Ara’s very first steps

Contrary to my last comment about putting the project to rest for some weeks and to my own utter surprise I was able to invest some time on Ara’s Tale.

This time I started the rigging for Ara. Before actually doing a rig I had to do quite some research. I have never done a serious rig before, so I read a lot of tutorials, threads on rigging on blenderartists and cgtalk, watched various video tutorials just to get an idea what the essence of rigging looks like.

I soon realized, that I should not create a general purpose rig, but only implement the things I really need. The shot breakdown done with the storyboards gave me a good idea what to expect.

As always, learning is iterating. A lot of the problems discussed in various threads and the solutions provided in tutorials were just theoretical concepts and hard to categorize for me. So I just set up a simple rig and did some posing and first animation attempts. That gave me quite some insight and the tutorials and discussion threads made much more sense and provided additional insight.

After quite some iterations I am now at a point where I have a basic body rig for Ara which seems to work for all of the animations tasks ahead (face rigging will be done later, after I have done some serious animation work).

The key facts of my rig are as follows:

  • Strict separation of deforming, helper and control bones
  • The leg setup is IK based, with a foot roll control driving action constraints. I may add a FK chain and an IK/FK switch as I noticed some problems getting the walkcycle correct (shin swinging …)
  • arm setup is FK but I will use auto-IK for posing. There are two shots were an IK setup may be helpful, so I also may introduce an IK chain for this.
  • The fingers on each hand are driven through separate controls for curling and and splaying. For very fine tuning I have left access to the individual finger control bones.
  • The toes are not controlled separately.

I have read a lot about FK/IK switching and its inherent problems for smooth transitions without jumps and as it seems, even more importantly, the workload when you start tweaking the animation. As of now it seems to me that using Auto-IK with FK is a good compromise for the animations tasks ahead of me.

Rig controls

Full rig

The weight painting to tweak the deformations and maybe even adding corrective shape keys is still on my todo list, but that shouldn’t interfere with the actuals animation work.

There were countless pitfalls setting up the rig and I may still come back and built it from scratch, but having a working rig for Ara, I started to create a walkcycle. My very first walkcycle ever done.

I learned two things from it:

  • Animation is a hell of a lot of work to get it anything near watchable.
  • I really have fun doing it 🙂

On a personal and very subjective view I am quite pleased with the cycle produced. On a more objective perspective, I realize that this walkcycle has a lot of problems.

What helps in this project ( at least I think it does) is that Ara is wearing a long dress and thus obscuring various glitches.

Anyway I am really curious to what level I can push my animation skills during the work on this short.

See here for Ara’s first steps.

The next step will be to actually animate one of the opening shots where Ara is walking along a path with the cage in hand. To do this I have to investigate a little bit on a proper animation workflow.

One thing for instance is the use of the NLA editor in combination with cyclic actions. It would be cool to setup a walk using a basic walkcycle and using the NLA modifier system to layout the walk path. To work then on the details it would be nice to ‘bake’ the NLA strip to a new action and work on this action from then on. I will try to find an answer on the forums.

Storyreel evolution

Since my last post I worked mainly on two aspects of Ara’s Tale.

  • preparation work for Ara’s rigging
  • adapting the roughsets to match the new storyboard and mapping out the shots

The rigging preparation included some rework on Ara’s mesh and (again) some research on how to combine Ara’s animation with the cloth simulation.
Continue reading “Storyreel evolution”

90 sec Storyreel V1

As already indicated in my prevoius post I went back to rework the storyboard.

In fact I ended up rewriting the script as well, although only slightly.

My approach now is the following: work through the book ‘Directing the Story’ and thereby improving the storyboard and storytelling of Ara’s Tale.  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it ?

Continue reading “90 sec Storyreel V1”

Ara’s Tale – An important step back


Even bad things have their good side.

I have now somewhat recovered from my flu and start to feel the inkling to continue work on Ara’s Tale.  But instead of going on, I will right go back to the start again  (well almost, the story remains) and will work again on the storyboard.
Continue reading “Ara’s Tale – An important step back”

Some remarks on scale and hair

Where scale here stands for the relative size of  things rather than the parts constituting the skin of a dragon.

During work and planning for my short ‘Ara’s Tale’ I explored some intrinsics of blenders hair implementation in regard to actual size of models in combination with animation. What seemed rather simple in the beginning turned out to be quite tricky to apply for my needs.

But first things first.

Continue reading “Some remarks on scale and hair”

More on Ara

Ara with hair

Here is a peek at the current state of Ara. The time since my last update was quite interesting and informative.

After finishing the head I did a small detour into hair simulation. I needed to know if I am able to give Ara a hair ring of sorts ( as in the concept drawing) and be able to control the hair, so that it doesn’t pass through the ring ,even if wind is blowing and Ara is moving.
For the moment I have abandoned the idea of a hair ring due to technical reasons. I simply was not able to achieve a convincing effect.

Next I had to model the body. This posed a completely different problem. I needed reference photos of a 11 year old girl. Me, being an adult male I deemed it not a very wise idea to go looking for these sort of images on the internet :). I ended up using photos taken 2 years ago from my daughter, which gave me quite some good references.

The body won’t be seen anyways, so I didn’t do too much on good topology or exact modeling. I wanted to have a good basis for the dress. And this send me to just another detour again. I wanted to know if using the cloth simulation had any impact on decisions to be made during the actual modeling of the body and/or dress. I had to force me back on track as I tended to get distracted with all these nice toys.

Anyway, I learned a way how to use the cloth simulation for my purpose.

Ara dressed

Ara dressed closeup

I ‘cheated’ with the feet. I took the feet from a makehuman model and heavily modified it and attached it to Ara. As the feet will only be seen from far away and then mostly covered by the dress, this is quite acceptable.

The hands now are a totally different story. Similar to the face there are at least two shots where you will see the hands in closeup, so the hands should be modeled with care. Hands are my second first time modeling experience during this project ( the face being the first one) and I really wasn’t sure if I could come up with something satisfying. Again I used my daughters hands as reference. After looking at some tutorials I gave it a try and I dare to say I managed quite well.

Ara's hand

hand model

Current production status

8:45 Animatics
42:02 Concept Art
--12:00 Ara Design
--18:35 Color Tests
--11:27 Dragon Design
78:06 Modeling
--35:01 Ara
--43:05 Dragon
21:51 Research
--1:16 2d-art
--1:30 animation
--12:00 effects
--7:05 modeling
4:00 Rigging
--4:00 Dragon
4:30 Script
21:25 Storyboard
180:39 Total

Ara is evolving

Ara Head - first test

After all I decided to continue modeling on Ara before doing the rigging on both models.

I was maybe too optimistic or naive (or both) about modeling Ara. I soon trashed my first try after recognizing that there are some huge gaps in my knowledge and experience.

It’s just different to model something which exists in the real world, where any minor mistake done is immediately obvious.

I did some studying of existing head topologies and looked at a lot of reference pictures, both anatomy and normal pics. I even used my hands to feel/grasp the anatomy of my own head as well of my daughters.

With all this done I started from scratch, this time using the topology I studied from the ‘simple’ model Angela Guenette from the Durian team was doing as test drive for blender 2.5. This helped a lot and gave me some good starters.

Its still a lot of work and tweaking. As of now Ara is not ‘perfect’, but she goes in a direction, where I recognize her as the girl I want to see in the short. And this is encouraging.

See here for a wire of the current state

Ara head wire

The image on top is just a quick render with some fake eyes and some very crude polygon hair, just to have a better idea.

Dragon Turntable

flying dragon

A quick update on the dragon model. I tried to incorporate some ideas I got from from feedback in my wip thread on

I corrected the size of the head and added some muscles at the base of the wings.

I have now to decide if I continue with the rigging of the dragon or if I stay with the modeling and start with creating Ara.

See here for a turntable video (without the table) of the current dragon model in a nice pose.

Dragon Model – Ara’s Tale from loramel on Vimeo.