Post production looks to be the next exciting project and I've started mudboxing Hugh's island model, so effectively he worked from his design and then I took the base mesh into Mudbox to add cracks, stalactite type details and general rockiness. Amazingly Maya loves working with Mudbox's displacement maps, it exports them in 32bit Open Exr by working out the difference between the base mesh and the sculpting I added through a process of either "raycasting", or "subdivision". Don't ask how either of those work, because I only understand the principles of both.

Floating Island Mk.I

There are some minor issues with the UV's which, while they work, they are the default cube UV's and there are some lines appearing in the displacement where the seams are. I've re-unwrapped it with RoadKill (the wonderful UV unwrapping tool, it uses Blender's open source UV algorithms so its free!) and luckily Mudbox allows you to import new UV's onto the base mesh whilst hopefully maintaining all the sculpting I've already done.

Floating Island Mk.II, fixed UV's
Those hard working animators making the The Last Trophy have been slightly preoccupied with dissertation work recently but I managed to fix the problem with the sky and finally make a decent night lighting set-up in my Monday/Friday sessions. After endless tweaking to make sure the matte backgrounds that I plucked from Google weren't overexposing due to being included in final gather or receiving light from anywhere else I managed to get a simple sky which really completes the image.

Background now shows through but no image yet for night lighting.
The physical sky makes a nice caramel effect for some reason when no image is provided.

This one has the correct colouring, shadows, and background matte.
The shadows no longer fall across the trophies on the wall which I might have to tweak but otherwise this feels close to completion.

 On top of all this we had Double Negative give a talk to us about their role in the visual effects industry (which is pretty integral seeing as they have worked on all these films and are in talks with the various software vendors to get their tools to better meet their needs). Some of the stuff they showed I'd seen on the Inception bonus features but other bits were totally new and it was fascinating hearing it explained by their head of 3D Alex Wuttke, I got to ask why they use Renderman, and whether they've overcome UV's yet and both questions yielded informative and entertaining answers. We even got to chat to him in the studio briefly along with their recruitment manager, it was surreal and humbling.

Me: pointing a gun at something...

Nelson my beast PC has opened new doors into the gaming world and I've finally managed to complete Half Life 2, Episode II. For a four year old game, damn is it pretty, makes me realise what a big deal resolution is when it comes to showcasing a game's art, everything sparkles at 1080p. Also in terms of storytelling I just continue to fall more deeply in love with Half Life's style of unrestricted player movement during key plot sequences. It goes some way to diffusing the conflict between authorial intent and player expression. For example the player can interact with the environment in fairly limited ways in any game, most of all first person shooters, so when the player is constantly pointing a weapon at what's in front of him its hard to create emotional experiences when the protagonist is a mute who points his gun at everything, psychopathic right?

Me: pointing my gun at something else...
Valve attempt to address this by having Gordon Freeman lower his gun every time the cross hair passes in front of a friend or ally. But this doesn't really solve anything because the player can still fire it right through them with no consequence, effectively breaking the illusion of agency the game has worked to build during gameplay. So I found myself switching the to crowbar during the more dialogue heavy parts of the game in order to avoid firing a shot that should blow the characters head off, why is the player not equipped to express himself in non-violent ways besides puzzle solving? This renders all the emotive aspects of the story slightly redundant as they can only flow one way. While Half Life has the decency to be self aware of these things: "you don't talk much do you?" -Alyx Vance, I feel its the one thing missing from an otherwise exceptional interactive experience. Why make a character silent if you're not going to encourage the process of the player using the character's actions as a cypher for their own? Why not create a character as a developer if you're deny the player the right to do so.

My one find recently has been series of blog posts by the founders of Naughty Dog on the making of Crash Bandicoot. It's a great insight into the process of squishing a hugely ambitious game into restrictive hardware, and then knowing when to battle with the corporate machine, and when to submit to it.