Over the course of this masters I feel I have developed skills which I was unaware of at the outset. I came onto the Msc program with the goal of exploring animation techniques and visual effects, and personally over the last 2 years I feel that has been a great success. Now I am able to interpret a idea and not only visualise how I hope for the output to appear but also chart the journey that would be needed to achieve those results. The course has given me a wide appreciation of the different facets that exist in animation and vfx, as well as how much cross over there is between each department. You can not develop a rig for a character that has not been modeled to sufficiently accept the movements, when rendering if your textures and lighting are not optimised for your cameras it will be near impossible to produce a final image. But I focused primarily on particle simulations through out this masters, and specifically in the software environment XSi or Softimage as it is also known.
This software allowed for a more intuitive production of simulations than I personally found Maya did, but as with all software programs it came with its limitations. The main issue through out the masters is the lack of reference material for XSi that is available, the university only carry documentation for version 5 published in 2006. But all members of the Msc course do have access to the digital tutors online training resource which has been absolutely vital to my training in using the software as it has a wealth of tutorials covering many aspects of the software. The user guide built into softimage was also very helpful when delving further into the software. I also found the lectures given by Andy Nicholas on Softimage during semester 2 very helpful, as being shown in the flesh how the program functions was a useful learning experience.
All of these tools and experiences have helped me develop from having never used XSi before 2 years ago to being proficient enough, specifically in the ICE particle simulation environment, to produce the kind of results seen in the short film ‘Light and Sight: an interpretation of light’ made through out the masters.
This film was intended as the hook that I used to hang all of the teaching and development I produced through out my time on the course, but now looking back it has been more than that. I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the science of light, and the physics behind it. The conversations online with others and reading through the papers published on the subject gave me a great appreciation for just how complex the world around us is. Being able to spend time in person with Dr Maria Ana Cataluna was an absolute eye opener, and listening back to our conversation I felt I needed to include her words in the final film. Subdued and washed out, the echo of our discussion rumbles in the back ground, reflecting the way her words and insights bounced around my mind through out the creative practice of producing the visible simulations.
Using real world footage, taken at a relatively remote location was also a challenge to collect but the location was ideal for what I had in mind. The technical challenge of transforming this raw footage in to particle simulations was also a massive hurdle. My calculations showed that I needed in the region of 2,073,600 (1920 x 1080) particles to achieve the transitional image that would allow the move from live action to particle world. The final cached particle simulation actually totalled just over 450,000. Which is why I originally used a particle duplication engine to up this to over the 2,000,000 mark, although I eventually only used these shots as a background padding, softened to remove the flicker which the duplication introduced.
Bringing all of these scenes together in Nuke using, the GPU accelerated render engine Exocortex Fury out of XSi, again allowed me to explore a new area of visual effects, and also helped me to push the look of the film further. The power of compositing applications like Nuke really did surprise me; there is so much capability when working with even half float EXR files to alter them in the comp.
Overall I am proud of the results that I have achieved over the course of this masters, not only in the main film produced, but also in the skills learnt which I can take into new projects now. My best work is still ahead of me, and I look forward to the new challenges that await.