FULLDOME@ H o m e R u n P i c t u r e s
INSIDE THE PRODUCTION:
Welcome to the Home Run Pictures "Inside the Production" page. With each new entry in this "diary," we will discuss, in a fairly detailed fashion, the creative and production process for creating various scenes for a fulldome show currently in production. Will we be giving away any "secrets?" Maybe, but our main goal is really to show the problem-solving process our pipeline at Home Run Pictures goes through in creating for fulldome. Hopefully everyone reading this diary can gleen something that will help in their own creative or production process.
A show currently in production is "Impact: Earth," initially for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Burke Baker Planetarium and then as part of the NASA Immersive Earth Project, for licensed distribution. The show will be about 20 minutes in length and Home Run Pictures is producing about half of the planned scenes. The story wraps around the idea that the Earth lives in a dangerous neighborhood... with rocks, large and small impacting our planet in the past, present and future.
DIARY POST 1:
An early scene in the show revolves around the concept of a witness to a meteor impact in central North America about 10,000 years ago. The area, which today is the state of Kansas, is the site where the Houston Museum of Natural Science unearthed a 150 pound meteorite fragment. NASA ground penetrating radar was partly used to locate the meteorite, the same technology that in the near future will be part of a Mars rover mission looking for deep ground water.
The theory derived from the locations of several hundred meteorite finds is that a larger meteor entered the atmosphere, exploded and scattered fragments across a wide arc over the Kansas site. The positions indicate that the rock at first "peeled" outer layers scattering rocks along its path, then eventually exploded, scattering even more rocks. The museum's personel dated the meteorite impact at around 8000 BC. It is possible that a paleo-indian observer could have witnessed the impact. Our scene visualizes just such a possible witness to the fireball's streak across the Kansas sky.
Our first goal was to establish a stage for our scene with dramatic potential. We came up with a short written description of our scene idea... "a paleo-indian huddled over a fire at a forest edge, winter-time with snow covering the ground... the snow being an easier render to achieve realistically, etc. " We decided it had to be a night scene to get the most dramatic effect of the meteor's explosive entry. The tall trees would give us the "looming" height that works so well in fulldome compositions. The flickering fire would softly light the paleo-indian as well as the surrounding forest of trees with a warming glow creating an initial calm ambience. We added in an entire campsite of deerskin huts for more human interest, our lone witness standing as sentry for the camp late at night. The fireball becomes a disruption to the peacefull setting, with the sharp-edged light from the explosion casting dancing shadows across the camp site. Below is the storyboard that was drawn up for approvals and pre-production planning... just quick sketches with written decsriptions that will be developed further as we go into production of the completely CGI scene.
Next step was to to do research on the look of the camp and our paleo-indian. One of our animators working on the project has a degree in archeology and was a perfect person to come up with appropriate details for our scene. A selection of concept images was collected from books and the internet, small sketches for layout and production planning, then character and props construction was started.
Although we had used motion capture (mo-cap) for Mars exploring astronauts in a previous show, the Buhl Planetarium's "Traveler's Guide To Mars," it was decided that since our "witness" was not speaking and motion was limited, we would just keyframe the action. Using Maya Unlimited software, our basic character was modeled using a polygon approach. Maya does have NURBS and subdivision surface capability, but a larger part of our experience has been with poly characters, so that was an obvious route to follow. And since the mo-cap pipeline we had used for the Mars show had been with poly... if we decided later to mo-cap the character, we had that option without needing to remodel our paleo-indian.
We used the Maya Full Body IK toolset for our character rigging and the Maya Hair toolset to give the witness long hair that responded to his movement. The Maya FBIK is a great tool for giving good motion to a character. It has some built-in sutleness already programmed in... for example, lift the character's leg and the body adjusts to keep the center-of-balence... stomp the foot and the body reacts to the weight of the dynamic force. UV texturing for color and texture was initially created in ZBrush and then tweaked in Photoshop.
The camp site huts were modeled and the tall fir trees for the forest were imported from model libraries we had created for a previous show, "Dinosaur Prophecy." The camp fire would be Maya Fluids. Here are some production test rendered images of our models and scene elements. The streak in the sky is the proposed path for our fireball.
That's it for this diary post. In future posts, we will discuss the animation pipeline , then the particle scripting creation for the various scenes with fireballs entering the Earth's atmosphere... then later, scene staging and lighting before final render and compositing.
DIARY POST 2:
Welcome back to our "Inside the Production" diary. So continueing forward on the scenes for the "Impact: Earth" fulldome show, we wanted a second "witness" to an impact, and the well known Tunguska event in 1908 was an easy choice. There is an account of a farmer who in the early morning watched as the fireball streaked across the sky. We decided that this would make a great scene in fulldome.
There is plenty of source material available for this event, so we were challenged to come up with a depiction that was dramatic as well as accurate. Unlike what we did for the Kansas scene, we planned on showing the rock enter the atmosphere from an orbital perspective as well as depict the explosion that leveled the forest for miles around. The farmer would be our ground observer. Once again we gathered available research on the event and created a production storyboard for our concept.
As I mentioned in the previous post, we decided to NOT use motion capture for these scenes, so let's look at the animation pipeline which concerns the farmer in this scene as well as the paleo-indian in the previously described Kansas scene. We are using the Maya FBIK setup to generate some secondary motion without making the animator do it all by hand. Secondary motion is what helps make an animated character's motion more believeable... like when you lift your leg, your entire body shifts to one side to balance the weight shift. Maya FBIK does this automatically so the animator has less work to do.
The first step for any human-like character usually involves the animator acting out the motion themselves to determine what the motion would realistically flow like. Sometimes video taping yourself doing the action is a good way to visualize. We have a small camera on one of our computers that allows you to capture the action directly to a Quicktime movie file that then you can place on your desktop along side your animation application for reference as you keyframe your model. Then it pretty much ends up being a process where you animate the character, preview the action or do a lo-rez render and review. Getting outside opinions always helps... then you do this over and over until you get what looks good. We have found that even when we use the motion capture route, it takes several tries to get something that "looks" correct.
A key element in animating a human character, either with keyframing or with motion capture is to really look, see and understand how we as humans move. It's obviously a lot harder when keyframing, but even with mo-cap there is a tendancy for the suited up "actor" to move more stiffly than they usually would. We did not expect to create a keyframed character that was perfect, but getting to a point where the motion will pass as believable can be a challenge. It is a good idea to use the "Principles of Traditional Animation" that the old hand drawn animators used in their work... just google the phrase and you will get many links to what I'm referring to.
The hardest part is getting a good overlapping of action along with secondary motion. Without these your character looks like a robot. Our mo-cap experience has helped our understanding of human motion, but it's not always feasible in the production pipeline for various reasons... production time and budget being a couple. It's hard to get your character to look weighted to the ground. Maya FBIK helps a lot with this by altering the center of gravity of you character as he puts his foot down and "planting" his imagined weight on that foot.
A third new scene that was added towards the end of the production, was one depicting a possible future scenario of a small comet striking the Earth. Remember, this is a show about rocks hitting the Earth, so we needed a big ending. For this sequence, we chose a vantage point from a lunar colony, a trio of astronauts watching the impact. It was easier to animate these guys. One reason was we did not show their feet as they were foreground placed, their legs off the bottom of the dome's edge... the second being, it's the Moon with 1/6 gravity... you kind-of float a little, an easy motion to create in CGI animation packages.
I'll stop here for now and pick up next time and describe the particle processes we went through to create all sorts of fireballs entering the atmosphere and the mass destruction they can cause.