A homage to Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 ‘Nighthwawks” painting.
For my next project I wanted to include elements that would portray several new skills that I had obtained.
I had recently completed training in the use of Maya Dynamics, so I really wanted to construct a scene that included environmental dynamics of some description. Another area I wished to experiment with was with using lighting to achieve maximum ambience in the scene. Throughout this project I also had to unexpectedly delve into several other new skill sets, namely learning how to render out from Maya in multiple layers, and how to reassemble these layers via compositing in another program.
Stage 1 : Gathering Visual Influences
In keeping with the influences of my last project, I wished to carry on with imagery asociated with retro-futurist Americana. In my last project I had constructed a delapidated gas station in a post apocalyptic American desert. The next setting that really called out to me was the American diner circa 1940.
I began gathering visual influences and reference imagery. One film really stuck with me, and that was the 1998’s “Dark City” (New Line Cinema – Dir. Alex Proyas).
This film totally fed my retrofuturist noir obsession. It’s dark urban setting, classic noir use of lighting, fantastic character design and use of allusion and mystery within the story all fuelled my interest in creating a setting of similar atmosphere.
I had been interested in the paintings of Edward Hopper since my days at highschool, and there was one work that had always fascinated me, and that was his 1942 painting “Nighthawks”
(Above) “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper – 1942 – Oil on Canvas
The idea came to me that I could re-imagine the original painting as a 3D environment, including atmospherics such as dynamic rain, fog, and ambient lighting.
Stage 2: Constructing the Scene
I began by modelling the basic geometry of the scene in Maya. This was really enjoyable as I was able to exercise my love for environmental modelling, as well as work on honing my general modelling skills.
(Above) This render was from when modeling was well underway. I had already started throwing some textures onto the surfaces inside the diner, as well as experimenting with using different styles of lighting.
Texture maps were once again “Painted” in Zbrush using Polypainting, and then re-imported back into Maya.
(Above) Here I’d temporarily done away with the ambient lighting, and took a couple of renders using Maya’s “Physical Sun and Sky” lighting setup, for sake of checking all my texture maps were in order.
(Above) With all the textures in place, I was able to flick the ambient lights back on, for full effect. The camera was also alligned at this point to better resemble the point of view portrayed in Edward Hopoper’s original painting.
(Above) The final touches were added to my scene: A checkered floor on the diner’s interior, and a neon sign was added to the extrior that payed homage to my original source imagery : This was “Ed’s Diner”.
Stage 2 : Adding the Dynamics
This was an exciting part of the project, as it was where my appropriation deviated from Hopper’s original work, thus adding my own touch to it. Not surprisingly, as this was a newly aquired set of skills being put into practice for the first time, it was a rather long and experimental process, yet still highly rewarding.
Within Maya, I created Particle emmiters and attached a gravity field to attract the particles toward the ground. I set the particles attributes so that they would appear as raindrops (Tweaking per particle attributes such as oppacity and colour). Next I had to set up the rain drops so they would collide with the geometry in the scene, and following this, use Maya’s collision events editor to control how the raindrops would seperate when they ‘splashed’.
Stage 3 : Rendering
I quickly learnt that I could not use the same Renderer in Maya for both the geometry of my scene, as well as the particle rain effects. Here I had to take an unexpected break from constructing my “Nighthawks” scene and learn how to use different render layers/render passes within Maya. At the time this was met with grumbles as I was deviating from my original creative path, though now I can see the importance of having grasped this rendering know-how.
I realized that I would have to render out in two layers from Maya. One for the Geometry of my scence, using Maya’s ‘Mental Ray’ renderer, and the other for the rain effects using Maya’s Hardware Renderer. These would then have to be reassembled outside of Maya in a compositing package.
Stage 4 : Compositing in After Effects
With my two render layers brought out of Maya, I had to then learn how to re-assemble them. Here I had to take myself on a crash course in ‘compositing’, another new concept that entailled another whole new set of skills.
First I had to learn how to deal with Alpha Channels and trasparencies.
With the image sequence for each render layer imported into After Effects, I was then able to place each render on a different layer and by manipulating the images’s Alpha Channel, control how the two layers interacted / overlapped.
Stage 5 : Rendering out of after Effects / Final Touches in Premiere
With my flashy new composite succesfully completed in After Effects, I decided to take everything across to Premiere to add titles, and finally export out in a nice ready-for-web video format.
With my creative process described in my last post (“2010: My Year in the Desert”), I thought I should only follow up with a link to the finished product. Enjoy!
Last year saw myself working through the Diploma in 3D Animation programme, at the Aoraki Polytechnic here in Dunedin.
The course consisted of a whirlwind one year tour of several 3D software packages, mainly centering around Autodesk Maya 2010 and Zbrush.
For my end of year project I was able to establish a solid workflow that crossed back and forward between the two applications. Here I’ll post up some of my work in progress renders, a Previs playblast and of course the final rendering of said project : A trailer for my own original videogame “Desert Punk”
Stage 1: Zbrush Character Modelling
My project began with the modelling of a character in Zbrush. The character’s appearance came into being mainly through a set of experiments using ZSpheres. Before I knew it I had scuplted a humainoid.
Needless to say that at the time I was fascinated with all things Steampunk. It was from this interest that I took inspiration for the character’s helmet and goggles. The rocketpack only seemed like a natural addition once I had stepped back and analyzed the direction in which the character was developing.
What is shown above is the Zbrush sculpt of my character, set at it’s highest detail level. Texturemaps were painted in Zbrush using Polypainting.
Stage 2: Maya – Modelling the Environment
As soon as I began brainstorming different locales for inclusion in my project one particular setting stood out: The desert. Long since had I been fascinated with the quiet ambience of the American desert, so this felt like an excellent opportunity to construct an environment that matched.
As if the desert setting wasn’t devoid of human life enough, I decided to set my game in a post apocalytic world, where everything appeared delapidated, weathered and long forgotten.
I began with modelling the basic geometry and learning about how to set up a Physical Sun and Sky for Rendering with Mental Ray in Maya.
Stage 3: Texturing the Environment
The next step was to add texture maps to my desert gas station setting. After contemplating different texturing methods, I decided to ‘Polypaint’ my textures in Zbrush. This involved exporting all the objects from my Maya scene and bringing them into Zbrush. Here I could paint each object, almost as if I was painting a model in real life. I found this process really rewarding as I was able to draw on my experiences painting at artschool, in the way in which I layered and composed the colour on the object’s surfaces.
After texturing all of the objects in my scene, I reimported everything into Maya and plugged the texture maps into their respective texture nodes. This was an unexpectidly long process, but as soon as it started to come together things really started getting exciting.
Stage 4: Rigging my Model
The next stage was to rig my retoplogized character in Maya. Rigging consists of building a ‘skeleton’ that lies under the skin of your character. The skin is then connected to the skeleton using a process known as ‘Binding’.
This was a completely new experience, where I had to learn a whole new set of skills. I immediately realized things that I would do differently the next time I came to do any character modelling.
Stage 4: Animating my Model
With the character’s rig in place, I was able to beging animating. This was carried out using a mix of key frame animation and ‘trax’ animating in Maya. Again, this was completely new territory for me, so I began with a basic walk cycle.
Stage 5: Setting up Shot and Animating Cameras
I decided rather early on that for creative reasons that I’d only have my character feature in about half of the shot of my trailer. This would be in keeping with the ‘teaser’ element of the format I was working in, maintaining an air of mystery around what my game was going to be about, hopefully heightening interest.
Stage 6: Playblasting a Pre-vis Version of my Trailer
I learnt that it’s common practice to produce a lower quality, ‘draft’ copy of a particular project, for sake of providing a quick indication of pacing, composition of shots, and other information as early as possible in the production pipeline. ‘Pre-Visualisation’, or ‘PreVis’ is what this is usually referred to as. I simply ‘Playblasted’ each of intended shots from Maya, and composed a rough edit in Adobe Premiere. This would be my “PreVis”, and with this as a reference, I could set about producing the soundtrack, while my computer was taking on the arduous, system resource eating process of rendering each shot.
Stage 7: Producing the Soundtrack
This was a particularly fun part of the process. As my desktop took on the task of rendering out each shot, I jumped across to my trusty macbook and garageband and set about recording a suitable soundtrack.
I’d been listening to allot of Calexico throughout the creative process of constructing my desert scene. Calexico’s Tex-Mex inspired take on country was perfect ambience for drifiting off into my scene. I knew the exact musical aesthetic to aim for with my desert gas station scene. I sat down and brainstormed different instruments to include:
-Guitar (Both accoustic and Electric)
-Percussion (Symbals, Shaker, Tamborine)
With my Previs trailer as reference, I launched into recording a multi-track jam that matched the pacing and ambience of my trailer.
I raided a bank of sound effects that was made available through our learning institution, finding suitable sound effects, and a perfect ambient recording of wind that would subtily play throughout my trailer, adding the polishing touch to the soundtrack.
Stage 8: Producing my Final Edit and Rendering to Disc
With my soundtrack finished, I was able to drop it into Premiere Pro, alongside my original PreVis edit. After rendering out each shot from Maya, I simply subbed each render in for it’s low quality PreVis counterpart and before I knew it I had an edit that only consisted of beautifully rendered shots. No PreVis was left at all!
Finally, I constructed some titles in Premiere to reflect the name of the game and some production credits.
Phew! That’s it! Please do check it out and feel free to leave comments.