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Valve’s “Source Filmmaker” (SFM)

Posted on June 28, 2012 
Filed Under Video Games | 1 Comment

SFM logo

I went to see Madagascar 3 in 3d few days ago and I was struck by how efficiently they used the 3d.

Like most purist I don’t usually care about 3d and would usually go for the cheaper and flatter 2d version when/if available but this made me realize that we are living in a very exciting time.

As soon as I got out of the cinema I wanted to do some modeling and animation. Not because the movie was so good (you can swim from Tanzania to Monaco in 5 minutes, but can’t reach New York in 10? right….) but I am guessing because I had been sharing 90 minutes with CG puppets made alive, and, thanks to the use of 3d, those puppets were simply made real.

For the past few years we have merely tried to replicate in CG what had been done for 100 years with traditional 2d animation when we actually have the tools to take storytelling and cinematography to greater heights.

Let’s have a look at what video game company, Valve, just presented in a very compelling video today.

Non other than Gollum’s creator, Bay Raitt, is introducing Valve’s “Source filmmaker” (SFM).

From what I understand, they basically give you the best tool to create your own Machinimas.

We will be able to to use Valve’s realtime VFX, lighting, animation engine to create our own realtime shortfilms… for free? ;-)

On top of that, we can already imagine that animation, props, VFX creators could sell the fruits of their labour on the Valve marketplace or Steam, for everyone to enjoy. Got some crazy walk/run cycles? Sell them! You missed out on the Iphone App market? This is your chance!

Those guys are definitely thinking outside the box and created a really fresh ecosystem and business model. I look forward to hearing more about it and seeing how the wider audience will react to it.

Hit to following link for loads of tutorials.

While we are at it, check out that “Meet the Pyro” video I hadn’t seen before.

Related posts:
Bay Raitt
Design outside the box
Things change, new opportunities ariseB

Low polygon modeling

Posted on October 28, 2011 
Filed Under Education, Modeling | 6 Comments

Low polygon modelling, opposed to “high frequency modeling” (the stuff done in Zbrush or Mudbox), is the basics of modelling. Any software can handle that type of work nowadays, from the free Blender to the extremely expensive Maya, 3dsmax or XSI packages.

There are two approaches to low polygon modeling:

1. A top-down approach where you start directly with a square plane whose edges you extrude following the final edge loops.

2. A bottom-up approach where you start modeling from a cube that you gradually subdivide by adding edges or extruding faces.

Both techniques are so simple that they only require a subdivide toggling hotkey (3 in Maya) and a handful of tools which I featured in my ‘Low Polygon modeling tools’ post.

The Edge extrusion method was extensively demonstrated by Kolby Jukes back in the days he used XSI as his primary modeling software. All his videos are offline as he only does Mudbox “High frequency sculpting” nowadays but the Edge extrusion technique is the technique I featured in my latest modeling timelaps video based on Brave’s Lord Macintosh character so have a look at this:

If you are not familiar with modeling, what I did here was to put the original concept art on a plane in the background then create a second smaller plane whose edges I extruded following an edge flow mental picture I had. The edge flow being the minimum amount of flowing edges necessary to describe the muscles, skeletal structure or deformation of the surface. Whaooo that was complicated! Well instead of just projecting a grid of edges on the surface of the head, I am creating a minimal amount of edge loops and rings that follow the creases facial expressions will produce. Makes sense?

Bay Raitt was probably the first one to fully demonstrate the Cube approach in that ground breaking 1999 “One afternoon with Bay Raitt” Mirai timelapse video.

This is the one I used in my Rickshaw modeling timelapse video:

I think the video is self explanatory, if not, post a comment and I will add more explanation in my post

Related posts:
Pixar “Brave” concept art and teaser
Jason Schleifer interview – Speaking of animation
Posts in the Modeling category

Things change, new opportunities arise

Posted on October 14, 2011 
Filed Under Education, Miscellaneous | 4 Comments

I was reading some articles this morning and realised few things.

Five years ago, a successful game career involved joining a big corporation like Microsoft, EA, Sony.
Five years ago 2d animation was dead.

With the current recession, gaining full time employment at a major studio is pretty unlikely nowadays. At best, most of them prefer to stick with contract workers as the market doesn’t allow a long term strategy at the moment but on the other hand, thousands of independent game developers are producing XBLA and smartphones games and applications, creating hundreds of jobs for senior and even fresh graduates in the field of, 2d animation, UI and concept art.

As recalled in that ex Rare employees interview, if it wasn’t possible to make games for less than $10 millions and a team of 70 and upwards in the past, things have changed. Even the tools are now available and affordable making it possible for anyone to make their own independent games. What an exciting time!

Most of those companies will soon grow to become the next leaders or get bought by the former ones hoping to get their glory back.

Not all big corporations are taking the back seat though, Microsoft with XBLA was probably the first one to create an independent game developer ecosystem and empower creative artists and programmers. Without XBLA, Behemoth’s “Castle Crashers” would have probably never known the success it received. How many people had heard of Alien Hominid before Castle Crashers?

An other thing I wanted to mention today is a very interesting move by Valve and Jagex. With the release of Team Fortress 2 for free to the public, I was wondering how the company could still pay for their servers but their strategy seems to be paying off as they recently announced a hefty profit for items creators.

But what is in for the very independent artist?

Well check out this article featuring legendary Bay Raitt. Ok there is nothing groundbreaking like his work on Gollum but one sentence at the very end of the article raised my interest for Team Fortress 2.

Making of a Skull hat.

“If this was a community-made item, the money from item sales would get split between Valve and the item maker!”

As much as I love the art style I don’t have time to play the game. Creating items for it could however become a source of revenue for the most successful artists. Imagine if your item became viral as Bay’s hat probably became?

Unemployed 3d artist? Make CG hats! ;-)

Interesting read:
This is what the Transformers MMO will look like
Why the Next Game From Braid’s Creator is Skipping Consoles the comments are funny as usual
Steam Workshop

Related posts:
Jason Schleifer interview – Speaking of Animation

Jason Schleifer interview – Speaking of animation

Posted on December 20, 2010 
Filed Under Animation | 3 Comments

For those of you who still haven’t added Speaking of Animation to their bookmarks, SOA is a new blog focused on animation and specifically the work produced at Dreamworks.

SOA celebrates its first birthday this month and after the great podcasts with classical to CG animator Ted Ty, How to train your dragon directors Sanders and Deblois…. They are, this month, interviewing my AM mentor and Dreamworks Megamind’s Head of Character Animation Jason Schleifer.

Jason followed a very interesting path as he didn’t start in 3dstudio dos, Lightwave or even Imagine like most of us but instead went straight for SGI workstations and Wavefront softwares just before they merged with Alias and created Maya. What was supposed to be an initial training so he could teach the other students became the stepping stone that lead him to a solid career at Weta then PDI, the San Francisco branch of Dreamworks.

I could definitely relate that that interview as it brought me back to the years where Bay Raitt and Martin Krol were kicking ass and Mirai’s polygonal and edge flow paradigm gradually got adopted… (ripped off was the term used at that time) by all the major 3d software makers, eclipsing Nurbs and Patches for organic modeling. Some feature studios still use Nurbs and patches nowadays but this is mainly due to pipeline legacy than actual superiority.

Back in the day, Bay Raitt was running Spiraloid, the first “traditional CG modeling” forum dedicated to polygon modeling. The forum is now down but you can find a quick video of Bay Rait modeling Gollum on the Lords of the rings’ Two towers second DVD. There was also “One afternoon with Bay Rait”, one of the first timelapse modeling videos that shook the modeling community in 1999.

Regarding Nichimen/Izware’s Mirai and Nendo, I remember a great video by Martin Krol showing how revolutionary the software was but I can’t find it right now. I will post it when I get home , I have a copy on one of my hard drives back in the UK.

Jason is also mentioning a close up shot by my classmate John Comey where one of the characters from his short film is pressing a button. John hasn’t got his shot online unfortunately.

Having worked with Weta, Jason has had to face the usual question about Motion Capture to which he gave a good answer “in its place, it could be okay”. A previous SOA interview on Avatar was very enlighting in that sense. Most animation purist don’t like Motion capture but for certain things like VFX or realistic games there is just no way around. Staying away from those two is actually a good way to avoid using it :-)

The interview is also about how he approaches his role as Head of Character Animation. Many leads, supervisors or anyone wanting to get into management in feature animation can definitely learn from.

At the end of the podcast, Jason brings up some very interesting points on performance, mentioning the “What if” game and how useful video reference can be, not really as a crutch, to use Milt Kahl ‘s legendary quote, but more to bring subtlety or ideas we would have never thought about.

Victor Navone had a very interesting post on video reference a while back where he first blocked a shot from his own imagination then shot video references in the Pixar hall. The video reference had so much more subtleties that he decided to integrate more of it into the final shot.

Speaking of animation, a great interview with Jason Schleifer

Related posts:
Jason Ryan interview
Ted Ty interview
Q&A with Jason