CGSociety :: Tutorial
9 February 2010, by Richard Spriggs
The Runner movie.
The topic of 'Secret Agent' for the CG Society CGChallenge XXIV was very exciting for me. My goal was to make an animation that had an atmosphere of tension right from the start. I wanted it to be
fast-paced and exciting to watch. I began by making hand-drawn concept sketches, but in the end I planned out the work entirely in 3D which let the concept evolve as I made the work. As the Secret Agent
character was the main protagonist in the animation, I wrote the story around him: The Runner.
He would become a fast paced and agile character to tie in with the mood of the story. I knew that this character should not have the stereotypical 'Bond' persona, and so I decided he should be a more
atypical character who plays a fine line between a good and evil. It is only at the end of the animation that we find out that he is not the hero we have might have come to expect.
My main goal was to keep the story simple and execute it well. Other visual elements are placed in the opening hotel room scene to suggest a background to the story and which foreshadow the following
events. The end scene was important to loop the story back to the beginning scene to create a unity and shape to the whole animation. By looping the storyline it also might intrigue the viewer to take
another look at the whole animation again.
As there was no dialog to the animated film, I focused on making the animation of the characters carry much of the feel and atmosphere of the storyline. I tried to maintain a realistic feel with the
animation with some parts exaggerated to emphasize the Runner's sharp and quick skills. I watched a lot of parkour videos for reference to help portray these qualities.
One of the problems I faced was in trying to choreograph the actions of multiple characters to move naturally in relationship to each other without looking contrived. I spent quite a while trying to make it
look like each character was moving at their own pace yet within a reference to the actions of others.
When I work in animation I like to plan out entire scenes in my head before starting on the computer.
Once started, I usually try to have a balance of blocking and straight ahead animation. For the more complex sequences such as the fight scene, I like to break each shot down into one specific movement
at a time.
First I would start with the main action of the scene and then animate all the surrounding characters timed to that movement. For this, I animate straight ahead in spline mode as I find it easier to
determine the timing between characters.
I wanted the animation to be tight with no unnecessary scenes or events that would serve only to lengthen the animation, the action had to move the animation on at a fast pace that seemed appropriate to
The time constraints of the 'Secret Agent' completion meant that I had to make choices fast. This meant that I had to consider what I could save time on and also what I needed to spend the most time on to get the best result.
All the modeling for 'The Runner' was done in Maya. Many of the sets were built around the animated characters themselves.
I would animate the scene first with basic primitive polygon shapes to represent the set.
Once I was happy with the animation and camera angles I would then model the rest of the set. This was a way to model only what I needed for each scene so as not to waste time modeling backgrounds that
would not be in a particular shot.
I always made sure that the character models had correct topology, with correct edge loops, so that they would deform properly when animated.
The S.W.A.T. characters' faces were duplicated from the main character to save time and so that the same blend shapes could be used for them all.
The characters were stylized so that if I needed to exaggerate movements it would appear more believable.
The characters were rigged with a plug in for Maya called 'The Setup Machine 2' by Anzovin Studios. It was a great way to speed up the process of the rigging.
Rigs had IK/FK switches for arms and legs, spine, and head. Blend shapes were used for facial expressions.
I did 27 shapes in total for the face. I used set/driven key to make the eyelids follow the eyes to give them more of a natural feel. Controls were created to move the lids separately if needed.
For texturing, I used only color maps. I didn't use any spec or bump maps to save on time. While I could have done these I preferred to spend more time on the animation.
I UV'ed by hand, using mainly planar and cylindrical mapping while using automatic mapping for minor objects. Texture maps were usually 8K for the important assets and 2K for the less important ones.
Lighting was deliberately kept simple for each scene. I didn't use GI or final gather, instead I used a main light, fill light, and rim light for the basic lighting set up with more lights where they
were needed. I kept as much of the render on one layer so that the Maya render was almost the final render.
An ambient occlusion layer was added to this Maya render afterwards. The rendering time was around two minutes for the color pass and about another two minutes for the ambient occlusion pass. After
Effects was used for all the composting.
The sounds for 'The Runner' had to be energetic to help keep it exciting, but I didn't want it to be distracting from the animation. I had a hard time finding the right sound effects that fit well for
The audio was made in Adobe Premiere. I usually blended a combination of about five different sounds to get one that was closer to what I wanted. Ideally, it would be nice to have the equipment to record
the sounds I needed. But since I didn't, I found sounds from freesound.org and sounddogs.com, and from a previous sound library I had.
'The Runner' was created for the CGSociety CGChallenge XXIV: Secret Agent, where it won the Best Animation Award. I enjoyed every step of the way. I wanted to create something I would be proud of, so I
put a lot of effort into it.
I find good animation is really inspiring and I hope that my animation has the ability to inspire others. It was a lot of work and it was hard finding enough time to complete 'The Runner'. The animation
took three months to complete, I worked during evenings after work and on weekends to finish.
I am very grateful to the members of CGSociety who offered valuable suggestions during the creation of the animation, and I enjoyed the dialog and interest in the work.
My name is Richard Spriggs. I am 25 years old and I live in Toronto, where I currently work as an animator for Starz Animation.
I graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and I attended the post grad computer animation course at Sheridan College.
I really enjoy doing what I do. Animation is not only a job but a passion. I enjoy challenging myself and find a great sense of accomplishment in being able to bring characters to life.
I plan on working on more personal projects in the future which will be posted on CGSociety and my site.
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