Thursday, 7 November 2013

Light Tests

This week I have been hard at work on lighting tests. The primary light sources in the scene are the over head windows, and the mobile phone itself. It's important that both sources cast light onto the dummy geometry so that realistic lighting can be added during the final composite.

The mobile phone will be moving throughout the scene, bumping into props and casting a glow on the environment. It's also important to me that as the screen is on, it should have a realistic interface. The idea that someone is calling the phone can only be realised if the screen lights up an image as well emits light. This has been a cause of some head scratching, but after thinking through the idea logically, and acquainting myself with the shader shop in more detail, I seem to have managed to produce a decent effect.

I am also attempting to produce God rays/Cathedral rays to light the scene from above. This is an early test render comped onto the back plate. This is NOT the final grade or composite, I was just interested to see how the lights from the dummy geometry would look with the back plate. I think the effect is working relatively well, perhaps a little fast, and the geometry certainly needs cleaning up a bit. I'm also not liking the rays through the side portholes. Perhaps a simple glow would be more effective here. It'll be interesting to see how the light rays are effected by the movement of the phone through the scene. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Aquascape Update

It's been a very busy couple of weeks, so been remarkably slow on updating the blog.

On the 22nd October, I returned to my location, that had been scouted out the week previously, and took some more photographs. This time I took a tripod to allow myself to take photographs on a much slower shutter speed, thus improving the lighting of the scene. It also allowed me to take multiple exposures for bracketing purposes. I took many pictures, from all angles, I was keen to get into shot the port holes, and the hanging lamps that really sell the place as a boat rather than the inside of a pub.

I've also spent a lot of time researching. I've looked at a lot of general under water images, but for this project to be successful I need references from inside a shipwreck. I found the following image whilst hunting through Google images. I particularly like the colouring of this shot, and the fact that the structure is wooden should significantly help with the final colour grade.

This is the final concept art. I'm intending for the phone to cast light on the foreground elements, and then the light from the window to cast light onto the phone as it passes into the midground.

Once the final backplate was selected, and the concept was complete I could begin work on creating dummy geometry for the scene. This is still a work in progress, though nearing completion, and should hopefully be finished and textured by the end of this week. The dummy geometry creates surfaces for the CG phone to illuminate. These light passes can then be rendered off and composited onto the real scene, creating lighting as the phone passes through the scene. I intend to use area lights to light the scene through the windows, so I can also get a realistic lighting on the phone.

On Saturday 26h October, I spent the day, with a team, in the studio filming practical effects to use in the composition. This largely involved filming bubbles and particles in a water on a black background. The idea is to combine real effects which should add a level of realism and depth, with CG simulation, which will interact with the 3D model.

The 3D model in question is a mobile phone. I have spent much of this week modelling and texturing. This has taken me longer than anticipated because I have never really tried my hand at 3D modelling before, and Houdini is a whole new system for me. However I seem to be learning it quickly and I am quite happy with my efforts so far. The largest issues I've met so far, are; correcting topology issues, which were causing my initial texture attempts to turn out badly; and getting my phone model to realistically emit light. 

Again, this is still a work in progress, but I am hoping that by the end of next week I shall have an iphone that not only emites light, but has an image on the screen. I'd also like to have an some early animation attempts complete as well.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Further Research and Concept Art

Further research has pulled up Green Lake in Styria, which seems almost custom made for this project.

"Green Lake (GrĂ¼ner See) in Styria, Austria, is an amazing place. For half of the year, it’s an underwater village with fish swimming through the branches of trees, a floor covered in grass, benches and bridges.
For the other half, it is over ground. In the frozen winter months the area is almost completely dry and is a favorite site for hikers. As the temperature begins to rise in spring, the ice and snow on the mountaintops begins to melt and runs down into the basin of land below. The waters are at their highest in June when it becomes a mecca for divers keen to explore the rare phenomenon."


I also have taken the opportunity this week to scout out locations. As I had several very loose ideas I've been wandering around Bournemouth and Poole with a camera hunting for inspiration. Mostly I have taken photos of swans. I did however find an underpass, which had interesting lighting, unfortunately it was far too busy for any worth while photographs on that particular day. Another building I found was a nautical themed bar in Poole. The inside of this bar could easily be the inside of a fishing boat, and I am definitely considering sinking the ship.

It was recommended to me that I consider both place and object together. I like the idea of creating a narrative, adding atmosphere to the scene. I'm considering perhaps a mobile phone, ringing giving off a pulsing light. Perhaps, as it gets closer to the camera, you can see the face of someones mother in the Caller ID. This calls in to question, who was on the boat, and is their mother waiting for them unawares that they have met their watery end?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Aquarium Live Stream

The live stream web cam is a particularly good link for aquarium reference. It provides a continuous stream of live footage from the National Aquarium. It's quite large tank, so it provides a good sense of depth and colour drop off. There are also good water ripple effects as the water is relatively shallow.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Saturation Test + Lighting Research

Aside from collecting primary (footage from the oceanarium) and secondary (watching copious amounts of sea based movies) references, I have been putting together a saturation test, based on the numbers that I found in my research.

This is obviously very rough, based on a series of photographs taken on my mobile phone. However I feel that the colour saturation, contrast and blur levels are certainly helping to produce a sense of depth. With more work, this will certainly aid me in my task of making a realistic under water scene.

I'm not planning on using a bottle of squash as my digital element however! I have been generating a few ideas. 

Initially I was considering taking a environmental stance, and shooting a rubbish heap as an under water "garbage island." Combined with this I would model a tin can that could drop into shot. However, as a tin can does not emit light, this may not be suitable. Alternatively, I would considering an explosive device being dropped into the scene. These are sometimes used for fishing, emits light and is very destructive to the environment and other species of animals in the area.

Another idea I had, was to shoot inside, and turn a room into an internal shot for a ship wreck. This will be heavily reliant on finding the correct kind of room to shoot in. Some location scouting will certainly be required for this one, but I've had a few suggestions, and I will check them out and take photographs for reference.

Light References
The Boat That Rocked
The Boat That Rocked
As the project progresses I'll upload more references and images that inspire me. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Under Water Environment: Research

The problem of the day, is how to create a realistic under water landscape. I have ten weeks to create an environment that is believable and realistic. There are a number of things to consider when approaching this problem, and so my initial task is the same as starting any project: research and idea development.

First of all I turned to Blue Planet, and spent my evening abusing my Netflix account and gathering as much visual information as I could. There are some great shots in this show, and realism, which can often be exaggerated in film and TV. Of course there is nothing wrong with exaggerating a natural effect to give an image more pizazz but I like to understand the science before moving forwards.

This lead me to researching underwater photography, which gave me an idea of how certain effects occur. For example, the god rays, those streaky rays that look really cool, occur when sunlight shines through calm water near the surface. When oceans are rough, the light diffuses creating a glow. Therefore if I would like to use this effect, I need to consider a composition that is set in calm water, such as a lake.

Understanding colour drop off, contrast and light levels will also be important when colour matching, integrating elements and creating my final colour grade.

The following figures are approximate figures for the percentage drop off in colour saturation over 1 meter.

Colour approx drop off

Similarly, light also drops off faster in water than in air. This is because water is denser than air, and so the inverse square law no longer applies. This varies depending on the depth of the water and the clarity of the water.

Because I want this shot to feel dynamic without a camera move, I need to think long and hard about camera angles and composition. I'm currently considering a low camera angled upwards upon my environment. This should allow me to do some interesting things with silhouetting and vignetting. Any object moving in this environment will therefore also be dropping down from the surface to the floor rather than moving forwards, which I think will feel more natural, particularly if I go for a calm water body. However, this raises a number of issues. I will need to generate the surface of the water body, which could be quite problematic, particularly if I want an object to break the surface. I will also need to produce some sort of bubble effect, if an object comes from the surface, it will undoubtedly bring air with it, producing a bubble trail of sorts. I will need some plates of moving debris/particles, as bodies of water, whether they are fresh water or salt water, are teaming with life and are rarely clear. I am uncertain as to whether or not I should attempt to film this plate or create it using particle simulation. Perhaps a combination of the both would create more depth in the scene.

Tomorrow I'm heading out to the Oceanarium to get some first hand experience of the effects of light in water, as well as take reference photographs for the composition stage. I will also need to scout out a location to become the back plate of this dry to wet conversion and start running tests on the various water effects. This looks to be a busy few weeks.

Seal says "Goodbye."

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Six Weeks and a Good Night Sleep Later

The original intention was to blog as the work progressed, that was my usual pattern whilst studying at Glamorgan University, and I quite enjoy looking back over old posts to see how my former projects developed.  Sadly, I just did not have the time.

Let me get this straight right now for anyone who may be considering applying for next year.

BFX is not a holiday.

You will not spend six weeks getting drunk and partying on the beach. In fact I saw the beach only once whilst in Bournemouth... from a distance.

It is hard work, with late nights and early mornings, and you'll blast through shots at a speed you will have never quite encountered before. Don't let this put you off though. The whole experience is totally worth it. Your skills will develop and improve dramatically, you will gain a much better understanding of the Visual Effects pipeline, and you will get the opportunity to meet people who can teach you so much more than your usual university lecturers. If you love what you do, then you will love the BFX competition. And there is fun to be had, particularly during late night renders.

My BFX experience really began on the Sunday 7th July. My team was all settled in and we popped next door to meet another team for drinks. This really set the tone for the whole event. Everyone was really friendly and genuine, there was no real sense of competition or "winning", we just wanted to do the best we could and were excited to see everyone else's projects develop as much as our own. On the Monday, it was a similar situation, we met the Bournemouth University staff, were allocated machines and then headed down the pub.

After that, the hard work began. Because we were visiting competitors, and not the home team, we needed to be trained on the equipment available, which was significantly different from what we were used to working on at Glamorgan. The green screen studio in particular is really quite different, and as our film was to be shot on green screen this was very important for us. The staff did a great job, one lecturer said that he was cramming a whole terms worth of teaching into one afternoon. We all laughed, but he may well have not been joking. The time flew by and by the time the induction was over, I felt pretty confident stepping into the studio to shoot our short.

There were of course some snags along the way, there were issues using the computer system to book out equipment for example, and a few technical difficulties with equipment itself, but this was cleared up quickly by the staff, who showed an extraordinary amount of patience and good humour. Frankly, I am surprised there were no bigger issues than these. I can not imagine a bigger logistical nightmare than organising an event like BFX, and so I was very pleased at how smoothly everything ran, particularly considering this was the first year of the event.

At first we felt a little like we had put ourselves at a disadvantage by shooting on green screen, not because we weren't capable of compositing the live action footage, (I think the results speak for themselves on this front) but because shoots take time to organise and prepare for, afterwards footage needs to be watched, takes selected and an edit cut. We didn't really begin to get onto post production until late into the second week, which meant we felt like we were playing catch up from the start.

That's not to say we wished we hadn't done it. For one thing, shooting on location brings its own list of problems, particularly when our only suitable location was very far away and without elctricity. Besides, anyone who knows me will know I live for green screen shoots, and I was very excited to get back in the studio after spending a year behind a computer. The facilities at Bournemouth are awesome, (though not quite as awesome as Glamorgan! Well maybe on par... Mostly... Well ours is definitely bigger...) and we were willing to put in the extra hours to get ourselves back on schedule. We got some great footage, the green screen providing us with a really clean and even backdrop for keying and compositing, and only minimal roto was needed to get back some motion blur and a disappearing thumb. On the whole, a very positive experience, even if we did have some hiccups setting up the props.

And then of course came the packing up.

I can't really post an evolution from concept to final product as turn around was so fast that there wasn't much time to work on tests and make rough shots. We pretty much jumped straight onto final composites, with myself and Katt working on keys and matte paintings whilst Jo, Graham and Suvi got straight onto the robot.

I was given early animated block outs around week four, which helped with adding in VFX, which needed to be timed, and final passes for compositing toward the end of week five and beginning of week six. As you can probably tell we all worked flat out right until the last day.

The most important lesson I have learnt from BFX, is that Time Management is everything. I've always been pretty good when it comes to organising myself, but I found that unless everyone in the team is working to the same schedule, things can fall apart pretty quickly. Communication and cooperation are the most important factors in a team project. If there is someone who does not really understand what you do and how long it will realistically take you, pipelines can bottleneck. My advice to anyone taking part next year, is allocate roles for everyone, but also be fluid in what you can do, write a realistic schedule, and keep to it. If people start falling behind, it is imperative that not only is there is someone in the team chasing it up, but also that there is someone in the team able to jump on board and help out. It should never be about appointing blame, but asking "What problem are you having, and what can I do to help?" You are a team after all.

And at last, the final film. Thanks BFX it was awesome. A big thank you to the organisers and the coaches. See you in September for the Festival.

For more information on the BFX Festival, check out their website: