Friday, 31 March 2017

Adaptation B: Sketchfab Animation Test

I managed to figure out how to upload my animated model to Sketchfab. It's only a small portion of the full animation but I wanted to be sure that it worked before trying to export a larger file. Now that I know this works I might try smoothing the model more, see if I can get a more skin-like texture to work, and possibly see if I can add some motion blur (but I'm not sure if this is possible on Sketchfab). This, like all my other previous Sketchfab posts, can be viewed in VR.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

World Animation: Ireland - The Secret of Kells

It is always interesting to watch films that aim to show the audience different cultures from around the world. People often get sucked into their daily lives and forget that people live differently and believe in different things in other parts the world. Cinema is an art form that allows people to be entertained and simultaneously learn about cultures they might not have known before, "One of the things that's magical about Miyazaki's strange fables is the fact that they are so rooted in Japanese myth and mindset...Tomm Moore accomplishes a similar feat, nailing the peculiarities of Irish culture in a way that puts it on the short list of films that neither stereotypes nor patronises the country," (O'hara, 2010). When a small team of people are dealing with themes that are meant to portray an entire country to an outside audience, it can easily become sensitive and offensive. However, if done right - the results are fascinating.

Fig 1. The Secret of Kells (2009)

In Tomm Moore's 2D animated fantasy film, The Secret of Kells (2009), the Irish culture is explored in various ways including the art direction, religion/folk lore, and history. The animation's tale revolves around one of Ireland's national treasures - Book of Kells, "a medieval illuminated manuscript that ranks among the most important artefacts of Irish civilisation. And it is only fitting that a movie concerned with the power and beauty of drawing - should be so gorgeously and intricately drawn," (Scott, 2010). The Book of Kells is a sacred item among the Irish, so it makes sense that it is the centre of this animation both in terms of the story and style. However, not everyone may know about the Book of Kells despite its importance to the Irish people. Luckily, The Secret of Kells is here to explain it to us, even if it is fantastical and not necessary historically realistic.

The story takes place during the time where Vikings were invading Ireland and various monks were trying to both write and save the Book of Kells from being destroyed. We see this in the film as Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) desperately, albeit rather harshly, tries to build a wall to protect the people living in the Abbey of Kells. Cellach's young nephew, Brendan (Evan McGuire), is curious about what lies outside of the walls, despite the fear that his uncle planted in his mind about the outside world. Brendan remains inside the walls until Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives with a white cat and a much-gossiped about book - the Book of Iona (later renamed the Book of Kells).

Much to Cellach's displeasure, Brendan tries to juggle both building the wall and helping Brother Aidan with completing the Book. With the help of Brother Aidan and a forest fairy named Aisling (Christen Mooney), Brendan begins to mature and show more courage when facing challenges. This can be seen during Brendan's face-off with the evil entity of Crom Cruach to attain The Eye of Crom - an item that is needed to complete the Book. The presence of mischievous yet innocent forest sprite Aisling and the antagonistic Crom Cruach are references to old Irish/Celtic mythology of forest spirits, fairies, and gods.

Fig 2. Viking Invaders

In the middle of this story is also the vicious Viking attack that Cellach feared. The Viking raids are a real and significant part of Irish history and is represented well in The Secret of Kells. While it does not show the violence in a realistic manner, the art style of the film signifies this difference between the Irish and the Vikings well enough, "the art is astonishing - real snippets from the Book are shown, and its motifs and themes echo through the film in tiny details, especially in the scenes where Aisling introduces Brendan to the glories of the forest. In contrast, the Viking invaders are drawn in slashes of smoky black and blood red, quick touches of CG enhancing their sense of invasion, of otherness," (O'hara, 2010). The contrast of the art style and animation methods used for the Vikings truly show the violation and fear the Irish felt during this time.

Even the art style - the way it was both drawn and animated - feels Irish/Medieval. It is clear that it was heavily inspired by the Book of Kells itself, "Tomm Moore's film is a little like an illuminated manuscript in itself. Just as every margin of the Book of Kells is crowded with minute and glorious decorations, so is every shot of the film filled with patterns and borders, arches and frames, do-dads and scrimshaw images. The colours are bold and bright; the drawings are simplified and 2-D. That reflects the creation of the original book in the centuries before the discovery of perspective during the Renaissance," (Ebert, 2010). It is very unique to see this sort of an animation's art style that is inspired by an old text from Medieval times, it helps keep the film feeling unified. 2D animation is often mistakenly assumed to be 'simple', but in fact it can be very intricate (sometimes both intricate and simple at the same time) as we can see in this film. The flat 2D style and lack of perspective in certain overhead shots feels right for a story about the Book of Kells - it matches its source content both in complexity and style.

Fig 3. The Intricate Forest

While The Secret of Kells isn't perfect, it is nice to see the different ways people can weave culture into their stories, film and art. It's only when you start looking deeper into The Secret of Kells and the history surrounding the real Book and the events in Irish history you realise how much it impacted the direction of the movie both in terms of narrative and animation style. It was also interesting to see how religion and beliefs differs in certain parts of the world, such as believing in Christianity while mixing in forest sprites and other mythology. Tomm Moore successfully created an animation that gave the audience a window into the Irish culture without creating a hoard of offended people, which is a triumph in itself. On top of that, he was able to incorporate various aspects of the Book into this film including the story and the art style to create an outcome that is beautiful, entertaining, and informative.

Ebert, R. (2010) The Secret of Kells At: Accessed on: 30/3/2017
Lee, M. (2010) The Secret of Kells, review At: Accessed on:30/3/2017
O'hara, H. (2010) The Secret of Kells Review At: Accessed on: 30/3/2017
Scott, A. (2010) Outside the Abbey's Fortified Walls, a World of Fairy Girls and Beasts At: Accessed on: 30/3/2017

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Secret of Kells [Poster] At: Accessed on: 30/3/2017
Figure 2. Viking Invaders [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 30/3/2017
Figure 3. The Intricate Forest [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 30/3/2017

Maya Pipeline 1: Facial Rigging Pt. 1 - Creating a Flexible Mouth Rig I (Part 3)

This tutorial started the process of creating a rig for the mouth. After duplicating the head, I deleted the majority of the faces away excluding two strips from the lips. Joints were then added using follicles, similar to the ribbons pine, which will be used to skin the lip ribbons onto the rest of the head. More joints were added and then skinned to the ribbons.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Adaptation B: Group Sketchfab Test

I decided to upload the group of models into Sketchfab. Unfortunately, the skin material could not be imported into Sketchfab, I'm not sure if it possible to do that or not but I tried to make do with what I could make within the 3D editor on the website. This can be viewed in VR, but again it is not animated (the original scene was not animated).

Acting Classes: March 29th, 2017

Today in our acting lessons, we focused on how the class/status of a character affects how they talk, move, and behave. We played some games to ease our way into this, such as picking random cards then having to act out that character's status and seeing if anyone could guess what your card was (Ace was lowest, 10 was highest). We also acted what would happen if the status swapped but the character stayed the same, such as a servant acting as if he were high class and the king as low class. We also were assigned scenarios and one person would be dominant/higher status while the other was more passive/lower status, then we swapped to see how the situation would change. It's clear that it body language and mannerisms are important when trying to portray a character (if they are shy vs confident, high class vs low class).

Maya Pipeline 1: Facial Rigging Pt. 1 - Creating Head Controls & An Eye Look Rig (Part 2)

Once again, this tutorial took me a lot longer than I wanted because I ran into some issues but I've managed to sort them out and I've completed the least it gives me extra practice. I've made controls for the jaw, both neck joints, the upper and lower head, and the eyes. The eye controls are what I struggled with the most but after running into issues with Maya not wanting to work properly today, I got the hang of it. I then connected it all to the rest of the rig, added a camera for facial animation, and added a control for the visibility.

Adaptation B: Group Renders #2

After testing out the second method of creating skin, I wanted to render some group shots of my models in various stages of their animations. I also took some renders of how the models looked initially stacked on top of each other when I imported them into the scene because I thought they looked interesting. I want to play around with the skin more and different ways of lighting and I may export these into Sketchfab just to see how they look in a VR space (although I'm not sure if the skin shader will come through). Next week I hope to do some VR tests with Domemaster and other methods of rendering for VR straight from Maya to see if they work.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Maya Pipeline 1: Facial Rigging Pt. 1 - Creating a Head Skeleton & Binding (Part 1)

For this tutorial I made a skeleton for the head and skinned the head objects to it. It took me longer than I was hoping, but I was not happy with how the jaw turned out the first time I skinned it so I went back and did it over again. Other than that, the tutorial went smoothly despite it seeming intimidating at first in regards to selecting/avoiding certain parts of the face while skinning such as the eyes.

Adaptation B: Skin Test #2 (mila_material)

For this test I used the mila_material instead of the shader I used in my previous tests. I quite like the results while the skin was still white, but I actually don't like how this shader looks in comparison to my previous test. However, I'm assuming I did something with the settings that require some more adjusting to get the look that I want, so I'll continue to fiddle with it. In my previous test I got the skin to look really stretched and see-through while this one I'm struggling to get it to look that way/something I like more even with the same lighting.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Adaptation B: Motion Blur Test #2

In this test I changed the 'Motion Blur By' setting to 5 instead of 1, so Mental Ray would use more frames to calculate the blur. While this produces an interesting look, I think prefer my previous test. I think the previous one made the animation seem more 'realistic' despite it being an unnatural motion. I think having the blur over this many frames just makes it too muddy and blurred out, I prefer it to be sharper so things can still be seen. However, I keep changing my mind of which one I like more so I'll continue experimenting with it as I try out some other techniques of making skin using the Mila_material. I also want to try out some of the VR methods that I included in my Pitch Reflection post. My current plan is to try and get those bits mostly sorted before Easter so if I have questions or problems I can come into uni and get help. Then, over Easter I can record the sounds that I've started to brainstorm and plug them into my models.

Adaptation B: Motion Blur Test #1

After getting some feedback, I went back to my renders and tried out some motion blur on my animation. I started it out by blurring it based on only one frame so it was more realistic, but I think I might also do some tests where it is more extreme just to see what it looks like.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Adaptation B: Skin Test #1 Animation

This is the quick video render mentioned in my previous post. I'm quite happy with the results...I like how as the arm stretches out, the light shines through it more like skin would and turns more red. I hope to do some more tests with this to see what different lighting and angles look like.

Adaptation B: Skin Test #1 (misss_fast_skin_maya)

I searched around for some videos on how to make skin in Maya. I found a few tutorials about the misss_fast_skin_maya shader so I thought I'd test it out. I used this tutorial and messed around with some of the settings a bit. I like the results I got, although to me it looks a bit more like plastic than skin but I'm still playing around with it. I also know it could be because my model is quite smooth and it doesn't have many details and no bump or displacement maps so maybe something like that would give it a more realistic skin look (wrinkles, pores). I also could have just had the specularity or lights set up in a way that made the skin more plastic-like but I still think the results are interesting. I'm currently rendering out a video with this shader applied to the model to see what it looks like when it's moving...from my test renders it looks like the skin changes colour depending on its position (because the geometry gets thinner when the model breaks and stretches - so more light shines through and it appears more red) so I'm excited to see how that comes up.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Maya Pipeline 1: Rigging - Colours & Restrictions (Part 4)

In this tutorial, the rigging process for the body is completed by adding colours to the controls and adding restrictions to them. The restrictions are to prevent the model/rig from breaking and to prevent animations from seeming odd by preventing the body from moving in unnatural ways. A control was also added to turn the visibility of the controls on and off. I can now progress to the Facial Rigging tutorials.

Adaptation B: Post Pitch Reflection

I'm quite happy with how the Pitch went, I was somewhat nervous how my project would be received at first since I find it sometimes difficult to explain due to my personal connection to it. However, I think I did an alright job explaining it and people seemed to be interested in it. I was surprised to get some of the feedback that I have in regards to already sort of 'being there' with my ideas. I'm excited to progress and see what else I can do to it to make it more 'pure' to the meaning behind it all. I first plan to go back into the file where I made this broken figure to see what rotates/translates I connected the Audio Wave Node to and what other settings I put onto it.

I was told to have a look into what sounds I'm actually plugging into my models. I was originally turning my old artwork into sound but I've been directed to try and find a pure/true sound to match the sort of theme around my generic, 'perfect' female body that I've broken. I've been thinking about different sounds that cause me to become anxious or have panic attacks which consequently alters my mood and causes my body dysmorphia to flare up worse than normal. I think over the next few days I'm going to make a list of these then I'm going to put myself in these situations - despite it being obviously uncomfortable for me - and record the audio to plug into my models. I think this will be an interesting process and add another layer of meaning to my project.

It was also suggested to me to instead of applying decorative textures onto my models (because that is me forcing an aesthetic upon them when I shouldn't be), maybe I could apply a realistic skin texture to them. I'm very interested in doing this because if I'm able to make these broken mannequin-like figures have realistic human skin on them, I think it'll enhance the uncanny effect. I think it'll also further exhibit the idea that people with body dysmorphia (from my experience at least) are somewhat disconnected to their physical bodies. I think it'll make the broken models more accurate to what I'm doing and hopefully provoke the emotions in the audience that I'm trying to do.

Art by: Ron Mueck, Xooang Choi, Evan Penny, Jamie Salmon, and Sam Jinks 

I also am going to being really looking into VR more. I'm a bit concerned with what I can do in the time given...I'd like to try and use Unity because from what I remember with my conversation with JJ, I'd be able to script certain things to trigger (such as sound effects or a model moving/remaining static) depending on where the person is looking. However, I know that models must be made in a specific way for gaming so I'm unsure if the model I have downloaded is fit for this purpose or not and if not I'm unsure if I'd have time to model one of my own along with what I want to do with sound and texturing. I know I can use Sketchfab for VR as I've been doing that I'd just need to figure out how to animate things if I wanted to do that. I've also been searching for other alternate options to Unity I could do to render out a VR animation in Maya which I may do some quick tests with soon just to see how it works. I also know that Vimeo recently came out with VR/360 video compatibility like Youtube and (I think) Sketchfab has recently enabled a direct from connection from Unity to Sketchfab.

Overall, I'm happy with how the Pitch went and how my project is going. I think I will need a tutorial soon to help out with some technical things such as possibly using something to plug the Audio Wave Node into to give more varied results, how to create realistic skin, and what I should/could do for VR.