Mondays Not Sundays is a 3D Animated short about someone who thinks they are late to their exam and has to rush to University. But it turns out that it’s actually Sunday and his exam is on the monday. The animation was created using Autodesk Maya, textured with Substance Painter and rendered with Arnold. 

My Role: 3D Artist, Animator and creator of the story. 

I decided early on that I wanted to use a professional style workflow for this piece as discussed in the essay and thus adopted ZBrush as my primary modelling tool for my character. This presented a long list of challenges which I went through in order to get my model finished. All these came before I could even get it into Maya and do anything with it.

Modelling my mesh took me a long time as I had to first learn ZBrush before I could even start to properly model. The workflow of ZBrush extremely different to that of Maya so this was a huge learning curve. Not only this but my character is a person which meant that I had to have a certain level of realism even though it was stylised. This meant that I had to learn about creating anatomically accurate meshes so they would deform in the correct way. I regularly made different saves in ZBrush so I could show the progress I made over the many weeks I spent modelling the character and then his clothes and accessories.

I have made a small compilation of the modelling process which can be seen here:

As you can see there were a lot of changes made from when I first started modelling my character. It was slow progress at first but as I became more familiar with the software things started to become second nature. By the end of it I had a model I was proud of. My model is by no means perfect however and it could’ve been better had I been able to spend longer developing it and learning the software. A few of the main issues I ran into were in creating the teeth, mouth cavity and clothes

The mouth cavity was an issue for a long time which was annoying as it would just fill it back in when I remeshed the model. This meant that I kept having to remodel the mouth after every remesh. This was time consuming and frustrating, but I eventually fixed it using a separate polygroup to force it to stay put. This fix saved me time as the project went further on as I didn’t really have to touch the cavity again as such.

The next thing I did was model the teeth, this took a lot of time as it was tedious placing cubes and shaping them with smooth tools and plane tools. It seemed like a bit of a waste of time for something you don’t really see but it added that bit of extra detail to the mesh so I ended up making them. This was no where near as complicated as making the clothes were though.

Clothes caused me lots of issues during the modelling process as they needed to be virtually identical to the mesh in order to deform well in Maya. This meant spending time extruding and inflating each element of a duplicated mesh to form each item of clothing. I used a few methods in order to create each element of the clothes. I started by duplicating the character mesh and then deleting loops of polys row by row until I got the shape I wanted. Once this part was done, I would then start inflating the mesh in each area so it sat outside of the skin mesh. I needed to make sure no parts overlapped or this would ruin the deformation in Maya. I would then go on to extrude the clothes to give them thickness and make them look more like clothes. This worked fine for the trousers however it caused lots of problems with the shirt as it would regularly crash ZBrush for some reason.

The issue set me back some time as I had to model the Shirt from scratch. However, this ended up being a positive as I was able to add flourishes to the shirt such as a collar and buttons. This made the model look a lot better as a whole and really tied the entire thing together. I am happy that I went through that process as it pushed me to create something better than what I had already.

After all this I was finally finished working in ZBrush and had to cross the bridge of moving everything into Maya. This is a complicated thing to do since they use different modelling techniques and handle files differently

I ended up using the subtool master within ZBrush to export each element of my mesh as a separate component. This worked well and I ended up with a .obj file for each element. This only worked because I modelled each element on a different subtool. Doing this helped me as it meant I could change something without having to change the entire model. Once exported I took it straight into Maya and reassembled all the pieces to form my character. I did a quick test rig and was delighted when everything worked properly after a few attempts. However, none of the placeholder textures came over from ZBrush due to them being incompatible so the next step was to texture my character.

I knew texturing my model was going to be a challenge as it was made up of lots of different elements and they all needed to be just right. At first, I attempted to do it inside Maya but the texturing capabilities aren’t good enough for my needs. Thus, I turned to something we had only briefly covered in class, Substance Painter. I chose Substance Painter because it has the sole purpose of texturing models and it’s a very powerful tool. However, I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable when it came to using it so I had to learn it just like ZBrush. This took a bit of time but once you get the hang of it you can get right into it. It comes with these smart materials which you can adapt to your models and paint on in certain ways. One of these was a kind of skin material which was exactly what I was looking for. However, before I could apply it I ran into another issue which took me back to ZBrush.

When I had finished modelling, I didn’t think about UV’s and textures and just exported them. This was an issue because I needed to create UV’s in order to texture properly. This meant going back and unwrapping each model and attract painting etc. This took me a while just to have to export them all over again. After I went through all that I was able to get it into substance painter and I spent time painting the entire body, eyes, hair, trousers, shoes and eyebrows. This took a long time to do since each model had to be imported in separately and painted by hand. I achieved this using the Wacom tablet with a little bit of time, effort and patience.

I stumbled onto a website run by the people who made substance painter called substance share which helped me somewhat when I got the shirt. The website has materials made by other people like the stock ones found in substance painter. Some of these are free and attribution free so I was able to find a shirt texture to use for my character. However there still came the issue of applying it which took a while. I kept having issues with the shirt seems going weird because of the UV maps. This meant constant back and forth between substance painter and ZBrush to try and fix the issue. Eventually I got a result I was satisfied with and that was pretty much it for texturing the character.

Once everything had been textured in substance painter, I was a little confused on how to get it back into Maya and had some difficulty trying to figure it out. After lots of research I found out you had to import each texture layer and map into Maya manually then apply them to each part of the model. Although it sounds easy the labels are very confusing and sometimes there would be up to 10 files per mesh to import onto an aiStandard Material. This caused some issues but eventually I got them all into Maya and was able to do the test render and I was very happy with the result I got.

Here is the initial test render I did:

After texturing I needed to move onto rigging my character. I needed a rig that would be able to walk, run and have some detailed movement in the hands. I watched lots of videos on rigging to try and figure it out and got the basics of it. With this base knowledge I was armed to tackle rigging my own character. I made a few rigs to start with which functioned well but weren’t deforming the way I wanted them to even after careful tweaking of paint weights. So, I started from scratch and decided to make two rigs. One for running and normal movement then another for walking and using fingers. This made things much easier and allowed me to get some finer hand control for opening doors. I tweaked and refined these rigs a fair bit to get them to function the way I wanted to and eventually got something I was happy with.

Before I moved onto animating though I wanted to make the rigs easier to use so I added handles to everything and set up all the ik handles and spines. Whilst working on this I gained knowledge on how the rigging systems work and how the hierarchy system effects the character in different ways. I decided to make the legs on both rigs ik so that I could get a more fluid natural movement from my character when I animated. I also set up ik spines and arms on both models for the same reason. Everything else I left including the fingers, this gave me better control over their movement which I what I needed so that they could open the door. Here are the finished rigs I created:

 

One of the biggest challenges I faced in this assignment was animating my character in each sequence. I decided that I wanted to tackle one of the harder ones first and ended up doing the run cycle for the few scenes I needed it. I used the slightly less complicated rig for this as can be seen here:

I started by watching tutorials on how run cycles work but they all moved too fast so I turned to reading some materials. After reading some things about the principles of run cycles and walk cycles I went on to try make one. Although my first attempt kind of worked it was lacklustre and felt like it was missing something. So, I moved on to recording myself walk and run, then watched videos of people running to try and capture some of that in my animation. I then went back into Maya to try and apply what I’d learnt which went well and I got something I was happy with. I spent some more time tweaking the frames between to try and make it consistent with a touch of inconsistency to make it more natural.

Animating the legs to run is only part of the issue though because the entire body moves in some way when you run. So, I moved onto making the body follow the movements of the legs. I did this by moving parts individually and adding keyframes until I got something that looked stylised but natural.

Exiting the bedroom was another scene which I needed to animate and was by far the hardest to do. This scene involves my character walking up to the door twisting the handle and then opening, pushing, walking and releasing the door. It was very complex and overwhelming. I couldn’t find any tutorials about making characters open doors so I just kind of had to improvise the entire scene from what I knew. For this scene I used the more complex rig that I had created with full finger controls. I needed the character to grab the door handles twist and pull back which was going to be a complicated movement.

I started by timing the movement of the walk to the door and the walk out of the door which ended up at about 4 seconds. Then I keyframe the character to walk across the floor without moving the legs so I could get a rough idea, by doing this I was able to do the grabbing action first instead of after. I moved through the time frame by frame to make my character grab the handle and twist it. This took a long time since I had to carefully position each finger after every slight movement. Once I had animated my character opening and pushing the door all I had to do was the feet movement. However, I think I should’ve done the walking part in advance instead as I couldn’t get it look as natural as I wanted it to. I got something which I was mostly satisfied with but I would’ve liked to have done it again had I not been on a deadline. But I am happy with the interaction my character makes with the door which is a positive.

Another sequence was when the character is stopped and hunched over. This one was another complicated one to animate as I wanted the character to have his hands on his legs. This meant using the complex rig so I could bend the fingers properly. I made the person lean back and fourth during the animation to show that he is trying to catch his breath. Then I worked on accentuating other body movements to follow the torso. This included making the head bob up and down slightly out of time with the torso and making the legs bend up and down. This combined with me carefully placing individual fingers on the legs in each frame got me an effect I was happy with. Animation with rigs was very time consuming and very challenging to do. However, using the different tools in Maya to make the model come to life was good. I have learnt lots about rigging and how it effects the movements and animations you can get from character. Bad rigging can really ruin animations and limit what you can do with the character. But through some experimentation I got the result I was going for.

Another form of an animation I implemented for my character was blend shapes. This means using duplicate meshes and tweaking verts to achieve a different appearance. I decided that I was going to use these to get some facial animations for my character. This meant creating duplicates of my model and individually moving the verts to form different facial expressions.

At first, I had the idea of moving things around in ZBrush with the move tool to create some blend shapes however they were temperamental and causing lots of buggy issues with my model. Even though some of them worked it was really hit and miss most of the time, due to this I decided I was going to re-do them all in Maya.

For some of the shapes Maya was clearly a better option, when I created the eye lids on the blend shape model it was so much easier than when I was trying in ZBrush and looked a lot better in the end. I created the eyes on the blend shapes by moving verts into a location from the top eyelid then using point snapping tool to attach the bottom verts to the top ones exactly and symmetrically. I had to make sure each eye was the exact same on both sides of the model in order to make it look good which made it take a bit longer. Here is the finished closed eye model after a render:

I also made lots of different mouth shapes to use in lots of different scenes.  These included mouth closed, yawn, lips pouting, shocked expressions, smiles and frowns. I made most of these using the vertex tools in Maya in the same way I did the eyes. However, I found a tool like the move tool in ZBrush which lets you move verts around in a similar way. This was one of the sculpting tools and it was very useful in creating some of the extreme shapes such as yawning. It allowed me to select a strength and drag the verts even whilst smoothing the mesh to create different shapes. This got me a better result as I could see what was happening in real time during smoothing.

Once I had created all my blend shapes all that was left to do was add them to the characters in each scene and key frame them in. This had some complications as it would sometimes break the rig when adding blend shapes so I would constantly have to start again. This was annoying but I eventually got them working in each scene. The outcome of using blend shapes has been good as I have been able to make my character have expressions. Every scene in the animation uses a blend shape whether to close the eyes or to move the mouth to simulate breathing.

The scene where it is used the most is the opening scene when the character can be seen sleeping. I made around 10 blend shapes for that scene so he could have his eyes closed and mumble his lips in the scene. I took some time to both make and apply them in the way I wanted but I got the result I wanted so it was worth it.

I thought the environment needed to be a big part of my animation since there 4 individual locations. I decided I wanted to create a good looking in environment for each scene. This meant modelling lots of smaller items, furniture, houses, roads, trees and more. I spent a while in Maya just making all these assets to construct my scene from and then went over to substance painter to texture everything. This was a long process due to the importing and exporting issue when using substance painter which I mentioned earlier. I got some textures I was really happy with that really brought each scene to life.

I spent a lot of time on the houses and university buildings since they had lots of elements which I modelled separately. I had to model them separately because of an issue I was having with texturing the extruded one I made. I tried to fix this and did some research but I couldn’t find anything. So, I resorted to modelling each element separately. This worked out better as I was able to get some more detailed textures out of ZBrush when working on smaller objects.  I used some attribution free textures from Substance Share then adapted them to fit my project. I really wanted the houses to stand out on the running scene so I spent time making the windows reflective and making a wooden style door. I am thrilled with the outcome in this scene which can be seen here:

Another environment object I spent lots of time on was the trees. I watch some tutorials to try and figure out how to model a tree in Maya but they were all overly complicated or outdated. I decided to try and model the branches and use a of plane with an image of leaves to create the greenery. This worked well initially but for some reason Arnold wouldn’t make the empty parts of the plane clear as they were in the render view. So, I spent some time and found a way to do it in Arnold textures using maps to mask out the unnecessary bits. This fixed the problem and made the leaves look real, this complete the tree which I am proud of. Different sizes and variations are in many scenes to show some scenery. Trees can be seen here:

Something else which took me time was getting the interior of the characters house right. I spent lots of time modelling the individual bits of furniture to make the room look full. I didn’t really do any research on this and decided I was going to model it after my room here at university. This gave me some visual reference and idea of what the room needed to look like. I room is almost a copy of my room with the same furniture and everything. Once modelled I once again textured everything in Substance Painter and imported all the files. Then worked on using ncloth for my bedding to get a natural droop over my characters body which went really well after some tinkering. This cloth helps bring the scene together as the character is wrapped up in it. I got a result I was more than pleased with as it looks nice in the render as can be seen here:

I did lots of other work on the environment too including making water for the park, paths and glass in Arnold. Overall, I am pleased with my environment as it looks really good when rendered.

Rendering was one of my biggest concerns with this project. I discussed lots of the challenges I faced with polycounts and general modelling in the software during my essay so I won’t go into too much detail on those. But polycount has been one of the primary issues I have faced apart from general learning of the software. My polycount wouldn’t go any lower than 200,000 verts without losing detail and breaking the mesh. This was potentially a big issue when it came to rendering especially since this was when unsmoothed.  Smoothing the finished mesh out in took me into the millions of verts. Luckily, I had enough computing power to render at home even with the sometimes hundreds of thousands of polys from each environment on top of the million. This didn’t mean it was easy though as some scenes were being awkward and not rendering animations, and some were only moving parts of the mesh. This meant going back and tweaking and try to fix problems constantly.

Once I got each scene to render properly it was just a waiting game. To finish rendering every scene it ended up taking over 100 hours. Luckily, I was able to work on my laptop and sleep whilst it rendered so I didn’t really lose any time for other projects. But it has taught me about how the poly count can make a render time go up exponentially.

As a whole rendering went well and I got some scenes which I really loved even with a few minor glitches. I rendered them in a good quality which adds to why it took so long too, but this also means that it will look good when I’ve edited it into a video.

After rendering I spent a few days in premiere pro importing pictures and building my film. This took a long time as there were lots of files and I had made too much in some cases. Once I had got the visual narrative laid out, I watched it through and made some cuts in scenes which felt too long to bring the entire thing together some more. I spent some time tweaking this before I moved onto the audio parts and effects.

Once I was happy with the way the film was looking, I started looking for some royalty free music online for the main section of the film but couldn’t find anything that fit the atmosphere so I decided that I wasn’t going to use any. Since there wasn’t going to be any music, I needed to design the sound well and record the voice over for the sequence.

I added some sounds from freesounds.org which were under a creative commons license to further develop my film. These were some basic things such as an alarm clock, harpsichord sound and some typewriter noise. I recorded the voice over myself for the film, the voice acting isn’t brilliant but I didn’t have anyone else on hand to do it. I think the audio in the film really ties everything together and assists in the storytelling element.

I added a typewriter kind of effect for the text transitions for my film. These only last a few seconds but I think they add to the reflective nature of the story I am telling. These effects took me a while to create but I am very happy with the overall outcome of my film. As a whole this project has been incredibly challenging but also very education for me. I’ve learnt so many new things about Maya and all this new software. I achieved what I set out to do in my essay and planning and more so I am thrilled with the final product.