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The Undertals Production Focus

Vishka Studio production focus on the “The Undertals” and 10 production tips.

This article is about the making of The Undertals pre-production and we have also included some production tips which we hope will be useful to our readers.

Production Focus

(Fig. 1: final production image of the Undertals)

 

[caption id=”attachment_860” align=”aligncenter” width=”270” caption=”The Undertals 01”][/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_862” align=”aligncenter” width=”270” caption=”The Undertals 02”][/caption]

The purpose of creating the Undertals was to have a pre-production package to present to eventual investors and producers in order to establish a co-production opportunity and produce “The Undertals” as a television series.

  • The first thing we did was to define the scope of the task and set some objectives, some of which were the following:
  • Target Group: we decided to aim for a rather wide audience group of ages 5 to 12 while still making the series accessible to other ages.
  • Target Quality: although the objective was to create a series for broadcast it needed to be on par with or have a better visual quality than some of the works seen in the international markets.
  • Feasible Project: while aiming for a high-quality visual we also had to design and plan for a very tight production schedule and high output that could create the necessary material in a tight deadline.

Tip No. 1: The scope of your project is crucial to creating a high standard of work. Never stop planning and try to foresee and plan as many details of your project as possible. Some of the most important steps are the project scope, file-naming convention and your project directory structure. We have tried several combinations of these and we are still optimizing them for every project.

Tip No. 2: Put everything on paper. We tend to think that we will remember where we put our files and what we named the. Believe me your memory will not retain 80% of what you are doing in two weeks (and I’m being optimistic!). Write it down and if you are collaborating with a group try to create processes that would allow them to write down what they have done about the project. Word, Excel and Project or whatever software you tend to use are your friends; USE THEM.

With these goals in mind we started the task of research and look development by looking at a lot of children’s series and gauge the visuals and storylines they had. We also scoured the internet for images of environments and characters that we felt were unique and could be close to our style.

(Fig. 2: samples of images from the internet)

After that came the writing stage; we wrote extensively trying to flesh out ideas and come up with a story that would please us, writing a story, script, and synopsis as well as character and environment descriptions. With this information in hand we were ready to start production.

Tip No. 3: Even if you are working alone the writing stage should not be omitted. What is important in this process is that even if you are not a great writer just sitting down and trying to shape your story or characters will help you in finding ideas and inspiration that would not have been possible if you just started sketching or modeling. Writing will create questions in your mind and finding answers to these questions will make your project more robust.

We provided our 3D artists with detailed descriptions of our characters and environments and went through a series of sketches, probably 3 to 4 revisions for each object. Although we wanted the concept designs to be very inspiring we knew that we did not need to make them perfect since it would be easier to finalize them in 3D. Storyboards were also created in this stage since we were planning on creating a trailer for the series.

Tip No. 4: After each stage of production is completed create a preview of that stage. Benefits: you will have a making of your project, you will know exactly what assets have been created and at what stage they are, and you can show it to colleagues and friends for feedback.

(Fig. 3: intermediary sketches of characters and environments)

[caption id=”attachment_864” align=”aligncenter” width=”329” caption=”Dogholoo sketches”][/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_865” align=”aligncenter” width=”202” caption=”Mooboland sketch”][/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_866” align=”aligncenter” width=”365” caption=”Preliminary island sketch”][/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_867” align=”aligncenter” width=”365” caption=”Preliminary island sketch”][/caption]

(Fig. 4: final sketches of characters and environments)

[caption id=”attachment_869” align=”aligncenter” width=”342” caption=”Topol color concept”][/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_870” align=”aligncenter” width=”342” caption=”Dogholoo color concept”][/caption]

Before this production we had had a few problems with our production pipeline and our file and asset management, so we decided to define a clearer process and a better file and folder naming convention. We some material on the web concerning pipeline definition and file-naming conventions and although they were just a few articles, it really helped us on making some decisions.

Since we were working in Maya we needed to use the Maya project folders system as much as possible to prevent breaking links between assets and references. We also decided to use file-referencing, which we had already used extensively in Softimage successfully, but was rather new to us in Maya. The filing system we decided on finally, with great help from different forums was based on the following system:

Most of the names are self-explanatory except for Library and Build. The library is in fact a container for finished assets such as models, shading, rigs, etc which will be referenced into the different shots. The build folder contains works in progress of our assets and the Shots folder will contain all the shots in subfolders (shot001, shot002, …) each in turn containing folders for animation, effects, …. Each of these folders will in turn be a Maya project containing specific data for that process (for example “effects”).

The production started with the modeling process where the main emphasis was on feasibility; we needed to have believable models with minute details but we couldn’t allow the meshes to get too heavy since in a series production you don’t have the time to animate very dense meshes. We even decided to forego certain features such as displacement which we believed was not crucial to our models’ visuals in this project. The creatures and their environment were modeled in Maya and some of the details were done in ZBrush but we tried to keep these simple.

Tip No. 5: Units! If you skip this part you will regret it later. Define your units and stick to them. Deformations, hair, rigs, dynamics and clothing will all depend on this small issue and if you don’t think about it in the beginning you will suffer the consequences later when you need to resize that rig and it just breaks. Create a unit file where you create a physical ruler as well as a cube representing your unit (1x1x1 m) and place all your characters and other objects in this file to ascertain their size and compare it with the rest of the project.

(Fig. 5: preview of models)

[caption id=”attachment_873” align=”aligncenter” width=”342” caption=”Topol model preview”][/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_875” align=”aligncenter” width=”376” caption=”Dogholoo model preview”][/caption]


Since the look of the Undertals was supposed to be very cartoony but fleshy all the textures were painted by hand and we decided not to use a single ready-made texture. We used Photoshop, ZBrush and BodyPaint 3D to paint our textures.

The next stage we tackled was the character and environment shading. There was an emphasis on simplicity here as well and we tried to avoid certain time and cpu-consuming such as FG, GI and sub-surface scattering but during our tests we came to the conclusion that we were losing quality by avoiding all these technologies. We finally came to the conclusion to use sub-surface scattering for the characters’ skins and FG for the environment since the increased render times were minimal after some tweaking and tests but the rise in quality was quite noticeable.

Tip No. 6: Simplify! Nowadays 3D software has become extremely sophisticated and you have a plethora of wonderful tools at your reach. DO NOT use them all. Just because GI renders are cool you should not try to use them in your project. Always try to use the simplest technology that can provide you with 95% of what you need.

We rendered our assets in several passes, using standard Maya shaders, occlusion and other standard passes and tweaked them extensively in compositing to obtain the look we were trying to obtain; about 30% of the final look was obtained in post-production.

Tip No. 7: Always use the 80/20 rule in your projects. This rule states that 80% of each task should take up 20% of the time and 20% remaining should take up the remaining 80% of your time. What this means is that you should first try and very rapidly give shape to things and keep the bulk of your allocated time for tweaking and working on small but significant details.

During all this we were also trying to improve our current production pipeline and create a more robust workflow. Another objective was to speed up our production by testing new ways of doing things. One of the issues we faced was the rigging of the characters which took about 5 to 7 days for each character and was not an optimal time for us. We tried a few plugins but none of them gave us the control we needed and most of them had small issues or large learning curves which would have been prohibitive for this project.

Tip No. 8: Referencing is your friend. By referencing your files the storage space used by your projects will decrease by an order of magnitude. Proxies and references will allow you to use the correct assets in your shots without having to manually import them into every shot. Although referencing may have a few issues, if done right it can save you a lot of valuable time.

We decided to try scripting the process and were able to speed up some of the rigging issues but we were not able to automate the whole rigging process in a way that would save us a lot of valuable time. This is still one of the sore points in our production and although the rigs we created for the characters were rather thorough, we are still working on automating the rig creation process.

We nevertheless created very sophisticated and complete rigs with squash and stretch, IK/FK switching that used soft bodies and Maya muscle, particularly for their fat bellies, to allow them to be animated easily in spite of their short stature and very short and stout limbs.

Tip No. 9: Try to automate repetitive tasks as much as possible. Your time is extremely valuable; don’t waste it by trying to rename 1505 meshes in Maya. Either learn some scripting or try to ask a friend to write you some code in exchange for a free model or a sample rig, it will be worth your time.

(Fig. 8: movie of rig in action)


We also created some turntables and test animations for the characters

(Fig. 9: images and movies of characters animated)


One of the main parts of this whole process was the compositing process which really gave life to our renders and produced the final look of the Undertals.

(Fig. 11: images of render layers)

Tip No. 10: At the end of your project create a solid archive of your project and delete your rendered passes and any other intermediary files such as incremental saves; this will save you lots of space on your computer. Create a final post-mortem document describing your project outcome, the issues you had, the plugins used and its shortcomings. Write what you will do for your next project to address these issues and read this document at the beginning of each new project.

We are currently creating a one minute trailer for The Undertals which will be ready in a few weeks and we hope to be able to present it to the CG Community in the near future.

Tip No. 11:Self-improvement is vital if you want to become a professional in your field of work. 8 or 9 years ago it was very difficult to find tutorials or learning material anywhere but now the wealth of information you can find on the internet and sites such as Digital Tutors and Gnomon are staggering. Always try to learn new ways of doing things, improve on your processes and optimize your workflow constantly.

The production team consisted of:
Executive Producer and Project Manager: Reza Ghobady
Project Sponsor: Vishka Assayesh
Original Idea: Ali Chenari
Director: Ali Chenari
Character Concepts: Hamed Kamali
Environment Concepts: Kian Kiani
Modelers: Bahram Najand, Faraz Sayadi, Reza Ramezani
Textures: Bahram Najand, Faraz Sayadi
Shading: Faraz Sayadi
Rigging: Faraz Sayadi
Animation: Abed Nattaj, Alireza Shahramfar
Lighting, Rendering, Compositing: Faraz Sayadi

We loved working on this project and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

You can see some test animations on our YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/vishkastudio as well as on our CGPortfolio page: http://rezaghobady.cgsociety.org/gallery/

Our website: http://www.vishka.com

Our blog: http://www.vishka.com/blog

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