Sir Argus the Dragon Killer

In between teaching Digital Compositing and Animation at Ringling College, I have the opportunity to continue working as a freelance CG artist in my favorite industry. One of the recent gigs was with my good friend Gianni- an amazingly talented Lighter and Compositor who has contributed to such classics as Star Trek Into Darkness, How to Train Your Dragon, A.I. and one of my all-time favorites: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Every frame in that movie is a painting. Logo_SunriseStudios

The task was to participate with an international team of artists in creating a promo spot for a new animation company in Saudi Arabia, Sunrise Studios. Since we were brought in after the project kicked off, we had to work with established models and pipelines. There’s a big difference between a 3D model and a production-ready, quality 3D model (more on this in an upcoming page).

You can’t sweep production flaws under the rug. If you have a internet-bought model, it may look great at first glance, but the rigging and texturing stage will expose every flaw. Plates, rotoscoping and keys are the baser for every good composite – if you have a weak foundation, the beautiful comp work will fall down in a heap of smoking pixels.

Our hero of the animation is Argus, the chubby Art Director you see in the above animation. I was initially brought on solely for Surfacing and Lookdev, but soon the script called for a knight battling a dragon. I love modeling, so I jumped at the chance. The knight you see in the turntable is actually Argus underneath, with a armor plating added on top.

Since I enjoy every part of production, I also got the chance to rig (adding joints and deformation controls to a model in order to animate). Drake the Dragon was another off-the-shelf model. He originally had shaders for Mental Ray, but our process adopted VRay (after an entertaining evaluation of the free 3Delight rendering engine ((you get what you pay for)). A lot of credit to Gianni for pulling a wonderful look out of almost zero pixel data on that dragon!

If you’re serious about animating, you need to dive into rigging, and you shouldn’t rig without a solid understanding of Animation. Especially on a team, you want to know what the artist before you and after you needs and is looking for. I’ve textured on a movie when the UVs were all created by modellers who had little understanding of bitmap real estate, memory overhead, etc. You don’t want frustrated co-workers because they’re not speaking the same language.

The quick little animation of the dragon was a lot of fun to create – how can you spend so much time building a car and not expect to take it out for a quick spin? Control shapes normally do not render, but you can trick Maya here and there if you want to have those in an actual render and not a PlayBlast.

By the way, if you raised an eyebrow at the green-screen cardboard-monster stand-in of the dragon, you’re not alone! Perhaps it’s the fanciest monster-stick in the world. Either way, if it’s in the script- I’m game for anything!


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