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Old June 4th, 2004, 09:27 AM   #1
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Crazy CGI animation question

A little backround: Watched Walking with Dinosaurs again the other night. In the fourth episode the have some CGI sharks, they are probably the single most convincing animation in the whole series- which is full of good effects. I watched the making of disc, and these are indeed cgi sharks, not the real thing.

What I want to know is, how hard is it to have something like this done? I have a project I would like to do that involves some shots of a couple dolphins- they would not directly interact with human characters, rather they would be composited with a minature underwater set...

Is this still too expensive to even think about? I'm guessing it is, but I keep thinking about how dolphins and sharks don't have much range of movement, and don't dynamically interact with their environment, say the way a monkey jumping from tree to tree does.

I think two or three loops of motion and a four or five close up shots might work.

Does anybody have any thoughts on this sort of thing?

Thanks
Michael
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Old June 4th, 2004, 10:07 AM   #2
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I should not really be replying because I know little about animation, but I guess it depends on how you shoot them. Feasible if done from above the surface because 3D applications can do a great job of simulating water, and it would allow you to get away with a less detailed model.
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Old June 4th, 2004, 10:35 AM   #3
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Post this on a 3D forum.

I started out doing 3D for a film project and later some TV. But that was ages ago. It is pretty difficult stuff, especially when you are combining it with live action.

One question that might come up is, why does it have to be composited with a miniature background? Why not do the opposite and composite the live actors with an entirely CG background? Water effects have come a long way. The reason why I raise this is that the resolution of your miniature set might not be up there with the CG. Ever see that old kids live action show, "The Land of the Lost" (this is dating me severely). Stuff made this way still looks the same. Even that kind of thing in Star Wars isn't great looking and has been replaced by CG almost entirely. It takes a lot of work to do it right, such as in the LOTR movies where they made HUGE miniatures and film with very high resolution.
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Old June 4th, 2004, 10:48 AM   #4
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Good point, Kieth, thanks.
I will try a 3d forum. Anyone know a good one?
As for mixing with live action- well that would only done through a window (greenscreen). As for the minatures, I'd be happy to go with a CGI set, it might actually work out better- the set would not be the open ocean, but an underwater cavern complex with a lot of sci fi techno gadgetry.

Like I said, crazy idea.
I orginally concieved of it as a comic, but I would much rather make it into a film.

Thanks
Michael

PS I loved land of the lost. As a matter of fact one of my best friends married a slestak and promptly vanished into the Land of the Lost himself. Close your eyes and you can hear that lovely theme song... "Marshall, Will and Holly...."
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Old June 4th, 2004, 11:11 AM   #5
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I never really saw the "Walking with Dinosaurs" series (but Sleastaks still freak me out. I was a LOTL addict as a kid)

The specific techniques to employ should really depend on exactly what it is you want to see/show in your finished shots. For movies like LOTR and Star Wars are almost always a combination of MANY techniques..... digital matte painting, miniatures, and live action composited together. (Most of the sets and cityscapes in Star Wars are STILL done with miniatures.) Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but when properly combined, can look totally real.

As for 3d sites and forums:
http://www.3dbuzz.com
http://www.total3d.com
http://www.cgtalk.com

Also, if you're at all interested in learning about (or even just getting some good exposure to) many key CGI techniques for film an video this summer, you should check out PixelCorps Online. Signup ASAP if you are interested because the summer session is just about completely filled.

Hope this helps.
Have fun.
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Old June 4th, 2004, 11:17 AM   #6
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As far as the production part, not too expensive anymore. I am currently trying to learn how. I bought Hash Animation:Master and I have even stuck a piece in a clip, but is was LOW quality (it was an evaluation test of a computer workstation - so the point was not the animation, but how fast the computer was doing the model render and NLE render.)

A:M is under $300. The interface is a little difficult, but that is the same thing everyone says about (fill in blank using favorite NLE). But it does require lots of render horsepower. There are even models and characters for sale and free around.
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Old June 4th, 2004, 11:53 AM   #7
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If you want to get it realistic it takes a lot of time and talent to
get it done. If you don't have the skill or don't have a friend with
enough skills it will probably be quite expensive for an idependent
movie maker.

Sometimes you can get away with less than perfection, but that
depends on the circumstances.
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Old June 4th, 2004, 01:23 PM   #8
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Michael: I use a low-end 3D application called trueSpace, and have sucessfully merged animated elements into live action, so I'd like to share some things I've learned.

First off, you're dealing with water, so the workflow I'm about to lay out may have to be adjusted a bit.

When I'm about to shoot a plate for 3D characters and objects to be placed in, I first make some notes about the time of day (if outside), lights used (if inside), take some feature-point measurements, and maybe take some shots (high resolution - not with DV cam) of the general surroundings to be used later as global illumination maps or reflection sources. (These may be stitched in Photoshop to create near-360 degree images to be projected onto a sphere, etc for reflections..) All of the CG shots should be storyboarded so you know precisely what the shots are and where the elements are going to be in the scene.

As said, since you're dealing with water, I see two immediate difficulties. This is assuming that you'll be using real water/humans and fake dolphins.

#1 - If shooting above water, any splashing the dolphins do will have to be simulated and look just like the splashes done by the people. What I would do here is to use a prop to generate the splashes (with the human actor reacting accordingly, but in your case, you say there won't be any intereaction). To me, compositing the 3D dolphin with the splash plate using some masks and blending tricks would be far easier than trying to generate CG water, incorporating the right 'look' of the water, the dynamics, and making it react with the real water.

#2 - If shooting below water, the caustics (light shafts through water, etc. ) will have to be the same on the CG dolphins as on the humans and other live elements. You could use a particle generator and some tricks in post to simulate particulate matter in the water, which would help make the shot more believable.

In either event, the material/shader used on the dolphins will have to look like a dolphin. With their body, I don't think you'll need any advanced rendering like subsurface scattering. They'd have some high-specularity, shiny skin, I imagine.

Really important is to study dolphin movement. If you want to make it as realistic as possible without using motion capture, then rotoscope it. (Rotoscope has 2 meanings. The one I'm using refers to tracing an actor on a real plate with an animated actor...usually keying each and every frame on non-linear / organic motion, to match the motion exactly.)

Motion Tracking / Match-Moving..........

I have done it by hand in trueSpace, frame by frame, which takes a long time. Plus you need measurements beforehand (how far camera is from subject...distance between various objects in scene...camera angle...etc.), so that you can create target/dummy objects to track with. First I set the plate as the background, then I match all the 3D objects with the trackpoints in the plate, then I advance the shot a few frames, move the camera in 3D until the elements are lined up w/ the live action elements and set a keyframe.

To automate this task, I recommend SynthEyes. (Only $349.00, and it seriously gives MatchMover & Bojou ($10,000.00) a run for their money.)
http://www.ssontech.com/

I have used the demo version and it is something else. I know it was used in Master and Commander to track water shots, by the way.


Please let me know if you want more info on something specific. I just wanted to throw some general ideas out there.

,Frank
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Old June 4th, 2004, 01:55 PM   #9
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thank you everyone for your interesting and informative answers. One thing is clear, I need photoshop. So...expensive... and probably at least two other aps to do any of this. that's cool, I knew it wouldn't be free. It'll be atleast 6-7 months before I can afford such things.

I may shoot my live action segements first- these are all dry- except one- which has no dolphins in it.

I'm doing some other shorts and a demo reel this summer, so maybe I'll be able to use these to con somebody into joining my team. No, don't pinch me, I know I'm dreaming.

Anyway thanks,

Michael
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" When some wild-eyed, eight foot tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head against a bar room wall, and looks you crooked in the eye, and he asks you if you've payed your dues, well, you just stare that big suker right back in the eye, and you remember what old Jack Burton always says at a time like that, 'Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yes sir, the check is in the mail."
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Old June 4th, 2004, 02:10 PM   #10
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one more question...
I have a friend who is an incredibly gifted artist, with zero computer skills, but he is willing to learn. Would it be possible to do any of this on a g-3 800mhz imac?'cause that's what he has.

Thanks
MG
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" When some wild-eyed, eight foot tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head against a bar room wall, and looks you crooked in the eye, and he asks you if you've payed your dues, well, you just stare that big suker right back in the eye, and you remember what old Jack Burton always says at a time like that, 'Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yes sir, the check is in the mail."
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Old June 4th, 2004, 02:22 PM   #11
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Speaking of budget solutions....

dvGarage offers 3dToolkit for only $99.
This is an older version of Electric Image Universe CGI application. The version in the toolkit is the same package used to create some of the CGI work seen in Star Wars EPI.
Even more importantly, the toolkit comes with LOADS of detailed tutorials by former ILM artist Alex Lindsay explaining how to use the program for modelling and animation.

For match moving. there is a free program called Voodoo and The Pixel Farm offers PFTrack at a student/faculty distount price of $80.

I've used an older version of the PFTrack application with the 3dToolkit to add a gold teapot to the empty counter on this handheld shot.

Have fun.
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Old June 4th, 2004, 02:35 PM   #12
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$ 99.00?!!!? I'm so there! I'm going to check out my buddies system this weekend and see if he has enough ram- god help me if he doesn't it is easier for a fat man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to upgrade an old style imac.

Thanks again
MG

PS Nice teapot!
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" When some wild-eyed, eight foot tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head against a bar room wall, and looks you crooked in the eye, and he asks you if you've payed your dues, well, you just stare that big suker right back in the eye, and you remember what old Jack Burton always says at a time like that, 'Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yes sir, the check is in the mail."
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Old June 4th, 2004, 07:33 PM   #13
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>>Speaking of budget solutions....
<<
I have a:m also and it's awesome for the money. The student price is under 200.00 US. But if even that price is too much, try this one... blender. It's free as in beer.

www.blender.org

They are multiplatform and have tons of free models to download.
(lots of it scifi oriented) There is also a free external radiosity renderer available for it and free game engine included. Like most 3d modeling and animation programs, it has something of a learning curve. There is a manual available for purchase and a thriving on line community.

Blender is Open source and user/programmer/community supported.
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Old June 5th, 2004, 12:16 PM   #14
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Another thing for blender. There are several 3rd party sites available, many of them have a downloadable manual in either html or pdf format. Check out www.blenderwars.com for some great fan films.

On Mac and Linux you may need to download the free python scripting engine. I believe the runtime engine is included with the Windwos version but it won't hurt to download the free python for windows engine either.

www.python.org

Python is also used in 3d programs like TrueSpace. There may even be a .net version floating around somewhere.

Very powerful object oriented scripting.
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