In Elvin A. Hernandez’s new book Set The Action! Creating Backgrounds for Compelling Storytelling in Animation, Comics, and Games he discusses designing backgrounds that make character and story development more dynamic and realistic. Elvin put together a series of videos that provide some great tips and techniques for background development. In this first video, Elvin takes a look at the importance of reference materials and creating thumbnails in preparation of background design.
The following is an excerpt from 3ds Max Modeling for Games: Insider’s Guide to Game Character, Vehicle, and Environment Modeling: Volume 1, 2e by Andrew Gahan. This edition is packed with tutorials that enhance your modeling skills and pump up your portfolio with high-quality work. Here, Gahan teaches you how to create and use alpha maps/channels.
We are going to look at the most common methods of creating various forms of vegetation used in the games industry. As creating foliage and leaves still relies heavily on alpha maps or a texture with an alpha channel, I’ll start off with a brief explanation. An alpha map is a black -and-white or grayscale image, which controls the transparency of a surface when it’s applied to a mesh using a shader. In the example pictured in Fig. 4.1, the alpha map is on the left, the diffuse texture is in the middle, and the final result applied to the mesh is on the right.
This works because the shader is interpreting values of 100% white as being fully opaque, and values of 100% black as being fully transparent. Any gray tones between 100% black and 100% white will be transparent. Now that we know what an alpha map is, let’s look at how we go about creating them.
The first step is always the source image for the diffuse. Whether it is hand painted or taken from a photo, you’ll need to have this first before you create the alpha map. I’ll use the previous example to demonstrate. This was initially taken from a photo and then modified using a mixture of Photoshop’s blending modes hand painting.
Initially, I “extracted” the leaves I wanted from the original photo and then used them to create the alpha channel.
There are a few ways to do this.
I could simply create an alpha channel and start painting white around the leaves I want visible using the standard brush tool, but this takes time and also means the background will remain. I wanted to remove this.
I started by creating a 512 × 512 image fi le. I then copied the source image into this fi le and scaled it to fi t into the square texture page (Ctrl + T). I then used the Lasso tool to create a selection around the area I wanted to keep. I then inverted the selection by going to Select > Inverse on the menu bar. I then deleted the highlighted pixels. In a few key strokes, a large chunk of the unwanted image has been removed.
For the remaining pixels around the leaves, you could either use the eraser or manually paint the pixels out or you could use the magic wand tool to make pixel selections and delete them. The magic wand works best when the background is a different colour to the leaves, for example, a blue sky. In this instance, it also works as there is a decent level of contrast in the image, but the tolerance needs to be kept low as the image is mainly green.
I decided to use the magic wand to quickly remove chunks of the image. I then finished up by using the eraser to manually tidy up the final few stray pixels. I also adjusted the levels and hue and saturation on the final version before starting work on the diffuse texture.
Now, we have separated out the piece of vegetation. We can quickly use this to create the alpha channel or at least a good starting point. With the layer that the leaves are on selected, hold Ctrl + A and then select the small thumbnail image on the left of the layers name. This will select all pixels on the currently selected layer.
With this selection active, click on the channels tab. Go to the bottom right and click on the new layer icon highlighted in Fig. 4.6. This will create a new alpha channel in the texture fi le. Next, select the standard brush tool at 100% opacity and paint the selected area. The result is fairly good, but there are a few gray and white pixels around that will need painting over with 100% black (RGB 0,0,0).
When the alpha channel has been cleaned up, we can preview the results in Photoshop over the RGB image.
Do this by turning on the RGB channels by clicking on the box to the left of the RGB channel at the top of the channels list. This will show or hide these channels. The same applies to the alpha channel. When the alpha channel is displayed over the RGB channels, it will only show pixels under the white pixels of the alpha channel. In the next image, all the purple area represents the black values of the alpha channel.
You can change the color and opacity of the alpha channels appearance by double-clicking on the alpha channel.
It’s worth noting that you can still paint and edit the alpha channel while viewing all the channels at once.
The last step would be to save out the final texture (once the diffuse map is complete) with the alpha channel, so it can be used in 3ds Max. There are two ways to get the alpha channel or map displaying in real time in the viewport.
The diffuse texture can be saved with the alpha channel in the same fi le with a format that stores the alpha information. Some formats are BMP, PNG, TIFF, TGA, and .DDS.
This texture, which will contain the diffuse and alpha channel, will need to be assigned to both the diffuse and opacity slot in a material. When it is assigned to the opacity slot, the bitmap parameters will need adjusting. By default, the Mono Channel Output is set to RGB Intensity. It needs to be changed to Alpha.
In the second method, I saved out the alpha channel as a separate texture. This can be done by pressing Ctrl + A over the selected alpha channel to highlight it, Ctrl + C to copy the selection, and then Ctrl + V in the RGB channels in the layers tab to paste it as a new layer. Then save the fi le as a separate texture after flattening the image.
Then just assign it to the opacity slot in the 3ds Max material and assign the diffuse texture into the diffuse slot.
Both methods should display the diffuse map working with the alpha map in the viewport once Show Standard Map in Viewport is turned on in the material and the following display mode selected main menu > Views > Show Materials in Viewport as > Standard Display with Maps is also on.
Excerpt from 3ds Max Modeling for Games: Insider’s Guide to Game Character, Vehicle, and Environment Modeling: Volume 1, 2e by Andrew Gahan © 2011 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. 3ds Max can be purchased Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found
The following is an excerpt from Elemental Magic, Volume I: The Art of Special Effects Animation by Joseph Gilland. This book breaks down the world of special effects animation with clear step-by-step diagrams and explanations on how to create the amazing and compelling images you see on the big screen. Here, Joseph gives you a step-by-step tutorial on building fire… and this time, it isn’t for roasting marshmallows!
1. Here is another approach to “building” a fire. I have started with basic triangles—note that they are different sizes. Because of the repetitive nature of fire shapes, it is important to always vary your shape sizes.
The following is an excerpt from Stewart Jones’ Digital Creature Rigging. Digital Creature Rigging gives you the practical, hands-on approaches to rigging you need, with a theoretical look at 12 rigging principles, and plenty of tips, tricks and techniques to get you up and running quickly.
Quickly glancing over the creature’s features, it is easy to see that he shares a lot of similarities with various reptiles. His default pose, posture, and structure also confirm this as he stands strong and proud.
Taking a deeper look at the general attributes, this creature shows a lineage to prehistoric dinosaurs. This also fits with his reptilian-like features and can provide a good match for references. As humans, we are designed, or have evolved, to walk around on two legs. These leg muscles are usually bigger, stronger, and more developed than our arms. This creature, Belraus, seems the opposite, with bigger, stronger arms that carry most of its weight and smaller rear legs that are lean and muscular but underdeveloped in comparison.
Head and Face
In keeping with the reptile-like features, the head and facial features closely resemble a crocodile’s head. The jaw-area, in particular, is extremely similar, differences in the lower-jaw shape are apparent, and the “snout” is shorter.
The structure of the creature’s face and skull, as well as the teeth, lips, and jaw, hint at the fact that this creature must not be able to speak. That is not to say that he cannot make noises or express itself vocally. It just seems as though he would not be as articulate as a human. Again, this fits with its reptilian characteristics.
The eyes of this creature are very different, as having two eyes (four eyes in total) on either side of the skull is not usual for reptiles, at least I cannot seem to find any. Although the movement and behavior of the eyes may be left up to the animator, this is one area in which we have to think carefully about how to rig, as there is no specific reference available to work with.
The creature’s upper torso is strong and bold. His muscular structure is more animal and humanistic than reptilian, and he seems to rely on this powerful section for both balance and general movement. The long thick arms resemble that of a gorilla or ape, and the imposing structure replicates that of a bear or an about-to-charge bull. As this section has a lot of muscle mass, we have to spend some time working with the flesh-surface deformations to create believable muscle simulation.
The central torso is leaner than the upper torso, but, on examination, it looks as though there is some fat around the belly.
The overly large chest and rib-cage overlap into this section, but there is enough room for us to think about spinal compression for some squash and stretch during the creature’s movement. Small, more delicate velociraptor-like arms hang to the sides of this area. Because of their size and placement, it seems as though Belraus uses these to hold or examine objects, whereas the bigger more muscular arms in the upper torso are used for balance and movement.
The lower torso feels like it is going to be the most nimble and agile section. Both its position and posture lean toward the prehistoric dinosaur resemblance once again, and the muscles seem strong but very lean. As the upper torso and upper limbs seem to take the mammoth-share of the weight distribution, it feels as though the lower torso is used more for direction and additional balance.
With a thick upper section and thin lower section, the creature’s tail also resembles that of a lizard, or maybe a rat. No matter which, I do not feel as though the creature would have too much control over the tail and, because of his size and weight, would not be curling it around a tree branch, hanging around by it. To me, it seems as though the most logical reason this creature has a tail is for additional balance should he need to use his hind legs to stand or maneuver.
Excerpt from Digital Creature Rigging: The Art and Science of CG Creature Setup in 3ds Max by Stewart Jones. © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Creature Rigging can be purchased Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.
The following is an excerpt from The Animator’s Eye: Adding Life to Animation with Timing, Layout, Design, Color and Sound by Francis Glebas. In The Animator’s Eye, Francis teaches you how to become a strong visual storyteller through better use of color, volume, shape, shadow, and light – as well as discover how to tap into your imagination and refine your own personal vision. Here, Francis lets you in on some of his secrets…
“I can’t even draw a straight line.” I’m sure you’ve heard people say that when they’re telling you that they can’t draw. Well, next time you hear that, simply ask if they’ve ever heard of a ruler.
Why learn to draw if you’re using a computer to animate? We could ask why learn about design if you’re just learning to draw? Or why study sculpting if you’re just drawing? The blunt answer is that if you don’t, it will show in your animation.
When you draw, you need to feel it in your bones, feel it in your muscles. You’ll be drawing from the inside, capturing the life rather than tracing the surface appearance. Whether you use clay or computer models, drawing is about the carefully designed arrangement of lines and shapes on a flat surface.
In this chapter, we’re going to look at specific techniques to develop your ability to draw what you see in your animator’s eye.
The First Secret: It May Look Easy But …
The first secret of drawing is that it’s an acquired skill that takes a lot of practice to master. This is part of the most reassuring secret of drawing: it can be learned. As a ten year old, I discovered Mad Magazine and my world expanded. The drawings and humor were a totally new world to explore.
I really wanted to be able to draw cartoons like those masters of the art. Since the only reference that I had to go by was the magazine itself, I mistakenly thought that the Mad artists drew the panels exactly that size and drew in pen exactly what the panel looked like. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that they actually worked much bigger than the final publication size—usually 1.5 or even 2 times larger. And the bigger surprise was that the final image was often drawn many times. Various compositions were tried. Character designs were explored. And when they were ready to do the final art, they drew it in blue first, then cleaned it up in pencil and then drew the final clean ink line. I discovered more secrets when, years later, I got to see some of the original art. The artists, in addition to erasing, covered their mistakes with opaque white ink and sometimes even patched in other pieces of paper.
The “b” part of this secret is that it does get easier.
Second Secret: Drawing is Thinking
First of all, you need to understand that drawing is about thinking as much as it is about moving a pencil around the page. Drawing is a way of learning to see. Moving your hand around the page also involves thinking. It’s called eye–hand coordination and the brain is responsible for it. Consider it like riding a bike. When you first start it’s so difficult you might think it’s impossible. Once you learn how, you no longer need to even think about it. Even after years of not riding you can hop on and go. (Of course, you’ll probably be a bit rusty at first.)
As an animation artist, you need to know what to look for and then learn how to get your animator’s eye and your animator’s hands to work together to put that vision on paper or a computer screen.
Drawing requires feedback. We look at what we’ve drawn and think about it. How does it feel? Does it feel unbalanced? Does it feel fragmented? Is it telling a clear story? Does it flow? We look and provide our minds with feedback, and then we can take the next step.
Take a few steps back to get a better overview of your progress. Try looking at it in a mirror. Let’s say I’m drawing a castle. I’ve looked at reference to get ideas and then I start drawing a castle from my imagination. The castle takes shape as I draw it. When I see the pieces, I can start rearranging them, changing the proportions, creating repetitions of shapes and start putting it together. Drawing is a continual thinking/drawing/feedback process. If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to start over.
Third Secret: Even Great Artists Scribble
When you’re ready to start your day of drawing it helps to loosen up your arm and wrist. Use your whole arm when you draw rather than just using your wrist and fingers. This helps getting a fluid quality in your drawings. Just start scribbling to loosen up and learn to be aware of the expressive qualities that emerge from your scribbles. Try to represent different emotions just with drawing scribbles. Artists get ideas by doodling and finding images that suggest other ideas.
Fourth Secret: Use the Force
No, not that “force.” Let your eyes follow how the forces run through the body. The “line of action” principle was proposed by Preston Blair in his book Animation: Learn How to Draw Animated Cartoons . This is an imaginary line running through a pose that represents the dominant flow of force moving through a body. There’s a directional intention behind many movement that shows where the character is headed. At any time there are multiple forces running through the body. The “line of action” is the dominant force that helps the figure feel unified.
In these poses you can see the clear lines of action (indicated in red) with all parts subordinated to this line. The character doesn’t flail around in different directions. I’d also like to recommend Michael D. Mattesi’s excellent book on the subject, Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators .
Fifth Secret: Learn to See Rather than Merely Looking
SEEING is not the same as LOOKING. When we look we perceive things. When you really see, sometimes you forget about the “thingness” and perceive the shimmering field of color that the impressionists saw or the sculptural shapes that the Renaissance artists saw.
Beginning artists need to learn what to look for. Often they will draw what they think they see rather than what’s there in front of them. Seeing involves seeing shapes, values, masses, lines, not things. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing subtle things like the alignment and position of feet on the floor. What good are lines then? Lines certainly have their place, lines define edges, directions, forces, and shape boundaries.
Sixth Secret: Think Shapes, Not Lines
Most artists think with lines. It’s easy to get lost in lines. If you’re in a rut with your drawing, try thinking in shapes. Try what Matisse did. When faced with arthritis, which prevented him from holding a paintbrush, he created masterpieces using cutout colored paper. It’s a great way to learn to be sensitive to shapes and get clear silhouettes.
Try drawing the shapes instead of rendering with line. Try using a big brush or even cutout paper. Look for shapes as volumes in space. This will help set your shapes in a dimensional space.
Seventh Secret: When Drawing Small, Focus on Silhouette
This isn’t really a secret, but who ever heard of six secrets? When you have to draw small, focus on the shape of the silhouette instead of the details. If you get the shape right, the details will fall right into place. That will help maintain the quality of your drawings.
Excerpt from The Animator’s Eye: Adding Life to Animation with Timing, Layout, Design, Color, and Sound by Francis Glebas © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. The Animator’s Eye can be purchased Amazon.com,BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.