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.

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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.

Stop Staring Test – Beautiful People

I recently bought a copy of ‘Stop Staring – Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right’ by Jason Osipa. For anyone wanting to perfect their character animation and acting, this book is a must. A couple of things though, firstly, the book is mostly geared towards using Maya. However a lot of the basic principles can be translated to many other software packages with a bit of tweaking, which brings me to the second point. In my opinion you would need to have a good intermediate knowledge of your chosen 3d program to be able to work with the book if your not using Maya. All that aside, there is an amazing amount to be gleaned from the book, from lipsync, the main principles of mouth shapes or ‘visemes’ and how to control them, all the way through to the correct topology when building a head. Well worth the money.
So I’ve been trying to translate the principles of using one bone in the armature to control Shape keys with IPO drivers in Blender to get some basic lipsync working on a rig. I haven’t gone into any of the eye controls or expressions yet, but that will just be an extension of what I’ve created here. I’ve only used three shape keys here, the X location of the bone controls the narrowness of the mouth and the Z location controls the openness. Just a basic setup to make sure I know how it all works before I take it onto a proper rig.

My First Blender Project Pt2

Originally posted 22/07/2010 on ‘I Luv Pixels’

So, I finally got around to finishing my dragon commercial, and what a great experience. It was a 20 second TV commercial for a local supermarket, and my first real start-to-finish character animation created in Blender (2.49) It was an intense couple of months, a proper crash course in learning Blender, bringing together all the things I’d learned over the past couple of years, and learning more advanced things along the way.

The modeling seemed to take the longest, and I’m putting that down to the fact that I was trying to model the character based on the client’s design. The rigging also took a fair bit of time, mainly down to the fact I hadn’t really done any intense rigging in Blender before. The other sticky point for the whole modeling and rigging process was the fact that the character was a dragon, with six limbs to deal with. Two of those limbs were also wings, which had to be fully rigged, although in hindsight I probably had more controls on the them than I needed. However, if he needs another outing in the future, at least all the controls are there.

The texturing process was relatively easy, unwrapping the UV’s was a simple process in Blender once you know what buttons to push. Organising the mesh on the UV was another learning experience, but again, once you get play around with it for a while it’s very intuitive.

Here’s some more wip screen shots:

This is the final mesh and rig –

The mesh UV, unwrapped and layed out:

The final UV texture, can ya tell what it is yet!

And the rendered texture on the eye, with environment map:

I learned so much about Blender on this project. Up to this point I knew the basics, so this gave me a chance to get to grips with more intermediate aspects of Blender. I definitely feel a lot more confident with it now, the mystery and fear of the the interface has disappeared.

One of the great things I discovered was that it’s very flexible if you start jumping around with your workflow. There were certain points where I had already rigged and unwrapped the UV’s, only to discover I needed to change the mesh slightly, (since it was such a complicated rig, there was a lot of bending and joint problems) I had no problem adding faces then unwrapping and adding to the UV mesh. Another strength with Blender, once you get used to it, is the weight painting, particularly the Painting Mask. It’s a bit tricky to get used to the way it works, but once you do it’s a very powerful feature. I might get around to doing a little tutorial at some stage.

Just for reference, compositing was done in After Effects, and textures and sky were painted in Photoshop.

I’d also like to thank David Allen Ward (Youtube: ward 7299) and Paul Caggegi at The Process Diary. for their great online character tutorials. If you’re interested in doing any character work in Blender, I’d highly recommend you check both these links out.

So to finish off, here are a few screenshots, the rig setup and the finished commercial (now that I’ve figured out how to embed YouTube videos on here), hope you enjoy:

Screenshots:

– The setup and rig in demo.

– The finished commercial on the clients YouTube channel (Don’t forget to hit the like button 🙂 )

My First Blender Project Pt1

I’m now working on some 3D for work so I thought this would be a great chance for a crash course in Blender. I’m working with Blender 2.49 mainly, both because I haven’t got around to trying out 2.5 yet and also because I can’t get 2.5 to work on my Mac at work for various reasons.

So, here are some WIP images of what I’ve been building, early modeling screen caps and some early textured renders, testing out the rig.

The character design came from the client, I’m not sure where the original design came from but I didn’t have a lot of reference for him, so I tried to model him as closely as possible. I can’t show any of the animation tests I’ve done so far, since it’s for a commercial but I’ll post them in due time. He is fully rigged (that was a learning experience, my first character rig in Blender) Basically, I’ve gone through the whole process of building, UV mapping and body and face rigging from scratch (including the wings, 6 limbs altogether!), using any tips, tutorials or videos I could find on the web. Believe me, there are plenty. A few frustrating hours here and there trying to figure certain things out, or losing stuff I’d done, mainly through my own inexperience. But all in all I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out so far. Here’s my current, and pretty much finished model and rig, with final UV texture.

So all I need to figure out now is animation, lighting and rendering. Piece of cake!