Monday, November 28, 2011

Rigging and mel scripting.

The past week I’ve been immersing myself in mel scripting, and rigging Vikky inside of Maya. I’ve done basic rigs for characters before inside of Max, but this is my first time, doing full-production rigging in Maya. The concepts and principles are similar to Max, but there are probably some tools inside of Maya that I have yet to discover. From what I’ve read Maya 2011/2012 has a lot of rigging improvements for character production.  
With Max, I would typically use a biped, or the CAT system, and it worked, but I never really got into the fine tuning of things.

However, being that Duke vs. the Dead is an animation, I figure it’s best to take the extra steps and really make the rig as robust as possible.  This includes all fun stuff like reverse foot locks, inverse kinematic and forward kinematic switching, spline averaging, deformation controls, etc.

Here is the start of Vikky's custom rig,
sided by a scripting window and the outliner.
Without a doubt it’s a long and tedious process, but hopefully it’ll be worth it. Right now, I’d consider myself about half way through, and already I’ve spent 40 hours on it. One of the reason’s I think it’s taking so long is because I’m also learning mel script, which is awesome; it’s powerful and can do a lot of stuff quickly, but it takes a while to learn.

I was toying with the idea of committing all the commands and flags to memory, but as I thought about it, I figured I’ll just pick up the ones I need as I go. I don’t really consider myself a programmer, and don’t ever care to. I’m excited to see what my custom production rig will do for my character.

As an alternative to the hours spend on setting up all these controls, I also happened to stumble onto a site called The site is pretty awesome, basically you upload your character and Mixamo will auto-rig it for you, for a small cost. They also sell different movement cycles like walking, running, shooting, tons of stuff, you name it, they have it.

To be honest I was skeptical when I saw it, I didn’t think they’d be able rig something properly, with an auto-rigger but I was wrong. I uploaded Vikky, and 5 minutes later I had a rigged model. I was kinda blown away. My only complaint, (and it’s not really a complaint at all) is that the animation looks kinda stockish. It’s like something you would find in a videogame; which is fine, but just not applicable to my situation. However if I’m ever working on a video game for a client, then I’ll definitely be back to use their services. Their customer support was fantastic; I was emailed by a real person, asking how I liked the site/services. So, if you are into rigging, you should definitely check them out.

Here's a video of Vikky with the autorig from Mixamo:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vikky Miller - from 2D to 3D

I'm almost done modeling out Vikky. I've really enjoyed the process, it's been both challenging and rewarding. It's really fun to watch a character develop and to have a direct say in what looks right.

When I first started with her, it was taking a lot of time to accomplish simple tasks, (just because I'm still somewhat new to Maya,) but now I feel pretty comfortable with the interface.

I think the challenge with a character like this, is to make it as simple as possible, but still convey a certain look. In addition to modeling, you have to make sure your UV's are laid out in a way that makes sense. I used to hate laying out UV's, but now I don't mind it so much. It's still kinda boring, but I'm starting to realize a good set of UV's go a long way.

The cool thing is, you have to be able to see your model in 2D, before you want to make it 3D. You have to figure out what's the best way to spread out the surfaces, so that you can preserve detail where you need it. It's a lot of problem solving, but it's fun.

To the left is the texture map I made for her shorts.
I tried to keep the UV seams where the actual fabric seams would be in real life. I painted this texture inside of Photoshop. There's always the option of pulling the model into Zbrush and painting it in there, but I feel that Photoshop allows a lot more control. When I use Zbrush to paint, my results always look video-gamish. It could be that I just don't know Zbrush as well as I know Photoshop, but this seems to work for now.
(get it? SEEMS to work - I know, I'm hilarious.)

My next step it to rig her. I've rigged inside of Max, but I've never rigged anything inside of Maya, so this will be something new to me. I'm thinking of taking a very aggressive approach and using a method called Motion Flow rigging. Supposedly, it mimics our natural movements more so than standard rig would. We'll have have to see.

I'm also contemplating rigging her face with a more advanced curve based system instead of morph targets, but I'm not sure if it's entirely necessary, just because I plan on setting the animation tangents in her face to more of a step-like setup, rather than curves. I guess we'll see.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New territory for me - manga of the dead.

This is a gesture sketch I did a couple days ago.
As you can see my style is still developing,
and far from anything manga-like. 
 So after evaluating the work from my previous sculpt/model, I realized I’d like to take Duke vs. the Dead in a new direction for its look. The previous model was just too video game-ish for the story I want to tell. I need something more stylized.

My first attempt at a manga style.
I’m exploring more of a manga look for the series, and I’m really liking my results, but what worries me is that I can’t draw in a manga style at all. In fact I’d say that my style of drawing is the exact opposite of manga. Manga is smooth my flowing, but my style is more jagged and dirty.

I picked up a few books to help me learn, but I don’t think they will do much. I think with this style, you either have it, or you don’t, but I guess we’ll see. 

Vikky Miller's new look - done inside of Maya/Photoshop.

I hardly know anything about manga; it’s never really appealed to me before, but I’m starting to appreciate it.  If you were to ask me to list off the manga/anime that I’ve seen, I could probably do so on one hand; Ninja Scroll, Claymore, and High School of the Dead. The good news is, even though I can’t draw a manga style, I can sculpt/model it. Below are some results I’m coming up with inside of Maya. I started with a base model that I purchased that had the correct proportions, and then slowly began making it me my own. 

Here I'm trying to develop the right outfit to bring out her character.
I’m excited to see where I can take this. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Vikky face sculpt.

Initially I very felt defeated and discouraged when I couldn’t sculpt Vikky’s face the way I wanted. So I set a few days aside and gave it another shot. Below are my results. The center image is my sculpt. To the left is Andrea Boehlke from Survivor Redemption Island, as I mentioned in a previous post, her face was the inspiration for Vikky’s look. On the right is the original concept drawing that I did for Vikky.

So here’s my assessment. I think this sculpt is the closest to a likeness I’ve yet achieved, but that’s not saying much. There’s still a lot wrong with it, it’s just that as of right now my eye can’t pick up on it. I don’t understand what I’m looking for, not yet at least. I’ll have to do some more reading on facial anatomy. The face can have up to 43 muscles, so it’s t

Also, these results took a long time and a lot of tweaking, (about 8 hours) which is frustrating because when I watch a master inside of zbrush, they can bang out a head in like 30 minutes. I guess practice makes perfect and I should keep trying, but it’s still frustrating nonetheless.

The overall look of the sculpt isn’t really what I have in mind for production. To me, this sculpt looks like it belongs more in a video game than it does in an animation. Realizing this, it kind of bummed me out, but then I took at my work from 6 months ago and compared it to today. It’s nice to feel like I’m making progress.

(Feel free to laugh at the troll face on the left.)

In my next post I’ll talk about a new direction that I might take for the overall look for Vikky and Duke vs. The Dead.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Old GPU: FirePro V3750
Yesterday I upgraded my video card. Previously I was running, an ATI FirePro 3750, which was a great entry level card for 3D design, but it was getting a little dated and I needed something new. Specifically, the 3750 had a few hang ups in Maya2012 where the viewport was not refreshing properly.  I’m pretty sure it had something to do with viewport 2.0, but I can’t say for certain.

I ended up purchasing a GeForce GTX 465, and so far I’m pretty happy. It runs on Nvidia’s Fermi architecture. This card is a beast size wise.  I had to remove my ram, hard drive, power cables, and cpu cooler just to get it in. All said and done, it took about an hour or so to install it and get everything back in place.

I have yet to run any serious tests on the card, but I feel fairly confident in it from its documented performance. Windows benchmarked it a 7.6, interestingly enough, the same rating as my i7 cpu. Currently it’s ranked among the top of its class. It takes two six-pin power inputs and runs HOT as anticipated.

If you put your hand in front the exhaust port, it feels like a small space heater.  No Joke.
I ended up going with Nvidia over ATi this time because I’m interesting in Cuda processing. I’ve seen some pretty interesting things done with it, but at this point I don’t know enough to say if it’s worth it. I guess I’ll find out. 

New GPU: GTX 465

GTX 465 Specs:

CUDA Cores352
Graphics Clock (MHz)607 MHz
Processor Clock (MHz)1215 MHz
Texture Fill Rate (billion/sec)26.7 
Memory Clock (MHz)1603 
Standard Memory Config1024 MB GDDR5
Memory Interface Width256-bit
Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)102.6
NVIDIA SLI®-ready*2-way/3-Way
NVIDIA 3D Vision Readyyes
NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround Ready***yes
NVIDIA PureVideo® Technology**HD
NVIDIA PhysX™-readyyes
NVIDIA CUDA™ Technologyyes
Microsoft DirectX11
Bus SupportPCI-E 2.0 x 16 
Certified for Windows 7yes
Maximum Digital Resolution2560x1600 
Maximum VGA Resolution2048x1536 
Standard Display ConnectorsTwo Dual Link DVI
Mini HDMI 
Multi Monitoryes
Audio Input for HDMIInternal
Height4.376 inches (111 mm) 
Length9.5 inches (241 mm) 
Maximum GPU Temperature (in C)105  C
Maximum Graphics Card Power (W)200  W
Minimum Recommended System Power (W)550  W
Supplementary Power Connectors6-pin x2 

The joys of simple work.

So creatively speaking the past few weeks have been fairly boring, but I’ve been busy. It’s been mostly mindless Photoshop work; silhouetting, touching up photos, cropping, color corrections, the whole bit.

As lackluster as it may be to some, I actually enjoy it for a simple reason: this kind of work doesn’t have the creative pressures that some jobs do. I know that might sound to be the opposite of what a creative developer should be saying, but this kind of work gives my mind a chance to relax, which is nice. I think on occasion, we all need to take a step back and breathe; but with that being said, I’d probably go nuts if I had to do this kind of work 100% of the time— there is nothing like the joy of creation.

Another added benefit to these low level stress gigs is that it’s really fun to interact with the client at this level because it’s a little more causal. I feel that with this setting I get to know the clients more as people, rather than just clients, which is nice. People fascinate me and always will; the more people I get to know, the better I understand myself and the world.

For instance last week I was working with a print designer out of NYC. She had fallen a little behind on her schedule and needed to find someone to silhouette a bunch of images that were going to be placed inside of a magazine. She ended up hiring me.

Right away I could tell she was a little stressed and rightfully so; she had a looming deadline, and ton of work ahead of her. At that point, I realized that although my “job” was just to silhouette images, the more important thing was my responsibility to alleviate some of that stress.

Rather than worrying about terms, payment, and workload, I put all my focus on getting the job done for her as quickly as possible. I realize that this approach runs the risk of being taken advantage of; but over time (and a few bad burns) I’ve developed a nose for sniffing out who’s going to stick me and who’s not. This route of placing trust in people can be risky business, but in the end, after it all works out, even if you’ve been burnt a thousand times, the benefits make it worth it; for in trust, there lies endless potential to opportunity unknown.