Excellent stuff Ray, and for a first animation makes it all the better, 7min, must have taken a while from concept to final, care to tell us what was involved.
Making Of Info
Here is a little run down of the process of the film production.
The length of production 2.5 years part-time (full-time evenings/weekend up to 8-10hr per day, outside of full-time day job) Film length: 7:07 minutes.
Software used: Autodesk Maya, Mudbox, Realflow, Photoshop, Renderman Studio, Final Cut Pro.
Hardware: Single MacBook Pro 2.5 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB Ram, 512 Mb V-ram, Backup 1 TB Toshiba Drives
Story: The story and concept first came about in July 2010, written down a script that remained unchanged for the most part throughout the line or production of the film.
Pre-Viz: Old school pencil and paper, sketched some diagrams of the outside settings, and took many photos of the actual tree, yard and areas depicted in the film on Long Island, NY. Sketched ideas for the film and layout. Used Autodesk Maya for quick visualization of objects in scenes and development took place in modeling the town and city. (pictures)
Also used live references of animal action/flight and antics.
Modeling: Tree character, went through 15 modifications to finally be satisfied with the concept of this unique character. Initial ideas were to have leg-branches and move around the scene, but decided on the back story of its origin of being a balled Christmas tree, coming from somewhere, to just so happen be later planted in the backyard. The concept was to first initially make a cartoony-live looking tree, as the idea came from an actual fir tree that looked like it had ears growing in the middle of a neighbor’s open field.
The dog model took on less modifications of about 5, whereas the concept of bulging eyes was seen to be a norm throughout the film. The dog itself was actually 3 different models, rigged or animated in special ways according to the demands of the story.
The house was modeled between a mix of my family’s and grandparents house, taking different elements that would suit the scene.
The city construction, I wanted to be simple yet complete with bustling life, to show contrast of the rural living and distance traveled in the film. Again I wanted it to be modern, yet not too cartoonish to fit the character and the scene.
Texturing: This was mainly handled by custom shaders built within maya to assimilate shaders such as chrome and metal found in mental-ray, but that were specifically to be handled later by RMS. Some texturing was procedural in nature or custom painted within photoshop/keynote for layout/previz purposes.
Rigging: This was a major challenge at first during production of the film as I needed to rig the main character (dog) for facial expression, and exaggeration. Three different rigs were used, consisting of Mudbox, or soft-selecting in Maya blend-shapes, a full body rig, and separate controls for manual facial animation (pictures). The tree consisted also of a double or broken-rig. The body was similar to a human, as most of the motion was stationary, but there was an individual facial rig again customized for the main action of the eyes of this character. The human characters consisted of an easier setup, with traditional controls and blend-shapes. Rigging and skinning of the dog was one of the most difficult and time consuming tasks to get the right controls or ply-ability needed from the rig. Rigging took nearly 8 months in addition to troubleshooting when animating.
Animation: This was the fun part of doing the film, bringing the characters to life. Although it has its perks, it also carried its heartaches with rig modifications and hardware limitations. Animating the characters took research in regards to the range of motion of the dog and lots of patience with breaking or wayward rigs. Parts of the scenes relied heavily on blend-shape expressions, where the rigs hampered the animation process.
Camera Setup (Animtaion)/Lighting: From working many years in video and with editing, this was the part of sitting in the director’s seat once again. Some shots consisted of only ambient and point lighting as in the case of outside shots. On the other hand, some of the inside shots consisted of spot and directional lights in addition to point lighting and light linking/animating, upwards towards 12 lights in a shot, for example to get the tile and window lighting correct in the kitchen scene.
Dynamics: Maya Particles were used in creation of the tornado twister scene and rendered with a combination of maya software renderer and Renderman.
Next Limit’s Realflow was also used in some of the shots, specifically the first scene with the biker’s spit drip, the water bubbles in the fish tank and water dispenser of the galleria scene and the sweat and water seen on the dog character in the galleria scene.
Rendering: For rendering I chose to go with Pixar’s Renderman Studio (ver. 3-4.0) for a majority of the 38 shots. Although the dynamics of the tornado were set to run through renderman, maya software and mentalray were also used on some minor shots. The rendering took on average about 6 months of time to render out the frames at full HD 1920x1080 frames. Rendering was done on a single Mac workstation with render loads of 1min up till 6hours per frame (dynamics). The hair seen on the biker and people in the Galleria were also handled by RMS. The rain seen in the final shots was done polygonal.
Post Production: Most of the film was edited with Final Cut Pro and Apple Motion, as well as Sound Design was done using FCP and Logic, or quicktime pro. Voice-overs were recorded live in studio and lip-synced for the characters/sound effects.