Week 9: Finishing Touches

We sent our new renders to DWA on Wednesday night and got some feedback on the reflection on our door glass. I worked on adding in a bounce card behind the desk to illuminate the glass shader better, and also added a card behind the door to add more light to the door's wood shader. Dave liked the changes we made and suggested that, now that I have the reflection working better, I should tone down the light intensity by half. Today, I implemented those changes and we rendered out sequences for each of our shots. Once the renders were done, I worked on editing the shots in post. I composited the fog into the shots using a blurred version of the color pass to add color to the fog that reflected the room. This made a HUGE difference in our renders, and now the fog feels much more physically accurate. I also added in dust motes to the light beams and fog of each shot, and composited in some subtle film grain. All of these changes seem to have really taken our renders to a more photo-real level. I can't wait to see what DWA thinks tomorrow! The new sequence can be seen below, as well as a comparison of the lighting with and without fog color.

New Sequence

Fog Comparison

Week 9: Lighting and Shader Edits

This weekend, my team and I worked on editing the shaders based on the critique from Friday's session with DWA. Most of the edits were made to the filing cabinet and safe assets in the scene. The filing cabinet shader still didn't feel quite metallic enough, so Sheny and I rewired the Substance maps in the hypershade network, and came up with a better result that we hope reads as a painted metal. Lauren and I also worked on implementing changes to the bump map on the safe. The depth and scale of the bumps didn't quite fit the scene, so we lowered the depth and softened the map; however, changes still need to be made to the frequency of the imperfections. I tweaked some of the other shaders in the scene, like the brightness on the filing folders, to help them integrate better with their surroundings. I also worked on updating the lighting. I solved the issue we were having with the missing reflection on the door glass, added a light blocker to shot 2 so the filing box on the floor is now in shadow, and added some fog to the background of shot 1. With the new renders, I was able to do some compositing test with film grain as well. There is still a lot to do this week; we have to adjust the lighting more in shot 1 to brighten up the door reflection and desk, as well as optimize the scene so that we stop getting two-hour kills on the render farm. I am looking forward to the feedback DWA has for us in today's session. The updates can be seen below. Shot 2 is a little short because we didn't get all of the frames rendered.

Updated Scene

Screenshots of Final Lighting Rig

The images below show the lighting rig set up for each of the shots. Lights are circled in green, cameras are circled in cyan, and light blockers/bounce cards are outlined in red.

Week 8: Updated Shaders

This week, I worked on updated the shaders in shot based on DWA's feedback on Monday. The assets I focused my attention on were the phone (fixing the specular highlight on the side of the base), the desk and door (recreating maps for specularity and diffuse based on the substance exports), the glass on the door (remodeling and applying the wave pattern as a bump map instead of a deformer), and the investigation board (tweaking the shaders Sheny developed for the cork and the wood and applying textures to the papers/photos on the board). I also managed the scene file and adjusted my group mates' shaders after importing them into the scene, since the lighting was effecting them in a different way than the VDev rig. It was challenging to compile all of the different shaders in a way that felt natural, seamless, and photo-real, but I think we did a pretty good job implementing the critique. I'm excited to see what DreamWorks has to say tomorrow. A render of shot 1 with the camera move and new shaders can be seen below, as well as still frames of shot 2 and 3.

Shot 1 with New Shaders and Camera Move

Stills of Shots 2 and 3

Week 7: Adjusting Lighting

On Friday, Megan and Dave recommended that we add some rough shaders to our shot, so they could better assess how the lighting was working with the assets in color. I spent the weekend creating a source file by adding all of the assets we finished modeling to the scene and assigning basic shaders to them (diffuse and specularity). Once this source file was created, it was easy to assess what assets were left to model and which ones we should begin shading. It also made lighting adjustments easier, and I was able to render out some test with the basic shaders and new lighting for shot 3. The test render can be watched below.

Lighting Test with Basic Shaders and Modeled Assets

Week 7: Shading the Phone

The rest of my week was dedicated to the look development of the phone asset. I painted the maps for specularity and scratches in Mari and used those to create the shader in Maya. I tried to give the phone a well-worn look without making it seem like it was too much dirt or decay. Creating the look development for the phone was a fun challenge, since it has both dielectric and metallic elements. A turntable of the phone, as well as my reference images for the shaders can be seen below.

Phone Turntable

Reference Images

Week 6: Lighting and DoF

As far as lighting and rendering tests this week, I was able to implement the critique from last Friday and tried to better connect the lighting between shot 2 and 3. I also changed all of the spotlights in the scene to AI area lights, so that the lighting in the scene is more physically based and less noisy. I feel that it is important to render the camera movement with the lighting to see how the atmosphere and god rays are working as the scene changes, so I rendered out some movement tests.

Additionally, I added a Z-Depth AOV to the render so that I could create a depth of field and rack focus test, specifically for shot 2. I wanted to test out composited depth of field, and I feel like it worked really successfully. I am looking for feedback on how the focus transitions and the speed of the rack focus.

Lighting, Cam Move, and DoF Test

Week 6: Models and Turntables

On Friday, we received feedback on our group shading exercise, and the artists at DWA were very pleased! Dave and Megan both thought we had some really good results for our first pass. They really liked my brushed metal and painted metal shaders. All of the materials I contributed to the group exercise were approved, and I don't need to make any edits to them. We also received critique on our lighting tests. Dave said that our first to shots look awesome; he really loves our graphic, high-contrast key-to-fill ratio. However, he doesn't think that shot 3's lighting is working yet, and I agree. The shot is proving difficult to light because--unlike shot 1 and 2--it is a front-lit close up, so getting the same contrast and sense of atmosphere has been challenging.

Apart from the lighting, I have also been working on creating more assets for the scene. A still of my cardboard box model (along with Sheny's files and folders) and a turtable of my frame models (along with Lauren's door model) can be seen below, as well as wireframes for each object. 

Cardboard Box Still and wireframe

Frames Turntable and Wireframe

Week 5: Shading Exercise, Camera Changes, and Preliminary Lighting

In our last meeting with DreamWorks, we were given a shading exercise assignment from Meghan. Our goal is to recreate various different materials, dielectric and metallic, to the best of our ability. Keeping with the expectation of realism set by my professor and mentors, I created all of my shaders based on photographic reference. The quilt of all the different shaders, as well as an individual shot of each can be seen below.

Shading Exercise

Additionally, I adjusted the camera some more, based on the critique we received last Friday. It was suggested that we re-frame shot 2, so that ceiling is no longer included in the frame and the focus is more centered on the filing cabinet and safe instead of the back of the room as a whole. I also tweaked shot 3 and to create a tighter focus on the safe itself, since the filing cabinet is now showcased more in the previous shot. The updated camera move can be viewed below.

Updated Camera Move

After adjusting the shots, I began to work on developing the preliminary lighting for each of the shots by blocking out the position of the key light and developing a basic atomsphere. The first shot's key has previously been set up and discussed with DWA, but I have included it in the images below as a reminder of where is currently stands. The initial key light placement and atmosphere test for each shot can be seen below.

Lighting and Atmosphere Test

Week 5: Photo Blog

This past Sunday, Lauren and I went downtown in Savannah to take some photographs for our photography reference blogs. I uploaded the shots I collected this weekend to my blog, which can be found here. The purpose of this blog is to develop a reference library of materials, as well as experiment with and fine-tune my camera work. I have found that learning settings like exposure, depth of field, and focal length through a real-world lens is incredibly helpful when thinking about the settings in a CG scenerio. 

Week 4: Shot 3 Edit and VDev Rig

Today, Lauren and I met to work on editing shot 3. We got some feedback from Dave at DWA about how the shots were reading. We shortened shot 1 to give more length to shot 3, creating a more cohesive sequence of images. We also delayed the rack focus in shot 2 and created a shallower focus to increase the drama of the effect. What we had for shot 3 wasn't reading well, so we decided to take a different approach. Lauren worked on developing the model of the safe so that we could put it in our previs, to give the final shot something to focus on for the subject. I worked on a re-staging of the objects in the corner of the scene and re-framed shot 3 to zoom slowly towards the safe, which has been forcefully opened and broken in the process. Hopefully this new approach to the third shot will tie in our narrative and create a powerful ending to our story. You can watch the new camera shots below:

New Camera Move (Shot 3 Edited)

I also rendered a test of my telephone model in the VDev Rig I developed, just to see how it was working. We sent our previs video and VDev test to DWA tonight, so hopefully we'll hear some feedback soon. The video of my model in the VDev Rig is below:

Telephone Model VDev Rig Test Render

Week 4: Back to three shots...

In our meeting with DWA on Friday, Dave said he liked the drama and effect we were creating with the slower camera move, but suggested that we use that shot as support for additional, more compelling views of the scene. In an effort to create more camera angles that showcase our narrative, I worked on re-framing the scene using three different camera shots, each of which leads the viewer through the room. The first shot is the establishing shot that we were working on in Week 3, followed by a dutch-tilt view of desk and back corner of the room (revealing the investigation board, filing cabinets, and broken safe in more detail), and the final shot is a close angle detail view of the safe and filing cabinets in disarray. The team is really excited about this movement, and we think it tells our story better than any of our previous iterations. We have not yet worked out the lighting for shots two and three, so we only have a playblast of the camera move so far, which you can watch below:

New Playblast of Camera Move

Additionally, I finished the model for the telephone. I still have to UV the model, but for now, reference images and renders of my progress can be seen below:

Telephone Reference

Telephone Model Renders

Each group member has also been working on developing our VDev Rig, so that we can begin surfacing and texturing the assets we've been creating. We haven't decided yet on which VDev Rig would be best for our project and we're waiting to hear back from DWA with feedback on the images we sent them. You can check out renders of each of our VDev Rigs and diagnostic spheres below:

VDev Rigs and Diagnostic Spheres

Week 3: More Drama! More Fog!

At our group meetings this week, we decided it would be best to reverse the single-camera motion we had developed, so the viewers feel as though they are stepping into the scene, rather than reversing out through the door. We sent the reversed camera movement along with some hi-res stills to Dave and Megan for feedback. Here's the video we sent them:

Reversed Camera Movement

In Dave's feedback, he suggested that we slow down the camera significantly to improve the drama of the shot. He also mentioned the idea of dutch tilt and low camera angles, two very significant composition techniques used in film noir. He emailed us back some paint-overs of the rendered stills we sent, and gave us tips on creating more contrast in our lighting. He also recommended that we re-stage the phone element in our scene to show it more in silhouette against the fog, and to really bump up the fog to separate the foreground from the background. Taking this into consideration, I began making adjustments to slow the camera and add more contrast to the lighting and atmosphere while Lauren and Shiny began modeling some assets. I've also been working on modeling the telephone, and will post an image of it when I have finished.

Slower Camera with More Contrast

Week 2: More Camera Work

During this week, my group met to work on the feedback we received at our last video conference with the DWA team. We did a LOT of camera work, trying to find the best movement to help tell our story. Our first edit included some tilt adjustments in the shots to make them feel less linear, and an additional forth shot of the desk drawers to include more of the "clues" that help reveal the scene. The updated camera movement can be seen below:

Updated Camera Move

We still felt like this wasn't telling our story quite right, so we tried another iteration of the camera that frames our vignette subjects a little more dramatically. This version can be viewed below:

Second Camera Move

STILL not totally satisfied with this movement, we attempted to simplify the shots by creating one continuous movement. We felt like the multiple-shot approach created a disjointed visual, and we wanted to achieve a more cohesive feeling. After setting up our one-cam movement, I also began adding lights and volumetric fog to the scene, while Lauren worked developing basic material shaders. This helped us visualize our key light position and how color atmosphere would effect the scene. We also did a quick test render on the renderfarm to see how our file would hold up. The (very noisy!) results can be seen below:

Single Camera Test

Week 2: Concept and Camera Updates

This week, my group met to implement the suggestions from DWA about our camera move and concept art. We worked to create  a new camera move with three vignettes that focused on specific elements in our scene that helped to tell our story. We also began to establish basic lighting/light positions. After deciding on those shots, Lauren took them into Photoshop and created paint-overs to use for our new concept pieces.

New Concept Art

Updated Camera Move

In today's meeting with DWA, we presented our changes and received feedback. They suggested that we rethink out key-to-fill ratio and really play with back-lighting and silhouettes. They also encouraged us to add some tilt to our camera moves, because right now they feel very straight. We also talked about the possibility of adding a forth vignette as an establishing shot to help convey our story better.

Week 1: The Pitch

Earlier in the week, we met as a group to go over concept art and the pre-vis camera move. Shiny crated a Maya scene of the office layout using models downloaded from the web. She and I began blocking out the initial camera move while Lauren worked on creating the concept art by painting over one of our renders from the Maya scene. For the camera move, we wanted to make the viewer feel as though they were stepping behind the lens as the crime scene photographer. To achieve this, we had the camera move throughout the scene with a first-person hand-held type movement, pausing at certain moments and snapping "pictures" of the areas in the crime scene. Our inspiration imagery and camera move can be seen below:

Reference Images

Concept Art and Layout

Camera Move

We presented our concept pitch and pre-vis to the DWA team today and we recieved some great feedback. The concept was well-received, and they thought our story was very interesting. They suggested that we rethink the camera movement as a series of vignettes instead of the hand-held movement. They also brought up the idea that if we are going to do film noir, we have to commit to it, so going to more contrast and making the lighting really graphic will be essential, since the style relies heavily on telling the story through light and shadow. They encouraged us to try and create a very heavy atmosphere and try to find a camera move that tells the story in a compelling way.

Week 1: Introductions

Today was the first official class meeting and video conference call with DWA. Each group introduced themselves to Dave, Grazia, Megan, and Courtney, and Dave outlined how the critique/"dailies" process will operate. As a team, we decided on the name "Electric Sheep", inspired by the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This novel was the main story inspiration for Blade Runner, a classic neo-noir film that uses the film noir style with a modern twist. We hope to create a similar aesthetic in our piece, with graphic, high-contrast lighting and color. 

Now, we are working on developing the pre-vis concept art, and preparing our official project pitch for our meeting with DWA on Friday. We have started to assemble a Maya scene with downloaded assets and have begun blocking out the initial camera movement. Our story synopsis can be read below:

The year is 1948, in Chicago. Late at night, a call is made to the Chicago Police Department. On the phone is Dean Lewis, a distinguished private investigator. Dean has been working closely on a case with the Chicago PD, investigating Michael Scarpelli, a notorious hitman working for a well-known crime outfit run by the Marcello family. Dean has called the Chicago PD in order to report on a recent breakthrough he has made in the case. While on the phone with the PD, Dean is violently interrupted and a dangerous altercation can be heard on his end of the line. The perpetrator is unknown but seems to be ruthlessly attacking the investigator, as if he had some personal vendetta. The police officer on the phone begins yelling into the receiver, desperately trying to interrupt the conflict, when suddenly the line is cut and the call is dropped. An eerily morbid dial tone rings out into phone as the officer hurriedly assembles backup and heads to the investigator’s office. When the police arrive on the scene, there are clear signs of struggle found throughout the office. Case files from the Scarpelli investigation are strewn across the desk and floor, some covered in blood stains. Despite being the setting of an obvious conflict, Dean and the perpetrator are nowhere to be found. The police immediately suspect Scarpelli to be the assailant, and they begin setting up a crime scene.

Making Groups

For our second meeting as a class, we each pitched our potential concepts for the project and found group members based on common project interests/ideas. I will be working with Lauren Saffy (Game Design, Senior) and Shenying "Shiny" Huang (VSFX, Grad Student). Our concept will be driven by the idea of creating an interior space with a strong sense of dramatic lighting. Our current idea is to design the office space of a private investigator from the 1940s that has been ransacked by an unknown perpetrator. We will be focusing on Film Noir aesthetics as our main inspiration. I am looking forward to developing this concept more as we begin meeting as a group.

Intro to the Class

Today was the first meeting for my photo-realistic rendering class with Dreamworks Animation Studios (DWA) at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). We were introduced to the course by professor Bridget Gaynor, and our design prompt was explained. Our goal will be to create a fully computer-generated photo-realistic environment that tells a story without the use of characters, so we must rely solely on props and other set items to convey our narrative. Along the way, we will be given direction and advice from Dreamworks artists Dave Walvoord (CG Supervisor) and Megan Walker (surfacing artist), as well as Grazia Como and Courtney Currin from Dreamworks university relations. Our task for the next meeting is to brainstorm environment concepts that would potentially work for this assignment so that we may form groups next class.