Monday, 20 August 2012

Robin van Persie... The Animated Tale

A new week and what better way than starting it than with the product of the old... In the end, the render time was probably closer to 40 hours than it was to 20 for the two shots in this oh-so-short animation. I’d already made many mistakes along the way before I felt the finished film could do with an opening shot to establish… well, not sure what I thought it needed to establish other than something to lead into the ‘action’.

I really need to rethink the way I’m going about this. Not just the rushed animation (I wanted this finished ahead of United's first match of the season) but also the quality of the render. The problem with these so called ‘unbiased’ renderers is that they don’t take any shortcuts when creating the image. They throw light around the scene in all directions and map the results. Eventually, after the light has finished pinging around, a few of these virtual photons hit the virtual lens of the camera you set up and a pixel is recorded. After enough time, enough pixels are recorded to form an image. However, you need an unreasonably long time to completely fill in the black holes. It’s the reason why the above animation has a slightly speckled quality.

The solution is to move to one of the less accurate but speedy rendering systems out there but, for those, I need a new graphics card. I hear the GTX580 with 3GB of memory is ideal but they're astronomically pricey. Perhaps I might get away with something more reasonably cheap. The way it’s going at the moment, I’m struggling to learn the basics of how to animate characters because the actual process of testing the finished renders make it impossible to learn from my mistakes and the longer animation I’ve been working on for about a week now has not moved forward since the PC has been taken up with rendering this.

Anyway, it's done and I can move on, though I really don't feel too inspired to do much work. This morning's sad news of Tony Scott's death is utterly shocking, especially given the manner of it. Of course, the papers will be full of the usual blather about Ridley being the more acclaimed director but if Tony made fewer films loved by the critics, he definitely made more films loved by audiences and contributed more to my everyday happiness. 'Enemy of the State', 'Spy Game', 'Crimson Tide', 'Deja Vu'... It's strange but, looking back, I suppose there was a time, somewhere around 2001, when I started to look forward to Tony Scott films more than I did Ridley Scott films. Tony Scott's work improved as he got older, which made his death at such a relatively young age for a director so shocking and makes us feel like we've been robbed of something vital and important.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


It’s hell sitting by a hot PC in this weather, especially now there’s no Olympic beach volleyball coverage to distract my attention. My trusty old six core Phenom II is only two hours away from finishing a mammoth 18 hour render to produce eleven seconds of animation. That will be 279 frames, which rendered at low quality (allowing myself only four minutes per frame) works out at 1116 minutes or 18.6 hours.

Those are crazy numbers – though old hands at CG will say it's nothing compared to the many hours some of them devote to a single image – and I’m not sure how I’m going to progress now I’m seriously trying to animate a CG short film. It might have helped if I hadn’t included physically accurate grass in my first shot (never again!) but if you’d told me two months ago that I’d be waiting 18 hours to see the results of my efforts at computer animation, I’d have thought you suffering from the heat stroke, had there been any heat around to stroke you. As it is, the summer has finally arrived and my PC is adding to the temperatures. I’ve also discovered a cruel fact about 3D animation and that is to produce seriously good renders, you need CPUs and lots of them.

At the beginning, when I began, I was fascinated by the Blender Cycles engine and the results it can produce on a good CUDA graphics card. Since then I’ve moved on, tried other rendering engines, but finally coming back to the fact that I think that I really need to invest in a CUDA card. 18 hours waiting for renders to finish is crippling my workflow.

I’m also beginning to wish that I’d stuck with the computer programming I did professionally a few years back. I never fully got into programming in C++ but I wish I had since Pixar have just released their source code for their new Open subdivision technology. There’s a long presentation here worth watching but, it you’re only interested in the results, check the ending where they animate a mesh inside Maya that has a subdivided geometry that contains more polygons than pixels on the screen. I think I’m just regressing to my earlier truer geekself.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Friday Night Fergie

My previous lip-syncing technique was proving useless so after a bit of research I've changed my workflow. I think this works better, or, at least, I think I've found a suitable trade-off between result and effort. The more I learn, the longer and slightly less amateur I hope these animations will become, though this one is suffering from more than a few problems, such as the label of the whiskey bottle being reversed and some ugly patches on the model, which is itself not the best. They say that a bad workman blames his tools so I won't blame a slow PC. I'll instead just confess that I'm still struggling to master the basics...