July 2019 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Andrew Pam – render server offer
  • Keneisha Perry moving to just model + rigging
  • Finishing PC-1 sequence to be render-ready
  • Shadow lamps and rendering benchmarks
  • Alice In Wonderland Act 1 editing for DVD
  • Cleaned office
  • Upgraded RAM on Sintel
  • Released the Episode 1 Preview Trailer
  • Started render of PC-1 sequence on Celestia (donated server from Andrew Pam)

 

Jul 3, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Maybe “Render-Ready”?

I’ve finally finished my laundry list of nitpicks for the Press Conference scene set and props, and I’ve made a fairly major change to the lighting, which now includes a shadow-casting lamp. I was bothered by the lack of shadows in my renders, and so I did some experimentation.

After all of these changes, I’ve come up with the resulting look you see here, and I’m starting to think this might be ready to render.

Originally, I had used only “Hemi” lighting, which I have learned doesn’t cast any shadows at all, and I’d really been using them wrong, because the Hemi light, like the Sun lamp is not sensitive to position at all, but only direction. And thus it’s pointless to have multiple Hemi lights in parallel (I had been thinking of them as more like the “Area” light, and that’s simply not correct — also replacing them with Area lights would make the scene incredibly slow to render).

So in the end, I reduced to just one Hemi to provide general lighting, and then added a couple of ordinary “Point” lights set up to only generate shadows.

Also, as I described before, the “Shadow” and “Reflect” passes are now being added in compositing, giving me more control over how they look when composited.

Except now we have a meaningful “Shadow” layer:

 

I’m going to stare at this some more, but this looks a lot better to me than my previous renders. I think I’m probably going to use something very close to this for final rendering.

Jul 6, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Can You See What’s Not There?

This is actually a very basic issue with characters: a character is typically modeled nude, and then layers of clothes are added on top. These layers are very close together, so it’s tricky, particularly when keeping the vertex count low, to keep lower layers from accidentally poking through the upper layers. And even when you get it right in the character file, everything changes when the character moves — and so more layer interference shows up.

Here’s what that looks like (I’ve circled a few of the problem spots in red):

 

Fortunately, there is a standard way to fix this: you hide the lower clothing layers (and skin) with a mask modifier. That way, even if they theoretically do poke through, you don’t see them because they’ve been masked.

This is not an advanced issue (probably anyone who animates characters in Blender knows about this gotcha), but it’s one of the many remaining nitpicks I’m working through at this point.

And for these characters, it’s finally done. Yay!

Jul 7, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Sustainable Animation Inspirations

One of my all-time favorite anime series was the 1988 “Patlabor” TV series (the link is a fan site with and episode guide).

I’ve been rewatching the series this Summer during my down time, and one of things that strikes me is that it’s a great example of doing a lot with very low-budget cel animation (back then, of course, cels still had to be inked and painted by hand).

Some of the action shots in this series are literally nothing but a single cel being tilted or scrolled, with a lot of sound effects over it. But you know, it works pretty well!

It’s a reminder that animation doesn’t always have to be done the hard way to be effective.

In episode 1 of “Lunatics!” we’ve probably gone a little too far with a lot of the animation. We’ve used a LOT of moving-camera shots, which are a major no-no for cheap cel-animation (instead, usually a static shot or a side-scrolling pan shot is used instead, because those don’t involve redrawing — or in our case re-rendering — the image).

I don’t regret anything we’ve done so far, but I am considering that it may do a lot towards making our project both faster and cheaper to work in a little more consideration for keeping the animation simpler in later episodes. We’ll still do moving shots where it matters, but I’m seriously thinking of doing more in the compositing stage and less rendering in episodes 2-4.

One of our goals has been to keep the animation budget low enough to make producing our show sustainable. After spending over seven years on the first 16 minutes, I’m really thinking hard about how to get back to that goal.

Ideally, we’d be getting episode two out in about 3-4 months after episode 1 is done, but not if we do the second episode the same way we did the first one!

Of course, the animation in episode 2 is very different, because almost the entire episode is going to be in free-fall, which is going to be somewhat easier to animate.

Jul 21, 2019 at 3:38 AM

Moon Day 2019 – 50 Years!

Today was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. So naturally we had a little celebration at home and watched some moon-related movies.

I can recommend this second-by-second video of the Apollo 11 powered-descent phase:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc1SzgGhMKc

Some of my favorites include:

“For All Mankind” (1989)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097372/

“Apollo 13” (1995)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112384/

“From the Earth to the Moon” (HBO Miniseries, 1998)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120570/

“Moon Machines” (2008)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1203167/

We are starting work on rendering now. Our long-time supporter Andrew Pam has very generously offered us free use of a very high-end server to render on.

 

I understand he’s setting this up in his laundry room. 🙂

This is expected to be just one machine, rather than a farm, but it’s a fast machine with a lot of memory — if I have this correct, it’s a “Dual Xeon 8-core CPU with 144 GB of RAM”. Freestyle is a serious memory hog. So, my previous profiling experiments indicated that the RAM, more than the CPU would be the limiting factor on rendering.

So we are making arrangements to render a significant part of episode one on that machine (basically, the very Freestyle-intensive parts). We’ll do additional rendering on machines here at the studio. Possibly we will even have our render cluster up for some of this, or else we’ll have it available for episode two.

I have also been attempting to render enough final video to create an all new preview trailer for episode one, with a little bit different style than the one we’ve been running for so long as our pitch video. I was kind of hoping to debut it today, but time ran out, so I’ll have to see if I can’t get it posted by next Saturday instead.

But of course, the big goal right now is to get all of episode one rendered and assembled. There’s still some more set-dressing, effects, and animation work to do on parts of the episode, while other parts are just waiting on rendering.

It’s very exciting to finally be getting to this point!

Jul 24, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Something’s Not Right Here!

Just when I think I know what I’m doing, something like this happens!

This is going to take some troubleshooting. Probably something happened when I was fixing the headsets to move with the characters’ heads (adjusting weight painting). But how it managed to cause this problem is still a mystery. The other characters I edited are okay.

In a situation like this, I’ll typically try to find the problem in the current file and correct it.

But if I get stumped for a really long time, then I’ll probably:

  • make a backup of this current character file;
  • roll back the character model to the state before my recent check-in;
  • verify that version works correctly in this shot;
  • re-do the changes I made to fix the headsets; and then
  • verify it’s still working.

Hopefully that’s enough to fix it!

Jul 27, 2019 at 9:20 PM

Preview for Epsiode 1 – Prolog – “No Children in Space”

We are going into the rendering phase now, so we now have enough fully-rendered footage to make a proper preview trailer rather than a “teaser”. This trailer features Hiromi and some dialog. It probably gives a much better preview of what the animation quality in the episode will be (we’re still tweaking everything, of course, but this is basically what we’re going to deliver).

The music in this trailer is from “Nablyudatel” / “Observer” by Tri Stikhi from Jamendo album #70245  (and released under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license — at least at the time we downloaded it).

This will be on the episode landing page along with full credits, soon (I still have to create that page!).