A large beetle, Shakespeare's secret playhouse and a little dinosaur.

(Toka) #1

A new reel featuring a couple of recent animation projects made with Blender along with some other older work.

This is a link to a new generalist showreel I recently put together. It was just intended as a brief sketch or intro of some of my past work and career. I decided just to focus in on a very few projects. Some new and some old. Although a generalist sort of reel, it is still very heavily focused on animation as that has always been my main passion. Also it features two recent animated projects and sequences I made and animated entirely in Blender, apart from some of the texture painting.

The opening animation sequence was all modeled, animated and rendered, composited with Blender. It was partly an experiment in using Blender for creature animation work. It was also a deliberate exercise to try and take myself through the whole process of using Blender as a complete content creation platform for short film animation. All the way from modeling, rigging and block out, full animation, to final render and composite.

The last project on the reel was also all created in Blender. It’s an archeological reconstruction of the Rose Theater site in South London. This was the first solo commission that I completed entirely using Blender. Apart from Photoshop for most of the texture creation. It was for a short film documentary titled Shakespeare’s Secret Playhouse made in collaboration with director and presenter Anthony M R Lewis and the Rose Theater Trust. The final Rose footage was also used by the BBC as part of their Shakespeare celebration season a few months back.

Both these sequences were rendered in Blender internal. I’m still a little daunted using cycles for rendering lengthy animation sequences while working totally solo.

I have to say I love using Blender. I never had a problem with the interface and it really didn’t take me very long at all to get used to it. Even some of the more individual features, like right click select. I think it works well within the very wide ranging context of the program. Once I got used to it I found Blender to just be so amazingly fast and fluid to work with. I personally wouldn’t want it changed around too much now. It’s really comfortable. Also I think the animation and rigging tools are just fantastic and a joy to use.

My only gripes would be more emphasis now on clear production workflows and solid workable small studio scale pipelines. I think this is the area where some more focus could really be needed now. There are still quite a few gaps in some areas. My main problems so far were in the area of hair dynamics and caching with linked in rigs etc. No clear info anywhere ! I already wrote up a quite long post on all that already though.

I think the open movie projects do sometimes produce one off customized solutions, where we are starting to need some more solid and documented features. But I realize this is a known issue now that is being looked at and worked on, especially development of the cloud features. I’m also in no way knocking the open movies themselves, which are all of them beautiful. Nor doubting the very essential and vital role the the open movies have all played in Blenders development. It was also seeing, and being blown away by Sintel on it’s initial release that got me hooked on Blender in the first place.

Sorry that it’s not in full HD. So much of my past work is not in HD format. Yep I’ve really been around a little while now.

I should also add that … Yes of course ! ! ! the whole reel was edited in Blender too.

(Toka) #2

Here are some more details and video breakdowns on the creature characters I used in the opening sequence.

The small dinosaur was my first real attempt to do something with 3D animation more in line with most current paleontological thinking and recent most exciting trends in modern paleo art. That there should be much more emphasis to try and depict prehistoric creatures more like real living animals rather than fantastical mythical monsters. Many dinosaurs would have been extensively feathered. Seemingly very heavily feathered in many cases and much closer to birds in look and behavior than has been commonly depicted in the past. Although there still seems to be lots of evidence from skin traces that many others were still mostly scaled and knobby in the old fashioned reptilian way. The secondary movement and muscle animation of the character was mainly through bone rotation angle driven shape key’s. It’s my favorite way of crating muscle simulations by far. Although seen through the feather layer the effect is very subtle now.

Looking back I wonder if I was radical enough with my interpretation. I’ve seen more recent images of this dinosaur that really strongly depict it as a very low bodied scurrying Mesozoic ground squirrel, with a very fluffy and curly tail. Mine is still a bit classic text book theropod dinosaur in its general look. But I would like to get more radical with any future work like this and possibly even try to collaborate next time.

The Beetle was intended a foil for the dino but also partly because I had never animated an insect before. I was interested to try to rig and animate something a bit mechanical and kinetic. Something that would possibly unfold or quite radically change its form in the blink of an eye. After watching a large stag beetle near to home recently I became quite fascinated with the flying action. That strange vertical body posture with the legs flying out. You can sort of really feel the effort and weight involved, especially as they are not exactly graceful flyers.

I highly doubt the quick dynamic dinosaur would normally have missed the large clumsy beetle at the first try. I just didn’t have the heart to kill it. And I felt that the dino missing the beetle was a more interesting scenario. Rather than it catching the beetle and just being contented. It was just an off day for the little dino I guess. As sometimes happens to all of us. The dinosaur leaping in is a little homage to Ray Harryhausen’s Gwangi. He will always be the grand master of dinosaur animation for me.

The beetle is a modern species. I knew so little about them when I started that I really felt I needed something to reference that was still alive and more easily understood and studied. It also looks a bit dinosaur like too which adds to it’s appeal for me. I hope the massive slip up in the timelines is a bit forgivable. Perhaps there is a distant case of evolutionary convergence somewhere with this particular type of rhino beetle look.

(Koumis) #3

That was quite impressive!! Some of the best stuff ive seen comming out of blender.

(Toka) #4

Here are some more images of the Rose project created in Blender and a link to the film.

This was a wonderful thing to have got involved with and turned into a real labour of love. It ended up becoming far more involved and complex than originally intended. After visiting the site I became so caught up and carried away with it. Also my parents were originally designers in the theater so from an animation and CGI perspective it felt a bit like coming home.

One of the hardest parts I found was getting the roof thatching to look reasonably acceptable. It needed to be texture mapped rather than anything more fancy due to time and rendering practicalities. My brother used to work a bit on full scale archeological reconstructions and knew quite a bit about historical thatching. I struggled quite awhile with the look and in the end he sent me some of his own hand drawn diagrams of how it would have been done. The only way I could get it right was knowing how it was actually done. Which also went for the rest of the building too. I had to work everything out in reality before I could build it of course.

Here is a screen grab showing the scene organization and how I normally animate cameras on paths for fly through animations. I always attach the camera to at least two or three helper objects to divide up the rotations and avoid any gimbal issues while having more or less unlimited freedom to safely tweak things on top of the basic path animation. I’ve always found basic everyday architectural fly through animations to be deceptively complex and never underestimate them.

I made every effort to be as true to the archeological research as was possible in the time.
The model was built up from the latest ground surveys. They show it to have been quite a bit lopsided. The timber frame designs were based on the modern Globe at Bank side and other similar timber frame buildings. The Rose was a smaller and more intimate building than the Globe so there are also a lot of differences. The stage was also much smaller and not roofed. We though it was important to try to give it a more barn like and slightly more rustic or spartan appearance.
There are many parts I wish I could have re-done or re-worked more but time was always fast running out.

If anyone is in London I would really recommend checking out the Rose theater site. It’s a very evocative and magical space. Its actually just around the corner from the Globe. The work everyone is doing there is fantastic and it is actually a functioning theatrical space again with regular plays and events happening all the time. The aim eventually is to convert it into a full theater and museum combined with a see through suspended floor and stage. This will mean the actors and audience will be inhabiting the exact same space as in Shakespeare’s time.

Link to the film.

(Toka) #5

Hey thank you so much Koumis. I’ve seen so much incredible work from the Blender community so feel really taken aback. I’ve been working with Blender for a little while now, but it’s only recently that I have been finishing whole projects with Blender only.
I have many years with the more established commercial apps already and I gradually adapted Blender into my workflow by originally adopting it as my main poly modeller.

Hopefully I will have more to show soon. I’ve got a few more animation things possibly in the works where I will be using Blender as the main app.

All the best.

(rhyging5) #6

hi toka, all you have shown here is quite impresive! I mean, you are really a master of animation. For example, after seen the initial animation I thought “wow so good”, but was after seen the rig and test animations and the screenshoots of your whole project, when I understood that your work is really really perfectionist and your skills are so complete. You deserve to work in interesting animation projects like this one or even a film movie. Please post more stuff here in the future, we want to see them :wink:

(Toka) #7

Hi rhyging5,

Thank you so much for the generous kind words and encouragement. I think I probably can be too perfectionist sometimes.

This is a quick making of and breakdown of the intro sequence from initial block out and timings sketch to the final animation. I left all the rig controllers in and linking objects etc … because I love seeing things like that from other people.

Like I said before this short intro was an exercise to go through the whole short movie making process using Blender as the creative platform. It seemed to go really well and I’m really excited about the possibilities in the future using Blender for more of this type of work.

Although having a layers naming plugin is a bit of must have though for big scenes.

(Toka) #8

I’m wondering if I’m posting in the wrong place and that I should have been posting all this in the finished projects forum ? Not sure ?

(rhyging5) #9

yeah, I believe in any large animation scenne, organization is a must :slight_smile: aparently seems you keep a good methodoly. Just for curiosity Toka, which things you like more about blender and which others you would change about the animation workflow?

(S-Markt) #10

the visuals are perfect. but there is one thing i don´t like: the music. try another song, this song let me fall into sleep.

(Toka) #11

Hi S-Markt. Thanks so much for the positive feedback about the visuals.

I’m glad you bring up the music recording too, although I’m sad you didn’t like but it’s a personal choice.
The music is an entirely original track. It was specially composed and recorded for the reel by my brother Jon. He wanted to do this for me and worked to quite a clear description and idea of what I was aiming for.
I just absolutely love it. I never expected him to put so much work into it and was overwhelmed when I first heard it.

He is a very versatile song writer and performer and also freelance composer who has also provided soundtracks for several other film and animation projects in the past. Not just my work. If anyone is wanting to know more or even looking for a composer for film and animation there is a link to his band site and contact info at the bottom of the video notes on my Vimeo page.

He also recorded some music for my creature animation reel and my solo VFX reel which are also up on Vimeo. As well as the Woodlanders, pre-school series trailer and pitch which I also have up. He’s most recently composed and recorded soundtrack music for the Italian documentary feature… The Black Sheep. Directed by Antonio Martino.

(Toka) #12

Hi rhyging5,

I already posted some stuff on workflow on the Hair dynamics post I made a while back. I have a link at the top of the page.

Basically I love using Blender. I also think it’s really important for creative people everywhere that it is there as a choice.

I feel Blender is very much forging it’s own path as an all in one content creation app which seems to be aiming mostly towards individual artists and small studios and teams. I think it is obviously getting there now. This is certainly how I’ve tried to adapt to using it myself. I’m finding there is so often a temptation just to stay in Blender for very many tasks because the methodology and keystrokes tend to be pretty universal across all the features and it just feels so free and comfortable.
I’m actually roto masking and compositing some stop motion animation work for an artists friends installation project right now and I’m still choosing to do it all in Blender.

I think the character animation tools and features and their very great potential are often hugely underestimated. It’s so often I’ve seen posts saying Blender is not so great for animation ??? I get really confused when I see things like this. I’ve worked in depth with most of the other major 3D animation apps and feel I can say very confidently from past experience that Blender really holds up very well in this respect. The tools are also great in practice and mostly very intuitive to work with. Blender is also starting to pioneer it’s own quite unique path here too. Like with the new stretchy twisty B Bones and grease pencil.

The downside and area I think needs most improvement is the more advanced workflow and project pipeline stuff. Some features that are incomplete and poorly documented or still don’t fit together all that well. A lot of this would be around basic scene management features and library linking.

There is also a wealth of tutorial content out there too. But much of it covers the same basic ground and tends to be aimed at beginner to advanced beginner level. I feel there needs to be more easily accessible documentation for studio project type work. Especially for people needing to manage pipelines and put together work flows and systems for teams. Both for small to medium studio projects or individual creator driven ones.
Some info can be got from the open movie documentation, but many of the features and workflows seemed to be heavily patched and customized for each film.

I understand this can be hard as Blender is evolving so fast and changing so much and most documentation work is on a volunteer basis. I know a lot of deep core improvements are waiting on the 2.8 cycle. Hair and fur as well as most of the rest of dynamics is in a sort of limbo. Hair dynamics still seems a bit broken to me still and I would want fall back to an older more stable version for any serious hair work. But then Blender gives me that freedom.

The positives right now far outweigh any irritations or negatives for me. I’d just like to try and get better with Python next. Then perhaps I could try and actually pitch in a bit somewhere.

(S-Markt) #13

i don´t want to insult you or your brothers work. when i critizise things, it is because guys like you want to achive something with showreels. they want to show their skills and that worked good with the visuals. but after seeing half of the show i have thought about quiting the rest because of the music and if potential customer thinks the same, this is bad for what you are trying to achive. at least it is your choice. the song btw. would do great in a childrens tv show.

(Toka) #14

Hey S-Markt ! You didn’t insult anyone’s work.
But I did think when I read the post. Oh dear, wait till I tell them it was … My Brother ! :slight_smile:

Anyway it’s sort of common knowledge that reels are most often watched with the sound down anyway when viewed by potential employers in working environments. Sadly I’ve often been guilty of this unforgivable, diabolical practice myself while reviewing submissions during work time.

I value your comments and especially that you took time to reply. Everyone needs to be able to listen to and accept critiques, otherwise we don’t move forward. But at least you seem to like the visuals.

It also gave me an excuse to talk about my brothers work. :wink:

Anyway all the best.

(Toka) #15

I just thought there was one last thing I would post about the rigging for the intro dino beetle sequence in case it was of any interest.

The dino rig uses a full stretchy twisty spline … Spine set up. This was based on a method I used in 3DS Max for many years, and was itself an adaptation of the classic Maya ribbon spine method. It was just trying to get a similar result in Max and Blender without using the NURBS plane and nHair follicle features as they are quite unique to Maya

I’m keen to see how far the new stretchy B bones might be able to supplant some of these methods. But I’m suspecting I may still will want to use more classic spline based set ups for many rigging parts in Blender. Possibly in conjunction with B Bones.

I’ve had a demo file of this method imbedded in my signature for quite a while with a text guide. It was partly there as I saw several posts saying that these sort of spline set ups were not possible in Blender. The small dinosaur eventually used an IK and FK combined version of this method. Which is the ideal way to do it really. This way you get to keep all the advantages of straight FK parenting with all the free nice arcs etc… But you also have all the cool Ik stretchy and twisty potential for secondary movement and embelishments. The demo file is IK only for simplicity but it should be reasonably straight forward if you know basic rigging to parent this setup below an FK control set up.

The basic Idea is to use two splines as the ribbon rather than a nurbs surface. One is the IK spline which runs the bones. The other is a mirror of it which works as an aiming device. This method was always very robust and stable in 3DS Max. I once rigged up several characters this way for a production that was animated over seas from me in Asia. One of them had about six tentacles and needed to both walk on, and interact with them as arms and hands as well. There was never any problems in the pipeline from any of the rigging with this method in Max and it seems just as robust in Blender. It also works fine in library linking.

The only slight downside is that ideally in Blender you really need to have two rigs to make it work well. this is due to the dependency loop issues in Blender around separate spline based IK constraints.

This basically means a deformation rig and a control rig is needed. I haven’t noticed any big detrimental effects of working this way yet though. Play back’s been ok on my older machine. And it is a nice clear way to work. If you were rigging for real time this would also probably be the method to use so the control rig can be deleted at export leaving only the deformation bones.