3D Character, 2D World
EXAMPLE SHOT: DH_EPOC -> Opening Cinematic -> Scene 3, Shot 3 (03_03)
PROGRAMS: 3DS MAX 2011 64bit, ADOBE AFTER EFFECTS CS6 64bit
PART 1: Testing the Technique
We wanted to produce a high quality opening sequence that would captivate the player before they’re thrown into the game. The goal was to create a film that looked as close to the in-game graphics as possible, but had the dynamic intensity that could only be done in a rendered video.
To match in-game graphics, the cinematic had to be made in 3D; but our time and resources were limited. Creating huge, detailed 3D environments for seventeen 2-5 second shots was going to take time away from the actual game’s development.
It was decided that we’d attempt to create a hybrid animation; only the characters were to be animated and rendered in 3D, while the current Environmental Artist texturing the levels was to literally paint the environments we’d need in Photoshop.
3D characters in 2D environments. What could possibly go wrong? I’ve used the shot where Streezle lands and slides along the ground riding a massive bark chip as an example.
As Lead Animator, I worked directly with the Justin (Director) and Ned (Environmental Artist) to structure each environment based on the storyboards I had illustrated. We needed to finalise the perspective in the illustration first.
The Environmental Artist started painting a rough draft of an environment. I would check with Ben (3D artist) and request any objects or props I would need to animate the shot in 3DS Max.
When the draft environment was complete, it was imported into 3DS Max as a single-sided 2D plate. I then created basic geometry and angled it so it was like an extension of the 2D painting; essentially, it was an interpretation of the painting’s non-existent ‘Z-Depth’. This was the ground plane for the 3D character.
I created a wider-than-needed camera as any camera move was going to use the background assets and be done in 2D. A wide camera means more room to move the 3D animation in After Effects. I animated the shot and it was rendered as a low-quality TARGA sequence with alpha; no ground plane, no lighting, no motion blur, no depth of field.
The TARGA sequence and the rough environment plate are imported into After Effects and composited on top of the other. They’ll never perfectly blend or line up perfectly, so I fine tune the position/scale/rotations etc. of the 3D frames in 2D as best as I could.
I wrote up a list of corrections for the 3D animation and 2D artwork. We make these changes and re-render the 3D animation with lighting, textures, motion blur etc. The background is completed and the two are re-imported into After Effects.