Fishpants – Testing the Waters

Let’s start by saying this demo was a step in the right direction. It’s different from my first demo because of the skills I had to learn to make it, but also because it is plausible within the story I’d like to bring to life with my 3D skills.

I’ll be going over the steps I took to make that demo. If it gets too technical for you or you are allergic to walls of text but still want to know where I’m going with all this, just jump to the conclusion. I’ll put it in bold for you.

The Journey

I modeled my character’s basic shape and proportions in Autodesk Maya, then transferred to Zbrush to refine it. After taking my Facial Rigging Course on CG Workshop with Wade Ryer (http://www.waderyer.com/), I used Topogun, a tool he was fond of, to redo the topology to be more animation friendly. I first made her wetsuit using Marvelous Designer thinking I would use the program to get cloth simulations in there, but I decided to keep that for another demo has it was complex, expensive and not really necessary for something that mostly sticks to the skin.

The Fishpants… There is a reason mark 5 is mentioned by her buddy John. I went through a lot of iterations of those. The very first model was organic like, looking much more like the concept art that can be seen on my website. The thing is… looking good in a drawing doesn’t mean it will work in 3D. I decided to take the advice of my teacher at the time and make it more mechanical. The second model made her look like a shrimp. I honestly don’t remember much about the third and fourth attempt, something about adding propellers and waterjets, making the tail completely obsolete… The fifth one I liked. Making, placing and rigging all those tiny scale like hexagons was driving me mad, but it would definitely have looked good… a year from now. I ended up keeping the hexagon motif for her wetsuit, at that point it was imprinted in my mind. I had to put it somewhere. Mark 6 was straightforward and simple. I was running late on my schedule (Yes. I gave myself deadlines and took my candy away until I reached it. Sweets deprivation is a powerful motivator.) and I wanted something that would work. I am a little sad it didn’t transform though. Mark 7 confirmed.

Unto rigging. In combination with Wade’s course, I also took a Body Rigging Course with Nico Sanghrajka (http://www.n-imagine.com/). Both of these Classes made my rigging skills take leaps ahead. Blindly following a tutorial around to get what you need is one thing. Realizing you actually understand what you’re doing and can work around issues is something else entirely. It felt good, filled me with pride. Mostly everything was done in Maya, except for the facial blend shapes that were done in Zbrush. I have to say however that the sculpting tools in Maya are getting better and better. I do my blend shapes in Maya at work and it works fine as long as poly resolution stay reasonable. I will have to be a better critic of what I actually need for my character next time… dem boob physics… Let’s just say I had to swipe some features on my final rig.

Texturing. To my short shame, although I learned a lot from my Realistic Character Texture Class with Justin Holt (http://justinmichaelholt.com/), not the least of which was MARI, it’s the one that translated the least into actual results on my demo. It suffered from different factors. A good skin texture relies heavily on a good head sculpt, meaning good anatomical structures and displacement maps. From the get go, my character was never meant to have that level of detail. I like the skin color variation I got using the skills I learned. I had a temporary MARI license. As an actual license was out of my budget I had to do every textures within the time I had with it. Which was fine as I didn’t allocate much time to do the textures. I decided at that point to go with the Arnold Renderer for Maya for that demo. That was a bad decision. I’ll get back to that.

Lighting. The action takes places in an interior pool. Which I made the size of a swimming and diving competition pool. Yeah. If you’re grinning right now, you’re right to do so. I used Arnold Area Lights with quadratic decay. When you take the poison you might as well finish the plate.

Animation. I work using videos I shoot of myself for the acting parts and references from the web for the rest. I definitely need more practice with the parts I have to make up. I don’t exactly have fishpants at the ready and I’ll admit her swim isn’t the most glorious. I could have gotten it right with enough time, even more so since I got Bianca Basso to give me some tips (She’s Noe’s Voice, an animator and an all-around artist. You can check her stuff here. http://www.biancabasso.com/). If you’re reading this, that’s me apologizing. Sadly, when I got to that part I was already past the deadline I was hoping to be finished with my demo. I say sadly because animation is to me the most entertaining and rewarding part of 3D. Not only is it the most easily understood part by those not in the industry, but it is simply fun to do. I felt like I had kept the desert for last and ended up not being hungry when I got to it.

Hair. I like hair. It’s probably the next online course I’ll take since I really want them to look good. This time I used Xgen Maya Hair with the Arnold AI Hair texture. It’s getting pretty good results if you crank up the renders high enough. As you can see in an earlier post, I even had the dynamics down. I had to let that go though. It was not working well in my scene with the actual animation. It would look mostly better not moving than jumping around wildly. Since I used dynamics in my first demo I was aware of the time it would cost me to fix it so that it would work properly.

Water. Also known as Bifrost in this case. Bifrost is amazing. There are… just… a few things I should’ve known before getting to that point. First of all, Bifrost do not give a flower about your scene’s scale. It assumes you changed the maya scale from the default cm to m. Deal with it. I did. At that point I couldn’t just scale down everything. I scaled down the pool, made a rough proxy of my character and animated it approximately the same way as I did for the full size character. I made the simulation using that proxy as a collider. It was going to be glorious. Or so I thought. From my earlier comments, you might think I dislike Arnold Renderer. You would be wrong. It is an amazing renderer. You can get feedback for your changes on even complex renders very quickly. The problem is: Bifrost particles and Arnold renderer are not compatible yet. I say yet because Arnold got bought by Autodesk recently and I’m hoping it will be better integrated in the future. Now the solution for that was relatively simple. I converted the particles to a bifrost mesh using the built in feature for it and applied a shader to it to make it look like water. It ended up looking more like lake water than pool water and having black pockets where the mesh didn’t quite fit the walls of the pool but at this point I wasn’t complaining. The disappointment was more the lackluster splash or absence of splash caused by the data lost in the conversion. I was looking forward to that. I basically made that entire scene to get some cool water effects going on and it didn’t. Nobody said CG water was easy. For a first try it wasn’t so bad.

Rendering. We’re there. The final boss. I’m still not sure I won that fight. I’m still alive and the renders are completed, that’s all I can say for sure. Simply put, even with the extra pc I built specifically for rendering, it was too much. The room was too big, the bifrost mesh was killing it, the hair and skin were a lost cause and don’t get me started on the eyebrows. I switched off as many lights as I could and lowered the resolution to what you’ve witnessed. The renders were still 30 minutes a frame. Around 1500 frames. I even tried a renderfarm with a free trial for a while, until I realized it would bleed me dry. If you’re wondering, 15 minutes and a lot of frames at the same time. Definitely an interesting option if you can afford it. Quantity wipes the floor with quality when it comes to rendering power. The renders didn’t look the same as on my pc which led to unwanted variation in the middle of a shot. What is worse about those lengthy renders isn’t the low resolution. I even made a joke on it. It’s that I can’t afford to correct mistakes I only realized with the renders. Like a foot not actually stepping all the way down. A couple of limb jerks that looked fine in playblasts. You know. The usual.

Sound. I recorded my voice for John and Bianca graciously sent me hers for Noe. I edited the conversation in adobe audition. I had originally intended to do the music myself, but as I was running out of time and Martin Saint was interested I offered him the job. You can check him out here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4pwSInr5q9frXk0jiAqFvw). If you’re looking for guitar lessons in Montreal, his door is open. That took a weight off my shoulders.

Composition. Adobe After Effects. Tweaked levels and curves. I made a pretty sweet intro title. Took me 20 minutes. Check out this tutorial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Om00P4hlnhU). I think that expression I keep hearing applies now. I’m salty.

Conclusion

I’m writing this after finally sleeping without a couple of PC running at full capacity 24/7 for weeks next to my bed. Put things into perspective. When I looked at the result of my renders after months of work I was frankly disappointed and frustrated. I was painfully aware of its flaws and couldn’t see it for what it was. Progress. Instead of comparing it to what’s out there, I should have compared it to what I was doing only a year ago. Boy do I trash my past self.

I skimmed over the technical stuff I learned doing this demo, but I also learned other valuable lessons. The bedroom is an awful place to put a rendering pc. Tea can only get you so far. If I ever get serious about bringing my story to life in 3D, I can’t do it on my own. For the love of god, my next demo will be in a room so small, my characters will be cramped in it! Oh. This is going to be gold. Here’s my inspiration back.

I’ll end by saying that this demo was a step in the right direction. It’s just a long way ahead.