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the_Monkey

AICP Southwest 2008

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AICP Southwest 2008

Project Detail

 

So what is this?

I just finished working on an animation with Chris Smith (Sugar Film Production) for the southwest regional sponsors of AICP. The conference is supported by the donations of local businesses, and in exchange for their $$ they get their logo/identity showcased in the intro of the show. That’s what we made.

 

MovieThumb_01.jpg

Movie Link (36mb)

 

 

So why are you telling me?

You’ve likely seen a few of these rolling around from previous years. The other AICP title sequences I’ve seen have ranged from brilliant to endurable. I would say the result of this project hovers very nicely in the middle of that spectrum. Aesthetically, I have quite a few things I would like to improve/change, however I was very happy with the planning and production of this project. Since so few tutorials cover the production aspects of the work I thought this would be an ideal job to share with the community.

 

--

 

Great, so what‘s the breakdown?

This was a remote job. The event was in Dallas. We had a little more than two weeks to complete it.

 

Length -- Roughly 2-3 mins. As long as it took to feature all the logos.

Format -- 1080i@29.97

Assets -- Apx 6 mins. of experimental HD footage provided by Sugar. / Apx 30->40 Logos provided by sponsors

Audio -- Listeningchair, a Dallas based sound studio, would be creating original music for the animation.

 

Animation would primarily need to be completed by myself on my 8-Core.

Chris had another 8-Core in Dallas dedicated to rendering scene files.

 

 

What are my general concerns?

1) I want it to be pretty.

2) I want it to have discernible parts.

3) I want it to have fluid motion.

4) I want it to fulfill it’s purpose of showcasing the sponsors logos.

5) I don’t want it to be boring.

6) I don’t want to miss the deadline.

 

Those 6 concerns are probably in reverse order. Every decision I made ultimately came down to making sure these 6 things happened.

 

 

The Approach

We didn’t have any boards for this job. Chris and I had originally had set out to use the piece as an opportunity to experiment. Other projects and circumstances gave us less time to experiment than we would have liked so at a certain point it became more about creating something clean, simple, and attractive.

 

 

The Look

We had both upgraded to C4D r11 and were very interested in trying out the new GI. We had both been inspired by Kai Perersen’s tutorial about polygon lights and portals over at Cineversity (GI: Sampling Modes). As a C4D user I have kept my distance from GI in the past because of the insane render times and unpredictable results. After seeing Kai’s walkthrough of the new GI we both decided that was a look we wanted to pursue.

 

 

Timing

Timing on this job was VERY important. Getting 30+ companies to deliver their logos to you in a timely manner is monumental task. Plus the deliverables were for an event. Events have unmovable deadlines. If you’ve never worked remotely before, it’s more time consuming than you think. If you’ve never worked remotely on HD before, it’s WAY more time consuming than you think. Compressing and uploading previews can easily occupy a third of your day. Just getting scenes *ready* to render can be a chore.

 

For this reason I HAD to create a standard that would allow me to measure my progress. Also, collaboration with the audio studio would require SOME sort of pre-planning even if we didn’t have storyboards.

 

 

The AudioBoards

When you have an integrated audio/video project one of the two of you is always wanting the “other guy to start first”. I would need the full two weeks to finish the animation/renders so I didn’t have enough time to let listeningchair score the piece after the fact, BUT it wasn’t really fair to ask them to just wing it with no input.

 

My favorite way to approach this task is to create a dummy track from a song that I think would be a good model for the final. If I have the time, I like to just wander around the city with my iPod until something “feels” right. I did just that and I found a great song that had plenty of energy and very different parts. It was a very long (6+ minute) track by Anders Trentemoller called Always Something Better. I managed and cut the piece down to 2.5 minute remix in Ableton Live and sent the following back to Sugar and Listeningchair.

 

TrentemollerTrack-t.jpg

Movielink (8mb)

 

Shortly after I sent this off to Dallas I received a first draft back from listeningchair. I was a little worried because I’d never worked with them before. The downside to AudioBoards are when you’re working with a studio who either A) tries to copy the *sound* rather than the feeling/energy/timing... or even worse B) just misses completely. I was very pleased with what we got back from Listeningchair. Brian made it his own piece while retaining the spirit and timing of the original track.

 

ListeningchairTrack-t.jpg

Movielink (8.1mb)

 

 

Talking to Audio Guys

I was a breakbeat DJ for most of my 20’s. Working with audio is where I developed my first love for waveforms. I found the transition from audio to 3d animation very easy because it was simply an extension of describing the world in waveforms. If you can speak waveform... you can speak to an audio guy (well engineers at least).

 

I gave him a few notes about what I would like to see changed. I wrote it down in words and erased it for almost 2 hours until I final decided to just send him a waveform. The gray waveform (below) was what I was shooting for and the blue represented what he gave back to me. They may look identical at first sight, but to someone who speaks “waveform” you can tell the differences immediately. Brain mentioned to me later at the event that he total “got” what I was asking and said the waveforms were helpful.



AICP_WaveForm_01.jpg

AICP_WaveForm_02.jpg

 

About halfway into the first week I received the “final” sponsor list and the number of bronze sponsors had doubled from last year. It threw my timing off a little bit, but it was pretty easy to get back on track by simply doubling the bronze section.

 

 

The Logos

I decided to get the logo work out of the way first. The first few days was a lot of Illustrator work (ever get an AI file that simply contained an embedded JPEG?). Several hours of pixel-pushing later... I finally had them all vectorized. After seeing them all together it became clear these separate identities lacked unification. The simplest and fastest solution I could think of was to reduce them to b/w.

 

 

Loosing the Color

I hate working in b/w. I learned about color from stage lighting and one of the better rules is that you never just throw white light on an actor or the stage. Rather you should blend complementary colors to create white light. It creates more interesting highlights and deeper shadows. This is the first time I have ever used completely desaturated values. I did so in the end because it was one less thing to keep track of, but ultimately I wish I hadn’t.

LogoSheet-Web.jpg

 

 

The “Architecture”

I didn’t really know where to start so I figured I better make something pretty flexible just in case. I knew I wanted each section to feel like it was in a larger space than the previous one. I would start each area with a simple 100sq box and then extrude it in 100 unit increments until I had a rough shell of what I wanted the space to look like. I would then attach different tiles and illuminated panels to that base mesh via a Cloner Object. I changed my mind quite a bit about depth and proportions so building with Cloners afforded me the ultimate in (re)configurability.

 

Arc_Mesh.jpg

 

Additionally it allowed me to break my rooms apart in a variety of different ways. I never ended up actually doing it, but it was something that I kept in my back pocket in case we had some extra time and discovered the background required more action.

 

MoGraph-Arc_a01-Web.jpgMoGraph-Arc_a02-Web.jpg

Movielink 1 (3mb), Movielink 2 (2.4mb)

 

 

SoundKeys

I really wanted to add some SoundKeys to the piece, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be time. I made some soundmaps over the weekend using a method I have described before on mograph.net. The short version is that I like to do my sync work in AE with Trapcode’s SoundKeys.

 

After you’ve got your keys in AE, select them, copy-paste them into a txt file, and then open that file in C4D’s Timeline via the Functions>ASCII Animation Import option. From there you can use the data however you like. I like assign the values to a P.y track of a Null object and then use an Xpresso tag to redistribute the values to other elements as needed (i.e. the P.y values are controlling the alphas to the bass and snare Materials in the Platinum section).

 

The next thing you need is some good markers. If you’ve ever tried to build more than a dozen markers in C4D it can make you want to stab your eyes out. For that reason I make a txt file of key data outside of C4D for beats and bars and then import that into the C4D Timeline in the same manner mentioned above. I then use those keys as Markers.

 

Too many keys starts to get confusing after a while so I divide my timeline into two parts (shown below). The Bottom timeline is static just for beats, bars, and special sections. The Upper timeline is in Automatic Mode and is used for editing waveforms and moving keys.

 

C4DSoundKeys.jpg

 

 

 

[because mograph.net won't let you post more than 10 images in a single post I have to split this into two]

Edited by the_Monkey

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The Second Week

At the beginning of the second week I started to become concerned about using GI. The frames were just so damn big and there were sooo many of them. Cinema was rendering them very quickly, but I would still have to animate during the day and then render full res overnight. It was starting to become clear that in order to make the deadline I would have to get every remaining overnight render right the FIRST time (not bloody likely).

 

Perhaps I would have been able to speed things up further if I knew a little more about GI in Full Animation mode, but nobody really talks about it. 95% of all GI tutorials (even Vray) seem to be for stills and they tend to lure people into believing that they can use the same methods for animation. Not true. The C4D help files do a swell job of describing GI parameters, but not usage. I can only assume they are expecting this sort of information will be filled in by 3rd parties like Cineversity (and I hope they do).

 

My other discovery was that I was getting a lot less bang for my buck when using GI in a dark, reflective, desaturated environment. GI seems to really shine when it’s being used for sunlight or bold colors (like Cornell boxes). It was still sexy, but maybe not worth the time on this job. I switched over to Area Lights with a lot of Inv Sq falloffs. That was easy to do with my mograph architecture because it simply meant switching out an illuminated panel for one with an Area Light nested in it. Render times dropped through the floor with a minimal degree of loss. So I called Chris and asked him what he thought... and we agreed to kill the GI. It was a little sad, but ultimately the right thing to do for the project.

 

GI_Tests_c01-BW.jpgGI_Tests_c01-Color.jpg

Movielink 1 (1mb), Movielink 2 (2mb)

 

 

The Platinum Section

It was always at the forefront of my mind that the platinum section had to stand out from the others, after all... they paid for it. It was now days before the event and I still hadn’t found anything I liked yet.

 

I’m not sure why it took me so long to come around to it, but it suddenly dawned on me that this would be a great place to use a technique I had out posted on mograph.net nearly a year ago about growing polygons (Introduction and Movie, Explanation and Scenefile). It explained how to use your BPM in a Step Effector to get clones to grow in a direction and order determined by a polygon index. It was a simple test, but a very flexible system. I re-read it and noticed the BPM of my example scenefile was 105... which was the exact BPM of the AICP track. I took it as a sign and rolled with it.

 

The first thing to do was to build some base meshes. I tried to construct them so each letter was composed of roughly 128 polys. That would allow me to build my panels with the beats and be certain that the letter would finish building at the end of 4 bars. The other thing I needed to do was to make sure that my index order traveled in the right direction (see below).

 

PolyIndex.jpg

 

Because of this, HOW you build your mesh is very important. If you build your “C” with an extrusion your index order is all over the place. If you build it with a Sweep or a Cube placed in a bend deformer (what I did), C4D will do most of the work for you because both of those objects generate a better directional flow of polygons. It’s a big time-saver.

 

ClonerNotes_Build.jpg

Movielink 3.3(mb)

 

After I had my mesh and added a step effector with the appropriate BPM in the Time Offset (Fig.1) it was sort of hard to tell if it was really synced so I checked it by increasing the step gap to 8 (Fig.2). After I was certain it was matched I began to add some ambient motion (Fig.3) and added a second child to the cloner with sound driven material (Fig.4).

 

I then realized there were two problems. 1) I didn’t like that all my clones grew at the same rate and 2) I didn’t like the fact that my “C” looked like a skunk when the bass materials would throb. Both problems have the same solution which is to increase the number of clones in the cloner object.

 

ClonerNotesTimeline.jpg

 

I added 8 more clones (8+1 would make sure that the stripes would go away since it would offset the pattern by one each time it spiraled the “C”). I then picked a couple of clones and halved the growth of their animation, picked a couple more and quartered their length. At this point I really felt like I was able to “play notes” over the topology of the shape. I could control the speed, the sequence, the placement, the interval, and the illumination of all of the clones. Very flexible, very modular.

 

ClonerNotes_Sequence.jpg

Movielink (2.5mb)

 

Sadly, a lot of what I liked about this growth was lost in the final version because I felt the logos were the priority. Some of those logos were not very readable and you had to get the camera right up in them to see anything at all. Chris also wanted the Platinum to reveal more of the footage (and I agreed), but ultimately I convinced him that we should leave the proportion of foreground/background action as it was... perhaps, largely, in the interest of time.

 

Cameras

I avoided talking about cameras because I’m not sure what to say about them. I use SteadyCamPro. I’m a big fan. I’ve mentioned it before. This project contained a lot of SteadyGlides. I also do a lot of baking and manual reduction of F-Curves on Cameras. I love camera work. I had always imagined rising into Platinum section and falling out of it with the music. I would say in many ways the audio determined the camera movement which determined where I placed the walls. Its a really backwards way of working, but it’s probably my favorite element of the piece.

 

 

The Result

Everything you see is pretty much straight out of Cinema, except for requisite cameo by particular (which was the source of my very first compliment at the show... “uh, thanks”). Chris and I discussed so many additional treatments, DOF, camera variation, color treatments, more soundkeys, displacement maps from footage, and million more things I can’t even remember. Part of me wishes we had twice the time/resources but most of me doesn’t. Ultimately I felt like we satisfied our goals for the piece and everybody seemed pleased with the result.

 

Hope it helps.

 

:)

 

-m

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Wow, great post. I love all the audio info, before I got into the visual world I used to make various forms of electronic music. It definitely helps in the timeline driven animation world, as well as when talking to my audio guys.

 

Great work!

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Best recap evah! What do the quicktimes in the 'Second Week' section show? Is that with / without GI?

 

TWO WEEKS. HD, and originally doing it with GI and synced to sound. Good gawd awmighty.

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Thanks for the comments everyone.

Feels nice to talk about mograph stuff around here again. :)

 

What do the quicktimes in the 'Second Week' section show? Is that with / without GI?

 

No... that was just an example of how I felt GI looked way better in color (mostly the bleeds and hot spots).

The B/W is nice but it just looks like fat blooms. You could probably fake it with some clever tricks in AE.

 

Once I took the GI away I had to compensate for the light spill from the projectors.

I put a light at the center of each of the projection screen with a Material that contained a blurred copy of the footage in the Transparency channel. Not as pretty as GI, but your mind fills in the blanks... and it's super fast.

 

-m

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Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your process. Very cool to see how you put this together.

 

I agree that the color version is more visually interesting, but the B&W has a striking elegance.

 

About the camera work: I thought Chris mentioned you guys used MoCam to do the cameras, but you say you used SteadyCamPro?

 

Also, what were the render times like?

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Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your process. Very cool to see how you put this together.

 

I agree that the color version is more visually interesting, but the B&W has a striking elegance.

 

About the camera work: I thought Chris mentioned you guys used MoCam to do the cameras, but you say you used SteadyCamPro?

 

Also, what were the render times like?

 

I think he was referring to the Sony spot that used MoCam. This one was SteadyCam Pro, correct me if I'm wrong monkey.

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I think he was referring to the Sony spot that used MoCam. This one was SteadyCam Pro, correct me if I'm wrong monkey.

That is correct.

It should be noted that the task could be completed with either.

I really like SteadyCamPro, Chris really likes MoCam (for obvious reasons).

 

Both still have room to grow in my opinion, I would like Chris to include the ability to use either fames or seconds... I'd like Lennart to remove the hard limits from the parameters. Really easy to ask for when you're not the one doing to work though. :) MoCam has the obvious advantage of being free and configurable, but SteadyCamPro puts every option you could ever want at your fingertips (which I think is well worth the price).

 

Intro used the Orbit, Trim tags of SteadyCamPro (with a small manual hack to compensate for parameter limits).

Bronze was pretty easy so it was keyed by hand

Silver used the Orbit, Trim tags of SteadyCamPro

Gold was keyed by hand

Platinum had a camera for every logo (13?). The drift was keyed by hand and then stitched together with multiple SteadyGlides.

After Party was keyed by hand.

Everything above was stitched together using SteadyGlides.

 

-m

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I think he was referring to the Sony spot that used MoCam. This one was SteadyCam Pro, correct me if I'm wrong monkey.

 

Yeah. In the other thread I posted the SonyAnimatic C4D file (camera moves through the base terrain mesh) that used MoCam and other CSTools. It wasn't the final cam move from the end Sony piece but it's about 90%.

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It's a cool looking piece, and the breakdown was a great read. Loved the bit about getting logos in .ai format where all they do is place a jpeg in a file and save as .ai. 'Hey, you said you wanted an Illustrator file and that's what I sent, right?' Gah.

 

Nifty trick with the area light masks too, I really thought the scene was a GI workout so it's interesting to hear that it's all area lights. It seems to be a bit of an unspoken secret that R11's GI is still not quite ready for animation use yet.

 

Cheers - Chris

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It seems to be a bit of an unspoken secret that R11's GI is still not quite ready for animation use yet.

 

Beg to differ - I have used it on a broadcast ad with very few problems. The problem here as I understand it was rendering 4500 frames of HD at the last minute for an immovable deadline. There are workarounds that can give some of the look of GI and save you a proportion of the rendertime, but given a little longer schedule GI would have been an option. A valid criticism is that distributing GI across a render farm might not be as efficient as non GI, as the prepass cannot be distributed, but you can still render a project in segments if you have multiple machines.

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Beg to differ - I have used it on a broadcast ad with very few problems. The problem here as I understand it was rendering 4500 frames of HD at the last minute for an immovable deadline. There are workarounds that can give some of the look of GI and save you a proportion of the rendertime, but given a little longer schedule GI would have been an option. A valid criticism is that distributing GI across a render farm might not be as efficient as non GI, as the prepass cannot be distributed, but you can still render a project in segments if you have multiple machines.

Absolutely true, Basilisk.

There still are some secrets though aren't there? For instance I didn't know that Full Animation mode rendered more passes the longer your render was. I was trying to render 1500F at a time and was getting 15 pre-passes. I later discovered this in the Help:

 

The prepasses are split into three segments (which prepass is currently being rendered is displayed in the Picture Viewer):

 

Prepass 1-3: These prepasses determine how many cache Record entries will be required for the full animaton and where these are located.

Prepass 4: The first and last frames of animation will be calculated.

Prepass 5-x: Each prepass halves the render time and calculates/interpolates the corresponding frame’s cache. Example: Your animation is 100 frames long. Prepass number 5 calculates/interpolates frame 50, prepass 6 calculates/interpolates frame 25 and 75, etc. This continues until all frames have been calculated/interpolated. Subsequently the full animation will be rendered without making any further changes to the cache.

 

Ok. Great... so how do I reduce that? How do I optimize my given settings? The answer was "I have no idea and I don't have time to find out now". It probably isn't fair to say "R11's GI is still not quite ready for animation use yet"... it is... but the complexity of the process is proportional to the complexity of the animation.

 

Take a look at this super-simple test. The room is being scaled up and the cube is being pushed through the floor. You can see that the cube is picking up light information from the outside of the room. I solved it by changing my cube animation to scale up from the floor instead of pass though it (as well as adding AO). I later found out that this could be fixed by enabling Distance Map in the render settings, but is not enabled by default. Awesome... but that just took me half a day to find that out. :)

 

These kinds of situations pop up in 3D all the time with Cloth, Dynamics, GI... anything that requires a ton of calculations. It still requires a wealth of knowledge on the part of the user to adapt to different scenarios. I think R11 Animation GI is VERY ready... it's that "wealth of knowledge" that is missing.

 

-m

Edited by the_Monkey

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Absolutely true, Basilisk.

There still are some secrets though aren't there? For instance I didn't know that Full Animation mode rendered more passes the longer your render was. I was trying to render 1500F at a time and was getting 15 pre-passes. I later discovered this in the Help:

Ok. Great... so how do I reduce that? How do I optimize my given settings? The answer was "I have no idea and I don't have time to find out now". It probably isn't fair to say "R11's GI is still not quite ready for animation use yet"... it is... but the complexity of the process is proportional to the complexity of the animation.

 

Take a look at this super-simple test. The room is being scaled up and the cube is being pushed through the floor. You can see that the cube is picking up light information from the outside of the room. I solved it by changing my cube animation to scale up from the floor instead of pass though it (as well as adding AO). I later found out that this could be fixed by enabling Distance Map in the render settings, but is not enabled by default. Awesome... but that just took me half a day to find that out. :)

 

These kinds of situations pop up in 3D all the time with Cloth, Dynamics, GI... anything that requires a ton of calculations. It still requires a wealth of knowledge on the part of the user to adapt to different scenarios. I think R11 Animation GI is VERY ready... it's that "wealth of knowledge" that is missing.

 

-m

 

Useful stuff there. Having everything in such a long timeline with no cuts is a pretty demanding test of any application. The cache calculations are designed to speed up renders by only updating bits that need updating frame by frame, the drawback being that long timelines might lead to incremental errors, and therefore take more checking, and calculations can vary depending on your start frame. It is a balance I guess.

Is there an advantage to rendering in shorter segments, but allowing overlaps, then cross fading between renders would smooth over any discrepancies?

 

I have noticed similar things to your light leak problems. Would it have still happened if the wall had physical thickness?

Edited by basilisk

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