December 28, 2018 : Gaomon In Practice

Last month, after much procrastination, I decided to purchase a drawing tablet – the Gaomon PD1560. Even though I ordered it shortly after that decision, I didn’t get a chance to use it until a few weeks ago.

When I did finally crack it open, it took a little time to set up and figure out the settings; but for the last few weeks, it was heavily used for some storyboarding. Below is one of the boards:

Overall, I like it a lot. For starters, the tablet is very friendly with Photoshop, which is what I used for the Storyboards. Creating everything digitally from the get go also sped up my process considerably. In the past, if I needed a hand-drawn Board, I would have to draw them by hand, clean up the drawing, then scan it into my computer, and then clean it up digitally. Very tedious.

Being my first drawing tablet, I thought it would take a little time to get used to the sensitivity of digital drawing. However, that did not prove to be the case.

While I don’t have anything planned at the moment, I hope to use the Gaomon again soon. At the very least, I would like to do some recreational drawing on it. It is relaxing, plus it will help me better familiarize myself with Photoshop’s brush capabilities.

posted by Pi Visuals at 9:24 pm

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August 4, 2017 : Rig Improvements – Head/ Face Edges (Part 3)

In the previous two parts, I discussed how and why I made significant changes to the Head/ Face of my characters’ rigs. For the last part in this series, I want to detail the controls of the head during animation.

The changes to the Head/ Face area were made to control the Edge Lines, particularly around the chin and jawline. The other driving factor was to keep the orientation of the Head stationary while the rest of the body moved – a style more typical with 2D animation.

The end result was using two Target Nulls, effectively controlling all three rotational axis of the Head Bone. For the rest of this post, the Heading, Pitch, and Bank axis are Red, Green, and Blue respectively.

One null controlled the Heading and Pitch of the Head bone, while the other null controlled the Bank of the Neck bone – the parent bone of the Head bone – located just below it. Below is a shot with both bones selected (in Yellow):

Since the head was an image projection onto a plane, I needed to have it constantly face the camera. Otherwise, the perspective of the face would look off:

The first Target Null took care of this issue. The Neck bone’s Bank was oriented so that it pointed at this null. In many software packages, this is referred to as a Pole Vector. When the Neck bone rotates along the Bank to face the Target null, so does the Head bone. I typically left this null at the position of the camera and probably could have parented it to the camera, but for extra flexibility I adjusted it manually.

To ensure the head remained in the same relative vertical angle, the second Target Null was employed. The Head bone would rotate along its Heading and Pitch axis so that it pointed to this null. Without this setup, the Head would move in conjunction with the Spine. For action shots, this would probably be satisfactory but not for scenes focused more on dialogue or less drastic movements.

While the Target Nulls controlled the rotation of the Head bone, the bone itself still had the capability of moving positionally. I would do this in very small increments, typically along the y-axis, and it gave the animation a little extra kick.

Overall, I really liked the new rig. Aesthetically it achieved what I wanted – the Edge Lines and Head positioning stayed more consistent. This prevented extra time being spent in After Effects backtracking and trying to fix issues with the 3D Render.

That said, there were limitations. Specifically, the angles of the head (and thus the camera shots) were not very robust. Still, I felt for this project, the pros greatly outweighed the cons. Improvements can always be made – particularly from an automation standpoint – and I hope I can pursue these changes on future projects.

posted by Pi Visuals at 11:52 pm

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July 18, 2017 : Rig Improvements – Head/ Face Edges (Part 2)

In the previous post, I introduced changes made to my rig around the head/ face area for my recent project. This required a drawing at five different head positions for each character and projecting each onto a flat plane.

Since I animated the eyes and mouth within Lightwave, these drawings were actually temporary. The final image used for the final projections actually looked like this:

The eyes, nose, nostril, mouth, and chin mark were then modeled in Modeler – with morphs created for the eyes and mouth. This borrowed the technique I used in a previous project, Taking Shape (although the separate eyes was used in a project prior to that, Ninja Tales).

Technically, I did not need to model the nose/ nostril and instead could have kept the drawn version from the temporary file. However, I liked having more control over its rotation, position, and scale in Lightwave.

Each feature of the face had its own bone, which were all parented to the head bone – the bone that controlled the position and rotation of the face image planes. Below is a schematic view of this portion of the rig:

One of the main characters also modeled the front two bangs for additional animation control, which is reflected in the image above.

For each of the five different head positions, I placed the facial features in their correct position and scale (for the nose, I also had to adjust its rotation. These keyframes were saved in the base Rig Scene for the character, and then I was able to copy these settings at any point within future scenes.

If a movement required a head turn, I would simply sequence the keyframes as needed (usually on 1’s or 2’s, depending on the movement). This could have been better automated/ controlled and might be something I pursue in future projects.

Overall, this process wasn’t very difficult or time consuming to create since I reused many of the facial features. Thus they didn’t have to get modeled from scratch each time for every character. It did take a few extra minutes to animate head turns, but it was worth it for the additional control of the edge lines.

For the last part in this series of posts, I will discuss how the movement/ orientation of the head was controlled during animation – ensuring the cartoonish look I originally intended when deciding on this rig setup.

posted by Pi Visuals at 9:54 pm

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July 8, 2017 : Rig Improvements – Head/ Face Edges (Part 1)

As previously stated, several changes were made to the character rigs for Ad Wizards. A big one was with the head/ face.

In past projects, the head was modeled like the rest of the body… three dimensionally in Lightwave. However, when I rendered out Edges, the lines around the jaw and chin area were not always consistent. Their presence depended upon the camera angle and head position/ orientation.

This took away from the cartoon look I wanted; and the only remedy I had was to add in edges after the fact in After Effects, a process that wasn’t incredibly precise and rather time consuming.

My solution was to replace the head with a flat plane.

A drawing of a face was created and projected onto this plane. Using Illustrator, I created a face for each character at five different angles – Head On (Portrait) shot, two Three Quarter shots (one for the left side and one for the right), and then two in between shots (one for the left and one for the right):

Technically, there was a flat plane for each angle of the face. They were all identical in their size and initial position, and each plane had its own surface, with each surface having the appropriate image projected onto it.

During animation, I chose which face angle I wanted and had the remaining planes out of the camera’s view (I set their y-position to some incredibly large value so it was out of sight).

The end result was that the faces had consistent edges, and I did not have to worry about spending any time in After Effects fixing aesthetic hiccups. Another good thing was that I did not have to maintain one constant face angle for a specific sequence. If I wanted to have the character turn their head, I was able to animated through the various angles and it looked pretty smooth.

That said, there were some drawbacks/ limitations. While I enjoyed the Edge control this afforded me, the work in Illustrator was time consuming. Once I got into a flow, things did go fairly quick – plus, I was able to reuse certain aspects and features from previous characters. That said, it did require an extra step in the design phase. In many cases, I was able to mirror the right and left sides; however, this was not the case for characters who had hair that was asymmetric.

Another limitation was the characters’ range of motion. Only having 5 images did limit how much I could turn their heads. Plus, I was unable to have camera shots from above or below since the image of the head would not be consistent with the rest of the body. If I had more time, I could have created more angles to improve the range of the motion for the head. For this project, it was deemed unnecessary.

Overall, I felt the positives of this rig outweighed the negatives in achieving the look I wanted for this project. At the same time, I know I can build on this setup going forward if I have future projects with similar design and aesthetic goals.

In a future post, I plan to cover in more detail how I dealt with the specific features of the face (the eyes, mouth, nose, and in some instances hair).

posted by Pi Visuals at 1:02 am

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June 20, 2017 : Ad Wizards – Title Card

The new short is wrapping up, about a week before the deadline. The last few days has been spent putting things together. One of these tasks is creating a title card. After numerous drafts, below is the end result:

I usually sketch ideas out early on in production, and this time around was no exception. However with this project, I became enamored with a particular style and theme. Below was one of these iterations:

I liked the interplay between the ‘A’ and ‘W’ as well as the ‘A’ looking like a wizard hat. However, this design proved too clunky and inconsistent due to the presence of the other ‘A’. Since I enjoyed this early design, it took a while to finally discard it – which sadly meant I spent more time on it than I should have.  There were a few other factors that helped me realize this was the right decision so ultimately I am happy with the final result.

posted by Pi Visuals at 12:55 am



May 28, 2017 : Rig Improvements – Shoulder Tapering

With every new project, I try to improve my production pipeline. This includes updating my characters’ rig. This time around, I made several improvements. One alteration I have used extensively has been with the shoulders.

For a while now, my characters have had separated arms – meaning they are not connected to the torso. I did this for a few reasons. Visually, I like the cartoon look it creates. But I also like the flexibility it provides while animating – shoulder deformations can be very difficult (and limiting).

The downside to this feature has been the cylindrical looking shoulders, which often gave the character a more ‘guarded’ or ‘on-edge’ look:

With the current project, I created a morph that tapered the shoulders to give them a more slanted look as the arms proceeded upward:

I created a morph rather than adjusting the model directly because I wanted the flexibility of turning the tapering on and off depending on the angle of the character relative to the camera (not to mention anything in between).

The change was pretty minor, but I really like the resulting ascetic. There are a few other changes made to the rig, and I hope to cover those in future posts.

posted by Pi Visuals at 2:55 am



May 16, 2017 : Voicing Choice Regret?

I could have voiced the character below (obviously on the left) but opted to have another do it. After looking at some early renders, part of me is regretting this choice.

For the record, the recorded voice is awesome. I just would have gotten an extra kick out of animating this character in my voice. It’s a bit selfish so I don’t really regret my decision. I just figured it would allow for a nice, quick update.

posted by Pi Visuals at 1:11 am



May 6, 2017 : Milestones Reached

Production for the new short is moving along, although time to work on it is currently limited. Fortunately, I expect things to lighten up in about a week, which will allow significantly more time to devote toward the project. Below is a screenshot within Lightwave of one of the recently finished sequences:

The project is divided into three mini-episodes, and animation for the first is nearly complete. While I still need to do a good amount of After Effects and Post-Production on Episode One, I plan on delaying that part and jumping into Episode Two in a few days. Some design work and audio recording/ editing still need to take place before animation can begin, but I hope to get that out of the way within the week.

posted by Pi Visuals at 12:32 am



April 18, 2017 : Been Too Long

Yes, I know… I know. It’s been nearly a month since my last post. Rest assured, it hasn’t been due to laziness. Things have been super hectic; and while I’ve wanted to post quick updates on Production of the new short, I just haven’t had much time. That said, here’s a little tidbit:

Things are moving along – although due to other commitments, not quite as quickly as I’d liked. Most of my time is spent on animation, but I am also doing some Storyboarding and Audio recording/ editing. I hope things will start to free up, allowing for more dedicated time on the short (as well as posts).

posted by Pi Visuals at 8:27 pm



March 19, 2017 : Production Under Way… Sorta

It’s two weeks later than I wanted, but Production has started on the new short. Although, it’s worth pointing out several Pre-Production items still need to get completed. Over the past week, I have been alternating between the two phases.

One of the checklist items finished up early this week was set design. Surfacing is still getting tweaked, but I took a screenshot of the scene within Lightwave.

Animation hasn’t kicked off yet, but I have storyboarded and should begin facial animation soon. With Pre-Production winding down, I hope Production will really kick into high gear the next few days.

posted by Pi Visuals at 1:43 am