title diary

Documentation - Reflective Account - Timeplanning - Distribution - Things to improve - Awards

I did my documention for my Major Study project in the form of an online blog. While the dynamic database blog was good for quickly posting a new entry I decided to convert it to a static page for the final presentation site. Advantages of having it static are easier accessibility (runs from every medium, doesn't require a database backend) and searchability from Google and other search engines. Anchors provide for easy navigation.

All safe now
Backup failure (but positive test for rerendering setup)
Pimp my sunflowerfield
Title - yet again
Contemplating Titles
Backup and organizing the mess - day
Sketchbook documentation
Going digital

Modelling & Shading
Field of sunflowers

Transition Sc03 > Sc04
Running Havoc
Cracking ground
Growing the whole sunflower and a closer look at the rig
Starting animation - A growing sprout

Scene03 completed
Scene01 finished
Scene02 finished
Ambient Environment
The first renders

Webpage - XHTML and CSS done
The very first frame
Music and Soundeffects
Website design


Webpage - XHTML and CSS done

I completed the programming of the webpage for my animation. The design changed a bit in some details. I put the title/navigation back to the top of the page. There are several reasons for this. As the direction of reading a webpage is from top to bottom and I ment the webdesign to represent the story of the animation (changing from evil to good) I had to put the “evil” part of my design to the top. So it starts evil (with the dirty concrete backdrop) and then changes to something more friendly (the sunflower) as you progress down the page. Placing it at the top of the page also gives me better scrolling on the page. Especially the Diary section will be quite packed and needs submenus. So having the navigation at the bottom of the page would have blocked the scrolling and would also not look good as the submenu for the Diary page would have been on the top of the page, cluttering the page with menus everywhere. And finally it is also easier to programm the more standard page with a top navigation area.

The content area that has a lighter grey background than the menu area was also expanded all the way to the left border of the screen. This frees the content. It looked a bit squeezed-in on the design I had before (utilizing a content-collumn). It seperates the navigation a bit from the rest of the page having it on a darker background colour.

The page is currently under development while I fill it with content and can be found at this URL: http://www.catharsis-film.com

Both my XHTML and CSS code passed the W3C validators. I tested it on InternetExplorer, Firefox, Mozilla and Opera browsers. Stella tested it for me on a Mac and it works fine there too. So everyone should be able to view my animation and there shouldn’t be any technical issues.

All the movie-files I’ll put online will be encoded using the Quicktime H.264 codec which is widely used on the internet and available for PC, Mac and Linux systems. So the file itself is highly accessible as well.

There was one slight problem while doing the page on Firefox and Mozilla browsers. As the page layout is centered in the browser window the position of the whole page changed when the content did not fit on one page. This is because Firefox/Mozilla does not display the vertical scrollbar by default. So when the content exceeds one page the scrollbar pops in moving the whole page a bit to the left which looks quite disturbing. To fix that I had to force those browser to display the scrollbar all the time. Some research on Google gave me several ways to fix this:

  • html>body { height: 800px; } makes the page larger than the vertical screen resolution. This works but has a bit of a duck tape smell to it.
  • html>body { overflow:scroll; } this adds horizontal as well as vertical scrollbars. The horizontal one looks quite annoying on pages that do not scroll horizontaly
  • html>body { overflow-y:visible; } adds vertical scrollbars but I ended up with a double set of scrollbars. Two vertical ones which looks really strange
  • html>body { height: 100.1%; } this is a bit like the height:800px solution only that it is dependant on window size. It makes the page a tiny little bit bigger than the browser window and adds a vertical scrollbar this way.

I ended up using the height: 100.1% solution as that seemed to be the most elegant to me.

I’m also using two nested tables to help with the layout of my page. Generally tables are considered “evil” nowadays but as I didn’t really get my head around CSS positioning yet I used two tables to do the layout for my page. CSS positioning is quite challenging for me to learn and I needed a quicker solution to meet the deadline. But I’ll try and make an updated version of my personal portfolio page using CSS only. The tables on the Catharsis page use CSS however to do define the size, behaviour and look of them. So I did something inbetween a table-based layout and a pure CSS layout here.

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All safe now

Today I rendered out a version of my animation that could be called final and that I could hand in. So I’m all safe now. Animation finished in time.

I’ve got two weeks left to hand-in so I’m going to use one week for fixing minor problems and one week preparing for hand-in (as I already wrote in a previous post).

As the animation will change during this week as I go along and fix the compositing and maybe re-render some scenes with improved textures I’m not going to post todays version online. I’m running a bit low on webspace and bandwidth. I ordered an update from my webhosting company (hosting space plus more monthly bandwidth) which should arrive somewhen next week. So everything should be ready for when the animation along with its webpage is released in the first days of September.

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The very first frame

Today Martin confirmed that I need to have a slide in the beginning of my animation displaying the logo of the University and the text “University of Hertfordshire”. Now this isn’t really exciting, but here it is - the very first thing you’ll see when you play my animation.

I tried to keep the slide basic but yet have a design for it that fits the rest of the animation. I also didn’t want it to be too dark and menacing as the University might not like cracking up their logo and make it appear hostile. Yet I also can’t use the happy/sunflower theme as that would give away the ending of my animation.

So here’s a mixture of dark but not too evil yet fitting in with Scene01. It will change to scene01 in a quick fade. There won’t be any sound to the title slide as sound is finished (as posted before). Additionally I don’t think it needs sound. Not having sound will also seperate the UH slide a bit from the animation (that has sound). I guess that’s quite a good idea as the slide doesn’t really belong to the animation. And to tell you the truth most likely only the version I hand in will have the title slide. My personal online and DVD version will start with Scene01 right away and I’ll put the UH logo and text in the end credits. This will make the animation appear more as a whole. Not disturbed by title slides that have nothing to do with the story. Putting credits where they belong - in the end credits.

UH title

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Backup failure
(but positive test for rerendering setup)

Today one of my backup DVD failed to be accepted by my DVD drive. The DVD had died for unknown reasons. It contained the backups of the raw render outputs for Scene01. I deleted those renderings from my harddrive as I was running a bit low on disk space. So since I had the renderings on DVD (at least that’s what was I thought) I deleted them from my HDD to free some space. Yesterday I wanted to put them back in as I needed to change the title and also adjust the colourgrading to match the colours of scene03. That’s when I discovered that the DVD was not working. Lucky for me scene01 rendered quite quick in just under 4 hours for the total thing so re-rendering was not a big deal. As a result of this incident I’ll double check if I really have everything safely backed up before I delete anything from my harddrive. Additionally I’ll check all backup DVDs once a week (scheduled for friday evenings) if they still work and all data is on the disks and valid. Nero burning software offers a “check data” option which compares the data on the DVD to its corresponding folders on the harddrive. This makes checking backups a rather simple (yet quite time consuming) process. But better safe than sorry.

On a more positive note loosing my backup proved that my setup of 3d scenes / renderoutput / compositing flows makes re-rendering quite simple. All I had to do was basically clicking the “render” button and it fixed itself automatically. I was taking care that I document every pass I render and where it goes (including file naming conventions). As I’m rendering my animation in PAL resolution for hand-in and I’ll re-render it afterwards in HD resolution I need to make sure that re-rendering does not produce any problems. At least the backup failure confirmed that re-rendering scenes really is simple.

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Scene03 completed

After compositing loads of layers together Scene03 is sort of finished. There are still some minor things I need to tweak but the main setup is there as well as all the renderings.

It went a lot better than I feared. Integration of the flowers with the room went pretty OK even though they are not casting shadows in the visible sunlight. But that can’t be noticed in the final animation so I just left it out. It would have been a lot of work getting the shadowcasting to work as the sunflowers and the room are in two seperate scenes with different scaling (as described in a post before). Breaking the sunlight up into two layers helped to integrate it better in the scene as some flowers are affected by the front one and other by the back one only. Having a depth pass for both the room and the flowers also helped to get a hazy sunlit athmosphere.

What’s left to do now is putting the bushes and trees on the sunflowerfield of scene04, fixing the growing stem on scene02, do the title and credit animation, make a webpage and DVD for the finished animation and prepare all the material for hand in. The webpage/DVD/hand-in-material phase shouldn’t last longer than a week. I already have the design for the page and the DVD set so that should be done in a day which leaves me with 5 days for preparing the hand-in. I adjusted my Gantt-chart accordingly as I forgot to put in hand-in preparation in my original one.


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Transition Sc03 > Sc04

After putting a pre-viz version of my animation on various internet forums I got lots of comments that the transition from scene 03 to scene 04 does not work for the audience. It’s too much of a jump from my destroyed concrete room to the sunflower field and the audience can’t follow the idea behind this. I also got suggestions how I could fix this from those forums.

- Destroy the room more so that it hardly exists anymore
That will work for making a better transition but it immensly complicated in a technical way. The amount of particles, blocks of concrete interacting with each other, dynamic dust and also a large amount of sunflowers in the background can’t be done to a good qualitystandard in the time available.

- Have one extra block of concrete falling down that stirs up a lot of dust that is filling the screen. As the dust settles the field is reveiled
This sounds like a really good method of doing the transition that would also work well with the storyline. However dust filling the screen up close would need good details and motion and that would require a fluid simulation on the dust. I don’t have much experience with fluid simulations and once again time is an issue here. While it would be a good solution I think I’d rather not have rubbish looking dust as that would kill the whole animation. Alternatives like doing the dust with 2d sprites or using live action footage from detonationfilms.com didn’t look promising in quick tests I did. So to keep my quality up I’m not going that way.

- Have one extra scene inbetween sc03 and sc04 that shows a collapsing block of concrete up close with a sunflower “destroying” it
This might also work but as the sound is final already and my soundguy is no longer available to do changes I can’t change the editing of my animation anymore. So adding an extra scene is not possible.

- Have a block of concrete falling down on sc04 to connect them more
This is the way I’ll be going. It will also give the last scene something to make it more interesting, some action going on in the otherwise rather basic landscape scene.

After evaluating the different solutions to the transition problem I also discovered that the version of my animation that I posted online was missing the growing sunflowers in the collapsing room. Having the sunflowers in the room helps the transition a lot as the field already exists (in a lesser form) in scene 03 and doesn’t appear out of nowhere in sc04. So for future posts I need to make sure to include all elements in my renderings to avoid unneccessary confusion.

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I found a way to use the computers at the Universities’ computer lab to render my animation so my rendertime budget of 9 minutes per frame is now up to more than 2 and a half hours per frame! Granted that this is a theoretical number as other people are using the computers for rendering as well. However it shows that I don’t need to worry about rendertimes as much as I had to when I was using my computer only. Nevertheless I want to keep my scenes optimized for rendering as I’ll have to rerender the whole animation at HD level and I won’t be able to use the Universities’ computers for that as the rerendering will take place when I already left Uni.

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Running Havoc

As James wanted to start on the music for my short I had to change my time planning a bit. In order to give him maximum time for the soundwork I had to finish the animation of the last missing scene (scene03 - the one where the concrete room collapses) so he has a version of my animation where all the basic timing is set and final. So I stopped working on scene04 (the sunflower field) although it is not quite finished yet and started working on the collapsing room.

Thanks to all the research I did in Semester B work went rather smoothly. I’m quite trained at cracking and breaking things by now and the basic animation of scene03 was done in just over one day. I still have to add loads of smaller particles flying around as well as other visual effects like dust and visible sunlight. But all the main elements of the scene are there so James should have everything he needs to start with sound now.

The rendering and compositing part of this scene will be a nightmare. I had to make two seperate scenes for the collapsing room and the growing sunflowers. This is partly because it got a bit heavy on memory (but my computer would have been able to handle it). But the main reason for splitting it up is stupidity on my side. I wasn’t taking care of scaling. When I imported the growing sunflower from scene02 into this scene the sunflower was aproximately 5 times taller as the room. When scaling the sunflower down all the animation on it messed up, when scaling the room up all the animation on the chunks of concrete messed up. As I didn’t want to redo all the work I had to go for a two seperate scenes aproach. I imported all the static (not animated) parts of it into the sunflower scene and scaled them up. It won’t be that easy putting it back together in compositing but it will work. It’ll just need loads of rendered and combined masks. Another issue with rendering/compositing is GlobalIllumination. In the first scene I just had to render one single frame of GI as the camera was not moving. The camera isn’t moving in sc03 as well but with all the crashing chunks and growing sunflowers the geometry is changing so much during the shot that I’m very limited in using a static GI rendering. I will try to fake GI with standard spotlight illumination as much as I can but as it looks right now I’ll need some “real” GI especially in the sunlight areas. Hopefully I can keep that to a minimum using all the tricks I learned doing the growing sunflower scene.

The layout of this scene is a bit different from the storyboard drawings for it. I first wanted to have a room that is nearly collapsed. But as there would be loads of chunks of concrete cluttering the floor and I wouldn’t have any space to grow additional sunflowers I decided that I only hint that the room is collapsing. This also is easier to animate and it still sells the point of the scene. Additionally as the scene is only 7 seconds long there would be too much going on in it if the whole room collapsed. The way it is now it’s got a nice balance of collapsing concrete and growing sunflowers.

And finally - here’s a clay-rendering of Scene03 (quicktime, 200kb)

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Music and Soundeffects

Thanks to my classmate Dave I got in touch with James Burstein. He does some awesome soundwork and kindly agreed to do music and sounds for my animation. So a professional quality soundtrack is for sure. Now I only need to catch up to that quality level with my visuals.

You can find James Bursteins myspace page here.

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Pimp my sunflowerfield

After getting a lot of comments from friends, tutors and people seeing my work at online forums I decided to add some stuff to my field. Most of the comments were targeted at the “emptiness” of the scene and that it doesn’t really look natural that way. So there will be bushes, trees and a small forest in the background to fill the scene, get some more colour-contrast in it and make it more natural looking. It will also help to sell a positive feeling as it looks more like landscape people are used to see so they can relate to it better while still keeping the symbolism of a sunflower field.

The picture attached to this post is just a quick mockup I did in Photoshop to get a clear idea what I was going for and is by no means final.

field mockup

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As the title of my animation is now final (Catharsis) I registered a domain name for the homepage of the animation. It is www.catharsis-film.com

Catharsis.com was already taken so I added the “film” bit. Maybe adding “animation” would have produced more hits on Google and other search engines but all the big shortfilms and -animations go with the “-film” extension so I keep in that tradition. Additionally I think it looks better. “catharsis-animation” is quite a long URL, takes longer to type in and is not so nice visually as the hyphen is centered. With using “catharsis-film” the hyphen roughly follows the golden ratio.

I hope I can get good results in search engines even if I don’t have “animation” in the URL by using meta-tags in the sourcecode (even though Google does no longer evaluates the “keywords” meta-tag) and adding instructions for the crawlers of the searchengines in a robots.txt file.

Right now www.catharsis-film.com leads to this blog. Once the animation is finished the blog will be integrated in a presentation webpage.

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Field of Sunflowers

Today I finally found a method of doing the field of sunflowers. I was experimenting with the Level of Detail technique that I found in a tutorial on the wheat field in 300 (the movie). But it turned out that I can’t use my sunflower model for the closer flowers in the field. Even with using the lowest LOD setting for the flower itself it still was far too heavy for my computer to handle. Breaking the scene down in layers didn’t help much either. I was only able to render a layer when it consists of no more than 10 flowers. And that would have ment rendering thousand and thousands of layers which is just not very practical.

My original plan for this scene was to start rather closeup on a bunch of flowers and then move the camera up to reveil the whole field. Because of limitations discovered I had to drop that idea. To make the scene manageable I decided that I start with a wide shot and just move the camera back a bit. This way I’m able to make the whole field out of sunflower-sprites. I put the flower I made for the growing sequence in a lit environment where the lights mimicked the lighting of the final scene and rendered a picture with an alpha channel out. This picture was placed on a 3d plane as a texture and the textured plane was distributed on a low resolution mesh of 3d hills. The distribution was done using Cinema4d’s MoGraph module which made it rather easy to controll the various parameters (UpVector, Alignment, Orientation,…). Another good thing about using MoGraph is that animating the field (I plan to have some wind moving the sunflowers) will be rather easy by adding a RandomEffector that is randomly animating the rotation values of the flowers.

I tried using Hair and Particles instead of MoGraph but there were quite some problems with these two methods. I didn’t really have much control about what was happening and especially the orientation of the flowers was really hard to get right when using Hair. Additionally rendertimes were higher than with using MoGraph.

Rendering is done in layers. There’s fore-, mid-, background and sky layers. Splitting it up in layers was quite a sensible thing to do because my computer couldn’t handle all flowers in one single scene and the layering also makes it quite easy to do athmospheric effects in compositing (desaturating the hills further away and tinting them slightly blue).

Here’s a still rendering of the field. I’ll start animating it tomorrow (Though there will not be much animation going on. Just a gentle camera move and some wind in the field).

sunflower field

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Title - yet again

OK, so I’ve been thinking about the title of my animation some more and as “Anastasis” has got that link to religion and I think my animation is very religious (though it has elements of resurrection) and it also seems to pose some problems on how to pronounce it I wasn’t really happy with that title.

Following a suggestion that Charis made I think I’ve got a better title now: “Catharsis”

Catharsis derives from ancient greek meaning purification or cleansing. It is used in theatrical dramaturgy to describe a climax in emotion that results in restoration, renewal and revitalization for living. (taken from the Catharsis article on Wikipedia)

This perfectly describes my animation - a climax of emotion (the collapsing room) purifying the environment and revitalizing it for new live (the sunflower field). It also has a nice ring to it so I think “Catharsis” will be the title for my animation.

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Scene01 finished

That was a fast scene to do. It’s the opening shot of the animation, an establishing shot showing the location. As I already finished the concrete room in Semester B I just had to load the scene and do the very little animation there is in scene01. The lightbulb hanging from the ceiling is swinging gently and the crack in the righthand wall is appearing. Cracking the wall used the same technique as cracking the ground in scene02 so I didn’t have any problems with that.

Rendering was really quick to as the camera is not moving at all. For the background with the fancy GI, AmbientOcclusion effects I simply rendered one still frame that didn’t have the animated parts in it. The swinging lightbulb with it’s depth and illumination pass, the crack appearing, dust from the cracking, particles, visible sunlight and floating dust was rendered on seperate passes and composited together. That resulted in really fast rendertimes of about 47 seconds per frame for the final animation.

As this saves so much rendertime I need to test if a similar technique could speed up the rendering of the sunflower field (which I’m going to do next as the finished field from scene04 is needed as a background for scene03). Hopefully I can save rendertime by having 50% of the field as just a still image and only the other 50% of the sunflowers moving in the wind. This would mean that I need a still camera for the scene, yet in the storyboard the camera is moving up slightly. I think it’s a good thing to have the camera moving up a bit in this scene as this makes the whole thing more dynamic and more “uplifting” than a static camera. I hope that a 2d composited camera move doesn’t look too bad. Cause with my experience with rendertimes from Scene02 (the growing flower one) I guess rendertimes for the sunflower field will still be enormous even if I use the sprite-technique described below. The same applies for scene03 where more sunflowers grow in the collapsing room. I need to think of something to cut rendertimes down and use still images as much as I can. I guess I could have all sunflowers as still images once they completed their growth cycle. That will take away some dynamic movement as they won’t respond to falling concrete blocks but I hope that this will not be noticed by the audience in the final animation.

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Scene02 finished

Scene02 is finished. There still is some flickering going on but it’s not too bad and with some bluring in post I could manage it quite well. Another problem area is where the stem grows out of the sprout. It’s not really fixed to the stem and moves a bit awkwardly. But fixing it would mean re-rendering everything (or at least the 200 frames or so where it is visible). Maybe I’m going to fix it when everything else is finished but right now I need to move on to meet the deadline.

And for those interested this is the passes I rendered and how long they took to render:

sc02 rendertimes

And a screencapture of my Fusion 4 compositing flow:

sc02 fusion flow

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Ambient Environment

Martin suggested doing something called an Ambient Environment pass to get rid of the flickering. It worked out really well. In combination with Ambient Occlusion it makes for a really nice faked GI effect.

You might wanna try this on your next project cause it’s really easy to setup, renders fast and helps to integrate your main characters into the backgrounds so much. Here’s what I did:

  • I rendered a spherical image of my scene (Cinema4d doesn’t support spherical rendering but there’s a really easy work-around for that. Just use a 100% reflective sphere and bake its reflection)
  • Blured this image quite a lot in Photoshop
  • Put it as a reflection map on my sunflower. Everything else is black. I only rendered out the reflection map
  • Composited it using Multiply with about 10% strength right after the beauty pass. Shadows and AO go after Amb_Envr. You need to use this very subtly. Too much of it and it looked like a sunflower with a chrome finish

I think I also fixed the flickering. I got rid of GI for floor, stem and leaves alltogether and faked it by using quite a lot of dim spotlights with falloffs. That worked rather well as there is not much in the scene to produce diffuse GI lighting anyway. For the petals I couldn’t find another method that produced the results I wanted. The petals heavily depend on the diffuse lighting created by GI and don’t look that good without it. So I boosted the quality settings, started the render and made myself a lot of tea. I only saw a small resolution preview rendering but it looks promising. Nearly all the flickering is gone and the one is still there doesn’t distract from the scene. I call it a “distinct visual style”.

So faking GI with tons of spotlights and the Ambient Envirionment pass pretty much saved me here. Thanks to Martin for telling me about amb_envr and thanks to TheMill for telling Martin.

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The first renders

After finishing the cracking floor it was time to start a rendering for the first time.

To save me some rendertime I did the background with camera-mapping. I rendered a broad view of the background with AmbientOcclusion and GlobalIllumination on, mapped it back on low resolution geometry and rendered it through the animated camera. As the camera is moving only slightly and doesn’t rotate too much you can’t really tell that the background is just a cheap cheat. Additionally the DOF blur hides all the small imperfections that come with camera-mapping perfectly. So that was a really good time saver for me.

The foreground consists of the flower and the tile on the floor that is cracking (along with some dirt, visible sunlight and floating dust particles). I rendered the flower with seperate shadow, lighting, GlobalIllumination and AmbientOcclusion passes and composited it together in Fusion. That gave me ultimate controll over every little aspect of the composition. Total rendertime for this scene was something slightly over 40 hours at PAL resolution. It all went very well until I did the final rendering in Fusion and watched the animation at real time. That’s when I discovered that my GlobalIllumination solution is flickering horribly. After a quick research on the internet the only solution to getting rid of the flicker in GI is to increase the quality settings quite a lot. Unfortunately I can not afford that as it would increase rendertimes tremendously.

Right now I can only think of one possible solution to the flicker problem. At my last job we were solving some anti-aliasing flicker problems by first interlacing the footage and then deinterlacing it. That seemed to get rid of slight flicker. I haven’t tried that out yet but I fear that the flicker in my GI might be too much for that technique to work. I’m having a tutorial with Martin this afternoon. Maybe he can think of a solution I haven’t thought of as I think I’ve gone a bit blind in that matter as I was spending so much time thinking about it.

Here are some still-frames from the animation - I’ll post the whole scene when I fixed the flickering.

sc02 renders

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Cracking ground

Completion of the Scene02 is drawing closer. All that is left is doing the cracks in the ground that appear before the sunflower starts to grow. Thanks to the research I did in Semester B it was really easy to do. Acutally I didn’t have to do a lot at all. I loaded one of my testscenes of a cracking wall, changed all the Booleans to affect the ground and I was pretty much done. I was thinking about doing a rigidbody simulation for the chucks of concrete that are moved away by the plant but decided against it because after doing all the simulations in my test earlier on I knew that it would be quite hard to set up because the collisions would be quite complex to handle. And the movement of the chunks are not that elaborate (they are basically are just moved out of the way) so I decided to manually keyframe-animate that. It turned out quite OK I guess.

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Website Design

I was playing around a bit in Photoshop trying to do a design for the dedicated webpage this movie is going to get. To keep the theme of the animation I was going for a deteriorating concrete with a touch of nature style. As I had the concrete theme on my 400-words poster and the stylized growing plants on my outline poster I combined these two elements in a webpage. Having the concrete header that starts to disolve as it reaches the content and the stylized graphical sunflower growing from it and holding the menu elements.

When I started making the design I had in mind that the title of the animation would be “Change” so I put that on the header in a font that was quite destroyed and falling apart itself.


As the title most likely changed now and maybe will be “Anastasis” I adopted the design a bit. The worn down font of Change didn’t really fit Anastasis because the word doesn’t feel damaged to me but has a much nicer flower than “Change”. So I changed the font to a calligraphy one with flowing lines which also go better with the curvature of the sunflower in the menu section of the page.


The yellow-orange colour of the title and the headlines of the content contrasts the dark concrete background well and also goes well with the colour of the sunflower and brings the sunlight that plays a major role in the animation into the webdesign as well.

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Contemplating Titles

I’ve been thinking a bit about what title I want my animation to hive. Right now the working title is “Light & Shadow” but it is unlikely that I’ll have that one as the final title as it is very clumsy and unimaginative. I’m aiming for a rather simple title. Maybe just one word. Words that came to my mind are “Change”, “Vanquish”, “Enlightment”, “Evolution” or “Transformation” but they don’t really make a good title either but merely describe the animation. So following a tutorial with Martin that I had today I was looking up these words in latin and also checked on buddhist terms of transfiguration and enlightment. These are some terms I found:

Satori - Kensho - Lamrim - Samsara - Dukkha Mudita are buddhist, Mutatio - Commuto - Emendatio are latin terms that fit to the words mentioned above.

I have to say none of these words really appeal to me. Satori and Kensho sound more like japanese fighing styles, Lamrim sounds a bit too indian for my animation (that has nothing to do with india and actually is set in a more western environment), Samsara is propably the best out of all the words but somehow has the ring of a childrensmovie to me. Dukkha Mudita means evil/good but is a bit too long and “fancy”. The latin terms of Mutatio and Commuto are not really good to use because they are the origin of “mutation” and “commuter” and while the original latin words mean change the meaning has changed over the centuries to something that does not represent my animation. Emendatio (and the english word Emendation) would be a possibility but I’m not really too sure about it now. It is not a very common and easy to understand word.

So the bottomline is: I need to do more thinking on the title.

P.S.: Just when I was publishing this post I was thinking that the whole idea of change, transformation, methamorphosis (which would be a cool title by the way but there already is an oscar winning animation with that title) is also dealt with in the christian idea of resurrection. Looking that up in a latin dictionary resulted in the word “Anastasis” meaning transformation. It is not a real latin word but got adopted from greek ana (ανα) = up, stasis (στασις) = standing. So apart from its latin meaning “transformation” it also means “standing up” (against the oppressive regime symbolized by the concrete room).

I think “Anastasis” is my favourite title so far but I’ll keep looking into naming my animation.

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Growing the whole sunflower and a closer look at the rig

First lets take a closer look at the rig. When I started thinking about how to animate the growing sunflower I thought that chains of bones would be the best way to have the leaves unfolding and the stem growing. But after some experimentation it soon became clear that it takes a lot of bones to get smooth transitions in the meshes and the skinning is also quite complicated. In my earlier tests I couldn’t get the leaves to stay in place at the stem for example. They kept moving around the stem (not much but it was noticeable) and that didn’t look good. So I was looking for a different approach for the rig.

I remembered an old pdf file I had lying around on my harddrive that had a tutorial for how to rig a flying bat using only modifiers (like bend, twist, shear,…). The resulting animation of that tutorial looked quite convincing so I thought I might give modifiers a try especially as a lot of the animation could be broken down to one or more bends. After some tests and checking that modifiers work in conjunction with Morph-Targets (which I needed for the changing of shape of the flower head) I decided that it would be best to make a rig based mostly on bend-modifiers. Along with animating the scale of objects it looked quite promising.

As explained in the previous post for the growing sequence I seperated the sunflower into two objects - the actuall sunflower and a sprout. This is what the hierachy of the sprout looks like (the sunflower is nested in it as the animation of the flower is based on the animation of the sprout):


Everything is put under the “Plant” object which allows easy placing and scaling of the animated sunflower in a scene. The “Controll: Details” Object offers easy access to all the Level of Detail settings as explained in a previous post. Nested under the “scaling sprout” object which is where the scale of the sprout is animated are two bend modifiers for seperately bending the head and the stem of the sprout. The two leaves are childs of that bend-hierachy so they follow the bending as well and also have their own bend modifiers to controll bending of the tip and the two sides of a leaf. An additional Twist modifiers gives more flexibility in animation.

By animating the angle values of the Bend and Twist modifiers the unfolding of the leaves and the “wandering” motion of the growing sprout are animated. The actual growing is animated by keyframing the scale of the scale-controll object. This made animating very easy as for example the unfolding of a leaf is controlled by five parameters (three bends, twist and scale). If I used bones to do this I’d had a lot more parameters to controll (rotation and scale of each bone).

The rig of the sunflower is basically the same, just a bit more advanced as there are more parts to controll:

rig sunflower

Everything you see on the screencapture above is nested in the rig of the first screencapture (sprout rig) under the “Sunflower” object. It has four Bend modifiers that controll the bending of the whole stem. Two for big bends and two for bends with smaller radii. These bends are used during the scaling-up of the sunflower to get the wandering motion the sprout had as well. The leaves of the sunflower have four bend modifiers each. One for bending at the leafs stem, one for bending the leafs top and one for each side of a leaf. Notice that the leaves are not children of the stem, they are above the scaling object for the stem so scaling the stem does not affect the leaves. Yet they are beneath the bend modifiers for the general motion so they are affected by them. This setup took me quite some time to figure out because I wanted to move the leaves with the swinging motion of the plant yet stay in place in Y direction. Leaves on real growing plants do that, they do not wander up with the rest of the stem but stay in place vertically. Luckily this could be solved with getting the hierachy right, I was also looking into solutions involving XPresso scripting language but that would have been way more complicated.

So after the leaves I’ve got the scale-controll for the stem and some more bend modifiers that only affect the stem. Or to be more precise only the flower head. They give me controll over left-right and front-back bending of the head. The additional Bend-Head objects applies some subtle animation to the head and distorts it slightly while doing so. Seeds, buds and petals are nested as children of the head so they follow all previous bend modifiers. The seeds are not animated at all (except for a change in colour from green to brown), the buds have simple scale animation and the petals have their own bend modifier each which along with scaling them animates the opening of the flower.

There also is some subtle animation going on in the shaders. This is where having procedural shaders comes in handy as explained previously. The stem and leaves shaders animate from a lighter green (close to white) when sprouting from the soil to a darker green for the finished flower. Inner-petals are animated from green to yellow and the seeds are animated from green to brown. All bumpmaps are animated as well so they are only applied very lightly in the beginning and become stronger towards the end. Another subtle animation in shaders is that towards the end imperfections on the “skin” start to appear. Brown and grey dots appear on the sunflower making it a look a lot more realistic and less CGI.

Looking back I can say that the rig worked really well for animating the growing process. I have to admit that sometimes it got a bit complicated to overview the whole thing and to quickly find the bend that I needed. A custom user interface which lets me quickly access the bends based on an image would have helped a lot. Especialyl for the leaves and petals. But setting up such an interface is quite complicated as well and as the process of animating the sunflower is a one time task only I thought it wouldn’t be worth the extra time. And it is not the rig that is making things hard to overview but the number of leaves and especially petals on the flower that I all animated one by one. A simpler solution animation-wise would have been to use Array objects and automatic radial cloning for the petals but that would have ment that I loose controll over the exact placement, orientation and look of the petals. Right now there is no petal that looks exactly like another. They are all unique. And that can’t be done with automatic cloning. So I decided to go the hard way and spend a day manually animating hundreds of petals. I think it was worth it.

And well, here’s the testrendering of today. The growing of the whole sunflower. Of course the background is only temporary as is the lighting and the compositing.

growing sunflower
Quicktime mov, H.264, 2Mb

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Starting animation - a growing sprout

As the sunflower is now made (and also my Gantt-chart tells me to do so) I started animating today. The first scene I’m going to do is the one where the sunflower grows in timelapse style with the camera close up. This is most likely the most difficult scene to do (as I already looked into the collapsing room in Semester B and have a pretty clear idea of what to do).

When I did the previzualization of the Light&Shadow animation in Semester A I cheated a bit with the growing scene and cut between the different stages. I had one scene for a sprout growing from the soil, another scene for leaves growing on the stem and another one for the blossoming flower. For my Major Study I’d like to try to do this in one long continous shot as I think this will look a lot better and also fit better in the flow of the animation. There are hardly any cuts in this short animation and having fast editing between several short growing-scenes would mess up the flow. I realize that it is very ambitious to try to do it as one shot but I’d like to try my luck with it. Should I not be able to produce a good looking shot I can always fall back on the several-scenes solution and reuse the animations I already created.

There are quite a lot of timelapse shots of growing plants on the BBC Motiongallery. They don’t have a sunflower but I compared sunflower sprouts with sprouts of other plants and they look quite the same and I guess the movements of their growing is similar too. And even if I should be wrong here I don’t think anyone would notice slight differences in the motion patters as long as I can get the general feeling of a timelapse shot of a growing plant. Timelapse shots were quite popular a few years ago when that technology became more widespread with the advent of digital cameras that could be controlled by a computer, making timelapse a lot easier. So a lot of people have seen timelapse shots and I’d like to get close to the generic image of timelapse-plants people have in their minds to make my growing sunflower easily recognizeable.

The rig for the growing sunflower does not involve bones. Right now there are a lot of bend modifiers controlling the shape of the leaves and petals and some more bend, twist and shear modifiers that controll the shape of the stem. Animating the angle-values of those modifiers gives me good controll over the various parts of the flower and also looks very natural. But there are limits to the transformations that modifier setup can do in conjunction with animating the position/rotation/scale of objects. Especially the growing head of the flower changes so much in its shape that it can’t be accomplished with modifiers. I hope I can work around this by using morph-targets for the head only and stick to the modifiers for the rest. It would mean a lot more work if I had to change to a full morph setup. Right now I do not know if you can use morph and bends on the same object in Cinema4d. I’m going to test this tomorrow and if it works I’ll start making morph-targets for an evolving flower-head.

The basic priciple for the growing animation that I’ve worked out is, that I have all the parts of a sunflower as seperat objects: stem/head, petals, seeds, buds and leaves. As a sunflower sprout looks so different from the final sunflower I can’t think I can make it as a morph-target without running into problems. So I created a seperate sprout just for the closeup growing scene. The morphed stem of the sunflower will grow out of the top of the sprout and as the camera moves up with the growing flower I’ll just make the “fake” sprout invisible. I think by using an extra sprout-mesh I saved myself quite a headache trying to morph the final flower into the sprout shape.

And here’s a quick preview-capture of growing sprout, animated with bend- and twist-modifiers and position/rotation/scale-keyframes. The animation itself is still a work in progress. I didn’t touch materials yet. The shaders will be animated as well to turn from a fresh green into a more darker “older” green.

growing sprout
Quicktime MOV (H.264, 2Mb)

I’m not so sure about the speed of growing on the stem though. I want the growing animation to be calm and relaxing looking and right now I think it’s a bit too erratic. The sunflower is not a character, I don’t want it to have “feelings” and the whole thing is supposed to look natural. I just thought that slowing down the growing of the stem a bit (so that it takes maybe one seconds longer until it reaches it’s final state) would make it look less hectic while still preserving a natural look.

I will think about that and listen to comments I hope to get at 3d-forums and see how I will progress from here.

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Backup and organizing the mess - day

Today I took a day off from doing 3d as lately I neglected doing backups of my work and also the organization of the Light&Shadows folder on my harddrive was a bit messy.

Usually I keep to very strict folder structures and file naming conventions. I adopted these structures from the place I lasted worked at. They’ve proven to be very helpfull in a studio environment so I thought they might as well work at home - and I think they do. It keeps my harddrive organized and I don’t spend much time looking for things. But of course such a structure only works when you stick to it and put all the files in the right folders and name them in the right way. I have to admit with all the tests that I were doing lately that then changed into “real” files that went into the production I didn’t do that. As it was all getting a bit messy I decided that it would be better to take a day and organize things than to keep the mess and spend way more time searching for stuff.

Additionally I backed up everything I did in Semester C. From Semesters A and B a backup plan proved to work out very well where I have all my major sub-folders on sperate Multisession-DVDs and use the automated backup feature that Nero Burning ROM offers to update these DVDs every evening. My main sub-folders for this project are:

  • _Theory (where all the text documents go - Outline, Gantt Chart, Storyboards,… It’s got an underscore so it shows up at the top of the explorer)
  • 3d (the main and most important folder with all the 3d work in)
  • compositing (my Fusion flows)
  • references (reference images and movies)
  • render (the render outputs of the 3d and compositing applications)

Later on there will be additional folders for sound/music, editing and DVD-creation. All these folder have their own backup DVD (with the 3d folder having two identical copies for safety reasons). This backup system works quite well and takes only about 5 minutes a day to update.

I also twiddled a bit with this blog and I think now I have the perfect setup for my documentation with links in my Firefox favourites that let me directly access the write-new-entry page, automated thumbnail creation for uploaded images and whatnot. Again this took quite some time to set up but I think it will save me more time in the future than it took to make. So that’s a good thing.

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A more detailed documentation and reflection on how I created the sunflower can be found in the sketchbook. I just wanted to add some testrenderings to complete the documentation.

wip sunflower

This is the first rendering with only a basic yellow colour applied to the petals. Petals are modelled in NURBS which gives me better controll over the level of detail of the topology. That makes it easier to adjust the polycount (and detail level) later on to make background sunflower versions of it.

wip sunflower

The final petal-shader applied. It consists of a backlighting and fresnel effect in the luminance channel. Subsurface scattering would not only take longer to calculate but give inferiour results as the petals don’t have threedimensional depth. SSS however needs real, modelled depth to work properly. I also changed the arangements of the seeds to a double sprial shape that is following Fibonacci numbers after comments on internet forums pointed that out to me. The Double Spiral is the shape real sunflower seeds grow.

wip sunflower

The final modell of the sunflower with added leaves. There also is a basic riggin in place which consists mostly of bend modifiers to bend the leaves and petals in place. These bend modifiers can also be used for animation later on. The only bitmap texture is the bump map for the veins on the leaves. Everything else is done using procedural shaders as they give me more flexibility in animation. However I was not able to reproduce the veins as a prodedural shader so that’s been created from scanned in leaves.

level of detail

Some UserData I set up to controll the Level of Detail (LOD) and the visibility of certain parts of the sunflower. It’s nothing too evolved. Just linking the input sliders to the settings in the respective objects. But it makes handling the scene a lot easier. Especially when working on the leaves the LOD and visibility option came in quite handy as you can speed up the editor view tremendously but also have a higher quality view with just a few clicks. As this proved to be really helpfull I’ll try to link all the LOD fields together so I can controll it with one single slider and then link that single LOD field to a distance-to-camera node. That would give me an automated Level of Detail system that lowers the quality of a sunflower depending on its distance to camera.

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Sketchbook documentation

This is a scan of my sketchbook that I did before switching to this blog. It contains all my documentation from the start of this semester.

The idea to “Light and Shadow” (still a working title only) was born in Semester A. I will write a reflective account on the development of the idea through Semesters A & B. Propably somewhen during my summer holiday.

view Sketchbook (pdf, 800kb)

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Going Digital

Until now I did all my documentation in a sketchbook. But I found that quite cumbersome at times. Especially when I wanted to integrate things like screenshots or test-rendering. I also seem to write a lot faster when using the keyboard on my laptop (and it does not hurt my hand as much as using an actual pen on paper).

So I decided to go digital with my Major Study Documentation. I hope it will prove to be a lot more flexible than using an old-school sketchbook.

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Watch it