After working with Gianni and sitting down to talk with him a few times when I’m in uni late at night, I got inspired by his drive to set challenges for himself to be ahead of the game when it comes to his modelling work. Because of this, I’ve been inspired to start my own personal project to teach myself something new. I was browsing through Instagram one night and found a doodle from an artist I follow called Ching Yeh from Taiwan. I found the design to be cute and when looking at it thought to myself, “Yeah, I could do that?”. And so that’s what I did. With permission of course:
So this was the little doodle that inspired me to get creative. I thought this would be a good way to familiarise myself with normal maps, UV mapping and programs like Substance Painter and ZBrush. So that’s the challenge I’ve set myself, and will most likely be an early summer project. For the final finished piece I’m going to pose the robot as seen in the original drawing, but I also want to make it fully rigged.
I started with making the basic body and head shapes, as they’re straightforward enough. I’m trying to use everything I know about good topology to try and make it correctly, as well as modelling via extruding instead of creating a new object every time I want to add a small part. Only parts that will move independently will require new objects.
So the first thing I started going in to detail with was the head. This was going well, I modelled the antenna, got the basic head shape down and even made little slots for the visor to retract back with. Then it came to the screen. I thought the screen would be fine, and the first way I went about it was just extruding the face and rounding it, but that didn’t go as planned. Now, there were a few things I could have done to fix this problem, and my solution was unnecessarily complicated but I’m still pleased with how well it worked. I created a cylinder with roughly the same curvature that I wanted the face to have, and put it on its side. I then created a flat plane, and sub-divided it a few times. Finally, I added nCloth properties to the plane and made the cylinder a collider. I also upped the “wetness” of the plane to get it to hug the cylinder closely. After this I froze the transformations and removed the ncloth properties and voile; a perfectly curved plane….that I could have used the curve tool for but screw it, useless innovation.
After toying around with the head a little more I decided to move on to the arms before going in to more detail. Normally I would draw out an orthographic diagram to help me understand the shape and assembly of the character, but this time I just wasn’t bothered and decided to do it in my head as I go. The drawing is slightly obscure in its makeup and so I had to improvise a little when creating the arm. I was attempting to imagine how I would build this if it were an actual robot, with slots, bolts, pivots etc. Below you can see a breakdown of how it has went so far. I’ll be going back to add further detail but it fits together at the moment and functions well so I’m happy with it.
Below is an overall view of the mesh so far.
And here is a render of the current stage. I did have the forearm finished before, but Maya crashed as it is destined to do and I lost some of that progress. I’ll finish that arm, do the legs and then lastly the printer arm and sad paper. Then I’ll focus on the intricacies of the mechanical parts, as I hope to have the visors on the face fully functioning and all limbs movable. Then I’ll take it to ZBrush to add imperfections and teach myself Normal Mapping, and finally in to substance painter to add scratches, rust and other subtle tidbits. I’ll keep updating this blog as I go. I’m looking forward to finishing this project and expanding my toolkit a little.
So, Head Modelling. In this post I’ll basically run through my research, process and experimentation with this project. Let’s start at the beginning. My partner is Alistair, and this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good, because he has a very defined head shape and allows me to see clearly how to form my model. It’s BAD because his head is so well-shaped that it kind of just looks like a default head shape tool. I began working in Maya, as opposed to a sculpting software. This allowed me to get a decent understanding of head topology and shape before going nuts with digital clay. I was following this tutorial:
In the beginning I used my reference images to create the basic shape, and I think that I got the lower facial region to look decent. Then as I got fed up and finished the rest of the scalp and forehead it became a Star Trek character:
It was at this stage I decided I needed to take the head to ZBrush, so I added a neck and exported it as an .obj file. After quickly learning how to basically navigate ZBrush, I started playing around with the head. The results were…interesting:
I even ended up with a version that looked like Voldemort from Harry Potter.
Eventually I got a shape and level of detail that I called finished. Had I more time, I would have liked to add finer detail. I had also lost the “Alistair” in the sculpt, which I tuned up a bit back in Maya.
While transferring back to Maya, I knew that I would lose the sculpt detail. I’d been sitting in with Gianni from second year a lot and learning about sculpting and topology from him which is how I found out about Normal Maps. I decided to give it a go using some tutorials:
This was the result of my normal map attempt (below). It looks less flat, but the details are in the wrong places and jumbled so I must have done something wrong. Still, something to play about with over summer.
Then it was time to start topology. I had seen Gianni do this on his other models and this was my first time getting really hands on with it. I realise I could have used the mesh from my first maya model as the topology on this head but I wanted to re-do it properly. The relax tool became my best friend. I looked up several references for this, and was shown a good example by Becca:
Here you can see the Before and After topology:
I didn’t want to try an ear because I was running out of time, a project for another day.
I realise that there are most likely a few problems with this such as (well, the ear or lack there of) and maybe a few poles that could have been avoided. I used reference and advice from Gianni on where to position a lot of the poles that would cause problems for animation.
This was the final result:
*Pic of final render*
In this post…
…I’ll be talking mainly about my work towards the project (The design and making of the main character) and how our team collaborated on these aspects. For a look at the work from the rest of the team:
When we first began this task we knew that we wanted our singer to appear female. Initially our design was to be focused on suiting a Jazz bar but after some decision making we had decided to change the venue to an opera house. This changed the effect we wanted our opera singer to have, and so instead of going for a sultry appearance the design came to reflect a more comedically rotund singer.
Due to the plot of the short involving dial up internet sounds from old modems, Conann recommended that we try to incorporate a modem influence within the design. Specifically, we looked at phone coupling devices and their shape became the main influence for the head of our robot.
Ruxandra created a sketch of the character that our team took a liking towards, and so I began to build on that. I looked at Robots (2005) for influence for our character since we had decided to have our character move on wheels rather than legs so as to allow for easier animation. Initially we had the character moving on a singular wheel, but this was a placeholder design until we had something more “solid” for the character to balance on. This is what led to Ruxandra’s design of a single ball that the character’s torso sat on top of, similar to the design of BB-8 from the latest series of Star Wars movies.
Illustrated, Main Inspirations:
From this design that we had liked, a prototype model was made by Ruxandra. It captured the basic shape of what we wanted and set a good foundation for the design.
After this I drew up a basic turnaround for the character, to try and understand how she fits together and her dimensions. This also helped with modelling due to having front and side planes to work from.
This was the design that we used in our second animatic and was looking fairly solid at this point. During modelling I opted to exclude the cog designs under her torso due to lack of modelling experience. I also attempted to refine the torso to mimic the original ‘heart-shape’ we were going with.
Some of my animatic frames:
This shot was cut from the final animation due to the camera stretching the boundaries of the 180 degree rule. The group felt that a frontal close-up image would have been a good shot to include due to the facial expression being the main punchline. In one of the animatics I had even edited a jaunted camera zoom in to a canted angle to make the impact of the singing more forceful, but Mike pointed out that he felt this was too forced. In the end we opted to exclude this shot, but went with a more subtle version as a substitute.
Early Modelling Development
At this stage I had modelled the basic shapes of the character and performed a brief movement test. This helped with understanding parenting, which sections needed to move independently from each other and those that relied on each other. We displayed this stage during the second presentation and Mike told us he loved the design. From here I finished modelling the torso and added a ring around the central wheel for clarity and functionality. Ignore the slimy looking texture:
At this stage it was Easter Break, and Dermott and I both left the country for 4-5 days. I handed the model over to Molly to see if she could rig the arms and face since she had previously toyed with it. When we got back she had explained she was unsure how I had structured the arms and found them difficult to work with and so she created a face rig and textured the model, turning the forearms and hands black to simulate long gloves which I thought was a nice touch.
She was starting to look really good visually. I was constantly playing around with the rigging and parenting. I attempted an IK rig with the arms with varying degrees of success (sadly I didn’t bother to save any of them so you’ll just have to take my word for it) but in the end I decided that I would get more fluid movement if I just rigged the pivots at each joint instead.
Main Character Rig Demonstration
Above is a video displaying the controls of the rig and what each nurb is used for. I tried to make the rig as intuitive as possible, with crescent shapes representing joints and turn directions and with “cog” designs to represent pieces that could turn (the upper body and ball).
To break up the shot of our singer entering the stage, I suggested that we add a close-up shot of a bolt vibrating on the ground as she rolls past it. Dermott agreed and so I got to animating it, however upon doing so I realised that it was difficult to tell that the ball was rolling which lead to us including a ring of bolts on both sides of the ball for clarity.
Final Result and Feedback
Pictured above is the final version of Madam Mo, aside from her face which Molly had made. In the end, I was responsible for:
- Modelling this character.
- Animating the key scenes of the Madam.
- Editing the final film.
- Most of the sound design which I worked on with Dermott.
I think from the input of everyone on the team we produced a really good robotic design for our first animation and I am quite proud of the result.
In the end, the main two criticisms with our final short were:
- The timing for the gag was slightly off
- The scene didn’t feel “alive” enough
In regards to the first point, I had explained to Mike after he had said this that we as a team agreed that the timing of the joke could have been improved, and that it was a joke that relied heavily on timing. However, we also explained that Dermott and I had tried several different iterations of the gag with different timings and the one that we had settled upon was the most optimal we could create. Mike understood this as we were only allocated a limit of 30 seconds.
As for the second point, the simple remedy Conann had suggested was to add a film grain overlay on the footage to “give every pixel a spark of life” as he put it.
Here’s the version before we applied the filter:
Additional stuff to check out:
Normally, hard-surface art and the sci-fi genre are both outside my comfort zone. I love both of them, but I’ve never been much good at creating within their realm. This semester, I’ve been working with them quite a bit to challenge myself to learn how to work with them, as can be found in these projects:
So I began modelling in Maya, using my initial concept as a base. I wanted to capture the towering perspective of the city, with a sort of blend between Tokyo and New York city, but set in the future. The idea was that instead of building outwards, the city expanded upwards in to a towering spire. This is shown pretty accurately in Dermott’s concept art, inspired by some of James’ sketches.
I started with creating basic blocks in the rough shapes, sizes and positions of the buildings in my concept art. I then was modelling each building separately and importing it in to the main City scene.
Above are the four main assets I used when creating my scene. A few of the background buildings I used to populate the scene were modelled by James, which I had exported before the tragic loss of his first file so at least his effort was not all in vain. I created an advertisement model that I could stretch, resize and flip to populate my scene with that busy Tokyo night-time feeling.
Nearly all of the wire assets in our scenes were modelled by Matthew, which can be found here: https://matthewduddy.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/building-assets/
Cheers wire boy 😉
In the early stages, the scene looked like this:
I felt it looked quite close to my concept art, but it didn’t look busy enough. Compared to Dermott’s scene, it was too clean. I wanted these scenes to blend aesthetically and so I went further in to some detail to mimic Dermott’s. In my scene I only had a total of two area lights. All other lighting was made using the ’emission’ effect on billboards and windows with occasional use of ‘light mesh’. The main skyscraper had a very reflective front surface, and so to show that off more I duplicated some of the other buildings and placed them off camera to reflect in the building. I also added a “Hologram” advertisement that would make the scene look more futuristic, busy and add an element of movement to the scene. I modelled some more buildings, added some advertisements and this was the next set of results:
At this stage, the reflection in the window was showing a lot better than before, and with the addition of some of James’ buildings as well as some more of my own the scene definitely began to look like more a city. I still felt that it was too bright, and so I tweaked a few more of the lights to tone down the toon-ish feeling and made the lambert for the buildings a darker shade of grey. I was initially going to texture the buildings but in the end decided against it because I felt the lights did a well enough job of providing atmosphere and any in-depth texturing would have over-complicated the scene and the file. To contrast the now darker atmosphere I added a lot more bright white polygons to create a chiaroscuro environment of heavily opposite values.
Initially, I was tempted to leave the billboards the colours they were because it had a more abstract effect but in the end decided to change a few of the key ones to actual advertisements to add authenticity and lighting. The ads I chose were
Pocari Sweat – A popular water brand in Japan and other Eastern Asian countries
Pokemon Go – A worldwide phenomenon with Japanese roots
Pocky – A simple snack from Japan that has been commercially successful in the West
Razer – Due to the large fascinating culture of gaming e-sports that is exploding from the Far East.
And finally decided to add my own logo (Locko) in with an Anime character (Because Japan) for some not-so-subtle branding, along with the Japanese Kanji for “Art”.
The final HD Rendered result looked like this:
I made a few adjustments to billboard angles and sizes in order to suit the perspective of the camera a little more and make them more visible.
I added some cranes looming overhead, modelled by Dermott, to add some more animation in to the scene. This is a view of the scene from an alternative angle:
I also thought the city looked interesting from angles that were flipped upside down:
For the final render, I added some slight movement and rotation on the camera to keep the scene flowing as well as timing it with music. The music was suggested to the group by myself due to the traditional/electronic blend that represents the culture of Nipon so well.
Music Credit: RUDE – Eternal Youth
Here is a link to my scene in the first draft of the final video:
I wanted my shot to last for 10 seconds, so at 24fps it took 240 frames. Each at a respectable render time of 3 minutes per frame, it took a total of 12 hours to render this scene.
Process Breakdown GIF:
To see my post on the initial concepts for this piece, click here: Floating City – Initial Idea
To see a portfolio of my assets for this project, click here: Portfolio
To watch the final video including the infographics, click here: Final Video
James Goodwin: Research, Modelling
Matthew Duddy: Research, Modelling, Infographics, W I R E S
Dermott Burns: Research, Modelling, Title Card, Team Leader
Ryan Loughran: Modelling, Editing
So the Floating City project has come around, and looking at Jakub’s group’s Rome from last year we have a certain standard to meet. Some of the examples Alec has shown are interesting as some are a lot more abstract than I would have imagined.
We began with brainstorming which City we would choose, as we were a group that wanted to be outside the box so we didn’t want to stick with Belfast. And what’s far away from that box? We were stuck between two different ideas; ancient Mayan civilization (appropriately named) and Tokyo. I liked the idea of Mayans, with large stone idols and Macchu Pichu-esque designs. However after further discussion, the group decided Tokyo would be the best for flashy design as well as statistic gathering.
As soon as we decided this we started with some research. James discovered that the crest of Tokyo looks like this:
(Kinda looks like a species of Unown [Pokemon] which is also Japanese….hype?)
James then had this idea that around the base of our city we could have energy generators laid out in this formation that would represent Tokyo as well as giving our city a power source and some funky looking designs. With this in mind, I decided to do a quick concept sketch:
In this sketch I wanted to capture the different sides of Japan. The Japanese are very in touch with their religion and spiritualism as well as being one of the most technologically advanced civilisations on the planet. I thought this was an interesting juxta-position and tried to replicate it within my drawing with the topside being a rural landscape and the flipside being busy and built-up. After further talks, we decided to just focus on the city area as this was a ‘Floating City’ project.
Shortly after this I decided to look at an environmental concept art walkthrough by Alex Ruiz which came with a specialized set of photoshop brushes. This is the promo image for the download:
While skipping through the video to get a basic understanding of the process, I picked up a few tricks that allowed me to build the base concept art on which my scene would be built. I started by playing around with the brush kit and seeing what sorts of shapes I could make:
…which then developed in to this:
…and then finally resulting in something along the lines of this:
In the final image I experimented with some photo bashing for texture on the buildings. Normally I’m not comfortable with painting environments, especially non-organic architecture, however I am very pleased with how this turned out. You can see other concept work along the same lines on Dermott’s blog where he gained an obsession with photo bashing that we keep him going about: https://dermottburns.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/concept-work-for-tokyo/
With approval from the rest of the group it was time to begin modelling.
Ok, so out of the blue I’ve been thrown in to the Lion’s Den…(do Lion’s have dens?)…
A group of final years approached me and have asked me to produce some concept art for their final animation. I am completely blown away, and I feel a little intimidated but also excited that they’ve asked me! Apparently Alec told them that I was good at this sort of thing which is only half true… Concept Art? Can’t get enough of it. Robots? …oh jeez..
Usually I struggle with anything mechanical and prefer more organic designs which took this a little outside my comfort zone but I was still willing to give it a shot.
My challenge was to create a robot design that was:
- Humanoid in Appearance
- Able to emote without traditional facial features (eyebrows etc.)
- Appeared like it worked in a factory-type industry.
James Dalton began by showing me an animated short rendered in Unity called ‘Adam’.
It looked awesome; absolutely insane. I loved the design work behind the robots within it. James had said they were focusing on something close to the main robots, which look like this:
So the challenge was to emulate this without blatantly ripping it off, essentially. The team were kind enough to include a few mood boards to point me in the direction they were looking which I will spam here:
From the looks of the mask ideas they were sending me, they were inclined to go without certain key facial features so as to perhaps take away the human feeling of the face while still allowing it to linger. I started throwing together a chassis to house this worker robot just to have a base to work from. Along the way I started fiddling with a head idea. This was the first round of sketches I came up with, the first taking a few minutes and the second a little longer as I played around with design.
While drawing these designs I looked at different sources of machinery and humanoid robotics to understand how it would kind of work “under the hood”. The head design could be used to emote by way of a small triangle that can reposition and project symbols on a screen to show basic mannerisms to portray emotion. A bit of feedback was that the body was too “bodybuilder” and not enough “athlete swimmer” so I slimmed it down slightly as seen above.
I looked at examples of robotic arms so as to understand how the head would move. As for the tarp that covered up this machinery on the neck, I had remembered about a video by Marc Brunet at Cubebrush.com that I watched a few years back and decided to revisit it.
The head design with the emotive screen was inspired by ‘Zer0’ from Borderlands 2, a Japanese assassin who speaks only in Haiku and hides his face behind a hologram projecting helmet.
The team seemed to like the ideas and thought it was going along the right path. James liked the head idea, but felt it was slightly too simple for their story and had suggested I take a more humanoid approach. Professor Maguire later informed me this was due to it being easier to do motion-capture when the design resembled a model.
So with this feedback I went and did a bunch of sketches with different bits of inspiration flaring in every so often. The team had asked that I put more of a focus on the head design as that’s the part the audience would be focusing on. They were pretty happy with the torso so far, so I made a few variations.
With the base design hammered down I was able to duplicate and tweak to come up with a few different ideas for the team:
After getting a few good and bad ideas down I took them back for another round of review. The head shape they were most interested in was the top-right (The most human-shaped) and so I decideed to run with that. I produced an alternate design along the same shape but cleaned it up a little and decided to explore emotion and function. Around this time the team informed me that they had modified their plot so that the robots would now work with partners in the story and so I drew up a partner design that coupled with the original.
I looked at exploring function within the design
Oh boy, a presentation assignment.
We’ve been sorted in to groups by our order on the rota, and so I’ve been put in group 4 with Sarah, Michael and Jessica. Each group has been given a section of Chris Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” and tasked with researching and putting together a Pecha Kucha style presentation. Our group has been assigned:
- Character Archetype; The Ally
- Character Archetype; The Trickster
- Plot Anchor; The Ordinary World
I asked the group for ‘The Trickster’ portion to research and then got looking in to what exactly the Trickster was.
“The Trickster archetype embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change. All the characters in stories who are primarily clowns or comical sidekicks express this archetype. The specialized form called the Trickster Hero is the leading figure in many myths and is very popular in folklore and fairy tales.
– Christopher Vogler, the Writer’s Journey
So for the first week of term we were asked to research a 3D artist that we liked and for the longest time I sat wondering who I was going to choose. I didn’t want to find someone generic or a huge industry professional, I wanted to find someone who’s work truly had inspired me or made me think “Huh, that’s cool!”. And I found her.
Ally Albon is a 3D generalist and texture artist that I found after I had suddenly remembered an image I caught a glimpse of that really caught my eye. This artist had taken a concept for a fish tank and completely re-imagined it to fit seamlessly in to the Borderlands universe. The reason I loved this piece so much was because of my love for the Borderlands comic-like style and how perfectly Ally had matched it with her re-imagining.
I’ve included the last image shown above as a reference for style from the Borderlands 2 game to show how close the style is.
Ally has captured the essence of Borderlands perfectly and I would not be surprised to see this featured in the game. Upon looking at her other works I found a model she did of two ‘Mudkip’from Pokemon which I like simply because they are Pokemon (stylistically they’re a little off but they’re still cute):
The works I have highlighted here are definitely areas I would wish to further specialise in once I become more comfortable with 3D work. The ability to turn a concept drawing in to a beautiful model is something I look forward to achieving.
Link to Ally’s ArtStation and Website: