3rd Year’s Work and Study Placements

Talking to the 3rd years on the 13th about their placement was great. I was most impressed by Kristian Glenn’s work and thought it was cool that he got to work around music that he enjoys but I think it was Fiona Mc Laughlin who gave the best advice and insights.

  • The right team mates aren’t always found by going out and actively seeking them. Always keep your eyes open for potential team members. Socialising in groups dedicated to different subject areas is important e.g. Farset labs.
  • The energy, enthusiasm and dedication that you pitch a project with is more important than your current skill level. You need to show your dedication in order to sway people to work with you, show you’re serious.
  • Do whatever terrifies you the most. I think this last piece of advice is the best. I too often let fear and unsurety lead the way:( Ha mum reminded me today of how close I’d been to not applying for art university. I sent my application in the day before deadline! How much I would have missed!

fxguide – The Art of Rendering

A few weeks ago I was asking Alec what renderer would be better to use for our animation. I think we ended up just using Mental ray because we all had a bit more practice with setting up lights and materials to use with Mental ray (apart from Mark maybe who might have used Arnold more than us). My knowledge is still very lacking about the whole thing so I thought it would be worth my while to look into it more. I came across this article on fxguide which is pretty packed with information. It focuses a lot on Global Illumination and the different solutions to this: conventional radiosity, photon mapping, point clouds, brick maps and Monte Carlo ray tracing, and it then goes on to discuss the different renderers; RenderMan, Arnold, Mental ray, V-Ray, 3Delight, Maxwell, 3dsMax Scanline renderer, Mantra (for Houdini) and Modo’s, Lightwave’s and Cinema 4D’s renderers. I’m not going to pretend I understand all this but it’s still good to know a little more:


Also, I’d forgotten what global illumination is:

“Jeremy Birn (lighting TD at Pixar and author of Digital Lighting and Rendering, 2006) succintly defines GI as any rendering algorithm that simulates the inter-reflection of light between two surfaces. When rendering with global illumination you don’t need to add bounced lights to simulate indirect light, because the software simulates indirect light for you based on the direct illumination hitting surfaces in you scene.”

Revised Camera Movements Scene 04

I wasn’t convinced that the framing in the last scene was working very well. Looking back it may have been because the sky and cliff were looking very flat in the first final render of Slán and a lot of the cliff was revealed in shot. These were some camera movements I tried to see if the team would like/prefer them (keeping in mind that the particles would be flowing out and up):

We had also considered going back to the camera movement from our greyscale animatic which panned upward to the sky. We liked this shot but found it difficult to focus on Anam and the particles and then give enough time to pan past the monument and reveal the writing. Mike also pointed out that we’d be loosing a nice final frame that included Anam in shot.

Revised Camera Movements Scene 02

In scene 02 we’d originally framed the scene from further away with a slight zoom leading inward. Mike gave us good feedback about how this camera work wasn’t continuing very well from the previous scene. For this to work our character, Anam, would have to either exit screen left in the previous scene (to enter right in this scene) or Mike also suggested that Anam entering above the camera in this scene could work (as she disappears over a hill previously). I had some fun trying out some different versions of this. I was working with Mark’s old version of the swim cycle.

At first I was having trouble. I knew I wanted to start with Anam going over the camera and then pan left to reveal the ship but if i started too far right then the camera would have to move too fast in order to reach and focus on the ship (in 5 seconds). I also didn’t want to move Anam’s starting point left as she needed to travel from a right to left direction and follow the projection of the cliff.

Clare and I also discussed what it might look like if the camera seemed to have one continuous ‘bottom right to upper left’ motion through scenes 01 and 02. I tried straightening out the ease in and ease out of the camera graph (not very well by the looks of it) but thought it looked quite jarring.

I also tried moving the camera to follow Anam inward and frame the ship in the monument but wasn’t sure if it worked so well with Anam out of frame so much and the final composition didn’t feel that strong either.

Another variation of framing the ship:

In this one the camera starts on the left which didn’t fit with the previous scene again (it didn’t look that interesting anyway).

This was the one I was most pleased with as it got a closer shot of Anam and then revealed the ship without being too rushed.

I also tried a version of Anam coming from under the camera but didn’t think this worked as well plus Clare, Abigail and Mark seemed happy with Anam above.

Character Movement

These are some of the videos we looked at when considering how our character could move.

The ink creature in Sang d’Encre (2012):

The water fairies in Maleficent (2014):

Mermaid Swimming:

We really liked how flowy the ink creature was and I thought for a while that we could do something similar with nCloth.. Clare found this tutorial on how to create wings with nCloth:

When making Anam’s head scales I tried to model them similar to wings with a skeleton on each side and a plane stretched between. I had planned to make them look like they were caught in an ethereal breeze but I didn’t get enough time to figure out how to make separate nuclei to act on the cloak and head scales (I thought that maybe the head scales needed less gravity but there’re probably other ways of going about it).

Lighting and Texturing Slán Plus Revisions from Feedback

Scene 01:

We were told to bring back the contoured lighting that we’d painted in our greyscale animatic. For the first scene I tried to make the light catch the curve of the hill more but I didn’t want to bring too strong of a light into the foreground as the sun was low in the sky and the darks in the foreground created a feeling of depth. I had tried sculpting a much earlier version of the hillside with light over Easter but it didn’t work very well (plus my hill model needed some smoothing):



It also became apparent from these tests that if too strong a light was shining on the trees that their colours could unbalance the scene quite easily. Composing the different assets together was difficult and I was worried that everything was looking flat. I had started to make different trees that looked more wind blown and pointed within the composition (like in the greyscale animatic) but then Clare managed to compose the assets in such a way that they didn’t look half as bad. These were my lighting tests (ignore the edge of the sea lol):

My trees and clouds made this scene harder to work with as all the files in the layered shader seem to increase render time a lot. Alec showed me how to bake the separate tree textures in render layers which might have made it faster. However when I tried it a second time the alpha refused to bake even though I had the setting on:( It’s something I’d like to look more into as the long render times makes it a lot more difficult to test different lighting setups and tweaks. Having a layered shader also complicated things for Mark when it came to making Anam disappear at the end so that didn’t happen. This is the revised lighting for scene 01:


The second years pointed out that the sky was looking very stretched in some of the scenes. The stars also became too large in some instances as they were painted directly onto the background and we had to scale the sky so that the camera wouldn’t catch the edges. I made a longer rectangle plane, brought it’s UVs into Photoshop and duplicated Abigail’s sky across and made the stars smaller on a separate layer so that we wouldn’t have to scale and stretch it as much. However this revealed more of the colours in Abigail’s sky so that the palette is slightly changed in our revised version and there’s more detail in the sky. Haha it really is reminiscent of the aurora borealis. I worry that we’ve not limited our palette enough but at the same time we have managed to create a fantasy feeling that we wanted.

The texture that I painted for the soil rendered very pixelated. I think it’s because the camera is zoomed in very close to a small area in order to frame the potatoes. I ended up using a Maya mountain texture instead.

We also had to fix the grass planes in this shot as when I duplicated Abigail’s grass I neglected to separate them in the z-axis which caused them to flicker in the animation (at least I think that’s why).

Scene 02

For scene 02 we were quite happy with the contoured lighting that we managed to get. This is the texture for the cliff that I prepared (the different textures are saved as separate files with alpha for masking in Maya). Haha the grass brush looks a little silly, like an Hawaiian printed shirt so I didn’t make it stand out. I added paths to the cliff to hopefully lead the eye and suggest others have travelled this way. I also added gradients to the front of the cliff to hopefully make it appear that it’s catching the light more.

Abigail then set up the rest of the lights and spent some time making sure that the shadows of the rocks weren’t too black (bounced light from the sky). She also did a good job of making sure that Clare’s boat had some atmospheric depth affecting it, making it appear further away and bigger by adding a lighter valued shader. James suggested that our cliff was looking very smooth so I went back and bump mapped one of the textures.


In our first rendered animation the particles that Mark set up unexpectedly rendered black. Clare tried turning all the lights off and noticed that they rendered brightly again. I looked it up and found in Maya’s user guide that if you render a scene without lighting Maya will create a directional light that’s parented to the camera so this must have been why the particles worked in Mark’s test renders and not the main scene. I shone a directional light onto the particles and light linked it onto them only which seems to work fine. Then the brightness of the particles can be controlled by the intensity of the light.

The first time around we forgot to add the clouds to this scene which made it discontinuous with the next scene. I like it without the clouds too but for the sake of continuity….oops. This is the revised version with the extended sky and clouds added:

Scene 03 (or scene 02 shot 02)

For scene 03 we noticed that Anam’s silhouette was getting lost a little against the background, especially as the sun set. Mark had tried picking her out with light but I think the values and textures in the sky maybe overpowered her a bit….?

Mike suggested that we include part of the monument in this shot to give it more context. Clare set this up and Abigail added more texture and light to the underside of the monument. We had discussed adding stronger rim lighting to her ears and face but placing the monument behind her made her pop more anyway. Clare also added more ships to the composition on Mike’s suggestion to show the large scale emigration.

Scene 04 (or scene 02 shot 03)

For the last scene I think I didn’t give enough time to go back in and darken the cliff’s light gradient that worked for the second shot. I think the contrast was weird as a result and maybe hindered lighting the forms for Abigail the first time around. The stars were very apparently scaled too much in this scene also. It might have worked but Mike pointed out the big one as being distracting.

For the revision I darkened the cliff texture and tried to make the cliff and monument forms feel more 3D with light. Abigail also suggested that I add some more detail to front of the cliff.

Mark also tweaked my lights a little to make it more night time like and removed a light that was too strong on Anam for the new closer camera shots.

After Mark added the new animations to these scenes I also had to go back in and make new cached nCloth simulations for the cloak. This was going okay until I got to the last scene where the cloth simulation wouldn’t play back at all. This was very frustrating but it eventually worked when I imported Anam and a new cloak into a scene by themselves, cached the simulation alone and then re-imported it into the scene. Mark then added the final particles and I don’t think we were ever so happy to press render on Friday night/Saturday morning. Abigail and I also learned the pain of not saving often enough and loosing work that night. I think we were just too tired lol.

UV Layouts

These are the UVs I unwrapped (with a combination of cylindrical and planar mapping) and laid out for Abigail’s rocks and monument models so that she could texture them.

Alec mentioned that for next time it would be simpler to unwrap one rock, duplicate it and then modify it slightly so that the UVs would be almost fully unfolded and then repeat for the other rocks instead of starting from scratch for every rock. I also saw on digital tutors that you can transfer UVs between objects but it wasn’t working for me when I tried it on the rocks.

2D Clouds

I tried to make swirly clouds that would fit with the stylised look we were going for. I did a quick sketch over the playblast first to see how they’d fit within the composition. I also considered how I could paint a gradient mask in Photoshop to light the bottom of the clouds in Maya.

I’m not sure if these were the best idea. Although they suit the stylised look they also make the sky look flatter. There might have also been some cast shadows happening in some places<.</>.>