Owl, to talk about something new and exciting because right now I'm a happy chappy! 

When I started taking pictures two pictures ago, I often wondered how famous photographs like the ones from Ansel Adams or Edward Weston were so clear and so detailed. Before I did any proper research I just assumed they were all just using 35mm film with some super-duper amazing lens and camera system way beyond any budget I could afford in my lifetime. This was before I learned that fine-art photographers to this day, even ones considered the best of their time like Ansel Adams, had absolutely no money to speak of in their working career, and photographers with limitless pots of gold to buy the best and newest equipment is totally false. Anyway, for a long time I pretty much just assumed 35mm was the only film format in existence and that all the great photographers throughout the 20th century used it exclusively. While all this stuff is elementary for most people, being entirely self-taught, it took me a year to realise this is a completely wrong assumption. At least it was only a year and not say, 10 or 20 years.

After some more digging around and I discovered that nearly all the fine-art photographers I really like used or continue to use something called sheet film which is very large photographic film. It's still all the same base film like Tri-X, T-Max, Velvia etc but it comes in a variety of sizes such as 4x5 inches and 8x10 inches. Which compared to 35mm or even medium format in it's various sizes is absolutely humongous. This is called large format photography.

Large format offers a number of advantages, the most beneficial being the gigantic piece of film for a single image. This offers detail, superior tonality and resolution far beyond anything 35mm, 120 or even the best modern digital camera are capable of. LF film is still the medium of choice for any serious photographer in the world today. Why oh why did no one tell me sooner!? The downsides? It's slow, a bit cumbersome and the cameras are heavy. Strangely, many of these downsides can be considered a plus points, and this is ultimately the reason I really want to get into large format work.

It's rare I take a good picture (relative to my own ability) without realising it. This is mostly because I'm not really someone who goes looking to capture a single moment, among a sea of many moments (I don't want to say 'decisive moment' but I just have). I'm fairly studious when it comes to taking a photographs. When I'm out and about I'm actually shooting a whole roll of film, just so I can develop the one or two pictures I really want. When I use my medium format camera, because of the reduced shots of film per roll, I actually take far less pictures but end up with more I like because as the cliche goes, I'm forced to think about each shot more. LF is the ultimate expression of this idea. Yes, the amount of the photos you can take is essentially limitless, but each of those images is a tangible amount of money being spent everytime you click the shutter button. In theory, this improves your photography because every single shot counts, so they better be damn good otherwise you're going to be broke very quickly. Many will tell you that LF is much cheaper in the long term because of this. In the end it's not really about how much the film itself costs, but how much it's costing you each time to get one good image.

To cut a long story short, I've acquired a large format camera; a Graflex Pacemaker Crown Graphic, a picture of which is below:

A bit of history about this brand of camera. The Crown Graphic is not a typical 4x5 field camera, it's a press camera, meaning it's original use was intended for newspaper photographers who attached big flash bulbs to the side of the camera and prowled the streets and crimes scenes looking for that elusive front-page image. I suppose they wanted the larger format over 35mm or 120 because it allowed them to do quick contact prints for newspaper without the need for enlargement. What's interesting is that any of the famous press photographs you see from the 1940's to the 1960's were almost certainly taken on a Graflex Speed Graphic or Crown Graphic like the one I own. The most famous examples being Weegee's photographs of crimes scenes in New York or Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. It was a very pervasive camera as the Graphic's design never really changed throughout it's entire history. For many it's considered the highest point in American camera design, partly because of how good it is and partly because of how much an icon of American design it as well. These days, there isn't any use for these as press cameras so they've found their way into the hands of people like me looking for an inexpensive but high quality route into large format.

The serial number dates it to roughly 1957 I believe. Unsurprisingly like all good cameras from this era it still works very well but I'd predict unlikely to come without a few quirks considering it's age. I've yet to discover what these might be other than a small mark on the inside of the lens. I love the Deco-style typography and layout.

The camera has an optional rangefinder on the side for focusing but embarrassingly, I don't really understand how it's supposed to work. Instead, you can focus through the lovely ground glass in which the image appears upside down. I like the idea of this, because it reduces a scene down to it's simplest form of shape and colour. If the rangefinder worked you could actually handhold this camera like a dapper news reporter from the 1940s and 50s!

At some point, I will of course upload some photographs, but there's still a few bits I need to buy to be able to develop the film at home. There's also the small matter of an animation to finish!