VR: Haunted Halloween Scene

This is my first foray into design for VR, I feel like I’m slightly late to the party for this emerging platform, but I’m here now. I decided to use Cineversity’s VR-Cam plugin to design my first 3D scene that would utilize VR. It’s a spooky Halloween scene and can be viewed on Youtube, as a 3D video or in VR with Cardboard activated:

As I expected, it was very challenging creating this relatively simple scene because in VR I had to spend time designing an entire 360 environment instead of just what is in front of one camera. I kept the render as light as I could, added a little bit of Ambient Occlusion and kept my Anti Aliasing down, while avoiding Global Illumination entirely.

I had a lot of ideas that I had to cut out, just because it was going to bog down my preview and render times or I just wasn’t going to get it done before Halloween. I designed some of them but just couldn’t implement them, I might add them in after. Ideas like:

  • Full graveyard
  • Scary birds in trees
  • Metal gate in front of haunted house
  • Scary woman in window
  • Torn curtains in windows
  • Flying Bats
  • Zombies
  • Creepy rocking chair moving
  • dead foliage on the trees and ground

But If I wanted to get it done in time for Halloween, I had to reduce it to the haunted house, the coffin with someone getting buried alive, and the creepy dudes peeking around the trees.

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For the haunted house I searched for a reference image that I liked and built it up with some fairly basic polygon modeling. Making the house feel haunted was all about creating grungy, dirty materials to make the house feel old, abandoned and scary. I always use textures.com, formerly CGtextures, and mixed in a variety of worn wood, dirty plaster, and grungy roof tiles to give the outer look to the house I wanted. I even added some extra grime and grunge in Photoshop before loading them into Cinema 4D. Since the house would be a bit off in the distance in the scene I didn’t need to dwell on the details too much. Also using fog in the scene reduced visibility and hid some detail that I avoided spending time on.

The trees were made using XFrog, which is perhaps the best solution for creating procedural trees in Cinema 4D. Seriously if you are trying to do it using polygon modeling or sweeps forget it, this is worth looking into. I designed 15 different trees of like 3 main varieties and spread them out over the surface via a MoGraph cloner. I randomly rotated them so they had some different looks to them throughout the forest.

I rigged the little creepy guys to pop in an out with a tiny bit of XPresso, just to keep the rotation of the character and some deformers tied together. I faded them in and out with a Visibility tag so they would disappeared and not stick out from behind the trees. Then I set every one of them to look at the center of the environment where the user would be standing with a Target Effector, that way they would all be staring at the user.

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I modeled the coffin and placed a sphere inside configured with dynamics, so that it would randomly turn on and off with a custom initial velocity that would propel it upward and bounce the coffin lid. I added the wood pounding sound effects with some other spooky sounds for the final mix.

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Overall it’s fun and simple, and a good project for me to get my feet wet with VR. It works with my cardboard headset, I recommend getting one for super-cheap just so you can play around with it.

Sketch and Toon: Hand Drawn Sketch for D3

I was asked again to present at the D3 Expo in Miami on anything related to 3D or Cinema 4D. Since I rarely get to use Sketch and Toon in my day job, I decided to focus on it for this and get some practice in with it.

I centered my presentation around the idea of leveraging computers and software to create more natural looking art. It was sort of an exploration into the contrast between digital vs analog art, how computers are very technical and precise and can easily create lots of copies, and how actual, tangible art like paintings or drawings are unique and have a personal touch that computers can’t replicate without some practice and skill on our part. So for this example I took the D3 Logo as a vector file from Illustrator, and I took it into Cinema 4D and designed it to look more like it was drawn by hand.

In Sketch and Toon your base look is just a plain black tracing of your splines, but by modifying the material you can make it look like you are drawing with any sort of marker, crayon, pencil, pen etc. I decided to make it sort of a very rough and messy sketch, with multiple layers of strokes. One layer was like a rough sketch in pencil, followed by a darker, more precise stroke over it. Then I filled in everything via some shading using the Hatch shader, animating it in After effects a a paint later being written on.

The animation is dynamic from frame to frame. The key is to add lots of variation throughout the settings, so changing things like the scatter of the cross hatching, animating noise settings, vibrate tags, Displacer deformers, things like that. By changing the overall look of the image slightly each frame, you are lending to the idea that each frame is a unique still, with an artist drawing them differently every frame. Also using a lower frame rate is a good idea, it makes the animation a little less smooth, almost like a flipbook.

Low Poly Golf

Here’s a new low poly animation I designed in Cinema 4D just for kicks. I wanted to find another way to use the awesome plugin Unfolder from Code Vonc. I had previously done a low poly alphabet as an exercise, but I wanted to do something a little more substantial and developed.

Low poly modeling and animation seems to work best when you take something really complex and natural looking in shape and try to reduce it to the simplest of geometric forms. Landscapes are a good example of this, they provided a myriad of natural curves and organic detail, that can be visually appealing when you successfully reduce this down to simple polygons while retaining the form it represents. I bounced around different ideas and settled on a golf course. It offered the chance to fold up rolling hills, mountains, lakes, sand traps, different grass variations, etc.

I stared out drawing the course from an overhead view. I used the Polygon Pen tool because I could draw an oddly shaped hole and start filling in the detail. Once I settled on the shape I started carving it up with the Knife tool, then isolating certain polygon sections for the lake, bunkers, etc. so I could apply different materials to them easily. I worked on the camera animation to focus only on the area I modeled, just so I wouldn’t need to add in extraneous detail way off in the distance.

I grabbed some mocap data from the Carnegie Mellon mocap database and fit it to a simple low poly golfer I made form a base mesh. That provided the swing animation, then I had to apply many different instances to the Unfolder plugin animating the polygons folding o the screen, syncing it so they reveal at interesting parts during the camera move. I focused on the materials, lighitng and rendering last, ending up with a sort of early morning sunny scene with bright, vivid color on the course.

All in all it’s kind of cool, I could always add more detail (flowers, birds, golf carts, other golfers) but I think it works OK like this.

Low Poly Alphabet in Cinema 4D

Here’s a 3D low poly alphabet I designed in Cinema 4D. I modeled each letter, starting with a basic cap as an N-Gon (a polygon with more than 4 sides) and then cutting, subdividing and extruding the letters. The folding effect is created by the handy plugin Dépilage from Cesar Vonc. This process used to be complicated and painful in Cinema 4D , but this plugin makes the process so much easier; it is well worth the modest price. You can even download a free demo of it that will work with some of the most basic features of the plugin.

The letters are moving via a Random Effector set to points deformation, just to make them a little more playful and lively. You can download the alphabet here and see it, just download and install the Dépilage demo and it will still work for you. With the purchased version you can create some more complicated and variable folding effects.

If you want to use the alphabet the file is here and should work with the free version of Dépilage.

First Semester Finished

I just finished my first semester teaching as a college professor. I feel like I  skipped to the front of the line, lots of educators that went through lots of training and time to become college professors. But I was hired to take my largely informal, self taught Cinema 4D knowledge and convert it into a 4 month class.20150503_155949

I taught at New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami, and it’s a cool connection because it’s an accredited extension of the University of my Alma Mater, the University of Florida.

It’s been a crazy ride in less than 5 years, from going to unemployed and struggling to find anyone to give me a shot to work for them to  teaching students about what I’m pretty good at. I reflect back to when I was a “freelance” designer (a very fancy word for unemployed) who strongly considered going back to school myself to figure out something entirely different to do with my life that could get me an actual job that pays actual money. Long story short is I worked my way out of a hole, kept learning, trying, and grinding and now get to use that experience to try to give as much  perspective and information I can to anyone in my class who wants to absorb it.

The Cinema 4D community has been a great source of inspiration and information for me. I humbly try to spread the gospel of this creative software, fully aware that I’m not the best at it and never will be. I liked to emphasize to my students that at their current age I hadn’t even opened Cinema 4D yet, so they are ahead of my schedule. I look forward to doing it again, considering I learned a lot myself throughout the entire process.

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Video Training Series for X-Particles

I just wrapped up working with cmiVFX to publish a training series on the powerful particle plugin for Cinema 4D, X-Particles. It’s a 10 part and roughly 4 hour long series of tutorials that can get you familiar with the plugin that is definitely growing as a fan favorite among Cinema 4D users, and opening doors for you to create awesome particle effects in Cinema 4D.

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I have been using X-Particles for awhile now and I love how much more functionality you gain inside Cinema 4D by using it instead of the regular particle system, and I find it at least thousand times easier to use than the clunky, XPresso-based Thinking Particles. I find X-Particles feels almost like an extension of MoGraph, basically instead of Cloners you have Emitters and instead of Effectors you have Modifiers. You’ll notice how fast and stable it is right away, it previews and renders very quickly, allowing you to visually see you particle simulation change on the spot.

In these lessons I hit as many topics as I can on X-Particles as I can in about 4 hours. If you have never used the plugin I’m pretty confident after watching my training you will have a good grasp of how to use X-Particles and what you could potentially create with it. I start out going over most of the terms and tools at the base level of X-Particles, and the last few chapters get into some more advanced setups and projects. The goal as always is to give you enough information for you to be inspired to create designs on your own with the help of this new tool.

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Included with the training is a bundle of projects that you can use to follow along and breakdown how you can build these X-Particles designs. I tried to develop some projects that give a good example of how you can combine many of the different tools available to you inside the plugin, with the final result being something that would be far more difficult to create in Cinema 4D without the help of X-Particles.

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A demo of X-Particles can be found here. You should be able to follow along with the lessons just fine if you want to learn it before you commit to buying it. I feel like it’s a worthy investment for the price. The plugin is being developed further (Thinking Particles? Not so much) and it will only get more useful with better integration with Cinema 4D as we go forward.

So please head on over to cmiVFX and check out my training series if you are interested in learning some X-Particles.

Live Performance Graphics: Marc Anthony

Here’s a sample for my graphics for a live performance of Marc Anthony’s Vivir Mi Vida at Premios Juventud 2012 in Miami, FL.

So when I ask what the theme for the act is and it’s just “umbrellas” that doesn’t sound terribly exciting. The producers tried to tie together the performance with umbrellas by handing them out to twirl for the fans and make it appear on the broadcast as if it was raining, there’s a line in the beginning of the song that talks about rain. Of course I would like to forgo any focus on the audience and instead focus on the projection screens I made graphics for.

I picked a set of colors to stick with ranging from like teal and blue paired with orange and yellow, those are Florida colors all the way. I designed a few elements in Cinema 4D like an umbrella, sunglasses, a beachball to kind build up a whole beach theme. Designing a 3D funtioning umbrella was actually pretty tough, so I took a few shortcuts since nobody is going to be very critical as to how the umbrella looks or opens up.

From there I threw the umbrellas in a few Radial Cloners in MoGraph and spun them around to create that sort of hypnotizing, spinning motion, or maybe something that reminds you of synchronized swimming. I supplemented the graphics with a still of beach sand and some water I made using Trapcode Form, which was key because you could make the water loop easily.

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I always like to throw some simple patterns in there and I actually really liked how the ones I made for this loop turned out. I made these vertical stripes that were kind of twitching and fading in and out between teal, white and orange. I used a great setup in Cinema 4D and MoGraph for this to program that randomness. I had a Random Effector that would switch seeds every 10 frames, and the interpolation between keyframes was set to Step, so that would switch abruptly. And on top that I applied a Formula Effector with the Color mode active, and that applied a cascading grayscale color over my stripes. From there I took it into After Effects and layer a couple different instances of these renders on top of each other. Then I tinted the layers white, teal, and orange, and the blending between them creates a lot of motion with minimal effort. I really liked how this one simple loop turned out, I’ll probably recycle the project files down the road for a different act.

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All in all I like how it turned out. The song is very catchy and the loops blended well together and with the beach themed set design and broadcast.

Live Performance Graphics: Upfront 2013

I had to create graphics for a segment of Univison’s 2013 Upfront presentation in New York City at the New Amsterdam Theater. An Upfront is basically a fancy powerpoint presentation touting a networks past accomplishments for the year while demonstrating what else is coming on the horizon, and it gets exceedingly more elaborate each year. My animation was supposed to be a weather alert that interrupts the show because it’s snowing outside, which was a themed segue to the debut of a new show.

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Basically received the direction to try to make it look like a news broadcast, just a quick bump that wipes to an exterior snow shot of Central Park. They were also going to pump fake wind and snow into the theater to sell the the effect some more.

We are currently redesigning the graphics for one of our news shows, and my producers referred me towards that. The graphics involve a lot of rings so I started adding all sorts of Tube primitives, Torus primitives, Sweep NURBS, and Radial Cloners just to create this elaborate looking ring design. I moved the camera and the object, trying to make this a complex looking shape. When all else fails and you have like 2 or 3 days to model, light, texture, and animate something that needs to look like it could belong on broadcast TV, you don’t get too picky or philosophical with questions like WHAT DOES THIS SHAPE MEAN MAN?

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In After Effects I brought in the camera from Cinema 4D, so I could composite in some wind and snow that looks like it belongs with the ring. These weren’t 3D particles, just 2D clips I put in there pretty quickly, but they work well in the scene. I added some camera shake too which I tend to like, it makes the camera feel like it’s being affected by the motion design.

So that was the piece for the main screen, but I also had to create complimentary graphics that go along with the rest of the stage. There were secondary screens throughout the theater that needed to be tied together with the big screen on stage. I composed a bunch of tech overlays and scanline objects together, with some text that read “Weather Alert” all in red to contrast sharply with the cool blue look in the center. The final result was kind of cool and kind of cheesy in the delivery, but I still like how it came out.

Live Performance Graphics: Pitbull

Pitbull was the opening act for the Latin Grammys in 2012 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. When you have the opening act for the show, they tell you to take your graphics an double the energy for it. So I had to create something very exciting to start the show. His song “Don’t Stop the Party” is about a noble quest for one man to not stop the party, regardless of the circumstances.

The set for the act was all gold everything, so I made a lot of my graphics metal and shiny and also paired it with red colors as well, which tend to compliment gold. Usually this is the case, they set the parameters for your design through the set design and the props, and you kind of build your work off of that. Initially they wanted me to build a sort of structural design with like this golden palace, but eventually it shifted to a more graphical look with me doing my own thing.

This stage happened to be covered in zig-zagging LED screens, which are much brighter than the projection screens in the back. Usually the stages I’ve done are fairly balanced between LED screens and projection screens, but this time the stage design was leaning heavily on the use of LED screens. I designed my animations to work well in very long, skinny sections to better fit the LED stripes.

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The first sample seems incredibly simple… because it is. It’s just a Linear Cloner of a tapered Cube in Cinema 4D, with some lights flashing on a shiny gold material. The cubes are spinning in a pattern that is not totally uniform, which is just a touch of randomness I always try to use in my designs. With this very wide aspect ratio I could position these all along the LED stripes and have this shiny gold texture moving spinning differently on various screens.

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I also used the motion graphics lynchpin Trapcode Particular to do a series of defocused dancing particles. Particles are always good because they can be worked into just about anything and can be colorized or styled in a variety of ways. I could easily take these particles and change them to be like a dark blue or purple and slow them down and used them for a slower, more dramatic song. I probably will in another show and hope you don’t call me out on it.

After doing enough of these shows I figured out ways to get more motion out of your graphics, rather than strictly animating everything by hand. I like to use expressions in After Effects to block out certain screens with different timing patterns. I’ll divide up my composition with masks, in a way that corresponds to the layout of the LED screens fed into the media server at the venue. Then I will place black solids or adjustment layers on top of them, and use my trusty companion, the Wiggle expression. By placing the “Wiggle(F,A)” expression inside a layer’s Transparency setting, where F stands for the frequency and A stands for the amplitude, you’ll get a random fading in and out of the black solid, which will make the screens flicker on and off during the song. It’s incredibly easy to do just to get some random, simulated movement without using any keyframes.

I included an After Effects project here which is a simple setup showing some of the same expressions I’ve used before for shows. I use it to make screens, flicker, cascade, or kind of pulse with varying frequencies and rhythms. You can check it out and see how math can be your friend when you have to a deadline to meet for a live show happening in a couple hours.

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The final result had a lot of energy and set the stage for a great show. I think this one turned out well and looked great on the wide shots.

My Full Sail Presentation

I’ll be presenting for Maxon at Full Sail University on Friday, May 24th. I’ll be discussing some projects of mine as a Broadcast Designer, I’ll talk about how useful a tool Cinema 4D is in my field. I’ll try to hit on some topics like:

  • What exactly is broadcast design
  • Cineware integration with After Effects
  • Advantages for students
  • How Cinema 4D helps me in my various projects

I’m excited to be demoing some of my projects recent for live performances and I’ll try to shed a little light on what exactly a career as a broadcast designer entails. Here’s a still from a recent project I did, I’ll show the 3D behind it:

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