Tuesday, December 03, 2013


No reference (that's a bad habit).  Just getting back to sketching on my Cintiq.  Didn't have paper and a good pencil today.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Glen Keane Dance Animation Tutorial

The master at work.  Glad I was able to meet him and have a one on one chat for a few minutes.  Wish it would have been days.  Still trying to learn everything I can from him.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Passion Reawakened

Just went and saw Disney's Frozen tonight with the family.  Even through wrestling an 8 month old and standing in the aisle, I was blown away.  Disney animation is truly hitting what I would like to call a "renaissance" of modern animation, and I am so excited about it.

When I was at Pixar, I had the chance to meet with many of the Disney team after Tangled had come out, and they put on quite an amazing demo of their work.  It was incredible to see their workflow, their passion, and their desire to not just make another CG film, but to really push the limits, questioning everything, and truly becoming the artistic powerhouse that they had been so many years ago.  It was inspiring.  It was enthralling.  It made me want to sculpt, to draw, to paint, to animate, and to (strangely enough) rig.

Watching the characters come to life is so inspiring.  I know how much effort it takes to pull that off, but I am also amazed at how they really have tried to make it about the character - the effects, the world, the objects, while amazing in their own right, still take the back seat to the characters.  That is what draws me to characters so much - the raw emotion and feeling that can come straight through them.

Makes me miss being in the game :)  Time to go draw, and get back to what truly got me into this business.  Thank you, Disney, for reminding me that I do have a passion that has been with me since I was barely old enough to hold a pencil.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Modo Corrective Morphs

So I thought I would do a quick tutorial showing how to create a corrective morph in Modo 701.  I couldn't really find any out there that described the simple steps that I wanted, so I thought I would create one on my own.  Corrective morphs are something that CG has made WAY TOO HARD AND CONFUSING.  For example, in one program, you have to duplicate your entire mesh and then sculpt that mesh in the static base pose to the shape it needs for your end result in the final pose...huh?  Man, that's an unintuitive and backwards workflow if I have ever seen one.  Totally bloated file in the end with hundreds of extra meshes.  Now, there are some plugins that do a decent job, but the UI doesn't help make it easier, just gives you a different way to get frustrated.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, but Hash's Animation:Master had it right.  Some may say it's a garage hacker's toy, and that it's just a hobbyist's tool/  Yet it KILLS the competition when it comes to workflow for this (I hope the Modo guys pick it up before anyone else does!).  So simple:

  • Right-Click on a joint
  • New>SmartSkin
  • Select the axis of rotation
  • Sculpt
That's it.  AND, you can create up to 360 sculpt keys for each corrective shape.  That means that I can sculpt at 45, 90, 135, 25, 18, 56, ANYTHING and the sculpt will animate.  This may sound like a bunch of nonsense that couldn't possibly be true for Maya, Max, or other software users,  but it's the truth.  Here's a demo I did a while back:

Anyways,  here's the Modo demonstration.  The tools are great, but the workflow has got to be adjusted.  There's just no way that you can do this for 3 axes per joint on all the joints of the body.  If the Luxology guys can get this down, I know of a lot of people who would switch in a heartbeat (hint hint).

If you have any questions, let me know!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Workflow, Workflow, Workflow. It's all about the workflow.

I've been spending a lot of time at work with a certain software vendor trying to help me do some rigging using their tools.  They have been a big help in getting me the result that I need, but not necessarily the way that I want.  During this time, we had a lot of discussion about rigging workflow and one thing that he said to me was very telling.  He said, "It seems like rigging is an antiquated method that started bad and has never been truly solved."  We talked about almost every package, and the pros and cons of each, and how there aren't any solutions out there (other than proprietary methods) that really make rigging a natural process.  We tried using almost every method of skinning.  None were giving us a good result to start from.  Some were better than others.  But each was going to need hours of corrective shaping just to get reasonably good deformation that didn't look like rubber hoses and candy wrappers.

When I was a Disney Interactive, we had written an in-house tool that used a heat-diffusion algorithm and did an amazing job getting us 80-90% there.  It didn't bleed from one finger to the other, or from the inside of one thigh to the other.  It understood topology, and although it wasn't perfect, it removed the need to do most of our weight painting, and it was a push button solution.

At Pixar, we didnt' have any automatic weighting tools, so we had to populate weights by hand (before I left, we were developing some projection methods that would transfer weighting from a lo-res to a high-res mesh and did an amazing job).  But weights were split into different axes, so you could weight XYZ, or each axis individually, and they blended very nicely.  Then you could do corrective sculpting that worked amazingly well, although a bit tedious (I'm sure a year now after I have left, they have those tools dialed in really tight!).  But the workflow was pretty straight forward, and quite artist-friendly.  The workflow wasn't perfect, but it was getting there.

Way to look like you're working, Lou ;) (Lou is a rigging, modeling, animating, and modeling GENIUS.)

Now to today.  Man, I wish I was back in Presto!  But alas, I am not, and have been resigned to off-the-shelf solutions. :(

What's so interesting to me in software is that everyone talks about feature sets.  They all talk about what they can do.  They talk about the depth of their tools.  They talk about how powerful their toolset is.  Yet they never mention one thing...HOW to do it.  I think this is for a very good reason...they know it's not a selling point.  Go into Maya and try to create a corrective blend shape for a joint.  Go ahead.  Try it.  Vanilla Maya.  Yes, you CAN do it.  But how much pain and anguish was it to create it?  Okay, get a plugin, and try it now:

It may have a nice new window.  But it still lacks simplicity, and is still hampered by the inherent limitations of the software.  I still have to duplicate a mesh, pose it, create an offset mesh, sculpt that mesh, and then hook it back up as a blend shape that is set with a driven key.  This is how most 3D software works.  It really is quite pitiful.  No fault of the developers of the plugin.  They have to work within the bounds that they were given, and most software boxes are pitifully limited, or give such tight constraints that coming up with a more elegant solution usually means scripting your way through the tough parts (not bypassing them altogether).

Disney seems to finally have come up with a good, artist-friendly solution that is fast and easy to use (I'll have to verify that with friends that work there).  But it is a volumetric solution that is fast and apparently automatic (I'm sure it's not quite THAT easy. But when they say that their goal is to make it super fast AND physically accurate, I'm sure ease of use is definitely a goal of theirs).

This is a perfect example of writing function into tools that otherwise would not allow for this approach. This is a proprietary addition to Maya, but it sure would be nice to have a system like this native.  Things like this need to be standardized in rigging workflows.

I'm a big Modo user.  I'm not a fan boy - I actually feel like it gives me better results faster, and is growing its tech base very quickly.  Their rigging tools are coming along nicely, and I hope that soon, there will be a rigging "round 2" for a future release of Modo.  I can see huge potential in their rigging system.  My good friend, Rich Hurrey (a Pixar rigging TD), has done an extensive rigging training series and is working on the next iteration.  Rich is a genius when it comes to rigging, and knowing that he's using Modo gives me confidence that I'm not the only one who thinks it has amazing potential.  Can't wait to see it!

In the end, I think I'll just continue looking and hoping that some software vendor "gets it", and realizes that feature sets are one thing, but the ability for an artist to create what they want with ease will sell more copies of their software than any other factor there is.  Make a powerful, feature-rich system with a slick and easy to use workflow, and you will own the industry.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Life's been a bit, let's say, BUSY!!

I'm not even going to start with excuses.  They all may be valid, but that's no excuse.  I've been getting into Modo lately, working on customization for production pipelines and specific workflows.  While it's not super complicated, I figured out some pretty neat things.  Never knew this stuff before.  Here are three tutorials (more for me to remember than anything else) showing how to use Config files, creating custom layouts, and then creating a custom toolbar so that Modo can be unified across many users, and tailored to fit the needs of any person who might be using it.

I'm sure there are those that do much more powerful customization than this, but I couldn't find any tutorials like this, so once I figured it out, I thought I would share.

Here's to more frequent posts!!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mezmerizing....in a browser.

Sometimes when I see a demo like this, I wonder why it is that 3D simulation in a browser is faster than a $2k 3D application.  I'll spare you my analysis of  most 3D software's shortcomings, but man, I could play with this app for hours!

WebGL Water (you need a decent video card)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

And Finally....

Well, only a few YEARS behind the rest of the pack, Autodesk finally got Maya up to speed with the rest of the world for modeling (and a bit for rigging), and also gave Mudbox a much-needed upgrade.  Some of my favorites:

  • Maya
    • NEX got integrated!!!  Finally, some real modeling tools that do the things that modelers need done every single day.  
    • Automatic joint placement - placing a joint is finally somewhat natural, where the computer actually does some of the thinking for you and places the joint in the middle of the volume where you are clicking, and in miror mode nonetheless.  Modo had this 2 versions (years) ago.  Just sayin' ;)
    • Smart Decimation - lowers the poly count while not creating an absolute mess that is pretty much unusable.
  • Mudbox
    • RETOPOLOGY!  It's basically been the main thing that modelers need now with the advent of Mudbox, ZBrush, and 3DCoat. Sculpting is great and all, but it's useless for animation unless you can make the mesh lightweight and usable. 
      • Directed retopology - draw lines on the surface and have the algorithm obey the guides (a la 3DCoat and QRemesher)
      • Fully Automatic retopology - let Mudbox figure it out.  It looks like it does a pretty darn good job.
I still believe that these additions are awesome, but I'm still worrisome that this big, bloated behemoth that is Maya is still not quite nimble enough to stay with some of the more streamlined programs.  Since I have to use it every day, let's hope that I'm wrong.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Just Because it's Hard Doesn't Mean It's Better

I've come to the conclusion that we as CG artists have trained ourselves to think that somehow, if the process isn't involved, difficult, and time intensive, it must not give good results.  Too often I have found that we run into problems and issues, and we come up with great ways to solve said problems, but in a way that doesn't really make our job that much easier.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that I believe CG software has a long way to go when it comes to user interface and user interaction.

One example:  Maya corrective shapes, or Pose Space Deformers.

This one has been on my list for a long time, and especially now since I've been at Pixar where we had a relatively elegant way to do this.  Are there any riggers out there who have not wanted to be able to pose a character, and sculpt it to correct the bad deformation?  I think that is a pretty standard desire.  Yet we still have to deal with creating multiple meshes, sculpting each one, somehow mirroring that shape, and then hooking it up via Set Driven Key.  There are so many tools out there to assist this, and in my opinion, none of them address the real problem - I want it to be intuitive and fast.  I don't want to deal with connections, keying, etc.  I just want to pose, sculpt, and let the computer remember what I did and apply that when  I hit that pose.  After all, we invented computers to do the thinking and heavy lifting for us.  I have found only one tool that pretty much does this in Maya, and it's not available, just a personal tool from a genius guy that could probably make a lot of money if he would sell it (I'd pay good money for it).  There are others that attempt to ease the workflow, but none have really done the job.  I'm still on the hunt.

This brings me to my point - it is rare for us as CG artists to look at a problem, figure out what the ROOT CAUSE is, and find a solution for that.  We tend to only look at the top layer problems and find nifty workarounds for those, writing plugins and scripts.  While there is really nothing wrong with that, what we should be doing is looking at the root of the problems and going after those.  Unfortunately, that is where the problems with software exist.  Many times software is not written to allow the artist to just work in a fluid manner.  Most software is meant to cover every topic, but only skin deep.  Instead of really perfecting a certain aspect of the CG pipeline, they get it "working", and then move on to the next "feature" that they can add to their feature list.  The problem that I have seen with this is that almost inevitably, the software becomes cobbled together, a mess of plugins that all try to do the same thing in different ways, and fail to work together.

Somehow, that needs to change.

We all got into this business of CG because we wanted to create.  We wanted to let our imaginations flow unimpeded by the technological walls that we thought software would tear down.  From my perspective, there are very few packages that even come close to letting you really get down to the business of making art.  Most of the time, you need a dedicated scripter/programmer just to allow you to do the simple things that should no longer be impediments.

Software manufacturers - we want speed and ease of use, not menu after menu after menu of useless tools that look great on a feature list but rarely ever make a difference to us.

CG Artists - we need to speak up and let the software developers know that we don't want to spend our creative time writing a new plugin just so that we can get our work done.  Tools should be simple and powerful.  Just because the process is hard, doesn't mean it's going to give you a better result.  Let's try to make CG fun again.