Week 10 Maya Lighting, Arnold AOVs and Nuke Compositing

For week 10, the team divided into two segments. Matthew, Sorcha and Andrew focused on the animatic while Kerry and I focused on trying to recreate the house scene exterior. I blocked out the scene trying to match the scale and perspective/focal length and composition of the concept and then shared the project with Kerry. Kerry focused on modeling the house and bridge while I focused on modeling the trees and testing the lighting, rendering and compositing.


I was having trouble getting the Z depth pass from Arnold to work in Nuke so this first render test was created by rendering the geometry in separate render layers in depth and then manually adding the atmospheric depth on each layer in After Effects. This resulted in a lot of control over the layers but created more work in setting up different render layers. I think that ideally we’d want a lot of control but not as many separate layers.



AOVs and Nuke

I was loosing hope in using the Z depth pass. I had got it working before by grading the Z pass in Nuke so that it was visible in the viewport but hadn’t tried it in a long time so was missing a step. Alec as usual was lots of help!:) He went through an Arnold to Nuke workflow with Kerry and I and showed that the Z pass could be read by a zDefocus node in Nuke for simulating depth of field. Alec also showed us the benefit of having separate AOVs that could be edited in Nuke.

Andrew shared this video from Arvid Schneider’s YouTube that goes through the same process of rendering multiple Arnold AOVs into one merged EXR file and then extracting and recombining these in Nuke with shuffle nodes. This video also shows how to use the Z pass to create atmospheric perspective (finally!). The Z pass needs to first be extracted from the merged EXR and then the depth channel 0 to 1 space needs to be normalised by grading the white and black points with values from the clipping plane (if I understand that?). Schneider also shows a useful way of creating a custom AOV for material IDs using the aiWriteColor utility.

Arvid Schneider MtoA 120 | AOVs for Comp | using Arnold with Maya 2017



It took me a while to understand the different steps in this workflow. This page has useful information on the different sets of passes/AOVs that can be used to compose the beauty pass.


Nuke swapping channels


I got the composite working for a simple scene with spheres. Alec showed us a possible method of creating light bloom by rendering a rim light in Maya with the indirect light turned off and then blurring this in Nuke to get a soft light halo effect. I added a separate render layer for the rim light’s direct light as I can’t yet figure out how to render different lights into their own AOVs with attribute overrides. Creating light bloom needs to be further looked into. Alec had advised to work towards making rendering and compositing templates that could be used as a base across scenes.


Alec suggested pushing the atmospheric fog and cinematic composition even more, as in the last image. I also made the mistake of making the depth of field too strong so that it looked like miniature photography. Sorcha pointed out that dof should be used for objects close to the camera. I had a feeling that this was the case but I haven’t experimented much before with where the blurring starts and stops with objects of different scales.

We haven’t started experimenting with any textures or shading yet. The light in the window is just a temporary Photoshop layer. Alec suggested creating light scattering with either environment fog or faked god rays wrapped around geometry with an alpha channel. The grass at the moment is also just simple Maya Paint Effects so this might change with the texturing process. The rain and fog are Photoshop overlays so will have to be looked into further also.



Week 09/10 Concepts

Some feedback from our last presentation on the concept for our opening shot:

  • Nami’s forms are getting lost. Try rim light to make her pose read better.
  • Try making the perspective of Nami more dynamic. The camera is close to the ground and Nami is far forward so she would be warped mored in perspective. Also think more about her scale in relation to the trees.
  • The trees should have their texture receding more in perspective as they go up.
  • Pay more attention to the value range. Add more nuance and contrast at the focal point.
  • Look at Hotel Transylvania for how they deal with night time lighting and characters who need to read against the dark.
  • Alec thought that this scene felt like it was during the night with eerie light beams, which wasn’t my intention. I often make the mistake of painting the sky too dark. It’s meant to be approaching sunset. Alec also advised against using absolute black if I wanted realistic light bounces for daytime. I had been looking at Samurai Jack for reference but was maybe mixing flat and realistic rendering too much without committing to one or the other.

I was also having difficulty drawing Nami’s pose from this angle. Sorcha offered to draw Nami into the scene but it’s something I want to improve on so I went back and forth getting everyone’s feedback more instead. Matthew suggested creating the pose in 3D and had some good advice on how to think of where the weight  is placed on the staff. I looked at snowboard poses for references but surfing references turned out to be more applicable as the stance is wider, as on Nami’s staff.

Trying to make the pose in Maya was more problematic than I anticipated also. I tried to match poses from photographic reference but once I switched to the low camera it tended to look odd and poorly silhouetted. Kerry and Sorcha suggested that Nami looked like she was aiming for the ground too much and to curve the staff to suggest direction.

These are the before and after feedback results:


Reymond Scene

I also worked on developing Reymond, our tree spirit. Andrew’s designs in the animatic make me laugh a lot so I didn’t want to detract from that by adding unneeded complexity. I feel like I could ruin the joke by changing him too much or not pushing his facial expressions the way that Andrew did but at the same time, Mike pointed out that he didn’t look all that beautiful in the animatic. Part of the joke is that Reymond initially looks noble and beautiful as the characters are approaching and then he breaks out into his goofy self at the flick of a switch. We’re thinking of going for the more sculpted/chiseled look in the sketches below along with using clumped and hanging moss for hair.



For the lighting in Reymond’s scene we want it to be the most warm and welcoming scene in our short. We’re considering doing this by either lantern light, magically motivated lights in Reymond’s foliage or as in the concept below, where Reymond is made of an emmisive, translucent material that acts as a warm (point?) light source to contrast the cold directional moonlight. I tried blocking and roughly lighting this in Maya before painting the concept as an aid to see how the light would react. We’ll hopefully be able to push the concept painting even more when we get to Maya and Nuke.

I also tried to keep the tree designs the same as the trees in the first house concept as Conánn pointed out that we’d be reusing assets as much as possible. Sorcha suggested adding more glow and reflective puddles to the scene also.

The references are from our Monsters Character Design Pinterest.







Concept Sketches/Ideas Development Week 07/08

Week 07/08  – Artistic, Planning and Research

My tasks/goals for this week were to finish 3 production design paintings based on the animatic and to design the masked creature and Reymond, the sexy tree, further. The team deadline for reviewing the project concept art is November 20th so I’m definitely feeling behind on these tasks! This is what I’ve got so far.

A core rule in our world is that spirits possess inanimate objects with faces. This is an idea for a possible opening shot that plays with this rule. Ideally we would have a short opening before this which would convey the rule of spirits so then this opening shot could give a moment of “wait, but that means that any of these trees and statues in the environment could be alive/undead?!”. Some narrative could be then be suggested in the undergrowth if statues had been defaced or had magical amulets to prevent possession. I haven’t added these last details to the forest statues yet.

Sorcha had mentioned that our short could be set in autumn so I tried this palette. We’re also considering that the time of day could move from dusk to night.

I tried to draw Nami in but it’s tricky from this low perspective so she’s not quite right. In the animatic she’s flying into the frame but I wanted her face to be visible for this still.

These next few sketches are considering the staging of when Nami is talking to the creature who she has mistaken to be Púca because of it’s bright orange eyes. Púca could be concealed in the shadows behind Nami, perched on top of a totem-pole type arrangement of statues. Púca’s eyes could be the first things that become visible so that the audience might suspect a statue head is being possessed by a malevolent spirit?

I’ve gotten as far as applying value masks in this one but the value arrangement would probably be different, with the background in shadow and Nami the most illuminated.

Reymond still needs to be explored in sketches. Both sides of the crossroads could be designed with opposing palettes and lighting. Sorcha suggested that this scene be bright and sunny colored to suit Reymond. Alec suggested the possibility of lantern lighting too which is a good compromise for having an inviting palette which is still at night. The second frame is inspired by a similar crossroads, aerial composition in Samurai Jack, just to see what it might look like.

Masks and carved heads are often used as threshold guardians. This could be suggested in the detail above the doorway. The door should also suggest the dilapidated and abandoned qualities of the house inside. We have different options for how we can lay the stone. They could be large slabs or rows of thinner faces laid like dry stone wall.

The inside of the house could look abandoned and run down. The house has probably been used as a vessel for eating people before, so the center of the floor would be clear while dust and debris would have gathered around the edges. There could be a fire place towards the back with remnants of pots and tools lying around.

When the house is possessed it takes on the qualities of living tissue on the inside but should also feel like the insides of an otherworldly/spirit monster.

This is a possible idea for the design of the vessel/creature which lures Tato away. This concept plays with the idea that the one of the forest statues had not been defaced/sealed so that it was a suitable vessel for the forest spirit. Spirits monsters could be a combination of the materials that they possess along with the material of the ectoplasm bodies. The ectoplasm material could form solid limbs or remain as a ghostly, fluid material which allows the vessel to float in the air. The eyes could be orange flames of ectoplasm/soul. I purposely avoided limbs so that there would be less walking/running animation but the others say they don’t mind.

Sorcha and Kerry also suggested another idea for the creature which supports the narrative in the previous designs that Matthew created – the spirit could be using a skull mask as a vessel. I like this idea too as it makes sense for its forest habitat. Andrew pointed out too that Nami must believably mistake this creature for Púca so we’ll have to work with the staging more, maybe keeping it more concealed with shadow and foliage.

These are our various team Pinterest boards which give an indication of our design references. I’ve also posted some of the images below which I used specifically from the boards.

Monsters Character Design

Environment Reference 

Spooky Gothic Horror

Animatic 03 Feedback

This is the animatic which we presented in week 07 and which Mike gave us further feedback on on Tuesday of week 08. We’ve discussed the changes that we want to make but major updates to the animatic have been delayed to week 09 as we’ve been focusing on animation tests, further production design, character sculpts, rigging and research. Sorcha managed to cut 2 minutes off of this version at the beginning of the week which is a great start. We’re hoping to condense it further.

I’ve wrote Mike’s feedback in my sketchbook but these are the general points. Alec also made some similar points the week before and suggested some better scenarios for when Nami falls into the monster mouth.

  • The ‘keep your eyes peeled’ potato joke was lost. There should be a cut in to Tato’s reaction and audible grumbling. Nami should perform towards Tato when she apologises.
  • Make sure that the performance is loud and clear.
  • Nami needs motivation to cause her to stop. The rustling sound effect is missing  in this version which would cause Nami to stop but maybe Tato points towards the rustling bush. Always pay attention to cause and effect.
  • Consider how time passes. Nami comes across the creature very quickly and without apparent trial.
  • What is the creature doing in the bush – it could be eating berries.
  • The second close-up of the creature isn’t necessary when Nami is about to jump. Is this not a good editing pattern, getting faster and closer?
  • Pay attention to continuity of the space relationship between character staging.
  • We should see Nami’s spell start in a wide shot before it cuts closer to the Edgar Wright style cuts. Also indicate Nami’s spell forming, otherwise it pops into existance.
  • Frame Nami in an angled view looking towards the creature and beware of making her eyeline suggest that she’s looking elsewhere.
  • Nami’s pose looks like she’s straining to look around the creature.
  • We plan to see Púca’s first shapeshift. After this, when Púca is pacing he should’t pace away from the camera. Also, if Púca isn’t walking, then we can focus on his performance instead. Choose your battles.
  • It doesn’t come across that the creature is an accidental decoy. Nami and Púca should have more of a “…and who’s this guy” moment.
  • Move the camera with the character if they move out of frame and into the next shot (instead of cutting).
  • Use a two shot of Nami and Púca reacting to a third character instead of focusing on one at a time.
  • The wide shot of Tato should show him starting to listen. Cutting into his ear is confusing.
  • Is there a rule that Nami will also get smaller if she’s on Púca’s back when he shapeshifts?
  • We depicted Nami travelling on Púca’s back as we thought that the shots could be appealing but Mike’s feedback is that it would make more sense if Nami travels on her staff which is quicker.
  • Time could pass off screen between when Nami and Púca enter and exit the forest to Reymond’s crossroads.
  • Set up Reymond’s position in relation to Nami and Púca.
  • Will Reymond have afro hair, nice foliage etc? Reymond’s butt cheeks could wiggle when he laughs.
  • Nami should also be framed in Púca’s reaction shots to Reymond.
  • Take out the warning and Nami’s response. (We’re not sure if we want to do this as Reymond is our messenger, and it’s funny.) Speed up the dialogue at the end or cut it.
  • The screen direction changes when Tato arrives at the house. Maybe keep this right to left screen direction for Púca and Nami when they arrive at the house also to signal moving into danger.
  • Add a better establishing shot of the house.
  • Nami and Púca should cross the bridge when the camera does.
  • Mike suggests that Nami should run across the bridge first as she’s already shown that she’s impulsive at Reymond’s crossroads. However, this was something that we changed from the first animatic as we thought that it contributed to Nami coming across as stupid. We could make Nami run across first but try to pay attention to her performance so that she doesn’t seem completely brainless.
  • We’re missing a shot of when they open the door, either quickly or slow and tense.
  • When the camera pulls out it should reveal something e.g. Tato’s staging in relation to Nami and Púca when they enter the door.
  • Nami should start to leave the frame before we cut to Tato.
  • Púca needs to act more in the background instead of staring.
  • Nami needs to pull out her staff and be at the ready when the possession is happening and not after.
  • We’re reworking how Púca reacts to Nami falling. It’s agreed that Púca should immediately try to save Nami. Mike suggests that Nami could purposefully fall after Tato and then summon her magic in the moment of extreme peril. Maybe Tato is the demolition expert and has grenades. Magic shouldn’t be too convenient.
  • The magic should reflect Nami’s earlier attempt at magic.
  • Nami doesn’t need to announce her intention to capture the monster if she’s about to do it.
  • The end needs a lot of condensing. Mike pointed out that there are multiple points where it could just end.
  • For the ending dialogue the trio should already be walking into the distance. The smouldering house could be included in the last shot.

Animatic 03 shortened version 

Storyboards and Teamwork

Artistic and Planning

Week 06 2017/10/30 to 2017/11/05

We all had a long weekend of storyboarding for the new script. Andrew finished drafting the new script for Monday of week 06 while everyone else had been working on research, concepts or 3D sculpts. Once we got the script we reviewed it together, made some small changes and started planning the shots together on Monday on a shared spreadsheet. We found that it was a lengthy process with everyone sharing opinions so we gave Sorcha and Matthew the responsibility for planning the shots on the spreadsheet. This got finished by Wednesday and we divided out the resulting 139 shots between the five of us.

Screen Shot 11-06-17 at 12.06 PM

Shot planning

I was given responsibility of shots 85 – 115, where the trio are almost eaten by the possessed house, and spent most of Wednesday evening discussing them with Sorcha. Then on Thursday I thumbnailed out all the shots on one page, really trying to keep camera angles, composition and continuity in mind between boards.

Thinking through theses took longer than expected! I find that my level of drawing skills slowed me down a little too. I thought that after Thursday it would be a simple job of cleaning these thumbnails up but then it took longer again to figure out the poses and facial expressions better and tighten up the perspective. These boards took from Friday to Sunday to complete.

I can’t say that I’m too happy with my finished boards either. I really need to improve my ability to draw the same characters with different expressions and less stiff poses. I know that storyboards don’t necessarily need to be pretty but better drawings of sequences of poses and expressions, well framed by the camera with a pattern of editing in mind, would probably carry through to the 3D version too! So much to practice and improve for animation!

Also, the backstory of the house has changed now so that it needs to be designed more. Before it had existed as a mimic that was always a monster disguising itself as a house. Now it begins as an abandoned house that the spirit in the mask is able to possess and transform into a monster body.  Concepts haven’t been made yet for these so the composition of the room in the boards is very bare. Maybe more interest could be added to the framing if there’s more abandoned paraphernalia lying around.

This time around we used a shared onedrive folder to share all of our boards. Seems crazy that we posted all our last ones to slack for the editor to find. Sorcha is our editor this time around and is now putting the animatic together.


The 5 C’s of Cinematography – Camera Angles

This post includes my notes from the chapter on camera angles from The 5 C’s of Cinematography by Joseph Mascelli. My previous notes from the chapter on composition are blogged here. I haven’t read this book since first year and had forgotten a lot of important points through lack of practice. Hopefully we’ll be able to employ this knowledge better in our next animatic!

Screen Shot 10-28-17 at 12.35 PM

Mascelli, J. (1965) The 5 C’s of Cinematography. U.S.A. : Silman-James Press

The 5 C’s of Cinematography

  1. Camera Angles
  2. Continuity
  3. Cutting
  4. Close-ups
  5. Composition

Camera Angles Notes:

Story requirement should dictate the choice of camera angle. Ask yourself two questions when choosing: What is the best viewpoint and how much area should be included?

The scene is the place where action is shot. The shot is one continuous view without cuts, also known as a take. A sequence is a series of scenes or shots.

Consider three types of camera angles – objective, subjective, point-of-view.

The objective camera is when the viewpoint is from the sidelines.

The subjective camera is from a viewpoint within the scene, e.g. from a person within the scene or moving with the camera to take a tour of the scene. This is an effective viewpoint for startling the viewer e.g. in a rollercoaster or falling from a height. The viewer feels like they are in the scene, through the eyes of the characters on screen.

Moving shots are always subjective. A static shot can be made subjective by first showing a close-up of the person whose eyes you will see through, looking off screen.

You don’t generally see from the viewpoint of characters who are interacting as it will result in disruption from characters looking into the camera (your eyes).

Subjective filming should be reserved for when you want to show the mental condition of a character as using this shot too often will rob the audience of seeing the subject’s reactions.

Point-of-view shots are those that position the camera within the scene but not from the viewpoint of a character. It is like standing cheek to cheek with the character so that you see what they see, but you remain objective. Over-the-shoulder shots set up the relationship between the two characters. This objective shot can again become subjective by showing a close-up of a character looking off screen. It is easier to identify with characters on-screen if you see them from the same viewpoint/standing alongside other characters in the scene rather than objectively on the sidelines.

Two don’ts: Don’t show a close-up of a player looking off screen, cut to see what they’re seeing and then pan around to look at themself. Don’t show a player pointing off screen and then have them walk in the same direction that they’re pointing. (why this second one?)

A camera angle is defined as the area and view-point recorded by the lens” and is determined by three factors – subject size, subject angle, camera height.

The size of the subject in relation to the frame determines the type of shotExtreme long shot, long shot, medium shot, close-up.

An extreme long shot depicts a vast area from a great distance and is used to impress the viewer with the huge scope of the setting or event. A panning camera for this shot should be reserved for when something interesting can be revealed with the pan.

The long shot is used to establish the scene, who is involved and where they are. Whenever considerable, narratively significant movement is made by the character it should be re-established in the long shot. Medium long shots can be substitued for long shots on narrower screens.

A medium shot frames characters above the knee or below the waist.

The two-shot is a dramatic medium shot where two characters are framed confronting each other. The two shot can be framed with both characters in profile and equally dominant or it may be more interesting to frame the characters at an angle, with the character closest angled away from the camera. The character angled most towards the camera is most likely compositionally dominant in this situation. The two shot should be brought about in a natural progression of the medium or long shot. The characters should not be filmed toe-to-toe unless in a dramatic confrontation.

There are varying degrees of close-ups (discussed in a later chapter).

Terms: A pan shot is when the camera rotates on its vertical axis. A dolly, crane or boom shot is when the entire camera is moved with its mount. A follow or tracking shot is when the camera moves along with the character. A low shot is where the camera is angled upward and a high shot is where the camera is high and angled downwards. Also consider reverse shots, cut-in shots, cut-away shots and reaction shots.

The subject angle should be chosen for the best degree of modeling. Avoid flat images by showing at least two sides of the subject e.g. film heads at three-quarter angles and film streets so that they converge into the distance. Achieve depth with “lighting, camera and player movement, overlapping subject matter, linear and aerial perspective, use of short focal length lenses”. The camera angle is the greatest tool for achieving depth.

Camera height influences audience involvement e.g. viewing the subject at eye-level or above or below. A level camera results in vertical lines not converging and therefore not distorting. Importance is stressed when choosing the camera height for close-ups. The objective camera height should be on eye-level with the close-up subject, unless you are simulating the p.o.v. height difference of characters e.g. sitting and standing. Subjective close-ups should always be at the subject’s eye-level.

Level shots are employed dramatically in shots where a vehicle is rushing towards the camera.

High angle shots are useful for showing the layout of the setting or making the audience feel superior to a character. The subject always dictates the angle.

Low angle shots are useful for creating awe and excitement for the subject, and also for creating more forced perspective.

Angle-plus-angle is where the camera is angled to the subject but also tilted upwards or downwards. It creates the greatest degree of modeling a subject in 3D and also the greatest convergence of perspective.

Use dutch-angles with discretion for impressions of violence or instability.

Plan your combinations of camera angles and consider the pattern of shots, looking at area photographed and viewpoint. In progressive shots, the area and/or angle is progressively greater or smaller. Progressive/regressive shots require a definite change in the image size and angle or it will be jarring. In contrasting shots, pairs of shots are opposite in area photographed and/or angle. Contrasting shots also require a definite change. In repititious shots, the area and/or angles in a series of shots are the same.

Think “how much area should be included in this shot and where should the camera be positioned to view the action?” Only subjects of importance to the story should be included in the shot and for only as long as it’s point story point requires. Approach the shots in a scene creatively. Progressive shots are a standard way for telling the story but may become a lazy go-to, so look for dramatic opportunities with contrasting or repititious shots.

When filming continuous action, be sure to change the camera angle, lens, or both between cuts so as to avoid jarringly similar images. Be definite with change unless you are purposefully trying to pop into a distant subject e.g. a person in a crowd. Think of the lens focal length which is best suited for the shot e.g wide-angle lens for a distant shot, normal lens for a medium shot and a semi-telephoto or telephoto lens for a close-up.

Consider the individual story requirements of each shot but also consider everything as part of a sequence.

Consider the esthetic, technical, psychological, dramatic, editorial, natural and physical factors that will occur when choosing how to shoot the scene.


Audience versus Magic

This article talks about the thought process behind the magic in Doctor Strange (2016) and highlights a good point in relation to the audience’s engagement with the narrative of the magic.

Doctor Strange’s magic is more real than you might think (and is based on Tutankhamun)

The audience likes to reenact and imagine doing the magic themselves e.g. the specific wand movements and special words in Harry Potter. This was also talked about in the Writing Excuses episode on magic systems (blogged about earlier: link). It’s not just important to explain the rules so that the audience can play along in solving conflict, but it’s also a way of letting the audience unleash their imagination as to what could happen in a world with these rules of magic.

Scott Derrickson, who directed Doctor Strange points out that audiences “love the idea of magical objects and they like learning the rules of those objects and what they do”.

Derickson looked to the art of finger tutting as a way of visually showing the process of making magic.


With this in mind, we have a challenge of establishing our magic system in either our opening sequence or opening act. However, in an earlier episode of Writing Excuses on ‘Beginnings’ (blog link), the importance of starting and leaving as close as possible to the action was stressed. The audience doesn’t want to be bombarded with a boring log of worldbuilding. The first line/moment of the story is a promise of what the rest of the story will be e.g. a comedy or horror etc and if an establishing shot is made then it should contain conflict relevant to the story.

The Lion’s Blaze and Samurai Jack openings are examples that we’ve been looking at for inspiration.

They’re short (20-40 seconds) and don’t get boring. These two openings establish the conflict relationship between world and character. For us, this would be how Nami accidentally released her granny’s holdings of dangerous spirits who are able to possess any inanimate object with a face, but perhaps we should also give clues to how Nami produces magic? Looking back on reading about amulets (blog post link), this could be how symbolism is tied to the materials that Nami uses (e.g. different animal faces and motifs), the symbolism of color, how Nami implements offensive versus defensive magic e.g. adornment on weapons versus armor and cloaks, the variety of magical instruments that Nami carries e.g. different amuletic faces for different functions, the effect of recombination of materials e.g. faces composed of different symbols (our version of teeth of wolf, eyes of owl) how evil is symbolised in our world of faces e.g. the evil eye, how superstition is manifested in the non-magical people/denizens of our world e.g. removing faces of statues, making dolls without faces and wearing masks etc. We’ve also been considering how we can visualise magic using forms from either sacred geometry or the more fluid look of magic Tao calligraphy but this all needs developing.

Another (overlapping?) topic of research, mentioned by Yuan and Conánn, is the postmodern audience which I have a feeling will influence how we think about all of this!