Some Tin Dragon Animation

I can finally post some of the animation done for the Tin Dragon project, an installation with a short film component housed in St. Helens, Tasmania. The project is about the Chinese Tin Miners who came to Tasmania in the 19th Century. The Dragon comes along for the ride.

This animation was a proof of concept which doesn’t appear in the final film. The landscape was a still photo, which I separated out the sky and painted in some more clouds so I could make them move subtly.

The project was developed by Virtual Reality Entertainment Systems and the soundtrack for this clip was created by George Goerss of Sonic Solutions.

Chinese Dragon spotted in the Mountains of Tasmania

Hi, just a quick post with a couple of frames from a test animation of the Chinese Dragon flying over Mt. Cameron in the North of Tasmania. The original photo was taken by Julie Martin who’s also running the project.

I was hoping to add some camera movement to the shot but time restrictions and tight framing of the original photo conspired to make it static except for a bit of camera shake as the dragon flies over. Instead I made sure the Dragon cast shadows on the mountain, a bit more important selling the shot.

I did have time to cut out and paint in some extra sky so I could make the clouds move, which for some reason I found really fun.. go figure. All the preparation work paid off as I turned the shot around in a day, nice.

So, animated in PMG Messiah, rendered in Lightwave and final processing in After Effects. Matte work in Photoshop.

Stay tuned, soon another episode of the adventures of Prehistoric TV Reconstruction Kitteh.

Chinese Dragon WIP

Here’s a little beauty shot of the Chinese Dragon I’m working on at the moment.

One of the big pleasures of this gig so far has been using Lightwave for rendering. It’s happily taken as many polygons as I can throw at it, displacement and radiosity all in it’s stride. There have been issues getting the displacement working nicely, but I think much of that has been due to a lack of documentation rather than tools.

My client wants a few changes so I’ll be busy applying those, as well as fiddling the rig in Messiah.

Esoteric Messiah Tip: I’ve found making the extra effort of using CycleBranchMorph expressions for slider posing instead of the Motionblender Effect gives better results, as well as allowing you to start animating on frame 0.

A big thanks to Julie(my client) for allowing me to blog this guy.

Chinese Dragons and the Great Software Wrangle!

It’s been a bit quiet here while I’ve been tangled up in other projects. Thankfully one of my clients has been kind enough to let me show off the work I’ve been doing with them.

The project is for an exhibit in Northern Tasmania to do with the Chinese Tin Miners who migrated there in the 1800’s. The exhibit uses animation and live action to tell a story around some of the migrants.

Among other things, I get to make a 3D animated Chinese ‘Tin’ Dragon.

I’m using 3 separate pieces of software, Lightwave, PMG Messiah and ZBrush. The process of getting those three working together has been a long one for me, as often you need to do some digging to find what you need to know and it was my first time using ZBrush.

So it goes a little something like this, initial modeling in Lightwave, rigging and animation in PMG Messiah, Texturing and additional detail modeling in ZBrush, final surfacing and rendering in Lightwave.

I’d sat on my copy of ZBrush for quite a while waiting for the opportunity to use it, never finding the time between other projects to play. I really regret that now as it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

ZBrush lets you take your low detailed 3D model and make it a highly detailed sculpture, which you can then export for animation etc. The interface is a little alienating at first, as it doesn’t follow the standard Windows way of working. I found this excellent guide by Steve Warner for getting Lightwave objects into and out of ZBrush, as well as how to get started in ZBrush itself. It’s a little out of date though, and I found I had to trawl both the ZBrush and lightwave forums to discover that some things had been streamlined and actually work better now.

Couple of tips….

Tip#1: Ensure your starting mesh has enough density to support the detail you create in ZBrush, even in places where you would usually reduce polygons for reasons of economy.

Tip#2: Install all the ZBrush plugins, they’re free and add some amazing capabilities to the arsenal, like being able to paint on a ZBrush ‘screen grab’ in Photoshop, then apply that painting in ZBrush.

ZBrush itself makes 3D modeling feel like sculpting and painting, it’s no wonder it’s become so popular.

So in the end I was able to go from the initial Lightwave model…


To this…

While we worked from statues and illustrations of Chinese Dragons, an important factor for me was to ensure it is a living animal. I took the view that the Chinese paintings and sculptures were an interpretation of reality, as if the artist had seen a Dragon and then tried to paint or sculpt what they’d seen flying past and the best we were getting was brief eye witness sightings. Otherwise I would just be making a moving statue, or a cartoon.

My paleoart dabblings led me to do things like add a caudofemoralis muscle, as well as ensuring as much of the anatomy as possible made sense and worked.

That’ll do for now, I’ll be back with a bit more on this project soon!

PS: I’m not sure how much technical information people might want about this process, so if you’re interested in knowing more pop me a question in the comments.