Monday, 19 November 2012

Some Independent Work

Lately I have been doing quiet a bit of experimenting in Photoshop in order to develop in my chosen area of study. Firstly, as my band are set to record a four track EP very soon, I thought I would design a sleeve to accompany the CD. As the genre is classic rock/blues, I thought I would go for a traditional airbrush look. I wanted to produce something very loud and flamboyant, so I went for a colossal storm towering over a country landscape. This fits with the band name 'Supercell' which is the title given to a very large and dangerous storm. I was inspired by the classic rock album cover 'Rainbow Rising':

As you can see the design is very epic in scope, which is what I aimed to achieve with my sleeve artwork. To produce the Supercell in the distance, I experimenting with creating my own custom brush. I used various reference images found on the web to get an accurate feel for how the storm would look and be lit. I experimented a lot with the bottom of the image. At first the ground took up two much space so I lowered it to better consider the rule of thirds. This also emphasised the scale and dominance of the storm. I also tweaked the colours from green to a more brownish tint, achieving a more rustic look better fitting with the sky. I also transformed the perspective to create the illusion of a lower shot looking across the road and fields, making the storm feel even more towering. I added the old wind turbine in later to complete the composition. It just felt a bit bare, and the image needed some other subject to tie everything together. I also added a glare creeping through the gaps in the foreground to give the sense that an intense backlight is leaking through the image. Again, composition wise this helps unite the foreground with the backdrop without loosing too much contrast. I also added type at the top of the sleeve using the simple and crisp 'myriad pro' typeface and added a film grain using the noise and gaussian blur filters:

When I look at this image I think of the phrase 'calm before the storm'. The foreground is very tranquil and static, with the soft sunlight making it seem almost peaceful, yet there is this impending giant dominating the backdrop. I feel it creates a nice juxtapose.

I have dubbed this second character concept piece 'Prime':

As I had been playing the new 'Halo 4' game, I was inspired to create a very robust 'Master Chief' style soldier. I began blocking out the anatomy and shapes within the armour very quickly and loosely to get the creative ball rolling. Next I defined the armour with strong line art. I also wanted to add textures to the armour. For this I created repeating patterns and applied them on separate layers over the original colour layer. I then created quick layer masks around the shape of the Prime. I then broke the connection between the pattern layers and mask layers, and warped the patterns to fit the shape of the Prime's body. Overall the process was fairly quick. This is rewarding as one of my main aims is to build up an efficient workflow to produce satisfactory art in shorter spaces of time.

In conclusion, with the EP cover art it was nice to break away from my often Sci-fi fuelled game-art style and try and produce something more traditional looking. I feel the image offered good practice with colour selection and value control. I will probable produce a back and inside to the sleeve in the very near future. The 'Prime' concept works as a very clear character design. Perhaps in the future I could go back and add more shading and highlights to give the image more depth, however, I am very happy with the human anatomy and the speed at which the digital art was created. With both paintings, I am beginning to develop smoother and more efficient methods, meaning that my workflow is gradually speeding up. I hope to be spending more time on detailing with custom brushes as my work progresses.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Developing The 'Whale Ship'

From my loose designs, I found an image I was happy with. I decided on the vessel seen from behind. I simply took this image and produced a turnaround sheet to take into maya and use as reference:

As I mentioned in previous posts, our team is having to generalise and span out of our comfort zones as   our skill sets don't comfortably span across all areas of the process. This meant that I made a very messy first attempt at modelling this vessel:

As you can see from the screenshot, the edge isn't too great. Some of the shapes have more than 4 sides, a law I didn't quite grasp when creating this first effort. Also when smoothed, you can see some small gaps indicating that some of the edges are not merged. The modelling here is generally scrappy and untidy.

For my second attempt, I started simple, blocking out the basic shape of the shuttle. From this I began adding edge loops, constantly keeping edge flow in mind . I added in more edge loops on edges I wanted to be square, and when smoothed, the results were much better. For the unwrapping process, I used methods taken from our previous alien workshop. However, I found that as the ship is less organic than our biped, some of the flat faces required projecting separately. For the texture itself, I added in wet media brushes from the photoshop presets, along with the smudge tool set to a scratchy nature brush, to try and create the illusion of dints and scrapes on the shell of the vessel:

When considering the animation of the ship, to some extent I wanted it to move like a large water dwelling mammal. I didn't design the ship in segments, as I didn't want to make it seem too organic and move away from the idea of a space shuttle. This means that all the expression is in the fins. I made a quick you tube visit and found footage of a whale swimming for reference:

I created three animations: An evasive manoeuvre where the ship banks quickly from side to side, a swimming motion where the ship propels itself forwards with it fins and a simple animation where the ship is cruising using the jet engines on its rear. I wanted to keep the animation slow and graceful like the Humpback whale in the video. After completed the animations, I exported an FBX file into Unity and created a turntable. Initially I had a problem with the right set of fins. Although in Maya after checking all of the faces were facing out correctly, when exported some of the geometry flipped. To fix this I simply reversed the culprit faces in maya, causing them to be flipped the correct way when exported. I experimented with some specular bump mapping, which I only wanted to be applied to the cockpit shield. Using a normal map, I found I was only able to control how much bump was added to the desired area. As the main ship is all one piece of geometry, I will have to figure out a way to make only glass appear reflective. For now, here is a turntable of the animated ship:

Unity Web Player | Whale_first_turntable

Unity Web Player | Whale_first_turntable

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Completing the Alien Workshop

Since the last post I made on the topic, I have now completed the biped project set as a requirement for 'OUDF505'.

Recapping on some of the processes we looked at last year, I unwrapped my model and applied a basic UV texture. This was helpful in reminding me of 'Planar mapping' the 'Cut UV edges' tool and the 'unfold' tool:

Following a series of videos, we eventually rigged, smooth bound, weight painted and animated our Alien model, the goal ultimately to have a turntable created in Unity.

I found the exercise very useful, as the problems faced during the workshop presented a learning curve. Rigging is a very new process in terms of our progression within the course, and having next to no experience with the process, it was important to gain knowledge before attempting our own models to contribute towards our group project. For example, Having seen how certain geometry moves when influenced by a rig, I feel I now have a better understanding of edge flow. Particularly within the face, as you can see from the UV map there wasn't a great deal of thought put into the topology, meaning that the mouth and eyes responded very rigidly when moved. Also, when following the instructions on creating the eyes, a method of smoothing and then adding edge loops was put forward. This gives more control over the tightness of certain geometry when smoothed, giving greater control. Had I known this method, perhaps I would have tightened up the geometry around the eyes, avoiding the gaps which reveal back-face culling in Unity. This is just another small tip of the many I acquired through the process. 

Another important area we gained further experience in, was how exported 'FBX' files act when imported in Unity. For example, I had a problem with a small number of vertices shooting from the mouth at certain points during the animation of my asset. Discussing this with my tutor, we at first considered I had perhaps accidentally deselected the vertices when binding the skin to the rig, meaning the unbound geometry was confusing Unity and causing the vertices to act strangely. However, after rebinding the geometry, I found I was still having the same problem. I eventually discovered that the inside of the mouth had no influence from any of the rig's joints as a result of my weight painting. This meant that the culprit vertices where virtually unbound to the skeleton:

After correcting this, I applied the random animation script in Unity as well as the camera orbit to complete my turntable. Overall, I found this initial assignment very productive and useful. After launching into the process unsure, I gradually began to understand edge flow much better than before, and how geometry acts and moves when attatched to a skeleton. The tutorial videos also touched on naming conventions, grouping objects and working in layers, keeping the maya document tidy and in theory fit to hand over to an animator.

Unity Web Player | Turntable_web

Unity Web Player | Turntable_web

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Panopticism is a theory of social control suggested by Michel Foucault. To fully understand the topic, it is important to study the history of the institution. Before the great confinement in the late 1600s, the mad unemployed were socially accepted. This was until houses of correction arrived which aimed to encourage labour and productiveness. These houses of correction however were criticised as all of the unemployed were forced to work together, which included criminals and the mentally ill. This lead to corruption with the mentally stable workers. This concern spawned the asylum in the 18th century. Instead of physical violence, doctors began using subtle mental techniques such as treating subjects as one would treat a child. This meant rewarding their good actions, and verbally rejecting their undesired ones. It is important to note this transition from physical to mental correctional methods. With these new institutions, areas of knowledge such as medicine, psychology and biology began to thrive due to the practice of doctors and psychiatrists. Also, subjects were now taking control of their own conformity.

To summarise, pre 18th century methodology was based around making examples of the unproductive, thus reminding everyone of the power of the state. Panopticism is the modern form of discipline within modern society, which bears greater focus on psychological elements and the idea of self correction. The theory was given name based on the multifunctional Panopticon building designed by Jeremy Bentham. The design was used mostly for prisons, but could also be applied to schools, hospitals and aslyums. The Panopticon is a circular design with cells stretching around its interior walls. Each cell is open at the front looking inside the building, with a small window facing outside to allow in some daylight. Each cell holds one individual, with solid walls either side to prevent interaction or communication with other subjects. Central within the building, and always within clear view of the subjects is the watch tower. This created a mental effect, as subjects feel they are constantly being watched. There is a constant presence ensuring subjects are being productive. Eventually, cell occupants decide it is easier to be constantly productive than risk punishment and ultimately, the need for staff within the tower becomes obsolete. In reflection, The panopticon is a form of psychological torture.

In a less literal sense, panopticism is the idea that we are always being watched. The phrase for this sense is the 'institutional gaze'. This constant surveillance can be enforced through security cameras, registers, swipe card systems (another form of register checking who has arrived at school or work ready to be porductive). We also have the open plan office, deceptively preaching a social sense of community, whereas potentially giving the office hierarchy reign to watch over their workers. We also other areas such as the cult of health. We are made to feel guilty if we neglect our fitness or don't get our five a day fruit intake. There is almost this idea that we are under surveillance regarding our health. Perhaps there is a reason that Gyms often are built with a large window almost inviting spectators. This could be to enforce a sense of guilt when members of the public see people exercising and keeping fit. Perhaps there is also a reverse effect where Gym goers feel they must work hard until they are visibly fit and healthy, seeking the approval of those passing the building. There is also the Facebook gaze in social media. This is the idea that we are aware of the ability to shape our identity through the networking sight. This leads to potentially creating a fictional image of one's self to impress others active on the site.

It is also important to contextualise these theories and understand where they can be relevant to films games and animation. Firstly, this concept of constant surveillance is the premise of George Orwell's novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', where individual thinking is categorised under 'thoughtcrimes'. Captivating narrative is one of the key fundamentals regarding our area of study. It is also important to be aware of this constant surveillance, as it could affect our practice. We should be aware of our rights when filming on public property, whilst also being aware of the boundaries we may face. On a broader spectrum, the lecture on 'Panopticism' offered an insight into modern society and the surveillance methods used.