Effects : Lightning, Grass & Water

The primary 3 effects through the short film are the lightning, the grass (and other plants) and the water.

Lightning

The Lightning went through several iterations before settling on the final version, however most of them ended up looking  clunky or throwing off the lighting in the scene.

Ironically, the simplest execution ended up working the best, with the standard Maya lightning effect working very well.

The lightning had to be animated across the scene, to follow the wolf’s position and timed to create the right aesthetic.

With the exposure settings, timing and a basic locator rig that let me drive keys along so that the lightning stretched and ‘vibrated’ more the larger distance it moved.

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/maya/learn-explore/caas/CloudHelp/cloudhelp/2016/ENU/Maya/files/GUID-A1910FA4-6EF9-4D47-91D9-EB0681446946-htm.html

This tutorial was helpful for understanding all the features and parts of the lightning tool that I could utilize, and how to sculpt the effect I wanted.

This was how the lightning looked when comped into the scene – I would have ideally liked to be able to spend a little bit more time thinning it out and making it more defined, possibly even adding hard outlines to it, but there were other parts that needed addressed with higher priority.


Grass

Like I’d mentioned previously, I had made efforts to construct the grass out of Xgen, however it wasnt until recently, that I realized that combining the paint effects tool with polyscatter would achieve the same result with greater ease and effect.

meadowscene_exmple

As can be seen here, the Xgen based scenes ran very intensive and didn’t produce an ideal result, especially as any animation they would have needed to be manually implemented.

However, with paint effects, I could create something quickly and simply that was animated by default and resembled the kind of painterly grass we wanted.

By creating multiple different ‘scales’ of the same grass type, I could scatter it over multiple surfaces without creating obvious gaps and maintaining the ‘structural’ functionality of the scenes.

Something that Xgen failed to do, as it often caused crashes due to the intensity it functioned at.

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Polyscatter allowed me to instance the grass I made along any environment surface, though it’s downside was that as the instances didn’t generate their own effects, but rather pulled from the parent, they wouldn’t interact with any other geometry in the scene.

This meant that for any shots where the rabbit needed to run through grass, the grass immediately around him had to be removed and manually painted in with collision effects.

As can be seen in this scene, Polyscatter could also be used to add things like thorns across the brambles or to quickly spread clusters of rocks across the ground, all I had to do was import geometry I created and adjust the settings to find a result I wanted.

This was the tutorial I used to learn about the settings and options available to me when creating the grass.

Like in the above video, many of the scenes had multiple sets of instances, that slowed them down immensely, so it was important to use some of them sparingly, and be carefully about the amount of detail we included in the environment.

Not just for the purposes of maintaining scene fidelity, but also to ensure the aesthetic we wanted remained intact.


Water

Water was one of the trickier parts to grasp, and we had many options available, each with their own pro’s and cons to deal with.

Initially, I attempted some bifrost pieces of water to see how they would look, however I found it was too finicky and produced results that were too photo-real for our purposes.

WaterNewTest

When at a lower setting, like above, Bifrost tended to generate an almost plastic appearance, regardless of lighting adjustments.

WaterNewTest2

This improved the more detail you began to add. however at this stage it was too much like an ocean to be rendered effectively in something like the stream.WaterNewTest3

This would be great for the ocean, but it took a while to achieve and was very finnicky about how it rendered out.

However, I found that the best result could be achieved using Maya’s built in 2D water texture.

Screenshot 2018-05-14 15.37.57

Adjusting velocity and ripple speed let me create a single preset that I could scale through a scene to have the water increase in intensity and height, that way it didn’t need manually adjusted between shots.

Rabbit_UW_Test_10

The water here had a much more painterly aesthetic that I really liked, and fit well with the rest of the Short, it was also incredibly easy to manage once it was set up – though like mentioned before, it’s pacing was sometimes hard to wrangle.

By placing the water texture on a transparent plane, with another layer on a very mild ramp shader behind it, I could manipulate the appearance of depth.

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In the example of the log ocean above – the water layer is highlighted and was set up with a high level of catclark subdivison to generate a nice deformation, whilst the layer below had a displacement map and a ramp shader to give the appearance of terrain under the water, and to back cast a nicer effect onto the water surface.

This was ramped down for scenes where the water needed to be calmer, like the stream or scene 11.

 

Research : Video References

Over the past few months I’ve followed alot of tutorials, below is a rather extensive list of the ones I followed.

I used this tutorial primarily to get a stronger understanding of how to skin the joints of the character, and to try and find a solution to the ‘floating eyes’ problem I encountered.

Floating Eyes: The Eye, Teeth and Tongue Geometry of the Snake frequently detached itself from the rig and moved through space parallel to the rig.

When Modelling the Rabbit and Snake, and early attempts at the wolf – I would create their general shape in Maya then port over to Zbrush for fine detailing – I hadn’t touched Zbrush for some time and so I used this tutorial and  the one below to refresh my memory on how to use it.

This Tutorial and the two below are fairly obvious, Mainly trying to find different ways of modelling the eyes to make them look realistic – Anna was fairly strong in her view that the eyes needed to be realistic to make the characters feel alive, and so I wanted a range of options.

This particular tutorial was quite handing for working out how to get eye-reflection, however it didn’t work as well in Arnold as it did in the early test renders on maya software.

The mouth cavity tutorials were mostly to just get an eye for the topology and working out how the blend-shapes would deform.

This particular tutorial was mostly to try and get an idea for how I wanted the mouth to deform with teeth and still appear threatening, though I ended up going for the more realistic approach with the teeth and have them contained within the mouth instead of protruding out.

I love the look of this rig and some of the more interesting components of it, though it was more complex than what we needed for the short.

This tutorial was particular useful for grasping how the leg set up should work, with the full body crouching and hierarchy structure of the controls.

This and the tutorial below, primarily served to get a sense of how the legs of the wolf and chimera should bend – initially the chimera was a completely different creature from the wolf, exhibiting similarities and features, but eventually it became easier to simply adapt the wolf itself for narrative reasons.

Though we had no human characters, these were mostly to help get a sense of IK set-ups and refresh my memory of some of the tools available to me while rigging.

Similarly, this tutorial was to help me quickly grasp joint hierarchy and remind myself of the different settings and options available when setting up skin weights.

Whilst this tutorial was helpful, the features it showed from DM were never used, as I couldn’t actually source a free functional version of it for 2018, though the 2017 version was interesting to play around with, if a bit clumsy looking.

Initially, the facial animation was going to be done with controls, however blendshapes were a stronger and more flexible choice for what we wanted.

This whole section was part of me trying to work out why I couldn’t get my IK’s working the way I wanted them too. It eventually took a tutorial Alec sent me from Lynda.com for me to figure out the solution.

This tutorial was less about the IK and more about the arrangement for getting the wolf leg motion exactly how we wanted.

Quadrupeds are tough and make an interesting challenge.

This first foray into Paint Effects seemed to convoluted for me to want to use, however I would later come back to it when looking at how to craft the grass for our scenes.

I loved working with XGEN and MASH grass, however it proved too scene intensive, eventually preventing my laptop from opening any scenes at all – as such, the environments had to be rebuilt and a less strenuous method found.

This was used to help guide me on how I was going to create the busier stream section, and while this tutorial builds a much more complex environment – we wanted to keep ours simpler to help maintain focus on the characters.

These tutorials were just research into different options for creating grass I had, and hopefully in creating fur on the characters – though that would eventually get scrapped for myriad reasons.

Like I mentioned earlier, I initially looked at attaching fur to the Rabbits and Wolf, however similar to with the grass overloading my environments – this made animating and fixing rigging issues very difficult, and it became more hassle than it was worth to actually graft the fur to the characters.

Most of these videos highlight the things I either got stuck on or needed to refresh myself on how to go about enacting. They were mostly helpful, with a few duds here and there depending on many different factors at the time.

Referencing & Rendering : Testing

Having modeled and rigged most of what we needed at this point, I moved on to begin doing grass, fur and render tests and adding in the completed models to the camera scenes Anna had set up.

Grass would be created using Xgen, and this early stage was mostly learning how to use the program. I’ll go further into depth on the specifics of what I discovered in a later dedicated post.

Screenshot 2018-01-21 18.54.52Screenshot 2018-01-21 18.55.09

Setting the references up was easy enough, but playing around with the grass took a while to get the right settings, and even then, my laptop physically can’t actually render the entire scene.

However, the grass does look something like this. (I hope, I have no actual way of seeing if this translates well onto a larger scale.)

Rabbit_GrassTest_Xgen_002.png

A couple other grass and fur tests involved playing around with density and noise and the colour of the grass. The dark grass worked well  for a deep saturated grass that would appear when it was raining, but not really for a bright sunny morning.

Rabbit_Dead_Grass

The slightly yellowing dead grass would work well for transitioning into the nightmarish scape of the later scenes.