Saturday, 1 December 2007

Day330 Unreal3 first look and Realtime Arch Vis

Unreal3 First Look
The machinima cut-scenes are really special - as I hoped they would be. The gameplay is utterly UT - as one might expect. That W key gets quite a workout :-)
Here are a few captures of various pieces at the start of the campaign both cut-scene and gameplay - well they are both the same things really from a visual perspective. The detail and emotion in the characters looks great for a realtime engine and should be very droolish for the Machinimators out there. The lips sliding over teeth and such is such a big step up from anything but the elite engines - cant wait to play with the editor for this baby.


[screenshots of how things kick off in the campaign]

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Architectural Visualisation in 3D Engines
With the coming of the new might of Unreal3 and Crysis there will be renewed energy into using realtime environments to deliver Architectural Visualisation - or perhaps Architectural Experience would be a more apt term. There is little doubt that there is potential to be explored here. I do wonder about the legal requirements and costs for doing business with these engines in such a way.
HKS in the US have already licensed the Unreal 3 engine for their Architectural work. Animation & Images have a reply to the HKS press release on their site. Those Digital Urban folk will doubtless try their hand at all this.

If the only way to use game engines commercially for Architecture and design purposes is to get a full commercial copy of the respective engine itself - this would put it well beyond the reach of the small freelancer. Many small Architectural Visualisation firms of 1-5 people exist quite happily with software like 3DsMax, V-Ray, Sketchup, Vue and such. It would be great if keen early-adopters could live in this same environment with one of the latest engines in their toolset.

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WoW Pretty
I have been talking about engines and graphics alot, here is a quick example of the splendour that we get everyday in WoW with very very very low requirements.

[screenshot inside WoW - shrunk to 800x500]

Friday, 30 November 2007

Day329 WoW and the Western

WoW
I have been pottering away with Ogroin again today, it is actually quite enjoyable moving onto a new quest and seeing how Blizzard have modelled up a new set of challenges for me. They really do a grand job of delivering an experience with very few polys. They make great use of animation, movement, audio, effects and some inspired design and texturing to give us just enough to make their world alive. The actual world quality is so far below Crysis for example that it is almost not fair to compare, yet it works so well as a game anyhow.
I havent touched EQ2 for ages, and it may now approximate the blending of these two ideas - then again maybe not.

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Western Influence, Star Wars and the Dark Tower

While playing today I watched (if a little distractedly) episodes 1, 2 and 3 of Star Wars. I dont really care that people like to put down these films, they seem to be easy targets for others. I love them and get a kick out of the whole experience every time!!
Plus the CG work is simply wonderful.

The main reason I am blogging about it here though is because I have been thinking more about the much like a really cool 'western' the Star Wars saga is. There are parallels to be drawn in several areas, one I like is the technology. Their galaxy is driven by laser blasters and droid armies, yet things are very low-tech despite this and particularly the further from the civilised systems you go things get very frontier like. Riding on beasts is a glaring example, but even the tech bits are wonky, unreliable and temperamental in a lovely way. Then there are the generic similarities in the plotwork and feel, the role driven characters and the gun-slinging duels of course.
A quick search on the net revealed that Star Wars has been looked at through this lens many times before. This idea is explored briefly but eloquently in the Star Wars Ep 4-6 Study Guide this is worth reading for other reasons as well. The Western Genre page on Wikipedia even takes the time to mention Star Wars derivative nature.

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I feel inspired to pick and start reading Stephen King's Dark Tower Series now :-) The idea of a nice merger of genres like this with some good reading time in the holidays coming seems fortuitous. The Official site for the Dark Tower is impressive for a book series.

[Some cover illustration images from the Dark Tower site - various artists]

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Day328 Unreal 3 Arrives

Unreal 3
The other heavyweight FPS modding dream is here - Unreal Tournament 3. I have my (rather fat) collectors edition tin case with the book and those juicy modding tutorials. First step = find 8GB of space for it all.

A quick check of the video tutes (20 hours worth by Jason Busby and Zack Parish) shows that they come from those gods at 3DBuzz. It certainly looks like it will be a fun ride. One of the first thing the duo shows us is this little chart:

[chart from the start of the Unreal editor video tutes]

There is rather too much reliance on very weird short-cut keys or shift-ctrl-right-click type stuff for my taste, but we shall see. There are already (after only a few short vids) some very nice features like auto-texture alignment.

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Heroes S2 Finale
Excellent stuff, though this was perhaps not what I expected as far as another 'save the cheerleader, save the world' defining moment. It was non-the-less a great ride.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Day327 Noesis & WoW Movies

Noesis
I forgot about those clever folk at Noesis for the training DVD idea. They are all about modding and gaming of course, but could give us another great set of tutes to cover some specific areas that the generic tutorial folk wont and which will be well beyond the in-built help. Oh, it is only for the Valve games though, which dampens the enthusiasm, but if we continue down that road rather than Crysis or Unreal3 then this will be valuable.

Oh and Unreal 3 will be in my hot little hands tomorrow as well - so many great things to try with so little time.

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WoWing
Back into the world of WoW, still in the learning curve - but enjoying Ogroin's return. It is clever the way Blizzard have built the game so that I can pop in and just do a few quests...

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The Mr T and William Shatner commercials are a new way to advertise a game like this - fun.
The same page has movies that are Blizzard's machinima trailers for their patches etc. They use in-game footage, cutting, audio and post-effects to deliver a story that sucks us in and advertises the wonders that are coming. You can see why they support the machinima community - they do it all the time. Lament of the Highborne is a clever piece of machinima, giving us some brief lip-syncing and telling a story through moody visuals and audio alone. The God's of Zul'Aman has lots more dialogue but is done as voice-over/narrator instead. The Wrath of the Lich King trailer shows off how this artform can be done - I will have to actually try and do something like this.
So the WoW Movies are great to learn from be they the clever machinima or the simply stunning cinematics.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Day326 Training Documentaries

Training Methods
I continued to look at some training options for the staff and students. The 3DBuzz samples I went through were interesting in that they had the voices of an instructor and someone learning as they went through. This was overlayed on the screen they were using and introduced a nice dynamic and friendly way to deliver the instruction. Another idea we worked through (brainstormed) was that of using the logics and stylings of the documentary to train. If you think about a doco, it is say an hour's worth of exposition and all while keeping us engaged and wanting to find out more. This is precisely what a lecture is designed to do as well - something for us to learn from here.

I was hoping to find a single supplier of awesome video learning material that we could subscribe to. Alas it seems they all have their strengths and weaknesses (as one might expect) and we would need to go with several to get good application coverage.

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Gaming
Had fun talking about WoW again at lunch with the guys. It is fun being part of a huge game world like the one Blizzard have made (even if it is split into lots and lots and lots of servers). But tonight was patch-night, so no WoWing for me.

But that is certainly no great loss as Crysis continues to be very entertaining. It is interesting how the realism of so much of it almost highlights the not so realistic bits when you spot them. By way of an example, when you head up into the observation towers you can hang up there all day sniping away at the enemy with little fear of getting hurt. One exception was when a tank took a potshot at me and blew up the whole tower - ouch. Actually I cant help but think of F-Troop when I head up there :-)

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Facebook
I had my first play with Facebook today. I know, I know - I should have done this an age ago - but there you go. First impressions are that it would be awesome for those people who love their online socialising. I will reserve judgment for now, but it doesnt look like my cup of tea at all.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Day325 Gnomon Bundles & Gaming

Gnomon Workshop & Other Training DVD Folk
I have been looking at the long standing powerhouse of DVD training, the Gnomon Workshop for their bundles that might give us here at work a huge resource for students and staff alike.

[gnomon DVD bundle image from their website]

The Gnomon Digital Bundle has all the babies below. That would keep even the keenest DVD trainee busy. It is all perhaps too character-centric but would be great to dive into.

**Intro to Maya: NURBS Modeling, 2 - 3, Organic Modeling, 1-2, Rendering 4, Deformers, 2 - 3
**Mental Ray (all 3 DVDs) : **Spherical Panoramic Photography
**Image Based Modeling 1,2 : **Creature Design with Aaron Sims, 1-2
**Photoshop® for Digital Production
**Texture Painting (2 DVDs), Expressions, 1 and 2, Dynamics, 2 - 13 (except #8, #9)
**Digital Environment Workflow : **Character Animation for Games
**Modeling the Human Head : **Automotive Modeling Techniques
**Creature Head Modeling : **Humanoid Modeling : **UV Mapping 101 : **Character UV Mapping
**Maya Cloth 101 : **Maya Fluid Effects (3 DVDs) : **Paint Effects (2 DVDs) : **MEL Series (3 titles)
**Digital Sets, 1-4 : **Introduction to ZBrush 3 : **ZBrush Production Pipeline : **ZBrush for Illustration
**Introduction to Fluid Dynamics : **The Secrets of Organic Modeling
**The Digital Maquette, Volume 1+2 : **Modeling Essentials in StudioTools
**Creature Building Using ZBrush : **Digital Sculpting: Human Anatomy
**Head Sculpting and Texturing : **Modeling for games (2 DVDs)
**UV Mapping for Games : **Global Illumination:Exteriors
**Global Illumination:Interiors : **Detailing Characters: ZBrush Alpha
**NUKE 1-2 : **Matt Linder's Shake DVDs (4) : **Houdini 101 : **Houdini: Rigid Body Dynamics
**Visual Effects Compositing Fund. : **Matchmoving 101 : **Boujou 1 and 2 : **Product Design Rendering Essentials
**Tim Dobberts 3 Matchmoving DVDs : **Vue: Interface and Workflow
**Environment Creation for Production : **Environment Lighting for Production
**Character Modeling for Production : **Character Texturing for Production
**Creature Modeling for Production : **Creature Detailing for Production
**Creature Texturing and Rendering for Production : **Maya Dynamics: Outer Space Env.
**Maya Dynamics: Underwater Env. : **Matte Painting Production Techniques
**3D Matte Painting and Camera Mapping : **Set Extension and Lighting Effects
**Camera Projection Techniques in Maya : **Pipelines for Video Game Animation : **Fluid Simulation with Glu3D


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There are other bundles of course, CG Academy's 3DsMax dvd bundle has another 28 dvds of fun.

Digital Tutors have bundles, but they are very Maya-centric there.

Lynda.com has their big suite of dvd titles that we can get at a volume discount again.

3DTotal have plenty of training dvds as well, but no big bundles get a mention on their site - but that doesnt mean they wouldnt do something for us.

Look, Listen Learn, yep those folk at 3D Buzz have their DVD's as well covering not only commercial apps and processes, but the game engine mod pipelines as well.

The Virtual Training Company I dont know much about, but they have a nice wide range of categories and free demos which could be worth a look.

My nice new 3DWorld Magazine #98 actually has a table of some 'Online and DVD' trainers including the ones above plus a few other folk thrown in.

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WoW
I hadnt played my warlock for such a long time and though my friends are now 70 and Ogroin is but 61, I feel alot less keep-up-stress now - hmm stress seems overstates the case quite I think. Some of the details of all the spells and abilities I could recall, some my finders just remembered for me and others I still have no idea about :-)

Even slaying simple boars felt somewhat awkward as I tried to remember the correct spell sequences and such. Even though the Warlock can be a bit repeaty when soloing, I still fire off a fair number of abilities each fight, this is good when some classes are far more repetitive than that. I only played for a bit, but it was kinda fun actually.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Day324 Pirates3

Pirates Finale
I have only just got around to watching the final in the trilogy that is the Pirates of the Caribbean - at Worlds End. I have been enjoying the soundtrack for a few months now and it still inspires me, awesome work by Hans Zimmer (grab it in iTunes!). The plot and scripts feels like a political intrigue drama, there are so many motives and threads all pulling their own way and weaving things together. Indeed the double-crossing deal-breaking characters actually make it all rather confusing actually. Now that I think in more detail about it, blimey there is alot of plotwork going on. Despite the exposition sequences, it is still unwieldy - it still works though with the humourous snippets, bountiful action sequences and just oh so much juicy pirating.


[screenshots from Pirates 3 thanks to the Rotten Tomatoes site]

The first movie is without doubt the masterpiece here and the second two films ride on that success. There is doubtless plenty of class in all three, but it is the original that stands out. It is great to have Barbosa back along with the joy of Capt'n Jack and the rest of the gang. Keira is good to see evolving through the film along with the now vast enseble cast. It is really the characters that make this whole enterprise work, with some healthy pirateness they are fun characters that all work together to make for a fun ride.


[promo images from Pirates 3 thanks to the Rotten Tomatoes site - showing off some of the awesome cast]

Even though the franchise might be character-driven, the special effects work is once again remarkable (great work at ILM as always). Some of the sequences I have no clue how they were done even, except that it would have involves a bunch of talented artists, some proprietry software and a bunch of time in compositing-land.

There are some nice articles on the tech out there. Barabara Robertson's CGSociety Article covers Geoff Campbell's creature modelling starting at the begining of his work from the early days. Below is one of the images from the article showing the version of Jack where he is all ship-like. Starting from a scan the modelling work is still very impressive and would have had to have been all nicely rigged to allow him to move naturally for us.


[cg jack image from the CGSociety article by Barbara Robertson]

Bill Desowitz's article VFXWorld explores a raft of ILM's cg work concentrating particularly on the ocean sequences. It is interesting that ILM chewed up 103 TerraBytes on At Worlds End - disk usage is becoming a significant factor - let along the amound of processing that they have going...

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I also finished my Machinima for Dummies book, it was a fun little ride. With the coming of specific tools for doing Machinima like MovieStorm will that change the landscape of the artform so much that it will lose its appeal... Will it just be realtime CG Animation rather than the edgy experimental get-it-to-work inside a game world that it is today.