Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PRJ350 - Week 15 Project Post-Mortem

Having gone through the process of creating this short, I want to look back at what went well, what didn't and what I'm taking away from the project.

First of all, I should look at what it was I set out to do, my initial plans, versus what I was able to accomplish in the time I had. Initially, I wanted to have a much more playful portion of the scene where the goblin turns the god lights on and off by touching the sword. Now, the god light stays on, even after he removes the anvil - not what I had hoped, but by the time I had gotten to the actual animation, I had run out of time for the polish needed.

Additionally, I wanted to use Maya's Paint Effects to put in geometric grass to soften the background, give it more volume and shape and help with the transitions between the ground and the trees. This, again, wasn't possible due to time constraints and had to be abandoned - what it would have done to my render time alone would have made the project impossible in the time allowed.

As far as the character's controls and acting, I really wanted to get more blend shapes set up to allow more facial rigging and expressions. This, too, had to be abandoned, as I had already taken up far more time then was allotted for the rigging process.

There's a number of other things that didn't make it in or had to be sacrificed for the project due to time constraints, but breaking down the specifics isn't particularly interesting. Instead, I should look more at the reasons behind why - most of the time spent on the project was in research and development of the rigging process and creating and tuning the textures and subsurface scattering shaders. Had I been more familiar with this process, I could have better planned the time for it, and gotten through the process much easier, but that's what I'm happiest about taking away from the project. The power of the rigging process in Maya and the capability that can be built into it is intriguing, to say the least, and I'm excited about learning more about it - the rig I have in my scene is pretty basic, all things considered, but it did the trick for what I needed it for, and I learned more about how to plan a rig for animation and how to animate a rig well just having spent the weeks researching and building it and learning from others who were more proficient with the process.

At the outset, I did lose a week or two of work when I had to go back and redesign the character - a step I'm very glad I did, as the new character design has a lot more appeal and was just a lot more fun to work with. The more I model, the more I learn about edge loops and how to design them for deformation, and this character's belly and wrists certainly could have used a lot more careful planning. His skinning, as well, is a bit atrocious, which is something I'm definitely going to have to learn more about. Using Maya's paint weights tool was a new experience, and more difficult than I had originally planned, and I spent much of my animation time posing the character in ways that minimized or hid any problems I had with the skinning.

Overall, I wish I had gotten through the process of building and designing the character faster so that I had more time for animation - as it was what I was hoping to focus on, having only two or three weeks to do more animation then I had done in all of my animation classes for the year combined meant that great sacrifices had to be made in quality. There simply was no way to have time to properly block in poses and spend the weeks needed to polish the spline curves and finesse the animation into appealing, smooth and high-quality motion the way I would have liked. Tight deadlines are a reality in the industry, I understand, but with all the technical hurdles I faced in creating a well-rigged character that would allow for quality animation, I don't know what the alternative would have been other then planning for very simple, short animations or creating a simpler character without the technical requirements a well-rigged and skinned character posed.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

PRJ350 - Week 14 Progress Journal

What a long, miserable day.

I've spent the last six or seven hours having to render out the first 140 frames of my animation one-by-one by hand, because if I don't, the volumetric "god lights" don't work. It is absolutely maddening, tedious and incredibly boring but it is nearly done.

So, what's changed since last week?

I spent a lot of time cleaning up the poses in my animation and fretting over what to do with the opening of it - the walk and his "surprise" reaction just never worked right for me, and it was getting far too close to the end to fix them. It was upon reflection to this problem that I had an epiphany.

I don't need them at all.

If I start the shot out with the goblin already looking at the sword, we get it. We understand the setup right from the get-go - he's a goblin, this is a sword in a stone. We know how this story goes. I needed to give him some time to consider the sword, to think about it and to ponder his approach, but trying to tell the story with him walking in was trying to tell too much. I needed to introduce his personality in his walk, his mood and why he might be feeling that way, then show a drastic, big change of emotion followed by another drastic change of emotion, from sad to surprised to cautious, all at once, and that is really, really hard. And really, really unnecessary.

I proposed the plan to Pam Matheus and Antony DeFato, both former Disney animators with excellent senses of story and timing, and they agreed it was the right decision. DeFato even brought the idea one step further - start the shot with the camera tight on the character so I could really play up his thinking process, then pull out to reveal the goblin's motivator. Genius.

I deleted my walk and surprise keyframes and got to work adding a good animated hold, using his eyes and slight shifts in the direction of his head to really try to get the subtle animation in to show his thinking process and then proceeded from there. Additionally, I spent a huge amount of time working on getting the spline pass done this week, all while working on wrapping up other assignments (expect more blog posts in the next few days as I finish work for my other classes). I really, really wish I had a few more days for this, or weeks, or months, but I'm happy with what I'm getting so far, and very happy with everything I've learned from the project. I know it isn't the strongest piece in the entire class, but it is the culmination of months of hard work, and I stand behind the result.

I'll have the final posted here in a few days, once I've had time to composite it, build in the title and credits screens and do the post-processing. I'll also follow this post up with a post-mortem, most likely, to review what went well, what didn't and what I'm taking away having gone through the process twice now. For now, I've got to render out the last of the frames (11 left to go, thank god), start the compositing and get some rest before the last big push of the semester.