Thursday, April 2, 2009

Been busy - 1st 3D Short Film

Hello everyone. I've been busy for the past two months. My friends and I have been working on our first computer animated short film as part of our end of year project. However, neither of us did not release anything on the web because we decided to follow strict rules of keeping production confidential until it's finished. Even though submission have passed, we did not manage to complete the film due to unfinished renders. Hence, we're going to continue working on this film until it is polished and finished.

I've just finished creating a short video compilation of most of the things that I've contributed to this short film. The video mostly consists of early test animations. I'm trying to get it uploaded to YouTube. Once it's done, I'll post it up here.

Meanwhile, let me share with you a little about this story. The people working on this short production are Dion Heng, Gregory Poon, Angeline Chong, Wendy Chan and myself. This story is about four fishes who are strongly bonded and are living in a fish tank in a fish shop. They are the last fish to be sold as the shop is having a clearance sale. The story takes a turn when a little girl by the name of Sarah walks in and chooses a fish for herself - the leader of the fishtank. Seeing this, the others do all they can to save him. I'll leave the rest for you to find out when we finish the film.

Here are some of the things that I created for this film:

Fish Net - textured in Photoshop and rendered with raytraced shadows

Ceiling light in the fish shop

Flower pots - for exterior set of the street

Initially, our story involved a boy character by the name of James. So I modeled him in Maya. The main issue was his hair. I had never done hair before. We did not have enough time to do hair simulation. Hence, I decided to model it out of polygons. However at first, it turned out extremely ugly so I decided to use paint effects approach.

James' hair - paint effects

But this method lagged the entire system and I figured that it would be a hard time when it came to animating and rendering. Moreover, we were planning to use mental Ray to render the entire film but paint effects aren't supported by mental Ray. It could be solved through compositing (which is what I did in the case of the fish tank interior where I had paint effects weeds rendered in standard Maya software and the rest of the scene using mental Ray and then everything was composited later) but it would give rise to unnecessary problems.

Thus, I decided to try modeling his hair using the polygon approach again, and this time, it did not turn out that bad.

James' hair - polygonal approach

As for the shop layout and design, we initially thought that a checkered floor with newly painted walls would look good. But then, the shop was having a clearance sale. It wouldn't make sense for it to look new if things were meant to be cleared out. Secondly, the checkered floor texture would look like somewhat in the process of UV mapping where one would apply the checkerboard texture. It did not look right:

Initial design of fish shop interior - fans modeled by Gregory Poon

Thus, I changed the entire look of it by making the floor wooden and the walls brown to have an old feeling to the place. There were way too many things in the scene. I had dressed the set so that it would look natural. Of course the props were done by my group mates. I tried some lighting tests using mental Ray:

Lighting test - without props

I wanted the shop to have a wet floor. It's a fish shop - there has to be water. This explains the wet looking floor above. However as you can see, there are no props rendered. This is because I turned them off. It lagged the scene and slowed it down tremendously. I decided to try it with props turned on though.

Lighting test - with props

Maya crashed eventually, stating that there was very little memory left for it to survive. So I decided to move on to tank lighting as we were running out of time.

For the tank lighting, I had to make it look like underwater. From my research and observation, I learnt that there are three things that would make a scene look like underwater:

1) Caustic Lighting
2) Atmospheric Fog
3) Floating Particulate Nature

However, I felt that due to space constraints in a tank, there normally wouldn't be atmospheric fog unless the water is murky. Hence, I took that point out. I jumped into After Effects to create that caustic light pattern as a texture which I plugged into the light in Maya. Here is an example. This is the first scene of the tank which I lit:

Image also uploaded here

This is the completed scene, rendered using mental Ray and composited in Fusion. I'll explain the breakdown in my next post as I still have to gather images to support my explanation.

Since I had time constraints, I did not try out global illumination or final gathering. I decided to stick with the traditional lighting methods of key, fill and caustic lights. For the key light, I used one directional light as the sun light. For fill lights, I used about twenty five point lights in an array with low intensity values. Lastly, I had five area lights with the caustic pattern plugged in from all directions. This is by far the most complicated light set up I've worked on.

That's it for now. I'll post more later - probably tomorrow or the day after.

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