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June 13, 2007

lsgl: a sharp poke in the eye

by sven at 11:59 pm

The past three days have been spent trying to animate the Elder Things waking up... It's been pretty miserable.

a rare happy accident

Three challenges.

One: This is the first time I'm really doing "character animation" in CG, and I'm struggling to get comfortable with the tools.

Two: I'm trying to figure out how to make a beast that has never existed -- and which has no Earthly analogs -- look natural.

Three: Mysterious technical problems have arisen (related to gimbal lock?) and I've been trying to trouble-shoot them.

Let's look at a sampling of renders that illustrate...

click on image to play clip (157 KB)

The clip above was my first quick test. My initial conception of the eyes was that the stalks do all the moving, the eyeballs are fixed in place. I discovered with this clip that the eyestalks can't be too flexible, or they start looking comedic.

click on image to play clip (213 KB)

To what extent do the eyes function independently versus in unison? My initial thought was that each eye essentially has a mind of its own. So I did this test render (above) where each stalk moves around randomly. ...I was thinking about simulating the way that human eyes dart from point to point.

Nope -- don't like it. The Elder isn't five separate creatures; it's one -- and has to act like it.

This clip also made me realize that the Elders are inherently a bit wall-eyed. Human eyes don't point in parallel lines -- the eyes' sight lines converge upon a single point. With Elders, though, in a neutral pose the sight lines point away from each other.

click on image to play clip (145 KB)

Having seen in the first clip that the eyestalks ought to be somewhat stiff, I decided to try taking that idea to an extreme -- having them locked in place, the eyeballs doing all the moving. Result: creepy, but not in a way that fits into the film.

Still, this clip made me decide that the eyeballs do need to move in their orbits somewhat... Probably only 20-30 degrees in either direction.

click on image to play clip (762 KB)

So, my new conception: Both eyestalks and eyeballs can move, but both should be somewhat stiff. And the five eyeballs all try to focus on a common point, rather than waving around independently.

How to accomplish this, from a workflow perspective? Animating one eyestalk at a time wasn't working out. I decided to pose all five eyestalks, save the file under a new name (so I could backtrack), and then move on to the next pose. And I decided to pose stalks first, then go back and animate eyelids, then go back to pose eyeballs in third pass. ...This plan of attack seems to work out pretty well.

I was feeling pretty pleased with the clip above... But then that weird little epileptic fit at the end emerged. Despite several hours of trying to eliminate it, I just couldn't figure it out. Ultimately I just had to admit defeat and start over -- not knowing what to do if this problem comes up again. Unhappy!

Production has slowed down to a crawl -- which is very hard to swallow. But I just keep telling myself that doing the CG animation will get easier as I keep getting more familiar with the process.

My random observation of the day: I wrote at one point that I was feeling "utterly baffled." ...Hey! That's anagram for "butterfly's leaf!" Neat!

posted by sven | June 13, 2007 11:59 PM | categories: let sleeping gods lie