Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some thoughts on workflow...

I'm one of those artists who is rarely satisfied with the tools at my disposal. Even with the advent of ZBrush, Mudbox, Modo, etc., I still find myself wondering why the software designers created the workflow the way they did. Yes, anyone can get very comfortable in any package, but it usually takes years of practive and customization before that happens. It is rare that a piece of software is so straightforward right out of the box.

One of my biggest pet peves (sp?) is a software package that has features that seem to never end, and yet those features are so hard to get to and use, that it almost negates the fact that they are there in the first place. Years ago, I was hired at Avalanche Software in Salt Lake City (I still work for them, but we are now Disney Interactive Salt Lake). We were using a piece of software at the time called Hash's Animation:Master. I had never seen it before. I had been studying at BYU in the animation department, barely making it through creating characters out of NURBS primitives, and hated every second of it (Nurbs, that is). Now I understand that they have been made easier to work with in some packages, but still, back then, it was a total pain. You could not do what you wanted without it being a total paiin. When I began in Animation:Master, I found something different: that the feature set wasn't huge, and the paradigm was different (using b-splines vs. polys or Nurbs), but I found that authoring what I wanted to was an absolute breeze. Things like bones didn't have joint orients. Assigning a mesh to a skeleton was a manual, but an easy and simple process. Rigging was a joy compared to what I was used to. It had almost every tool that I needed to use, and it was EASY to understand and implement all of them. Different, but when easy is the different part, I willing o go for that. I loved it.

They had a dirty little secret: make tools easy to use and understand, and the artists is empowered. Such was the way that you could correct a mesh's deformation when it was animated. Who would have thought - just pose the character, sculpt the mesh, and have the character remember what it looked like at that point! Truly amazing. So simple, yet almost all software packages today that are so much more "robust" fail to realize that. They take pride in how "deep" their feature set is. What I see is painful authoring. Even though I CAN do it, I have to do it an inefficient and difficult way. the result is the same, but I have lost valuable time I could be spending on other things. I have much more important things to to than make corrective blend shapes, influence objects, etc. I want to animate. This is where Hash came in. If more packages would implement things like these two videos I made, artists would go nuts. The power that comes with correct authoring methods cannot be overstated.

The first video shows "Smart Skinning". Move an object, fix anything that needs to be fixed, and it remembers. The second shows how I create a facial animation slider, blending skeletal animation and a corrective shape in one step, and one simple to use interface. Now remember, the tools are pretty rudimentary, but the implementation is genius. No wonder I continue to compare Maya and Softimage to A:M. It was one of the most genius packages ever.

Ahhhh. Those were the days.


Tyson Murphy said...

A:M was the very first 3d program i ever used. When i started learning maya and found out they didn't have smart skinning, I was heartbroken.

and still am.

Barry Zundel said...

I totally agree. I miss it dearly, and wish other software would get it.

Brian "My Fault" Nicolucci said...
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Robert said...
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Barry Zundel said...


I appreciate your commentary. The point of this pose was not to discuss Hash, Inc., but to discuss how good tools create great workflow. I've been using Softimage, Maya, Modo, and Silo extensively lately, and many times I wish they had the ability to do what A:M does AS EASILY as A:M. As for the past tense comment, I was saying that only because I no longer use A:M.