Archive for the ‘Plague Doctor’ Category

And Knowing is Half the Battle (Conclusion)

This project has been a real learning experience. A trial by fire, but an educational one. What better way to experience just how fragile an animation production is than to experience one burning right around you? An exercise in compromise, subterfuge and meddling, all topped off with mutiny and hidden loathing. What a fantastic way to learn, and that’s no lie.

My leadership skills are, admittedly, very poor. I have never had any luck with identifying faults and organising people.  I think I handled myself quite well, considering, even though there were several casualties along the way. My animation directorial debut was more successful than I imagined it would be.

Well, what have I learnt? I have brushed up on my rigging skills, and am now confident with set driven keys, expressions, and clusters, along with blend shapes and other such things. I have learnt more efficient UV Mapping, how to quickly animate scenes and most importantly, how to not get disheartened when everything goes to pot. I must have had about three nervous breakdowns in the course of this project, but even that has not stopped me from continuing.

Learning hown to quickly adapt to new troubles and incompetencies is one of the most valued skills I could ever learn. By being willing to get down and do any work that needed to be doing, regardless of my role, I feel I have lead a most productive role in this year’s project. Even if the project is unfinished and silent, I really have learnt more invaluable lessons than I would have had it not been the trainwreck it was.

In future, I will not make the following mistakes:

– I will not be too flexible with the animatic. Sometimes the simpler idea is better.

– I will not make a high poly film. 1000 plus a baked on lighting system is enough for me, as I enjoy low poly modelling.

– I will check the credentials of people to see where their strengths and weaknesses (both professional and regarding work ethic) lie.

– I will never, ever try to make something too ambitious on a moldy foundation.

There is nothing more for me to say, other than me and Nunu are still working on the film. It will get done, if it’s the last thing I ever do.

Giving the World some Texture (Texture Mapping)

Long story short, my texture artist got lazy and painted everything lilac. I asked her to texture things properly, but once again I had to swoop in, and rescue the day with my terrible, terrible texturing skills.

Here is a barrel, there are many like it, but this one is mine.Here is my attempt at texturing a barrel. It looks like something from a videogame, says almost everyone.

Here is a signHere is the sign. Originally it was lilac with a texture only where the sign’s picture was. I cleaned up the UV map, textured it with a coffee-stained wood, and changed it to a Phong E, and added a nice little bump map to it, then I added some more mesh to that when it rendered, it would look real sweet.

Then I accidentally lost the file and did it all over again. Hooray!

I am not a texture artist. But, it was pretty fun to do. Wenjie’s mesh was nice to work with when it wasn’t overcomplicated.

Bringing the Dead to Life (Animation)

This was the part that I was simultaineously anticipating and dreading. I loathe doing 3D animation and love 2D, and wanted someone else to do the 3D part. Alas, this was not to be, as noone else wanted to do it. So, swallowing my pride, I set to the arduous task of animating what was possibly the worst rig ever to be invented.

It did not go well.

Here is the first shot I animated, and my favorite. The rendered version is, unfortunately, broken, so this is all I can supply.

Here is another shot I animated.

Here is a sign I rigged and animated. It is merely two set driven keys, one for the chain and the sign, one for the sign alone. It creates a nice little bit of follow through.

Here are some of the 2D pieces I animated. They are rough, as Nunu was in charge of the cleanup.

And a special effects shot I animated for a sword slash, in the shape of the elder sign the hero wears as a broach around his neck:


I do not think I left myself enough time to animate the characters on this project. I only managed to get to the animation towards the end of the project, after doing everything else necessary on the project, and for this I am saddened, since I loved doing the animation, even if the rig was terrible and nothing worked like I had planned it. My animation was floaty and indistinct on the plague doctor, and too snappy and abrupt for the hero. I lost all pretense of subtlety and in hindsight, I probably should have designed the character better.

I did enjoy animating the plague doctor’s shadow, however. That was really fun.

Live and learn though, eh?

Lovecraft Hates Your Guts, But Hastur Loves Them (The Hero)

ORIGINALLY, there was going to be three heroes. One big and burly, one small and cowardly, and the other a true hero. This didn’t pan out, as I didn’t have enough time to animate them all. But here they are anyway!



The burly man was the most difficult to design, and his process was basically one of caricaturing caricatures until it was ridiculous, and then toning it down to a reasonable level.

The series of images are here:
Man01 and Man02 are there to show Neil’s influence on my designs, that pushed me in the right direction. There are eighteen images in total, so I don’t want to post them here.

Paging Dr. Sniffles (The Main Character)

What is a story, without a good villain? We needed to have one of those, otherwise we’d only have a spooky alley and a brothel, which with minimal effort you could find anywhere.

From very early on I knew that I wouldn’t be able to rig a full character. It’s just one of those things I’m not fully ready for (and still am not).

I planned out the plague doctor’s rig like so:
A Rig Plan - Very Rough!

The rig, rudimentary as it was, allowed the plague doctor to bob up and down in a reasonable fascimile of walking while keeping thee amount of moving mesh to a minimum. This didn’t work out so well, nor did the nCloth theory, which was handled by our sadly departed member Anna. She also was to handle the modelling, but unfortunately she moved on before she could complete it. The slack was picked up by Sandra, though I had a hand in the final model (I had to remodel quite a bit of it before it was usable as a base mesh)

The final rig used a combination of Blend Shapes, clusters, bones and an IK system for the leg and arms (though when I animated it, I turned off the IK. I hate IK!). I tried to keep the mesh and rig as clean as possible. Unwise re-UVing later on (by another member of the group) ruined this somewhat.

The final rig, with Dr. Sniffles pointing accusingly

When it came to texturing, I didn’t want to do it, since I wanted to focus on getting the animation done. Unfortunately, I still had to do it. I created a texture plan for my group to follow when texturing Dr. Sniffles. However, this proved fruitless, so I did it myself.

Here is my texture plan:

This proved useful.... to me.

For the plague doctor’s clothing, I decided on a simple procedural velvet shader, overlaid with self illuminated bloodstains. This would allow for maximum form even if the lighting didn’t come out right. This technique is very popular on low end gaming consoles such as the Wii as it allows you to fake real lighting with a shader. I like the velvet shader.

He has leprosy wounds
And a real sweet hat

Naturally, coming from my background, everything I do looks like it belongs in a videogame, and not a fancy 3D film. What am I even doing.

Express Train to Development Hell (Preproduction)

The beginning of the project was hopeful, I had five associates to help me bring this thing to life. Little did I know that this project was on a express train to Hell, and I was the conductor.

I had a clear idea in my head what my story was going to be about. The doctor arrives out of the mist, walks through the street and kills everyone in a brothel. The idea got ridiculously more complicated as time went on, and in hindsight this was not a very good idea.

This was the original storyboard:

The following is a sample of the myriad animatics I did.

What went wrong, though? Did I stray too far from the abstract dread that sparked this project? Did I try to shoehorn in too much symbolism? Was I too willing to change my story? Am I just terrible at telling stories? The answers to these questions, like the true nature of the plague doctor, are shrouded in mystery.

I did learn a lot from these animatics (13 of them). Mostly it was to not make so many. I also learnt how to get a feel for the animation I was to do in the future. If I could not draw the pose in the animatic, it wasn’t likely I could animate it.

As an aside, I wrote a poem to accompany one iteration of the animatic. It’s too long and wordy, but I like it:

(Darkness. The sound of wind and the breying of some unseen beast)
In this town the madness brings
That nameless form who feasts on man
That twisted, veiled Yellow King
Who lurks in cursed Alderbaran.

(pan down from an alien sky, then:)
While in Carcosan streets we saw
The city bathed in vile light
of Yellow Signs – A servitor
Slithered foully through the night.

Guided by some loathsome hand,
The shape began to weave his dread
Diablerie upon the land
The city yielded in it’s stead.

The houses creaked, behind they shewn,
As from them ancient moss did slough
What ineffably it must have known:
Through there men sheltered even now.

And as it reached an awful hand
T’wards the nighted tavern door
To take the folk who dwelled, and brand
Them slaves of madness ever more.

We set our sights to kill this fiend
This alien and wretched thing
And with our blades, we intervened,
Drawn with a sharp and keening ring.

My friend, who until now was daring
did charge the thing, but as it turned
His valor drained and left him staring
Beyond the mask, to eyes that burned.

And clutching at the poor man’s arm
It channeled some dark flood of pain
Through him, and with great alarm
He crumpled to the floor, insane.

Now left alone, I drew my sword,
And faced the thing that maimed the friend
I knew so well, I gave my word:
This creature’s time is at an end.

From the Mist (Preproduction)

The idea for the plague doctor short came to me from my fascination with baroque horror – in particular, Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, and The Repairer of Reputations (a short story from a collection called The King in Yellow). The initial idea was for a mysterious, cloaked figure in a mask to hobble out of the mists, and visit pestilence and death upon a brothel. The reasons would be unexplained, and would begin and end in darkness.

Concept Art

The project evolved, and we took on a hero, someone to shine a light in the dark world:
The hero is everything the doctor is not
The project was to take place in a half-3D, half 2D nightmare world, twisted and warped by some unknown influence.

The project ended up as a half-3D, half-2D nightmare, twisted and warped by some unknown influences.