Monday, May 22, 2006

Avatar Faces (+ Ageing). (Film #2)

Its been a fairly long learning progress, but I'm now happy with the Avatar face(s) for the central character(s).

As previously mentioned, for this film I want to include a convincing ageing process, from c. 5 to 80 years.

The process involved firstly taking front and side digital images of both my face (middle, below) and my eldest son's (far left, below) who is 5. The images were stretched and treated to fit the face template for the SL Avatar. Next, the images now looking like a flat pieces of skin were morphed (using Morphage software for the Mac) to provide a 'tweened' image at the mid-point, somewhere between the two faces (second from the left, below). Finally to obtain the final two steps (right, below), I repeated this process, only this time crossing my face with a found image (from a painted self portrait) of a very old man. These final two morphs never reached the full-morph stage thus retaining a resemblance to the central face (a bit scary really!).

In turn, all five images were wrapped onto the SL Avatar and many subtle adjustments were made to the face and body shape parameters (inc. hair style and colour) to provide five Avatar appearance profiles.

With this big step now complete, the final stage in character development will be the sourcing and making of the clothing... Oh, and I now have a title for this film, but I'm going to save that for another blog entry.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Character Development. (Film #2)

OK so now I'm starting to think about the central characters and their appearance. It is very important to the success of this film that I get the characterisation right, we will need to believe in the relationships between the characters. Adding to this, at some point in the film I need to portray a convincing aging process. To be honest this is the part of this project that worries me the most as I have not really done any of this work before. I contemplated sub-contracting this part of the project to another resident skilled in Avatar design, but I have now concluded that it will be difficult to explain such a key aspect to a third party and the cost and timeframe involved will not weigh-up.

So, here we go, I have managed to obtain some excellent detailed templates for the SL avatar from Robin (Sojourner) Wood. Below is an example picture of Robin's 'UV-Suit', a set of templates worn directly on my avatar. Over the course of the next few Blog entries I hope to show the steps and stages in making the key characters.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Setting the Scene, 'PROPS'. (Film #2)

Other than the piano and spotlights, at the moment I think there will only be two other props required for this film. Possibly a hat, which I will create at the same time that I am building the characters (if it looks right), and finally a toy train set (clockwork, shown below). The process I will adopt is to make the props in a general way, then edit them later if they need more functionality or other changes. This model uses very simple (but smooth) client-side rotation scripts to move the train around a circular track and to turn the wind-up key on the side:

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Setting the Scene, 'LIGHTS'. (Film #2)

I have now begun work on planning and building the set and props for the next film. As I want to focus the viewer's attention on the central characters (and their faces), I want the set to remain very minimal but want to carefully consider the lighting of the set. I have constructed a 30 x 30 x 10m enclosed black box 600m up in the air, above the clouds. In the center of this room I have also constructed a grand piano prop (which will be very key to the story).

Additionally, basic replicas of the piano and stool models have also been constructed within a basic ray-tracing 3d App where I have captured the floor lighting and shadows cast from two spotlights (one red and one blue). The light and shadows on the floor have been rendered, exported as a large image and then cut into 9 (512 x 512 pxl.) square sections using Photoshop. These 9 textures have finally been imported into SL and mapped to the 9 floor sections of the set. Care was taken to scale the props (both in SL and in the external 3d App) in such a way that the fake light and shadows appear fairly convincing within the Second Life set.

Adding to this, I have also positioned two dummy spotlights in the set (as shown above) and further reinforced the illusion that these are real light sources by extending semi-transparent cone shapes to produce a glowing effect (as shown below); soon I hope to extend the red and blue spot-lighting effect to the avatar face and body by utilising the hardware lighting currently only available in the preview release of Second Life.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Initial Thoughts. (Machinima Film #2)

Now that 'Better Life' (Machinima Film #1) is complete, it's time to start thinking about the next film. My normal work calendar is just about to hit a hectic spot and so I imagine this project will run for a while.

Here are some of my initial thoughts and considerations, followed by a rough plan of action:

Story-Line: A circular story, reflecting upon stages of life, growing older and passing on roles.

Characters: I would like to place more of an emphasis on the avatar appearance and face in this next film and I would like there to be more than one central character if possible; although more than two plus a camera-man may present problems.

Location: Again, I plan to use Second Life as a setting. SL appears to be optimised for PC's, and as I run a Mac (1.67 GHz G4 Powerbook) with a slow connection (0.5 Mbps), lag and unstable frame rates are a real issue. The majority of 'Better Life' was set inside a 20 x 20 x 10m black box floating just below the cloud-line some 50m up in the air, and as the next release (v.1.9.1) of the Second Life viewer promises improvements in frame-rate through occlusion culling (basically not rendering objects that are blocked from view), it would be sensible to once again focus on a story that can be set inside some form of structure or room. Also the next release includes hardware lighting features that might be worth exploring.

Music: Again, I would like music to be given a high priority. This time however I would like to use music that I have composed and produced myself specially for this production. I would like to compose the music before any filming takes place although after I have a good idea of the of the set, props, effects and the appearance of the characters - allowing more opportunities to integrate the music into the film more fully.

Planning - Order of Events:

  • Design and Build Set and Props
  • Design and Develop Key Characters
  • Explore any Special Effects
  • Develop Musical Themes (Draft)
  • Finalise Story and Create the Story-Board
  • Compose Music
  • Filming
  • Editing and Post-Production

Monday, May 01, 2006

Better Life. (Machinima Film #1)

'Better Life' was my first attempt at making a machinima film; or any film come to that. Shot entirely in Second Life the only post production processes I used were in the cross-fading of scenes, addition of the soundtrack and the end credits.

I was inspired to make this film after seeing the 'Silver Bells and Golden Spurs' movie by Eric (Linden) Call, (Snr. Artist, Linden Lab). Really I just wanted to see if I could do it, and wanted to find out what would be involved in taking a project such as this through to the end.

The film plays much like a music video and tells a tale of one man's escapism and search for a 'better place' in a virtual world.

Having first identified the music I wanted to use and decided upon the general story line, I created the props and story-boarded the whole film using a series of in-world snapshots. This allowed me to get a view of the pace, continuity and balance of the film before committing to any filming.

I was surprised by how much this felt like making a real world film, moving the actor and 'camera man' (my alternative avatar) into position, checking the lighting and at times having to wait for things not directly under my control to be right, the cloud density for example. Second Life is a great platform and backdrop for this type of movie, you need a prop or effect?, so you make it...

At the heart of this project is a great soundtrack. In my real life I work as a composer and so although I did not write the music in this instance, choosing the right music for this project was a very important initial consideration and provided a good framework for timing. The song (also titled 'Better Life') was written and performed by one of my best friend's band 'Angry Man', based in the UK.

Edit: 'Better Life' has just been released as an iTunes Podcast, here