VFX Los Angeles

Real-time Computer Characters: No Practical Value But a Great Stunt

Real-Time Computer Characters Show Emotions

“Live stuff has no practical value, but it’s a great stunt.”

After I finished The Blob, the FX coordinator of that film, Mike Fink, put me in touch with a computer graphics company called deGraf/Wahrman. At the time I knew nothing about computer graphics at all, let alone real-time computer characters – something I had in common with the rest of the film industry. I went over to their place in West Hollywood, met Brad deGraf and Michael Wahrman, and found out the reason for their interest in hiring a puppeteer.

Real-time computer character animated man/emotions

They’d just developed some new software for a new computer called the IRIS, made by some company called Silicon Graphics. Again, this all meant nothing to me, but what their software DID was impressive indeed. On a computer screen was a very realistic animated human head, and next to the screen were some joysticks and controls. Moving the joysticks caused the head on the screen to move in response. You could change the expression of the face, move and blink the eyes, and even move the lips into different positions.

It was too cool.

I messed around with the joysticks a bit. deGraf and Wahrman, apparently unconcerned that this computer stuff was about to signal the death of the FX industry as we knew it, liked what they saw.


Atlanta, Georgia – one week later. The annual SIGGRAPH convention.

Until I got there I’d never heard of SIGGRAPH, but it was supposed to be a big deal. We were going to debut our historic real-time character animation at the half-time break in the Film show – the showcase of the best of the year’s computer graphics. (This was 1988, so the film show mostly consisted of chrome TV network logos and thirty-second-long student films. It’s more interesting these days. Well, somewhat more).

I’d been getting a crash course in computer graphics lingo. Whenever I was asked about the big demo deGraf/Wahrman was planning, I’d randomly insert words like “bitmap,” “render” and “raster” into my response until the questioner went away. Only we from deGraf/Wahrman knew I was there to demonstrate how somebody who knew nothing about computers could still use the system. Sort of like the Don Knotts character in The Reluctant Astronaut.

We met with Mike Gribble, a nice guy who was the host of the film show and a close relative of the computer character (now officially christened Mike Normal). The original data for Mike N. was a laser-scan of Mike Gribble’s head, and there was a definite resemblance. (Mike, who unfortunately is no longer with us, was also the “Mike” of “Spike and Mike’s Twisted Animation Festival”).

We Were a Couple of Animated Characters

Mike and I worked out a semi-improv bit where human Mike would stand onstage and describe how he got laser-scanned while computer Mike acted out the story from a video screen overhead. Then computer Mike would lip-sync some opera – opera being preferable since it was mostly vowels and computer Mike wasn’t very good at enunciating yet.

running man animation

We did this little show three times over three successive nights to an audience of several thousand of the brightest minds in the computer graphics world.

As far as I could tell, they didn’t get it. Their response to this ground-breaking performance seemed to be a collective “So what?”

I met somebody (I don’t know who, but I’m sure he’s very important in the industry by now) at one of the parties.

He said, “You did that live demo thing, eh?”

I said, “Yes, I did.”

He said, “Yeah, right. Well, that live stuff has no practical value, but it’s a great stunt.”

Anyway, I continued at deGraf/Wahrman on a part-time basis, whenever they managed to convince somebody to use their “impractical stunt.” We did a few more live performances – the keynote address at the TED 2 conference, for example. The deGraf/Wahrman system was also used in RoboCop 2, the ride film Time Machine of Dreams and to animate the cyber-hostess of Art Futura ’90 in Barcelona.

Nowadays they call real-time computer character animation “motion capture” and it’s all the rage. And while deGraf/Wahrman is no more, both deGraf and Wahrman have moved on to new and better things, they both still do that impractical, useless live animation stuff. Some people never learn.

3D character tutorial bringing images to life

Create a 3D Human Using Simple Techniques

3D game boy

This tutorial explains some techniques for creating a 3D human in a generic fashion,

without referring to any specific 3D program.

Computer game characters: Building your portfolio for employment

Character creation is one skill that every employer looks for in a portfolio. This is because it provides a good reference to judge a potential employee’s skills. If you can model and texture convincing characters, then chances are, you can model/texture almost anything. Of course, this means that everyone expects high standards of character models. They are, after all, our emotional and visual link to the game world in many games.

How do I make a game art portfolio?

Not every portfolio actually requires character models in it; if you do not have the skills to create good characters it is better to leave them out and concentrate on well constructed and textured buildings and vehicles. It is easier to get a job with a portfolio made up of excellent buildings and vehicles than it is with a portfolio that also contains not-so-good character models. In short, if you can model/texture something well, leave it in the portfolio. If in doubt, leave it out.

Concept drawings

concept drawing hand

The example shown here would not look out of place in a fantasy game world. It was based on a variety of Dutch Old Master paintings (a wonderful source of imagery for fantasy characters) and a couple of modern fantasy artists’ work.

Most good character modeling starts with a concept drawing. 

This traditional method of design is still the fastest way to work out the look of the character and may also convey his/her personality and also a color scheme. Good character design relies upon more than the technical skills required to “draw people.” Before drawing a character, you should research their physical appearance, hairstyle, clothing, equipment, etc. that should fit in with the style of the game.


I like to draw my characters in a pose that relates to their personality, but many artists prefer to draw characters in a neutral pose, which can be helpful if the final model is to be created by another artist. I drew the concept sketch using pencil on paper, scanned this and painted over it in Photoshop and experimented with a range of colors until I found a scheme I liked.

Counting your polygons

polygon girl

The next step onwards is to model the character. When modeling in 3D in your 3D program, you may find that it allows you to replace the background of your viewport with an image. If so, you may find it useful to put a copy of the concept sketch there. If this function is not supported, you could make a box with the same dimensions as the concept scan and apply the scan to the box as a texture. Move that to the rear of your viewport and you can consult your concept without having to look away from your monitor. When modeling a character for a computer game, you need to know a few pieces of information that would normally be supplied by the lead artist or a programmer. This includes:

  • How many polygons do I have to model the character with?
  • Is it a seamless skin or a segmented model? (Read the book for further explanation on this.)
  • How many/how large/what color depth textures can I use? (Again, read the book for further explanation on this.)

Each game has its own particular variables, but the above points are true of every game. For the example shown here, we will make the character a seamless skin 3000 polygon figure with a 512×512 pixel texture in 24-bit color, with perhaps an additional 256×256 texture for the head and maybe a 64×64 pixel texture with an alpha channel for the hair. 

These limits would create a model suitable for the Xbox, or high-end PC. The Playstation could also handle this amount of detail, but it would require smaller 8-bit textures because it has much less VRAM than the other platforms.

The first step to modeling a character in 3D is to decide which method to work with. There are many different ways of modeling characters, but the easiest way for the beginner is extrusion modeling.

Extrusion modeling

Extrusion modeling should be available in every 3D modeling package. The basic concept is that you start with a primitive object, usually a box, subdivide it (a process that increases the number of polygons on each side of the box) and then select particular polygons and extrude them out or into the mesh to form general shapes. The extrusions/intrusions are then adjusted and refined to form the details of the model. In many respects, this style of modeling is similar to real world sculptural techniques with clay.

Creating the character

To create a character, first start with a box that is approximately the height, width and depth of your character’s torso if he was standing upright. Now set the number of subdivisions on the front to at least four, on the side to at least two, and the top to at least two.

It is important at this stage to use even numbers because we want to ensure that the model has a line of geometry down its center, which will help later.

The lower body

Think about the legs. Now select the faces that are where the legs would start from at the base of the box. You should be able to select both leg tops and extrude them at the same time. Use a face extrude tool to extrude the legs out to mid thigh. Extrude again to the top of the knee, mid knee, and bottom of the knee. Then extrude to mid calf, ankle and the base of the foot. Select the quad face at the front of the bottom of the leg and extrude the foot from it, giving it about three segments.

The upper body

Use the same technique on the faces of the box where the arms should start and extrude the arms to the wrists, again selecting both start positions for the arms at the same time. This will make the job quicker and more symmetrical.

Extrusion modeling often works well with a type of polygon called a quad. In basic terms, a quad is two triangles that lie next to each other and share an edge down their center. This edge is often hidden in 3D programs to designate that the two faces can be selected in a single selection (assuming the package has quad selection). They are very useful because they are often rectangular in shape and easy to extrude from and then refine to create more of a curved form.

The finer details

For the hands, extrude as before up to the end of the palm, allowing two segments to create the palm. This gives you a quad face on the side of the hand to extrude the thumb from. To create the fingers you will need to use a tool to subdivide the end quad of the hand.

This may be called edge or face divide, or cut or slice or a similar sounding term. Divide the edges that make up the top and bottom of this quad until you have four quad segments. You may have to use a turn edges tool to ensure that the quad face is now divided into four square quads. Now select each quad in turn and extrude it to form the segments of each finger. You may wish to move or scale each finger slightly as you extrude them so that they can be selected easily later on an individual basis.

The next task is to extrude the head. Select the faces at the top of the torso where the neck would be and extrude a neck, giving it two segments. Now extrude the head from the neck. It’s hard to estimate at this point how much detail you will need for the head, so allow around four segments to give a basic shape to it.

The reason why I said it was important to have a symmetrical look to the character will now become clear.

The next task is to select half of the body in the front view and delete that half of the body, leaving you with half a torso, one arm, one leg and half a head. Now that you have deleted half of the model, use a copy function in your 3D package to copy a “reference” or “instance” version of the half figure. Mirror this model so that it appears to rebuild the other half of the character.

Because the new model is an instance or reference of the original mesh, any modifications you now perform on the original half figure will be replicated automatically on the instance/reference model. This is a huge time saver in creating living creatures, which tend to be symmetrical. Depending on what program you are using, it may be important to remember to only work on the original mesh, as operations performed on the instance reference may not be passed back to the original. To make sure you do not forget which model is which, put some 3D text next to the original mesh labeling “Original.”

Smoothing your model

The next part of the tutorial is the longest and hardest. Now you are ready to begin to transform the mass of ugly hard polygons into a curved, organic form. Using the mesh you have created you will need to start to refine and adjust the mesh to fit the design that you previously drew. At this point you will discover that the more time you spend on the concept drawing, the less questions you will have about the actual structure of the model.

Each modeling package has its own tools for modifying the surface of a mesh, but I would advise looking out for tessellate or subdivide functions to increase the amount of polygons in an area of the mesh to give you more vertices to move about. Cut and slice tools will help you break long edges up so that the newly formed vertices can be moved to increase the curvature of the edge.

I would advise working over the entire mesh to increase the level of detail to an equal level. This means you should not overly increase the amount of detail in any one area over any other at this stage in the modeling process. The reason for this is that it is very easy to become stuck trying to model the perfect face and then discover that you do not have enough polygons left in your polygon budget to refine the rest of the model. This is a common mistake and results in very chunky models with highly modeled and smoothed off faces, a combination that jars the eye.

If your 3D package has a polygon counter, keep it on the screen to show you how many polygons you have left to work with. Once you have used 60-75% of your polygon budget on rounding the overall form of the model so that it looks good from a distance. It may be a good idea to set up a camera view that sees the whole model at a resolution of 640×480 pixels so that you can tell where you should add more detail, and also where it is not needed. You can use the remaining budget to increase the level of detail of the face of the character, as well as any additional details that define the nature of its personality. This could be more detail in the clothing to show the style of it or the state it is in. Extra modeling could be put into the hair, especially if the character has a flamboyant hairstyle. Equipment for the character may be a good addition: backpacks, weapon holsters, armor, etc. A basic rule of thumb is anything that would look strange on the model if it was just represented by a texture on a flat mesh, should be modeled in the detailing part of the modeling process.

Once you are happy with the look of your model, you can join the two halves together and then fix any mesh artifacts that arise from this process and assign or correct any smoothing groups that are required. You may discover at this point that parts of the mesh are not quite in proportion. It is a good idea to have someone else look at your model for these types of errors because you have been looking at it for so long that your eye will begin to ignore such problems.

Texturing your model

When you have finished the modeling process, you must begin the texturing process for the character. As this is a game model, we have already decided that all of the body of the character will be textured using one texture, with the head using another texture and the hair using one final texture. 

Because the body must fit into one texture, you will have to create a texture that looks like a bit of a puzzle, or a mass of severed body parts! If you look at the texture for a game character (Quake3 models are an excellent source as their bitmaps and models are easy to find in the installed game), you will see how the artist has packed every detail possible into every pixel available to him.

This process usually starts by applying different forms of UVW mapping to the parts of the character mesh (for further explanation about different forms of mapping, read the book). Thus an arm is often given cylinder mapping, the palm and back of the hand uses planar mapping, etc. 

Then each part of the mesh that requires a texture is selected in turn and then “unwrapped” to a flat surface which can be saved as a bitmap containing an image of all the wireframe of the model within it. 

These wireframe images can be combined in Photoshop to form a collage of all the parts of the model. Pack them as close to each other as possible (although it is often good practice to leave a 1-2 pixel gap around the edges of each body area, as this prevents the pixels from one area of the model from “bleeding” through into another area when the model has bi-linear filtering applied to it in the game engine). Now you can see where you should start to paint your textures.

Evolution of the brand over time


From storefront windows to social media

building brand strategy

It is quite amazing how successfully marketed brands, people and companies changed and evolved over time.

A hundred years ago the mark of a successful advertisement was if it was featured on the front page of the local newspaper or posted on a storefront window. Word of mouth always worked too. Then came the invention of television commercials and radio broadcast, but the breakthrough which has been the greatest gift to the marketing industry was the invention of the internet and the beast which arose with social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, etc.

social media icons

Company advertisements are no longer limited to a tiny corner in the New York Times next to obituaries or “Dear Abby” (what a relief, although some of those “Dear Abby” letters are quite comical.)

Videos, whether they be corporate videos, commercials, web videos, viral videos, music videos, you name it, have a target reach which is virtually unlimited. YouTube is one of the most successful means of advertising because of the millions of hits its music and web videos receive a day. Before people begin watching the latest Rhianna music video or celebrity sighting segment, there usually is a 30-second commercial advertisement. Utilizing that space would be ideal for any company to sell their message and/or brand. YouTube is known for getting thousands of hits on any variety of videos a day, and if your companies’ commercial or video advertisement is attached, it’s receiving optimum coverage.

A great example of a product brand film is our recent work for Nivea For Men and their brand agency Xomad.com. They did excellent video advertising for their “Look Like You Give A Damn” Project. Sunblock Studios, Inc. directed, produced and edited the video.

Companies such as Pandora, Music Choice and Fuse Music provide an opportunity to market to a large population of people as well as on their websites. Millions of bored workers spend a large portion of their days listening to these sites. Those who can’t log onto Pandora, Music Choice and others do so at night, while they are surfing the web, checking email, or playing “Farmville.” And, every three or so songs, a well-placed advertisement is shown.

Talk about a captive audience.

It is important to stay informed as to what websites are popular and see what people use most in a day to take advantage of available video marketing opportunities. Moving forward, the companies who will grow and expand are the ones who know how important viral video marketing campaigns are to reach their important potential customers.

Why soundtracks will make or break a movie

Music is your secret weapon

vinyl records

In a world where directors are constantly worrying about which special effects supervisor to hire, and how to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to play their new action hero, too little value is being given to music. The role a soundtrack or a movie score plays for a film is often underappreciated and underworked.

Many movies nowadays feature soundtracks that are blasé and overused. The same music that plays as Sylvester Stallone jumps out of the burning helicopter somehow finds its way into the romantic tale of a couple in Europe. And yet, the proof is difficult to dismiss – good films nearly always have great soundtracks.

So why spend a tremendous amount of time picking the right music for your film? Let’s put it this way – music is your secret weapon.

It’s subtle when it needs to be and bold and ruthless when necessary. Music is often read on a subconscious level by the audience. They’re focused on the film, but their mind adds the music to create the big picture. You don’t want to distract the audience with your soundtrack. It’s only there to make their experience of your film that much better.

Lately, it has become common for scores to be recorded completely by one author. The entire soundtracks for The Dark Knight and Inception were recorded by Hanz Zimmer. Watchmen’s score was created by Tyler Bates and that of Tron: Legacy was done by Daft Punk. Whether it is more efficient or better in general to have the entire score for your film created by one group is debatable. What there is no doubt about, however, is that all these films did very well in the box office.

The next time you’re looking for your film’s main theme, and just can’t find the perfect match, keep looking. That perfect song might just be the touch that sends your movie into fame.

Filmmakers need to work harder than ever these days to create something new and original, and then you try even harder to make it something truly wonderful. Take those extra few days. Find the perfect score for your film. And when the soundtrack you add into your movie fits perfectly, the result is amazing. It can create anything from a rush of adrenaline in the hearts of your audience to the lone tear sliding down every single onlooker’s eye.

And that right there is what you call movie magic.

Turning Your Concept Into Reality – The Reality TV Edition

reality tv show talent show vector

One of the hardest things to do is to turn a creative concept into a successful venture. And nowhere does this truth hold more water than with a Reality TV show.

In the past, the odds of taking a television project from concept to production on your own was about as common as winning the Kentucky Derby on a three-year-old, three-legged horse named “Miracle.” Today, however, with the assistance of experienced film development companies, it is highly possible to turn your concept of a Reality TV show into a business in no time flat. And contrary to popular belief, the process is really not that complicated.

However, there are a few important steps that anybody should follow in order to ensure your Reality TV show ends up in front of network executives and not in a good, old circular file.


It has been argued that some of the most creative ideas come while people are relaxed. But we’re not suggesting you grab your rod and reel and expect to reel in the big one as soon as you drop your line in the water. This is a metaphor for FINDING THE HOOK. And if you are going to be successful in Reality TV show development, you need to capture multiple fish at the same time.

A “hook,” in entertainment terms, is a way in which the concept of the Reality TV show can be highly effective in a short period of time. Television producers need a device or “hook” which can engage the viewer (DANGLE THE BAIT), propel the story forward (SET THE HOOK) and ensure the viewer will continue to watch, not only the entire show, but every episode in the series (REEL THEM IN).

A Great Example of This Happens to Be a Reality TV Show About Fishing

Beginning in 2005, The Deadliest Catch (sponsored by Coors Light) on The Discovery Channel, now in its 15th season, proudly boasts their show catches over six million viewers every Tuesday night. Those are huge numbers for a cable network. They are able to accomplish this due to an exceptional hook. The job of a crab fisherman in the rough seas of the Bering Strait is extremely dangerous. Combine that with the drama which is created in this highly stressful profession, a bunch of guys who are not afraid to say what’s on their mind and the question everybody asks each week is, “What will happen next?”

A good hook needs to be creative, out of the box and not the same old song and dance. If your idea is a spin-off of a current show, with a different group of people, the odds are you will be met with: “Yeah that’s great. I liked it the first time when it was (insert favorite Reality TV show here).”

A great Reality TV show needs multiple fish to bring to the market. And it’s difficult and time consuming to catch one fish at a time. And you can’t simply rely on an interesting topic to capture viewers. So, what kind of tools can you use to catch more viewers at once?


In order to catch a fish, you’ve got to make sure the line is in the water first. But, if you know where the fish are, and can skillfully cast your line directly to them.

In this case, a Reality TV show needs an entertaining and engaging cast. Having the right people who best sell the concept (or Hook) you developed is the next step in creating a successful show. Once again, we can look at our friends on The Deadliest Catch for example.

The guys on this Reality TV show are an eclectic bunch. From the highly intense captains Sig Hansen and Keith Colburn to the free spirited guys like Wild Bill Wichrowski and Jonathan Hillstrand, the show has a crew that engages a highly diverse audience. Heck, even the boats have personality and add to the flavor and strength of this cast.

The point being, a great Reality TV show needs to include a solid cast of characters, who will create brand affection with the viewers. Sure, good television starts with a solid hook and story, but the cast makes the story sell.

Step 3 – Solid Treatment

pitching concept to tv executives

In order to catch fish, you need some great bait. In order to pitch the concept to TV executives, you’ll need a great treatment to be written for your Reality TV show concept.

A treatment could be considered a written pitch; something that catches the buyer’s attention and makes them want to see more. Something which breaks down the hook you created originally, and the cast to support the story. A great treatment should highlight the key points of the show, using effective writing skills to sell your point.

A great treatment should also be brief. There is no need for a 50-page thesis here. Just like your Reality TV show, your treatment needs to engage the reader quickly and effectively. You need to make your point right away and summarize what the show is all about in a tight package.

A lot of times, having all this information is what most people do. And often, their treatments end up in the old-fashioned circular file we talked about earlier. So what kind of bait can a person use to truly get their Reality TV show noticed?


A sizzle is also known in some circles as demo reels, show reels, media highlight reels, public relations videos, video pitches, electronic press kit videos, promo videos, or teasers. They are 3- to 5-minute videos that combine visuals, audio and messaging to create a fast-paced, stylized overview of a product, service, initiative or brand. In this case, they are selling your Reality TV show.

Put yourself in the decision makers chair for a second.

If you had to choose between a concept on paper which most likely took the writer a day or two to create and edit, or a concept on video which most likely involved a few weeks of planning, editing, shooting, re-editing, revising the planning, directing, producing and re-editing (and yes, there is a reason we used the term re-editing twice), nine times out of ten they are going to choose the video option.

Putting forth the extra effort, investing your time and money to create a professional sizzle reel will separate you from the competition. And let’s face it, the world of Television Development is a highly competitive industry.

As you can see, there is a lot to do in order to be prepared to pitch a show. We have not even touched the actual pitch part, as this is something entirely different. But, the facts remain; Reality TV is a solid business. Reality-based TV is not only the current trend, but all signs point to an increase in these types of shows in the future.

And even in tough economic times, there is a need for good entertainment. Advertisers know this, and networks depend on this reality.

Film production sets are a major key in filmmaking

Film production sets are key to filmmaking

Experienced engineers needed for complex designs

Bond movie set

Set design is a major part of the filmmaking process.

In some cases, the sets are so complex that it even takes longer to make them than it takes to film the movie, much less the scene they support. Nowadays, sets are often so advanced they require the work of many experienced engineers. What you get is a flawlessly symbiotic relationship between art and science.

Movie Inception production set example

Director Christopher Nolan’s film, Inception, stands tall grossing over $830 million dollars worldwide. What seems like a work of brilliant computer-generated animation, however, was largely shot in a completely real environment. Whereas many action-style movies nowadays use CGI to boost their effects, Christopher Nolan, when interviewed, claimed: “using real-world sets gives the seemingly impossible action scenes a feeling of authenticity that CGI cannot create.”

Inception’s scene involving the zero gravity corridors shows this best. Two men engage in an all-out fist-throwing struggle. They fight in what seems like an impossible environment as they jump off and onto walls and ceilings. This scene was created using a large rotating rig, which supported and twisted a built-in elaborate corridor. While it may have seemed that the actors were fighting in a strange zero-gravity-like environment, the corridor was simply rotating and the two would run up the sides to keep their balance.

Inception movie poster

Another example would be Inception’s downtown scene in which a freight train randomly appears, cutting through intersections and traffic, and ripping up gravel. Despite the ease in which this could be done with visual effects, this train was all but computer generated. It was constructed by building the exterior of a freight train on top of a trailer truck. The wheels of the train were then dropped on-set lower than the truck to create gashes in the cement. This massive construction was then shot as it drove through the set in downtown Los Angeles.

Integrating CGI with real environment

Although the possibilities of computer-generated animations are constantly expanding, some directors still prefer real-world environments for their authenticity. And when complex sets are needed, it’s often up to engineers to enter the world of film and fill it with their own personal art form. It may be complex, but it’s also dazzlingly beautiful to see two art forms come together so flawlessly. In the end, is it worth it to spend extra time and money on building overly-elaborate sets?

Really, it’s up to the audience to decide, but one thing is certain – cool sets make for amazing behind-the-scenes footage.

Digital 3D cameras revolutionize mainstream film production

Jackson’s “Epic” decision brings innovative technologies to the forefront

3D camera

Peter Jackson’s decision to buy thirty Red Epic digital cameras for filming The Hobbit confirms that conventional 35mm film and cameras may soon be obsolete.

Much has been said recently about the quality of 3D versions of films. Adding 3D effects or converting 2D to 3D is no longer an option when it comes to producing a quality cinematic experience, as the scrapped attempt to rush this process on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) demonstrated. Filmmakers wishing to tempt audiences out from in front of their home entertainment centres, in the age of Blu-ray and HD digital television, have to deliver a more unique and believable experience, as James Cameron’s Avatar attempted to do.

Like Cameron, Peter Jackson has been at the forefront of bringing innovative technologies in film production and filmmaking, yet neither managed to supersede the 35mm celluloid traditional camera, until now. The future of film production looks like a race between the tacked-on technologies of existing camera manufacturers such as Sony and Canon, or the unique custom build of Red Cinema products.

Sony Digital Fusion Camera System for Avatar 3D convergence

James Cameron, with Vince Pace, developed the multi-million dollar Fusion Camera System. Pace’s concept combined two Sony HDC-950 HD cameras (later upgraded with Sony HDC-F950 cameras) with lenses that could dynamically adjust the angle of their convergence to match the depth of objects within the Z field (a term that describes 3D space). This significantly improved the 3D viewing experience and increased flexibility for manipulation of image depth effect. The cameras were used for filming live action scenes in New Zealand.

“A key enhancement to our Fusion Camera System used on Avatar has been our ability to introduce a software algorithm that controls the convergence so we can extract the best stereo from a shot based on metadata such as focal length and distance to the subject,” Pace explained to Jay Ankeney during the post-production phase of Avatar (2009).

Now that Cameron has committed to making two sequels to Avatar, he told invited guests to the Avatar Immersive Extended Collector’s Edition DVD launch that first they had to improve and upgrade.

“In order to do that,” he said, “we have to refine our technical processes beyond the end of where we were finishing ‘Avatar 1′ a year ago because we need to future-proof ourselves five or six years to the end of the third film. We’re in that process right now.”

Future-Proof Canon Digital Stop Motion Animation Cameras at Aardman

Aardman Animations in Bristol, UK, home of successful features like Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) are now using Canon EOS 1D digital cameras for their stop motion animation feature films, and have recently put their 40 Mitchell traditional cameras into storage.

The Canon offers a simple user interface, self-cleaning sensor and high-ISO images. Peripheral-illumination correction keeps brightness consistent across the entire image while the auto lighting optimiser boosts shadow detail. Its usefulness for stop motion animation lies in the full manual control over video that allows the filmmaker to micromanage every frame. Digital cameras speed up the filmmaking process over traditional celluloid reels.

The production phase of making a new film

Directors no longer have to wait for “rushes” to be developed and delivered back for viewing. At Aardman, for instance, each set could not be dismantled until after a motorbike messenger had brought back the day’s developed footage and it had been viewed. With digital, the monitor shows immediately whether the crew got their shot right, which they find “liberating,” James Silver reports. It saves time, and processing costs, too.

Aardman also filmed in stereo (3D) The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, a $60 million feature made in partnership with Sony Pictures Digital Productions.

Red Epic Digital Camera 3D Cinematography for The Hobbit

Peter Jackson’s take on the coming of digital is very positive, and he ordered 30 Red Epic cameras at a cost of approximately $58,000 each, for 3D filming of his 2011 production, The Hobbit. These cameras are small and light and can easily be mounted side-by-side for 3D image filming. Since they are battery driven, they have no cables. He believes that they offer the most filmic final image of any digital equipment.

Jackson is mainly interested in the artistic possibilities of digital cinematography. He suggests digital cameras as a more practical option than old-fashioned 35mm ones, pointing out that the usual 2k resolution of digital pictures has been superseded already by the 4k option. Four thousand pixel resolution gives brighter color and contains more visual information which offers clearer detail, particularly in shadowed areas. He also believes that tungsten light gives a more artistic effect and clearer skin tones.

Examples of movies shot with Red Digital technology include Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) and David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010). Jackson used a Red Criterion to establish certain artistic features for The Lovely Bones (2009). Directors are known to be particularly keen on digital, specifically Red filmmaking technology also include Steven Soderbergh, while Martin Scorsese, who shot The Invention of Hugo Cabret in London in 3D, reportedly remains obsessed with the “sound of the sprockets” and the “feel of 35mm.”

Creating game art for 3D engines

Brad Strong’s Art Asset Creation for the Torque Engine

Learn how to make commercial quality game art and models step-by-step for the Torque Game Engine in Autodesk 3D Studio Max with Creating Game Art for 3D Engines.

Brad Strong’s title, Creating Game Art for 3D Engines, suggests a generic guide to modeling for game engines. This is somewhat misleading, as Strong’s book serves a very specific purpose: creating 3D art content in the modeling package 3D Studio Max for use in the Torque Game Engine.

While the lessons in this book can be applied to other modeling packages for use in game engines other than Torque, the detailed tutorials in the book will best benefit the 3D Studio Max user and a Torque license holder.

The book contains 12 chapters, covering three main topics:

  • Introduction to 3DS Max
  • Low Polygon Modeling, including unwrapping, texturing, animating and exporting game art
  • Character Modeling, including unwrapping, texturing, rigging, animating and exporting character models

Introduction to 3DS Max

Strong’s choice of 3D Studio Max is a peculiar one. The Torque engine is aimed at an independent game developer or hobbyist audience and is priced accordingly. Yet a single-seat license for 3DS Max retails for several thousand dollars. A more befitting modeling package would be the affordable Milkshape, or free modelers such as Blender or Wings, as 3DS Max is beyond the budget of most casual game developers.

However, Strong’s treatment of 3DS Max is excellent. The complexity of 3DS Max can make learning this software overwhelmingly difficult. Strong avoids information overload often experienced by new Max users by introducing only the toolset relevant to creating art assets for Torque and examining that toolset in logical detailed steps.

Low Poly Modeling

low poly model polar bear

The chapters on low poly modeling are quite basic in nature but provide the essential groundwork for the more complex task of creating animated textured game characters. Strong uses his own game art throughout to provide examples, and if this art is amateurish, it is reassuringly so. The book, after all, is aimed at the beginner, and there is nothing so discouraging as seeing commercial quality art used in similar books to illustrate a novice-level tutorial. Strong’s examples are reproducible and easily improved upon.

Character Modeling in 3DS Max

The sections on character modeling are worth the cover price alone. The Torque engine has a particularly unforgiving model importation method, and 3DS Max offers so many exporting options that it is easy to get the process wrong.

Strong strips away the difficulties by providing full explanations of not just how to export models from Max into Torque, but also details the context of why each step in the process is required. This provides thorough educational instruction in both modeling package and game engine.

The book provides a companion CD-ROM to accompany the text. The CD includes:

  • The complete set of figures used in the book
  • Sample characters and weapons
  • Sample pickups with script files
  • Screen captured movie tutorials
  • Trial version of the Torque Game Engine including ShowTool Pro
  • Torque and Dark Industries DTS Exporters
  • Texporter

3D Studio Max can be extremely intimidating, and the convoluted Torque art pipeline only adds to the complexity of creating art assets for use in the game engine. While Strong’s book does read rather like an engineering manual, Creating Game Art for 3D Engines is still an excellent guide to both 3DS Max processes and the Torque engine and should be considered compulsory as a reference book for all Torque developers using 3DS Max for art creation.

Creating Game Art for 3D Engines by Brad Strong

  • Available from Charles River Media
  • 332 Pages, Soft Cover
  • Originally Published September 2007
  • ISBN 1-58450-548-6

The Official Guide to 3D Game Studio – A Book Review

the official guide to 3d game studio mike duggan book cover

Along with the Torque game engine by Garage Games, the 3D Game Studio by Conitec has dominated the last decade as an affordable and effective 3D game authoring platform for hobbyists, independent game creators, and professional games studios alike. Dominating book releases covering game design within these game engines are author, programmer and motion graphics expert, Michael Duggan.

Mike Duggan, the author of Torque for Teens, is also the author of The Official Guide to 3D Game Studio. In this book, Duggan covers every aspect of game creation within the 3D Game Studio authoring environment, and more besides. Rather than concentrating purely on the software, Duggan provides an extensive introduction to the business side of the games industry. He provides the reader not only with the skills to plan and create games in 3D Game Studio but also with a grounding in how to deliver those games to the public. This may be through traditional publishing or as a scratchware product.

Official Guide to 3D Game Studio Contents

The Official Guide to 3D Game Studio is split into four parts over 13 chapters. The first part of the book focuses on providing a foundation on how games are developed in the professional games industry, and how the development process of the professionals can be applied to game design in 3D Game Studio. The second and third parts of the book concentrate on creating complete games in the game engine.

Fundamentals that are covered include:

  • Game concept and creating design documentation
  • Game level design in 3D Game Studio WED world editor
  • Modeling and animating characters in 3D Game Studio MED model editor
  • Programming in 3D Game Studio SED script editor
  • Implementing user game interfaces
  • Creating combat systems

Duggan’s use of the 3D Game Studio internal editors is refreshing, as so many books on 3D game engines, including Duggan’s own Torque for Teens, choose to focus on expensive modeling software such as Autodesk Maya or 3D Studio Max for creating 3D game art assets.

Making 3D Game Art with WED and MED

SÜPERCAN, A8 engine, 3D Action Adventure by Sobee Studios

While 3D Game Studio WED and MED are feature-light when compared to such powerhouse modeling packages as Maya and Max, recently developed games such as “The Adventures of Ambages,” use only media created in WED and MED. This game demonstrates that 3D Game Studio is a complete game authoring package, providing all the tools required to create games in their entirety.

3D Game Studio Guide CD

This CD has all the tools except one. 3D Game Studio does not yet include a sound editor. However, Duggan foresees this shortcoming and provides a CD to accompany the book that contains freeware software that adequately covers those areas that the 3D Game Studio internal editors lack.

The CD contains:

  • A 30-day trial version of 3D Game Studio
  • A copy of Audacity Sound Editor
  • The Gensurf Terrain Generator
  • A Beta version of Paint Dot Net
  • The A4 Font Generator

The CD also contains sample art files, audio files, WADS, 3D models and the custom scripts used throughout the book.

Game Making Made Easy with the 3D Game Studio Guide

In The Official Guide to 3D Game Studio, Michael Duggan has provided an approachable, readable and entertaining foundation in 3D game making that is applicable not just to 3D Game Studio, but to any modern 3D game engine.

His book is a comprehensive introduction to the 3D Game Studio authoring software, and to the game creation industry as a whole, as one could hope for in under 450 pages. Used as a reference work along with the free 3D Game Studio Acknex User Magazine (AUM) for specific code examples, readers of Duggan’s book are supplied with all they need to create their own 3D video games. As such, The Official Guide to 3D Game Studio should be considered an essential purchase for 3D Game Studio users.

Is animation an extension to another dimension?

A smorgasboard of options sparking creativity

anime magazines

For Arts Education, the availability of animation is a Godsend. Dance, drama, music and fine art can be combined in collaborative projects that encourage creativity.

What we now accept as creative authentic art is vastly different from the traditional fare accepted only decades ago. Technology allows us to capture and manipulate almost any desired visual or audio effect. No strand in the Arts seems “pure” anymore. Nor does anything seem sacred – think of the sexiness of Anime. However, throughout the ages, all art styles and media had the potential for being put to good or bad use.

The role of the Arts Educator is to guide, mediate and encourage students to be discerning. Teachers are challenged to create projects that have the potential to stimulate and stretch the student’s creativity and originality of response. Animation provides a smorgasbord that will enable the student to approach projects with inventive exploration.

Animation and its artistry

Art teachers want to instill a love of all things artistic into the hearts of their students. Animation is a versatile medium within which story can combine dance, dramatic enactment, poetry, stage and set design. Music sets the scene for drawings, paintings, all things digital, and claymation. Claymation allows clay to come to life and speak in ways that seem realistic. 

The ease and affordability of digital manipulation allows a teacher to show good examples of how music expresses the artist’s true intentions and teaches students how to combine these elements themselves. This gives students the opportunity to be active creators rather than consumers of technological art in all forms of multimedia.

Is animation really art?

Animation has lost respect within the Fine Art World due to the lewd representations of its characters and oversaturation of the same storylines. 

“Plots? We never bothered with plots. They were just a series of gags strung together. And not very funny, I’m afraid.” – Dick Huemer, 1957 Article Online by Patrick James

“Today, animation in Japan is considered to be in a creative doldrum. Due to the sheer volume of the output over the past three decades, the good ideas have all been used up.’” – Fred Patten

Animation as a teaching medium

However, for Arts Education, the availability of animation as a teaching medium is a blessing. Through this media, the teacher can bring together all of the strands of the Arts in an easy and affordable manner. For the results to be motivating teachers will address:

  • Time management
  • Project management
  • The arts of collaboration
  • Ways to access knowledge (learning how to learn)
  • Scripting
  • Motivation, goal setting, confidence and persistence

The quality of the work produced and the way the media is used remains a matter of taste and discretion for the Arts Faculties that provide them.