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3D Short Film-making "Applied Research" Project - Newsletter 2 - 10 Jan 2009

"The House of Seville" - Beginnings - Article based on Student Project

By Sabrina Miao(Student) and John Calder(Supervisor).
Supervisor's intro  - Sabrina did this "mini-project" at the Manukau Institute of Technology from July to November 2008, including writing a report.  I am posting this edited-highlights public version in Jan 2009, allowing for changes in the software and what we are learning from our more recent movie-making.

Objectives of project

To spend the expected student work time of 150 hours on development work for the short film "The House of Seville".

  • I will create "Characters" and "Props" and collect them as assets.
  • I will produce as much as I can of this movie to gather data on how long it takes to do various movie-making tasks with this system.

Current state of project (as at 05 Nov 2008)

  • Asset Production: 4 Character designs: Victoria, Daria, Murdoch and Sylvester.
    3 interiors have been fully designed, including props and lights at different angles.
  • Movie Production - 4 minutes; 3 scenes out of of 12 scenes.
  • Metrics done

Evaluation of project process (changes to scope or plan, client relationship)

3D animation is new to me, so the hours I spent were more than I expected, especially for work in "Carrara" and Video editing. I spent 191 hours to complete 3 scenes. I found the software is more complicated then what I expected and there were more problems than I expected. I think the problem-solving part was a success, especially in my most complex scene, Scene 6.

In the original plan, I planned to start animation immediately after storyboarding, but in reality, I found that was impossible. In a project, it is always slow at the beginning; I need time to get into the software, to get the idea of how the software works, then to learn how to use the software. My productivity started increasing after week10. For future project planning, I won't expect to go fast at the beginning.

The communication between me and my client was successful, because we have the same purpose and goals. My client supported me well with audio and script.

 

miniProjectHoursbyCategory

Category

HoursWorked

Target Hours

Artwork 3D Carrara

71.25

40

Artwork 3D DAZ

18.5

20

Artwork 3D Props

15

20

Project management

24.5

30

Report

6

6

Research

13.5

18

Audio editing

4

4

Storyboards

14

15

Video editing

23.75

10

Total

190.50

163

 

Successes/achievements

Achievement for me was interior design, character design, animation and lighting.

Interior design

I learned the value of designing with color, contrast, lighting and composition. The 3 images below range from early to late in the project as my work improved.

 

 

Character design

In this movie only Victoria represents an ordinary person. Daria, Murdoch and Sylvester are strange people she meets in her adventure. Therefore how can I distinguish these people? How can I give the audience a strong impression of each character's personality? The important factors are colour, pattern and emotion. Victoria's clothes had plain colour and simple pattern. The script says that Daria has bad taste with colour and clothes so I gave her pink hair and on her dress there are big pink flowers. Sylvester runs a costume hire shop and I suppose he likes to try costumes on himself, so I made his clothes look funny. When I listened to his voice, I felt that Sylvester was an optimist, so I gave him a big smile and he is smiling all the time.

 

Animation

When I started this project, I didn't know anything about the software. I started with "DAZ Studio" and "Mimic Pro". At the beginning I could only create simple animations, for example, automated-speech-lipsync, nods and hand-waves. These animations made talking work well, but a movie needs more.

 

When I started working on Scene 6, I was thinking of how to make a scene more interesting when the character moves in the room, then my supervisor gave me some suggestions, he suggested I should make the character roller-skate in the room. I took the idea and made Sylvester "flying" when he is showing those props to Victoria, in the meanwhile the camera moves and changes direction to make it looks like it is moving with the character.

T

Then I did some research to see how a director makes a movie, what movie visual language do they use. This led me to show Sylvester "composing" Victoria like a photographer, then I cut to the reflection of Victoria in Sylvester's eye.

 

Lighting

At the beginning, I didn't realize lighting could make good effects, so for Scene 3 I just used default lighting.

 

When I started Scene 6, I tried out "Distance", "Spot" and "Moon" light. I found Distance light had good effects to make the whole room light, and Spot light just made a range of area light, for example, use it as a lamp. Moon light was softer.

 

To use or not to use Simplified Short Cuts?

My supervisor asked me to compare 2 of the fast simplified methods offered by DAZ with their more detailed equivalents.

1.    "LipSync" - this free plug-in to "DAZ Studio" scans audio files for speech and automatically animates a character mouth to lip-sync with that.
The detailed equivalent is "DAZ Mimic Pro", a separate for-sale product which starts with an automatic fit but offers a range of controls for finer control of the animation.
Conclusion - "DAZ Mimic Pro" gives significantly better results than "Lipsync". In this case the greater complexity is worth the effort.

2.    "Surfaces" - this is a simplified way of fitting "texture" photos or drawings to the surfaces of objects eg patterns to the surfaces of clothing. The detailed equivalent is "UV Mapping", available in a range of free and paid-for software from DAZ3D, Blender and other suppliers.
Conclusion - "Surfaces" did everything I wanted and I did not need the greater complexity of "UV Mapping".

 

Challenges

I did not have books or tutorials to follow. DAZ is new software. Users seem to concentrate on still image outputs with no-one mastering its movie-making methods . Therefore everything I have done was through my experimenting. My supervisor also tested it and gave me advice and help. It took me a lot of time to do testing, to try doing things in different ways then to find the most effective way. For this movie, Scene 6 is more complicated than Scene 3 and Scene 4, but it took me less time to produce (1) because my productivity was improving and (2) because updates from DAZ were improving the software, especially in the areas of general reliability and better import/export between different DAZ applications. My supervisor was sending bug reports to DAZ based on my experiences and he believes DAZ was responding well.

3D is different from 2D, in 3D I don't need to make characters or props, there are ready made items, but I need to buy them (with credit supplied). I have made a list of the amount spent, the total so far is US$108, which includes 3 scenes, in this movie there are 12 scenes, I estimate that production to completion of this movie will need at least another US$160 to US$180 in DAZ Artwork purchases and subscriptions.

Platinum Club

    • Joining fee and first month=US$30
    • 4 months membership at US7.50 = US$30

Subtotal: US$60

The following are Platinum Club Member Prices.

Characters

    • Victoria 4.2 Base=US$2
    • Victoria 4.2 Morphs++=US$21
    • Mihai Hair=US$2

subtotal : US$25

Clothes

    • Victoria-4 Morphing Fantasy Dress=US$2
    • Leisure Wear =US$2
    • Marie Antoinette Gown V4/A4= US$15
    • Michael-3 Everyday Wear2 =US$2
    • Michael-3 Everyday Wear =US$2

subtotal : US$23

Total: US$60+ US$25+ US$23= US$108

 

 

I have found some strategies to save budget. Firstly, I tried to use props already made by DAZ, then I changed the shape and colour to make them look different. For example, a top could be changed to a dress by dragging the bottom edge down using the "Bridge to Hexagon" DIY morph-making method. I also used the textures I designed myself, and I made the textures very different, so the audience will focus on the colourful texture and ignore the style of clothes, for example, Sylvester's clothes are based on clothes for Michael-3.

I made simple props by myself. I made a 3 storey building for the last shot "fire in the building", because it was a wide shot and audience cannot see any details of props, so I did not need to buy a prop.

I combined 2 characters together. I had clothes for "Michael-3", but I did not have face and head morphs for him. But I had bought additional "Morphs ++" for "Victoria-4". In order to make Murdoch look old, I took my supervisor's suggestion of connecting Victoria-4's head to Michael-3's body. So I didn't need to buy additional Michael-3 morphs. Another reason for combining these 2 characters was that my supervisor was of the opinion that Victoria-4 had superior lip sync performance and he therefore preferred a Victoria4-male-morph head to Michael-3's head. This was just before the release of "Michael-4".

Time was a big challenge for me. I had limited time to work on this project, so I used most of my weekends and study break. And DAZ3D is very time consuming.

At the beginning, the school computer allocated to me had bad rendering problems including restarting frequently without any warning. As a result I had to keep redoing the work. I negotiated with my supervisors and after they supplied a video card those problems were solved.

Management of machine performance is a big issue with 3D. I would like to point out the time I spend on rendering, importing and saving.

Carrara took about 120 minutes to render 364 frames (15seconds) of movie. I needed to run rendering overnight or study the timetable to find spare multimedia lab computers to borrow time on.

Import of characters from "DAZ Studio" to "Carrara" took 4-5 minutes.

Saving could also take a long time. Carrara often took 2-3 minutes

I found that for some scenes I could be more productive if instead of one complex 3D scene, I worked with 2 or more simpler scenes then composited the separately-rendered 2D together in the Video Editor. In the example below, I render a background JPG from Carrara, I render a PNG image sequence from DAZ Studio, then I combine them in Ulead MediaStudio Pro Video Editor.

 

 

What you learned/ would do differently next time

I spent most of time solving problems and doing analysis. I also learned some movie language to make a scene interesting. If I were to do this again, I would work more with "DAZ Carrara" and less with "DAZ Studio".

Conclusion

I think I did a good job in a limited time and with limited resources. 3D is a new experience to me, I was upset at the beginning, but I think I started to get into it and make improvements. My supervisor gave me lots of suggestions, it helped me get into 3D software.


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