Pirate’s Gold: Rigging, Scene Assembly, Animation

Rigging

In order to create an opening / close animation for the chest, I had to bind the pieces to a “digital skeleton,” creating a hierachy of joints that, although simple, meant that I could pose the model into a desired position. With only two different ‘limbs,’ the chest was relatively easy to rig. After adjusting the pivot point of the lid to the bottom of the hinge…

nice.png…allowing for the opening of the chest…nice.png…I went on to link the bottom of the chest onto a “control” object (basically allowing me control of the entire chest) and then the base to the lid. The result is a hierachy of joints in which the control object is the parent or “root joint,” with the remainder linked to it. In essence, you move the control object and everything else follows, whilst if you moved the lid, it would not have any influence on the other joints. That’s the rigging done!

Scene Assembly

The scene assembly was fairly straight forward, although in the beginning I made the mistake of trying to import multiple objects at once and ended up with a weird merged document that I could not decipher. After ditching the “shortcut” method, I imported the assets individually and set to work assembling the scene.

Although we are only given a few types of models, I chose to vary their size, angle and direction to create more visual interest. Even if they’re only copies of the same models, the variation means the scene isn’t as bland as it could be.

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I mainly wanted to centre the vegetation around the chest board, as it’s the focal point of interest and is likely to be where the camera is going to circle around.

Animation

The view I had for this project was a quirky, comedic animation so I tried to reflect that in the animation by adding lots of squash and stretch elements. Having certain elements drop from the sky and onto the board, namely the palm trees, allowed me to showcase the tool to its full effect. Because the trees varied in size and timing, I tried to vary the point of impact and the ripple effect, giving each tree its own individual animation, even if it was a little time consuming!

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Still of the palm trees entering the scene, with accompanying squash and stretch motions.

Rather than having the crabs drop from the sky and getting squashed (I know I’m not exactly going for realism, but it didn’t exactly feel right), I had them appear from below the scene and bounce back down. If I had left the grass surrounding the board alone before it actually opened, it would have probably looked a little odd, so I made the decision to have them “pop” up after the board opened in a similar fashion to the crabs.

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Progression of the crab entering animation, which was applied to all three crabs in the scene, though at varying intervals.

I additionally added some idle movements to the vegetation both on and around the perimetre of the board. I wanted to create an effect similar to “swaying” in the wind for the grass and palms – mainly to avoid a static-looking animation once they had finished entering the scene.

To add a comedic element like I mentioned before, I decided to have objects “squash” some of the idling crabs in the background whilst the camera focuses on one in particular (largely inspired by the entrance animations). The first crab, circling around the board, is first squashed by the chest, whilst the second is launched off the board by a starfish appearing beneath it, and the final one to be squashed by a shell after getting excited over the coins pouring out of the chest.

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R.I.P. little buddies…

When assembling the coin particle I ran into a ridiculous amount of problems when I was trying to edit it at home. Coins would only appear for a select few frames, wouldn’t appear at all, wouldn’t register as coins, but rather as “crosses,” would appear as multiple events in the particle viewer to the point where it confused me… (detailed below in screenshots) …just to name a few of the errors I ran into.

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As I was becoming progressively more hindered by time constraints, my tweaking of the particle system (including redownloading the .zip file, restarting the program multiple times, reissuing the shape instance in the particle viewer, reordering the setting in the particle viewer, deleting the old files and bringing in new copies, messing around with the quantity multiplier – both the viewport and render settings, double-checking the timeline to make sure I wasn’t mistiming it, moving the position of the deflector, and double checking just about every other setting you could think of) I sent a .zip file to one of the lecturers containing all the assets and my scene. To my surprise, it worked perfectly on his device. With little time to waste, I assumed the problem was with my own laptop and just uploaded the .zip file to Google Drive to render at the university the next day.

Although I wasn’t terribly ambitious about the animations and didn’t see a progressive narrative (besides a crab ignoring his friends and getting excited over coins), I feel that it was a good introduction into animating in 3Ds Max.

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Pirate’s Gold: Texturing

Although I do have a little more experience with digital art programs, they’re mainly limited to drawing human characters rather than texturing materials and surfaces. So, even with a degree of prior practice, I can’t say with confidence that this texture is going to be anything more than a little average!

In terms of the program itself, I typically use Paint Tool Sai – and although very similar in terms of function, has a very different layout to Photoshop. In most iterations of the chest I’ve seen thus far, artists have made use of gradients to further accentuate lighting and shadows. Immediately I ran into a problem: Sai doesn’t exactly have a gradient tool. I basically had to choose between badly blurred gradients, staying in my comfort zone or learning the ropes of a new program and achieving a better result…and I picked the harder option.
Although it was difficult to adjust (mainly confusing shortcuts and tools) the gradient tool was a godsend! The highlights on the metal looked clean and would have likely turned out a bit dodgy had I gone with the second option.

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When covering the seams for the wooden panels, it was advised to add a “border line” to both deepen the shadows and mimic real-life wooden texture. In this case, I modified the default brush to be more textured.

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The straight mesh lines were quite easy to do – using either the stroke tool or by simply using the Shift + Click straight line method. In terms of the wooden strokes, which are most effectively done so with a tablet and pen pressure, I ended up having to switch back over to Sai. This was due to the fact that, even though I installed the latest driver, the laptop I was using (with Photoshop installed) wasn’t registering my tablet in the slightest. Rather than trying to troubleshoot the problem (at this point time started becoming a constraint I needed to consider) which might have eaten up my time, I chose to just go back to the laptop where my tablet was working and add all the details there, since most of my gradients were applied anyways.

Sai’s default file format is .sai, it does have the option to open .psd files, although at the cost of several of Photoshop’s functions – mainly certain tools and layer types. There is a possibility that the absence of functions will change the appearance of the file itself, so I made an additional copy in the case that it does happen.

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Now with the addition of pen pressure, I was able to add some of the recommended details, namely cracks in the wood, varying light textures (to create the illusion of a textured surface), highlights on the wood and nails along some of the chest edges. I finished the texture with a keyhole on the lock.

Here’s the finished product:

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Pirate’s Gold: UV Mapping

Before applying any texture to the chest, the mesh needed to be flattened into a series of two dimensional shapes, taking care to not have any polygons out of portion (otherwise the texture will become either blurry or stretched), using the planar projection technique.

When unwrapping breaks were inserted to avoid having the texture stretched, such in the example below, wherein the green highlight indicates where the mesh has been broken. This is done because the highlighted polygons, whilst flattened on the axis, would have been squashed and distorted if the mesh had not been broken.

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After breaking the edges in the corners, I was able to relax the mesh and flatten it out into an accurate representation of the chest faces.

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Before (with “squished” faces) and after.

The unwrapped meshes will then correspond to the faces selected on the model. Success!

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In cases where the texture will be the same on both sides, both corresponding meshes are flattened on top of each other. This is useful for when I need to avoid creating the same texture twice, when it will just be the same. When the two meshes occupy the same space on a UV map, they will also occupy the same texture. Although a bit tedious, the vertices of the second mesh were attached to the first one in order to ensure they both correlate exactly. In the example below, although only “one” mesh has been selected (though, in reality there’s two directly on top of each other), both areas are shown to be selected on the chest.

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Unfortunately at some point into unwrapping the chest I realised that I had distorted an area on the lid’s rim. I didn’t feel particularly like going back to one of my earlier saves and repeating the unwrapping process all over again (that’s theoretically almost two hours wasted) so I simply collapsed the modifier list and reverted to the editable polygon mode.

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It’s unlikely that this model going to be absolutely perfect now that I’ve encountered this error, but there’s nothing much I can do. Time to keep progressing!

Aside from a few hiccups in the beginning, the growth of the UV mapping progress became quite easy after practice – it makes up for in simplicity what it consumes in time. The overlapping process done prior also allowed the space to be used more efficiently within the UV space.

Chest UVs

Exported UV space, rendered into a 2048 x 2048 PNG file.

The UV space, now converted into two-dimensional image plane, will be used as a layout for the texture files – discussed in the next section of the production pipeline.

 

Pirate’s Gold: Modelling! …and lots of problems.

When I mentioned I was new to 3DS Max, I wasn’t exaggerating. It took me a solid week of editing, going back to the drawing board, restarting and contacting my lecturer for advice before I managed to construct a chest I was content with.

My first attempts during the early stages of the assignment were mainly to get a feel for the program and were below satisfactory and didn’t progress further than just preliminary shapes and details. Although it may seem like wasted time at base level, it was extremely useful for familiarizing myself with the program, particularly short-cuts, etc. which will make future construction much easier.

During one of my later attempts at modelling, although the main construction of the chest went smoothly, I ran into trouble assembling the chest lid. Under advice from a lecturer, I chose not to wrap an edge connection around the entirety of the chest, and so, when it came to extruding the underneath of the chest to form the interior, I was unable to use the connections to extrude upwards.

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No guidelines for the extrusion.

When I tried to remedy this by insetting the pre-existing lines, the chamfer I had done previously to create the lock managed to distort the inset into a different shape than required for the interior.

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In addition to pre-existing problems, at some point I had managed to change the former connections on the top portion of the lid. Although I’m not entirely sure how it happened, I assume it was because I selected some edges in the area whilst attempting to revise my previous mistakes regarding the chest interior. It was at this point I decided that constructing a separate lid would be an easier option than trying to fiddle with settings (when I most likely would not have achieved a desired result in any case), and to obviously follow the tutorial more closely.

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Whilst going through the stages of constructing a new lid, I ran into another problem! This time it was something I had relative ease with during the first attempt: scaling the chest inwards along the X axis, as shown in the tutorial videos. The problem wasn’t that it was distorting the model or anything along those lines, but rather that I couldn’t do it in the first place.

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Attempting to drag the X axis inwards using the scale tool and failing miserably.

After contacting a lecturer, we concluded that the problem was I had neglected to use the selection centre tool. I switched to scaling the vertices instead and achieved a similar result as the one in the video, without having to use the aforementioned tool.5

The selection centre option (credit to Steve).

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Finally achieving the desired scale.

After the first few debacles, the remaining experience was devoid of any complications and I managed to construct a relatively average looking treasure chest!

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Pirate’s Gold: Pre-Production

The style, themes, and projected vision of the project is decided during the pre-production stage. As discussed in the brief provided, the client is looking for a short advertisement to market their upcoming board game, “Pirate’s Gold.”

The storyboard, almost like a “blueprint” of the finished product, helps to set the basic parameters for the employees and others working on the project. In this case, the one provided is as follows.

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Although the major details have been provided, aspects such as certain camera angles and timing can be tweaked.

For this advertisement I think it would be ideal to add some visual interest by having some sweeping camera angles, or perhaps a consecutive one that circles around the treasure chest, which is the focal point, as recommended by the brief. It is important to consider that, because of the short time frame, (ideally 15 – 30 seconds long), to not have the camera angles change too drastically, as it may disorientate viewers or simply distract from the advertisement itself. I additionally want to avoid sharp angle cuts and have the advertisement play out without needing one at all.

Whilst the majority of assets and textures have been provided, the focal piece, the treasure chest, is to be constructed as part of the assessment. Although there is always the option of combining the tutorial and some artistic license to create a unique piece, since I’m not well-versed in 3DS Max, or just generally with 3D modelling, I’ll be following the tutorial closely. With the texturing, I will have more free reign, due to being a bit more experienced with art programs. It is likely that I will preserve the original style but add a little twist if I decide to at that point. The style is as follows:

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The main challenge will be adding enough detail so that it creates visual interest but avoiding too much realism – it’s a cartoon, after all.

In the end, the proposed client requires an mp4 file with H.262 compression (a video of the finished animation), but in this case, since it is still an assignment, we are required to submit the video alongside working files and documentation of progress (which is when these blog posts come in!).

Images retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LnIh4ZMjMIVsrryVO0yT3c0_mtXnwOgrzFu3i0emIPE

Review of Legend of Korra: Book Two

(Spoiler alert!)

Drawing on the mythology from its predecessor, Legend of Korra: Season 2 derives further away from the over-arching plotline of Avatar: the Last Airbender and creates its own legacy with the origin story of the first Avatar, building upon an already intense mythology system with its own twist.

Struggling with her own spiritual side, Korra must embrace the core of her Avatar journey, and with dark cosmic forces looming on the horizon, she must contend with betrayal, growth and loss, with the fate of the universe dependant on her every action.

So, how does it live up?

With lore executed with a grace of an ‘info-dump,’ the unravelling of the origin story itself is stuffed into one condensed episode, occurring during a spiritual healing ceremony wherein Korra must retreat back into herself to look forward – all right alongside a series of peculiar sub-plots that do little but act as filler episodes…it’s a little difficult to say. Somehow they’ve managed to achieve a storyline that is consecutively entangled with incredible thematics and side stories that are vague at best, all whilst incorporating valuable, intricate character arcs that may just be the saving grace of this season.

Legacy, with all its thematic potential, is used to the fullest in this season. With Korra overshadowed by the spirituality of her predecessor, she struggles to live up to Aang’s legacy as the bridge between the Spirit World and her own, a burden that has been overarching since the previous season. Rather than having her change to become more like him, she discovers her own path, encompassing all her mistakes, flaws, and personal baggage in a mature transition to the Avatar she needs to become.

db14d55de56adcf09bebca1bbe7ac848Tenzin, her air-bending (the element most associated with spirituality) mentor, is revealed to be unable to visit the Spirit World, due to his own penance; the roots of which are revealed to be his father’s legacy.
During his venture into the Fog of Lost Souls in Episode 13, in a moment of desperation not to lose his mind, reassures himself that he is Aang’s son. His view of himself is not as an individual, but as his father’s son.
The weight of Aang’s legacy is so strong that it is shown to have influenced Tenzin’s teaching methods in the previous season, where his main goal appeared to be turning Korra into a replica of his father, rather than personalizing her Avatar journey. Tenzin’s eventual re-connection to his own self after confronting the spirit of Aang is one of the most compelling scenes as of yet, and a testament to the depth of character that this series can execute.

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Whilst the thematic components may have been obscured by the poor execution of the season itself, the plotline has revealed intricate details about the Avatar-verse and the lore of the Spirit World itself. Combined with the sheer depth of character development, a recognizable art style and fantastically execute fight scenes, whilst this season isn’t the best there ever was, it’s certainly setting the standard for the seasons to come.

References:

  1. Header image retrieved from https://thenerdsofcolor.org/2014/11/12/why-are-we-forgetting-about-korra/
  2. Image retrieved from http://ind5.ccio.co/mF/f2/uF/db14d55de56adcf09bebca1bbe7ac848.jpg
  3. Image retrieved from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/db/14/d5/db14d55de56adcf09bebca1bbe7ac848.jpg

 

Creative Media Curation

Platforms like PinterestYouTube and Spotify are crucial for appreciating, developing and honing my creative interests. My personal Pinterest account, having been used for over a year, is one of the best ways to collate inspirations and curate ideas for personal and academic projects.

Anyone with a Bachelor of Animation is bound to have a place to throw animation-related inspiration, and I am no exception. Whilst this board covers the basics (mouth movements, walk cycles, etc.) my special interest in the Avatar: The Last Airbender shows, with martial-arts-inspired dances derived from the styles on the show, to actual bending sequences used in the episodes. With one my main influences going into the animation industry, it’s no surprise it makes a feature here.

My “academic” account (never thought I’d use those two words in a sentence) is mainly used for developing class projects, for example, Thin Lines, a short-story concept about a disgruntled son given the chance to enact revenge on his father.

In terms of personal projects, mine range greatly from small length stories, isolated character ideas to fully-fledged universes with a planned graphic novella to accompany them.

Having a strong interest in body horror and symbolism associated with it, with inspirations drawn from the likes of Silent Hill, my monster inspiration board contains a plethora of grotesque, deformed creatures, easily influenced by fantasy and religion. I suppose it’s a bit of morbid fascination on my part.


Creating the backdrop in an original universe is just as important as the story itself. For, without the scene, is there even a world to begin with? My setting inspiration board, drawing on a range of different moods, from fantastical to dismal, stimulates ideas for my own personal projects. Whilst the pictures are not solely specific to any one project, they contribute already-existing story worlds and help develop new ones along the way. 

The personal projects I keep mentioning make an appearance here too. In my Bewitched verse, two races, derivative of the stereotypical angels and demons nuance, have boards that encompass real-life cultural influences (locations, dress, appearance) that have allowed me to flesh out their fantasy counterparts. Whilst the ‘seraphim’ and their culture are derived from imperial east Asian cultures and are set in a volcanic region, the inspiration behind ‘cherubim’ culture is drawn from the ancient Egyptian, Greek and middle Eastern eras, with a little bit of Christian symbolism on the side.

Specific original characters (OCs), such as Lamya, the seraph protagonist in Bewitched, also have their own boards. Exploring symbolism, appropriate songs and aesthetics within an individual context has not only help me develop her character arc, but her appearance and moral standpoint as well.

Other examples, from other original projects include: