Revisiting the Experiment

Almost a year ago, I mentioned that I had discovered the site www.mytoons.com. In that blog post I mentioned that I felt my animation wasn’t really getting the amount of views I hoped they would get. So I put my animation on mytoons and when the results weren’t immediately different, I completely forgot about my experiment. I check back on MyToons.com from time to time because of their great newsletter, Animation Snack. But I hardly ever check on my own videos. Well, I did a check today and the results are astonishing!

My 11 Second Club animation has, as of today, 225 views on Vimeo. On MyToons it has 2004 views! A whole order of magnitude more views! My Trick or Treat animation has 141 views on Vimeo. Pretty sad for something I tried hard to bust out in about a couple months’ time. On MyToons it has 2091 views! (and I use Vimeo on drop the bomb productions!) Schrodinger’s Cat has 345 views on Vimeo, but 2287 views on MyToons. And, finally, Jose’s Dinner has 300 views on Vimeo and 2210 views on MyToons!

Plus they’ve recently been updating the video pages. I think they look MUCH nicer than they did before and do a better job of presenting the metadata about the animations than they did before.

So, if you are into animation, I strongly suggest putting your short films and animation reels on MyToons.com.

What I’m Up To – Animation-Wise

Well, I’m filling up my space time with programming and animation.  Here’s what I’m currently up to with animation.  First of all, there’s “Sugar. I have the script and most of the props complete for the animation.  I got a little frustrated when I was working on Nick’s armature and started working on programming and some other projects.  I intend to get back to Sugar very soon now and finish it up by the end of the year.

I’m also actively working on “I’m Not Mad“, a serialized animation my brothers and I have been kicking around for about 2-3 years now.  I’ve finished up the character designs/modeling and now I’m working on rigging up the characters and doing an animation test.  I don’t have a script for the first story arc yet, but I do have a story I need to flesh out.  I’m the primary writer and my brothers will be helping me out with details and dialog for their characters.  I’d like to have started animation on the first story arc by the end of this year.

“Headache” is an animation I wanted to work on as the first in a series of unrelated shorts featuring the same character.  Think, for example of Disney cartoons or the old Looney Tunes.  The main characters were in a lot of short films and none of them were really related to each other.  I’ve got the major story points down and I hope to at least have the character modeled, if not rigged by the end of 2008.

Finally, I am working on an animated adaptation of “The Pig and the Box” with screenplay by my talented friend, Lisa Lau.  She’s already written the screenplay so the ball’s back in my court.  I’d like to have the characters modeled and rigged by Q4 2008/Q1 2009.

So, there you have it, that’s what drop the bomb productions is up to for 2008.  I hope you will enjoy watching my animation as much as I enjoy creating it.

Sugar should be out by next June

I decided to get a little more organized for this animated short, so I put my tasks into the Gnome Project Manager. (Similar to MS Project) I also figure this way I know how long it should take so I won’t rush myself and compromise in quality. I want this to be the best animated short I can create with my current skills. I don’t want to be rushing just to get it out there. I’ve already put a few out there and now I want to focus on making one I can really be truly proud of and perhaps enter into the Suzanne Awards.

I’m pretty excited about this short and getting organized has gotten me jazzed up. Now, if only “Trick or Treat” would finish rendering so that I could get that out of the way, I’d be happy. I have about 65 frames left to render. Hopefully I can get it done on time.

Rigging on Nick’s body is done

I finally finished rigging up Nick’s body. His face is yet to be done, but at least I finished up this milestone. At this point I’m not sure if I’m going to start work on the facial rigs right away. I’m leaning more towards beginning modeling on my next character, Wallace. This is because at the NY Blender Conference (which was awesome!) I spoke with Bassam about how he handles facial animation and he told me he used latices in combination with shape keys. Every other book I’ve read uses shape keys exclusively or armature-driven shape keys. I figured that while I’m thinking about the type I’m going to use that I can hold off on that and make an armature that will allow me to achieve good results as well as not being a real pain in the butt to use. Also, I’ve done a lot of work on this armature and added a lot of constraints, which I’ve never done before. I think I’m going to make this my general purpose rig for human characters for a while, so I’d like to take the time to get it right – or as right as possible. Then, after a few shorts I’ll either refine the armature or create a fresh one.

Well, as a little present to myself for finishing the armature, I made the following render of Nick. It is 2560×1024 so that it works perfectly as a background on my dual monitor setup. I may upload a square ratio render tomorrow.


Nick at Table - all body-rigged up

One year’s worth left

I’m getting a bit bored and my wrist is starting to hurt a little from operating the mouse so much. I’m not done recategorizing my blog posts, but I only have one year’s range left – March 2006 – March 2007. Hopefully that was a twelve month period in which I didn’t write too much. Boy-oh-boy did I learn my lesson about not backing up. Also, I was jumping from 2.1 to 2.3 so perhaps I was bound to run into those problems. Once I’m done with that, there are some pretty neat developments which have recently happened on vimeo as well as some exciting news on “Sugar” and “Trick or Treat”.

Animated Characters are not real!

It’s something I need to keep reminding myself as I work on getting myself more and more competent with Blender and 3D animation in general. For example, check out the complex rigging I did for Nick’s hand for “Sugar”:


complex hand armature

It’s not complex in the sense of having a ton of bones, but complex in the sense that it has a few pointless bones. I tried to come somewhat close to “reality” by making sure that the bones of the fingers are connected to the bones of the hand. These bones don’t really do anything as I don’t want a hand to be able to bend there. Afterall, I don’t need to duplicate anatomy. I don’t have hips or anything like that. The body will move just as well with less bones and will be less complicated for moving if I simplify it as below:


Simpler hand armature

And it also has less of a chance of messing up, actually. I’ve got this fixed up now and will be working on finishing Nick’s rigging.

Giving Nick some Backbone!

I’ve used and created a few rigs now for my different animated shorts and test animations and I’ve had my share of frustrations with the process. First off, it can be quite tedious to create even a mediocre one. Second, it’s hard to create a good one; forget about how hard it is to create an excellent one! All of my rigging experience post “Penguin Flight” have come from a tutorial I read from the Blender Summer of Documentation. Even then, I didn’t do it from the rigging tutorial (which is incomplete in the most interesting of places) ; rather I did it based off of the Character Animation tutorial (which is quite, quite good and got me started after “Penguin Flight”. In fact, you may recognize it as the source of Raul Domingo).

This time, however, for the sake of creating a good quality animation and saving myself some insanity while animating, I decided to use my recently purchased “The Essential Blender” to read their chapter on rigging. I only read the intro tutorial, but it was enough to already change the way I think about rigging from now on. Although I have yet to put the rig I created through its paces, it already seems to be working much better than any I have yet built.

The first two new things I did were to add knee controls to keep the legs from bending in strange ways and creating layers of bones. Here you can see my full rig.


Nick in his armature (bones)

You can see the knees if you look in front of the yellow bones, they are tiny little bones in front. Another thing I did, which you can see there, is to have an Inverse Kinematics (IK) chain up the legs and arms. (That’s why those bones are colored instead of having a simple grey color) I’ve done the IK thing before, but I never really saw the power, and now I’m starting to understand it a lot more, although I still don’t fully understand the benefits/reasons behind it. I do see some of the benefits such as being able to pose the legs and arms from the extremeties rather than from the inner joints of the body. I believe this is also more in line with the way we move so, as I gain more skills over time, I expect this will yield more realistic movements. While I’m on the subject, something I had never done before is to create a body IK chain. I made these, according to the book’s instructions, in order to create reaching motions and times when the entire body has to lean into the hand/arm. That’s pretty exciting too.

So, as I mentioned above, I created layers of bones. This is because, for the first time, I created, and understood the purpose behind, control bones. Before I had been doing animation in a very amateurish way and now I have controls that control the legs and arms along an IK chain. So, here’s how things look with only the necessary bones showing on the visible layer:


Nick's armature with only the control and key bones showing

Finally, I discovered something VERY, VERY important in “The Essential Blender” that may just save my sanity when creating rigs. All this time I had been doing a very tedious weight painting of each bone on its own. I just finished doing this for another project and it is SO, SO painful! Little did I know that there was a command that would automatically weight paint the bones according to the envelope with which it was casting on the mesh! From there it is only a little bit of tweaking to get things working the correct way. I’m now in that phase, so there won’t be any pictures of Nick posing just yet.

Finally, the book mentioned something I had read here and there, but never really had it click. Rigs can be designed to be used on all of one’s characters. I have to figure out how this works and if it can save me a lot of the tediousness. I have created, what seems to me, to be a pretty capable rig and the idea of having to recreate it for every bipedal humanoid is almost enough to turn me off to this whole business of animation.

So, back to Blender, my wife, and work. I also have a few more modifications to make here such as that necessary to move the eyes and some other things.

Being a little more Cinematically Correct, or How to use Depth of Field in Blender

In the world of computer generated cartoons and images, we have a very awesome trick we can do which cannot be done in real life. We can have unlimited Depth of Field. If you aren’t a photographer or involved in filming, you probably have no idea what that means. Well, in real life lenses cannot have everything in perfect focus from the front of the scene to the back. This is controlled by the f-stop. The bigger the f-stop, the more everything is in focus from front to back, the bigger the depth of field. Although, the f-stop is expressed as a fraction, so technically it is smaller numbers that are in higher focus. For example, f/2.8 will have your main character in focus and the rest of the background blurry. This is very useful in photography to force the viewer to focus primarily on your subject while having the background just provide some color. For a landscape image, a photographer may use f/11 to make sure that a large portion of the image is in focus.

Well, that’s a basic primer and you can look it up some more if you’re really interested. However, in computer animation, we are not dealing with real lenses so we can have infinite depth of field; in other words, everything is in focus. This is awesome because you don’t have to worry about f-stops and all that (and in real life there’s a trade-off as f/11 lets in less light than f/2.8 so you need more lights) and can just count on everything being in focus. However, this is not realistic and so you may want to be able to emulate it. The most recent version of Blender has simplified doing this. By the way, Disney simulated this for the first time in a feature film in The Lion King when you first see the ants in focus and then the animals going to Simba’s birth ceremony.

I was having some problems doing this in Blender and it took me a little while to figure out what I was doing wrong so here are the steps. First, select your camera, go to Editing, and edit the depth of focus distance. You’ll want to turn on limits so you can see where this depth of focus is going. Then you need to go to the node editor. Add->Filter->Defocus Then connect image in “RenderLayer” to Image in “Defocus”. Connect Defocus’ output image to the input image of “Composite”. Connect Z from “RenderLayer” to Z in Defocus. Now if you render, it will look like nothing happened! What the heck?

You need to go to Scene then click “Do Composite” under the “Anim” tab. Now render and after the render it will apply the filter. Yay!

Here are some examples from “Sugar” – to get the full effect you may want to click to get the full size render.

here’s the normal scene:



and here it is simulating f/2.8 – a common large depth of field:



Now, obviously there’s some more tweaking which could be done because the f/2.8 render is a bit too blurry around the character’s outline. But those are optimizations that you have to figure out on your own. I’m anxious to get back to work on other things and I’m not sure if I’m going to return to this in the future, but at least I know it’s there and I know how to do it so that I can play with it when it will help the mood of the film.

Nick’s Hair is a saner color

Here I spoke about how a problem had caused Nick’s hair to look blue. I was using some transparency effects on the hair to let it fade away like real hair. (I was following the hair tutorial in “Introducing Character Animation with Blender”) However, I am using ray tracing for transparency to have good looking transparency in glass and other things. So I also have to use it for the characters.

I almost suddenly realized what the problem probably was! I remembered that I had to turn on “Ray Transp” in the Mirror Transparency Tab for materials.

Tada!

Nick, from

Now to just fix the hair so that it looks a bit more realistic.

First, about the weekend, then some more progress on “Sugar”

This weekend was pretty great. I got to spend a lot of time with my wife. They were supposed to call her in on Saturday, but it got canceled, so that made our time together more enjoyable.

Dan came over and we watched him play Guitar Hero 2 on the PS2. I gave it a shot, but it was actually a little painful on my phret (fret?) fingers. The overall game is a pretty good concept and the music was pretty good. But, because it was music being played, it felt a bit repetitive. I’ll probably have to give it another shot to be fair.


xkcd - guitar hero
courtesy of Randall Monroe over at xkcd

Tried watching “Little Miss Sunshine” on OnDemand. But the POS kept going on the fritz. We decided “to hell with it” and went back to bumping Netflix to an infinite number of discs per month. Today it kept messing up while Danielle was trying to watch some sort of scary movie.

When we weren’t hanging out with Dan and each other, I was busy working on “Sugar”. I started modeling a character named Nick. So if you thought “Sugar” was going to be about animated inanimate objects, you were wrong. Now you’ll really be guessing what I’m going to do. Started modeling on Friday and finished nearly all of the materials/texturing today. It’s my first attempt at a semi-realistic looking human. (As opposed to Raul Domingo, which is just a humanoid)

When I textured the eyes I was creeped out at how realistic it looked. I mean, not photorealistic, but it was like he was looking at me. See for yourselves!


Nick in Sugar

I also started to give him hair, but due to something I don’t quite understand enough yet, his hair came out blue. It’ll be fixed soon.


Nick, from Sugar, with blue hair

Thanks for the Help Pete

Pete of Penguin Pete’s has recently become something of an Inkscape ace so I asked him to help me with some textures on one of my planned animated shorts. This short is currently titled “Sugar” and I’m working on it at the same time as “Wedge“. So here is the first fruits of that collaboration with Pete. I may fix the proportions a little, but here we go:


Cowboy and Spaceman Ketchup