• Charlotte Grant

Munchin' Monk Roundup

As of the time of writing this post, our group project is officially handed in and we've had a good 2 days to relax after what has been an amazing, but exhausting journey!

Munchin' Monk was created as part of our 'Group Project' module, in which we had 7 weeks to go from an idea to a final rendered short film. This was my first experience on a 3D project from the very beginning (as with Headless I joined when animation started) so was a huge learning experience for me. I took up the role of Production Co-ordinator, whilst Peggy, the person who's idea the film was, took up the directing and concept art role. My other roles on the project were; Editing the animatics, pre-visualisation, animation and 1/4th of the Compositing.

Production Co-ordination

To begin, I'll write a little about what Production Co-ordination on this project entailed, as we needed a lot of organisation to ensure the production went smoothly! Most of my work on the producing side of this project involved organising spreadsheets so everyone knew where we were at, keeping track of file naming systems and the structure of our google drive (where we were transferring project files) and ensuring we were on track to our gant chart (and if not, we were still on track to complete the film in time, by cutting other areas)

I had no prior experience in producing a project (as during Falmouth University, I'd taken up the role as animator on every production) but luckily with some fantastic advice from my friend Matteo (producer on our undergrad final film who now works at MPC) I was able to pick it up fairly quickly and put some spreadsheets in place to track our production and work out a timescale for each part of production, during a meeting with the others in the group!

The gant chart above was the first tracking sheet implemented, this tracked the amount of time each stage of the production would take. We discussed this during a meeting so each member had input on how long they expected each part they were working on to take and we added an extra week and a half of leeway onto the end of the chart as contingency time just in case we weren't able to meet our deadlines somewhere or there were issues to sort out.

Myself and Peggy organised bi-weekly meetings where we'd discuss our progress (particularly with our MSc group member who worked in another lab) this was useful to raise any issues, sort out ideas and make sure we knew where we were at.

Once rigging commenced, our file structure and organisation was VERY important to the success of the project. Below are some documents I created to keep things streamlined, including naming conventions and instructions for referencing (I think based on the length of the production and size of the project these may have been overkill in the end, but it definitely kept things organised and clear!)

Above is the naming conventions/file structure we used to keep our drive clean and organised. These were heavily based off a great pipeline lecture we were given by Digital Effects tutor Phil Spicer.

Below are some instructions I wrote up for the team on how to reference our unfinished assets into the scene and instructions for our render artist (MSc) on getting the final rigs/models in place before she rendered. 3D software was very new to half of our group, so this was a good thing to have in place, so everyone was on the same page.

Another very useful file in our production was the shot tracking sheet. This allowed everyone to know where we were at with the project and I updated it at the end of every meeting. We also had an asset tracking form for the two modellers in the group and the texture artist, so we knew how close to completion that part of the project was too (as it couldn't be tracked as linearly as Animatic, Shot Setup to Animation etc)

The final sheet used was a sheet used for scene set up that determined which characters needed to be re-referenced into the scene. (We had 3 environment files for composition reasons. Env1 is the fly around scene and has some of the background mountains in different positions so the characters are more visible. Env2 is used on all shots and has the composition for the camera facing either monk. Env3 is for the very last scene as it is pulled out a lot further and we had to change the location of some things to get it to work)

It also clarifies whether the old monk, apprentice and meditation rocks are present in the scene.

Other project management examples, included giving rocks names, so the textures could be plugged in easily (we had many rocks in our scene, all requiring textures to be plugged in and this got pretty confusing naming convention wise, so eventually we decided to go with an image/naming key to show which rocks corresponded with each name) This saved some time in the long run when setting up the 3 environment files.

Examples above (we had 16 rocks to account for, many re-used in different positions in the scene, which we were able to use proxies for)

Overall I feel the project went pretty smoothly overall! There were some hiccups such as scene 1 taking longer to render than we thought and having sampling rate issues (it's why it's so noisy around the moss) rigging was set back majorly during the production too, which meant we didn't have as much time as we'd have liked for the compositing side of the film resulting in the final film appearing a little washed out in places. At one stage of production we were having so many issues with the rigs, we were unsure whether we were going to complete on time (we'd almost run out of contingency time and were cutting time from the animation side of the project) to save time, we used Advanced Skeleton on the boy rig, to speed up the process and sought help from the demonstrators at the uni for the weird issues we were having with the old man rig (rotation order issues that resulted in the twist joints of the wrist jumping and visibly flipping the geometry of the lower arm when we moved it)

Previs/Animation

The storyboard for this project was completed by Peggy very quickly, so by the end of the first week, I was able to create a functional animatic of the film from these images, which made moving forward a lot easier for us.

Below is our first animatic with sound (animatic V2) drawn by Peggy and edited together by myself)

At the beginning of the project, my main roles were the animatic/previs and setting up the google drive, naming conventions and production tracking sheets. Chris and Lauren began work on the models for the characters and environments, Francesca began basic lighting and shader tests and Peggy began texturing for these whilst I on creating a pre-vis in 3D using rough models and free online rigs, in order to show where we were in 3D space. We went through many renditions of the 3D previs based on feedback from our mentor Peter Truckel and Stephen Bell (and based on feedback from Peggy on the timing and positioning of the characters based on her vision)

The camera work for the previs was one of the most challenging parts of this project, we've been learning a lot of Cinematography rules from our Moving Image theory lectures over the past few months, but I don't think anyone thought applying them would be so difficult, we did break the line a few times and had camera movement that was too fast or didn't fit the build up of the short. Comedic timing was also very difficult, so we had a lot of different feedback on what could work and where we could lengthen or shorten shots.

Above is the first pre-vis I created based on the storyboards (using free rigs and a very basic layout) compared to the final animatic (just before render, after a lot of well-needed camera feedback from Pete). Once animation started, some shots had to be extended from the pre-vis in order to keep the pace/allow actions to play out properly without feeling rushed.

Animation wise, I ended up animating 17 out of 25 shots on the film, the original plan was that shots were to be evenly split between myself and Nathalia (leaving time for Peggy to jump onto Compositing) but when we began having issues with rigging, we knew this wasn't going to happen without sacrificing a lot of quality, so myself and Peggy took the majority of shots instead (all of us deciding to help on the compositing side of things when it came to it)

The majority of my shots were very facial animation heavy, which I am pleased about. There's a few scenes I feel are a little rushed and I'm not 100% happy with some of the chewing animations for the boy, but for the most part, I'm proud of what I was able to achieve in such a short amount of time!

Minor Texture Work

One of my very minor parts on this project was the texturing for 9 small assets. Once the models were completed and layout decided on, there was a lot of texturing to complete and since we were still waiting on the rigs, I jumped in to help with some of those. Texturing wasn't really something I'd done before, but because of the very cartoony style choice of our film and the objects I was texturing were either small or in the background, the textures weren't too difficult to sort.

Below are some images of the trees and the various stages of the apple being eaten, that I textured.

Compositing

Although compositing wasn't a major part of my work on the project, myself Lauren, Peggy and Nathalia (and Francesca for the effects) all contributed to this area of the film, in order to get it completed in time.

Because time was tight and there were now 4 of us compositing the film as a result, we set up a base file to work from, that we could plug all of the .EXR files into. This base file included all the shuffle nodes and basic colour correction based on what we'd noticed needed correcting from previous renders. It also included optional nodes with the information for the rocks (that Francesca had finalised) using time-warp and grade nodes and the main matte painting for the background. Doing this allowed us to save a lot of time, shuffling out passes. It was up to the individual compositing each shot to re-arrange the matte painting hills seen in the background, corresponding to which way the camera was facing, add defocus or blur nodes to give the camera focus, depending on the shot and fix and render artefacts or issues present.

Here's a couple of examples of small render issues that needed to be fixed on a couple of my composited shots.

We managed to complete compositing relatively quickly and hand-in on time, although our group was criticised quite heavily in our final presentation for washed out lighting and the contrast of the blue rocks being too vibrant for the rest of the scene.

Overall, for our first full project (and a project on such a short timescale) I think we did very well! Obviously the film is not without it's issues (especially in the first shot with the noise) and our group did have many setbacks during the project, but as a whole, we worked well, overcame most problems and managed to stick together and work productively as a team!

Below is the final film, for anyone who wants to see what it turned out like :)