June 21st is our Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. A great time to climb a tree and watch a sunset with the one you love. Or you can just stay on the couch with your soda and let my animation do the climbing and sunsetting for you!
The Boring Stuff
I wrote and recorded the musical score in an afternoon using my Yamaha Keyboard, which I really love. This is the first composition I’ve produced with my new keyboard and featured in my work, so I’m really happy with how it sounds and the ease with which I can record different instruments.
One of the great things about this animation is I didn’t have to create the characters nor the rigs! Wayne Dixon offers a bunch of his models for free and you can see many of them here. Overall, the “dougie” character was great to work with, although, things got a little hairy a few times! Animating the character, which is essentially a ball and a tail, was challenging. Every movement is done by hand, more or less. To make matters worse, I had TWO of these characters going up that tree. The idea looked great on paper!
Lighting is really tricky here. Each bouncy ball is lit by it’s own private light, as well as by a “sun” light from above. A second lamp is used to create “only shadows”. And then a lens flare comes in at the end, thanks to After Effects. I used lots of Ambient Occlusion and Environment Lighting to keep things fairly evenly lit and provide a bit more shadow.
When working with your favorite programs (Photoshop, AE, Blender, etc.) you need textures. There are some great sites with great textures, but I always appreciate what CGTextures.com has to offer. For free – up to a 15 MB download limit per day. The sky is a 360 Sky Texture.
I tried to make one of these things back in 2010 following Jonathan Williamson’s Panoramic Sky tutorial, but I’m sure he screwed up somewhere because my results didn’t match his! I was discouraged about it, but decided to come back and try it again. The dome is a brilliant idea, works like a charm and really enhanced my scene tenfold!
There were a few different tutorials I was looking at for modeling and texturing this tree, but in the end, I went with David Ward’s Manual Tree Tutorial on BlenderCookie.com. This method uses bezier curves to design the trunk and limbs then joins them in a unique way. There is a python script available which basically does the same thing, but the script was not working for me. I blame Jonathan Williamson for that too! I also have a seamless texture on the tree and the tutorial covers that creation process as well. I opted to keep the smaller twigs and leaves off my tree because the render times were going to get ridiculous.
In all, the animation ran just over 1140 frames. I rendered 20 frames at a time as Quicktime Movies in Blender, then imported and pieced them all together in After Effects. Each frame took, on average, about 55 seconds. My computer did a great job of not crying about the process too much, though I did hear it making “whirring” noises from time to time. I just turned up my radio.
Blender is a free to own, free to use, free everything, 3D software which allows you to do things like I just did. And it’s free. There is a ton of documentation all over the web on it, including written tuts and videos. If CG animation interests you, check out Blender and tell them Pappy sent ya!