Category: Digital Media

With the availability of 3D rendering options and the complexity of traditional 2D cel animation, it is not surprising that a lot of new cartoons’, such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars; Iron Man: Armoured Adventures etc… are being made in 3D as opposed to 2D.  However 2D animation has a certain charm over pure 3D, such as the use of squash and stretch techniques and the general stylised look.

However there are less and less pure 2D animations nowadays.  Where complex elements are needed, that would take too long to draw by hand, frame by frame, a composite is used.  The one of the earliest examples (1992)  to composite 3D CGI to create the carpet ride through the Cave of Wonders, the intricately patterned carpet itself, and the tiger head cave. (Disney Archives)

3D has become more of an influential part in animations since then, often trying to imitate the imperfections of hand drawn imagery.  Such as Warner Bros 1999 adaptation of The Iron Giant.  To achieve an imperfect look of the lines, a programme was created to generate imperfections.

Dreamworks Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron used 3D predominantly for landscapes and special FX, including the opening shots of the Grand Canyon.

The Futurama series also combines 2D and 3D graphics using a software called PowerAnimator.  The style of Matt Groening creates challenges for rendering in 3D due to the off-perspective stylised nature.  The characters are rarely if ever seen from front view, so to create fully 3 dimensional characters would just not maintain the look of the series

To say that pure 2D animation does not have a place in the future of animation would be sad, although sometimes the combination of the two can look  slightly awkward it is the inevitable future to sustain a level of complexity expected by a modern audience.  With hundreds of TV channels and internet shows, media needs to be created quickly, which is something that traditional 2D animation would have a hard time doing, 3D animation is simply quicker and more easily edited; a single model can be reused instead of every frame being drawn one by one, sets, props and characters can be viewed from any angle, textures easily changed and different rendering styles can apply a whole new treatment and mood to the composition; sending out a whole different message extremely easily.



Digital 3D Design by Simon Danaher covers a complete range of topics and aspects of 3D, covering mostly the basics and intermediate levels of working with 3D.  The book covers the history of 3D; 3D graphics in the working world; the links between 2D and 3D design; core concepts and theory; recommended tool set; and some advanced tips and tricks, and an analysis of existing works such as a storm scene (Chapter 6 p162-163) and compositing 2D and 3D imagery (Chapter 6 p166-167).  The book also previews works such as Russian artist, Pavel Fedorchuk’s Golden Grifon [sic]

The book starts by giving an overview of the history of 3D animation, including the importance of motion blur in the first successful animated movies. One of the first movies to use 3D graphics was Disney’s Tron (Directed by Steven Lisberger, 1982), although the movie was a ‘flop despite huge investment’ (Digital 3D design Chapter 1, p12).  Danaher goes on to say that the movie was held back by its highly stylised treatment due to poor 3D technology at the time.  What would have helped the film was motion blur, it was only in 1993 that Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park featured fully photorealistic CG dinosaurs, complete with motion blur, that 3D was a fully viable option.

Although Tron was not a visual success, it is still a major landmark in the development of animated computer graphics, originally inspired by the also iconic Pong game, a sequel of Tron is set to return to screens in  stereo 3D during 2010.

The book also explores the use of 3D graphics in games and for use in broadcast, then goes on to suggest some future advances in the field such as overhauled workflow in Modo and the possibility of virtual reality, and real-time photorealistic rendering (Chapter 1, p22).

The book also briefly explains how stereoscopic 3D, such as what we are seeing in current films and selected TV programmes today, works.  However a more in-depth explanation of how it works and history can be found in issue 14 of 3D Artist, p36-41. This article details how the technology works currently, and looks into the possibility of 3D TV without the need for glasses.  This is a very exciting advancement for the 3D artist and all eyes will be on how this technology develops.


Digital 3D Design by Simon Danaher

Chapter 1 page 12, 22

Chapter 6 pages 162 – 163, 166 – 167

3D Artist issue 14, “Get Set for Stereo” pages 36-41

Channel 4 Ident

The original storyboards for the Channel 4 ident called to preview Channel 4’s groundbreaking programming as they are renowned for challenging perceptions and pushing the boundaries, with shows such as Cast Off’s; Skins; Shameless; Facejacker etc…  They are also committed to championing new talent and getting the best out of people (Channel 4 International) .  The proposal was to showcase these programmes inside of the pieces of the 4 logo as they explode from the TV; this was to be done with target light projection maps, as seen in the Cleveland Show projector, and to a lesser extent in the final version, the old 4 ident displayed on the TV screen prior to the explosion.

For this effect I looked at a tutorial to achieve this effect by mapping an animated texture onto the screen and set a target light with a custom falloff and attenuation to achieve the effect of a more concentrated light source which would have a greater impact on the environment.  The effect of this is somewhat lost in the final version due to the environment being changed to include textured walls in the background.

The original had a black background which emphasised the projected light, antenna lights and reflections to a greater extent, however this was a rather boring and lazy backdrop.

target light projection

target light projection

I managed to achieve a better effect on the DVD cover for the project, but was unable to replicate this success in the animation.

The main elements of the composition were modelled using a variety of techniques using splines, such as bevel profile for the 4 logo and a surface modifier applied to cross-sections of the TV set.  The legs were modelled using a loft function and mirrored on 2 axis’.  Spline modelling is a very good way of modelling an object accurately with the control of an editable poly.  To give the TV set more of a cartoon like appearance, modifiers were placed on it to deform the shape such as taper in xy.

The omni lights on the antennas also used a custom attenuation to give the light more volume and to make them appear as if they had a glow effect on them.  Lighting is a very important factor in making a model look realistic or stylised.  Light and shadow affect our environment and change constantly throughout the day and year in real life, so we cannot avoid its effects.  Light and shadow define 3 dimensional form and how the eye perceives depth and distance.  without the effects of lighting, the brain just interprets the image as a 2D shape.

Essentially how humans interpret the light arriving at the eye into an image is based on the amount of light arriving at any 1 point.  Without lighting effects we would see a flat image as all of the light we see arrives at what is more or less a flat surface at the same time.  3D is really only an illusion.  Bats and Dolphins can investigate 3D space using echolocation, measuring the change in wavelength and time taken for the return of the echo in the same way we hear the doppler shift of a passing vehicle etc…

An interesting application of 3D effects applied to fractal images.

Overall the ident could have done a far better job of previewing breakthrough programmes and challenging perceptions as it was a rather ‘safe’ idea to go for with a weak concept, which was hampered along with the other projects with a severe lack of motivation.

Flash Banner

The Flash Banner for the new MA in 3D animation can be found as a pop up on the YDP homepage; this was the most successful of the projects, and unlike many other banners contained interactivity for the user.  It seems very inapplicable for a banner advertising an advanced course in 3D animation to contain no trace of either 3D or animation.

The pitch called for a high standard of animation to prove to potential future students that the course would offer an appropriate level of course material.  Many of the other banners were purely typography and imagery which does not provide a good footing for a successful advertising campaign.  According to a study by The Advertising Council and PhaseOne Communications in 2001, the most successful banners used a 4-based pyramid approach to increasing hit numbers.  These are drawing the eye, engaging the mind, creating a desire and facilitating action.

The above banner engages the eye with a simple animation which subtly draws the user’s attention.  In the study, 35 percent of the least clicked group were motionless.therefore animation is a key way to draw the eye and engage the viewer.  82 percent of ads with high hit-rates are of a relevant benefit.  For example, an advertisement for Samsung TV’s would not do well if it advertised with an image of a can of soup.  One could argue that an iconic advertising campaign doesn’t necessarily have to have an obvious link with the product directly, such as the Sony Bravia campaign with the exploding paint, however, these ads have to be special in some other way.

The banner attempts to engage the user by hinting to the text with the character’s eyes, as if to suggest there is something interesting to be discovered.  There would then be a link to the MA’s information page with information on how to apply.  Out of all the projects the banner was of the most professional standard.  Some limitations of note during the making of it was orthographic rendering due to the shape and size of the banner.  This meant that the ‘Dog Look’ interaction had to be rendered separately and overlayed, hence there is some pixelation in this section.

The animations in this composition would have been a lot easier with the knowledge of set keys in the key info tools rather than the use of anchoring feet and hands.  These allow you to key frame the anchoring more easily.

Title Sequence

Originally the title sequence was meant to include more events from the book and include ‘Easter Eggs’ for fans of the book, such as the reoccurrence of ducks and the use of locations.  However due to time constraints it was impossible to do full justice to this novel.

The texture used for the models was based on a type of modified cel-shading, adapting ideas found in this tutorial, as Holden Caulfield, the main character and anti-hero of the book wants to prevent himself from ‘falling’ into adulthood, so the texture is trying to represent a child-like treatment and style.

The material uses a variety of maps and masks with varying parameters to retain a 3D look without the full effect of cel-shading.  Shown below are some examples of experimentation with cel-shading and some of the models which were not used in the production.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The majority of the work on the titles was done in After Effects using 3D layers, cameras and lights, and the typography would have been suited better within the 3D environment, such as floating within the drink etc…  The typography also needed to be much more prominent within the composition and engaging with the viewer.

The titles would have been far more successful with the original storyboards as it would have offered far more of the story and had its own narrative, whereas on its own, the composition is short  and not very visually impressive due to the lack of backgrounds.

Good typography is an important aspect of design “The fact that it appears on a screen and not on a piece of paper is immaterial; it should still be pleasing to look at and easy to read… In every situation where type is used — in publishing, signage, packaging, television, etc. — designers have to adapt their techniques to suit the medium” (Web Page Design for Designers)  There is such a thing as a bad font, whether it be legibility of suitability.  Sometimes a particular typeface carries a certain stigma, such as Helvetica, which is renowned as a co-operate font, which is discussed in the feature-length film of the same name by Gary Hustwit.  The shift in perception over this typeface proves that there is no such thing as constant good design.  What may be perceived as good design one day, may be viewed as too cliché the next.

To conclude over the whole project, time management could have been better, there was an extreme lack of motivation towards the projects which affected the quality of the final outcome.  However this is also due to skill with the programmes, for instance, the use of set keys and better Photoshop skills would have made the look of the models and animations look better.

Render time on these projects was adequate, the flash banner sequences took around 20 minutes with Mental Ray and final gather enabled for between 100 and 200 frames using skylight to achieve a clay render with soft shadows.  However now I would be more inclines to use MR spot lighting with advanced area parameters to achieve soft shadows which also have more definition than skylight, as this has worked very well in another project.

Everyone has their different strengths and weaknesses in a field, in industry there would be many different departments working on projects such as these.  For instance, modelling, texturing, environments and animation.  Personally I would consider myself more of an animator with texturing and environments being a personal weakness and this shows in the projects.

My feelings towards the projects as previously stated was lack of motivation because of commitments with other projects, in industry there would be many projects on the go at once.  Alexander Kiesl, CEO, Head of VFX at Unexpected GmbH said in an interview for 3D Artist Issue 14, page 30-35, that his company now has the ability to pick and choose their projects due to demand for their services.  However they, uniquely, like to take care of the entire projet in-house with a team of 7 artists and hire additional freelancers when needed to keep the project personal.  “We pretty much work as a team and anyone from our team can come up with ideas and proposals and is allowed to be creative if it leads to a better result.”

In my original evaluation of the projects I mentioned about how there are endless possibilities working with 3D.  Results that are achievable today by average users were almost impossible to achieve by professional standards 10 years ago.  This is thanks in part to Moore’s law, stating that computing power doubles every 18 months, and affordability of processors has come down dramatically as silicon-based technology gains in performance.  The aim of 3D digital media is to achieve realism and then achieve the impossible in a believable manner, simulating real-world physics, cloth dynamics, hair and fur simulation etc… and then doing it with characters such as the Na’avi of Pandora, getting an audience to associate and empathise with a fictional character, and believe that they can exist in their fictional environment.

This is where secondary animation and attention to detail come into play, this worked better in the banner with the tail, ear and eye movement, but was markedly harder to achieve in the other projects and was compensated for with the 3D camera movement in After effects, which made the compositions more interesting than they would have been had no extra movement been added.


<!–[if gte mso 9]> 12.00 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> <!–[endif]–>

3D Artist p30-35 – an interview with Alexander Kiesl, CEO, head of VFX, Unexpected GmbH

<!–[if gte mso 9]> 12.00 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> <!–[endif]–>

“One of the most prestigious distribution brands, bringing the best of independent production to a global audience” – Channel 4 international.

Creativity in Digital Media is one of the most important aspects in the success of a design, composition, animation, game etc… There is so much material available through the Internet, TV and Advertising; that it has become commonplace.  According to Brand Republic (Mar 17 2010, 02:08 PM by Danny Morris) advances in CGI have dramatically reduced the cost of advertising, which is especially advantageous in the current economic climate.  This has also been fuelled by advances in technology such as 3D TV and Films.

There are many aspects of digital design such as Motion Graphics; Special effects; programming; typography that all contribute to the overall experience, and achieving high-end results has become far more accessable over recent years.  For example, software such as After Effects, Photoshop, 3DS Max, AutoCAD etc have made it possible for the average user such as myself to produce work of a decent standard.

There is no ceiling on the work we could do, take James Cameron’s Avatar for instance, we’re always striving to reach beyond realism, create effects to achieve things that can’t be done in reality in a completely believable way.  The only ceiling there is, is the one we put up for ourselves.  There is no limit on creativity, only the boundaries we ourselves put in place.  The ultimate goal is to create a reality beyond realism

In the following video for The Discovery Network, James Cameron discusses the effect of character attraction to an audience with the extent that character looks like a humanoid.

Even though Avatar was a visually amazing; heralding the coming of serious 3D visuals and becoming the highest grossing film of all time at $2 million (Worst Previews Jan 26th 2010), the storyline was cited questionable and clichéd by some. (Davie Cook, 29th Dec 2009).

If this feature had not spent 14 years in the making it would have not been such a success, it had to allow for technology to catch up before the creative aspects could be achieved.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010); although receiving a rating of  52% compared to Avatar’s 89%; was in my opinion a far more creative film.  Alice achieved both aspects of creative narrative and amazing visuals, you can’t get a better example of creativity than the works of Lewis Carroll.  The use of nonsense words, dragging you into this make-believe, impossible world and then making it real through the special effects.

It’s the little details in any piece of media that make it special, it’s the things that someone has thought about, got involved with and has been enthusiastic about.  I loved the way that the people who surround the Red Queen use false ears, noses etc…to make themselves appear like the Queen.  That little detail doesn’t necessarily add to the story, but it adds a certain embroidery to the atmosphere of Underland, as it is actually known.  (The reference to Wonderland is made when The Hatter says to Alice that she got the name wrong, calling it Wonderland during her first visit as a child)

Certain references to Lewis Carroll’s other works are made throughout the film; Depp recites part of the Jabberwocky poem, from what was actually Wonderland’s sequel, ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ (1872)  in a Scottish accent, as it was written; in fact, most of what we know from previous adaptations are in fact a mixture of events and misconceptions from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the looking Glass.  Tweedledum and Tweedledee are often depicted as characters in the original story, however only appear in the sequel.  This version also includes characters and events from both works, but tell more of a separate series of events, which is far more rewarding than another retelling of the original story we all know.

There’s not much justice I can do for all of the little details that have filtered through from the imagination of Lewis Carroll and then the brilliance of Tim Burton, as it is such a layered story, hundreds of references to social factors and pieces of trivia, it is definitely a film that you can analyse.

Usually when watching 3D films, I end up analysing the creative process,  thinking  about render settings, lighting and materials, poly counts etc… You know when you’re a 3D student when you’re admiring the reflections in a material…  Alice was no different, but I was also admiring the creativity at the same time; it was more about the small details like actor interaction with CGI characters, composition, and the level of detail that makes the characters so believable in the environment. And that’s what I love about the media industry.