Gnomon Creating a Sci-Fi Alleyway

Creating a Sci-fi Alleyway. Detailed Environment Techniques with Devon Fay  – great inspirational tutorial on the gnomon workshop.

What a beautiful piece of art Fay’s “Sci-fi Alleyway” is. I love this feeling of rain-slick, beaten up alleyways filled with old tech and Japanese references. The image has really stuck with me and I can’t help but think of it when I look down narrow alleys in Belfast. Even during the weekend, I saw a poster in The Ramen Bar in Dublin and immediately thought, sci-fi alleyway!

This is the VR (or AR?) dream.


Summary of my notes from the tutorial:

01 Refine your idea

Define your idea. Find as many references that you can, e.g. stills from movies, images from real life culture. Pick some shots/photographs that you like and do block out studies of these to get inspiration from how they’re constructed. Start to narrow down the themes that you like and want to see in your final image. Photobash/create concepts of these themes.

02 Blocking

Use a human model for scale and start to block out the composition that you want. This will require a lot of iterations of how walls and blocks are placed. Bookmark the possible camera angles that you want. Constantly consider how balanced the composition is and other compositional aids.


03 Finishing the blockout

Research the different construction elements of your scene. Try different blocked constructions in different layers. How is the place lived in? Consider story.

04 Find the crack:props

Jump into something that’s doable like a chair. Make quick concepts. Keep a constant eye on composition as the addition of detail might unbalance the scene. Consider how much time needs to be spent on an area. Will this be visible in the camera? It’s not one prop but the culmination of all the props that make the environment feel like a real place.

05 Detailed prop creation

Examine lots of references. Reuse old models that you’ve created.

06 Initial lighting set-up

Fay uses VRay. Use the optimal settings for speed. In Vray you can save irradiance maps instead of re-rendering these every time. For speed you can choose to only update this before bed at night.

07 Scene modelling

All the little details will make your scene seem real. Reuse materials and textures from past work as much as possible and from references that you’ve already gathered. Think of having a range of materials. Overall composition is more important than making a single prop perfect.

07b Storytelling

Keep thinking about the weight of areas in your composition and how the relative amount of detail draws the eye. Keep your environment functional for your characters. If something is off then maybe the character is explaining it through an action e.g. reaching a high shelf with retractable arms. Always consider the story aim. Is it about a particular character or is the story about the place? How do the characters live in this scene? How is this world inhabited? Continually ask these questions. Consider how depth is created with overlapping objects and avoid tangents.

Screen Shot 05-31-16 at 12.06 PM.JPG

08 Tools and Scripts

Useful scripts: chain creator, wire creator, zoomerator, spPaint 3D, rock gen

Fay uses Marvelous Designer for cloth simulation and Quixel Suite for texturing. Quixel suite uses maps for creating masks.

11 Custom photshop textures

Cut out bits of textures and reblend them together edges, adjustments and cloning.

12 Texture sheets and tilables. 

Create a texture sheet for assets that appear a lot around your scene for example large sheets of sticker, logos etc. By working this way you only need to use one material for all your stickers and only need to adjust one material. Look for materials that you can download online and dissect why they look so good.

13 Final Lighting

Tweaking passes is a lot faster in Photoshop. Fay also renders the lights into separate passes.

14 Putting it all together in Photoshop



Thinking About My Career Options

Placement year hasn’t been going as I had thought it would. I had thought that I would start the summer with spending some time editing my showreel and then sending this out to studios that I had researched. Instead I found myself reacting to the suggestions of jobs. For instance, Iglu Media suggested that they might have work revolving around compositing and After Effects. I set about to learning these skills in After Effects and got to work with them for a short time. Then John Henry Hammer Productions contacted a few of us for work on their short film and I jumped into learning Arnold, Nuke and Substance Painter for that. I’m very happy that there’s work to do and at the same time wonder if I should be less reactive and more precise in my plans for the future. The great thing about JHHP’s short film is that I can choose which part of the pipeline that I want to focus on at least. Alec suggested to try everything this year. I’m always struggling to be really good at at least one area but I see advantages to spreading my time to other areas also. I’m still waiting to hear a yes/no from NI Screen’s UU Placement Scheme so that might lead me somewhere else again.

This was a draft of points that I was using to think about career options a month or two ago but I may as well post it:

I could apply for freelance projects online. This way has the risk of working for clients that won’t pay or stop communicating abruptly. On the other hand, it allows me to read through particular project briefs before applying. I really like the idea of drawing concept art for a project that I enjoy the theme/story setting of.

I could follow the option that Iglu Media has presented me with work centered around After Effects. This would involve learning more about compositing, rotoscoping, special effects creation such as explosions and particles, motion graphics and dynamics.

I could try and look more into roles that would lead to set/production design. My 3D and drawing skills could be used for set pre-vis or I could create fully digital sets.

I could look for jobs centered around concept art here in Belfast. CoffeeBox Games seems like an option.

I could try to work somewhere like Blacknorth which would require all my skills as a 3D generalist.

I could look for more internships in big studios with a focus in a particular department such as lighting at MPC.

I could take a month to try developing my matte painting abilities and apply to studios for this in particular. I could do this also for storyboarding and animation.

I could set up my own company and focus on my own project such as a short film, comic book, pilot for a tv series, VR project, game etc. I would have to find a company, doing something similar, to mentor me. Make a Neal Stephenson dream.

I could put all of my efforts into finding work revolving around metal music videos and try spending time making a showreel for this.

Will it be too late for Erasmus grants at the start of next year? There’s still something inviting about the thought of working in studios in Sweden, Finland or somewhere else on mainland Europe. Pity there aren’t similar grants for Japan.

DT: Quick Start to Rigging in Maya Volume 1

I went through this tutorial for rigging last summer. I had almost finished rigging the character myself afterwards but then once university started again I got distracted by everything else! I’ll need to revise and try my own rigging projects again lest I forget what I learned last year and during class.

Quick start to rigging in maya: Volume 1

My notes for reminders:

Make a reference layer for the model and reduce display port to low detail for speed.
Enable wire-frame on shaded and x-ray joints.
Adjust the direction of the joint using the ‘joint orient’ in attribute editor. Parent and unparent as needed.

03 Completing our work on the joints for the left leg

Name your joints e.g. – bn_l_shin_01, be_l_thigh01

04 Adding inverse kinematics to the leg and mirroring joints

05 Adding joints for the torso, neck, and head

Create a center for the bone/joints to snap to in the torso by point constraining a locator between the two hip joints.

06 Creating eye joints

Create two joints for eye and center to eyeball. Parent to main head chain and mirror across to other eye. Test the smooth bind option, changing bind type to ‘selected joints’.

07 Building the arm joints

Think of what view is best for telling Maya what direction the joint bends. Turn on ‘Snap to projected center’ to snap to center of mesh. Create the arm joints and then join to the clavicle.

09 Finishing the skeleton
Name the joints e.g. Bn_l_pinky_a01, bn_l_pinky_ b01 etc. rpIK_l_arm01. Keep skeleton and IKs in groups in the outliner.

10 Binding the character
Why do we skin the character before adding the controls? We need to test the deformations with the current joints. Search by name for bn*01 to select these. Select the smooth bind command and bind to ‘selected joints’. The bind method ‘heat map’ gives objects closer to the joint more weight. Set weight distribution to neighbours so that joints won’t affect geometry that is far away. Heat distribution and neighbour options are new features that allow joints to be moved without influencing other joints that they should not be influencing.

11 Skinning tools and techniques
Use the ‘move skinned joints’ tool for adjusting joint positions. An IK handle would need to be removed before doing this. Use control menu to select edge loops and vertices. Open the component editor to edit the weight of influence on the joints. 0 to 1. Check/uncheck ‘hide zero columns’. Select badly deformed vertices and use the weight hammer to average the deformation. Test deformation using animation. Shift+w will key the translate values. Use the ‘paint skin weights’ tool. Using the ‘replace’ option will paint whatever value is in the ‘value’ box onto the model weight. Select the joint that you want to modify the influence of (right click and ‘select influence’). Then use the paint influence tool to replace the strength of influence on certain points. For areas that need more subtle influence e.g. In between toe joints, change ‘replace’ to add and change the value to 0.5 for example. Geometry group needs to be selected in outliner before paint tool’s influence can be selected. You can also select points (shortcut F8) and use the weight hammer tool. You can mirror the skin weight once finished on one side.

12 Establishing a global control
Create a square with linear cv curve tool

13 Rigging the torso

Create box curves for the upper back and pelvis and shape them around the geometry. Freeze transforms and rename, e.g. Anim_chest01, anim_pelvis01. Also add control for the mid back and a centre of gravity control. Use parent constraint for the anim_COG01 to the root node. Lock and hide the channels that aren’t needed. Group controls under the parent control int the outliner for cleanup.

14 Setting up the head and neck controls

Create/import the box curve for the head and shape it. Always rename and freeze the transforms. Orient constrain the head to the neck control. Create the neck control and parent to the chest. Parent the head control to the neck control (servant+master+p). Orient constrain the neck bone to the neck control (master+servant+constrain). Remove the channels that aren’t needed (only leave rotate in case of head and neck controls.

15 Eye controls

Select the geometry of the head and then the two eye bones then Skin –>edit smooth skin–>remove influence so that the eyes don’t move the skin of the head. Create square contols and center them at the center/end of eye joint and move them straight out so that they’re still centered for a point constraint. FT and rename. Create a third control and center between the left and right eye controls for both eyes. How do you center between two objects? – a point constrain – then delete the constrain. Parent two controls to the anim_eyes01control. Then parent eyes control to head control. Dynamic parent controls will be in next level to allow this control to be turned on/off.

Pay attention to the axis of the joint as this is important for aim constraints.

Take a look at what’s pointing up and what’s pointing towards the eye e.g. Positive ‘y’ and positive ‘x’. The channels in the ‘aim options’ are binary on/off, +/-. Recolour the controls for clarity. This is found in drawing overrides under object display.

16 Rigging the clavicles

Create a square curve for the clavicle. Center it on the clavicle, move it out to where it can be easily selected and then re-center the pivot point with ‘dv’.

The control can be mirrored by putting it into a group and then scaling the group by -1 in the axis you want to mirror it across. Rename, FT, and then parent to control. Remove unneeded channels and orient constrain to the clavicle.

17 Controlling the arms

Need two controls – one for whole are and other for twisting of IK handle. Create a box curve and snap to joint that has the IK handle. Duplicate this snap to elbow joint, then move backwards. Mirror across by grouping and scaling. Lock and hide unneeded channels and colour code sides. Now we need to constrain the wrist so that it will move more smoothly with body and not reorient itself – orient constrain the box control with the wrist bone and point constrain to the wrist joint. Pole vector constrain the elbow control to the IK handle to control the twist.

18 Setting up the leg controls

Center the control curves needed on the legs and leg end joints. Rename and freeze transforms. Create pole vector constraints between the IK handle and the knee. Notice that the whole leg twists to adjust for surface direction (?).
Create a polygon by snapping to the leg top, bottom and middle joint so that it creates a plane with the same tilt as the leg.
Pull out the plane with the move tool set to ‘normal average’….unexplained?

19 Rigging a foot roll
Duplicate the foot joints and delete the toes then resize. Rename with the prefix jDrv for joint driver (as this will not effect geometry). Duplicate the toe and move it back to the heel so as to act as the heel role control. Unparent the heel and then unparent the ankle (shift+p). Select the toe>skeleton>reroot skeleton. Now this chain pivots from the toe. Select the toe and then parent it to the heel to create the heel role.

Mirror the joint across. Now we need to apply constraints. What drives what? The system is driven by animation control – the box around ankle. Parent the heels to animation control. Grab new ankle+IK handle>point constrain. Orient constrain the bn_ankle to the foot driver bone (footdrv+ankle>orient constrain). Orient constrain the foot to the toe. (toe is master).

Controls now need to be added to the foot role system.

20 Finishing our foot roll system
Select both leg controls and modify>add attribute. Make ‘displayable’. Add ‘foot roll channel’ also.

Select foot roll as driver and the jDrv bones:heel, foot, toe, as the driven, then key the rotate channels. The connections made are not keyframes but links between parameters. Set the footroll to 0, rotate the toe to it’s max roll position and then key(adjust foot at same time to soften bend ant ankle). Key a position for 0.5 also with the toe flat and the heel coming up. Lastly key a position for -1 on the heel roll with the heel pointing up.

21 Controlling the fingers and toes
Create extra channels for the ‘fingerControls’, rootX, rootY. rootZ, mid and end. Create channels for toe X. Y and Z. Create channels for toe x, y and z also.
Now we can work on the fingers. Open the connection editor and load the 3 finger roots into the right. Connect the rootx to the 3 rotates of the the fingers and do the same for root y and root z to their respective rotate channels. Select the mid finger joints and repeat. Select the end joints and repeat. Movee on to the toes. Connect toeX to rotate x etc.

22 Cleaning up the rig
Should only be able to see controls – joints and IKs should be hidden.

Rigging a Ball

Back in May when I was feeling very ill I had a day where I felt like just doing something simple. So I revised rigging a ball and timing for animation of weight. Sticking with something simple was very helpful for getting to know the graph editor better. Rigging is still something that I need to revise a lot and make progress with.

This tutorial on the digital tutors blog rigs a ball by:

  1. Adding a main control by parenting the ball geometry to a nurbs controller.
  2. Adding squash and stretch controls by setting driven keys to a newly added attribute. The ball_geo is grouped four times for the four different pivot points that the squash controls are added to.


How to use set driven key in Maya part 1:



I keep seeing a skipping dog or horse walk.

9 Easy Ways to Remember Your Presentation Material

I never trust my memory all that well, particularly if verbal communication is involved. Presentations are less terrifying than they used to be but they’re still my least favourite activity. It always helped to hear that content is more important than how you present as a person, within reason I suppose.

9 Easy Ways to Remember Your Presentation Material

  1. Build a memory palace
  2. Use mind maps
  3. Remember the importance of focusing for 8 seconds, uninterrupted.
  4. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Go over the material for 20 minutes and then repeat twice more.
  5. Rehearse out loud.
  6. Record your presentation. Now you have an auditory memory aid as well as a visual one.
  7. Improve your working memory.
  8. Practice to music. I always thought that my addiction to music was a weakness of mine. Maybe there’s more to it.
  9. Practice before bedtime.


Voice Acting Basics

I’m afraid that my voice is abused from lack of use but I still find the process of making characters with your voice really intriguing!  I particularly admire audiobook narrators who can convincingly voice a whole cast of characters, female, male and non-human alike, without taking you out of the experience. Maybe someday I’ll stop being a coward and try this.

Consider the register (deep to high pitched), the accent and the expression for each character.

Your voice is a muscle that needs to be taken care of. A warm up loosens the vocal chords.

Practice enunciation by doing enunciation exercises. Exaggerate the shapes that your mouth makes.

Chasing My Tail With Plug-ins

So, today I was trying to match the perspective of my Maya scene/model to that of a photo that I was studying. I thought, wouldn’t it be handy if I could zoom into the view without messing my camera settings. I remember hearing something about this in Devon Fay’s tutorial on Creating a Sci-fi Alleyway (very awesome) so I asked the Google. I came across the Creative Crash website, which seems to be a good source for scripts, and the “shotView” script.

Then after digging through my notes for the script that Fay uses, I found “zoomerator”.

“Great, I just need to copy and paste these into some folders in Maya’s/version directory.” said I. But of course, me being me and Maya being Maya I misread the instructions. Instead of putting the files into the users directory/documents I put them into the c/programs directory where Maya has similar folders. So after many copy and pastes into different folders and errors in the script editor later I discovered that Maya had been telling me the correct directories all along in the script editor. How nice. Although I wasted a lot more time than was necessary I did learn a little, or at least discover more doors that I haven’t looked much behind yet. I’ll leave links here to these articles that I found for future reference. Pointless story aside, this is the main point of this blog post. Also, future me, don’t half ass the reading of the instructions.

Installing a Maya plug-in

Setting environment variables using Maya.env

The whole environment variables thing didn’t work for this purpose for me but maybe next time….