This is all slightly out of date as the blog has been given a rest while I attended to other things. The Animated Exeter promotional trailer is finally done. It was all worth it in the end when the "client", Susannah came down to see what we'd accomplished, and she saw the Cathedral come on screen. I believe her words were: "oh wow". That's job satisfaction :)

It was a real struggle the last few days leading up to completion for me, failed render after failed render, mostly down to human error (my human error) and I felt additionally responsible for pushing the high production aesthetic and, while this obviously created extra work, it really feel it was worth the effort, and it shows in the final trailer. Extra credit to Jake who held it all together and was the only one still able to power on right til the end, apparently you've got to be that hardcore to produce a trailer plus two 3rd year animations all at the same time.. I'll detail the two hiccups we had with Maya so people can avoid similar issues in the future.

I had a displacement node on the grass geometry in order to create detailed blades of grass. Mental ray uses a technique to control displacement quality by judging how close something is the camera and adding to the mesh accordingly, this meant when the camera swooped in close massive spikes of grass appeared and when it drew back and grass in the distance came into view there was little to no displacement. While this is really clever it unfortunately caused a rippling seizure effect in the grass so it was distracting and glitchy looking, apparently this can be fixed by using better sample of the displacement texture but I'd have to do a lot more experimentation to figure it out properly. Hurray for re-rendering. This meant using six computers to render out the fixed grass at 13 minutes a frame, which is pretty respectable considering the fancy final gather lighting, 4k and 2k textures and stained glass window shaders.
 Gorgeous I know, but as a moving sequence, problematic to say the least.

The second problem was with displaying a texture that was an image sequence on the robot's chest, this came out blank on the first render, fortunately we formulated a more elegant solution to this by rendering out the chest separately in the Maya software renderer and using surrounding models to mask the parts of the chest that were supposed to be obscured by using setting them as an alpha channel in after effects.

In my continued exploration of the mental ray render settings I uncovered the motion blur settings, one in particular caught my eye. It controlled the amount you blur something, I convinced myself it was necessary to crank it up to 1.5 in order to help the cathedral feel more like a giant piece of architecture than a miniature scale model. I think it genuinely helped enhance that effect whilst also smoothing out the harsh transition from inside to outside the cathedral, but I would think that wouldn't I...

I've started to work on modelling and UV unwrapping alongside Nigel on The Little Helper, (Pete's lighting work on one of the sets). My first prop being a cuckoo clock, I have some useful information to go on, requirements for its animation and a photo for reference etc, using that I created a very quick concept sketch-see above, and began modelling. While I like the proportions of the thing, at the moment it feels too perfect and CG, I'll have to find out about the style it needs to be in an hopefully look into creating a more wonky, handmade feel to the prop. Other than that just a bird and the pendulum missing before this is ready for me to start unwrapping and then I can hand it to texturing.

Nelson the supercomputer I have just invested £579 in something else I've been devoting a bit of time to recently. Last week has seen me travelling the length and breadth of Falmouth trying to track down the multitude of packages I've managed to miss. Now all the necessary parts have been assembled and I'm highly anticipating the moment I can begin enjoying the new processing power as I render Pixar quality CG in real time...perhaps I should consider lowering my expectations? Nah, its a beast :)

In my continued attempts to open the minds of my readership to new and exciting ways of thinking about videogames I have discovered these two articles. The first talks about the content of the painfully dumb looking Bulletstorm, and what's appropriate/offensive. I personally feel that the medium needs to go through stages of evolution. According to Shatz's genre theory there was the time when a genre was just discovering itself, before it moved into the classic phase (which can last for an extended period of time), after this it develops self awareness and moves into parody and pastiche phase were humour is derived from the audiences knowledge of the genre's conventions. Finally comes the revisionist stage where films in the genre play on the audience's expectations of the conventions to create new ways of presenting the narrative whilst still operating within the format of the genre. Games are still in the stage where designers don't yet know how best to use interactivity to tell stories, this means we are a long way off reaching the satirical stage that Bulletstorm claims to be inhabiting. While there are certainly gaming conventions that are ripe for comedic material, its mostly because they're ridiculous in and of themselves, we don't need another shooter filled with stereotypes, sexism, questionable motives behind gameplay themes. Just because Bulletstorm has self awareness doesn't mean its being clever and witty just by pointing out what's already laughable in a very obvious way. Lets have some progression and then we can laugh about it all later.

Not sure where that all came from.

This piece references some of the finest experiences the contemporary media consumer can have, and on top of that it makes an excellent point about player agency and the personal nature of interactivity.