Saturday, 6 October 2007

Day274 Zombies, SC and M&C

Zombies!!!
I just couldnt resist any longer and grabbed a copy of Twilight Creation's board game Zombies!!! (2nd Ed)
After just 1 game it is certainly heaps of fun and I cant wait to play it with friends late one night (though it was still pretty neato with family). The game format with tiles is actually the first I have actually owned that works this way - scary. The mood of the game matches very well the zombie flicks we all know so well, it has a sort of gruesome humour that is addictive. Though the mechanics are clever and add flavour to the game, I think the game works because of the styling and feel that it brings. At all times the Zombiness is foregrounded and that makes the whole thing work.

[box art image from the Zombies site]

This is certainly not the only game in this mould. Here are a few more to eat your brains:
Betrayal at the House on the Hill (WoC)
Last Night on Earth

And checking in on BoardGameGeek will reveal more :)

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Screen Culture
I started working on my Screen Culture Critical Review - well watching the material and reading some references anyhow. Outfoxed in an interesting piece to review, should be fun.

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Master and Commander
Watched the DVD of Master and Commander, the Far Side of the World today. I hadnt seen it for a while and boy can Peter Weir deliver us a stunning feast for eyes, ears and mind. There is of course a wealth of visual effects which integrate so seamlessly that I dont know what is real and what is CG or models etc. The whole thing really is a super piece of cinema.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Day273 AutoDesk Tour and Science Viz

Autodesk Product Launch Tour
Somehow the Autodesk events in Sydney always seem kinda small (by that I mean not well attended) - not sure why. Anyhow, this time it was at a nice hotel in the city where we were treated to demos of 3ds Max 2008, Maya 2008, Motionbuilder 7.5 and Toxik 2008.

Things kicked off with a very nice showreel higlighting a huge range of 2007 things that have been done with their stuff - but since with Max and Maya they can show pretty much everything this was to be expected. There were quite a few bits in the reel that I hadnt seen and by the oohs in the crowd they were new to most of us.

The demos themselves were scripted, but done live with enough variability to make it real.

The Area Site
The Autodesk lads mentioned their community site: The Area. Having a quick look showed they have tutes, discussions and galleries. Here are a few examples included in the showcase gallery on the site.

[images built with Max/Maya software in the showcase area of Autodesk's The Area site]

back to the tour/launch:

Motionbuilder 7.5
This isnt a new version per-se, just a 'point release' as they described it. I havent really met any motionbuilder people, but looking at the demo I cant understand why more people dont use this software. It seems to plug into Maya pretty well and certainly has similar functionality, but made sane and simple allowing more energy to go into animating. The scripted blinks and breathing etc using randomised blend shaping on top of the animation layer was very nice. We also saw a nice scorpion to show it can handle more than bipeds. Oh and hte new version can handle the Max biped now as well (about time).

3ds Max 2008
What is not to love, the parametrics and proboolean stuff looked very nice, fast and adaptable. The viewport renderig capabilities were far better, handling real-time shadows, mental ray textures, daylight sim etc. I liked the multi-mode sub-object selection and scene-states as well.
The new version of Mental Ray, 3.6 (also found in Maya) had much to show off including some lovely lighting control, self illumination, photometrc lights, sky portal and lighting bloom. The time of day demo was just heavenly.
This Youtube Vid is a version covering basically what we saw, different presenter, but lots of the same files and logic.

Maya 2008
Though we were shown al manner of nice animation, skinning and UV enhancements it was the joys on nCloth that stole the show. Walking through examples with wind, flags, objects, wind breaks, pushing, breaking, tearing, leaves and more - all of it was amazing.

Toxik 2008
Compositing at this end of the equation isnt something I know enough about to comment, what we were shown may have been impressive for all I know. There was some nice HDRI stuff and workflow from Maya, but it wasnt the sexiest stuff on show.

The 64bitness of things was one thing covered, interestingly things like Toxik werent there yet as they were waiting for 64bit Python to arrive. Interoperability was mentioned, but it didnt seem to have a grand scheme - it was almost like now and again their various apps would run into each other and do a little communicating. The Mudbox acquisition was mentioned as well, along with them working on a new version.

The Autodesk dudes had some partners along for the ride:
WACOM were as much fun as always showing of their Cintiq (love it) and some of their new range of Bamboo tablets aimed at everyone, not just graphics people. In talking with their rep, they are also exploring technologies like Microsoft's Surface and new products that will give us the cintiq functionality in a wide form factor this tablet styling.
Microsoft briefly covered their Windows Computer Cluster infrastructure that would be great for our renderfarm dreams.
HP covered their workstation product line, but of most interest was their HP Remote Graphics (I will have to look into this further). They also covered the system tuning application they provide with their systems which can not only get and config the right drivers based on your system, but also on your applications as well.

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What is becoming ever more apparent is the vast overlap between the two giants of Max and Maya, surely the one company cant keep running with both of these. There is so much similarity, perhaps if they do merge and bring across some interface niceties from Mudbox, Alias and other areas we will have an uber-app. I will have to delve into this further...

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In looking for Max/Maya 2008 vids I did come across this blinder by BrooklynFUNK which is done in Max with V-Ray. Though it isnt using the new enhancements that the new Max'n'Maya packages bring - it is mighty fun.

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Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge
Listening to the Science Podcast (train travel can be very educational) brought to my attention a specific field of comunication rewarded through the Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. Being part of FBE, Visualisation quickly means environments of various types for me, but visualising the very small, very vast, biological and notional ideas of science is an exciting field. It is certainly not a new one, but digital media of various sorts is allowing some exciting forms of expression tailored to convey knowledge, wonder and a thirst for more.

Being at the Uni (involved in multiple faculties already), it could be fun to delve deeper into realtime, immersive, rendered and evocative (maybe cartoon inspired) communication of the research all around the place.

[winning images from the 2007 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge from their site]

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Day272 Crysis Beauty, Gaming & TV

More Crysis Imagery
What isnt to love about how Crytek are going with their mighty Crysis and CryENGINE 2. The Crysis-Online website has more of the Real vs Crytek images for us to marvel over. To think that these are running realtime ingame and arent 10 hours of render time per frame, they are 20 frames PER second instead.
Here are some vids (it is a moving game after all) that show off not only the game - but also the grace of the editor:

links to more:
One of many vids showing actual Beta gameplay.
Gameplay showing the oppressive combat feel.

Laptops & Crysis
I ordered the collectors edition of the game a little while ago to make sure I get may hands on the DVD with the extra 'how this was done' content (The Crysis site has a release date of Nov 17 - YAY). But this game will push even a killer system and so it will be interesting to see how things like laptops will cope with this beastie. Tracy Erickson over at Digital Entertainment News has a nice review of Crysis where they ran it on a Toshiba laptop with an NVidia 8700 M GT card in it (which my MacBookPro also sports). So I have some hope that we will be able to get this game out to lots of people in some capacity. I will have to give the System Requirements Lab a whirl in BootCamp to see how this mac fronts up against their test method.

Reality & Crysis
The Crysis Online folk have gifted us with some very inspiring imagery of what the Crysis folk have been doing already. The site now has a whole heap more images which pit the rendered views from the CryENGINE 2 against real photos. Here are three to whet your appetite:

[comparison images of reality and Crysis from the Crysis-Online site]

But it is not just comparisons that inspire, it is a game after all. So here are 3 more screenshots that are just joyous to see iven if they arent aimed purely at replicating reality. Remember this is real-time.

[screenshot images of Crysis from the Crysis-Online site]

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Cooperative & Competitive Gaming
I thought it would be interesting for the Game Design and Research Group here at UNSW to look at gaming with gameplay outside the competitive styles. Games that are perhaps more appealing to girls particularly where there need not be competition and victory to make the game work. To be blunt, The Sims vs Unreal Tournament.
Stereotyping just a little... Give a bunch of animal toys to a young girl and a young boy and the games played will be quite different. The girl will likely have the pigs going to school to learn from the cow while the lion heads off in search of the lost elephant. The boy will have the sheep lined up in the front row of the owls army which is under siege from the crocodiles and the treacherous snakes. Ignoring other symbology and social thinking here, there is a fundamental difference in the gameplay type, one has a combative/victory mode the other a social/evolutionary one. Both could involve constructive and/or creative gameplay on top of these ideas, but the differences between then are lower level than that.
Exploring the logic and compatibility of these types would be fascinating.

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Bionic Woman and Heroes S2
The Bionic Woman began for us today and it was darker and gutsier than was expected. It had its tough, sexy and brutal moments but drew together a nice twisting subplot that is where the intrigue lies. The promo for Ep2 hints at some interesting things to come. It has the feel of Alias with the intrigue, double-crossings, secret organisations and killer women. In fact if you wanted to describe the sow to someone just say "it is Alias with Bionics rather than training". For my part I would have preferred her to struggle with the bionics more than we saw so far, it all came very easily to her apart from an emotional sock in the bed and the disorientation sequence which was actually very nicely done.

Heroes S2 is finally here, it was the only TV I really watched earlier in the year and it is great to have it back. The plot work was a little slower in this episode, but started to get going in the later stages. Time was taken setting scenes and lining up plotwork to come. In the final scenes and the promo for next week - things got more interesting, twisting things around. Even though it wasnt all running at full speed yet, we were still treated to many plotlines running concurrently with a horde of characters. There were characters that we know are returning that didnt et a look in yet either and some of the main folk got teaser seconds on screen :-)

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Day271 GMod Server, Halo, EP51 & Bao Pham

GMod Server and FPS Banana
For the students here in FBE I started setting up a dedicated GMod server to facilitate some better collaboration. They have been sharing their models via simple server disk shares, but this will lend some more persistence to things and let others pop in to see how they are going.
I began by following the GMod10 Dedicated Server Setup Tutorial on FPS Banana. This uses command-line versions of the interface apps which is fun. I often hear people wanting to run servers/services (of all kinds) as interfaceless creatures. I am not a fan of the logic though, I think interfaces can be powerful tools, not just eyecandy for dummies...

FPSBANANA looks like a pretty nifty hub for all manner of modding and work on FPSes of various types. They have some nice news and tutorial sections - When I get time to get back into Modding, this place looks like a good resource and hangout point.

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Halo 3 peek
After having a little look around FPSBANANA I thought I should check out where Halo 3 is at. The website for Halo 3 is very slick (I love the blue bubbling background). The screenshot section is great running in flash, but also letting me download high-res versions of the images. I shrunk and included 3 below that show what is coming - it looks nice, but isnt particularly ground breaking in any way. The multiplayer ability to play as a drone thingo that can add and change the world adds a twist that reminds me of the GMod fun that can be had. I am sure there will be many many happy XBoxers out there now Holo 3 is finally here.

[screenshots of Halo 3 from their site]

Cybershack
I was pointed at Cybershack today as well, a show on tv about gaming and tech etc. Their site has snippets of the footage for us to catch-up. By sheer coincidence there was a piece about Halo 3. Oh and I liked their little test of BioShock on a MacbookPro (like mine) with an xbox360 controller.

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EP51 Photofall
After building a nice UV image from my sketch I loaded it into the Maya file for the already animated plane and hey-presto one falling photo. The background and lighting may not be the final choices, but it seems to be working. I am assuming we will mask it to the narrow format at the compositing stage. Here is the actual animation as it stands now:


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Bao Pham Video Tutorial
I realised that the ImgineFX mag not only came with the nice written tute/article on Bao Pham's butterflies image, but a video tutorial on the DVD as well. (I was delighting in this image yesterday) The video is a capture of the actual process in photoshop of the image as it is created. This footage takes us from the sketch through the roughing out and colour work to the final detailing. Though these videos have the same generic appeal of the Millenium Masterpiece viewer, it is a log build in comparison and takes a while to go through. It could have benefited from commentary or perhaps editing.

High res versions of the images included below (and others) are also on the DVD which is great. I hope reproducing them here will be seen as excellent promotion of a great little article and a super magazine (love my subscription).
The first three images here are from the WIP set and then the final image I like so much. Maybe it is the joyful colour and flittering yet calm motion of this image that appeals to me - drool.


[images from the ImgineFX Issue23, Nov 2007 DVD of Bao Pham's tutorial - resized for the blog]

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Day271 Bimbo Rig and more

Bimbo Rig
James fired through to us the full rig of Bimbo sporting handles and controls in all directions which should make for some cool animating. They arent working in the same way I built my test rig - but having the handles is nice.

[screenshots of the Bimbo rig as she now stands]

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Googling
I spent a few minutes trying my hand at finding a search in Google that returned the most hits. After a bit of playing I reached 2,820,000,000 for the word 'search'. This was even higher than plenty of common little English words and numbers even. This could have something to do with how they store such things.
One of the incredible things is that I can be returned a search result including the first page of detailed links for 2.8 billion hits in waaay under 1 second!!!

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Bao Pham in ImagineFX
I got my nice new copy of ImagineFX mag (issue 23) today. My favourite piece is the In Depth article by Bao Pham on his creation of a lovely butterfly image. The article covers some nice colour logic as well as his process in photoshop and painter. Unfortunately I cant find the image online but it is so lovely I could really see it on a wall.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Day270 Ep51 Groupwork and Theo Jansen

Episode 51 Groupwork
We (Team Stimpy) met and worked together on 3D&2D where we sorted out a good deal of logistics. We now have the master files and referencing in place along with better teamwork in this construction process. I will generate some screenshots of where the modelling, rigging and animation of the other guys is at to include here.

Project Scoping
Names assigned are for primary responsibility with contributions from all.
  • Design: Project Concept (all)
  • Design: Character Designs (GH)
  • Design: Character Dossiers (YE)
  • Design: Script and base timing (GH)
  • Mgt: Setup file organisation and sharing (YE)
  • Mgt: Setup standards - units, filenames (YE)
  • Mgt: Setup full schedule and responsibilities (GH)
  • Mgt: Maintain Master Project (JL)
  • Model: Bimbo : build model/mesh, uv, texture, material and blend targets (GH)
  • Model: 3D: build model/mesh, uv, texture, material and blend targets (YE)
  • Model: 2D: build model/mesh, uv, texture, material (JL)
  • Model: Pic: build model/mesh, uv, texture, material (GH)
  • Model: Bimbo: rig, skin and blend target binding (JL)
  • Model: 3D: rig, skin and blend target binding (JL)
  • Model: 2D: rig, skin and binding to animated face texture (JL)
  • Scene: build background and full set for reflections (JL)
  • Scene: build lighting setup (JL)
  • Scene: setup cameras for each shot (YE)
  • Animation: 3D tests (YE)
  • Animation: Bimbo tests (GH)
  • Animation: build 2d animatic (GH)
  • Animation: build basic 3d animatic (JL)
  • Animation: build smooth character and interactive animation (JL)
  • Animation: time facial animations, blinks etc (JL)
  • Animation: refinements, better flow and detailing (JL)
  • Animation: create 2Ds face in Flash. (GH)
  • Sound: get score and sound effects (GH)
  • Sound: record and prep voices (YE)
  • Rendering: build and render out static images - for intro and credits (all)
  • Rendering: Render out beauty passes of full 15 seconds (GH)
  • Compositing: bind it all together in post (JL)
  • Compositing: build credit reel (YE)
  • Mgt: build final submission with references to Mac-vs-PC and other context. (GH)
  • Misc: Write up logbooks (all)
By way of timelines we are geared up to have a full 3D animatic with the rigs and models imported for the firs class back (8 days). This should give us enough time to work on the animation refinement, render quality and compositing.

My short range tasks are:
  • Check in with James on Bimbo outline structure for rigging
  • Test spline IK hair animation logic for Bimbo.
  • Build walk test animation with test rig for Bimbo (see her shapely motion in action)
  • Build blend target mouths for Bimbo
  • Build final Photo image
  • Add photo_image to photo_fall animation
  • (Maybe build 2D as well)
Spline IK Hair
Though there are plenty of ways to build IK_splines (like this one from Animation artist or this one from peachpit) I built a simpler test with a cylinder and a simple spline setup. Once I understood that it was only the curve that could be edited/animated it all started to fall into place. It is very tricky to select the spline handles - I will need to find a better way than using layers to help with that as well. (Create joints, select them and bind smooth to geometry, create IKspline which generates the curve, use Rebuild Curve to add or remove spline handles)

Bimbo Walk Test Animation
So with my test rig for Bimbo and the ik_spline hair I created a quick 60 frame animation to show how she sways and if her structure works in 3D after her walktest 2D animatic.


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Theo Jansen and his Strandbeests
I was enlightened as to the existence of artist Theo Jansen via his TED Talk coming up on my iPod. AMAZING.
His Strandbeests are mechanical creatures that inhabit a beach in Holland where they move and draw power from the wind. The movement is quite special to watch - the creations have a natural grace to them that is jaw-dropping.
TED Talk
Youtube Documentary Clip (embeded below) and a longer but lower quality version

Though the beests are constructed, they have got me thinking about animation in the virtual 3D space as well. Building movement that flows and systems that are internally consistent - simple yet performing great feats of complexity. I hope he keeps it up.
Indeed here is a CG Simulation of the strandbeest walk mechanics.

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Greg Staples in ImagineFX
My latest copy of ImagineFX Mag has a nice feature article on Greg Staples. The vibrant passion that he brings to his subject matter is refreshing in the fantasy genre where static pose work is very common. His imagery for Magic the Gathering is inspiring - I would love to bring that level of intensity and emotion into my CG work. His site has plenty of great examples to draw inspiration from.

[Greg Staples Djinn image for Wizards of the Coast from his site]

Ryan3D took this artwork as concept and built a full ZBrushed model of the Djinn. Great to see
and I hope Greg would appreciate it.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Day269 Ballistic Char Mod 2 & Ep51 animations

Ballistic's Character Modeling 2
I was in the city and found myself in the Kinokuniya Bookshop (huge thing in the Galleria Victoria). The bookshop has a huge range of books across all manner of areas including technical, reference and asian languages. One of the nifty things is that they have the full range of Ballistic publications, store-copies so we can see inside and to top it off all the computer books were on sale (20% off).

So I could have burnt alot of cash, but walked away relatively unscathed with my first Ballistic Publishing title - Character Modeling 2 (yes they spell it with one L).

Onto the book itself - I am looking forward to devouring it over the next few days - appreciating the wonders within. First impressions are a very high production and print quality that really shows off the work. Unlike the Expose series which gives us the final product of a large array of digital artists, this book delves in detail into the work of 3 masters - Kevin Lanning, Kevin Petroc and Timur Baysal (plus the 3 artists themselves). Right off the bat we are treated to a huge and detailed 70 page article on Kevin Lanning and his character creation for Gears of War. The CG models are quite extroadinary, not just in their character and detail, but also in their alignment to the technology of the mighty Unreal3 engine.

[cover and artwork sample from the Ballistic site for Character Modeling 2]

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Photo Fall Animation
Some refinement of the Photo-fall animation was fun today. I did some tests with sheets of paper to see how the rotations and dynamics worked. A normal piece of paper is actually pretty wild as it falls and a postcard fall is pretty subdued. So for the animation I picked something in between. One things both did was slide nicely after hitting the floor, so I incorporated this as well and it really helps.
I loaded the current test into Youtube after building a mov with Fcheck. FCheck is a nifty, yet strange little application. I am now pretty much ignoring the speed/framerate that it shows as it doesnt seem to have much bearing on the final qt movie result.

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Bimbo Walktest Rigging
I created a test rig for Bimbo to test her walk - I dont have the hang of dealing with paint weights yet though. Despite my keeping her mesh in separate parts and skinning each bit to a bone individually - the skinning still 'leaks out' on me. So now I have to tidy it all up ten test out some animation on her.