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Sunday, October 31, 2010

3D Animation And Special Effects

An exciting and rapidly growing area of 3D animation is not in story telling at all. Special effects, whether it is blowing up a ship, melting a building, or killing a person, are hot and becoming incredibly possible in a digital 3D environment. Having some experience in special effects is a good idea for any demo reel.
However, as the entertainment industry pushes the 3D industry, and vice versa, the paradigm and techniques are forever changing. Do not spend too much time on any one technique; it may be antiquated before you even finish your project. Students ask all the time for general rules for doing special effects. The general rule is that there are no rules. Digital effects are so often mixed with real-time effects or cinematography that it becomes nearly impossible to tell which is which, and which is happening when.

The general consensus seems to be: Use whatever tool works best for the specific chunk of the effect at hand. If you are really interested in special effects, spend some time working with real film or digital video equipment. It is difficult to digitally recreate live scenarios for a special effect to take place in, so it becomes easier and more effective to digitally place computer-generated effects into real footage.
Being familiar with film terminology and techniques becomes very important when dealing with special effects. In the realm of animation mortals, three general categories of special effects can be realistically produced:
1. Purely digital. Those special effects where all the characters and surroundings are all only extant within the digital world.
2. Live characters-digital surroundings. Virtual sets are becoming one of the hottest areas of 3D in general. Placing actors in front of a blue or green screen and then filling in the background digitally allows for quick and wide variation for a fraction of the price of building the sets with traditional nail and hammer. Scale of surroundings and the actual material are limited only by the imagination when the set is virtual.
3. Digital characters-real surroundings. As character animators have become better at their digital craft, and as the digital hardware has begun to catch up with the craft of character animators, the reality of purely computer-generated characters that interact with live actors has begun to be realized. Digital characters can fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, be smashed by an oncoming truck, or fly. The insurance is quite a bit cheaper, and the makeup crew can take a break Of course, there is a variety of hybrids of the scenarios just described.
Often, digital characters can step in for live actors in especially dangerous or messy situations. Similarly, sometimes real characters will interact with digital characters in a real environment in one scene and a virtual one in the next. As the technology increases and catches up with the special effects visionaries, the boundaries between real and virtual are sure to be bent and blurred further still.
There is tremendous art in the areas of filming live actors for use with digital characters or for placement in virtual sets. The lighting alone could take volumes of text. Because it is such an in-depth subject, it is well beyond the scope of this book. However, the digital end of creating clips of animation that are usable in your own special effects is something worth mentioning.
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