This project started as a question: What is it that makes ducks funny? Moreover, I wanted to know if there was a code behind the movement of a funny duck. Rather than attempting to understand everything at once, I chose a simple behaviour, walking, and investigated its “funny” potential. Since emotions are also seen among laughing people, they were chosen as nuances for the walking behaviour.
Procedural animation was used on a duck rig prototype to create a palette of stylized walk cycles. People were then asked to name the emotions they thought each duck walk expressed and also if they found them funny. This work is part of the Character Essences project, which focuses on recreating believable actions using procedural animation.
Once upon a time there was a mouse named Gram Glueypaws who lived in the manor house of a rich granny, Beatrice Sparklington. Every day Gram would leave his burrow, from under the mahogany staircase, to steal some shiny jewels granny Beatrice left around the house.
Until one day, Beatrice saw Gram plodding along her persian carpet with her best string of pearls. Beatrice shrieked and called her servants to find the rodent. Her servants searched and dug inside the house with pickaxes and shovels. They made many holes and made Beatrice furious.
Until finally, they discovered Gram’s treasure trove. He had collected hundreds of jewels and pearls to decorate his home for his wife and newly born baby mouse, Stephen. Beatrice’s heart melted, remembering her past youth and unrequited wish to have children. She forgave Gram and his grubby paws.
Ever since that day, Beatrice and Gram have been the best of friends. Gram decorates Beatrice’s home, which now looks like swiss cheese, and she helps his family with spare food and jewelry.
The moral of the story is: Never judge someone’s actions, because you don’t know the whole truth.
Gram is a work in progress character, but here are some technical details that might help you create and render your own characters.
Gram was modelled in Autodesk Maya 2018 and rendered with Arnold Renderer. The face count is 223 360. The materials used were mostly aiStandardSurface, an Arnold specific material, which allows presets like Skin, for realistic skin effects. Purple shades were added in the SubsurfaceColour sections of the material, with the SkinPreset activated. For the eyes, a circular colour ramp was used to create the iris and pupil.
Lighting was done with four Arnold Area Lights, two on the sides, one on top and one at the bottom of the character. Intensities had to be over 500 for them to take the desired effect. The background is two thirds of a box in Smooth mode, with its normals reversed. It was lit using a Directional Light, that had its link broken with the mesh. This is to ensure the light doesn’t affect the character, but lights up the background instead. In the Renderer Settings, under the Arnold Renderer tab, the Camera and Diffuse samples were set to 5 to remove potential noise from the image.
Note: Gram is part of the tutorials I created for 3D Character Development, a unit part of the BSc Character Animation and VFX course at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Narly is a pre-raphaelite narwhal who likes sounds. He enjoys acapella music and is fascinated by the resonance of words from the human world. His movements vary depending on the melody he’s hearing. In the deep blue sea Narly listens carefully. Nothing is without meaning to him, as all the noise out there becomes beautiful music to our little friend.
Narly was modelled in Maya, using a couple of narwhal references found online. The UV map was then created and used as reference for our texturing. The textures were handmade, as acrylic paints were used on a dented paper sheet. The resulting painting was then photographed and edited in Gimp to fit the UVs.
We used a combination of pre-raphaelite and sea creature references to inspire our style of painting. The results can be seen below. The next step is to create a rig for Narly and to drive its animation via filtered sound waves in Houdini. He is a sound narwhal after all!
Tippy is a tap dancer and is moving to the big city of Shuffelsville for his studies. You can follow his story in the storyboards section of my animation site here. Now we’re working on modelling, rigging and animating a few of his moves in Maya. Here he is taking his first steps, with his controllers on top.
Our latest animation plugin for Maya is The Robin Animator V1.0! It can be used to generate basic procedural animations of little bird characters. These animations can then be exported for your games, rendered in your films or can serve as reference for more complex animations.