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Work in Progress 3 – Link Constraints

March 10, 2013

I have carried out an in depth analysis of the reference footage, I would estimate I have watched it at least a thousand times. The work of other amateurs I found in my research is interesting and helpful to see, but nothing compares to watching the video produced by the film studio.

I have picked up a lot of tricks used to make the job of animating it as simple as possible. For starters, the entire shot is framed from the side, essentially a 2D shot; only the side of the car can be seen, which means essentially animating a silhouette. The camera zooms in so that for the first second (the part where the most action happens), only the front end of the car is in shot. The artists heavily use people running infront of the camera to mask the unrealistic movement of car panels. However, despite noticing these tricks, I have opted not to use them, simply because I believe I have the time and skill required to do it without. This will give me a better final project and improve the quality of my showreel.

I have also made some deductions myself: Not all parts of the car need to be used. Parts can be scaled and skewed as needed. Some parts of the final transformer, which appear to come from the car (same paint job as car bodywork), are custom created.

Below are a miscellaneous collection of work in progress screenshots, following that is a write up of my progress, including rendered videos.

WIP01
WIP02 WIP03 WIP04 WIP06 WIP07 WIP08 WIP09

This has been a long and tedious stage of the project. After the artistic decisions of how to break up each panel of the car, and where each part should go on the transformer, actually going through with it and making my vision a reality is dull and repetitive. The placement of object pivots is an important stage, which could make or break the animation of the part; a well placed pivot means fewer keyframes and a smoother effect.

The placement of the car parts onto the transformer was done with link constraints and auto keying, so this process alone yields some rudimentary animation. Because of this, the placement of the link key frame is extremely important as it can save or create the need for extra animation work.

Each part is motionless until the animation slider reaches the link key, at which point it is attached to the bone, and as it keeps its initial displacement, needs to be auto keyed into position, that key frame is then copied and pasted to just after the link key. This means that the part will seem to be part of the structure and move with the bones from this frame onwards.

For each panel, I spent a good amount of time thinking about the earliest it can become attached to the skeleton. Any mistakes, of course, can be corrected, but the movement of the link key frame would dislodge the panel from its carefully aligned position and that work would have to be done again.

When it comes to the actual animation, for the most part I have just placed key frames and let the algorithms behind the scenes do the rest. My requirements of the curve editor have been relatively limited. However, when the movement of a particular part hasn’t been as smooth as I would have liked, I have used it without hesitation.

I have compiled all my renders so far into videos to save space and make for a more fluid viewing experience. My modeling and lighting progression can be seen below (change quality settings to 720p):

You will notice that the quality of the lighting setup improves drastically in the last few frames of the above video. This is because it would have taken me too long to render in 720p every time I made a small change. I used a very low resolution render quality for this stage of development, which can be seen in the following video:

In this lighting stage, the challenge was to make sure the sequence looked good, both as a car and as a transformer. As the latter is about 4-5 times taller, this required the construction of a large scale set and the lights placed quite far away. It was quite a fiddly process but I am pleased with the results.

Here is a medium quality render of the project once all the car parts have been linked with varying degrees of animation; some parts are animated well, others not at all with intersecting geometry etc. (change quality settings to 720p):

For all aspects of the pipeline of this project, I have experimented with a number of ways to achieve each thing before developing it fully. This makes it easier for me to avoid making bad decisions based on an attachment to something I have invested a lot of time in. I feel this is a very important discipline when working solo on such a large project.

Doing my testing early also allows me plenty of musing time to come up with new ideas, it gives me an idea of the time I will need to devote to each stage of the project; it means I will not be left to rush any of the later stages of development due to deadlines.

I made the decision to change select and link to link constraints. To date this is the most important decision I have made, and at this stage I feel that, without it, the project would have failed before it began.

I made the decision to change the lighting from an HDRI map to a studio lighting set up. A perfectly clean car felt out of place in an outside setting.

I made the decision to use a more exposed camera angle. All of the car is in shot at all times, and I cant hide panels moving behind people running infront of the camera.

This project is my artistic vision and I make all of the calls. All of these decisions were mine. However, I was led to some of them based on my review of feedback from my peers. As they fall comfortably within the target audience demographic, their opinions are valuable.

The extensive testing I have done before committing to any particular technique has been absolutely crucial to the success of this project so far. I had never really before understood how to critically self-evaluate my work. In this project, I am always taking a step back to look at my work and ask: ‘Is this the best way to do this?’ A lot of the time, I don’t know the answer to that question, so I try a different method to find out.

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