Johnny’s Workshop

June 15, 2010

I ain’t got time to render.

This little experiment left me convinced that pure CG was not the way to go; not when you’re a few hundred CPUs short of a render farm, anyway. I guess that line could be used as a clever insult in the VFX industry. “I’m afraid Billy’s a few CPUs short of a render farm.”

Of course, in the games industry, if you worked as a level designer and you weren’t very good at your job, your co-workers would say, “That guy’s a few destructible wooden crates short of a level.”

Pretty clever, huh?

I began this experiment toward the end of March last year thinking I could do with some practice before having a proper stab at that “UFOs at the You Yangs” project. The latter was going to be entirely CG and involve a detailed ecosystem, clever lighting, and some kind of fancy atmosphere with clouds, haze, etc., so it made sense to try a simpler version beforehand. The following elements I considered essential:

  • A rural setting.
  • Stereotypical flying saucer.
  • Realistic lighting.
  • Handheld camera movement.

The other requirement was that I use Vue 7 xStream and nothing else. Ironically, I went into the project hoping to get a lot better with Vue and emerged from it convinced that studying Vue was a waste of my precious time (I think that qualifies as irony). Not because Vue is bad software—it’s really not; it’s awesome … awesome to the max—but because the render times are usually horrific. I actually spent a couple of weeks studying and experimenting with all the render settings. Achieving a high-quality result was easy enough; it just meant you had to wait forever.

Take this 7-second video, for example:

There’s only one model in the entire scene, yet it took ELEVEN WEEKS to render. Okay, that’s not true; it actually took 8 hours, 15 minutes but that’s still way too long. I mean, it’s not even a good video; it’s just an F35B from Battlefield 2 with some dark, menacing clouds in the background. Oh, and the resolution was 800×600. Imagine trying to render a high definition (1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080) shot of a forest with a running stream or something. You’d die of old age before you had the first two seconds. Even if you lived long enough to see those seconds, you’d probably discover they were riddled with inexplicable artifacts.

Like these:

Took a quadcore CPU just over ten minutes to render that one frame.

“Uh-huh, and what are those stupid watery columns?” you ask. Oh, you noticed those? I have no idea where those came from; ask the propeller heads who engineered Vue’s built-in renderer.

So, to summarise: No matter how much tweaking / optimising you do, relying on Vue for complex, animated scenes really is asking for trouble. For single frames, it’s brilliant—just look at the e-on software gallery—but for pure CG video, you really need a render farm. Or else a whole lot of patience. I’m prepared to wait years for YouTube to produce a celebrity who isn’t a fucking obnoxious douchebag but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Of the scene I’d originally envisioned, I produced only one clear render:

Also, besides a one-off, low-resolution test—with almost all the render settings set to ‘Low’—I didn’t even bother with the full animation:

(Some of the trees in Vue don’t look so flash when they’re subjected to wind.)

Eventually, in a bid to salvage the scene, I removed the flying saucer and rendered yet another clip featuring the Strider from Half-Life 2:

Strider at Farm

Click to enlarge.

After testing a couple of atmospheres and their impact on render times …

… I went ahead and rendered a very basic version of the entire animation:

I might have experienced a sense of relief when it finished rendering but my hard drive died a few hours later.

So, why all this Strider crap? Well, back then, I was still hell-bent on creating a Half-Life 2 short film. My ingenious plan was to take advantage of the massive, pre-existing fanbase of Half-Life players and thus have a guaranteed audience of millions. How’s this for vindication of that theory? The Purchase Brothers actually did make a Half-Life 2 short film, racked up over 1.5 million views within a week (on YouTube alone) and were then signed up by CAA, one of the biggest talent agencies in Hollywood.

Man, I’m glad that didn’t happen to me!

After conceding that I’d been beaten to the punch, I said to myself, “What the hell was I thinking, anyway? I should be using my imagination to create something entirely new; not exploiting a pre-existing franchise for personal gain. I’m not Uwe Boll.”

I went on to write just under twenty stories and from that batch selected one to turn into my first short film. So, from now on, my every waking moment will be dedicated to that project.

Hopefully, it won’t suck.


February 12, 2009

What’s it been? Six months?

Filed under: Vue 6 xStream,Vue 7 xStream — april15th @ 5:39 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thought I’d write a new post … much though I loathe the idea of spoiling you people.

By the way, what is the deal with screenwriters establishing a character’s history with the phrasing I used for the title of this post? As in: “Hey, Mitch … you’ve been on the force for, what, twelve years?” or “You’ve been working on that novel for how long? Eight years? When are you going to face reality?”

I’d really like to create a montage of shots that use that exact phrasing; it really bothers me for some reason.

Incidentally, the “UFOs at the You Yangs” project has not been abandoned or anything. I’ll be sure to post an update very soon — perhaps as early as next week — because it is something I’m keen to prioritise. In recent months, though, both the need and desire to learn more about Vue has taken precedence.

I can’t believe it’s been, what, five-and-a-half months since my last post? All that time I’ve been learning cool things, taking photographs, crying for no reason, and conducting all sorts of CG-related experiments. Though I haven’t taken the time to write, I’ve always had plenty of things to write about. Just now, for example, I noticed one of the pictures behind me was hanging at an angle. Interesting!

Most of my studying time has been devoted to Vue and because I like to practice as I go, I’ve been slowly-but-surely accumulating a weird array of experimental images and video clips.

This time last month, I spent a couple of days learning how to simulate depth of field (the distance between the nearest and farthest parts of the ‘sharply focused’ area of an image). When you’re taking photographs with a decent camera, you can achieve a lovely depth of field by using a combination of aperture and exposure settings. Like so:


Vue allows you to achieve a similar effect by specifying a blur percentage and range of focus:

Ship - Depth of Field Settings

See those dotted lines to the fore and aft of the ship? They outline the depth of field. The settings in that screenshot (12m Focus, 15% Blur) yielded this:

Ship - Depth of Field - RT-6h5m2

For the sake of comparison, I also rendered two versions of an X-Wing, one with depth of field and one without:

Cool, huh? Now, how about a row of pyramids at sunset:

Pyramids - Depth of Field, 10-passes - RT-53m11s

Boy, do I envy people who wear glasses. All they have to do is take them off and they get to see the world that way whenever they want! Lucky

Another awesome thing you can do with Vue is create EcoSystems. Generally-speaking, they’re the means by which users create natural-looking forests, rock formations, cities, etc. but you can also use EcoSystems to create all manner of cool-looking shit:

(You can click on most of those images for larger versions, so … go nuts.)

I’ll leave it at that for now but before I sign off, I’d really like to congratulate the WordPress code monkeys on coming up with the most insane image-management system yet. Every incarnation is more aggravating than the last. Nice going.

August 23, 2008

UFOs at the You Yangs (Part 1)

Filed under: Vue 6 xStream — april15th @ 5:04 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of UFO footage.

Enough to warrant the design of a simple, hierarchical classification system?

Err … sure, why not?

You may have noticed the absence of a category for crystal clear, non-hoaxed footage of extra-terrestrial spacecraft. I’m afraid that’s because I’ve never seen any footage that would warrant the inclusion of such a category. Find me some and I’ll update the system, otherwise I’m sure whatever you’ve seen could easily find its way into one of the pre-existing categories.

Here are some examples:

Type 1-Ai1, 2, 3,

Type 1-Aii1, 2, 3, 4, 5,

Type 1-B1, 2, 3, 4, 5,

Type 2-A1, 2, 3, 4,

Type 2-B1, 2,

I’ll keep adding links until there are at least ten for each category. If you want to nominate any, just let me know and I’ll do an update.

Now, I’m not saying spacecraft flown by extra-terrestrials have never been filmed by humans; only that I’ve never seen any conclusive footage. All the high-quality UFOs videos I’ve seen have been hoaxes or artwork.

Why are there no high-quality videos of the real thing? I know what Occam’s Razor would have us conclude … but that’s no fun. I’d rather believe the government has seized all the best footage and kept secret our regular contact with extra-terrestrial civilisations. Bastards!

I’m probably coming across as skeptical to the point of being close-minded but I’m not. Honestly. I would love nothing more than to be provided with unassailable proof of the existence of advanced extra-terrestrial civilisations; it’s because I’m so taken with the idea that I can’t settle for lousy footage of some tiny, blurry shape in a distant cloud. Nor can I settle for eyewitness accounts because I have no way of knowing whether or not people are reliable / honest / capable of distinguishing between oil refineries and flying saucers. There’s a huge difference between seeing something incredible with my own eyes and merely wanting to believe the testimony of an eyewitness.

The reason I brought this up is that I’ve decided to create CG footage of a UFO (or two) at the You Yangs. I’m going to make the entire video CG and strive for photorealism but I’m not going to try and pass it off as real. Mine will be Type 1-B footage; a project undertaken so that I can learn more about visual effects.

I’ll post blog entries as I complete each stage of the project. Partly to keep you, my loyal reader, in the loop but mainly because I’d like to receive feedback and ideas throughout the video’s development.

Sound good?

September 20, 2007

CGI Recognition Challenge! (Part 2)

Filed under: 3ds Max 9,CGI Recognition,Photographs — april15th @ 12:47 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

This one’s somewhat trickier than the last but if you know anything about Newton’s law of universal gravitation, you’re off to a good start.

September 4, 2007

CGI Recognition Challenge!

Filed under: 3ds Max 9,CGI Recognition — april15th @ 1:19 am
Tags: , , , ,

The photograph below shows my fireplace mantel, along with an assortment of random objects. Composited somewhere amongst the real-world objects is a synthetic object rendered with light more or less identical to that found in the original scene.

Can you spot the computer-generated image?

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