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.

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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.

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.

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.

Iron Baby – Sunday Short #3

Not so much a short this time, but I thought this was worth highlighting since it was such a fun piece of 3D work. Directed by Patrick Bolvin and modelled and animated by a CG artist called Strob based in Montreal. They created it as a test to see how far they could push their technical level together, the suit was built in 3dsMax, rendered in Vray and composited in After Effects.
You can see how it was all put together at Strob’s youtube channel, he goes into great detail about about both the production and post processes, it’s definitely worth watching if you’re interested.

Heavenly Appeals – Sunday Short #2

This weeks 3d short is a simple and beautifully animated film from the Ringling College of Art & Design, called ‘Heavenly Appeals’, made by David Libse.

‘After many millennia of being tortured in Hell, Raymond K. Hessle has finally earned a chance to appeal his sentence of Eternal Damnation. Upon arriving at the “appeals” gate of Heaven he is greeted by the angel who will preside over his case. As Raymond waits at the edge of paradise, he will finally have a chance to prove just how worthy he is.’

It’s a simple story, with a simple setting. The characters are perfectly designed for their roles, but the biggest strength is the character acting. The angels expression just after he stamps the appeal is priceless, and just watch his face at the end when he realises what is happening to him.

Remember to fav it over on YouTube if you enjoy it.

Big Buck Bunny – Sunday Short #1

Here’s the first of a continuing series called ‘Sunday Shorts’ where I’m going to highlight some of my favourite 3d shorts, in a bid to inspire both myself and anyone else who loves creating character animation.
First up is the popular and very well received ‘Big Buck Bunny’. Big Buck Bunny was the second short produced by The Blender Foundation in 2008, and has won two awards, the MovieSquad Audience Award and the HAFF Audience Award.
Big Buck Bunny was a follow-up to the ‘Elephants Dream’, the Blender Foundation’s first short which was intended to show off and develop the capabilities of the free, open source 3d package Blender. Whereas Elephants Dream was more abstract and dark, it was felt that on the second project the key words should be ‘funny and furry’. The main purpose of the project was to show that Blender could handle ‘Pixar’ style character animation and rendering, while also making the story and comedy paramount.
It was cleverly funded by presale orders of the DVD and from various sponsors and subsidy funds.
You can read more about Big Buck Bunny at www.bigbuckbunny.org.
Don’t forget to fav, rate or comment over on Youtube if you like it.

Aliens and Robots: More rigging experiments

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of months going over rigging again and again, building a few different types of characters and rigging them to try and get it drilled into my head exactly how Blender deals with the subject, and I think I’m pretty much there with it now. As I’ve said before I’m still working with Blender 2.49, things may be a little easier to work with in Blender 2.5, but from what I’ve seen most of the things learned in 2.49 will still apply to 2.5, it’s just that things are implemented much more efficiently and easier to find in the interface.

All these characters are four-limbed humanoid types, but on closer inspection they have quite different body types. This really boils down to the rigs being pretty much the same setup, but the big difference is how the armatures are weighted to the mesh. The female character is a pretty usual setup, but the alien character has his body and head as all one shape with no neck, so it took a bit of work with the weight painting brush to get some nice smooth transition of movement down his body. Also he has no shoulders or hips, so his upper arms are still a little tricky to animate without cutting into his body. I may be able to fix this with a segmented bone (curvy bone), but I’ll have to play around with this to see how well it works. I also learned how to do a switchable IK/FK setup with this guy to, the FK really helps with his arms swinging. His face is also fully rigged now too, so at some stage soon I will post up some lip sync with him.
The robot character is an old design I’ve had in my head for many years, and only now have I got around to bringing him to life. His weighting is pretty straight forward, I used vertex groups for him instead of vertex painting, so that the solid shapes were absolutely weighted to each bone. I may try using segmented bones on his arms and legs as well, just to try to loosen his movements up a little, he feels a little TOO stiff at the minute. But again I’ll have to experiment with that a bit. He still needs an FK setup too, but the biggest difference with him is how I dealt with his eyes. The eyelids and eyeball are actually built as spheres within the main mesh and set as vertex groups, then each eye is distorted with a lattice object which is parented to the head. These eyeball and eyelid vertex groups are weighted to an eye bone and blink bone, and these bones rotate the vertices before the lattice modifier is applied in the mod stack. It sounds a little complicated and takes a little bit of work to get it set up but works really well. I’ll try and create a little tutorial at some stage to explain how I did it.
If you’ve any questions about any of this, just leave a comment below and I’ll see if I can answer.

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 🙂 )