The dragon model is finished – for now

Dragon pose

Doing a short is definitely different to doing a still. Besides from being much more work, its the various aspects for animation influencing the modeling which kept me busy since the last update. And its a wealth of information about oneself.

I also learned to better economize my energy. I tend to immerse myself completely into the project, blending away hours far into the night. This is not advisable for a project like this, as the end point is too far away and I end up exhausted both emotionally and physically. This in turn affects motivation and I already had to experience my first low during this project.

Anyway, I think the dragon as a model is more or less finished. The storyboard guides me here as I know which parts of the dragon will be seen in high detail. The head will have some very near closeups and received the most attention.

As I started with the first rigging steps, I recognized that weight painting (especially with the bone heat method) is not functional once you have a mirror modifier on your  model. That makes me a little nervous. In order to do the weight painting I have to apply the mirror modifier, so I have to be sure there won’t be any major modeling tasks coming along.  I do not have  the experience if the animation workflow will demand any changes on the model (like changing topology for better deformation etc) . If there are, well then it will be more work.

As for the rigging progress,  I only have added the deformation bones with some weight painting to see if the poses work as I want them to be. As it turns out, tweaking the deformation will be quite some task …

I also stumbled upon a problem with bone heat weighting. At first blender always told me ‘failed to find solution for one or more bones’. I checked all the naming and setup of the bones but could not find an error. For weight painting I had the subsurf modifier deactivated, as this slows down the process drastically. Only reactivating the subsurf modifier ( and only using level 2 ?) let me use the heat weighting feature. I just fail to see how the subsurf modifier should influence the heat weighting solution …

I want the dragons rig finished before starting to model Ara. And this includes creating a nice controller set and maybe even a fly-cycle for the dragon. To get nice deformations especially on the head area and on the wings I will most certainly use action constraints, maybe mixed with ipo driven shape keys, but here I have to gather more experience.

Texturing and lighting is the area which I like most, so its very tempting to work immediately on the dragon, but I stay firm. The sculpting, texturing, uv-unwrapping and materials will all come after all the animation is done. This again should avoid unnecessary work.

Here are some wires of the current dragon model.




And here are some poses done very crudely with the current deformation-only rig. The poses are taken from actual shots from the storyboard. I wanted to see how they work out on the 3d model.



Actual status

8:45 Animatics
42:02 Concept Art
--12:00 Ara Design
--18:35 Color Tests
--11:27 Dragon Design
38:05 Modeling
--38:05 Dragon
2:46 Research
--1:16 2d-art
--1:30 animation
4:00 Rigging
--4:00 Dragon
4:30 Script
21:25 Storyboard
121:33 Total

Modeling the Dragon

Dragon head wire

I entered the modeling phase now. To be precise I started modeling the dragon’s head.

As said before, modeling is my weakest point, and I have spent already ~14 hrs for this head model alone. This is just the basic shape with all the details I want to have in without sculpting. Teeth are missing too.

The head will be the part of the dragon where some extreme closeups shots will be seen, so the detailing should begin already with the mesh. Later on sculpting and most importantly texturing will add even more details.

I am quite satisfied so far, as I managed to match my design quite well and it looks fine as 3d model too.

I reserve mesh cleanups and tweaks for the rigging/skinning phase, as I am sure this will trigger mesh changes.

Although the dragon won’t be much animated, there are certain areas where I will try to portray the dragon’s emotions – eyes, lids, nostrils and front snout. I also crudely tested the jaw movement as this will of course animated too.

Next will be to model the rest of the body. The level of detail is certainly lower there, so I am curious how I will cope with it.

dragon modeling

Inspiration for Environment

Schlicker Seespitze

This weekend I did a very nice mountain hiking tour near the place where I live. Although not directly work on Ara’s Tale, it provided me with a wealth of inspiration and vistas, which I will surely use for the environment in my short.

I took the opportunity to shoot quite a lot of photos to be used for the texturing as well as a reference for the cliffs.

Here are some additional shots from up there.

Kalkkögel 1

Kalkkögel 2

Kalkkögel 3

Kalkkögel 4

Ara’s Tale – First Animatics

Animatic frame

I started with the 3d animatics. As explained in Roland Hess’ book ‘Animating with Blender’ I created a rough set and blocky characters and tried to match all the real camera settings with the ones in the storyboard. This turned out to be much fun, as I did not have to rework any shots. They all came out quite well. What I did though was to correct the set layout, where it didn’t match well enough with the storyboard.
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Ara’s Tale – more dragon designs

Dragon design sideview

The dragon is now nearing its completion – design wise. I concentrated on the head and tried several approaches with the above one being the design I am quite satisfied so far.

As this sketch will now be used for actual modeling, I had to do a top view too, and this turned out to be harder than expected. Suddenly I had to draw exact and correlate the top view to the existing side view – this was tedious work for me.

See here for the result


I guess actually modeling this beast will be quite an adventure, not to mention animating …

Ara’s Tale – First Dragon Sketches


Some update on the dragon design.

I started playing around with my idea of the dragon – proportions, style and add the details later on.

I do not want to have a stocky 4 legged european type of dragon. I aim for a more elegant sinuous, streamlined form, borrowing some aspects from snakes or even swans. I also want the dragon to have 2 legs and 2 wings, bringing it more in line with the typical morphology for vertebrates on our earth. Also the hind legs shouldn’t be too dominating.

See below for my first tests and approaches to the overall dragon design.


Ara’s Tale – Struggling with design sketches

Environment Design

After finishing the storyboard I am now trying to get a hold on the design sketching – very educating.

As I have no formal education in drawing or painting I have to discover all the bits and pieces and techniques all by myself or through internet digging.

My first goal is to get the environment in a detailed way, but still without colors. See above for my first sketch. It depicts the view out of the canyon to the stairs leading up to the ledge above the abyss.

Continue reading “Ara’s Tale – Struggling with design sketches”

Ara’s Tale – short film production start

Storyboard sneak preview
Storyboard sneak preview

Finally I feel confident enough to go one step further in my CG environment and try to let a long standing dream come true – the production of a short film – the initial reason I started with blender 2.5 years ago.

I decided to document my progress here at my blog, to let the interested take part in my journey.

Continue reading “Ara’s Tale – short film production start”