Mozambique Drill

Posted: October 11, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Here is a short piece I’ve been working on at school. All work (filming, tracking, VFX, comp, sound, etc.) done by me except for the helicopter model (Half Life 2) and recording of the sounds (various sources).

A lot of learning went into this. It was my first attempt at filming and editing with production quality video equipment (Sony EX3), first time tracking a shot (Boujou), first time using fluids (Maya), first time doing sound (Adobe Audition), and first time compositing CG into video (After Effects when I started - now I use Toxik). If I had known how difficult it was going to do when I started……..yeah I still would have done it.

I’ve still got minor revisions here and there and I hope to get to them someday. The reel beckons.

P.S. If you want to ask about the title - Google it first.


Posted: October 3, 2010 at 2:43 am

Let’s talk about Minecraft, dude. (MINECRAFT DUDE!)

Here’s a guy (Markus Persson) that had 5,232 buy his game in 24 hours at 10 euros a pop (around 15 bucks). That’s around 78.5 grand in a day. “Wait a second!” you might say. “78 grand a day?! That’s a lot! At that rate, how much is that in a year?” 28.6 million. Here’s a list of people that make less than that in a year: A-Rod, Dwayne Wade, Eli Manning, Tim Duncan, Brett Favre, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Jeff Gordon, Albert Pujols, Rafael Nadal, KaKa, Thierry Henry, Dirk Nowitzki, Ronaldinho, and Maria Sharapova. Yes – that includes salary AND endorsements.

Now let me tell you that I wrote that paragraph nearly a month ago and the rate has averaged around 9-10k purchases per day (twice the volume) since then. That income just got much, much larger and the list much, much longer.

Granted – the internet has recently gone Lady GaGa over the game so the purchase rate is insanely high compared to what it’s been historically. However – he has already raked in well north of 4 million on this game and that is unlikely to stop anytime soon. It still has a beta (with included 5 euro price increase) and a final version (with yet another 5 euro price increase) to go through before this thing is all over. Not too shabby for a year and a half’s worth of work. I would imagine a Steam distribution deal with front page promotion is in the works as we speak considering he recently flew back to Europe after visiting Valve’s offices. Valve is all too happy to get a piece of the pie, and I’m sure Markus is more than happy to have front page promotion at a place where 1 million people minimum are on *at the same time* and a peak 2.5x that. And people say PC gaming is dead!

So what’s at the crux of this madness? Why are people all afrenzy? Who cares about blocks anyways? At its heart – the frenzy is about what I like to call “game fidelity.”

Game fidelity is the amount of control the user has or feels they have over the gaming environment. Angry Birds I think is a great example of high fidelity because you have 3 things in the gaming world: birds, blocks, and green little pigs for killing. You can interact and move all of these things to your heart’s desire. It’s simple, straight forward, and yet gives the user an amazing feeling of being in control.

Markus has made a game where when you say “Man….I wish I could…..” and guess what! YOU CAN! You look around and you don’t see limitations (like you would in a Prince of Persia game for instance) – instead you see possibilities. The whole world can be sculpted and reformed in your image. But not only that – the game works like you expect. Once you figure out the system – you don’t need the crafting wiki anymore. You just craft stuff. Why? Because you put items in the shape of what you’re trying to make. Its genius is in the simplicity and straight forward approach to crafting. No crazy material lists jotted down in a notebook somewhere - you simply put two sticks vertically with some stone at the top and out comes a shovel. A simplified version of real life.

Angry Birds and Minecraft also have another thing in common: simulations. People can watch simulations all day – particle systems, rigid body systems, flow systems it doesn’t matter. If there’s anything close to a Rube Goldberg mechanic going on in a game people will watch that until sunrise. You let people PLAY with simulations though? Sleep loss, hygiene neglect, and changes in food consumption (whether it increases or decreases depends on snack proximity).

I think these are characteristics of many successful “casual” games – but they do not mint successful games. Internal coherency in mechanics and art style, boundaries that are artfully hidden from the user, and healthy bit of luck all play their part. What excites me now is the ability for independent studios to get their software in front of a huge audience in a cheap manner. Exceptional game engines with incredible tools are widely available to talented artists that can collaborate across the world. The barrier of entry is low and as price of production comes down (at least at the indie level), the associated risk for a production comes down as well and people are allowed greater creative freedom. I think some truly groundbreaking and intriguing stuff is going to come out over the next 5-10 years as new ideas and mechanics are explored in what I think many people will consider the new golden age of gaming. Plus Deus Ex 3 is coming out next year – that series is a golden age in and of itself.


Posted: October 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Initially I started reading RockPaperShotgun because of the articles. Now I read it for the comments. RPS has easily the best gaming community on the web - these people know their games and drop incredible knowledge oh-so-casually. Thus I present to you: Infinity

1) It’s an MMO.
2) If you can see it you can visit it (including all those stars in the sky!)
3) Your spaceship can be manually controlled
4) Combat is based on twitch combat = actually takes skill instead of fancy items

The only downside? It’s developed by 1 guy and a bunch of volunteers. That and you can’t hop out of your ship and walk around on the planet/spacestation/city. Unless some studio buys it and develops the game - this will never be fully fleshed out/finished. Someday someone will make this game right though. Someday.

Lighting Challenges

Posted: September 22, 2010 at 3:40 am

For class we had to do some lighting - CG or real it didn’t matter. I decided to try out one of the lighting challenges and do an “abandoned” and “idealistic” version of the two. Hopefully….you can tell this is the abandoned version.

Overall it was a quick process. I started shading on Saturday and finished lighting on Monday with final render and post work done on Tuesday. I had a series of photos that were my “target” though this photo by RomanyWG on Flickr probably best sums it up:

My lighting setup was Key light casting the window outline onto the floor, a bounce up into the room from that main area, 2 lights for the glow around the two windows, and two lights of bounce back onto the floor near the main area (supposedly being cast from the dust in the air illuminated by the key onto the nearby area).

And for the ideal version…..

My main reference was from a wonderful shot in Ratatouille. Sharon Calahan actually gave a talk on this sequence a few years back at A&M. It’s still easily the best talk I’ve heard in my life.

My lighting setup was a bit more complex in this one as the lights were giving me hard edges and bad falloff all over the place. I decided I was trying to do too much with certain lights, and so I doubled down on a few to give me more control.

My Key is above the scene shining light down through a skylight, partially hitting the stairway, wall, and floor. This helped me motivate a lot more bounced light up into the well to get that really strong glow I was looking for. I have a bounce light on the stairway and another on the floor, as well as one way up near the skylight that illuminates the top of the stairwell wall. I’ve got two more “glow” lights from each of the windows. I have 3 lights simply for wall gradients - one in the stairwell, one on the floor underneath the stairwell, and another near the camera (a negative light! GASP!). The FOV is so extreme the floor looks a lot longer than it actually is so I had to put the negative light to add that extra falloff to fit the perception (aka it looked really flat!). In reality, the camera is about 1.5 stair widths away from the first step on the left. Last but not least - I have 2 lights for bounce up into the stairs on the left and right to shape and brighten them, and one last light simulating bounce off of the particulates in the air into the scene.

And of course….Environment Light for my AO and general ambiance. I experimented with changing my AO color from black to a deep saturated red and good lord it looks good. It totally fits that “surreal warmth” look I was going for. 13 lights total and 5 hours from beginning lighting to final render+comp.

One major major takeaway from this project is how useful reference is. I would find myself getting lost and not having a strong direction. I would remind myself: USE YOUR REFERENCE! Seconds later I would be making huge drastic changes to my setup because it became so overbearingly obvious what was wrong and how to fix it. Putting in the time for strong reference totally pays off in the end.

Current Work

Posted: August 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm

With the semester starting I figured I would share some of my finalized work from the summer. I got some good feedback from Bert at Dreamworks and thus have some things to update on my reel before kicking it out the back door. Alas, to the pretty pictures!

The first is a high resolution render from the short. The second is the same scene with some creative lighting I did over the summer. As you can see - I’ve learned a ton from lighting Tewts. The image has a whole lot more depth and it’s easier to read the characters. My shaping is a bit better and I’ve used some techniques I picked up from looking at stills of Toy Story 3. What I like most is that the lighting in the bottom frame is used to show of the character of the frog and tad. The tad is shown as being warm and friendly, whereas the frog has direct overhead lighting that shows dark circles under his eyes making him look evil and sour. I also like that I could use the throw of the firelight to give the frog some very subtle shaping across his front.

Ultimately I will be going back and making some changes on the day frame to match the quality of the bottom one. I hope to have a nice foggy render soon that shows I can work from strong reference as well. This, combined with my other strong compositing work and a shot lit from a paintover, will hopefully be enough to snag that much sought after job in California.

The Last Game

Posted: July 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm

So with the 10 year anniversary of Deus Ex doing on at RockPaperShotgun, I’ve begun to seriously and honestly think again about games, game design, and what I want from it.

It turns out, these things run through my head all the time. I find them to be a wonderful way to experience stories, ideas, places, relationships…..essentially anything and everything in a new and genuine way. When I was young, I used to play Sim City and think that someday I would be able to play out the lives of individuals in the same manner (which eventually became The Sims). When Sim Town and Sim Tower came out, I started to think that what would be a real nice change of pace is a full simulation from the ground up. I thought how amazing it would be to seamlessly go from ground, into space, and land on another planet. Spore is the first step, but I want a more visceral experience. I want to be able to land and wander around in a fully living/breathing city with it’s own social norms and economy with spacefaring traders the only link between these disparate sections of the same community. I truly, deeply wish you could leverage EVE Online as the connecting fabric between Global Agenda, Planetside, Star Wars Galaxies, and The Old Republic creating a supermassive (and hopefully super-successful) MMO. A persistent state of identity across multitudes of highly detailed locales and game mechanics seamlessly integrated into one hell of an amazing experience.

I do believe this is possible, but it would have to take form in a completely different manner. Let’s say I am in charge at EA trying to get this to work. You grab 1 studio to design a fully encompassing game with subsections of game mechanics that can stand alone on their own as a game themselves. For instance, you have one part that is all about trading and building corporations and the interesting interactions that happen between competing corporations. This is akin to EVE, and can be successful on its own. Another section has to do mostly with large scale open field warfare in land based combat. This could be your Planetside game. Another part is the interaction on the local level of creating a city and maintaining it. This is your Sims Online meets APB. Each of these games gets developed by a different studio with the goal of eventually combining them together maybe a year or two after launch. This allows each community to figure out it’s own identity and culture and gives the developer time to solidify their own mechanics and start getting ready for the transition to a larger community.

What I love about this concept is that if you started with one big game, people would be turned away by how massive and confusing it is. If you start them as separate, however, people can pick and choose which kind of experience they want to take part in. Then, when the games together, you have all sorts of interesting interactions happening. You might have a major corporation in the EVE world funding the war efforts in a Planetside battle so that they can gain the mining rights in an area.

My favorite scenario: A soldier from the Planetside area could be in town shopping at the Sims area and decide to steal some ammo before going back into the field. This causes a bounty to be put out to the APB players. The corp he is employed by decides to ship him off to another planet via the EVE part of the game to defend an operation that is under attack, not knowing about his earlier transgression. The APB players then send a message out that a transport is leaving with a known felon on board, leading to the transport being ambushed at the nearest jumpgate by some bounty hunters. This causes a delay and the reinforcements don’t make it in time. Now all of a sudden an operation on the other side of the galaxy is in the hands of a rival corporation because some dude wanted free ammo.

You have operational issues such as keeping the economies in line with each other, making sure players don’t all crowd into certain areas, getting the different games to talk kindly to each other, and somehow getting a largely seamless transition from one area of the game to another. However, I think the difficulties are far outweighed by how exciting the opportunities and interactions are.

From a business perspective you have risk split up into several properties that can fail without jeopardizing the success of the whole project(though yes I do realize that MMOs are extremely expensive and risky - much less several of them!). If you successfully join them together, you have a property that cannot be rivaled by anything or anybody for a long time. Nothing can beat World of Warcraft because people don’t want to leave it for the same experience - entertainment inertia if you will. To succeed - have to do something different. However, if your game encompasses nearly all experiences - competitors will have to make something MUCH better or MUCH bigger to even compete.

I call this The Last Game because it’s not a just a space game, or a dungeon crawling game, or an FPS…….its all games together. Games are, at their root, an abstraction of the world around us. No matter how odd the game - they all have one foot firmly planted in reality so that we can enter their world with at least a semblance of understanding. A game that can combine so many aspects of our universe becomes not just A game, or A good game, it becomes THE game. It becomes the only game that matters - only to be supplanted by a newer version of the same game. Really it only ends until it realistically simulates the universe itself. Though, at that point, you’re really just talking about the creation of The Matrix. Of course, this isn’t where I intended my line of thought to go, or this blog post for that matter. It is, however, where the idea ends. Along with this post.


Posted: June 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I remembered to finally post the animation Stephanie and I worked on (her since August, me since January). I was responsible for lighting and effects work, though I was lucky enough to have input on other things as well (story, layout, etc.)


Posted: June 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Since I consistently make market predictions and am always right (muahahahaha) I figured I would actually write them down and stand by them.

Firstly: Apple is inflated. Back when it was around 210 it felt overinflated before the iPad announcement (though when it touched 190 I yelled BUY!) It has hit the stratosphere mainly on hype and brand - or really overhype. Good products are enroaching on their space, they currently have a brooding iPhone 4 fiasco, and I’ve noticed brand fatigue amongst even diehard users. iPad has done well in initial sales but it won’t be a continued driver of revenue for them long term. A year from now the value will be a very different picture. A dearth of new products and major updates to current products will turn its price downward. It’s like Google a few years back when people thought it would reach $1000 a share. I called that bubble - I’m calling this one too.

Second: EA is drastically undervalued. There is a good management team over there with great products making extremely smart decisions. Stock value will grow drastically over the next few years.

A year ago I made the prediction we would touch 11,000 in March and tumble immediately back to realistic levels (upper 9,000). I was early by about a month.

Finally, I asked the question “Why is Ford so cheap?” last March. They had plenty of cash, good products, and good brand.

Renderman for Maya and GI

Posted: April 22, 2010 at 4:14 am

So I’ve been tinkering with RFM for a while. Everyone always says use an environment light to do your GI. Like an idiot - I never understood how to get it to do what I wanted…which is not simulate the whole freaking thing for me! I’m a lighting artist - I hate when the computer takes all the control away from me. So I finally figured out how to make a sweet GI pass where the environment light does NOT contribute to the solution - it’s just the vehicle for calculation. The steps are as follows:

1. Create an Environment light.
2. Set Environment Color to black (this essentially turns the light off).
3. Turn shadowing to colorbleeding
4. Click the button to the right of Bake Shadowing. in your rmanRenderRadiosityPass create a new camera. Point this camera at the area of the scene you want GI to be in.
5. I turn off “Contribute Radiosity” in the environment light just for good measure.
6. Make sure raytracing is off. Why? Because YOU DONT NEED IT! Yeah PRMan Rocks.
7. Render. You now have GI.

By the by - if you want to only use certain lights for your GI solution - click the button to the right of “Light Set” in your rmanRenderRadiosityPass. This creates a light set in your outliner that you can drop lights into. Lights in this set will be the only ones used for creating your GI solution.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out but I am much happier for it.

Dont use symbols in your paths

Posted: April 10, 2010 at 3:19 pm


I’ve been having issues getting shaders to open in Renderman/Slim for a few weeks now. Couldn’t figure out why. Turns out - it was compiling shaders to art/A&M/projectname/…… which apparently it has the capability to do. It just doesn’t have the ability to READ from a filepath with a symbol in it. I moved the project from underneath A&M and all of a sudden it started working again. I guess they aren’t escaping their paths correctly on read. Don’t you just love running software originally written for linux?