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.
Molly’s Whiteboard sketches of our “Jazz 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.
Throwaway sketch I doodled during a brainstorming session – inspired by old Looney Tunes episode and classic opera singer tropes. The idea was to comedically sexualize an object which did not have any sexual appeal, similar to what is done in Futurama. This went with the plot of our short, which was to reinforce that even if something seems odd to you of a different background, it might hold more value to a different culture that has grown to appreciate it.
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:
Mood board including BB-8, Big Weld, Aunt Fanny and Modems with Coupling Devices
Initial Sketch by Ruxandra
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.
Character turnaround by myself.
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).
Madam Mo makes her way to the stage; animated by Me
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
Main Character model by Me
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.
Another key shot I was responsible for animating. Looking back, the arms move pretty quick at the beginning. There was also some anticipation beforehand but it was cut due to timing issues.
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:
Final Year Concept Art
Sad Robot – Personal Project