Saturday, April 5, 2014


For my animation there were be a handful of assets that needed to be modelled. Due to time constraints I felt like I didn't have enough time to complete and be able to fully concentrate on the animation side of things. I got the help from Ben Mayfield and he was able to model up my assets in a very short amount of time. I gave him some designs to which he model from, adapting slightly to ensure that they would work within a 3D space. Along with these assets, I needed to make my apples. I did this myself by creating a base shape in Maya then taking it into Mudbox where I was able to sculpt the geometry and paint on a texture. I was really happy with the texture, layering on different paint layers to create something that was more than just a red apple look. There will also be a golden apple in my scene and this will just be the same texture as the red apple, however the hue will be changed.

I will be hopefully using nCloth for the material section of the hand glider, it will give it more of a natural feel and look and react to movement, which will give the illusion of wind blowing. These assets just need texturing now which I will probably do in Photoshop as they don't need to be that detailed. I want to keep them clean and simple so as to not distract from the dragon itself.

Monday, March 17, 2014


For a while now, I've been trying to decide on how my dragon will be rigged. He has been modelled and designed in a way that is similar to a bear, however in some respects he will be acting more dog like. There is a difference between both bears and dogs, specifically in their legs. Bears have plantigrade legs, whilst dogs are digitigrade legs. What makes them different to one another is that plantigrade, as the name suggest, plant their whole foot on the floor, whereas digitigrade walk on their digits. I think it will work best and fit the dragon well if he was a plantigrade, however I will still be referencing dog videos to get their excitement and the way in which they jump. Bears tend to keep their heads low due to their necks not being able to bend too far backwards. My dragon is slightly more upright so I will have to create a neck that resembles that of a dog. It's going to be a mixture of both in the end I think, but hopefully it will all work out and produce a good result.

Below I created a skeletal sheet that will help me when it comes to rigging. I've put the rough outline of where I want each joint/bone to go. In the past I've just placed them and not really thought about where the correct place will be. Hopefully this will help me a lot and give me a better result than previous rigs I've created.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Maya Muscle

Maya muscles can be made in a variety of ways, making it from scratch involves the use of capsules. Once you place the joints in the correct place you use 'convert surface to muscle/bone' in order to create the capsules. From here you can then create a NURBS object to be your muscle shape. An easier way to create muscles is through the muscle builder. With your geometry being rigged and bound, you can take the skin and convert to muscle. This creates the capsules for you and transfers the weights from the skin over to them, which can save a lot of time. With the muscle builder open you can attach your capsules, this will be where the muscle connects at. You are then able to adjust the size and placement of the muscle under the build and cross section tab.

With the muscle in the correct position you can then select it, along with the skin and use 'connect selected muscle objects', a box will pop up and you can just auto-calculate the sticky bind distance. The sticky bind distance is the area of points in which the muscle can affect. You can visualise the sticky bind distance and this will create a NURBS sphere. Everything outside of the sphere will not be effected, whilst everything within it will deform. From here you can then paint the weights on your selected muscle, using the stick bind distance as a guide.

Something that I think will come in useful, and that I will most likely be using for my dragon are the muscle skin deformers. Within this you can have a range of different deformers such as jiggle, cycle, rest and smooth. These deformers don't need to create capsules and all you need to do is paint the weights on the object or character.

Jiggle, as the name suggests creates jiggle/wobbles. It allows parts of the body to become more fluid and add that extra movement.

Cycle is how fast the areas take to move / jiggle

Rest is how long it takes for it to stop jiggling. If you want more wobble, paint in weights, with the influence being at 1.

The video below shows a quick test I created following a Digital Tutors tutorial: Introduction to Maya Muscle. The character rig was also provided by them. The settings will need adjusting under each deformer in order to create my desired effect, however it works quite well and produces a fairly decent result. It will add that extra deformation and animation to my model, something that I wouldn't normally be able to get without using these muscle deformers. As you can turn these deformers on and off, you could in theory key these so I could have the jiggle more pronounced in some areas and maybe not at all, depending on the situation/animation.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

IK/FK Leg Switch

Setting up an IK/FK switch is fairly easy to do. Once you have your joint chain in the correct position you just need to duplicate it twice, these being your IK and FK chains. After creating the IK spline in the IK joints, you can then orient constrain both the IK and FK chains to the base chain. This creates the connect between all the joints, all that needs changing to switch between them is the weighting. By creating a locator or an object, you can use set driven keys to create a more accessible switch. The locator being the driver whilst the IK or FK weight, being the driven. I created this setup so that you are able to have a blend between IK and FK, so it's not just one or the other, this can give greater flexibility and allow for more control whilst making it easier to blend between the two. It can be hard to switch from IK to FK without a blend, the jump can be quite sudden and you have to make sure the hands or feet are in exactly the same place in either mode.

The new IK system in Maya comes with a built in switch where you can blend between IK and FK, this is good to know and could come in great use, but it's always useful to know how to do it the classic way, just in case anything goes wrong. There are a few things I need to work out on my switch, there is a bit of flipping in one of the joints when blended. I also need to figure out how to make the FK controls invisible when set to IK. You would connect the locator IKFK node to a condition node, under its first term within the hypershade, the problem I had with this was that Maya crashed every time I tried to do this. I'm not sure why but I will try it on another computer to see if it will work or not.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flexi Rig

Before I move onto rigging my character I wanted to try out a few different ways of rigging. I followed a tutorial on Digital Tutors: Rigging Quadrupeds in Maya where I created a flexi rig. A flexi rig allows a good amount of flexibility and twisting, along with squash and stretch whilst retaining its volume. Being a modular component, you only have to build it once, then you can implement it and edit it into other models. By using a twist deformer rather than a spline IK, it can twist further, past 360 degrees allowing more deformation and flexibility.

As part of this rig setup I had to use the Node Editor in Maya. This enables you to view, edit and create new node connections. When adding the twist deformer onto the blendshape surface and connecting it to the base surface, when rotating it did not rotate in the same direction. To change this it had to be done within the Node Editor using multiply and divide utility. I will need to go back and watch the tutorials again to get my head fully around it but the gist of it is that by connecting the rotate x values of the control groups to the multipliers, and then to an plus/minus average node, this will allow you to be able to control the end angle with the mid and end control, or control it with all three controls. The plus/minus average node ensures that if the mid control is turned on, whilst the end control is off, the end control stays in place.

Node editor - twist

Node editor - squash and stretch
Below is a video of me testing out the flexi rig I created. There are switches between the mid and end control which allows certain parts of the rig to be moved at a time. This can allow for more control over certain parts e.g having on the middle controller being able to bend. From this I would be able to get some good deformations and a wide possibility of movements. I'm going to also test out an FK/IK spine to see what produces the best result before deciding on the route I'm going to take with my dragon rig.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Textured Dragon

My dragon is now fully textured, as seen below. After creating the uv maps, I took my model into Mudbox where I painted on his texture using paint layers and different types of layers, such as diffuse and incandescence. The paint layers work very similar to Photoshop layers, you are able to blend each layer and change their opacity, giving different effects and having the layers show through one another. I've found the process a lot more enjoyable and easier than if I were to paint it within Photoshop. Being able to paint straight onto a 3D model and see the results instantly has benefited me greatly. I referred back to Sophie's designs for my dragon and based it off the colours that she picked out. I wanted to create the scales on the dragon, however when I tried to, it just didn't look right. Instead I created a sculpt layer where I used Mudbox's default stamps to create a dragon scale texture. When painting and creating sculpt layers, it's best to add more subdivision levels as to increase the resolution of the layers. From this you can then bake out a normal map from the lowest subdivision level to the highest. This will then allow you to take your model back into Maya at a low poly and once the normal map is added on, it includes all the high resolution detail that was on the highest poly model.

As mentioned in a previous post about Mudbox, I had issues with the wings with them including t-shapes. I tried taking them into Mudbox anyway and painting a texture, but it didn't work. I instead had to alter the geometry of the wings slightly and breaking apart the membrane sections from the actual wing bone. I was able to paint them in Mudbox doing it this way, however I had to do the body and wings separately. This didn't prove too much of a problem, but I did have to tweak the texture slightly within Photoshop in order for the wings and body texture to match together somewhat. I'm really happy with how my dragon has turned out so far and as I've said I have actually enjoyed texturing for once. I find that I do work a lot easier within a 3D space so this is something I will have to do more often, I will have to try out this method when texturing my other assets.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


At the moment, I'm in the process of researching anatomy and figuring out how my dragon will move. A few weeks ago I took some reference videos of a small terrier dog as it had similar proportions to my dragon (short legs, smaller body) this will help me figure out the movements and how to go about translating them to my dragon. Crufts has just taken place and I've been watching some of the contests, in particular the agility contests. The video below shows the Championship Final for agility and through watching it I've gained a better knowledge of how a dog runs and jumps. As the dog jumps it stretches out, whilst the spine seems to dip down slightly in order for the dog to stretch out more. My dragon will be jumping/trying to jump a long distance so watching these videos has made me understand how I should animate it, but also that I will need a good versatile rig not only for the spine but throughout my dragon.

Even though my dragon is stylised and I want it to have some sense of cartoon like animation about it, I want to make sure that there is validity in the movements, the core of the movements are based off how a real animal would walk or jump. Dragons are not real creatures, however the movements need to be believable if realism cannot be achieved. I will be doing more research into other videos and specifically into anatomy, and how the locomotions of different animals differ.


Monday, March 10, 2014

UV Mapping Dragon

So I've spent about 2 days uv mapping my dragon, I originally scheduled myself about 3 days to do it, but even so it was a lot more work than I was anticipating. I knew that I had to get the map done correctly so that seams wouldn't show up around the dragon. Normally I would planar map different sections and cut edges where I would want the seam, then on the other side I would use those uv's to unfold that section. The problem I have found using this method is that seams are very visible and it doesn't always line up correctly. One way to visually see how your texture may turn out is to use a checker shader on your object or character. I did this for my dragon and using this enabled me to see where my seams were and ensured that I had each section in proportion to one another. After watching some tutorials on Digital Tutors, I ended up using automatic mapping through my whole dragon. This may have been why it took a lot longer, with automatic mapping it takes your selected section and produces many small pieces in which you then have to reconnect back together. Any piece left unconnected will ultimately become a seam.

There are some parts on my dragon that aren't connected together but this isn't a huge problem as those areas will be flat colours so the seams won't be visible. When uv mapping before, if there were parts that would be flat colours e.g the mouth or claws I would leave the sections unwrapped, however as I am taking this model into Mudbox to add detail, everything needs to be unwrapped and have the correct uv's. I've done the best I can and in theory the texture should come out okay, there are a few seams that are visible in the image below but the majority of my dragon has the same colour all over so hopefully it won't show up too much.

Below is my uv map for my dragon, the first is laid out how I would normally position each section; laying it out so I have a clear idea of which section is which in relation to the body. Legs coming off the torso, head next to the neck and other features at the bottom. I found a button in the uv texture editor in Maya that would position all your sections automatically. The second image shows the layout that it produced. As you can see it makes use of the space and fits the pieces accordingly, the only problem I have with this is that it could be hard to distinguish each section from one another. Personally I also like having the sections lead off from one another so it is easier to blend colours and create a more uniform texture. It's good to know that this button is there and I can see it coming in handy when there is even more sections than my dragon. It would save time and make use of all the space that is available.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Understanding Colour

Colour plays a big part in any image, whether it's static or moving, it can change the mood of a piece or lead the eye to specific objects within a scene. Combining different colours together can also affect how an image is portrayed. Monochromatic colours can create an atmospheric effect, whereas triadic colours can create more of a playful scene, sometimes surreal. The video below is something that I came across and it has really helped myself understand colour better from the way in which it can be used, to the different types of colour combinations that are best suited with each other. It's made me think a lot about how I will use colour in my animation and making sure that my choices will work together with each other, yet also can be used in order to draw the eye to a specific object e.g. the apple that the dragon is going after. As there are many trees in my animation and them being green, I made sure that I didn't choose a similar colour to this for my dragon. He needed to stand out from the background whilst at the same time, being able to fit in to his surroundings. His main colour is purple, and with the trees being green, I could go down the route of using triadic colours, with the final colour being a tone of orange.

The video below mentions that triadic colours are best suited for cartoon or surreal scenes, with mine being an animation it could work quite well. It will need experimenting with and I will refer back to this video for reference throughout my decisions. One thing to bear in mind is that when using different colours together, none should be of an equal amount, there should be one colour that is used more predominately, normally the weaker colour. Previously I've not really thought about colours a great deal and just chose ones that would look good together without give it much thought, but now I will be taking into consideration how colours can really affect a scene and be used to benefit it.

Finished Dragon Model

Throughout the modeling process, I have looked at other models in order to ensure that the topology of the dragon is correct and when it comes to rigging and animation, the model will deform correctly. When comparing my dragon to my previous quadruped model (alien from VFX) I can see the improvements that I have made. The topology around where the legs join to the body are now a lot better and this will make sure that there are no odd deformations that take place. I had this issue a lot with my alien model, but hopefully with my dragon this will not occur. I also constructed the feet in a different way, the edge loops on the dragon's feet are more ideal as this will allow for better bends in the feet. I've taken a lot of time going back and forth with the dragon as I know first hand how topology can really affect a model and the animation. Animation is my main goal for this project, so I have to make sure that the model and rig is of a high standard. As I want to try out joint based rigging in the face, this also needs good facial topology in order for it to work correctly. Below you can see both my VFX alien model and my dragon model, being of a different shape and design, the topology will be slightly different anyway, but I like to think that I have improved a lot and this will hopefully benefit the coming stages.

Because of the shape and design of my dragon, I had to figure out the best way to connect his head to the body, as there is not much of a neck so space and edge loops were limited. It took a while to do and I had to start over a few times but I think this version works and I will just have to take my time weight painting, ensuring that each skin deforms properly when the joints move. Throughout modeling I made use of the sculpt geometry tool in Maya, this helped me smooth out areas of the geometry and also relax certain places, giving a better flow to the edge loops and the topology. It has helped a lot to smooth out the lumps and bumps of the geometry and I'm really happy with how it has turned out. From here I will be going on to UV mapping the dragon, before taking it back into Mudbox to add some textures. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

CG Tarian Animation Half Circle

I came across these videos by CGTarian, an online animation and vfx school. Each video discusses different topics such as, how to break into the industry, how do you get good shots, once you get in how do you stay? etc. As I'm coming close to finishing my time at university, I found that these videos were really helpful and has put things more into perspective for myself. I'll always be learning, but it won't get easier from here on out, improving will take time, years and the rate in which you will improve will be smaller. The main thing is to just keeping pushing through and work as much as you can, each new shot that you create, you will learn something new, even if it fails for one reason or another. Over the years there has been animations that I've thought aren't good enough but I have learnt the reason why this was and I feel that I have improved on that through my next shot.

Another useful thing is that companies want people who are engaged and are willing to learn and be an active part, you need to be able to work together as a team but also get a long with everyone. Having a friendly, open personality is more inviting than being almost reclusive. I feel that I have come out of my shell a lot since studying animation and it has given me confidence in myself which I never really had. There is a lot to think about and prepare for for when I start applying for jobs, for now I am just gathering as much knowledge and information as possible.

nCloth Simulation

I found a tutorial on creating wings using nCloth simulation, I decided to try it out to see if it could work on my dragon. Using nCloth, gives it more of a natural feel and how taught the cloths are can be adjusted to get your desired result. In the tutorial it explains that the nCloth system needs to be applied to the whole mesh, so you would have the animate your creature in different sections and then bring them together. To try and get around this I animated the wings for then parented it to the body of my dragon. The video below shows the results, the wings are not completely attached as I just wanted to test out this technique first. It seems to work quite well, however when I tried creating a turn around of the wings, the cloth broke apart and didn't work at all. I don't know if this is due to the camera moving, as the wings attached to the body is seen through a stationary camera. If this is the case, it could prove a big problem as I will be having shots with moving cameras.

I think I will just have to stick with my original plan, rigging the wings and animating it by hand. At least this way I can ensure that the movement of the wings are in keeping with my whole animation style, rather than leaving it to dynamics to figure it out.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Apple Tree

Compared to my other trees, the apple tree is more focused upon and is the centre of attention in some shots. Because of this I needed to make sure that the design and make of it was detailed enough and didn't just rely on polygon planes with a texture on like the other two trees. I decided to create on leaf and then duplicate this several times, placing them around a smaller branch. When looking at real apple trees, there are smaller branches which contain the leaves and apples, that grow from the larger branches, I wanted to try and replicate this and it would also provide more depth and detail to the tree. Once each leaf was in place, I added a bend deformer and adjusted the curvature on each to give a different shape and to make it more unique. The image below shows the original leaf and how each smaller branch looks. From this smaller branch I then duplicated it many times and positioned it all around the tree. The colour that is on it at the minute is just for reference purposes, so I could distinguish the leaves from the branches. I will go on to texturing both the leaves and the branches in the same style as I created my other two trees.

My tree design adapted as I went through the modelling stage, I found that the branches needed to be separated more, and by looking at real trees it tends to be a common feature where the main body of the tree branches out into different directions. It's not fully visible with all the leaves on, so I may go back and delete a few in order to expose that area. With the original design I found that it was lacking somewhat but after separating the branches, it seems to have helped it a lot.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Apple Tree Designs

Compared to my other trees, the apple tree is quite a main focus within my animation. Because of this, I had to make sure that it was more detailed than the trees in the background and would be believable within its setting. It's a much larger tree than the others and has a slightly different design in order to stand out from the rest. It needed to be grand in terms of scale and in looks. I looked at real world apple trees to get a basic understand and I found out that the leaves and branches would spread out from the trunk quite a vast amount, as seen below.

As my piece is stylised in terms of design, I didn't want to fully replicate an apple tree, instead I took the idea of the leaves and branches spreading out from the trunk and used this in my design. To make it more interesting and organic I didn't want just a straight regular trunk, instead I curved it round which can make it more appealing. In Lilo and Stitch, all the designs are very rounded with hardly any sharp edges, this makes the characters more appealing as curved lines are more inviting that harsh straight ones.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tree Modeling and Texturing

Using my designs, I created two different trees that would populate the majority of my environment. For the pine tree, in order to reduce the poly count I created the texture with an alpha channel which would allow for parts of the texture to be transparent. This reduces the poly count as I don't have to model each individual leaf section.

When using textures with alphas, sometimes shadowing can appear as Maya can get confused as to which areas are transparent. I had this issue and in the image below you might be able to see the shadow that occurs. To get around this Shadow Attenuation needs to be turned off, which can be found in the raytrace options under each object. The images below show the pines trees with shadow attenuation both on and off. It can be quite subtle sometimes, however to me it was quite visible and it needed to be turned off.

Shadow Attenuation ON
Shadow Attenuation OFF

To give the trees more depth and detail I wanted to create a normal map for each. I used a piece of software called Crazy Bump where you can input a picture of your choice and it will automatically create a normal map for you. You are then able to adjust certain attributes to give your desired result. I tested out bump mapping and also displacement mapping to see if either could create a better result, however the normal map gave a more realistic yet subtle result when compared to the others. I created the displacement map through Crazy Bump, and the bump map was a greyscale version of my tree texture I created in Photoshop. The bump map, I found was too harsh in some areas and didn't create a very realistic result, whereas the displacement map was too subtle and didn't show up very well. I have used normal maps on my other tree and will be doing the same with the large apple tree as well. 

Bump Map
Displacement Map
Normal Map

Environment Design

Looking at real world and animation examples, I've complied together a moodboard of images that have certain things I want to try and incorporate in my own environment. I like the idea of the tree somewhat overhanging over the cliff to give it more of a sense of danger, and a higher risk for the dragon to take before he climbs up it, examples are shown below. The aesthetic of the environment will have to compliment and work a long side the design of the dragon. For this I have chosen to have the trees somewhat realistic in terms of construction, but their textures will be a bit more stylised. It will need to feel as though it belongs in an animation and work well with the dragon.

Below is a quick mockup I produced in watercolours of how the two cliffs might look against one another. Each will have a forest and will open up onto a clearing, and the edge of the cliff. In order to get a sense of scale I'm planning on producing a size chart of the trees in relation to the height of the dragon. This will give a better sense of proportion and allow myself to scale object accordingly. I experimented with different designs of trees, some resembling real trees, while others a bit more stylised and unique. I think I'm going to go with a pine tree and one other in order to give some variance to the forest. The colours will be green as pine trees are evergreen trees and this keeps it somewhat realistic and the audience can easily identify with these as they are in our own world. Even though my animation includes a dragon which is seen as fantasy, I don't want the world to come across as a fantasy world, it should have familiar characteristics and foliage to our own world. I want the audience to be absorbed within the world and the story, and by having something that they can relate to, it makes it easier for this to happen.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I wanted to take my dragon model into Mudbox to create a more rounded shape and to also add a few extra details such as the brow. I had a few issues with taking my model into Mudbox from Maya, one of them being t-shapes. T-shapes are when three or more faces share an edge, and therefore cannot be subdivided. To get around this problem I found out that the major area for this was the wings, and because I needed my wings to be of the geometry I had already created, I separated them from the main body. I only imported my dragon's body and will attach the wings on again once finished.

Once in Mudbox I used the grab tool to start shaping my model and smooth off the round edges, from here I then subdivided it in order to add more detail when sculpting. Using the wax tool I could build up layers to the geometry whilst still keep the topology. I used this for the brow and also to add more shape to the legs. Mudbox is really useful for pulling and pushing parts of your geometry into new places, I was able to do this with much more ease than I would have been able to do in Maya. There are a few more things I need to tweak and work on with the model before I go onto UV mapping and texturing. I'm hoping to texture my dragon within Mudbox using the painting and stencilling tools, but I'll have to look into that further nearer the time.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dragon Modeling

I've started to model my dragon earlier than I had originally planned as I'm waiting on a few other things to be sorted before I move onto my storyboards. With my Dragon model I'm planning to take it into Mudbox where I can add more detail through sculpting. At the minute I have the basic dragon shape minus the final eyes and inside of the mouth. I added in the extra details such as the spikes and wings because then I hopefully won't have to retopoligse my model. If you add on any extra geometry you will have to retopologise. I want to give my dragon a more curved and round shape and I think by doing it in Mudbox it will be the easiest way. In Maya there are tools to smooth and sculpt geometry, however it's not as accurate as I would like. Within Mudbox you are able to add new subdivision levels (creating more polygons) and this will allow more accuracy when sculpting, and also a high level of detail can be added.

You can see my progress below. Using the t-pose that Sophie had created for me, I was able to use this as a guide for proportions and details such as the feet and wings. As I was modelling I found that there were a few things I had to change. Once you start creating something in a 3D space, things may need adapting and in my case it was the feet/claws and how big the legs were. I was worried that the legs might cause some issues when rigging and animating so I have made them skinnier in the width. Right now my dragon is still very boxy but once in Mudbox I will be creating a more smooth and round shape to him.

Storyboard and Animatic

Below are my storyboards for my animation along with the animatic. I've tried to time out the animatic as best as I can and hopefully this will be used to aid a possible music composer. At the minute the animation will probably reach around the 2 minute mark (I always find my animation is longer than I originally anticipated from the animatics). For the storyboards I have taken my original story ideas and expanded them further, adding in more detail to each specific shot. As you can see, you can get an idea of how each shot will be laid out, however I haven't put specific camera shots in. I find that I work much better in a 3D space when it comes to layout and composition, so I will be doing this in more detail within Maya once every asset is created. I've tried to describe the key emotions that the dragon will be feeling as to give me a guide when it comes to animating. I will be referring back to my storyboards when I reach the animation stage, staying close to the original concept but possibly improving the composition of the shots.