and Writing a Story
- The Reedit
- Technical Challenges
- Equipment Used
It started with getting into
a class called RAML(Rendering Animation and Modeling) sponsored
by the Cal Poly Plan, the Art Department and the Architecture
department. RAML is a class open only to Art and Architecture
majors. To get into the class I had to go to the teacher and get
special permission to get into the class because my major is Computer
Science. Once in the class, pairs of teams were picked at random
out of a hat. I was teamed up with Thea Rubio, a 6th year graduating
architecture senior. Previously, Thea had taken a class that taught
Form Z, which was the program we used to model the objects.
Before we were allowed to
start a project, we were required to go through a tutorial. While
the tutorial did expose us to many parts of the animation program
Electric Image, the tutorial was extremely slow and was steeling
valuable time away from our main project. I knew 10 weeks would
be an extremely tight schedule for what we wanted to do. So, later
that second week, my partner and I met on the weekend and decided
what we would do. Having been involved in television(Roomies,
BMS) and having taken 2 classes in computer graphics and animation
from the computer science department, I came to the table with
some experience. I knew that creating textures is both difficult
to do realistically, and extremely time consuming. The objects
we picked would have to be smooth. We walked around campus looking
at objects that could be animated. We looked at bikes, candy,
phones, vending machines, money, doors. We narrowed the field
down to Skittles, vending machines, and phones. We took a break.
Days later, while walking to my car at night from the gym, I saw
a Pepsi Machine glowing in the dark. It was shinny, smooth, and
fun to look at. It even had a mouth. It was perfect. In the next
few days we story boarded.
and Writing a Story
While viewing examples of
previous RAML projects, I knowticed two things that almost all
the previous projects lacked: realism and a story. Most of the
projects were supernatural futuristic landscapes with a camera
floating through the scene. While these landscapes made for interesting
stills, they make boring animation's.
Animation is neat, but it
is not why people watch TV. People
watch to get involved with a story.
Instead of making the environment
the main feature, like many of the previous projects had done,
we made the actors the main feature. So we made the environment
a darkened concrete hallway. With this environment we could put
the objects into the spotlight, just like a stage. It made for
a simple, but interesting environment because we could concentrate
on the lighting and shadows of the environment to add to the realism.
With less than 7 weeks to work on the project, speed and efficiency
would be issues. Our stage was set.
Stories need some sort of
conflict. Luckily, with Pepsi there is an obvious opponent: Coke.
The Coke Vs Pepsi issue has been an especially big on the Cal
Poly campus because Cal Poly sold out to Pepsi to allow Pepsi
to be the exclusive beverage distributor on the Cal Poly campus.
This was also technically more easy to do because we could duplicate
our Pepsi model and make the Coke model, saving us a lot of time.
With the color of Coke being red and the color of Pepsi being
blue, it seemed obvious that they could have genders: Pepsi being
male and Coke being female. We gave the situation even more depth
by making the machines a couple. Couples have problems, which
can set up conflict. The conflict that seemed to pop out first
was Pepsi acting like a male chauvinistic pig because that is
stereo typical of guys. Pepsi acting like a chauvinistic pig would
make Coke mad. The conflict was seeded.
With the mouth of the Pepsi
machine being so low to the ground, there was an opportunity for
the Pepsi machine to potentially look up a woman's dress. The
Coke machine would get mad, and a small fight would ensue. To
animate a woman would be a great technical challenge. We threw
around the idea of just animating the legs, but that would be
very hard to do right in the amount of time. So I got a live woman
to walk in the scene. Doing this was a great technical challenge
because we lacked the proper resources. However, accomplishing
this task added a greater sense of realism.
While seeing two vending machines
banging into each other would be entertaining, it would be more
fun to give them weapons. The obvious answer to this dilemma was
to have them fire(or spit) cans at each other.
This fighting led to another
issue, spousal abuse. The Pepsi machine, not properly controlling
his anger, knocks out the Coke machine with a shot to the power
cord, giving a chance for the Pepsi machine to show another emotion:
remorse. Pepsi was a jerk, but he had feelings. But we still lacked
After time has passed, a maintenance
man finds the Coke machine unplugged and plugs the machine back
in. The Coke machine makes the first step toward forgiveness and
offers the Pepsi machine a drink from her machine. The Pepsi machine
accepts the offer and gives a drink to the Coke machine. She(Coke)
tries the Pepsi, but finds it disgusting and spits the can out.
The Pepsi machine becomes enraged and fires a can at the Coke
machine. Once again a fight ensues and then we end with a fade
to black. The resolution of the story being that this couple just
won't learn to stop their bad habits.
There are only 10 weeks in
a quarter at Cal Poly and only one computer for our group. I wasn't
allowed to be in the class until the 2nd week, leaving only 9
weeks to create a project, learn the software, and work on the
project. We were required to follow a tutorial which took up three
weeks of class, leaving only 6 weeks to work on the project. By
the end of the second week of class, I knew it was going to be
a very tight schedule. So we started weeks ahead of certain class
milestone deadlines and created our own set of milestones of when
measurements would be taken, models would be completed, scenes
would be finished, and animation segments would be finished. During
the quarter there were unforeseen problems with file corruption
and crashing computers. This combined with delays in certain milestones
(models incomplete or without enough segments, and alpha channeling
the video taking two weeks to complete) caused some very late
nights. Some people accuse me of being a slave driver at
times because I have to push people. In addition I had
to employ many shortcuts that were not talked about in class,
and even frowned upon by the teacher. To save rendering time,
I would make cans fire without rendering the background, then
later in After Effects add the cans firing on top of a still background.
While rendering an animation in Electric Image is faster than
many other rendering machines, it still takes an obscene amount
of time to render compared to rendering video in After Effects.
So I would take every opportunity I could to piece a scene together
in After Effects. By the middle of the quarter I could see I would
miss my goal unless I really pushed my self. For the last 5 weeks
of the quarter, I would work weekdays from 11am to 3am. On the
weekends I would work from 11am to 7am. The only time I would
leave the lab was to sleep, pick up food, attend class, or work
on a BMS skit. During the last week I sometimes would not leave.
The process was long and exhausting yet fun because I was working
towards something I cared about.
After the quarter was over,
we had a finished product, but I was not satisfied with it. Over
the summer I worked for VERITAS Software in their Media Services
department working on a radio program. Working there gave me an
opportunity to have access to sound equipment. I used their sound
equipment to completely redo all of the sounds: cans hitting the
ground, walls, vending machines, the hum of the vending machines,
footsteps, and human voices. I also played with the volumes of
sounds. The volume of the machine hum would get louder on closer
camera angles and a sound track was added to the intro to give
a final touch. In addition to sounds, the show was cut marginally
and some of the camera cuts were made smoother. I no longer had
access to the animation program, only to the final video. I used
Adobe After Effects with frame blending to slow down and speed
up the flashing of the Coke machine as she dies and changed the
order of some cuts.
Adding live action to an animated
scene is difficult to do, especially without the right equipment.
Using the program Adobe After Effects, one can "key out"
and create an "alpha channel" based on one color or
a group of colors in a video. After the alpha channel is created,
the alpha channel can be replaced with other video or in our case
an animated background. To properly create an alpha channel, one
would want the actor to stand in front of a background that is
of one color. This one color is usually a backlit bright green
because bright green is usually not close in color to a person
or a persons cloths so the person strongly stands out from the
back ground. It was especially difficult in our case to create
an alpha channel because we lacked the proper lighting and back
ground. The best location I could find was the architecture departments
photo lab. The problem with the photo lab was the lack of a large
solid backlit color. There are two problems when the background
is not large and not back lit. When the background is small, the
actor has to stand closer to the background. Standing closer to
the background makes the shadows stand out. Shadows are bad because
it creates more colors in the background. If the background were
backlit, then standing closer to the background wouldn't have
been as much of an issue because the shadows would stand out.
The backlit screen also eliminates another problem of the lights
creating strong spots where the light is stronger in the middle
and gradually fades off. These spots create more colors and make
keying more difficult.
Once we had the video the
real fun began, eliminating the back ground. With less than perfect
conditions, it is still possible to get a good product, it just
takes more work. To overcome the shadows and the light spots,
trickery had to be employed.
After the footage was captured
and imported into the program Adobe After Effects, I created multiple
layers of the footage. On one of the layers I would make adjustments
the the color balance, brightness and contrast trying to make
a greater difference in color between the girl and the background.
I would fine tune and make adjustments. I would then make an alpha
channel on this layer and then use this layer's alpha channel
to create a sort of alpha mask onto the other real untouched video
layer. In addition, I went through the video frame by frame and
created an 20 point mask around the actress adjusting it with
every frame. Then to fine tune the image even more I would key
out the certain pixel colors that still escaped.
Once the alpha was created,
the next step was putting in the background. Since the vending
machine models had been built upon the exact measurements of the
real vending machines, lining up the movements of of the actor
was simple. Once the model was lined up, I would darken the actor
and reduce the colors except for the blues. As the actress got
closer to the light of the machine, I would raise the colors making
her brighter, but still retain the bluish tint. To add even more
realism a shadow was created from the actress. I used key frames
to make her body gray, translucent, tall, tilted, and applied
a gauzian blur. As the model walked closer to the vending machines,
the actresses shadow would get closer to regular size, less translucent,
more upright and less blurry.
The Shooting Cans
To do the can motion by simply
setting keyframes is very difficult and time consuming because
we would have to create a realistic bounce, spin, and accelerations.
Luckily a friend of the class, Mike Romey, had recently co-developed
a plugin with a CSC student named Jan Lowers, to export 2D motion
data out of a physics simulation program called Working Model.
I set up a 2D model of my scene in Working Model involving an
object representing a can, another object representing a vending
machine, and another object representing the ground. This program
allowed me to control gravity, the density of objects, static
friction, mass and the initial velocity and direction of objects.
After creating multiple simulation exports, I was able to take
the motion data of the can, import it into my animation program
Electric Image, and attach it to an "effector" on the
can object. (An effector is an object the 3d can object would
follow.) By being very careful and meticulous with measurements,
the plugin was very successful.
Sony VX-700 video camera
Apple Macintosh G3 350 BW computer
- 1 gig external Jazz Drive
- 256 megs ram
- 20 gig had drive
- Empty Water Cooler Jug
- Empty Snapple cans
- Mouth of Ben Miskie for air whooshing
- Mouth of Jonathan Sherlock for Coke
Machine Power down
- texture mapping
- modeling of environment
- Final models of Cans and Machines
- Can Labels
- Texture map editing of concrete floor
- machine faces
- Image map editing of far wall glows
- Outline of the soda can's to be imported
into Form Z
Adobe After Effects
- Alpha Channeling
- final editing
- special effects
- line up sounds with action
- exportation files into DV format
Animation: Ben Miskie
Modeling: Thea Rubio and Ben
Sound Foley: Ben Miskie
Girl Voice: Kathleen Schroder
Guy Voice: Ben Miskie
Live Girl: Denise Trione
Story: Ben Miskie
- VERITAS Software
- Mike Romey
- Ian Chase
- Ellen Fields
- Craig Young
- Cal Poly Plan