I Don't Know Nothin'

Posted Sunday, July 11, 2010, 7:02 PM

Sometimes I wish I had a tutor looking over my shoulder, giving me tips and step-by-step lessons.

My current hobby, amongst many, is that of visual effects. That includes 3D Modelling, Texturing, and Animation, as well as Compositing, Rotoscoping, and anything else that comes up as needs must.

In the professional Visual Effects industry you can specialise in any one of those disciplines, but when you're an amateur just trying to put something cool together, you have to know a little bit of everything. I do know a little bit of everything, but only a little. It's not quite enough of any one of them to get professional work straight away, but it's plenty enough to continue as an amateur.

My skills lack mostly in understanding the tools I have at hand. Though I have many excellent books, and there are plenty of great websites to get some tips from, including Video CoPilot and SpinQuad, there's nothing quite as useful as turning to an experienced person when you're stuck and asking them just how to achieve the fiddly thing that's missing.

I have a good eye. I can look at a clip and see what it needs and have a reasonably good idea of how to achieve that, in principle. But in terms of actual execution, I am average at best, and struggle.

In the picture above, which is from a clip about ten seconds long, only the soldier is real. Everything else is digitally created or a manipulated still image photograph. I had to: key out the greenscreen, and then rotoscope around the soldier for his every move to give him a clean edge (and also the second soldier who has since been cropped out of the shot); build and texture the truck model, animate it coming down the road; build and texture the road and walls using a blend of several photographs; and then composite them all together using a series of layers, tracked to the original camera shake, and colour graded so that all the disparate elements fit together as a whole.

I have worked on this shot for over a year, from prepping and shooting the plate of the soldiers, modelling the truck, through to assembling the pieces, and then subtly adjusting it until it has reached its final stage. In that time I learned a lot about modelling a vehicle; about animating wheels; about rotoscoping in separate chunks instead of in one big go; about colour grading; about "expressions" which are mathematical ways to manipulate 2D layers; about "Depth Maps" which are greyscale images that represent the Z-Scale, or depth, of a 2D image or clip to give me virtual 3D to play with; and about "chromakey" which is a method of removing a single colour from an image, such as for a greenscreen.

If I had a tutor, guidance from an expert, I could have finished it much sooner, and with less struggle, and perhaps even more efficiently using techniques and tools I've not even touched before. I do wish I had the time and money to organise something like that. But I don't even know where to turn. I'm no beginner, so a regular Night School course isn't quite what I'm after, but there are no doubt many beginner's steps that I do need to brush up on before I can skip to the top level.

Until I figure myself out, I will enjoy being jack of all trades, master of none, and be thrilled by those artists who really know what they're doing, and who produce first class awe-inspiring work every time.

3 Reasoned Responses:

Jet Simian said...

That's some time to work on ten seconds, and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished result because I know you have very high standards regarding your work. But the great thing about this is that knowledge isn't usually temporary. The next ten seconds will be a lot shorter in the making, right?

Cameron said...

I'm always around should you want any tips, just shoot me an email when you're after some :-)

GuanoLad said...

Sounds great!

Can you come round to my house every time I decide to composite something on my crazed late night whims? I might do something tonight. Or tomorrow afternoon. Or next Tuesday. Or not.

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