Sally’s Face

Here’s a few screen grabs of Sallys expressions testing out the face rig that I worked on over the Chrimbo hollies. (I love the bottom left corner one the best!)

Her body’s all rigged up now after a bit of tweaking to the mesh, I needed to do a bit or work with her arms and shoulders by adding in a few more edge loops, just to get a more even bend. I used Nathan Vegdahl’s  Rigify to rig her body, I hadn’t used it before but it saves SOO much time than doing it yourself.

Now I’ve started adding the shape keys for her face with some control bones. Most of her expressions will come from the shape keys, but I’ve also added an extra layer of weighted bones in case any tweaking needs done to things like her lips. She won’t be talking in the short, but I’m adding some mouth shapes in there in case I want to use her for other things in the future. I haven’t done any animation with her yet, but I’ll hopefully get a chance to get some done soon.

I also moved up to Blender 2.56a last week. This one includes improvements to the Smoke and Fire sims, a major tweak of the Bevel tool, some more additions to the Cycles engine along with other enhancements and bug fixes

Sally face contact

Sally character – wip 2

Here’s the latest mesh of Sally, co-star of our 3d short, iRover. I think this is pretty much the finished mesh now. I still have some tweaks to add in a few folds to her clothes, and I need to work some more on her textures, like her eyelashes, eyebrows and hair. I’ve decided not to use particle hair in this, I still haven’t quite got the hang of it, so I’m sticking to poly hair for now. She’ll also need a couple of wardrobe changes throughout which I’ll work on later. But this will be enough for now to work on a rig. I did some mild tweaking to her face and head, my previous version seemed a little too young in my opinion, you can see the comparison in the pic below. I think you’ll agree she looks a lot more natural.

Improve Your Home Commercial

Here’s a commercial I produced last year for a local DIY event, based on a concept and storyboard by Stephen McCreight over at GraphicsGarage. The tape measure was built and rendered in Blender 2.5. The logo was comped and the commercial was finished in After Effects. I still know After Effects too well to be finishing commercials in Blender. I’ll maybe get to the stage where I’ll become proficient enough with the video sequencer and nodes, but in the meantime, I’ve been using After Effects for about 15 years now so I’m way more confident with it.
It was quite tricky to get the animated shape of the tape measure. From what I can remember I modelled a straight length of the tape then used a curve modifier on it. I then used the Rotobezier plugin to animate the curve into the shapes of the house and the pound signs, while the mesh moved along the length of the curve. It was pretty fiddly in places, the transition of the curve from shape to shape almost had to be keyframed every frame to make it move the way I wanted it to. But once I got the hang of the Rotobezier it got a little easier.

iRover in the garden

I came out to the back garden yesterday and found this lovable guy playing on the patio!

Another test for Blender using the camera tracking feature. I’m still practicing with this quite a bit, and trying to check out its capabilities since I still get quite excited by the results. Considering this was footage just shoot on my iPhone 4s it turned out pretty good. Blender currently only has camera presets for the top end cameras, so finding sensor sizes and focal lengths for the iPhone on the net can be tricky. However, I found a post over in Blenderartists where Malcando has been collecting settings which seems to have worked perfectly.

I took the opportunity to test out my iRover rig too. It was a productive experience since I’ve discovered a few things that need sorted out before I use him again, particularly his feet. They need some tweaking since they don’t seem to rotate around the z axis without twisting. I had also previously added IK/FK switches too, but I don’t think he’s going to need any FK control for his feet. I may simplify the rig and remove the FK controls. I also need to add in some custom control bones to make the rig easier to pose. And I still have to work on his textures, particularly his eyes, which I intend to have as a digital style display.

Passive

Here’s another motion track using Blender 2.62. I thought I would try something a bit more static to test a better example of how well the object is moving with the camera. Another little lesson learnt with this one, I managed to figure out how to pull out a reflection pass to add to the comp. These tracking experiments are as much an experiment in use of Blenders’ node system as they are in testing out the tracking. Of course, I couldn’t just have a completely static object, so I had to throw a little bit of character animation in there as well!

Dragon’s First Flight

This is the first relatively successful track I’ve managed to create with the new motion tracking features in Blender 2.62. I wasn’t really concentrating on the animation too much, I just gave the little dragon guy a bit of life to see how well he would sit among some live footage. I’m still trying to get the hang of it, I haven’t done much 3d motion tracking in the past (plenty of 2d though). This footage I just shot on my iPhone at my desk, so the compression and motion blur on clip isn’t overly conducive to tracking but with a bit of fiddling and tweaking by hand I eventually got a decent timeline. I had downloaded various clips from the internet, if you do a search for ‘free tracking clips’ you’ll find a few places to download them from, but I was having trying to find sensor sizes and focal length for these particular clips. I then decided to shoot some footage with my phone since I already knew these details and finally got this result. It’s far from perfect but it’s a good start with a Blender feature which I can see fast becoming a powerful tool in my arsenal of vfx tools.

Blowing Flowers

I’ve been experimenting with the Cloth Modifier and the Wind Force Field this week. A client wanted a spring season feel to their logo, so I decided to play with part of their logo which is in the shape of a flower and try to blow it across the screen with a few others before it settles in place. I found the perfect tutorial on Vimeo by the ever faithful CG Cookie, so thanks to them for helping out once again.
It took a while to play around with the force fields and get the results I wanted. The flower was set up by creating a plane and subdividing it a few times, then applying the flower as a png texture with an alpha channel. The flower was duplicated, repositioned and scaled a few times. One big thing I’ve learned is that both the cloth modifier and the force field seem to rely a lot on the global scale of the scene, in the same way that lights also seem to be related, so I had to adjust the cloth settings on the smaller flowers differently from the larger ones. It’s something I’m going to have to play around with and try to get used to building models the correct size. A simple plane was set up as a floor for collision and shadow catching. Here are a few of the experiments, and the final result.

Blender Cycles render tests

I fancied having a play around with Cycles, so I downloaded the Cycles trunk (2.60.5 r42078) from Graphicall.org. I really love how easy it is to work with, I was getting some really nice results using the Nvidia Quadro with Cuda. You can get some gorgeous lighting setups quickly and easily, once you have a play around. There’s still a few things to iron out, for example I found that there didn’t seem to be any fresnel effect with glassy textures (maybe I’m just missing something). Here’s a few results:

Here’s a scene I set up with a few objects I had lying around from various jobs. I just threw them into a scene adding a floor plane with a texture I downloaded from CGTextures.com. Again, it was pretty easy to set up, although I did get a couple of crashes along the way, but then this isn’t a stable trunk I’m using. The first image is a setup with just one sun lamp. The second I added some cubes to the right off camera to simulate some building shadows and added some depth of field, again surprisingly easy to set up. The first two images are the Cycles renders from the 3d views. Where I hit a little trouble in the third image was with a final render, it seems a lot darker than the preview render. I’m not sure if something was set that I don’t know about, the only thing I thought it might be was the exposure button, however this didn’t seem to fix the problem. I’ll have to investigate further.

Sally – wip mesh

This is Sally, she will be the other star of the iRover short, in other words iRover’s owner. I built her head over the past couple of weeks and her body was adapted from the Pepper model I built a while back. I was never happy with Pepper’s head, the topology was very messy and didn’t animate very well. Here’s my initial sketch of her, I did play around with her proportions quite a bit.

So I did a bit of searching and found a few good professional workthroughs on youtube that helped me sort the head topology out. So a quick thank you to Angela Guenette of Ponder Studios for her ‘Sintel’ making of videos:

And also a thank you to Glen Southern over on 3D World’s youtube channel for his 14 episode topology workthrough. Be warned his whole tutorial is around 2 hours long.

After studying these videos for a bit, I started building Sally’s head and got a better feel for the flow of the curves, it’s looks and feels a lot better now, and I’m 100% confidence that it will animate a lot better.

iRover Rig test

This is another work in progress of the star of the short film which I’m working on with Craig Smith, mentioned previously in the Apartment mockup post. Obviously he’s not textured yet, and the animation is pretty rough at the minute, I didn’t spend so much time on the running cycle since this was just a test to make sure the rig was working okay. Although he’s a robot dog, I still think I need to use some artistic licence and loosen up his legs a bit, his movement doesn’t feel quite right yet. I also think his feet may need tweaking, they’re too long as they are. The rigging is all pretty simple, it’s mostly all ‘hard’ rigged, in other words there aren’t many soft areas in the vertex weights.

Here’s some of the original sketches I did, I think he looked a lot more like K9 back then, when I really wanted him to look more like Gromit. I definitely prefer the floppy ears as they are now, than these antennae types…

I’d started building him in C4D version 8.5 a few years ago. I’d managed to get some really nice renders there, but the rigging wasn’t so hot in that version, so this was as far as I’d got…

But now that I know Blender a lot better, I’ve a better feeling about getting further with the story. I’m still working on the animatic, so I’ll post that when I get the first draft done.