Wednesday, 27 March 2013

BBC: What If? Competition

I decided to respond to the 'What If?' competition brief. This involved producing an artistic response to 'your' vision of the future. I chose to create a large matte painting, depicting a rather negative vision of the future:

Here is the description I used when uploading my piece to 'Deviantart':

'Here is my vision of the future. A fleet of ships inhabited by the wealthy and successful departs over a slum, consumed by pollution created as a result of the greed surrounding multinational corporations. The people who destroyed the planet now head for new land as the poor look on from the mess that their leaders created.'

Linking in with theories form our context of practice module, I wanted to depict what I believe to be the final outcome of multi-national globalisation. This piece is set in an indian slum, with a large western power plant spilling pollution into the surroundings. Contrasting with the bleak foreground, extravagant golden ships depart into the distance. This fits with the idea that companies making enormous profit, neglect the environment for as longs as resources are still available. At this point in the future, planet earth has been ruined by the enormous carbon footprint left by large industry. Carelessly, the rich and wealthy simply leave to find a new planet in which they can deplete its resources with no reflection on the destruction of earth.

After gaining feedback from a tutor, it has come to my attention that I need to revise fundamental drawing skills. The perspective of the piece is slightly off, meaning it is hard to distinguish wether the ships are in-front of or behind the cliff. As far as the colours and value control goes, I feel the mood of the piece is fairly successful. I would have liked to have added more detail to the slums, and perhaps included more custom brushes to achieve various different textures and details. Conceptually, I am quite happy with the message conveyed behind the piece, and feel that I am making steps towards improving my skills as a concept artist.

I feel that what I need to do now is hone in the fundamental skills required to draw successfully. I have familiarised myself with efficient Photoshop tools such as masks, adjustment layers and blend modes, I now need to take a step back and study traditional life drawing. This will broaden my visual vocabulary, and drastically improve the standard of my work. It seems nothing is more important than composition and accuracy with perspective, no matter how many custom brushes or adjustment layers are applied.

Thought Bubble: 2012

Last year I attended the 'Thought Bubble' comic book convention in Leeds on Sunday the 18th of November. I felt that the emphasis that the festival has on illustration could help me in my practice, where I am currently attempting to build on my drawing and digital painting skills.

My small party first ventured into the main hall, where tables were set out in isles like small stalls as you would expect at a comic book convention. Here you could browse peoples work, from indie comics to larger titles. Many of the artists seemed enthusiastic to talk about their work, hand out business cards and even produce personalized drawings for people who purchased large hardback comics. I felt rather disappointed that I had no portfolio to show, as it became immediately apparent that there were great opportunities for networking available. I plan to attend next year, so when I do I must be sure I am prepared with a sketchbook and portfolio work. This was something that I noticed about the artists sitting at the stalls, they were using their productively, sketching and constantly honing in their skills. This brings me again to the point that I need to try and have a sketchbook on hand at all times and constantly be trying to build on fundamental drawing skills.

Over the road in the second hall, the set up was similar. There were more artists with stalls, as well as a small open area. This area interestingly hosted ‘draw-offs’ where every half an hour or so, two artists would go head to head responding to a title with a sketch, within a time limit. They were given around a minute if I remember correctly, one of the subjects being ‘Space Janitor’. It was interesting to see these rapid responses from the artists, each with varying styles. Perhaps this could be a good exercise to help draw more freely, trying to quickly capture an image in the mind with simple yet effective markings. Because of the small time frame, the lines and shapes used by the artists had to be very efficient in telling the audience what exactly they were seeing.

One comic book series that caught my eye was titled ‘Telikos Protocol’ by Peter Cooper and Adam Burn. As oppose to most of the other works, which included at some point traditional methods such as pencil, ink, etc. these particular artists took on a full digital approach. Speaking to them, one of the artists said that he started out producing conceptual art within the game industry. This showed in the style of the comic, with a very loose yet in parts detailed feel. You can see the application of custom brushes, probably making the process more efficient. Some of the strokes are very rough and loose, yet help communicate what the viewer is seeing, contrasting with some very sharp and detailed panels where required. Overall it has a very efficient concept art feel, which I really do like. I purchased a signed copy of the first issue to both read and use as visual inspiration.

Overall, I found my visit to the ‘Though Bubble’ convention both informative and inspiring. It would have been nice to have been able to network, show my own work to some of the artists, and receive feedback to help improve in my area of practice and even possible gain some contacts in the illustration industry. This is definitely something to consider for my next visit. Also, the convention stretched over the entire week throughout various venues within the city of Leeds, and there were also talks and panels on the main convention days. Perhaps it would be nice to see more of the festival in future, attending some of the other workshops and smaller networking events.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Parallax Digital Art

I recently visited my friend Daniel Schofield's blog and came across this fantastic video, which I feel is very relevant to my parallax studies. The artwork here at times creates a genuine three dimensional illusion, sometimes fooling the viewer into thinking they are seeing a real physical environment. The detail of the paintings is awe inspiring, and the parallax effect applied here really contributes that extra dimension.

The examples in this video have further informed and inspired my parallax study, as a way of transforming my concept art into more of an environment, to communicate the idea on another level. You really feel you can start to see around corners, into areas you would miss with a flat matte painting, and can begin to feel the work as a virtual environment.

Industrial Light & Magic: The Avengers

I have already looked at the showreel of a single VFX artist. Through my brief 'Hulk' study I found this stunning breakdown of some of the shots within 'The Avengers' movie. How this contrasts with Mark Fry's VFX reel, is that this was produced by an industry leading team of artists. What surprised me the most about the footage, was how little of the large environments was fully computer generated, and the scale of these virtual environments. Everything from the huge skyscrapers in the City sequence to the cars on the road. It is also mind blowing to see green screen footage dropped into to huge set extensions. Everything flows so seamlessly.

'ILM' have also been responding to quesions on the comments feed of the Youtube video. Oscar Rivers Pomas asked the question: 'how many hard drive space needed for these fx?' The answer was: 'About 202Tb at any given time.' Obviously these specs are way beyond anything us students have access to.

It is interesting to compare the work of a professional team to my own work. The scale of the project far exceeds anything I could hope to produce at any level alone. This is something I must keep in mind however when studying cinema quality VFX. There is a collaborative team of experienced artists working on a high budget, making for breathtaking results.

The Avengers: Hulk Special Effects

I was really interested by the processes that went into producing the hulk. Firstly, we see placeholders, for example, when Thor resists behind crushed by one of Hulk's huge hands. This provides actors with something physical to interact with. We also see motion capture markers on the puppeteer of the Hulk props, which I imagine will allow animators to track the movements and accurately animate the CG Hulk. Again it's interesting to see this bridge between physical and CG elements.

I was also really interested by the render passes and simulation layers that were used to really make the Hulk feel real and organic. The VFX artists talks of a muscle and bone structure beneath the Hulk's skin that preserves volume, and dynamics that cause the muscles to jiggle and shake. I found the most surprising pass to be the cloth simulation, which is actually used for the Hulk's skin. This tool usually applied to shirts and other clothing, is said to create a nice wrinkling effect. I feel that this really demonstrates creative problem solving, something that I have had to consider on some level throughout my project. It is inspiring to see how a leading VFX company (Industrial Light & Magic) use simulation layers to create the illusion of realism.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Final Edit

For my final edit, I wanted to add a title sequence. I felt that although my approach was intended originally to be rather realistic, the whole idea of a robotic bug attack could quite easily be the plot of a 50s science fiction exploitation movie, so I decided to have some fun with the concept.

Firstly, I found a reference image:

Although this is actually the cover art for an 80s EP, I like the classic 50s style of the font. I tried to emulate this font free hand using a Wacom tablet in Photoshop. I had the brush stroke pressure settings on, but the transparency turned off, as I wanted hard solid edges. From the black silhouette font, I selected the pixels in the layer menu and added a purple gradient. With the pixels still selected I created a new layer and added an external green stroke. After colour adjusting the layers I duplicated and merged both layers and knocked the brightness of the new layer down. I then moved this new black silhouette layer bellow the current layers, and slightly altered its positioned to create a drop shadow. I then saved the image as a Tiff and imported into an after effects composition containing an image sequence of the establishing shot (already colour graded to fit with the current composite shots which had been slightly graded in after effects.

Within after effects I added a slight scaling to the font to add a slow zooming effect. This was with the intention of brining out the title from the foreground. To bring the title out even further I added a slight fats blur to the image sequence layer bellow. As the scatterize effect causes the title to disperse, the fast blur is knocked down and the scene comes into focus. The scatterize effect is intended to represent the font dispersing into a swarm of insects.

Here is the final render:

Note also that I spent a significant amount of time on layering the sounds. The general rule of thumb with sound editing is that if you can see something in the shot, it should have a sound. This makes everything seem physical and real within the scene. I wanted to ensure I followed this rule to create a full immersive sequence. I am pleased with the inclusion of of classic sci-fi sounding intro motif during the establishing shot. This strange pitch bending piece of music warns us that something bizarre and alien is arriving. I feel the intense 'woosh' effect occurring as the title disperses synchronises very well with the action. I feel that it was important to give my particle effect clouds the buzzing insect-like sound to establish that the purple lights are in fact tiny bugs. I also like the sound I was able to find which worked really well with the egg almost hatching at the end of my film. It was actually created by a member of the 'freesound' community who recorded himself twisting and crunching some celery. Finally, I love the distant deep echo that occurs right at the very end after the shot has faded out completely. It sounds like a small drum has ben dropped deep within the cave. I can't quite explain why  this sound works so well, it just seems to round off the sequence successfully, this final distant sound and then nothingness.

One unfortunate floor with my footage happened when importing my footage into After Effects from Final Cut Pro. Because I'd exported the shots as 25fps Targa sequences, I thought that when imported, After Effects would recognise this and set the compositions at 25fps. I later discovers that when re-importing the Apple pro res clips from After Effects into Final Cut, the clips were shorted and didn't drop in perfectly into the rough cut. I realised at this point that my After Effects preferences had been set at 30fps and frames had been dropped in Final Cut. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware I could only amend this by re-importing the footage and re-compositing all my elements. I always tried to work to 25fps with the Maya timeline and and my image sequence exports, but unfortunately, a mistake in After Effects means my footage has dropped some frames.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Final Shot Breakdown

As you can see with this breakdown, I divided the rendered out beauty passes into separate depth layers so that I can then apply the zooming parallax effect. The environment was textured using some of Nagel's custom dry media brushes that I downloaded online. For the cracking effect seen on the rock supporting the coccoon, I created a quick custom brush by drawing a rough cracking pattern in Photoshop, and used the scatter effect to apple quick wild cracks to the rocky textures. I also reintroduced some of the scales brushes used previously on other insect-like assets on the eggs. Note also that I included a simple blend shape to show the egg pulsing as if being stretched from the inside. What is about to burst from the egg is left to the viewer's imagination.

Comping in my actor's head required some consideration in regards to lighting. I began with the original footage, keyed out the green screen and masked around the neck. There is a general edge light being created by the light source coming from beyond the cave-like entrance, so I wanted my actors head to darken toward the centre. For this I added a darkened layer and added feathered subtract masks to re-reveal the lighter layer bellow around the edge facial features. I colour corrected both these layers to fit the surrounding purplish environment. At this stage the head was beginning to tie in nicely, but there was still one problem. For some reason my glow map had gone slightly wild during rendering. At various points it would flicker and change its intensity. I thought I could actually utilise this flickering effect by synchronising the electrical buzzing sounds with the glow peaks in post production. To accurately tie in my actor however, I need the him to be affected by this flickering. I duplicated the head layer once again and colourised it purple. I then masked out only my actors neck and subtle features like the tip of the nose, to show the glow's affect. I then animated the opacity in synch with the flickering. I feel that ultimately this unintentional flaw with my glow map in the end helped bring my actor into the scene more successfully. It allowed me to show the environment having an effect on my actor. Note also that for the amended composition, I brightened up the actor's face to draw more focus on him.

One problem I did encounter however, was with importing my green screen footage directly from my rough cut. I did this as I already had the accurate length of the shot and wanted to render it into an image sequence to be used in After Effects. Unfortunately, I left the fading applied in Final Cut, meaning that my sequence was exported as a Tiff with acting alphas. When imported into my After Effects composition, the head faded in and out of the environment. I wasn't able to accurately fade out the composition in synch with the rough cut footage, so I had to cut it short to avoid showing the head disappearing before the rest of the environment. The only problem here was that the shot cut out before my egg had revealed its blend shape. To combat this, I pulled the layer the eggs to the very front, on top of the black solid fade layer. This now means that the egg stays in the shot after the rest of the scene has faded to darkness. This also acts as a final surprise for the viewer, with their full attention being suddenly drawn to this hatching egg.

I also acted on the advise to use the puppet tool. The immediate problem I faced was with the head and cocoon being on separate layers. I could only apply the puppet tool to one separate layer at a time, meaning the cocoon was animating but not the head. I tried utilising After Effects hierarchy options but this only applied to parented layers when translations were involved such as scaling or rotation. I was then reminded of bringing in nested compositions. After copying all of the layers over to a separate composition, I brought the nested composition back into the final shot. I had to copy the animation keys form one of the layers on to the puppet joint so that it scaled with the geometry, as the rig was at first leaving behind slices of the cocoon layer as it swayed. Even with the final result you can still see some edges breaking away, but I didn't have much time to really experiment with this internal animation tool.

Finally, I added adjustment layers to finalise the composition. I added a subtle complimentary green pass, causing the cool green to sit back in the scene and make the purples pop, adding further depth. I also added a film grain to bring in some noise and imperfection, disguising the clean Maya renders, and also tweaked the levels with another adjustment layer. Here is the finished result:

I feel that in the final composition the face becomes the focal point with the upped lightness and saturation on the main colour layer, much more than in the final critique edit. This focus on the actor is emphasised even further with the swaying of the cocoon.

Relating to my shot breakdowns, I found this stunning video showing the compositing that went into the 2012 Norwegian 'Kon-Tiki':

My breakdowns, were produced very quickly within the time frame of each shot by revealing the layers gradually through the whole animation. I like this rendered out single frame approach, as it gives you more time to really absorb the elements within each pass, and also the labelling helps understand each layer's purpose, which is people like myself who are still learning about the VFX process. Also I like how these breakdowns reveal the mesh of each CG model within each shot. This gives us a good look at the fantastic edge flow and sheer number of polygons used for these high quality renders. With more time, Perhaps I could have rendered out still frames of each layer within my After Effects composition, and produced more in depth breakdowns like this one.

The Abduction Shot

I didn't create a video breakdown for the shot where my actor is consumed by the insect swarm, as the composition was fairly simple. I keyed out my actor using 'Keylight 1.2' in after effects. I adjusted the settings, previewing the alpha channel created and adjusting the black and white balance to fully isolate my actor. I then added a simple matte chocker for crisp clean edges. For continuity, I used a plate shot where the two actors who had who began sprinting toward the actor in the previous shot pass by behind the pop out green screen area. As both the back plate and actor were shot outside on location, the lighting was very natural and seamless between both shots, meaning I didn't make to many adjustments.

I followed this tutorial to create my insect swarm using the 'Trapcode Particular' After Effects plugin:

For the amended shot, I wanted the insect swarm to be more intense, so I upped the particles generated to around 50,000. I also removed the sharp fade to zero opacity, leaving the insect swarm lingering after the actor has vanished. I applied a similar fade out to the one I used for my concept art motion graphic. This involved adding a black solid layer the size of the composition, and adjusting its opacity from 0 to 100%. I gave the swarm a purple glow like the pattern on the ominous looming UFO. The actor vanishes using the 'CC Scatter' plugin. I wanted quite an explosive and dramatic scatter, so I upped the values quite high. On top of this I added a brief flash. This was created giving a bright solid layer a mask with a high feather value. I used the 'add' blend mode a nice subtle dodge effect. The flash is very instantaneous, but adds to full dramatic effect of the insect swarm impacting and breaking him down into tiny molecules. Here is finished shot:

Unfortunately, the new scale of the scattering particles meant that some of the edges of the moving bounding box were visible inside the composition. I tried upping the size of the layer in the layer properties menu but this completely threw the whole layer to the very top corner of the composition. I had to manually scale up the layer ever so slightly, which in doing so slightly scaled up the particles, loosing a little bit of resolution. This isn't too noticeable, but it is worth mentioning that I understand I have lost some image quality through doing so.

Building Shot Breakdown

I am going to do a breakdown of each VFX shot I produced for my 'Invasion' short film. This is a breakdown of the first shot, where the UFO is shown floating ominously behind a large building:

As you can see from the feedback I gained during the final critique, I have slightly improved the animation, adding subtle rotation to the ship making it pop from the sky and add more depth to the overall composition. Also, I have included a similar particle emitter, showing the insect swarm emerging from the ships interior. Notice that I also rendered out a glow pass this time, Using an alpha mask created from the pattern on the ship. In Maya I then added a special, 'Glow Map' only applied on the glow render layer using a layer override. The 'lighten' blend layer option in After Effects added a nice glow effect, and for the reflection pass I used the screen blend mode. I adjusted each render pass's opacity until I felt the ship fitted the scene nicely. Originally, the occlusion layer was quite intense, meaning the shadows were too hard compared to the intensity of the sunlight and shadows on the building. Also, the sky is an image I collected online and added in behind the masked out building layer.

I made note of the order of the layers and how effect the composition:

On the bottom layer we have the sky backplate. On top of this there is the colour pass of the UFO. This is then followed by the reflection pass, then the glow pass, and finally the occlusion pass. I next added a slight blur and also a blue tint on an adjustment layer above the ship, this adding a sense of mist distortion as the ship is supposed to be reasonably far away. As well as this I brought in an additional teal pass using a colour correction adjustment layer. I also added some slight nose to simulate camera grain and to try and subdue the clean digital render against the footage. I brought the sky back in above the UFO, add assigned it an inverted alpha of the colour pass. This redefined the edges of the ship, while allowing subtle colour spill in the blurred layers below. The original building plate shot now came back in to the composition, with the building masked out making the ship and sky visible below. Finally I added the insect swarm, following an animated point light emitter.

Here is the final result:

I am more pleased with this result compared to the composite that I originally presented to the class. The slower and slightly rotating animation sits much nicer behind the building, and we now see the source of the insect swarm that consumes my actor. Unfortunately, I forgot to slightly lengthen the animation, but re-rendering out all of the passes is a luxury I no longer have as the deadline fast approaches.

The Parallax Effect

Reflecting on the concept behind by final shot, I have been looking at some Parallax 2D to 3D effects. I decided to compose my final shot in an orthographic flat front view, so that I could accurately place my actor inside the cocoon by taking a direct centred shot of my actor in front of the green screen. This was to eliminate any possible perspective issues, but could potentially leave me with a flat unexciting piece of footage. Luckily, an earlier concept art experiment in After Effects gave me some inspiration to apply a 'fake' 3D pull. After looking at render layers in Maya, I had the knowledge that I could perform beauty passes on Separate groups of geometry determined by their distance from the camera. This would make the parallax effect easily achievable.

After sharing this idea with a tutor, I was introduced to a fan made 'Walking Dead' opening credit sequence (link). The creator of this fan film had taken the original comic book frames which inspired the series, and created a moving sequence. Note how the flat 2D frames have been divided into layers, which move at slightly different speeds. This emphasises a certain separation between the elements in each composition, adding a illusion of depth.

The same treatment has been given to this still from the television series 'The Pacific'. (link) Again as the subjects pull back and forth at different speeds, our eyes are tricked and we almost start to peer around the figures in the composition. This is a very interesting optical illusion.

Unfortunately, the previous two videos had embedding disabled by request, so incase the links are unaccessible, I will also include this video which elaborates quite well on the parallax effect, and should demonstrate the points I spoke about with the previous videos:

This video also talks about various different pans used in documentary film making dependant on how many subjects are in the shot, and also about optimising the effect with depth of field adjustments and different camera moves such as the dolly zoom.

Through this study, I hope to include the parallax illusion in my final shot. The gentle shifting of the layers within a composition has a sort of hypnotics effect in my opinion, really drawing the viewer in to the image. I plan to include this luring optical illusion in my final shot.

Final Crit

Although I am slightly behind on some of my process and development blogposts, I wanted to write about the final critique we had recently, to show that I had worked hard leading up to the crit to try and produce a complete film to present to my classmates. I wanted a complete film as oppose to a rough cut, so that I could then take any feedback gained and work on making any required tweaks in the final week. this will hopefully give me chance to really refine my project:

From the feedback, I gathered that one of the key shots I need to focus on is the arrival of the ship. One point raised was that I could perhaps show the ship appearing in to the shot, in doing so lengthening the shot as it seems short and anticlimactic. Also, perhaps some rotation in the ship's animation would add more depth to the shot, instead the ship feels rather flat. To emphasise the large scale of the ship, perhaps I should slow down the animation as a huge object would not likely move so fast and fluidly. Also there is no evidence of the insect swarm which consumes the actor appearing into the sequence. I could possibly have the particle effect emerging in the distance form the ship and flying toward the camera. Regarding the shot where my actor is consumed by the swarm, perhaps the purple mist of insects could linger a short while after the actor disintegrates, as they seem to vanish too instantaneously. Considering the final shot, there were comments that my actors face is hard to distinguish, and to draw the viewer toward the abductee, I could maybe bring up the levels on the face when the cocoon flickers. Also perhaps I could internally animate the cocoon to gently swing within After Effects, using a simple 'puppet' rig.

I also, prepared a simple animated turnaround in Unity using some skills learned in our last module. I felt this was a good way of presenting my alien, which is very dark and distant in the final shot. Although I didn't have time to show the turnaround, I feel it was useful practice considering how my work could be presented to possible clients, employers or members of the public.

I hope to spend time in the next week refining my shots using the feedback gained form our critique session.

Unity Web Player | Turnaround_web

Unity Web Player | Turnaround_web

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Mark Fry: VFX Reel

I found a show reel by VFX artist Mark Fry

(Unfortunately embedding has been disabled, so here is a link to Mark Fry's Youtube upload: link)

The Video demonstrates a wide array of abilities as well as showcasing the artist's special skills. It seems Fry is very talented when it comes to keying out elements using the rotoscoping technique. This demonstrated quite strongly through the 'Total Recall' rotoshots. Fry also includes 'personal projects.' 'Workbench' shows a successful CG set extension. On top of this the composition shows a strong ability to key out unwanted elements within a piece of footage, by removing the actor's fingers. This is also demonstrated in a later piece of footage where Fry removes some wires from a piece of children's play apparatus. We also see examples of tracking, and clean ups using colour correction tools and alpha masks. There are also some new elements present such as camera projections which I am not yet aware of. Simply the inclusion of 'personal projects' shows a genuine passion for VFX and a will to learn and develop independently. Fry also includes a list of software he uses, which I imagine potential employers will check when considering compatibility with the software their company uses.

Overall I feel this show reel is well balanced, and successfully demonstrates a collection of essential skills when it comes to compositing. I believe this could be the benchmark that potential employers would expect to see at an industry level.

Double Negative: Total Recall (2012)

Whilst attending the Bradford Animation Festival, I heard a talk from Double Negative, a visual effects company who worked with Len Wiseman on his revamp of the Sci-fi classic 'Total Recall'. The talk was given by the CG supervisor of Double Negative Vanessa Boyce.

Tying back in with the creative processes behind Star Wars episode III, it seemed that Wiseman tried to take a kind of purist approach, meaning lots of props and real physical elements where present in the refined final product. Where I found the talk very interesting , was when learning about the interaction the VFX company had with the director. Throughout the entire process the team were showing Wiseman concept drawings and renders, and with a very very keen eye, the director gave feedback on the composition of each shot down to the last details. Through this constant networking, we saw how the shots developed to fit the director's eye. In this sense, I was supprised at how the team at Double Negative weren't given ultra precise storyboards to follow, but instead were given some creative freedom to work out the shots, bouncing ideas back and forth with Wiseman. This initial process involved a pre visualisation or Previs, an industry approach reflected through my rough cut used to work out the flow and timings of each shot.

After the Previs, team members went out and photographed buildings around London, emphasising the importance of using reference images to achieve the directors old stone London-esque image. Interestingly, Wiseman wanted the city to be completely original,  meaning the VFX team had to build the city form scratch. Although it was said to be easier working with real cities and adding digital elements to distort and manipulate their identity, This full computer generated approach gave us a great insight into the process involved when working on virtual cities. For efficiency, the team used a city engined, meaning they weren't modelling each building individually. The key to achieving realism, was said to be the imperfections we see. Little idiosyncrasies are important in making a city scape believable. This could be something simple like a slightly ajar window, or a switched on light.

Surprisingly, Wiseman wanted to shoot a real car chase. Although this posed a challenge for the VFX team as the footage required rotoscoping to isolate the cars, I can understand the director's motive to mount a camera on the back of a truck and film a real car chase sequence. Perhaps this was to gain a more hands on involved approach as oppose to leaving all of the creative visual aspects to such as camera movement to the VFX team. The real car footage did also add difficulty when comping, as the dust on the cars made them seem washed out and foreign against the clean futuristic backdrops. Similarly, Wiseman also wanted the Synthetics (the protagonist's robotic pursuers) to be shot physically with men wearing suits. After tediously trying to track the actor's movements and add gaps and piping around the abdomen, eventually full CG replacements were used.

I found this particular talk very informative. We were given insight into the creative relationship between the director and the the VFX team. I admire both the directors persistence towards his desired approach and personal vision, and also Double Negative's cooperation and efforts towards perhaps unorthodox approaches. Many of the easier CG elements such as rigged humanoids and hover cars, were filmed and given to the VFX team, whereas the complex cityscapes were requested to be built from the ground up. admittedly, I had this movie pinned as high budget formulaic throwaway, although, after seeing this creative collaboration my thoughts have become more varied. Even at the highest level, we still see this experimentation, trial and error and creative problem solving. In conclusion, I feel that I was really show Visual Effects as an art form, and not as a procedural service.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Star Wars Episode 3: Within a Minute

We were recently shown a video documenting the production team and the hard work required behind a single minute of one of the most recent Star Wars movies. The focus was on the final duel scene between the fallen hero Anakin and his Jedi Master Obi Wan:

Where I felt the video really informed my area of practice, was with the concept art segment. Interestingly, the artists had lots of face time speaking directly with George Lucas, sketching possible ideas and contributing massively to the visual outcome of the sequence. There seemed to be a level of creative freedom. The artists knew Lucas was trying to create an industrial mining planet, and that this was the location of the dramatic final duel of the film. This is where visually the fiery lava really added to the drama. Another thing about concept art that interests me, is how it is introduced at one of the earliest stages of production, and informs the beautiful VFX work to come. The polished outcome can then be compared to the initial digital paintings, and you can then marvel at how a two dimensional flat painting has been developed into a stunning moving visual sequence. The practice of digital painting can also sometimes contribute to what we actually see on screen in the finished product. One digital artists produced an enormous matte painting, which was included as the backdrop image for the sequence.

With our course very much focusing on digital media, a strong example being video game assets, it seems almost instinctual to take a full 3D approach. Although we later see that 3D elements are utilised for the more extravagant scenes such as a large bridge collapsing into a stream of lava, we also see a large use of impressive and detailed sets. This again links back to the inclusion of matte paintings. I feel it is a matter of efficiency. Instead of modelling, unwrapping and UV texturing a massive detailed back drop, an artist can work independently on a large paining, while the 3D modelling team focuses on the crucial assets. I also imagine that by building physical sets, time will be saved in post production, instead of trying to composite an artificial set to blend in seamlessly with live actors. Perhaps the intention of a physical painted set it also to get a better performance from the live actors, as oppose to having them only perform surrounded by flat green uninspiring colours. We also see the inclusion of fake lava poured through a mountain set. Again, I imagine this is much less time consuming than trying to render out digitally simulated lava.

The key message here, is to be creative with resources. Perhaps I could have tried to integrate my preferred area of practice into this module, through the inclusion of Matte Paintings. Although I have already created a 3D digital set (as I feel that the level of detail at which I paint would not fit the realistic approach of my final sequence) hopefully the textures that I produce will utilise my digital painting abilities. The main advantage of workng in Maya I feel, is the ability to drop in lights and experiment with the Raytrace options. It means that shadows and reflections can be achieved easily and accurately. Also I find that experimenting with bump mapping and various other texture mapping elements can help reach a level of realism with less effort than trying to produce a hyper realistic matte painting. However, perhaps I could have integrated physical props with digital ones to tie the live actor in better with the digital set. These are all areas of practice that I am now aware of and that I could perhaps experiment with in the future.