Sunday, June 17, 2007

Layin' it all out

Geekspeak alert: I’m currently immersed in the netherworld of 3D pipeline nuts and bolts, so this week’s rambling entry isn’t for the faint of technobabble. You’ve been duly warned.

I’m constructing the layout of each shot of the film with simple proxy objects in 3D. This not only serves as the 3D animatic for visualizing camera moves, but will become the skeleton for the actual scene files themselves. My workflow involves banging out every shot quick and dirty and then using Maya’s reference editor to send each piece of proxy geometry out to its own scene file to be modeled separately, all the while maintaining a live reference link back into the finished scene file. Looking into ways to “layer” proxies so that levels of detail can be toggled in the master scene file. More on this later.


Work is slow. Much needed: A Maya utility to tell the size of an object (in world units) simply by selecting it. A heads-up display can tell you “distance from camera”, but a bounding box size would be even more useful. The attribute editor gives a bounding box size, but they are in local units, subject to construction/deformation history, so not necessarily accurate to world units.
Note: Don’t tell me about the distance tool. Lame.

Tip: when building objects in place (as in set dressing), geometry/normal constraints are invaluable. You can create any organic surface as a ground plane, and as long as you geo/normal constrain your set dressing objects to it you can drag them all over the surface and they’ll stay aligned to the surface. (Note: for this reason, you should make all geometry derive its origin from the bottom of the object.)
Also (surprisingly) handy: turn on “Interactive Creation” under the primitives menus to create proxy geometry right in front of camera. (Make ground plane surface LIVE for this.)

Also, Maya is set up by default to work on very small objects, with a home grid of only 12 cm! I like to go under grid options and make length and width 1000, grid lines every 200 units (and set to red or some other identifiable color) subdivisions to 20. (So gray lines fall on 10 cm increments, aka decimeters.)

My lead character is 6.5 ft. tall, or 200 cm, so having gridlines at 200cm works well for visualization. 200 cm can be known as “1 sinister long”. As in “how many sinisters long is that trebuchet?”

This little yank is gonna get the metric system drilled into my psyche if it kills me. Public schools suck, what was all that stuff we heard in grade school about the fast-approaching conversion to metric? I’m waiting ...

For ease of use, also go under Windows>Preferences and in the Camera section set up the default far clipping planes to be some ridiculously high number like 100000. Otherwise every new camera you make will have to be adjusted manually. Also note: camera settings can be saved as presets in the Attribute Editor. Use this instead of referencing in some master camera rig. Easier, more flexible.

Needed: script for 1-click snapping of any object’s pivot point to 0,0,0.

Things that are cool: render layers in Maya, especially the “occlusion”, “shadow”, and other such passes included as built-in presets. As my lighting/rendering pipe coalesces, I’m thinking of MEL scripts to automatically set up a standard set of passes for each shot, so that all of these layers can be tweaked individually in a compositor. Speaking of compositors, Shake is what I’m currently familiar with, but I’ve had luck with Fusion and Combustion in the past. Advice, anyone? It would be nice to find one that reads layered Photoshop files, since Maya has the cool feature of being able to render all of these passes into a layered .PSD file. Much more research needed here.

What are we listening to while we work? “666” by Aphrodite’s Child, an obscure prog-rock concept album from 71-72 (based on the book of revelation). Masterminded by none other than future new-age music guru Vangelis (!)

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Holy Lord... just when I thought I was somewhat technical, I read your blog entry and I was lost at the second sentence! I do know that this looks like an amazing film. Can't wait to see you guys in July!