The process of environment design has not been without challenge. In an unexpected predicament, I had not expected time-consuming to be one. However, as the weeks proceeded on in an alarmingly fast fashion, I found myself consumed by the task of creating environment concepts that I was unable to actually model any of them.
Figure 1.1 – Shown above, the storyboards that Jess created for the animatic. They demonstrate the actions that occur within the environment.
The last environment to be designed was the hallway. The role that it plays within the animation serves as a transitional stage in the narrative, when Attracta discusses Zara’s behaviour as excitable and happy within the comforts of her home. The scenario is a pleasant experience; a lot of positive emotion is evident her voice as she recalls the playful nature Zara exuded and even causes an exchange of laughter between Jess and her grandmother as they share in reflection.
This was a fantastic resource to have for planning. The hallway, unlike the other environments that I had designed, was not a room for functionality or rest. The hallways and stairways of a home are purely for a transition from one area to the next. However, they are also areas that contain the most personalised decoration; often filled with an array of pictures, decorative plants and other dress furniture that give the space personality.
The feedback that has been received for the work that we have presented during our bi-monthly meeting has remain directed on one particularly interesting note; showing a progression of time. Zara lived with Jess’s family for a few years – finding a way of communicating that aspect of the experience would be difficult.
Reviewing all of the locations that had been designed, including the ones that were in the stages of being modelled, it was not immediately clear where the best location would be to demonstrate a progression of time. This was disappointing, as the team felt that it would be a nice touch to implement within the animation, if it could be done subtly.
It was whilst creating the concept art that it occurred to me that the hallway may in be the better-suited environment to achieve this task. The actions occurring within the scene were of transition, so it seemed reasonable that the hallway could evolve in a similar fashion. In figure 1.3, I explore the idea of a dual environment, listed as partial and full construction.
In figure 1.3, I explore the idea of a dual environment; listed as partial and full construction. The concept that I had was influenced by our discussions as a team regarding the implementing transparency within the scenes. I wanted to create the impression that the early rendition of the hallway – ‘partial construct’ – was a hazed memory. The environment was secondary to Zara; it was a logical choice to make the assets within the scene appear unfinished, with only their black outlines visible rather than texture and lines. I talk about the challenge of design that implements psychological representation in the Parallax blog post, located here.
The blueprint plan for the hallway can be seen in figure 1.4. The plan lays out each asset in correlation to the camera, in addition to the positioning and movement within the scene. The plan was beneficial due to the fact that it enabled me to see exactly what may be on screen, and where to spend the most effort during the modelling and texturing process; leave the detail to the areas where the audience can see and appreciate it.
Figure 1.5 – Shown above, the transition of time shown through rotational camera movement in ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’ (2009).
The secondary benefit of the blueprint was that I could see when a pause occurs within the timeline, and work with that to create the distinction of a time lapse. The intention is for the environment to change around Zara as she occupies the space; filling it with her presence. In the example shown in Figure 1.5, the audience is aware of the spiralling depression that the protagonist, Bella, has fallen into as a result of heartbreak. The movement – a rotation around her as she sits, unmoved, as the seasons and environment change around her. The movement is very appropriate for this scene, as the character expresses the endless cycle of her emotions, thoughts and difficulties. The colour was another subtle touch that complimented the perception of the emotion and tone during this scene. The exterior environment gradually becomes more barren as the seasons change from autumn to winter, and the colour drains from vibrant green, red and oranges to cold, harsh blues and white. Additionally, the lighting gradually darkens too, creating a jarring impact as its impact becomes more prevalent on the screen.
However, it is not the intention to create such a bleak outcome within the hallway scene; figure 1.5 gives an insight into the effectiveness and demonstrates how the concept communicates on screen. Whilst it is only one of likely hundreds of methods of achieving the intention, I felt that the example had a strong impact in achieving the transition of time while also communicating the decline of emotional wellbeing.
For Pethood, it is unnecessary to have such a potent result; creating such a jarring transition would be unsuitable for the tone, contrasting the flow of the narrative and potentially distracting the viewer from the main focus – Zara. Nevertheless, the camera movement within the scene does have more significance than to simply follow the character and ensure that she remains on the screen; it can compliment the communication of reminiscent memory.
Figure 1.6 – Shown above, the continuous shot from the opening of Spectre (2015). The scene proceeded without a cut for nearly four minutes.
The majority of the animated documentary is considered as one continuous shot (also known as a long shot). It is a lesser used technique in filmography, due to the technical demands of camera operations and strict choreography. It has been used in film and television shows such as Birdman (2014), and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005).
Figure 1.6 demonstrates the use of the continuous shot in the opening sequence of Spectre, with a range of different camera shots such as an establishing, close up, and mid shots. Considering the logistics of such undertaking such a shot, the sequence is a complement to the scale and ambition of the concept. The various adjustments to the movements enable the audience to appreciate the scale of the scene, the location of the events, and the sense of humour that is often depicted within the Bond franchise.
However, as Pethood is an animated documentary that has been configured entirely for a three-dimensional medium. Given the nature of our project, it was within reason that we could replicate this shot with less logistical nightmare than that of a live action film. It is a benefit that the team has chosen to have a consistent camera throughout the entire piece – the panning from left to right, and the lack of distinct cuts within the edit keep the flow running smoothly. The continuity shot and panning movements will replicate the reminiscent nature of a memory, which is what the team hope to achieve. The pass from side to side is an imitation of the change from past – to the left, and right, to a more current memory.
Figure 1.7 – Shown above, stills from 101 Dalmatians (1996) that illustrate Walt Peregoy’s artistic influence.
The hallway, with a natural space of longevity, is a perfect opportunity to experiment with our intentions. I referred to the interior paintings of Walt Peregoy to gain a sense of his placement and decorum choices that are present within his work, in addition to his choice of colour and line.
In my personal opinion, the choice of medium and style is reminiscent of the geometric patterns seen within the Art Deco movement that was heavily prevalent in the 1920s and 30s. In figure 1.8 (Shown above), the correlation of shape, space, colour and line are corresponding of one another. In particular, there is a heavy influence in the choice of colour palettes within both pieces; the warm tonal depth of the primary yellow group, balanced by the grounding tones of green and blue. It creates a harmonious balance between the two statements; cold colours are muted, whereas the warm colours allude to excitement and energy.
In the coloured concepts featured above in figure 1.9, my intention was to use artistic freedom to explore a design that suggested to the influential styling of Peregoy, such as the linework and de-saturated tonal range, fused with a personalised touch that was a representant of the team. Regarding colour association with our project, the shade that stands amongst the rest is a pastel shade of blue. Secondary to that is brown; it is within almost every environment and on Zara’s fur. It stands for security and solidarity – an important element within an animated documentary that addresses memory and experience.
The partial construct stage is overwhelmed by the tone of green – representing the hope and nurturing experience. In the respect of the animation, those idealisms are in the newfound relationship between Jess’s family and Zara, as an establishment is made within the confines of the family home. There is a minor flux of orange for excitement, balanced by the solid nature of the brown to ground emotions and prevent overexcitement.
The full construct shows the development in tone, as the hope and gentleness of a new relationship have blossomed into happiness and joy. That minor flux of energy has increased somewhat, but is subtle in comparison to the excitable nature of Zara as she enters the scene.
Figure 2.0 – Shown above, some progress shots from the hallway. This was after all assets had been created, and texture maps were being tested on their designated pieces of furniture.
The modelling stage was a pretty standard process. This has only been my second attempt at three-dimensional set design, with the first being the Berlin scene from second year (here). I feel a lot more confident in my abilities than I had during that time, and after a slightly frustrating start, I quickly managed to get into a productive rhythm. For the assets within the scene, I adopted characteristics from the Art Deco movement; balancing square and rectangular shapes, and offsetting those harsh lines with curved edges. In the bottom row of figure 2.0, the examples demonstrate an adoption of the layout influence that was exhibited in Peregoy’s work; the off-centre arrangement of photo frames upon the wall. The asymmetrical placement gives an endearing, interesting impression that would elude to playful and eccentric nature within the environment. However, this layout was changed at a later stage in the texturing process due to pragmatic decisions.
The UV unwrapping and texturing tasks followed in a similar fashion. Despite having only gained the knowledge for the process last semester by creating the boy model, it did not take long for me to adapt that information in order to apply it to an environment. I found the process to be quite meticulous, but the repetitive pattern made the work theurapeutic. The difficulty began to present itself during the texturing process for the picture frames, as there had been some sort of misunderstanding; I had believed that we were going to be using real photographs of Jess and her family to occupy that space (with a filter to distort the realism). However, Jess made it aware that she would not be able to accommodate that as she did not have access to those images. To compromise, the number of picture frames within the environment were reduced and the images used are a mixture of concept art and ‘painted’ photographs.
Figure 2.1 – Shown above, most of the photo textures depicting the paintings I created for the photo frames. I insisted on creating these images as I felt it gave the environment a homely and personable element that otherwise may have been lost.
Figure 2.2 – Shown above, the photo textures with artwork created by Jess; including the concept art from the pre-production stage of the project.
Once the texturing process was complete, it was time to focus on the line art aesthetic that Jess had been creating through her experimentation with texturing and the Arnold render. The process was initially very challenging, and I found myself struggling to imagine the object with the intended look from painting blindly along the edges of the UV snapshot.
Applying the texture and getting it to work as intended in Maya was another challenge entirely. I had been aware of the required process; creating a duplicated mesh of the object in question, applying an AIstandard of the line texture with transparency, and voila!
Figure 2.4 – Shown above, the three-dimensional look development that Jess created during the experimentation process of achieving the intended art style.
Unfortunately, it did not run as smoothly as that; despite consulting the Solid Angle website tutorial on refraction and opacity, I found it difficult to understand the exact procedure, and struggled to identify where I had been going wrong.
Fortunately, a quick consultation with Jess resulted in the identification of the issue. I had completely misunderstood the alpha map requirement, which was essential in getting the line-art texture to display transparency. Once that knowledge was gained, the rest of the lined process followed in a similar methodical fashion to that of the coloured texturing task. However, the line-art required a lot more additional render tests in order to ensure that the style was working correctly and compliment to the aesthetic. Textures such as the doors and side cabinet did require retexturing, but otherwise, it was a straightforward process. I had some difficulty in achieving the transparency for the coloured textures, and for the purpose of creating an impression of the transparent, faded approach that we wanted to create, using white as a stand-in replacement. Katie later assisted in rectifying the issue, explaining that incorrect alpha-mapping had been the cause. In creating the transparency map, I was not aware that transparency maps are required to be in black and white – an easy mistake to make, but luckily, also an easy correction.
Figure 2.6 – Shown above, the renders of the dual-aspect hallway environment.
In summary, I am very happy with the outcome of my task, as it has remained true to the concept – with the exception of minor adjustments. It has been an interesting challenge and has given me an opportunity to develop my three-dimensional modelling abilities. By placing it amongst the other environments for the film, it reassures me that I am able to match the quality and detail set by the other members of my team; my confidence with Maya has not always been great – that reassurance inspires me to experiment and further develop my skills so that I may continue to create work of this standard and appeal.
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Spectre. (2015). [film] Directed by S. Mendes. United Kingdom, United States: Columbia Pictures.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon. (2009). [film] Directed by C. Weitz. United States: Summit Entertainment.
Walt Peregoy (n.d.). Walt Peregoy – 101 Dalmatians. [image] Available at: http://ollyfisk.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/inspiration-why-thanks-walt-peregoy.html [Accessed 11 May 2017].