DJCAD MSc Animation & VFX

Semester 2

SEMESTER 2 FOCUS: 'Whale Heart' Animation & VFX

In semester two I focussed on completing the visual effects and animation for my short film ‘Whale Heart’.

There were 8 shots that required an animated whale composited into the scene, and a number of shots that required various types of vfx, including a cloth simulation, building destruction simulation and various methods of 3D camera tracking and compositing.

 

I plan to do the animation inside of Maya and the compositing inside Nuke, using After Effects only when necessary if I find myself stuck. I only have a little experience using Maya last semester to animate a floating mug, run some cloth simulation tests and learn about IBL, so this will definitely be a challenge and a huge learning curve. I also only have some experience using Nuke from last semester for some motion tracking and basic compositing. 

The aim by the end of this semester is to become a lot more confident and familiar with both Maya and Nuke, as well as gain a good understanding over Houdini, which I will be using for the building collapse simulation.

Whale Animation Reference

I like the elegancy of the CG flying whales from the music video (above), and I wanted to replicate this look to make my whale appear magical. In the real footage the whales (below) they work very hard with their tales to push the water and use a lot of muscle. For a gliding whale in the sky I think this look would be too much.

Whale Animation Reference

January 10th & 11th - Whale Animations - Learning Maya - Scene Setup

Lipin Murali from class showed me the basics of animating in Maya, using the whale model that I'd purchased from Turbosquid with the money I'd raised for the film. 

I prepared different Maya scenes as individual project files for each whale shot. I put them in their own folders with their own copy of the whale model Maya file. That way I could import the model into the scene and keep an original untampered with.

 

I made sure the number of frames matched the shot I was working with, that way I wasn't wasting time rendering, and I imported a clean still from the live plate to use as a background image plane, finally importing the whale and blocking it's start and end frame point using the background image plane as a guide for the composition.

 

I always rendered the shot from a fixed central camera as luckily all of my live plates are motion-trackable, so I have the luxury of skipping the step of 3D camera tracking. For the sake of learning, I did try 3D camera tracking on every live plate, but Nuke had a really hard time with my footage. It completely failed on 3 of the shots and the rest had very high error rates. I spoke with Sean Yu about this and he helped me understand why.

January 16th - Building Collapse Shot - Research

The decision to do this shot was spur of the moment - I saw the high rise block of flats whilst filming and remembered seeing a Houdini tutorial online for exploding part of a building in live action footage. It talked about baking the footage onto geometry to use as a texture. I decided to shoot it and figure out the VFX later.
 

A still from halfway through the clean plate, showing the challenge I had created
for myself by trying to explode part of the middle building with my actor standing in front of it:

I spoke with my VFX mentor (from AccessVFX) who talked me through some of the things that make a destruction simulation successful, in terms of the physics - the speed in which the building falls - and the amount of detail and rubble. The more smaller pieces that chip off the more realistic it is.

I also spoke with a former DJCAD MSc Animation & Visualisation student Graeme, who is now VFX Supervisor at The Mill in LA. He helped break down the process for completing this shot inside Houdini:

Track your camera
Duplicate the camera on a frame you think works for projection ie- best angle for building
Create geometry for building
Assign a utility or surface shader
Create a texture as projection
Set it to perspective and select your new projection camera
Render through tracked camera.

I also spoke with a VFX Production Co-ordinator at RISE FX in Berlin, and she told me from her experience the more gradual the destruction, the more high-end it looks, rather than it all falling apart at once like a house of cards.

My VFX mentor sent me this video to watch and understand how material fracturing works inside Houdini:

Bus Stop Sign Replacement - Nuke 3D Tracking & Compositing

 

I had two hand-held shots of a large bus stop sign that I needed to track and composite a new bus stop sign over the top.

 

Using After Effects like Photoshop, I made two poster images and added a shadow in the corner and edges to emulate the look of the real posters under the glass, catching a shadow from the metal frame. 

 

I added surface imperfections, making one look more like a canvas poster with large white smudges on the glass. The other I attempted to make look more digital with some chromatic aberration and playing with an overlay of tiny squares and the pixel distortion plugin.  

 

I went through several rounds of tweaking the temperature and values of the images, until it married with the live plate.

 

Following Sean Yu’s tutorials on lens un-distortion and 3D camera tracking in Nuke, I un-distorted my footage to make the bus stop lines straight, tracked the camera and used a Card Geo Node which I have learned is the way of placing a 2D plate into a scene which has 3D camera tracking. If it’s just match-moving you don’t need to use a Card Geo Node, just the Matchmove node.  

 

I also learnt that you need to increase the sample rate on the card geo node otherwise the edges are jagged and low quality.  

 

After a meeting with Susan, she gave me some good advice about the composition of my whale on the poster - it wasn’t obvious enough as a whale in the photo I created because of the angle we were looking at it from. 

Nuke Project Setup

Final Composite

Television VFX Shots

 

For the television shots I used Nuke to track the face of the television and composite the VFX element onto the TV screen.

 

I made the VFX element for the TV inside after effects by moving the TV plate into the correct position on frame 1 of the background plate, rotoscoping the edges to fit the edge of the TV screen, and added an Optics Compensation which is used to create or correct a fish eye effect, bulging the TV plate to be curved like the actual TV.

 

I exported the plate as a transparent TIF sequence so I had just the shape of the screen and transparent edges. I put it into Nuke and added the Matchmove Node I had created from tracking the TV. The TV VFX plate lined up perfectly with the TV throughout the handheld shot.

 

I used Edge Blur Nodes to soften the screen edge, experimenting with Glow Nodes, Grain, and Grading it to make sure the values matched the background plate.  

 

In the night time TV shots I struggled with the composition in trying to draw peoples eye towards the screen. I played around with the composition and finally came up with the idea of using stock water drips to add borders on either side of TV in order to direct attention of the eye towards the screen in the middle. I got dripping water stock from ActionVFX

 

I used a Kronos Node and Oflow Node to play with the speed of the water drops, and then used vignettes, glows, the defocus node and grading to merge it into the shot. I raised the blue levels to the glow nodes to mimic blue tv glare bouncing off the water drops, and in the close-up shot of the TV I added a mirrored reflection of the water drops, bulging them to resemble the bulge of the screen's glass.

TV VFX Breakdown

January 21st 2022 - Hanging Banner VFX

Begun creating the 'hanging banger' effect inside Maya using nCloth, after watching some videos on Youtube specific to nCloth and Flags:

Introduction To nCloth In Maya And Arnold Renderer - Tutorial - YouTube
Dynamic Flag In Maya And Arnold Renderer - Tutorial - YouTube

The two big challenges with this shot are: 

1. Matching the render camera angle in Maya with the angle of camera in the live plate.

2. Getting a shadow from the banner on the wall of the building.

Inside Maya, I created a scene with a camera, a background plate with a still from my live plate, and a polygon plane - the same dimensions as the 'Missing Whale Poster' texture I would be using on it - which was going to be my hanging banner. 

I moved the polygon plane into position and angled it to match the look of my background plate and added some contraints into the top corners of the banner for the points where it would be "attached" to the building. Although the live plate is a handheld shot, it is still enough that I felt I would be able to match move the rendered cloth simulation with the footage.

I create 3 sets of constraints on the points at the top of the plane and ran the simulation, playing around with the attributes of weight, frigidity, bend, bounce, and wind speeds until I got a look I was happy with; a weighted canvas cloth banner displaying a missing whale poster. 

The trickiest part was making the gravity match the angle of shot from the live plate. I played with the wind speed, direction and gravity direction settings to get the result.

Maya Scene

Hanging Banner V1.png

First Render

January 28th 2022 - Hanging Banner VFX - Improvements

I created a plane behind the cloth to use for catching a shadow, and a directional light to match the lighting in my scene. I made the plane a collision element for my cloth simulation.

Spoke with Sean Yu who told me to use an Arnold Matte Shadow texture, which only renders shadows that are captured by the geometry. I applied this to the plane behind the cloth.

Started learning about how to hide things rendering with Arnold inside Maya, by turning the "Camera" settings in the Attribute Editor, under the Arnold Tab, from 1 to 0.

However, I ran into problems and the shadow was rendering with large empty patches where the cloth appeared to be touching the plane. Kieran Duncan advised me to try making the cloth thicker so that the shadow plane wasn't getting confused when it came into contact with the cloth. I tried this, but unfortunately it didn't work.

In the end I faked the shadow by duplicating the final cloth render and positioning it behind the cloth render plate in the composition, skewing it a little and blending it in to look like a shadow. The results were good and even Sean Yu was unable to tell that it was just a duplicate of the cloth render plate.

Final Composition

January 31st 2022 - Whale Animation - Forest Shot

First attempt at animating the whale for the forest shot.

Even though the shot is handheld, I set up a scene using a fixed camera inside Maya. I've decided to motion track the whale render into this scene as there is very little movement from the camera and enough information from the static clouds and trees in the background to track the footage in Nuke for a good match-move.

This is one of the first times you see the full whale in the film, and so I wanted it to be a playful scene. I attempted an animation of the whale going from a swim movement into a barrel roll.

First Animation Attempt

1st February 2022 - LinkedIn Networking

 

Chatted with one of the recruiters at Rise FX in Berlin, she advised me to reach out to some people in the team to get a feel of what it’s like in the office. I reached out to some people in the FX and compositing department. 

10th February 2022 - Nuke Compositing Resource

 

After a meeting with Sean about help compositing the whale in the forest shot, he sent me a resource that lists how to do certain effects from After Effects inside Nuke. This was really helpful as I had ideas for how to complete the composite in After Effects, but the aim was to learn how to do it in Nuke.

​​Resource from Sean: https://taukeke.com/2016/03/recreate-after-effects-settings-in-nuke-and-vice-versa/

17th February 2022 - LinkedIn Networking

 

Had a chat with Micheal Huber, one of the trainee FX artists at Rise FX in Berlin. He told me that he started as a match move artist, then jumped over to FX, which was interesting as I feel my experience would give me more chance of getting a job as a matchmove artist, but really I want to work in FX. He also said to ‘forget Maya for VFX, everything is done in Houdini’. This has also been told to me by 2 other contacts on LinkedIn, and inspired my thinking to abandoned the ghost cloth effect I had been experimenting with last semester in Maya, and to learn it in Houdini instead.  

19th February 2022 - Building Collapse Shot - Modelling and Fracturing the Building in Houdini

I had to create geometry for a building that matched the shape of the building in my footage. From research, when doing these simulations you get more realistic results from destroying a building which has lots of detail on the interior; with different levels & different materials etc.

 

As a practice run, I followed a tutorial to create a building procedurally in Houdini by creating a grid plane and columns, and then resampling it to different co-ordinates meaning that I could manipulate how many levels the building had easily, duplicated the planes and columns as a collective.

This was all done inside of a Geo Node. 

Node Tree

Houdini Procedural Building Node Tree.jpg

Rendered Model

Houdini Procedural Building.jpg

Geometry Fracture Glitch & First Collapse Test Results

Following the above tutorial, I ran the node tree for my building into an RBD (Rigid Body Dynamics) Material Fracture Node, which automatically created cracks in the geometry, as well as added gravity and a ground plane for the simulation.

I added a Sphere Obj and connected it to the RBD Material Fracture simulation to the connection for collision objects. I then added in a transform node after the Sphere Obj and inserted an animation of it moving into the building, causing it to shift and fall apart at the cracks that had been created by the material fracture simulation.

However, I discovered Houdini was glitching and causing small shards of the cracked building to become jagged and stick out of the side of the building. I also found that the building came apart too easily and looked too thin and flimsy, so I started again and followed the above tutorial for building the model, as he created the walls and columns to be thicker.

NOTE: In early attempts I tried to only build the right hand section of geometry as I only wanted to chip off a small part of the right hand side, but I soon discovered that it was much harder to control the simulation as I thought, so in the end I built the main structure of the building and toppled that part instead.

For the camera material projection there were very few resources showing me specifically how to do it in Houdini. After a long search online I found these two videos which helped me understand it. The 2nd was the most useful:

Collision Geometry & Node Network

I used a slim oval shape like a whale's fin as the collision geometry of the building, and kept the render setting turned off so that it wasn’t visible in the final render. The building was collapsing nicely, except that it felt too crumbly and thin. I also wanted to try and condense the breakages to the one area of the building where it was being hit, rather than it breaking apart evenly all over. 

I made the walls thicker, and using point selection mode I used an Edit Node after the material fracture node to move the points of the breakage lines up to the one corner where I wanted my collision to be and have lots of smaller pieces of rubble.

 

I then turned on interior concrete texturing so that the breakages in the walls would look rougher like concrete. This caused Houdini to glitch again, causing random pieces of my walls to become inside out or missing.

 

I decided to start again using a completely solid shape for the geometry, to try and get more of a slow crumbling look. However, when I ran the simulation it was obvious that the building was solid on the inside and wasn't realistic. I tried adding a Boolean Node combined with a rectangular object slightly smaller than my building geometry to cut the inside out and make it hollow, but again it created more glitches.

Collision Geometry Network.png
Fin Collision 2.png
Fin Collision.png

28th February 2022 - Houdini Building Collapse Simulation - Fresh Start

I found a different tutorial for creating a building and fracturing it using a different method. I decided to try this instead to see if it fixed my walls glitch issue, and I also found this this tutorial had a more realistic result than the one I was following previously, as the collapse is more gradual:

 

Instead of using a Material Fracture RBD, the new tutorial was more of a manual approach to adding breakages:


Using a Grid Node,
Combined with a Mountain Node to create a waved plane,
Re-Sampling this plane to create multiple waved planes,

Using a Boolean Node to create cuts in the buildings where the planes are.

 

The building then had a lot of cracks that also affected the interior walls and worked as a substitute for the ‘interior concrete texture’ setting in the material fracture RBD, which was the thing that caused my first Houdini project to glitch.

 

I then moved all of the affected waved grid planes with an Edit Node, arranging the majority of cracks into the one corner that my collision geometry was going to hit. That area of geometry now had lots of small cracks whereas the rest of the building was made of fewer larger pieces. 

 

I had to play with the glue settings on my constraints so that when the collision geometry hit, the building collapsed in the correct way.  

I then watched this follow on tutorial for adding in smoke to my  simulation. This tutorial used Python to simulate VDB's that appeared at any points of the geometry where the building had cracked and was moving apart. These VDB's were affected by the gravity of the simulation and fell like bits of rubble and debris. Lastly I coloured the smoke using a 'billowy smoke texture' on the VDB's and tweaking the density and colour settings:

Another resource I used for fracture point placement:

Another resource I used for learning about making debris:

Another resource I used for learning about making debris:

Time-lapse of all my simulation attempts:

Final Render

11th March 2022 - Motion Blur in Nuke

 

Had a meeting with Sean about motion blur in Nuke.

I had been rendering out my animations using motion blur inside the Arnold Renderer, which I learnt from watching this tutorial:

Sean told me I should not apply Motion Blur in Arnold, as it is not how it is properly done in the industry. He told me I should render everything clean so I have the best render possible and more freedom to manipulate afterwards to get the correct look of motion blur in Nuke.

He showed me the Motion Blur Node inside of Nuke and how to use it, increasing the sample rate to add iterations to the blur, and also playing with the shutter time to increase or decrease the length/ amount of the blur.

15th March 2022 - 3D Tracking Nuke

 

I watched this tutorial to learn some tips on compositing into a tracked shot:

18th March 2022 - Houdini Render Settings

 

Had a meeting with Sean about render settings using Mantra Renderer in Houdini for my building collapse simulation.

He helped me source some videos specific to rendering my scene: 

Sean helped me properly understand different colour spaces in rendering and the process of what to do to make different colour space renders match up in compositing.

Source from Sean: https://learnopengl.com/Advanced-Lighting/Gamma-Correction

I discovered how to set the render in Mantra to linear colour space, which meant the same as RGB (the colour space of my footage). I learnt that Gamma 1.8 and Gamma 2.2 meant the amount of the gamma in the render that needed to be adjusted to make it match RGB colour space.

Texturing the Whale

 

These are some resources I watched to learn about how to correctly use displacement and bump maps inside of Maya:

I spoke with Sean Yu for help as I was struggling to find a good middle ground of my texturing between really smooth and overly bloated and rough. After some guidance and watching the above tutorials for using the Hypershade in Maya, I figured out the correct way to texture and render the model:
 

I learnt to texture the whale using an Arnold Surface Shader, putting the diffuse texture into the base colour channel, set to RGB color space.

 

I had to feed the bump map into the geometry section of the arnold shader; setting it to 'tangent space normals' rather than 'bump', and setting the colour space to RAW. I adjusted the bump scale depending on the shot; how far or close the whale was and how much detail was visible in the lighting.

 

The displacement map was fed into the displacement shader, and again the colour space had to be set to RAW.
 

I found the whale texture was too clean, so I added in some dust surface imperfections overlays onto the diffuse texture file, and also to the displacement map to add additional roughness to the look.

Before Imperfections

After Imperfections

Whale Skin Before.png
Whale Skin after.png
disp before.png
disp after.png

Arnold Hypershade Node Tree for the Whale

Whale Hypershade Node Tree.png

Typical Bump Map Settings 1

Bump Map Settings.png

Typical Bump Map Settings 2

Bump Map Settings 2.png

Typical Displacement Map Settings 1

disp settings 2.png

Typical Displacement Map Settings 2

disp settings 1.png

The only other settings that I needed to tweak for bump and displacement were in the 'subdivisions' and 'displacement attributes' tabs in the attribute editor of the whale model.

I was advised from tutorials to set the Type to Catclark, and set the iterations to 2. This added more contrast and shading to the bump map, giving the illusion of more height.

I also adjusted the 'height' of the displacement map so that the indents on the whale's skin were deeper.

Subdivisions.png

I also had to factor in render times as typically adding in the displacement map increased the render times by 5, going from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. In the end it was a process of adjusting the displacement height, bump depth and subdivision iterations, combined with good lighting to get the best look with manageable render times. 

Whale Skin Before Displacement

Slight Improvement, Sharp Edges

Too Much, Whale Looks Bloated

Final Look

Compositing the Building Collapse Simulation Render in Nuke

 

Once I had my building rendered as a Tiff sequence, I created a Nuke scene adding in my Whale Animation as a Tiff seuquence, the Building Houdini Render as a Tiff sequence, and my background plate.

 

I tracked two points on the central building in the background plate, and added a Matchmove Node to my building collapse render and whale animation render, using a Transform Node to correctly position them in the frame.

 

I found the whale animation wasn't marrying up to the building simulation the way I'd hoped. After playing with the positioning I realised that I needed to make one change to the whales fin animation, so I went back and re-rendered the whale animation.

 

I offset the building collapse start frame in the Read Node to time it with the fin going behind the building and the two renders now worked better with each other.

 

Using a combination of Rotoscoping, Edge Blur and Blur Nodes I removed the building from the background plate so that my rendered simulation was now in it's place.

 

The trickiest part was getting the line of trees at the bottom of the frame to be in front of the rendered building collapse sequence. I decided to export a clean frame as a Tiff image, and used Photoshop to delete everything around the trees at the bottom of the shot in front of the building. I then had a transparent image with the trees from my shot.

 

I added it to my Nuke scene, compositing it into the shot so that the building collapse render was now behind the line of trees. I duplicated it several times and moved it around to other areas of my composite where I was having difficulty getting a clean edge to my roto.

There was some difficulty in blending the actor in with the building collapse simulation as the edge of the actor is so out of focus.

I used a Lightwrap Node with the B source connection connected to the building simulation plate. This created an edge spill on the actor using colour information from the building collapse plate, helping to merge the two elements together in the scene.

I also used a Defocus Node on the rotoscoped actor to enlarge them a fraction and cover up the seems of the mask.

 

Nuke Project

Final Shot

Whale Jump Splash VFX Shot 

This shot is from a dream sequence in which the protagonist sees themselves in an old black and white styled film.

This shot is intended as a comedic moment, when the whale jumps out of the water in front of him. I wanted a big explosion of water and a glimpse of the whale as it soars up and out of the frame.

I used 4 different 'large water blast' stock elements from ActionVFX as the explosion of water when the whale jumps up through the frame. I did some tricks for photorealism; adding grain to the splash and adjusting the values, as well as using a Kronos node to change the playback speed of my VFX assets, as they were all filmed at 60fps and my footage was filmed at 24fps. 

I did the rotoscope of the actor inside after effects, and brought that into Nuke as a QuickTime file with the alpha channel.

I didn’t like the look of my background. The town across the water and hills were distracting, so I used another static shot of the ocean I had filmed in Mull for the background, adjusting the composition until the character sat well with the background and splashes. 

The whale was animated inside Maya, although it was barely any animation as it only appears for roughly 20 frames. I went through several rounds of animation until I got the speed just right. I needed to match the lighting on the plate with my actor, so I found an HDRI from HDRIHaven which gave me a sunset light closely resembling the lighting on my actor. I adjusted it the sun source position to match the actor.

Resource for Help Compositing Water Blasts

Full VFX Breakdown

Forest Whale Shot - Finalising Animation & Compositing

I went through more rounds of animation after Lipin gave me feedback about the ‘weight’ and how it was too ‘linear’. At first I was not sure exactly what he meant, but after doing the animation for all of the shots I feel I have a very good understanding of these concepts. Even though the whale is levitating, it still needs to seem like it’s the one keeping itself up there. I tried to make the fins and tail look as if there was more muscles being used to push it through the sky and adding a slight speed ramp or "arc" for the way it moves through the frame.

 

I used an Arnold directional light to get the rim light on the top of the whale, matching the lighting on my actor and the position of where the sun is in the footage. I also used a skydome light with low intensity to fill out the rest of the whale.

Whale Animation V2 & Composite

I had a lot of difficulty with the composite of this shot. I needed to composite the whale behind the trees and actor and into the sky, except that the trees and actor were out of focus at different amounts, and had a light blue glare around them which was an artefact created by the camera lens. 

 

My initial thought was to use the background plate as an Alpha mask, so that the dark values of the trees and actor would be layered on top of the whale tiff sequence.

 

I used a Luminance Keyer node, as well as a Blue Chroma Keylight Node (because of the clear blue sky in the background) and tweaking it with Grade Nodes and Edge Blur Nodes but nothing could create a perfect mask around the actor or trees. There was also a light blue glow around the mask. I had read of adding a Premult Node, something I’m still learning about, but there was still a thick blue glow around the mask. 

 

After a meeting with Sean Yu, I discovered the Erode Node and the Dilate Node. Both are similar methods of reducing or "pulling back" the mask created by the Luminance Keyer Node, shrinking the mask and feathering the edge either into or outside the mask. However, I met more problems as different parts of the tree were more or less out of focus, meaning some areas of the tree would be completely erased by the erode node whilst others wouldn’t.  

 

I needed to isolate just the pixels that were the correct dark tones of the branches and actor, and get rid of the blue glare. I knew that light wrap and light spill was a method of achieving photorealistic results. I had been able to use Light Wrap on my building collapse shot, but for some reason it did not give me the same results in this. I experimented with exporting tiff sequences of the transparent plate and adding a defocus node, or using chromatic aberration, but I could not get a perfect mask around the branches.

 

Chromatic aberration did work on the whale for getting it to mimic the blue glare artefact in the footage created by the lens. I kept the Red and Green values to 0 but moved blue to 0.1, adding a faint blue glare on the side where the sun was hitting the whale.

 

I spent a lot of time trying different combinations of nodes in different orders, and the whole process taught me a lot about Nuke and masking in general. However, in the end because of how much time it was taking, I cut a corner to make it work and reduced the scale of the whale and repositioned it to have it no longer covered by the tree. Obviously I’m not proud of this move, but in the process I discovered a lot of new Nodes such as Despill and Lightwrap, which I can work on learning next semester. 

Whale Animation V3 & Composite

I watched this tutorial to learn about light wrap:
 

Forest Nuke Project 2.png

My Nuke project. I created seperate networks for the mask around my actor, and the mask around the trees, as they required very different set ups. I rendered out these passes and then combined them with some rotoscoping to create the final image:
 

I was still unhappy with my project, and there was something off about the weight, perspective and scale of the whale. It felt too close to the trees and didn't look as if it was high up.

 

In the end, in true spirit of VFX and because of how much time it was taking, I cut a corner to make it work and reduced the scale of the whale, repositioned it to no longer be behind the tree.

 

Obviously I’m not proud of this move, but in the process it did fix my weight and height look issue with the whale, and I had a lot of practice in animation and using maya, so overall I am happy. I think it also plays better to the story if it is smaller and harder to make out the details as this is an early reveal in the film.

 

I learned a lot about Nuke and compositing, and discovered a lot of new nodes and methods of compositing such as Despill, Lightspill and Lightwrap, which I can work on learning more of next semester.

Whale Animation Version 4

Final Shot

Whale City Shot - Creating the Reflection & Final Composite

 

One of the challenges with this shot was creating a reflection of the whale on the side of the building on the left.

I created a large plane and positioned it in the scene. I did nothing to the material apart from make it fully "metallic" and reflective, to get a clean reflection of the whale.

 

I needed to distort the reflection to mimic the look of the reflections on the building in the footage. They are a bit bend an warped. I found some good normal maps for sand and water that created a similar distorted effect to the real reflections:

glassnorm.jpg
T_Water_N.jpg
Screenshot 3.png
Screenshot 4.png

I had an issue with trying to get a clean alpha mask around the whale in my reflection. The alpha channel in the Arnold Renderer was showing me that the entire plane was being registered. I spoke with Sean Yu who advised me on other options.
 

NewCityShotV7RenderReadyGREENMASK_1.0058.tif

I rendered out a pass of my animation with the Primary Visibility of the Whale Model Set to 0, but still visible in reflections.

I added a green material so that I could render out a reference Alpha matte in order to extrude my whale reflection with a transparent background.
 

Lamposts.png

In Nuke I added some lamposts into the empty space to try and create more lines in the composition leading your eye to the whale in the middle. Image from Pexels.

 

Final Shot

Birds Nuke.png

I did the same thing to the top of the frame with some stock footage of flying birds from Action VFX.

 

Final Shot

Whale Building Barrel Roll - Animation & Composite

 

This was similar to the challenge of the Forest shot except it was easier to get good results. Again, I had to divide the image into different sections in Nuke with rotoscoping, and create individual Alpha Luminance Keyer Node threads for each section depending on what I was masking, as everything was in different levels of focus.

I used Matchmoving to add the Whale animation, rendered as usual with a static camera from Maya. I also used Matchmoving on the building's rotoscope so that I didn't have to tweak it every frame, only occasionally. 

Unfortunately because I couldn't camera track this shot (Nuke kept failing) I feel the tracking of the shadow on the building isn't perfect, but hopefully in the speed of the shot it is not too noticeable.

I then added in a shadow which was a blurred, colour graded frame of the rendered Whale sequence, flipped with a reformat node.

As with all the other whale shots I used a combination of the following Nodes to composite the whale. This formula does differ from shot to shot, but I found that this was always my base go-to to work towards a photorealistic composite. It's been good to learn for future compositing work that I have a base guide to work from:

Transform 

Matchmove 

Grain 

Grade (for light levels) 

Colour Correct (for temperature, as I did the colouring and lighting to the render inside Maya) 

Edge Blur 

Defocus (if out of focus) 

Slap Comp First Animation Pass

Final Shot

Whales in the Mist Shot - Animation & Compositing

 

This was originally two shots. In the end I decided against having whales in the first shot for story purposes, but I used the rendered animation from that scene for the other shot.

I also used some stock fog footage which I blurred and overlaid over the top of my whales to immerse them more into the misty environment.

Full Breakdown

Reference for this shot:

Livingroom Window Whale Shot - Animation & Compositing

 

For this shot I used the barrel roll animation from the shot where the whale flies between two buildings. I positioned it far enough out of frame that it isn't obvious enough as recycled animation. I used a skydome light with a grey overcast HDRI, and an area light to fill out some of the shadows.

I outsourced the rotoscoping of the actor and the window frames. I animated the values of the rotoscoped layer to darken as the whale flies past, creating a shadow inside the room.

I also animated a shadow on the lower half of the outside building, adding it to the background plate behind the whale render and rotoscoped top layer.

Stairwell Window Whale Shot - Animation & Compositing

 

Another process of trial and error to figure out the best scale and position of the whale.

First Composite Test

Final Shot

Pre-mult & Unpre-mult  Nodes with Alpha Channels

 

I discovered that using a combination of the Pre-Mult and Unpre-Mult nodes when compositing the Building Collapse Render in Nuke fixes the very subtle dark outline around my rendered plate. In other tutorials I’ve followed, they also use premult nodes when using a luminance keying and chroma keying to remove faint light and dark lines around different plates. I was unsure why it did not help me with the forest whale composite for the faint light lines around the branches.

Sean Yu linked me to a video to help me understand what Pre-Multiplied and Unpre-multiplied meant with alpha channels:

Looking Ahead... Semester 3

 

At the beginning of the semester I was considering applying for jobs as a compositor, as I felt it was the area I had the most experience in, although I had mostly just used After Effects until this semester. 

After completing all of the animation & vfx for my short film, it has made me realise how much I enjoyed the FX side of it more than compositing; figuring out the cloth simulation and destruction simulation. 

I have decided not to go ahead with filming another live action short film in semester 3, as I feel like the production side of it would eat into too much of my time when I would prefer to just focus on becoming much more confident in Houdini and learn some further simulations and FX. After hearing from some LinkedIn contacts that Houdini is becoming the top used software in the industry for VFX I would like to spend the final semester learning as much about it as I can, with the hopes of getting a trainee FX position once I graduate, rather than becoming a trainee compositor.

I will focus on putting together a showreel of some VFX work created inside Houdini; probably a mixture of fully CG scenes and some that are composited onto live action footage.

I have already spoken with my classmate Haowen about doing a couple of FX in Houdini for his project, including a destruction simulation and some laser fire. I would like to build on my knowledge of the destruction simulation in Houdini and create something of much higher realism than the one I achieved this year.