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.


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.

haunted house ram

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.


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.

Presentating at the Cinema 4D Roadshow: Miami for Maxon

I am excited to be presenting for Maxon again at the Miami stop of the Cinema 4D Roadshow on October 20th. I have done a couple presentations for them like at NAB a few years back, and I’m always grateful to have the chance to share some C4D experience and knowledge with any audience. Since I have been teaching mograph classes the past 2 years I have gotten better at explaining the program and speaking to a crowd about computer software, which can be tricky if you want to keep people engaged and not lose them in a bunch of jargon and nerd talk.

If you would like to attend you can sign up and get the info here:


Hope to see you there.

Live Show Reel

Here’s a sampling of my animation and motion graphics work I’ve done for various live events. It’s different than some of my usual broadcast design stuff on my other reel.

It’s a process of design animation and motion that is mapped across a stage or an arena, so there’s different techniques used to make you graphics fit to something that size. Instead of preparing something to be viewed on a 50 inch TV, you are working on 30 foot screens and disjointed LED panels.

Last updated 5/1/2016

Music: Rataxes – Holding Hands – Creative Commons 3.0

Content © Univision Communications Inc

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.

Getting Familiar with d3

My goal every year is to learn something new in terms of computer software, for two reasons:

  1. A popular application you use today may not be what everyone is using 5, 10, or 20 years later. If you don’t examine what other programs are capable of and be aware of complementary or replacement software, you might get left behind someday.
  2. Learning something new gives you more utility and makes you more versatile as a designer.

A couple years ago I learned X-Particles, last year I focused more on TurbulenceFD. This year I learned d3.

What is d3?
Great question!

According to the d3 Technologies website, d3 is:

The world’s first integrated video production suite, d3 is more than just a media server. Based around a real-time 3D stage simulator, it is the single solution needed to design, present, communicate, sequence and playback logoyour show. d3 lets you work with props, venues, LED screens, projection, lighting and moving stage elements, while being completely integrated into a single intuitive software solution that runs on your own laptop or dedicated d3 hardware.

To summarize their summary, basically d3 handles almost the entire process for designing and executing a live performance.

My experience with live performances mostly comes from doing the animation content for musical performances at award shows and some sales presentations. Prior to d3, I would create animations in Cinema 4D or After Effects and render it within a template that tells you what part of the image is sent to the different screens on a stage based on the X and Y position coordinates of pixels. Multiple screens get combined on to one template composition, which has gotten exceedingly high in resolution. Nothing slows you down more in After Effects than trying to do a RAM preview on a 14,000 x 4000 composition. The d3 blows that process out of the water and makes you never want to work that way again.

The advantages of d3:

1. It plays back in real time.

I pray to the animation gods that one day After Effects will be able to play a Quicktime movie without needing a RAM preview. Maybe it will happen before I die. Until then, d3 will pick up the slack. I can get 10 different Quicktime movies (HAP codec works well) looping back in real time without making a preview. It just… does it for you. It’s a huge timesaver to not have to wait for the computer to cook up a preview for you. It’s like the difference between developing film at a 1 hour photo versus looking at one instantly on a digital camera. Your hardware makes a difference, a good video card and a SSD drive are essential for reliable real time playback.

2. It maps your graphics to a stage where they belong.

The whole process can work like this: you can design stage layout in maybe a program like Vectorworks, bring it into a 3D application and build a model, and then export the screens in d3 and have their position and scale be accurate to the venue where you’ll be working in. Pixels aren’t a physical measurement. The same amount of pixels in your TV screen can be used to to fill a screen that’s 30 feet tall. Instead of seeing your images on a flat, one-size-fits all composition, you can see how they compliment each other inside an accurate model of the venue, telling you how well your graphics are fit the physical space of the screens.


3. No rendering!

Perhaps my favorite feature. Since it handles everything so well in real time, d3 is able to just play your timeline as it’s laid out without having to render a “final movie” like you would in After Effects. This prevents you from having to set your project up to maybe spend half a day rendering while you can’t work on your computer. It allows you to customize and adjust the individual clips on the fly, without ever committing to a final render. It is ultimately faster and more flexible, and that’s always a welcome combination.

4. Music becomes your timecode.

d3 uses an audio file for timing instead of more traditional, timecode based timelines. It times things out by bars, which can be color-coded and sectioned off to organize your edit. It was confusing to me at first; it helps to be more inclined and familiar with music because you can quantize audio to fit the timeline to the rhythm of the song. So every chorus, verse, bridge, intro, outro, etc. can be properly spaced out on your timeline, and the total length of your animations will sync up with the markers on your timeline. It makes total sense when you see it work within a song, where every 4 bars the music and lyrics change right on time. d3 makes changing and timing your graphics on to the beat approximately 100,000 times easier than in a program like After Effects.

5. The interface is RAW.

I love the raw, old school interface of d3 with absolutely zero bells and whistles. Keep it like that forever. I don’t care if it looks a GUI from the 1980s, it works very well and that’s what really matters. I choose functionality over gradients, bevels, customizable fonts and crap like that. The program itself is very light and doesn’t feel bloated from years of extra features trying to convince you to upgrade to the latest version. I hope it stays like that forever.


Here’s my most current example for Premios Juventud 2015 in July. I created this sort of Avatar Style/ Fern Gully forest in Cinema 4D and After Effects. Those programs (or their substitutes) will still be where you do the bulk of your designing. d3 has some capabilities for making adjustments, but it;s not a graphic design program.

I worked with regular sized HD comps in my design applications, and placed them on various screens of all different sizes in the arena via d3. Here’s a sample:

Here is a still render of the scene and the preview in Cinema 4D. I sculpted that stump and then worked it into a modified Landscape Primitive. I added Hair for the grass, gave it a little motion and ping-ponged it for looping purposes. The dandelions were also made in Cinema 4D, made with the Feather object. I took one little petal of it and used it as a particle for a Trapcode Particular emitter back inside After Effects.

For rendering I used the Physical Renderer in Cinema 4D. I wanted a shallow depth of field to make it feel like the forest was really large and the performance was just a tiny part inside the scene. It made render times skyrocket but it was worth it because I needed that lens effect. For compositing I really just layered some foreground grass and a main hero dandelion to emit my particles, some little dust, some light leaks, and gave it a sort of fantasy-style color treatment to make it not feel like a forest designed without so much realism.


I still want to learn the ins and outs of the whole process of d3. I am just one part of the assembly line, I design the content and fit it to the song and the stage. But it contains more power that simply just designing, it actually runs the show behind the scenes involving other people who are smarter than me.

It’s a very young program, so young that I tried searching for help for a tech issue on it and all the results were from a video game forum. The name “d3” is too widely used, getting more information on it from a Google search can be tricky. Hell I was presenting at a conference called D3 that had nothing to do with it, they just called the organization D3 as well.

d3 was used during Katy Perry’s halftime show for the Super Bowl this year and I expected the program to blow up. But d3 is quietly going about their business behind the scenes, hovering with just 850ish Twitter followers as of today (Maxon has about 38K, Adobe has like 415K) and I’m totally good with that. I look forward to learning more about this great program, I hope I can become a near expert before everyone else figures out how awesome it is. I want to be a d3 hipster one day.

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.


Turbulence FD Tests: Low Temp/High Temp

I still have more of these!  This quick video examines the Low Temperature and High Temperature settings in the Rendering tab of a Container inside TurbulenceFD. Since these settings are inside the Rendering tab, they are applied to your simulation after you have cache it, allowing you to make adjustments and see the results instantly rather than re-caching. It’s a numerical value that you can use to punch in new numbers an map a low and high temperature setting for your flame simulation. The numbers can remap the gradient of your flame to different values, allowing you to adjust what parts of your flame belong to lower or higher temperatures, and the values in between.

View the all the posts for the TurbulenceFD Test Series here

TurbulenceFD Tests: Pressure

OK this TurbulenceFD Test on Pressure clocks in at a quick 47 seconds.  Pressure is not a setting found inside the Container parameters like other items else I’ve detailed in the series so far. You can adjust Pressure inside the Emitter Tag on the actual object you want to light on fire. Pressure will cause the flames to either expand with positive values or contract with negative values. It’s pretty straightforward and if you check out the video you’ll see how it works. I would even keyframe it to an extent so you can maybe expand your flames quickly in the beginning of a burst and then have them mellow out gradually over time.

View the all the posts for the TurbulenceFD Test Series here