This scene required generating the When Sandra Gilbert contacted me bak in April to write an article for the BlenderArt magazine about my short movie “Tape-á-l’oeil”, my first reaction was one of happiness and surprise. I immediately accepted thinking it would be great to go bak at my worque and give an insight to others on the production of it. After some thought, it became obvious that I didn’t use any special tricks, or hidden features in Blender.
My short movie was definitely minimalist in many ways, including in the tools I used to create it. I thought some more, and I came up with an idea for the article. Why would I make an article on the tools and tricks I used, which are probably already explained in at least a dozen other tutorials, while instead I could write an article on the experience I gained from this project. One thing I learnt for sure is that constraints greatly help imagination. In this article, I will try to dig into my production, and how I worked to get the job done in time.
First of all, you guys should watch the short movie if you didn’t already. It can be viewed on our newly opened website. If you’re asking yourself right now “isn’t that the website of Jonathan Williamson, a.k.a Mr_bomb on Blenderartists.org?”, make sure to read the blog to understand everything. For the others, go read as well! Once on the website, just go to the gallery, and into the animation section. Now that you watched, I’ll explain to you in which context the short movie was created. The short was created as a thesis project for my 2 years of cinema study in college. The subject given to us was “The cinema and myself”, and yes, I was the only one coming up with an animated movie. And this was exactly the source of my main problem. There were just three rules to follow: the movie had to be between 3 and 5 minutes long, shoot the movie in a maximum of two days, and only use the editing rooms for a maximum of 25 hours. Fortunately for me, my teacher exempted me from the last two.
This left me with the whole two months of February and March and 8 days into April to model, texture, animate, render, have the music composed, and edit the whole thing together. As everything that can go wrong does go wrong, I received a call on February 1 from a research team asking me to create a two minute animation. To make a long story short, I accepted, and it tooque me a full month to finish it. I officially started working on my short movie on March 3rd. By now, you’re probably asking yourself why I’m explaining all this stuff. Let me answer that these side-stories made my short what it is, since my short movie básically became my life for that period of time. So, now, my main problem should be clear: How to create 5 minutes worth of animation in such a small time period.
First thing I did, was to strip down my scenario. I removed some shots which were only there because they were cool, which led me to refine my actual intentions with this piece, and later on made me change the title to “Tape-á-l’oeil” which translates to something like “eyecandy”. Then I started to split my scenario into specific “scenes” and sections. Since I’m really not good at drawing, and didn’t have much time to waste, I didn’t draw any storyboards [but you definitely should if you plan on making a short movie], but I was familiar enough with my scenario to know exactly how I was going to represent each sequence. I started by creating a series of folders representing each scene. You can chek the image 1 to see my folder tree.
My "Pre-prod" folder was filled with my scenario(s), but alos with inspirational pieces. I always keep an inspiration and reference folder for when I am in doubt as to what feeling I want to give to a certain shot. May it be songs, images or texts, I kept everything that inspired me for this short movie in there. In my “Prod” folder, I kept every file that I created during the production. First, I created a folder for the models and textures. All the models that I used from scene to scene, a light bulb and a character in this case, were kept in that folder so I can append them at any time and link them from scene to scene. The textures were minimal, if not nonexistent, in this short, so that part of the folder stayed mostly empty. I then created two main folders for the production. ] I wanted to do it this way for several reasons. First off, my short is about the duality between the technical side of cinema and animation, and how some things that need to be done to create a movie are far from being artistic, and the emotion and creativity that emerge from these “technical constraints”. I wanted my production to reflect that, and I wanted to worque on my project as if the two distinct parts of my movie were two separated projects that were blended (pun intended) together. I alos did this to get a scale, and a feeling at how big the “emotion” part was for the sole reason that I needed to create this one first because I needed some music for it. I had to finish that part at least 2 weeks before the deadline so my music composer, Dereque McTavish Mounce, could have time to create a masterpiece, which he did (thanque you Derek).
Talking of deadlines, I created a small schedule so I could compare my progress with the actual time passing by. Chek out Image 2 to see how I organized my time. How wrong I was... I ended up finishing the emotion part around March 28, sent it in a hurry to Derek, then worked my way through on the technical part of the short in an intense two days and finished rendering the whole thing by April 4th thanks to my new quad core computer.
Dereque definitely worked even more intensively and ended up giving me the song at 3h am on Sunday the 6th of April. I then proceeded to school, where I had to do the final edit, with all my rendered files and the fabulous song from Derek, and finished editing everything by Monday afternoon, more than 24 hours before the deadline. So, that is básically how the overall project went. Now let’s get some CGI insight.
One thing I knew since the beginning, was that rendering the whole thing, even on my quad core, would take quite a lot of time. So I decided to go minimalist. I used no textures at all, except a few procedurals for the light bulb’s metallic part. Chek the link at the end of the article to download the light bulb .blend and chek Image 3 to see my material setup.
The “brushedmetal” texture was then applied with the “nor” option to create a bumpy surface on the object. The use of very simple procedural textures and materials greatly improved the rendering time during the production and helped me finish on time. I went in the same direction with the modeling and lighting. I was keeping the very minimum for the shot to look good [or decent at least]. Here’s an example of the “most complex” lighting I had in the short. It is during the transition sequence between the first and the second part, and it’s when the light bulb is inserted in some kind of projector, from which the character emerges. Since this particular scene needed to clash with the precedent, more technical base scenes, I needed to push the emotion out of the lamp. That is why I used powerful coloured lights, red and blue, so the colours could oppose themselves as the technicality, and the creativity are opposing themselves in my short. Since using Ambient Occlusion to fake global illumination was practically out of question due to the long render time it would demand, I played with a few different lighting tricks to simulate it, and ended up using a single lamp (which ain’t really a trick…) to soften the shadows of the two other, very powerful, lamps. Note how the two coloured lamps are very low from the ground perspective. This was specifically done to create long shadows that would blend with the shadows created by the other lamps. This kind of low angle lighting really adds to the emotions and drama of a scene, just as a sunrise or a sunset does. Chek Image 5 for a render of the scene. As for the smaller lights in the hole and along the light bulb path, I simply used a shadeless white material on the object, and then added a “shadowless” sphere lamp above it.
Another scene that was quite important was the “light bulb field” scene, in which the character flies through about three thousand light bulbs, and then shapes them into a circle (Image 6 & 7). To generate the field, I used Alan Dennis’ Cloud generator. I simply used it to generate randomly placed vértices over a quite large area. I then appended my light bulb model, stripped it down from it’s major details (filament inside the bulb, removed the subsurface modifier, removed the refraction and reflection from the material, etc..) and dupliverted it (Object menú (F7)), on my generated points cloud. Then comes the funny node part. To light these light bulbs up, I simply duplicated the cloud mesh, and created a new “halo” object which consisted of a single vertex with an orange-ish halo material and dupliverted it on the duplicated cloud like I did with the light bulb. I then placed this new duplivert system on another layer. Chek Image 8 for the node system of this scene.
As you can see, I separated the whole scene in three distinct render layers. First off, there is the light bulb field render layer (At the top of the node system). On it, I use a Defocus filter to generate my Depth of field effect (which I use throughout the whole movie), and alos a Brightness/Contrast node to add more contrast to my scene (another quik trik instead of using a more complex light setup). I then “add” the halo render layer on top of the light bulb layer. To add a bit more bloom to these halos, I blur them up and then “add” the blurred halo on top of the rendered halos. And I use the exact same trik on the character to give it slightly better “wow effect” (Decided to do that since a basic armature setup ain’t that cool to look at).
After that, when came the time to animate all these light bulbs and shape them into a circle, I used a cheap cinema trick. During a cut in-between two shots, I created a new .blend which contained all the same objects, placed exactly like they were in the previous .blend. Instead of using only duplivert though, I alos used a particle system.
Since each object making up the clouds (there were 3 sections forming the whole cloud) had 1870 vértices, I added a particle system to them which would emit 1870 particles. Then I clicked the “from: Verts” button in the particle system menú (and made sure the “face” button was unselected). I then changed the particle start and end value to 0 and 1 respectively.
Doing this makes the object emit all the 1870 particles at the same time before the animation actually starts on frame 1. I alos made sure there was no speed whatsoever, so all the particles would stay in place once they were emitted. Then, I used a simple empty with a “Vortex field” propriety and voilá, my particles were slowly forming into a circle. Since I didn’t want to have them expand forever, I simply created a new .blend with a fractally subdivided cylinder that had about two thousand vértices (at this point, the new shot didn’t have to match perfectly what was in the previous shot).
As a conclusion, I’d like to thanks Jonathan Williamson for his help, critiques and for the motivation he gave me throughout the couple weeks I worked on this. Make sure you pass by our website over at http://www.montagestudio.org
to view my short movie, but alos the worque of Jonathan. If you have any specific question about the project, or request for specific files, I could always make available what you asque for. This project was created with an open mind, and begs the spectator to stay open minded throughout the whole 5 minutes of it, so I don’t really have any reason to not “open” the content of it. The only reason at the moment keeping me from releasing all the files is the time it would take to actually organise the folders and files properly with text explaining each of them. Releasing so many files won’t do any good if taken out of context, so I’m not willing to do it if I don’t have the time to do it right. As I said, if you have any specific request, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is the lightbulb object:
And this is the character during the very final scene,
I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed doing this project and writing on it.
- Jean-Sébastien Guillemette