This week, I was supposed to get our Sprint 1 shots rerendering on the farm with our new finalized characters and model the detailed buildings for the city scatter. Due to issues with the farm, not many shots were rendered and I’ve reached out to IT for assistance. I did begin modeling the city buildings though, and they’ll be done and integrated with the scatter by the end of the week.
This week I set out to begin detailing our cave and trench scenes, possibly rerender our characters from Sprint 1, and begin work on the city. I ended up spending a few days repairing our city scatter file, which somehow got corrupted in the past month and wouldn’t save any changes, and working on shaders with Val for the Shoggoth and our updated characters. I also worked with Ethan to draft a design and layout for our Senior Project display, which will hang in the lobby of the URBN center on campus.
I’m really surprised that this needed any fixing, since everything was working wonderfully the last time I saved this file. Sadly, I lost several days to troubleshooting the city scatter, though it appears to be stable once again. Fingers crossed, it won’t break at all when we plug in our detailed buildings.
I spent some time this week working with Val to revise our main characters, as well as create suitably horrifying and alien shaders for our big bad monster, the Shoggoth.
URBN Lobby Decoration
I worked with Ethan this week on drafting our design for a patch of wall in the URBN Center’s Lobby, advertising our animation. We got our draft to a good point and are eager to move forward with it, replacing wireframes with actual artwork and eventually seeing it displayed in our art building’s lobby!
This week, my goal was to have shots from Sprint 1 stable and rendering on the farm. The farm’s been busy since Thursday, and about 60% of our shots have already finished rendering!
- Summary: I worked on getting our shots rendering consistently and quickly on the farm. Aside from a few hiccups (I maaaay have left a box called “Don’t Render Final Image” checked for the first few shots) everything ran like a dream. I only wish we had more computers available; the most I ever saw running at once was 5 (total of 10 instances max).
- Positives: Aside from the obvious, now that I’ve got a stable rendering pipeline locked down submitting shots for our subsequent sprints should be a piece of cake. I’ve done a lot of trouble-shooting for this first batch of shots that will carry over to the rest.
- Negatives: We’ll be rerendering our characters at least once, but we knew that going in. They render fairly quickly, anyway, so it’s not a huge concern.
- Hours: 30-40
- Detail the scenes for Sprint 2 (trench, cave)
- Re-render shots from Sprint 1 as needed
- Detail city buildings, pray xGen behaves itself
This week, I was supposed to finalize the Temple Interior environment. I made a lot of headway on it, but because of other SPROJ work it didn’t quite get completed. A lot of my time ended up devoted to working with Val and Anthony on our characters, solving weird rigging issues with our hair and polishing their shaders. I also spent a lot of time converting illustrations from our unofficial team-member Isaias into masks and maps I can use in VRay!
Shading and Texturing (Temple Edition: Part Deux!)
- Summary: I continued applying and polishing the shaders for our Temple environment, though as I said I didn’t get much done on this front. My biggest achievement here was finalizing the snow shader on the floor, and unwrapping the remainder of the Temple’s architecture.
- Positives: I got a lot done, and the bulk of the shaders are more or less finalized now. I just need to apply Isaias’ hieroglyphics and texture the trenches outside and this scene will be ready to render!
- Negatives: I wasn’t able to spend as much time on this as I would have liked, but the issues we solved on our characters had to be addressed sooner rather than later.
- Hours: 8
Shading and Texturing (People Edition: Parte Dos!)
- Summary: Val painted texture maps and roughed in the shaders for Danforth this week, and I polished them and made sure that they were optimized. Danforth should be render-ready now, and Dyer will be by the end of Monday! Speaking of Dyer, we ran into issues with his hair this week that set us back a bit. Despite being set to static (ie, non-simulated), it would move and sway and generally slow things down. It took three of us the better part of a night to sort it out, but he should be stable now!
- Positives: Danforth’s ready for his grand debut, and Dyer’s hair no longer has a mind of its own.
- Negatives: Dyer’s shaders still need work, but he can be done by the end of Monday.
- Hours: 15
Alien Hieroglyphics (and YOU!)
- Summary: Our unofficial team-member, illustrator Isaias Santillan, has been working hard to draft us artwork and carvings and things to liven up our dead, deserted city. I spent a lot of time this week tracing his drawings in Photoshop and converting them to maps and masks we can use in VRay. There’s a lot of detail in his drawing that I wanted to preserve, which is why I chose to trace it by hand.
- Positives: Isaias is awesome, his drawings are awesome, and we can finally incorporate them into our environment!
- Negatives: They took much longer than I expected to trace, which is the main reason I didn’t get to finish the Temple’s shaders this week.
- Hours: 17
- Finish Temple environment
- Polish Dyer’s shaders
- Render render render!
I spent the week working with Val to create textures and shaders for the Temple. I also experimented with using multiple UV sets in Maya to paint in snow drifts near the doorways, an effect that added very little time to our renders but adds a lot of atmosphere! I also worked on character shaders and binding their clothing with Val and Anthony.
Shading and Texturing (Temple Edition!)
- Summary: I worked on setting up a variety of shaders that both look good and don’t add much to our render times. I also unwrapped the walls and floor of the Temple and tweaked the UVs to add visual variety.
- Positives: We got some really sexy shaders in place while maintaining fast render times! Right now I’m getting 7.5min / frame at 1920×1080 and a low noise threshold, which is way better than I was expecting! There are still more shaders to implement, but if this trend continues render times shouldn’t be too much of an issue, at least on the environment side of things.
- Negatives: Still have a lot of ground to cover before this scene is ready to be rendered. I think that I’m on track to have it ready by next weekend, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.
- Hours: 20ish? I dunno, I’ve stopped counting.
Shading and Texturing (People Edition!)
- Summary: I finalized our fuzzy fur hat/coat lining shader this week! I had to scrap all my old work and started from scratch with a new displacement map and material. Thankfully, it paid off!
- Positives: I’m finally done with this fur shader! Hooray! But seriously, it’s great to be able to check this off my list after working on it for so long. It also renders quickly and looks pretty nice!
- Negatives: Nada
- Hours: 10
- Finish up the Temple and get ready to render!
This week, I finished modeling the detailed temple interior and begun to set up and optimize our lighting. It turns out that VRay, our chosen render engine, doesn’t like rooms that are half a kilometer tall…. More on that later!
Temple Detail Modeling
- Summary: I finished modeling out the detail for the interior of the temple. I’ve made heavy use of instancing wherever possible to cut down on the filesize, and optimized all meshes as much as possible while retaining detail. Some minor additions to the scene are left, like small bits of debris scattered around, but they’ll be easy to implement.
- Positives: This is the first environment that we’ve fully detailed. It’s a huge milestone for us.
- Negatives: Still got a lot of ground to cover, but we’re making great progress.
- Hours: 20
Temple Lighting / Rendering
[see above image]
- Summary: I’ve got a nice first-pass at the lighting implemented. It took a lot longer than I thought it would due to some problems with VRay, but now it’s working like a charm! I’m really excited to add shader and texture detail to this scene.
- Positives: I got the troubleshooting out of the way today, so it should be smooth sailing from here on out.
- Negatives: Oh my god, the troubleshooting. So VRay doesn’t work with environments of this scale very well, at least not with default settings. When I first tried rendering lighting tests, any amount of raytracing would cause VRay to lock up. After tweaking some clipping values and dialing in a few other fancy sounding settings, I was able to coax VRay into rendering full-quality images with surprisingly low render times!
- Hours: 6
- Continue rendering, detailing, texturing, and generally working on the Temple.
I’ve begun detailing the temple interior for our first sprint, focusing on the floor first so our animators can correct any clipping issues. I’ll be modeling the rest of the scene during the day off tomorrow.
- Summary: I’ve started detailing the Temple interior. First thing to do was update the floors, which proved surprisingly painless. Simple extrusions and bevels, with Randomness set between .5 and 1, gave me the look I was going for and allowed easy adjustment. I ran into a few odd problems, but nothing that proved un-fixable. I also spent a while prepping the walls and domed ceiling for detailing, and worked out how to tackle those.
- Positives: Everything went better than expected; I learned a lot about how to model stones or tiles from a plane quickly and modularly, which will make detailing the walls and ceiling much easier.
- Negatives: For some reason, the floor mesh doesn’t load properly for one of our animators (I’m lookin’ at you, Pat). We’ve figured out a work-around, but we need to get to the bottom of this so it doesn’t come back to bite us.
- Hours: 10
- Finish modeling temple interior (Monday)
- Confirm that the Renderfarm is working properly, and if so finally finalize our project hierarchy
- Lighting and Shaders and stuff
Break Summary: I kept tweaking the city scatter, and also added some code to make it scatter pre-defined buildings instead of just scaling a cylinder mesh. I also worked on our rendering setup, getting in touch with IT to make sure the farm is working as well as it needs to.
- Summary: I further refined the city scatter in xGen, and wrote an expression for it to choose from pre-defined building models based on the desired size. This means that it’s all ready to go, technically speaking, and we just need to make some building models for it.
- Positives: The hardest part of making the city is done, and now we just need to make a few building variations for it to use.
- Negatives: None
- Hours: 6
- Summary: I spent a little bit of time checking up on the render farm, making sure it’s good to go in the coming term. It’s not yet, but it should be totally operational within a few days and we can begin rendering our project this term.
- Positives: We’re on track to begin rendering early in the term.
- Negatives: I still can’t work out a finalized project hierarchy without the farm working, and even though it should be fixed soon, it should’ve been fixed quite a while ago.
- Hours: 2
- Model detailed temple interior
- Make a few building models
This week, I mostly worked with xGen to procedurally generate our cityscape in Maya. I also worked with Val to create the fur shader for Danforth’s hat.
- Summary: I set up the foundation for our city in Maya’s procedural generation plugin, xGen. It builds the city based off of a few input maps and some scripted rules; right now, it’s only scattering 5-sided cylinders but these can easily be swapped out for proper building models!
- Positives: The hardest parts of this are done. I’ve gotten xGen stable, all values are in the right ballpark, and I’ve figured out how to export the resulting scatter as instances so we don’t need to worry about getting xGen to work on the farm. What’s next is tweaking values and creating proper buildings to be scattered around the city.
- Negatives: xGen is possibly the least stable program I’ve ever worked with. I averaged a crash every 20 minutes working with it, which is why I’m so keen on exporting as instances ASAP. The sooner we’re not reliant on xGen, the better.
- Hours: 10
- Summary: I’ve been working on creating the shader for Danforth’s Hat’s lining, which is supposed to be a dense fluffy fur. I got it looking pretty good with displacements and a light coating of VRayFur, but it needs a lot of optimization to be viable for production.
- Positives: Got the look down pat, just need to make it faster now!
- Negatives: It’s slow. Super-slow.
- Hours: 6
- Continue working with xGen to create the cityscape.
- Optimize the fur shader
- Start detailing environments!
I missed last week’s PPJ, so tonight’s will be something of a double feature.
Last week, I worked with Gabe and his merry band of animators to get all our scenes ready to go with cameras, display layers, proper heirarchical organization, etc. I also worked on styling VRayFur for Danforth’s hat lining, and figuring out how to best re-generate our city in Maya.
Layout / Scene Preparation (last week)
- Summary: Finished placing cameras in our scenes, cleaned up the outliner, made sure everything was named sensibly and consistently, and set up references and display layers as per Gabe’s request. All our scenes are now ready for our animators!
- Positives: I’m free to start detailing our environments, do render tests, etc. now that the animators have what they need.
- Negatives: None.
- Hours: 4-5
- Summary: I helped Val out with designing lining for Danforth’s hat. It’s supposed to be a wooly / cotton lining (see above), and I tried creating it using VRayFur. The results were promising, but not quite what we were going for… I think a blend of displacement mapping or particle scattering with a thin layer of fur for detail will be our best bet, and will test it this week.
- Positives: Creating the whole lining using fur is surprisingly fast, both to tweak and render. And though the look this produces is not quite right, it can easily be combined with some other elements to make a much better appearance.
- Negatives: Nada.
- Hours: 2
- Summary: The original drafts of the city were created using a procedural generation script for 3DS Max, and unfortunately Maya doesn’t have anything similar. I spent a while looking for a good procedural solution in Maya, something that would allow me to easily update building models and control height, distribution, etc. After hours of searching and testing, the most promising tool appears to be XGen, though it’s somewhat notoriously unstable at the moment…
- Positives: With XGen’s expressions and mapping system, I should be able to broadly control how the cityscape generates, and hopefully export the final product as a particle system or a bunch of instances.
- Negatives: XGen is very unstable (it crashed on launch several times while I was testing it), and that really scares me. I want to be sure this won’t cause any problems during rendering or for our animators before implementing it.
- Hours: 4
- Stress-test XGen, with anticipation of using it for cityscape.
- Spruce up the city and temple scenes for our end-of-term presentation!
This week we continued work on camera layout, though it was delayed again by confusion over our storyboards. I also worked with Val on solving issues with our project heirarchy, organization, and how to make it compatible with both the renderfarm and our team’s computers (more difficult than you’d think)
- Summary: Same as last week, just re-creating our storyboards in our rough 3D environments so animation can begin.
- Positives: Scenes are finally moving on to the animation stage!
- Negatives: Due to confusion around which storyboards are the most up-to-date, as last week very little work got done on this front.
- Hours: 3
Project Organization / Logistics
- Summary: We worked on figuring out the best way to compartmentalize our project and keep it neatly structured without getting redundant and difficult to manage, settling on a system using symlinks to reference folders with shared assets etc.
- Positives: The kinks are pretty much ironed out, our system should make switching between on and off campus computers a breeze and make navigating the project directories as painless as possible!
- Negatives: The renderfarm has been out of commission recently, so we can’t test our system on there. It should work, but in case it doesn’t we have a few backup plans.
- Hours: 5
- Finish camera layout, we really should’ve wrapped this up ages ago
- Work on adding detail to city, recreating procedural generation in Maya
This week I started placing our cameras according to the latest storyboards, and also worked on making an nCloth tent that can be used in Lake’s camp.
- Summary: I started placing stand-in props and static cameras in our 3D scenes to match the latest storyboards, so that we can begin our pop-through animation. Even though these cameras will all be replaced down the line, they serve as a guideline for where our actors need to be, roughly what will be in frame, etc.
- Positives: Recreating our storyboards in 3D helped iron out some weird framing issues and highlight where we may need another shot or two to convey what’s going on in a scene.
- Negatives: After all our script revisions our storyboards are scattered all over the place, and it’s unclear which are the most up-to-date. Because of this, I was only able to work on cameras for two scenes. Luckily, this will be a non-issue once we round up all the latest boards!
- Hours: 3
- Summary: This tent is several cloth sims combined together, and could serve as the basis for the tents around Lake’s camp. Because of the way it is set up, any part of the tent that doesn’t interact with our characters can be simmed and saved out ahead of time, so that only the flaps, for example, have to be re-simmed after animating.
- Positives: It’s a surprisingly stable and fast sim, considering all the interacting pieces of cloth. It should be easy to continue adding on to.
- Negatives: It’s not fast enough to sim in real-time, so when animating with it we’ll have to make adjustments, bake the sim, and see how it looks.
- Hours: 5
- Complete camera layout, set up files on a shot-by-shot basis to begin animating
This week I worked on *drumroll* laying out our city environments!
City Scenes Rough-in
- Summary: The city scenes are all layed out and ready for animation – that’s the temple, exterior ancient city, and mountain pass scenes – as well as the intro cave scene. With our script finalized (finally!) and new storyboards pouring in we’re in great shape to start laying out our shots and begining our pop-through animation!
- Positives: See above; but really, everything’s starting to solidify and we’re about to really start moving forward on this thing.
- Negatives: Nada esta semana
- Hours: 4
- Do some cleanup and organization on environment files to make them easier to work with
- Lay out cameras and recreate storyboards in 3D
This week I went back to working on layout for our city environments, mainly finishing the Temple rough-in.
City Scenes Rough-in
- Summary: I’ve almost finished the rough Temple environment, with only a few key details left to be worked out. With our final script taking shape, I’ve also begun work on the other city scenes. Our goal is to have a first draft of all environments roughed in by Wednesday, and I think we’re on track for that. Lake’s camp and the Temple are the most complicated environments by far, and they’ve been worked on for the longest (by Ethan and myself, respectively).
- Positives: v01 of the Temple is nearly ready for animation; the floor just needs some more polys and one key detail needs to be worked out. The other city environments have been started, and should move along much faster than the Temple environment.
- Negatives: Not much this week, now that the script is nearing finality we can lock down the remaining environments pretty quickly.
- Hours: 4
- Finish rough city environments
- Discuss layouts with team (Wednesday)
- Refine layouts and start placing cameras according to storyboards (pending script finalization)
This week I was supposed to finish roughing out our city scenes, but I caught a nasty cold and was out of commission most of the week and didn’t make any progress on that front. I was able to to make it to our script revision meetings, though, and we made some great progress there.
- Summary: We met twice this week to discuss our story, focussing on what’s motivating our characters. With the help of a screenwriting professor here at Drexel, we were able to find and fix a number of plot holes and flesh out our characters and their relationships with one another. A lot got changed, but the length and core story remain the same.
- Positives: Our characters are much stronger now than they were in previous drafts, and we’ve replaced a lot of expository dialogue with reactions, visuals, etc. The story now has a consistent conflict throughout, which it was lacking before.
- Negatives: Dave will need to re-draw most of the storyboards now, and the animatic will also have to be re-cut. A small price to pay for the huge improvements we made, but it will set us back a little bit.
- Hours: 3
- Rough out city scenes
- Possibly rough out Lake’s Camp if there’s time
This week I worked on roughing in environments so we can begin placing our cameras, props, etc. I focused on the temple at the city’s center, developing a scale and style for it. I also had to re-aclimate myself to Maya, after using 3ds Max almost exclusively for the past 9mo.
- Summary: I began roughing in the Temple environment, imagining its original purpose and how it might have been constructed and connected to the rest of the city.
- Positive Stuff: As rough and barren as it is, working on this has helped me get closer to nailing down both a scale and style for our city buildings that will be uncomfortably alien yet still traversable by our characters. (for reference, the small green rectangle by the pit is human-sized).
- Problems / Issues: It was difficult to get going on this environment, but I think now that there’s a strong base to work off of the rest of this scene and the other city environments will come together much more easily.
- Hours: ~4
- Finish rough environments with Ethan