Particle Effects (ICE)
3D Animation and design process
1 – Character creation and rigging
I like the character creation process as you get to see your vision of the character develop, and as the geometry gets more detailed so does the personality. I won't say that I enjoy skinning though. It is a rather tedious task, but a necessary evil and the better you do this part, the easier it will be to animate the character later.
First, using reference art, I make the character using polygon modelling with various modifiers, paying close attention to how the meshes' edges flow around the characters body and face. Once the character is ready I need to set up a skeleton to match the character's mesh, adding any extra bones that might be needed.
After the skeleton is set I skin the character to the skeleton so that when it is animated, the mesh moves with it and deforms smoothly around the joints.
2 – Character animation
I really enjoy character design and animation as it is a great feeling to see something you have created come to life when you add the different aspects that make up the character. Once the character is created, rigged and skinned it's time to animate it. For this I mainly use 3ds Max character studio's extensive animation tool-set.
I initially create the various animations that will be required for the final full animation. Much like computer games they will consist of walk or run cycles, jumps, idle animations and other movements unique to the character.
Once all the animations are set, I import them into 3ds Max Motion Flow where I can decide on the right order of the animations, loop them if needed and tweak any of the transitions between them.
When this is finalised I set the key frames to the timeline where I can then add a more nuanced movement and make any adjustments to the timing and weight.
3 – Particle effects
Most of the effect work I do is with Particle Flow although I have used Softimage and its interactive creative environment. At the start I found it was very easy to make nondescript effects but making a particular naturally occurring wonder like tree leaves blowing in the wind is another story and takes a lot more time and patience. But with a bit of practice it is possible to make almost anything.
Particle Flow is an event driven animation tool where I can set various parameters to control when and how a particle interacts with the environment it is in. When a particle is born it has a life span and what it does in-between is dependent on you. So you may need gravity, wind or collisions. Particles may need to spawn more particles or die.
There are also lots of tests where you can check a particle's speed, velocity or size among others and send it to another event.
4 – Composition
I enjoy compositing as this is where you get to see your vision come together and all the hard work starts to pay off. Render times are also significantly shorter. Rendering in passes opposed to rendering in the 3d package gives you more flexibility in post to adjust the final animation.
I generally render out z depth, RGB matte and shadow passes as well as a back plate, but will use other passes when required. Once all the different passes have been rendered I bring them into a composting package and put them all together. Using the various passes I build up a more rich and dynamic scene with effects - some subtle some not so. Depending on the complexity, there could be anything from 5 to 30+ layers. Once the scene is finished I can add any animation to the different effects and tweak the overall colour and feel of the finished piece.