American Cinematographer – Penny Dreadful

Rhodes, P. (July 2015) Tortured Souls. American Cinematographer

I looked at Penny Dreadful for some knowledge on creating horror and mood with lighting. This would have been more relevant if we had of focused the comedy on the contrast between a scary opening turning into a monster carrying out a mundane task but it was still interesting reading about the thought process and approach the team on Penny Dreadful had for creating the lighting.

“The characters find themselves in some very dark environments…The backgrounds just drift away into darkness. While we were grading episodes one and two of season two, Chris [W. King] and John [Logan], our producers, said over and over again to us and to the colorist, Chris Wallace, to ‘Go dark, cave it in, go as dark as you dare.’ – to tell the story visually that we want to tell. ‘Don’t feel restricted – that’s the main thing John wants. He wants the show to feel foreboding, for the audience to squint and find the characters in the darkness.”

Digital Tutors Lighting and Rendering Tutorials

These are my notes from some Digital Tutors tutorials I did a while back but hadn’t put a lot into practice until this project.

Introduction to Lighting in Maya (2014) Available at:

This was a simple introduction to lighting that went into the different types of lights (helpful especially for spot lights) and shadows.

Studio Lighting Techniques in Maya (2012) Available at:

This was mostly useful for helping me see how real world scale affects lighting. I made Snappy about 180cm in our scene and scaled everything relative to him.

Introduction to Mental Ray in Maya 2014 (2013) Available at:

This introduced a lot of new concepts to me like some of the physics of light, rendering with global illumination and final gather, gamma correction and using a linear workflow and working with displacement maps exported from another program into Maya.

How to Train Your Dragon Texture Inspiration

My team and I were saying that we liked Kerry’s giraffe textures so I decided to ask her for some advice. I had something scaly in mind at this stage and she directed me towards looking at How to Train Your Dragon characters – especially the gronckle and thunderdrum dragons:

I especially like the shifts in hue and value across the gronckle’s skin and then across the raised scales (the purple and yellow one). I also really like the teeth of the thunderdrum (blue one) and their subtle texturing.The light catching the little raised areas on the thunderdrum’s skin is appealing too. Kerry also suggested that I try incorporating photo-texture into my custom textures which I had almost forgotten was an option!

Jia Hao Creature Inspiration

I saw this artist, Jia Hao, featured on CG Society and liked the look of the materials and textures – I like the cracked and rough feel and the mixture of harder and softer elements.

Images from:

Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy

As well as having compositional problems, Alec also suggested that we needed to make the timing snappier and that we should have a look at Edgar Wright for some inspiration for creating comedy. I found this video from the ‘Every Frame a Painting’ (Tony Zhou’s) YouTube channel: Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy and it contains lots of points that we could consider.

  • Find humour in places that other people don’t look e.g. a character moving from point a to point b.
  • How can you creatively foreshadow an important/disastrous event that will happen later?
  • How can you creatively show how one character feels about another/reacts to another?
  • How can you take simple mundane scenes and find new ways to do them? Consider how a laugh can come from the staging alone. Things popping into and out of frame unexpectedly can create a laugh. A laugh can be created from zooming, a crane up and panning – all camera moves that can reveal something unexpected about the character’s situation or create comedic drama.
  • “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s not in the frame.” – Martin Scorsese

These are 8 things that filmmakers should try out to create visual comedy:

  1. Things entering the frame in funny ways.
  2. People leaving the frame in funny ways.
  3. There and back again – a character moving to direct your eyes to a situation and then returning to the original state.
  4. Matching scene transitions.
  5. The perfectly timed sound effect.
  6. Action sychronised to the music
  7. Super dramatic lighting cues.
  8. Fence gags
  9. bonus: Imaginary gun fights

Material and Texture Research for Monsters – Fur and Feathers

I wasn’t sure that Mudbox would be suitable for the look we wanted on our monsters so we also looked at other options for shading and texturing them. We had discussed the possibility of feathers, fur, hairy arms, dragon-like scales and rough dry elephant skin. Mark Mullan had also suggested to us that it would look cool if dust fell from the creature with every step (like a dirt monster with glowing eyes).

Katie found this plug-in for creating lovely dynamic feathers in Maya:

jcFeather dynamic test

However we then saw on the creator’s website that it doesn’t support Mental Ray:

I saw this tutorial on Digital Tutors but then I heard that Xgen has changed a lot in Maya 2016 so the tutorial might be outdated.

Creating a Pegasus Using XGen in Maya

I had started to look more into what XGen is as I had no idea. This video was informative but I haven’t tried it myself in Maya yet:

Creating XGen hair – Part 1: Basic hair (2014)

This was similarly helpful:

I saw this ‘Book of Yasin‘ thread on the ZBrushCentral forum that has some beautiful rendered results. For example:

Images from:

This image was created by sculpting different types of feathers in ZBrush which were then distributed on the model using Xgen in Maya and rendered using Arnold. This sounded like a possible workflow that we could use.

I came across this plugin, ‘Shave and Haircut’, quite a few times also:

It was used during the creation of the fur on this creature, MoZoOo by Cloud Studios:

Digital Tutors – Pipeline Integration With Mudbox and Maya

These are the notes from a tutorial I did in order to to test out whether we could use this method for adding detail to our monster characters in Maya. The idea is to make a low poly mesh in Maya and then generate a normal/displacement map from the sculpted detail in Mudbox which can be brought back to Maya for rendering.

My notes:

02. Importing and Exporting Geometry
Exporting as an .obj file exports the geometry and UV map etc. .fbx contains more detail. The grid size in Maya and Mudbox don’t match. In Maya, freeze the transformations before exporting. When exporting from Mudbox, check window>preferences and check the settings e.g. fbx blendshape. Then select the object and >export.
03 Importing and exporting texture file
You can export your paint layer by right clicking and exporting maps. If you want to export your paint layers separately, make sure that ‘flatten layers on export’ is turned off in the preferences. Paint the desired layers. Then select the object and export as an fbx. This will automatically set up a layered shader of the different paint layers.
04 Transferring normal and displacement maps.
Go to >maps>texture maps> new operation. A normal map is like a bump map that allows you to work with a low resolution model but makes it appear highly detailed. The target model is the level 0 low resolution in mudbox and the source model is the highest level sculpt. Change the method to subdivision instead of raycasting (as we are working with the same mesh that detail has been added to). Choose ‘tangent based’ for geometry that is going to be deformed. A normal map is only the illusion of detail where as a displacement creates geometry. For exporting displacements – export as a 32bit exr. Plug the file into the displacement of the material. In order for the displacement to work the geometry needs to subdivide at render time. Go into rendering editors>mental ray> approximation editors. Under subdivision hit ‘create’ a new approximation. In the attribute editor > set subdivisions to 03 (for example)
05 Using the’ send to’ features in maya and mudbox.
06 Creating base meshes in maya.
Meshes with topology problems such as non-manifold topology will not be able to subdivide in Mudbox. Try and create an even quad layout.
07 Working with UVs.
You can create UVs in Mudbox from the menu which will break each face up into shapeless coordinates. You can export UVs as an .obj file and select the object in Mudbox and import UVs. You can tile the UVs in Maya/Mudbox also so as to dedicate more resolution to each area. Paint layers are based on the UV layout but sculpt layers are not. You can however transfer paint layers from bad UVs onto good UVs for example.
08 Modifying and updating topology.
Sometimes as we sculpt, the flow of topology on the original mesh may not match up with our sculpted result. Reroute the topology to match the detail.
09 Adding New Pieces of Geometry
Send your geometry from mudbox over to maya as a guide for adding new geometry around it.
10 Importing Joints and Weighting
A rig set up in Maya can be imported along with the model. The rig is accessed in Mudbox through the ‘pose tools’ tray along the bottom. A model can be exported as an .fbx – make sure the ‘import rig’ option is ticked in the preferences for .fbx.

Facial Expression Inspiration from Adventure Time

I watched Adventure Time (2010-) for the first time recently. The expressions are really fun! I was wondering how translatable something like these would be to our monster’s facial rig? It might be fun if the monster’s face contorted into all sorts of expressions between jump cuts. I’m not sure how well this would work alongside the action of brushing teeth also though.


Image from:”

Brian Miller Style Inspiration

I found the work of Brian Miller over the weekend. I really love how graphic his illustrations are and how he uses a grainy texture through his colour.

I know this style isn’t the most original in the world but it would remove us a little more from the Monsters, Inc. (2001) look.

These are some images from his “Umbrella Factory” and “Popshot Magazine” collections on Behance.