So, my post today isn’t necessarily about my work, it is more of a wider concern and something I think we need to make more visible. This is definitely a situation that needs to be remedied and a lot of his views line up with my own opinions. I was going to write a big blog post about something like this in relation to the current situation, but he said a lot of things better than I could through text.
So, for those of you that don’t know, my company ArtasMedia has recently gone live. Over the next few months I will be working on developing contacts within the archaeological (and commercial) world to try and get some momentum going for the shift from contracted to self-employed work. I recently headed to Hawaii to attend the Society for American Archaeology conference and so hopefully lots of contacts I made out there will develop.
In other news, one of the reasons I have been quiet in the past few months has been because I have been super busy working on a viral video for a new up and coming website based company called Urban Cloud. I was tasked with creating the environment, motion tracking and box animations. You can catch the video below. The final animation was created for Quintessentially TV and the final breakdown of participants can be seen below.
Creative Director – Chris Charalambous. Music - Nick Byrne, Main camera tracking and Boxes - Grant Cox, Animation and Editing etc – myself. Film shoot production -Poppy Tullo. Model – Jordan Lee
I have just finished my presentations at the British School of Rome and after talking about transparency and opening up the process to evaluation it has dawned on me that my blogging has been very few and far between over the last year. This will be changing and this post is a very open example of that. Very shortly my website will be finished for my company and to celebrate that release I will be analysing this blog and working on the areas that are currently under loved. I think that so far I have not been good enough at communicating my thought processes that influence my technical work.
Recently I had a friend from Turkey email me about 3D in archaeology and he asked me if working with archaeological material that you are not familliar with makes your work superficial. My opinion on this is that trying to achieve a very high level in graphics, let alone applying it to a theoretical series of sites/periods is a very difficult task and there is going to be a very steep learning curve. Becoming ‘proficient’ and then moving on from that and taking your work to the next level is also a big difference in time investment. Not everyone wishes to be a photorealistic visualiser, some only want to use 3D as a way of analysing space and as a research driven tool to aid in the discussion of theoretical approaches, so a complex spectrum of time investment and split focuses begins to appear when you consider what your ambitions are.
For me personally, I have chosen to aim for a very technical general level, which requires constant revison and learning of new software as well as keeping up to date with practices and techniques. It is very difficult to apply this to archaeology without the help of other people and I don’t think that there is any shame in being open with your work. Ironically I think that the issue with 3D in archaeology is that for too long people have viewed those that implement it as inherently scientific, or upon a pedastal of knowledge. For me that isn’t the case at all. I think it is necessary to make it very clear when your knowledge is lacking and to integrate into this process people who you can truly rely upon to provide you with up to date research and insights that you cannot shoulder on your own.
I have been working on a multitude of different sites, periods and artifacts and it is not feasible to be an expert on everything and I think that it isn’t efficient to be trying to expect to be if your goal is to produce very high quality imagery that requires intense time investment. Working alongside other people in a transparent process for me is very important and it is why this year I will be putting more and more time into not just documenting what I do, but also why and how. What I take from my background in archaeology isn’t the expectation that I should become controlling over the research that goes into my models, instead I look to apply the general analytical processes to each project I am involved in.
I think in conclusion it becomes much easier to work out where you should be theoretically and technically once you work out what it is you want from your use of any technical tool. Once you have established that and realize that not only can you be open about your questions, but that in fact the communication and the process is actually very important in itself, it becomes very liberating to be able to say “I don’t know”. Part of creating models in the first place is to visualise and develop intepretations in a new way and to think in different concepts and these are often uncertain.
So, it’s already half way through January, which is pretty scary. I have made a resolution to clean up this blog, place much more information about my work and the content behind my models as well as making a lot more of my thought processes open and accessible to people who are interested.
One of the things I am going to be focusing on (Portus aside) in my spare time (HA!), is the Staffordshire Hoard Helmet. With all the new flying around regarding new finds it is heavily in the news at the moment and so the time seems right to go back, evaluate where it is at, look at some more of the findings/correspond with people and on top of producing some lovely stills get a nice animation finished.
One of my bugbears about the model up to date has been that it falls apart when you look too closely at it. I have therefore decided that it is about time I added a sculpting tool to my belt and have cracked open Mudbox to try and bring more depth into the model. So far here is my progress after a few days of playing around with it:
I think it’s a promising start. The real advantages won’t be properly seen until the pieces are animated in the model. Then the difference that a program like Mudbox can make to a model can really be seen. I have also been revisiting the photo archive on the Staffordshire Hoard website to see if I can ascertain any new information about the existing pieces. One thing I will definitely be including in this update will be the ribbed wire objects that they have found as well as the tabs.
(Recent render completed by me to accompany the program)
Just a reminder for anyone that hasn’t seen it yet, Rome’s Lost Empire is available on Iplayer until the 16th of December. It features the result of collaborative work between myself and the BBC team based in Wales. You can find the documentary here:
As well as follow up information from by Graeme Earl of Southampton University here:
Just heard that I got two citations in a talk at UCL by D Pett from the British Museum, which made my day. I just wanted to share and say thanks really, it is nice to know that all of the effort and time spent in a darkened room with little sleep is finally of use to someone in archaeology!
Çatalhöyük: Shrine of the Hunters from Artas Media on Vimeo.
Last year during my presentation at the VIA conference I was asked the question “When will you be creating an animation?” and it was one of the main talking points during the 45 minute question and answer session that accompanied the end of my paper. No matter where the conversation went, it always inevitably returned to thoughts about how the model would look with movement and discussions about how real to try and make the visualization were always prominent. Creating contained motion graphics was always something that I had intended to do for my work at Çatalhöyük, however at that particular moment, I just didn’t have the hardware, or the time to do it. There is also a lot of added preparation needed to take a still image and make it into something more. Fast forward over a year and finally I have something tangible that I can showcase and £2500 later and three months of sleeping next to a series of fans doing their best to resemble a jet engine has finally allowed for the creation of what I promised to do in that VIA presentation in the spring of 2011, an animated model of the level 5 shrine. However, this isn’t by any means the end, there are still a good half a dozen models that need to be rendered and having set myself a year to complete them all, I am happy to have at least ticked one off of the list. I have learnt a lot during this project and have come to appreciate the amount of time and effort it takes to produce animation work.
For a while now I have been trying to find a good workflow for manipulating depth of field in Max. I recently stumbled upon one that I feel is very useful for giving the user maximum control over his/her output. It provides more flexibility than just relying upon a flat Depth elements pass and it also fixes a few issues I was personally having with rendering out correct particles. Usually in Max to get Z Depth pass, you would render through the elements tab found in the (F10) render set up tab seen below.
Elements Tab Found in the Render Setup Rollout (F10)
This is also the practice that up until recently I have been using. Recently however, I have been integrating more animation work into my workflow and with that comes a reliance upon flexibility and feedback. Rendering out to the elements tab of a render often pushes passes into a secondary priority and something that you do to supplement perhaps the beauty pass, or another process. It also means that a lot of the time you are left waiting for the Z Depth pass due to the rendering time needed for the primary image. What I have taken to doing instead is making the Z Depth a primary pass. Doing it in this way ensure that it not only renders a lot faster, but that you also have maximum control over it. To do this I have applied a standard material across the entire scene with a distance blend falloff in the diffuse and self illumination slots of the material (Shown below).
Falloff Distance Blend Material Example
Once you have this material applied to everything in the scene (You can put it in the material override slot in the processing tab) as a distance blend falloff. You can either set it to the Z axis, or you can select object and pick the camera. Once this is done you need to make sure that your Indirect Illumination, Exposure and lights are all turned off. You also want to make sure that your sampling settings are off as well. The easiest way to do this is just to change the renderer to Scanline and turn it off. This is important in a Z Depth pass, because otherwise you might get conflicting information regarding depth information around the edges of objects as the AA attempts to soften them. What you will be left with is a pretty ragged output, so the common work around for this is to render your Z Depth pass at double the usual resolution. What this will do is provide 4x the amount of pixels for the render to attribute to the image, increasing it’s quality. You should if you did everything correctly, get something like below:
Finished Z Depth Pass rendered at 3840×2160 (Render time 10 seconds)
Bonuses of using this technique:
- You can animate both the min and max distances.
- You can edit the curves for the material.
- Sometimes the render elements ZDepth pass can cause issues with particles.
- Very quick and provides just the Z Depth output.
“HAWK is a unique set of algorithms that can receive three-dimensional coordinates of a number of fixed points on the wrist, hand fingers and thumb, from, for example, a motion capture system, and can accurately measure, to less than a degree, all the dynamic joint information of the distal upper limb. It utilises a complex set of integrated algorithms to analyse the composite movements integral to hand function and is the first technique to accurately measure all these dynamic movements.” – Dr Cheryl Metcalf on the Hand & Wrist Kinematic (HAWK) Measurement
A few months back I was asked to create something to demonstrate how the data taken from the HAWK measurement project could be used aesthetically. The video above highlights the process of about a weeks worth of work from start to finish to attempt to harness the motion capture helper information and transform it into something to aid in the explanation of the project. All of this was done for the 60 @ 60 Diamond anniversary of the University of Southampton. This was a fun project and from start to finish that posed a lot of problems, but also allowed me to experiment with things I don’t too often get the time to look at, rigging, animation, SSS, soft surface modelling etc.
An example of some Sub Surface Scattering Tests
I am hoping to go back into this project at some point and work on parts of it (especially the particles). Something that came out of this project was a very useful shader from Tony Renalds for Mental Ray. The hand was box modeled from a reference photo, boned (With constraints on orientation of certain bones) and then skinned. Constraints were then put on the finger movements relating to the MoCap data and finally some manual tweaking was needed to keep the animation smooth.
So, recently my posting has been a bit thin, this is mainly down to my work on the Portus Project. I have to write a work diary for that and once the project is completed this will be released to provide transparency to all of the decisions we have made during the creation process. My recent work over the last few weeks has been trying to commit my old models to animations for my upcoming show-reel (Which will hopefully be ready sometime this year). That aside, I have a lot to update over the next month or so with regards to completed work.
This aside, I want to just document something which I hope will make people’s lives a bit easier when it comes to using Unit Scaling in Max. I recently made the mistake (And I am sure it happens a lot) of forgetting about scale units in a project, which meant a few lost hours having to go back and re scale texture maps and the like. I also think that Unit Scaling is something that a lot of people find quite complicated considering there are two separate dialogue options for it.
Anyway, I will cut to the chase. When setting up a project -always- make sure that your units are set up correctly. If your unit conversion is wrong then there is a knock off effect upon a lot of other things that are going on in your scene, from material coordinates to lighting falloff etc.
Firstly, it is found in the customize tab and in the Units Setup option you will find a twofold series of options.
The first shown above are simply superficial options, they do not directly effect what each unit represents, they are an arbitrary label. Regardless of what you pick here and even if it displays it in meters in the file, if in your system unit setup 1 unit = Feet, your file will always be measured in Feet.
If you try and change this value in a scene after you starting building, you can get some very bad results, so if you do need to update a scene into a new unit size, create a fresh scene, set up the units and then merge the old scene into it and you should be able to avoid the horrible conversions that might occur on some objects. You will still need to change the size of some of your materials if you have used the option to use real world scale, as they will reflect your old conditions.