Monday, 24 March 2014

Time to think Mech

Our team recently took a visit to the Royal Armouries in Leeds. I took the oppertunity to sketch world war era weaponry, and try and build up some visual vocabulary for our Mechs:

I began with some guns, which I have labeled. As you can see, the RPK at the top has a round magazine, which is interesting aesthetically. I also like the in inverted looking grip on the middle grenade launcher. This is for the purpose of shock absorbance however, which our sturdy Mechs probably wouldn't need (They wouldn't really need any stock/ grip for that matter as the guns would be built in). The AK47, although interesting, is designed solely to be efficient for human use. It has a lot of hardware like switches and grips designed for human hands, which probably wouldn't be required for a mounted turret weapon on one of our machines.

While sketching weapon parts, I had lots of discussions with Rhys who, is very informed when it comes to military hardware. One occurring feature we noticed, was the use of small springs to prevent recoil. This would be a possible requirement for a Mech, although with the weapon being bolted on to the machine, perhaps recoil wouldn't be as big of an issue, if at all. One thing which featured on the heavier weapons, was the use bolts and D-links. This is likely for deployability, another feature which might not be necessary on purpose built war machines, unless they have a changeable weapon system where different elements can be taken off and bolted on. Just a thought. On feature I did like, was the holed out barrel to the left of the 'maxim bolt.' I find the design visually interesting, although again this is a feature that aids recoil. Still, perhaps if the gun was bolted on there would be some need for recoil reduction.

It was useful for me to sketch during the visit. I believe it almost gave me a feel for the forms, and look closely at the small mechanical details of the war weaponry. Also, the ligting conditions where bad for photography, so details would have been lost.

Based on a sketch I did inspired by a helicopter mounted mini gun, I did a quick potential Mech turnaround:

(The original gun. Photo taken by Tim, unfortunately in poor lighting conditions)

Royal Armouries Sketch

One feature we noticed with the mini gun was the way in which it used pipes to efficiently dispose of ammo casings. I also featured a spring loaded stability bar contain springs to dampen recoil. The ammo belt is also dispensed from a duel ammo boxes positioned on either side of the upper body. The machine also runs on a large battery positioned on the rear. Essentially, it is a walking mini gun. I also made notes on how the Mech might move. I thought the knees could bend with organic piping, eliminating the need for modelling intricate components and grouping them together into a sensical hierarchy. This way we could just bind a singly mesh for the lower body at least. I also thought about how the upper body might rotate independently.

Tim brought in a 'Warhammer' model of a walker Mech from the 'Imperial Guard' army:

This lead to some further sketches and discussion:

I moved away from the organic joint and went with a simple pivot joint. We also looked at various ways the upper body could rotate independently to the legs. I wanted to brush up on the rigging process, so I created a simple blocked out model in Maya, using a human leg approach as oppose to the double jointed 'dog leg' design you can see central in the above sketches:

The first thing to consider when applying the humanoid rigging techniques learned in the second year, was how much less joints and controls would a cockpit on legs require. I was originally planning on working very rigid with everything turning on a vertical axis, but it was pointed out that the hip dislocate joint would be essential for a walking animation. The main difficulty experienced was trying to hold the hard surface forms of the mesh, as they were slightly warped and distorted when moved as a result of the weight painting. I did try applying a rigid bind, but this still warped the geometry, creating a really harsh pinching effect around the joints when moved. In the end the smooth bind, although resulting in some subtle warping of the geometry (even after tweaking the weight painting) creates a cartoony semi-organic effect, which still suits our stylised approach. The only tweaks I made with the weight painting was removing some of the lower down joint's influence on the head geometry, which was causing a pulling effect when the head was moved. When trying maintain hard surfaces with the legs, the influence of the joints became chaotic and completely messed up the geometry, so I chose to allow for subtle warping:

Also, using a photo taken by Tim at the canal on the way to the armouries, I create a scale reference image to show the approximate size of the Mechs:

The Mechs are just under the height of three men, and two units across in width. 

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