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BlastOff! is a pilot for a 3D animated web series where
each night when a child goes to bed, his toy alien comes to life
and flies through various space adventures while the child sleeps
in his BlastOff! Bed. This 3-minute pilot webisode shows the BlastOff!
Bed being constructed and its maiden voyage. The BlastOff! pilot
was intended as a test project where I could exercise and refine
the skills necessary to produce
from concept to completion. I especially wanted to focus on
many aspects of 3D character animation and build a viable 3D
animation pipeline and in-house render
farm at the DreamLight studio
in preparation of launching the
new 3D animated series of BlastOff! shorts. The latest
progress on the BlastOff! series can be seen on the Autiton
Archives™ Work-in-progress Web log. This new DreamLight
3D animation pipeline and in-house render farm could then also
be used on a variety of DreamLight’s
commercial 3D projects for
CD-ROM, DVD, the Web, digital video, TV and Film.
Note: High res. versions of the images & videos
are available on the BlastOff! Special Edition DVD.
To keep the overall production time on BlastOff! as
short as possible I decided to base the film on work that I had
already done in the past. The vehicle of the film is made from
the 3D model that I had already created when I designed and built
BlastOff! Bed. For the main character of the film, I
chose Digit, a little green alien 3D character that I had designed
back in 1995
an award-winning 3D interactive edutainment CD-ROM that
DreamLight created and produced.
|Initial Design Sketch
||Initial 3D Model
I had originally designed and sketched the 3D character Digit in Fractal
Painter, modeled it in Macromedia Extreme 3D and rendered
it in Strata Studio Pro & Electric Image Animation System back
in 1995. At that time 3D character
animation was rather limited on desktop computers, so I designed
the original character to be animated
as a collection of rigid intersecting components.
Character animation technology has come a long way since then with technologies
like subpatch and subdivision surface modeling, bone deformations
and morph mixing. In order to take advantage of this current
technology I decided to first rebuild the character using more
modern 3D software.
already had a version of the model in auto·des·sys form·Z,
I was able to export all the parts as individual object files
and import them into modo to use as a template to build a more
modern version of the character model. Above you can see the
original Extreme 3D model imported into modo 1.0.3 to be rebuilt.
Each separate object has been given a different shade so you
can see how the original model was built as completely separate
Using the original model as a guide,
I rebuilt the entire 3D character as a single subpatched mesh
by hand, point by point and polygon by polygon. This new seamless
mesh could then be deformed and animated more effectively using
modern technologies like bones and morphs in LightWave 3D.
I then brought the 3D character model into LightWave 3D 9.0
where I detailed it with textures and rigged it for animation.
Rigging a 3D character is the process of adding a skeleton of
bones, position morphs and additional goal and target controls
to facilitate the animation process. Once a 3D character is rigged,
it can be animated using inverse kinematics, also know as IK.
IK allows you to animate a 3D character much like a puppet. Animating
a set of controls and targets indirectly animates the underlying
bone skeleton which then deforms and animates
actual 3D subpatched mesh. Below you can see the Digit 3D character
with its full rig visible. The yellow shapes are the bones and
the red shapes are the goal and target nulls used to animate
the character. The list to the right of the character is a hierarchical
list of the many bones in the 3D character’s skeleton.
Once I had the 3D character fully rigged and ready to animate I added
it to the LightWave scene that contained the set and props of
the room. I used dual monitors (A 23" Apple Cinema Display HD
and a 17" Sony LCD) on a dual processor Power Mac G5 workstation
to enable me to spread out all the panels
necessary to animate the character efficiently.
Below is a snapshot
of my workspace with all the panels open that I used to animate
the character. At the top left you can see the Scene Editor’s
Dope Sheet which is used to refine the animation key frames
to adjust the animation timing. At the bottom left you can see
the Graph Editor which is used to adjust the animation curves
that control the acceleration, deceleration and velocity of motion.
On the right monitor you can see the four view ports that I used
to see the animation as I worked on it [Camera, Top, Right &
Back (which is really Front in LW ;-)]. At the top right is the
object properties panel for various adjustments and at the bottom
right is the Morph Mixer that I used to do all the facial animation
for the 3D character.
Another 3D character animation technique that I wanted to exercise in
the making of BlastOff! is morph mixing. This is a powerful technology
that can be used particularly well for facial animation including
lip sync animation. In order to keep the overall production time
down on this particular short I decided against using full lip
sync and instead used morph mixing to animate the 3D characters
facial expressions. Morph mixing is done by first creating a
set of poses in the 3D character model using morph maps. A morph
map is effectively a set of alternate x,y,z coordinates for each
point in the 3D character’s subpatched mesh. In LightWave 3D
the Morph Mixer can then be used to dial in varying amounts of
each pose and mix them together to animate the 3D character’s
In the below video I am simply testing some of the key
morph maps, then at the end I create a facial expression by
mixing various morphs together. Notice on the Morph Mixer panel
that I’ve created sets of morphs that include a bilateral morph
as well as separate morphs for the right and left sides. This
enables greater flexibility when animating facial expressions.
Below is a snapshot of my workspace set up to animate the facial expressions
of the 3D character. Again I make full use of dual monitors to
work simultaneously with the Scene Editor, Graph Editor, four
3D view ports, properties panel and of course the Morph Mixer.
Whether you are simply interested in seeing how I made BlastOff! or you would like to make your own 3D animation,
the BlastOff! Special Edition DVD includes a DVD resolution version
of my award-winning 3D animated
BlastOff!, three additional versions of BlastOff! with behind the scenes commentaries, high resolution versions
of all the images and videos on this page, a collection of set
and prop LightWave files, additional behind the scenes content
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