Dr. Of Machinima

A blog By Dr. Nemesis following the progress of Binary Picture Show's work, as well as other Machinima.

Dead Computer

August17

Well, sods fucking law came into action today and my computer died without any warning only a few days before it’s supposed to get packed up to go to Canada. It powers up, but the monitor doesn’t turn on, and it doesn’t actually boot into Windows. How do I know that? A recurring sound, like the computer is looking for something it can’t find. If it was the hard drive I would see a screen that says the primary boot device can’t be found and the computer would try and find the alternatives, like the CD drive (thank the lord, cause the hard drive is more valuable to me than all the other hardware three times over). If it was the gfx card it’d boot into windows and eventually stop making noise. I wouldn’t be able to see that, but It’d at least stop making the noise! I’m guessing either the CPU is f00ked or something on the motherboard popped it’s clogs.
There probably isn’t enough time to fix it before it gets picked up and even if there was there’d be no time left to use it so it looks like I’m gonna be hauling a dead computer halfway across the world!
This unfortunately means there’ll be no preview pics of Digital Memory before I leave (and once I’m in Canada I think it’s gonna take me a while to settle enough to continue) so I’m really pissed off! I’m so angry right now I can’t even find the fucking words!!!

Anyway, with luck, it’s definitely not the hard drive, and once I get the comp fixed I’ll be able to resume work on it. For now I’m lucky Lady Mainframe has a laptop.

Cinema Inspiration in Machinima Technique

August9

There are rare moments when I’m at the cinema and I’m so inspired by what I see, I try to think of ways I can incorporate such ideas in my Machinima.

In Blade 2 we saw the introduction of the L Cam. CGI shots of digital stunt men were seamlessly merged with live action shots, providing more fluid action scenes.

It’s a live action shot and Blade gets punched, sending him hurtling into the air. The action slows down and he comes so close to the camera (he’s now the CGI Blade) that we can see the sunshades on his head wobble a little. He smacks into the wall, and the live action Blade lands on the ground.

Traditionally this is done by cutting the CGI and live action shots together but the L Cam technique allowed it to be done in just one shot! Apparently the L stands for “liberated” and as far as Machinima goes we’ve almost ALWAYS had a liberated camera. The problem for me is that my mind wasn’t quite this liberated, and for good reason. When I first tried my hand at Machinima I really went to town with the disembodied camera idea. Almost every shot in my first film was a dolly, the camera was weaving through people’s legs, pipes, hovering in the sky, I was out of control! I had to learn to reign that camera in and in that, perhaps some of the freedoms afforded by a virtual camera were forgotten. Until I saw Blade 2. Bouncers, had I finished it, would have had some some great action sequences thanks in part to this film (I might still finish it!!).

Despite what people may think from my early films I’ve always been a bit of a facial animation enthusiast. Back in the Quake 2 days the technical process for facial animation made it so difficult to get a good performance that by the time I came up with the idea used to animate the faces in Beast (an idea which was and is still unique, to my knowledge) I was just happy I could have lips moving at all. The facial animation in Beast made the characters in Bouncers look like stroke victims, however it still wasn’t as good as it could have been.
My first gripe is that the characters in Beast don’t blink in the whole film. This wasn’t impossible in Crazy talk 4.5, it was just difficult to implement while keeping other facial expressions going.
My second gripe is that their eyeballs didn’t move much. Other than on one occasion they always faced forward. This is where the cinema inspiration slips in again.

When The Polar Express hit the box office one seemingly persistent criticism of the CGI was that the characters’ eyes seemed dead, giving them a very eerie feel. In Beowulf they combated this by using Electrooculography to actually capture the movement of the eyes exactly as the actors moved them, and the result was a much improved virtual performance.
Now, I have no access to this technique, but it made me think of what kind of things I could do to improve on Beast’s method, and luckily Crazy Talk 5 accommodated. One thing that makes eyes seem more alive is jitter. The eyeballs never rest perfectly still, a fact that makes control of a computer via eye movement a challenge for interface designers. Again, 4.5 could have done this, but not without difficulty. Due to the live puppeteering in CT5 I’ll be able to make the characters blink, roll their eyes around, AND attempt to simulate a small level of retinal jitter – all in one pass.

With my animation muscles nicely flexed the next thing that’s really given me a brain itch is sound. As old fans of Binary Picture Show will know, I struggled with sound quality for quite a while. Now that I understand it a bit better things have improved and I can now move on to spending every other waking moment thinking about the actual sound effects. This is even more important in Digital Memory because of the main character, who my faithful blog readers might remember, is a robot. “Should a robot really make some kind of noise every time it moves, or would that just be annoying?”, I often ask myself.
Well, Pixar’s latest gem, WALL-E tells me yes, yes they do make noise with every movement. However I get the troubling feeling that if this isn’t done very well it would indeed descend into an assault on the ears, annoying the same way someone persistently zipping and unzipping their trousers in your face would be annoying.
It’s not just the sound work that was inspiring though. I found this film even more visually appealing than Finding Nemo. As the two main characters don’t exactly have English as their first and commonly spoken language, their actions (or animations) did the bulk of the talking, and it was done so well, especially since they weren’t humanoid in their design.
Just as facial animation helps a character appear more life-like, the sound effects given to Wall-E’s every roll forward, or lifting of an arm, or twitch of his eyebrows, added to his presence.

If I can get anywhere near a similar result in Digital Memory I’ll be a very happy man. It’s not impossible. Phil Rice and Ricky Grove have kindly offered to help (and we all know how good they are), but the amount of sound work seems so staggering I doubt I could let them at it in good conscience. In Beast, most of the sound effects were already in place when it went to Phil. Ricky did some clean-up (there were some clipping problems in the dialogue files, which I now know occurs during the video capture process in Motionbuilder) and Phil added a few sounds and reverb effects, etc, to give it a more engrossing atmosphere. Hopefully I can do something similar for Digital Memory so that it doesn’t become a chore at any point in their helping. It’s a difficult thought since the sound in this is going to be so much more complex than in Beast. As always a cross my fingers for a good outcome.

Totally off topic I saw a film today, Twaddlers, made in Antics. The viewer comments on Youtube reminded me why I don’t like Youtube, and partly why I left Machinima.com. Infantile comments aside, it was fun, but really annoyed me because of it’s similarity to an idea I had in University and was really looking forward to producing some day. Twaddlers could have been made a little better, some polish here and there, but the random humor is very funny, I loved it. Give it a look if you can. from the comments, some people get it and some just don’t.

Progriss Riport

August3

Well, it’s been a busy time since I found out I got a new job, and although it’s going to get a lot busier in the coming weeks as I have to start packing, I might actually have an opportunity to do a fat chunk of work on Digital Memory before I go!

Even if I’m really busy once I start the job I’ll hopefully still be able to do it on weekends, and Kane has said he’s still willing to do 3d work even though he’s gotten pretty involved in a few coding projects.

Right now I’m preparing the main character, Avatar One, (I’ll hopefully release some pictures before I go) and I’m stilling pinning down the final technique I’ll use for the other characters. One problem I ran into was the fact that even though I can reduce Daz models to a nice smaller polycount, I don’t like their faces when the head gets below 4000 polys, and considering what I’m trying to go for, thats a bit too much for a head. This means I’ll most likely have to use heads from elsewhere but this becomes a bit of a problem if the character isnt wearing a buttoned up shirt, cause you can then see where their neck was cut. But I’m working on it.

Also I have had a VERY quick tinker with Iclone 3, and am VERY pleased. As with Beast, Digital Memory needs to be made in 2 different environments. Motionbuilder was the first, but for the other I was looking at Iclone, Sims 2, Antics, Or Second Life.
Because of the abundance of assets I really wanted The Sims 2, but having used that briefly before, it’s not my favorite Machinima environment. Second Life would have been good for all the readily available outdoor locations, but I’m not very good at working with Second Life and my computer really isn’t tough enough to record smoothly in there anyway.

So it’s between Antics 4 and Iclone 3. Both tools have made some great improvements lately. Antics has a new lighting system now so it looks way less pre-vissy and more Machinima-ee and I’ll be installing that on my computer later this week. Iclone 3 has a mad torrent of new updates, and since it has a bigger range of 3D assets, it really looks like I’ll be using that. BOTH tools have Google Sketchup import abilities and that’s essential in this project. More details as I get more comfy with both tools.
Right now I’m really impressed with the new things that Iclone 3 has added. Of big use to me will be the improved camera system and more integrated animation system (now with IK, WOOT!)

Before I leave I have to get some voice recording for Digital Memory done. Will be much harder to find Brits over in Canada and I definitely want some home flavor in the film. Unfortunately that means I’ll have to finalize some areas of the script slightly earlier than I’m ready, but it’s worth it. Just need to multitask.
Cross your fingers for those screenies of Avatar One. He’s being reduced (and re-done in places), and then his rigging might be a slightly complex process cause of his wires and hydraulics (yes, he’s a robot!). Lets hope I can get it right :-s

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