May 20, 2018 : Hopping On The ‘Whiteboard Animation’ Train

Whiteboard Animations are quite the craze these days. Actually they have been popular for a while now. I’ve never made one before, but I am currently working on one for a client. I could probably use After Effects, but there are multiple software packages that specialize in the creation of these types of videos – which are more efficient.

Per the client’s request, I am using VideoScribe. It is subscription based software (what isn’t these days?), and a cheap one at that. It cost me $29 for a month of use, and it would have been less than half of that had I purchased the Yearly Plan.

This is the first time using such a program so I can’t really compare to its competitors; and while it isn’t perfect, so far it seems to do the job. I am sure there are more robust packages out there to create really complicated animations, however I have been able to couple the resulting animation with After Effects to add on a few bells and whistles and make things look solid.

I can’t say this genre is my favorite, but the project has been a nice change of pace and a fun challenge.

posted by Pi Visuals at 8:34 pm

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March 14, 2018 : Happy Pi Day!

You know what day it is? Of course you do – it’s the nerdiest day of them all, and this year it has been made extra nerdy special with an animation:

After you re-watch (and share) the video several times, be sure to reflect on the awesomeness that is Pi. Although, if you come to this site, I guess you already do that. Then again, if you regularly visit this site, you are probably fictional. Either way, Happy Pi Day!

posted by Pi Visuals at 1:14 pm

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February 14, 2018 : Animated Sequence Cut But Not Forgotten

A recent project was rather involved and had a lot of different animated sequences. There were plenty of moving pieces during Production, including re-writes to the script and storyboard.

As things progressed, it became evident that some of the sequences no longer fit the video’s overall message and had to get cut. Below is one such sequence that I particularly enjoyed:

All the animation was done in After Effects, while the icons were designed in Illustrator.

It was a bummer the client decided to ax the clip – albeit totally understandable. On the plus side, the animation was already complete so I kept it and plan on putting it on my reel.

posted by Pi Visuals at 11:11 pm

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December 16, 2017 : The Iterative Process Of Client Work

A little over a month ago, I took on a small Logo Animation Project for a tax software company. The video was to be played at a conference for employees during the CEO’s speech. As is usually the case, it was an iterative process – requiring multiple versions and revisions before the final video was delivered. The project was fun, and it evolved throughout its short life. Below is a recap of most of these versions to show its development:

There were certain elements of the earlier versions I really liked (the timing and movements would have needed tightening if they were to remain). However, the purpose of the video was to help convey a message, and the client didn’t want it to infer anything else. As such, things were cut and revisions were made.

The Client’s reasoning for each decision made perfect sense, and I made sure to move the project along to fit their vision. They know their brand, and it wasn’t my job to question that (for the record, they were very pleasant to work with).

The video’s final movements and timing played slower than my initial versions, but this wasn’t a Michael Bay movie. It was played during a CEO’s speech about a company merger at an employee based conference. So once again, the client is right. Plus, I’m not sure I would have wanted to be involved in a Michael Bay project. After The Last Ship, he’s got nowhere to go but down…

posted by Pi Visuals at 1:12 am

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October 8, 2017 : Dragon Soul Piano Cover – Making Of

Making the Dragon Soul Piano Cover video was fun, but it did come with its challenges. Most of this came after shooting the video.

Some preliminary work was needed prior to shooting (outside of making the costumes, of course). The biggest was determining the best location for the mic. After some testing, the answer was on the book shelf, to the right of the screen behind a few books.

The other thing was setting up the shot. However, I wish I was more thorough with this. While I like the camera angle, I should have removed the mirror. The reason:

I should have realized the mirror was going to cause problems; and while I could have left things as is, I felt the presence of this Photo Bomber was too distracting.

On the bright side, I used this distraction (let’s call her Mary) as an excuse to do some masking/ rotoscoping. While tedious, it’s still a worthwhile skill to keep sharpened.

The first step in removing Mary from the video was creating a Mary-Free image in Photoshop. This was done rather easily with the Clone Stamp Tool:

The next step was removing Mary frame by frame. This required the use of masks in After Effects, and keyframing their position whenever somebody walked in front of Mary. This was admittedly a bit of a time suck: but after a decent amount of effort, I was happy with the final product:

Fortunately, once Piccolo came in the shot, he obscured our unwitting Photo Bomber. As such, I didn’t have to do this for the entire 90 seconds. It was closer to about 40 seconds.

There were a few other steps that had to be done. These included:

     • Reviewing The Takes: Playing piano in those gloves was not easy. It took several attempts before I got a satisfactory take. I believe out of 7 tries, there were only two takes where I didn’t cut early due to mishaps. Since the camera kept rolling throughout, I had to review and document where these were.
     • Audio Editing/ Mixing: Even though a good location for the mic was determined prior to shooting, I still took the audio into Audition and did a little mixing to boost the overall sound quality. As always with mixing, I could have spent even longer on it, but I had to know when to say when.
     • Add SFX: It was subtle, but I wanted to enhance the video with a few subtle sound effects. The most obvious was the ‘Whoosh’ around 0:04, but the footsteps and squeaking sound when I sat on the piano bench were also added after the fact. The other big thing was adding a ‘Room Tone’. This subtle background noise was present when the piano wasn’t playing and helped the transition between silence and music.
     • Color Correction: I have not had much experience with Color Correction, and this was a perfect time to get more acquainted. Ideally, I wanted to give Adobe Premiere’s Lumetri Scopes a whirl. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option this time around. Instead, I used some basic Contrast, Brightness, and Fast Color Correction settings to boost things up. I also got a better handle on the Waveforms and Scopes that detail the video’s color palette.

The adjustments were more subtle, but I used it more as a learning exercise while still tweaking things. Quickly: I lowered the brightness, increased the contrast, added some red/ orange to the highlights and midtones, and gave a slightly redish tint to the shadows. In the image below, the image on top is the original, while the bottom image is the color correction:

I normally do editing for animation projects in Sony Vegas, however I wanted to stretch myself a bit and use Adobe Premiere – something I have only a little experience with. I feel it provides more control with color correction, even without the Lumetri Scopes. Fortunately I was familiar enough with the software that it wasn’t much of a learning curve.

Overall, I am very happy with the end result for the video. The material is definitely esoteric, but I love it. Specifically, the dancing cracks me up as well as the interchange between Goku and Piccolo. Plus, I love the song (both playing it and listening to it).

The project provided a lot of fun exercises and yielded a video I thoroughly enjoy. Hope you agree – and found this post informative.

posted by Pi Visuals at 1:47 am

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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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August 29, 2016 : Spline Action!

I recently had a project that required a detailed model of a car. At first, I was hoping to use an existing model in Lightwave’s Content Library, but that was a dead end. As a result, I modeled it myself – which is something I have never done. Below is a render of the wireframe:

Car_BeforeCC

The model is based off the Mazda 6, with an added logo on the grill. The modeling required plenty of splines, a technique I never really used. In fact, I had to reacquaint myself many of the tools related to splines. Fortunately, I was able to pick things up quickly because there were plenty of splines used. Below is a Modeler screenshot with all the splines selected and the car model in the BG layer:

Splines

After Modeling everything, which took about 40 hours or so, I threw it into Layout and did some rendering (well technically, I did some minor rigging and animating first). I used the multi-pass rendering technique described in a previous post. The result is the render shown at the top of the post.

No doubt, detailed surfacing would have increased the amount of time needed for the model, but fortunately that was not part of the scope of the project. I did end up adding a small color correction in After Effects (the Curves effect). Below is a shot before and after the correction:

Car_SideBySide

The effect was subtle and done to better match the car to the video’s color palette. All in all, the use of Splines was challenging, but I can definitely see it’s power. It would be interesting to see how I can apply the technique to other modeling; but to be honest, I think I am still much more comfortable with ‘old-school’ box modeling. Although, never say never…

 

posted by Pi Visuals at 2:58 pm

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January 2, 2016 : Updated Reel (Finally)

Over the last couple months, I’ve been working on updating my Motion Graphics Reel – something I’ve been meaning to do for far too long. My goal was to create new material to splice in with existing clips. While I was hoping to include more that used Lightwave (via DP Kit), the bulk of the new clips used After Effects.

With the music, I tried something different. I decided not to record any tracks with my guitar. Instead, everything was done via MIDI controllers (predominantly a keyboard), using several non-instrumental synth sounds. The mixing was done in Adobe Audition.

posted by Pi Visuals at 11:28 pm

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October 13, 2015 : Multi-Pass Rendering In Lightwave (and After Effects)

After realizing Ambient Occlusion/ Global Illumination wasn’t going to cut it for animations, I turned to Multi-Pass Rendering with area lights. The idea of using some form of GI appealed to me because I wanted to composite a shadow layer on top of the main render. While this would require an extra step in my pipeline, I believe the additional control would result in an improved final render.

My next step was determining if Multi-Pass Rendering does improve the final render, thus justifying the additional work. While testing out AO, I noticed the shadow pixelation/ flickering was less noticeable for the darker gray uniform of the Walrus object. To make sure the object wasn’t inherently hiding any problems, I brightened the object’s surfaces – making it lighter and more colorful. I used these surfaces for the Multi-Pass Renders.

After making an Area-Lights-Only render, I used the Compositing Buffer Export in Lightwave to create multiple buffer renders. These were imported into After Effects to composite the final render. I then spent some trial-and-error time tweaking the Opacity and Blending Modes for the various buffers. Below is a shot of the Layer Panel, showing the settings I ended on:

Once I got things to look pretty decent, I made a video doing a side-by-side comparison between the Area-Lights-Only and Multi-Pass Renders:

For easier viewing, below is a single frame of the video:

The Multi-Pass Render is definitely more dynamic. I want to get a better handle on the Opacity and Blending Mode settings for each render pass, but I am convinced that the Multi-Pass Render provides the additional control and improved render quality I was targeting.

posted by Pi Visuals at 12:37 am

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September 17, 2015 : Ambient Occlusion Testing

Over the past week, I’ve had some time to work on one of my recently set Lightwave goals – Ambient Occlusion Rendering. I’m still in the early phases, but progress has been made.

Most of my time has been spent researching techniques for Ambient Occlusion. I want to find a method where quality meets practicality. I have found a few promising ones; but while doing so, I realized that I will need a render that will satisfy animations (as opposed to still shots).

As such, I am creating a short animated sequence (on the order of three or four seconds) that includes an object moving as well as a camera zoom. Below is a screenshot of who I will be using as my test object:

As if there was any doubt that I was going to use a ninja! Actually, I originally set up a file with one of the characters from Taking Shape, but then I found it to be a poor choice due to the rather simplistic/ orthogonal geometry.

I am still working on the animated sequence, but I have done a few preliminary test renders for one AO technique. Below is a render with settings that I was happy with:

I haven’t put anything into After Effects for compositing. I intend on working through a few AO methods in LW before I export the renders. I believe this will be the best way for me to do a side-by-side comparison of the end results.

posted by Pi Visuals at 12:22 am

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