Keith Lango: VTS42-47 Stepped to Polished Animation

Semester 2 Week 7 (2018/03/13)


These are my notes from watching Keith Lango’s video series on his workflow for a shot of animation.  It’s useful to see how much of his workflow focuses on key poses, primary breakdowns and secondary breakdowns (stepped). He spends most of his efforts on these poses, making sure that the drawings of the silhouettes are simple and have appealing curves. A lot of time is spent on creating arcs in the movements. These poses are then timed out. The splining phase is relatively short as the poses, arcs, and timing are working well before this stage.


Start with the emotion of the character. Look for the shape of the dialogue. What is the energy of the dialogue? Does it pop up and crash, rise slow and crash etc.?

Study the line of action of different poses in the body mechanics. Even when the feet are off screen you will still be able to sense the balance. Think of feet as the foundation. What direction will the feet point to convey the stance? Emotion affects the pose of the action. Act out the motions and take note of what all your poses are. Understand what your body is doing, by doing. Animation is the believable condensation of life. 

Thumbnail your motion analysis; keys and primary breakdowns. Start by thinking through the motion (planning).

Setting up keys:

Create counter rotations for curves in the spine. Start with the hips (the point of movement in the example). 

Screen Shot 03-13-18 at 10.03 AM

Pay attention to the curves in the silhouettes of the poses.

Pose reversal. Offscreen poses can still affect on screen poses.

Build asymmetry in the facial pose. Think from squash to stretch and closed to wide in the facial pose too.

VTS43 The primary breakdown

In the example, Lango is aiming for an under-arch.

Think about the timing of separate actions e.g. the head comes through the door almost at the same time as the door opening.

This will then determine the position of objects along their motion path during the inbetween.

Think of how the limbs will be offset on the inbetween. What is moving faster/leading versus dragging?

The core of the body/hips can act as the carrier of the upper body if the hips are the pivot, therefore arrive quicker.

Think of the changing angles. Rotate angles of moving parts but find a balance. You want the torso to feel alive but not be distracting. Always consider ways to improve your key poses in the context of your breakdown too.

Think of how the silhouette morphs between poses. You don’t want it watery or strobing. Keep an eye on the poses which Maya tries to fill in. Pick points in the silhouette that might stay in the same place. Think of the drawings. It’s all just shapes moving on a 2d screen.


Build the primary breakdown in the middle and then the smaller breakdowns like eases. The primary breakdown defines the nature of the move. Draw a line between the key poses and primary breakdown.

Screen Shot 03-13-18 at 12.33 PM 001

Get feedback after the primary poses and after the secondary breakdowns both.

VTS46 Timing

Start by planning, then space the frames according to your plan. The action should hit a few frames before the sound. 

Depending on how fast and slow the movement is you will need to add more ease to make the movement visible.

VTS47 Cleanup

Start with the hips and move up the torso.

Clean up the peaks and valleys of the graph. Clean up your geometry penetrations.

Lango adds extra character to the rotations after the f-curves are polished.

Dialogue animation is emotional. Get your narrows and wides and the jaw moving and focus on emotion instead of the nitty gritty sounds.

Every shape is unique, we’re not robots.

Start with the bigger shapes e.g. the squash of the eyes and then work smaller. Make sure that the shapes work in an emotional way.



Reymond Blend Shapes

Semester 02 Week 03 (2018/02/12)

Technical, Research and Artistry

I sculpted the blendshapes for our character Reymond. I hadn’t created blendshapes before but Andrew had some great research at hand to help me out. He kindly shared a tutorial with me that contained a detailed workflow of all the different sections of the face that would need to be sculpted. This was very helpful as I had thought to approach this by copying the faces in the animatic which would have been slower to plan out.

This tool, abSymMesh, was recommened in the tutorial as a way of checking if the mesh is symmetrical, which it wasn’t! Making Reymond’s face symmetrical was more time consuming than predicted as mirroring one side of his face over was tricky to reconnect.

Along with the list of shapes in Andrew’s tutorial, I mostly followed along with this tutorial also using the shape editor in Maya 2017.

Maya 2017 Shape Editor

These are the resulting shapes after sculpting and duplicating/mirroring to the right.

Andrew is going to complete Reymond by attaching the controls to the blendshapes and adding more body controls. The mouth will be driven by joints more than by my blendshapes.

Rendering and Compositing Look Development

Artistry, Technical and Research

Semester 02 Week 04 – 05 (2018/02/19 – 2018/03/04)


These are some renders and composites from the start of semester 2 to get an idea for what the characters might look like in scene 03 – the road to Reymond. It still needs a lot of work. Reymond wasn’t casting enough light on his surroundings with the emmisive set -up so I’ve tried making him a mesh light in the images below and added a glow to his emmisive pass in Nuke.  This causes bad light bleed around his mouth. I’ll try light linking for his cast light.



Research and Technical

Andrew found this cel shader script for Arnold 5 which works much better than relying on hard directional lights! It’s free for download here:

The light and shadow color are controlled by a ramp. Kerry and I are setting up the cel shader in each individual asset file. A little extra work is therefore needed to reconnect every referenced asset in the layout files to the same ramp so that light and shadow HSV can be changed from one control point. This shading network also doesn’t seem to have an imput for height maps unless we reroute to an aiStandardSurface.

Cell Shader Tool – Arnold 5 – Maya from Steffano Richi:


These are some of the updated assets that I worked on with the cel shader. We’re trying to keep our asset textures broad, abstract and brushy so that they read like a painting from afar, especially when combined with the cel shader which simplifies the shading. I’ve also made a warm and cold version of the tree textures to help with our scene palettes.



This is our progress so far with rendering and compositing our characters in an environment. This is in layout 02 which Kerry was working on. The cel shader doesn’t work with the default AOVs from Nuke so this is only composited with the zdepth pass. It needs more work. Mike has also pointed out that we need to stage the characters with the lighting more.  This seems tricky with our current light-set up and workflow so it needs more research and experimenting.



I’ve started texturing the inside of the house while Kerry is working on the house exterior this week too. I was worried that the cel shader only seemed to work with directional lights but I’ve found that it works with the aiAreaLight also. Light will be coming from the doorway and boarded windows at the front and from a caved-in roof at the back.



Alec and the others have suggested using geometry with alpha gradients for light beams. I’ll also be developing the red strangling version of the house interior light/textures.

Guillermo del Toro: Monster Design


These are a few videos and articles with advice from del Toro on designing monstrous creatures. These have been sitting in my blog drafts for a few months now so it’s worth looking back on how we’ve applied these thoughts. Looking at the creatures that we’ve developed over the past few months, I think that a lot of the advice below came quite naturally to us out of the necessity of creation. With Púca, the strangeling (both skull and house form) and Tato, we seem to be getting good feedback in that people don’t instantly compare them to other monsters. With regards to the environment supporting the monster, we’ve planned in the color script for different atmospheres so hopefully we can pull it off! Maybe the one thing that we haven’t looked at more is the metaphorical meaning of our strangelings and their ability to possess objects with faces. I feel like this could come with developing the series more and making more episode ideas for our series bible.

 Guillermo del Toro How To… Create a Movie Monster

  • Silhouette
  • Don’t make your creature perpetually angry. Imagine them in a relaxed pose. Don’t pile on the kitchen sink of horns and teeth. Imagine the lion in repose, majestic.
  • The color should say more about your character.
  • How does it move?
  • Never reference another movie monster when designing a movie monster.

The ghosts of “Crimson Peak”. How were they created?

“Socially, biologically and mythologically explained. Monsters were created in myths used as a way of explaining the world around us.”

Guillermo del Toro: “Monsters Are Living, Breathing Metaphors”

Guillermo del Toro’s sketchbooks – Commentary – The New Yorker

Guillermo del Toro’s 4 Steps to Creating Memorable Movie Monsters

  1. Draw on a multitude of sources.
  2. Tone and environment are as important as creature design.
  3. Think about all the angles.
  4. Convey the emotions driving the thoughts and therefore the character.

Asset List and Layouts

Semester 02 Weeks 01 – 02 (2018/01/29 – 2018/02/11)

Artistry and Planning

Kerry and I have been working on asset proxies, layouts and camera setups while Matthew and Sorcha have been working on animation/characters and Andrew has been working on the character rigs.


Kerry and I made a list of all the flora and other elements that will go into making our forest backgrounds interesting as well as the props for the interior of the house and other environment features unique to certain scenes such as step ruins. We are working with the aim to get the layouts blocked out with very basic proxy models so that blocked animation can begin as soon as possible. Sorcha and I planned out a maya project folder system where props, characters and layouts are within the assets folder. Props are referenced into the layout files. The layouts and characters are then referenced into the scene files within the scene folder. This way animation can be happening in the scene files and props can be worked on in their individual files while layouts are being developed or vice-versa.

For layouts, Kerry is responsible for layouts 02, 04/07 (before and after explosion) and 06 and I’m responsible for 01, 03, and 05.

Once the cameras are more in place from the animatic then we’ll be able to do another pass on the layouts so that the compositions are better. I’ve made a start on setting up the camera sequencer for the layouts I’m on but some moving cameras are better left to whoever is animating.


MASH Research

Week 18 (2018/01/22)

Technical and Research

These are some of the videos which I found useful when researching how to use MASH for set dressing.

MASH – Placer Node

This video shows how to scatter geometry using the brush-like placer node. I found that MASH only works in cm. There is an option to set “strict no collisions” but I found that my geometry was still colliding no matter how I played around with the settings. It therefore took a lot more care in placing geometry than what is shown in the video.


Set dressing using MASH Placer Node & Arnold Procedural /Standins

This video introduces the workflow of scattering low-poly geometry with the mash placer node which are then swapped out at render time with the detailed versions. The arnold help page on An Introduction to Stand-ins shows how to export geometry as stand-ins and be re-created as bounding boxes in the viewport. So far we haven’t had the need to use this method.


Maya 2017 – Intro to Mash

This video introduces how animation from an origin mesh can then be duplicated and controlled with a time node. This node is only available with non-instanced MASH and therefore requires a low to high number of meshes workflow.

MASH – World Node Clusters

I looked into this as an alternative to using the placer node. An option in the World Node allows you to generate clusters of geometry around the first geometry ID in your network.

Color and Light Summary

Research and Artistry

These are some of my summarised notes from the Schoolism course on Designing with Color and Light by Nathan Fowkes. We should try and keep these in mind when planning our color script. These were wrote with 2D concepts in mind but applies to 3D also.

  • Use Photoshop layers/groups for editing depth from foreground to background – 3 to 8 layers (from my own experience of working in Photoshop)
  • Consider atmospheric depth – values.
  • Consider atmospheric depth – color temperature.
  • Use depth of field blur
  • Use repeating shapes in z-space to create depth.
  • Consider the light source, where it hits local color, and where it is blocked.
  • Consider shadow color. Is it affected by bounced light from sky, or bounced light from light source?
  • Vary each of hue, value and saturation. Consider the key of the light (the levels distribution). Consider variety across the color script sequences and how they lead into each other. 
  • Does the light and color design (hsv) reflect the mood of the story?
  • Use variety in color temperature harmonies to create visual interest.
  • Use local colors for visual interest.
  • Use optical mixing to create greys (etc.) that are more alive e.g. dots of grey-yellow beside dots of grey-magenta.
  • Contrast should be reserved for the focal point. Draw the eye with sharp edges, contrast in value and light and contrast in hue temperature.
  • Group your values for readability. Adjust photo textures to the same value groupings.
  • Use weather to build atmosphere and mood.
  • Check perspective for every part of the painting – sky, ground, characters, textures, effects etc.

I went into more detail on the course in earlier blog posts:

Schoolism Color and Light with Nathan Fowkes Week 5

Schoolism Classmate Feedback Week 05

Schoolism Week 06 Light and Atmosphere

Schoolism Week 06 Feedback: Atmosphere and Light

Schoolism Week 07 Designing with Light

Reymond Textures, Leaves and Trees

Week 17 -18 (2018/01/15 – 2018/01/26)

Technical and Artistry

I tried to match Reymonds textures in Substance Painter to my previous concept art of him. We’re trying to keep with Reymond’s scene being a mix of warm oranges from Reymond and cold blue moonlight.


These textures might need more work if they make the facial expressions too flat. Alec suggested using an ambient occulsion pass to help define features.

For Reymond’s leaves I modelled one branch of tertiary/smaller branches and leaves and then distributed this using the MASH placer node. MASH is somewhat fidgety in that it doesn’t always distribute geometry near the cursor or if I create a selection set of geometry it sometimes only distributes across the first few members of the set. I’ve also had trouble with getting the MASH network branches to move with Reymond’s geometry. There might be a setting to fix this in Maya 2018 but for now we’re doing all of our setups in 2017.


I tried adding a small amount of animation to the MASH repromesh by animating each of the original leaves. Animations can be easily looped, offset or scaled by using a MASH time node. This node can only be used on MASH copies (repro) rather than instanced meshes though. My result is a little too subtle but it’s something I’ll come back to if we have time to add environmental animations.


In semester two, week one I mostly concentrated on trees before Kerry and I started a full asset list for proxy models and set layout. I finished off the tree models that I had started before Christmas, UV unwrapped them and then textured them in Substance Painter.



I tried a different approach to leaves with groups of leaves on an image plane instead of every leaf being on one plane.



I tried using a blue texture plugged into emission to control the shadow color.


Portfolio: Major Project Mid-Module

My contributions to our project from August 2017 to January 2018, not including scripts:

I created the backgrounds in our first animatic:

Development Sketches:


I contributed these storyboards for our next animatic:



I contributed these boards for the next updated animatic:



Concept art and layout development that I’ve contributed:



I contributed to scene blocking, tree modeling, lighting, rendering, compositing and look development in 3D:


Developing our strangeling creature (possessed statue/skull) design:


Developing and modeling Reymond from Andrew’s 2D design:



Reymond Progress

06/Jan/2018 – 15/Jan/2018 – Technical and Artistry

I’ve been tasked with modeling Reymond. Below are the references that I was working from, from Andrew’s drawings and some of my own sketches from before Christmas. I had painted Reymond as a towering tree but Mike pointed out that Reymond’s framing would be completely changed with this, changing the comedic audience eye level in the animatic. I’ve therefore resized Reymond’s model to be more at an eye level with Nami and Púca.


Andrew’s drawings of Reymond from the animatic.



I haven’t modeled any facial topology since first year so I started by looking back on my research from back then.

My previous research on head modeling: link

The topology reference from hippydrome came in the most useful:

I choose to start with topology in Maya instead of organic sculpting. I drew out where I thought the edge-flow would be based on the reference from hippydrome. I tried duplicating this by moving edgeloops on a box at first but then I just found it easier to trace my drawing with the quad draw tool. This made a flat plane of facial topology which I then pushed, pulled and pinched with the Maya sculpting tools until it looked like my drawing. I tried to make him chiseled like in the sketch by pinching the topology closer together in places but I hope this doesn’t cause any problems with the facial blend shapes and rig.


Work in progress of Maya sculpting:

Reymond progress turnaround closeup:

Reymond closeup with mesh:

Reymond progress turnaround:

With mesh:

I still need to add more hanging moss on Reymond’s branches and I’m going to experiment between Substance Painter or sculpted displacement maps to create his clumped moss.

Reymond renders:


I tried to create Reymond’s UVs in as automated a way as possible, as in my previous blog post rendering a tree. The unfold and layout tools have been working a lot better in Maya 2017 than they have before. I wonder if this is because I spent time using the mesh cleanup tool?