Logo animation workflow

This post describes the unprofessional workflow and challenges that were faced when creating a simple logo animation. It describes my own workflow and by no means expresses the best way to do certain things. I worked on this project a couple of years ago, therefore I wont remember all the minor details, however I will aim to describe briefly all of the steps. This is a logo animation for the Bulgarian Christian magazine “Spiritual Word”, for spreading the Gospel and Bible study. The animation is done entirely in Blender, and Gimp is used for the texture manipulation.

Intro

As it can be seen straight away there are quite a lot of flaws in this short and simple logo animation, many things could be done better, and I try my best in assessing the this project, and sharing some of the trials I had to face. When I started this project, I had  been using blender for a good few months, and this was certainly the first project that involved all the things I had learned so far. From modelling, texturing, lighting, and FX, to the actual animation and rendering, I had to do it all, and for a newbie to the world of CGI, this seemed as a mammoth task. The animation itself is quite simple. There are only a few modelled assets, precisely, a sword, a book with a few separate pages, and the actual logo and letters. Besides that, there are two particle systems (one during the verse close-up, and the other at the end).

The Sword

The sword model.

The sword model.

The modelling is composed of 5 separate parts. As it is just an animation the model doesn’t need to be connected, as long as it looks alright, therefore you wouldn’t worry too much about connecting the topology on the different parts. Most parts on the sword are primitive-like so there is no complex modelling. The ruby in the middle of the handle was not hand-modelled but created with a procedural gemstone plugin for Blender, which allows you to create your own custom ruby/diamond model.

The materials and texturing are the following:

the handle (Leather material) – simple (cylindrical projection) UV-unwrapping and a seamless leather texture on top. Instead of creating a bump map or normal map for it I decided just to use some noise for the displacement, just to add the illsuion of some surface roughness on the handle. A better way would be creating a normal map from the actual texture, which is possible with this plugin for Gimp -> the Normalmap plugin.

The material nodes used for leather handle of the sword.

The material nodes used for leather handle of the sword.

the crossguard and pommel (Bronze material) – The crossguard and pommel are the two pieces of metal at the top and bottom of the handle (aka hilt, aka grip), in case you aren’t familiar with sword terminology. As it is visible, they also involve quite simple modelling, where the crossguard has a slot in the middle, where a gemstone would be placed. I decided to make them both a bronze material and below I have displayed the node set-up for achieving this shader. Note that I use some scaled-down displacement, here again, in order to get some surface roughness and some more interesting interaction with the light.

The material nodes used for bronze pommel and crossguard of the sword's hilt.

The material nodes used for bronze pommel and crossguard of the sword’s hilt.

– the blade (Steel material) – The actual blade involves trivial modelling. One could have made it more classy by adding something called Ricasso which is a dull part at the base of the blade, just after the handle, which allows for a technique called ‘fingering’, which allows for controlling the blade with the index finger… Anyway, the material for the blade should obviously be steel. Below is the node configuration for the steel material used in the animation. A few things which would have made it look better and more realistic could be mentioned here. First of all, a more used look would add to the realism, adding some imperfections to the steel, some random texture noise, some stains… Second, the blurry, wavy part of a blade which signifies that it is very sharp and has been sharpened, this is an important detail that I missed out.

The material nodes used for the steel blade of the sword.

The material nodes used for the steel blade of the sword.

– the gemstone – Finally, the last part of the sword is the gemstone located in the very middle of the crossguard. As mentioned earlier it was not modeled by hand but acquired from a blender gemstone plugin. For its material a simple glass shader is used. The index of refraction (IOR), is quite important, however, instead of using the IOR of a typical diamond, which happens to be 2.417 – 2.541, I used an IOR of 1.45, which is  that of light glass :s. I did some tests and just figured out that it looks better that way, and achieves the look I was trying to get.

The material nodes used for gem stone in the handle of the sword.

The material nodes used for gem stone in the handle of the sword.

The Bible

Animation

The book had to open and zoom-in onto a verse on one of the pages. So the first task was choosing the best way to do it. I looked into quite a lot of different CG book animations, done in different packages. After that I realised that having all the pages of the book as separate geometry would be a massive overkill! For the job I needed just a few separate pages which would flip when the book opens. The rest of the pages could be done in a different way, and I decided to use a morphing technique for the job ( like blend shapes in Maya), in Blender that goes under the name ‘shape keys’.

The book covers, were rigged with a very simple rig, just so they are not opened manually. An even better and more robust way of doing it would have been attaching the rig with the shape keys or rather rigging the pages, but I decided I didn’t really need all that for this case.

Here are a few images that show how the two animated shape keys morph over a set amount of time. This technique is used both for the two boxes, which mimic the bulk of the book’s pages as well as for the individual pages. This is a top-down orthographic view of the book.

orthoBook_0 orthoBook_1 orthoBook_2 orthoBook_3 orthoBook_4

Texturing

The Bible had to look really old, both inside and outside. For the purpose I went about creating my own textures, as finding old Bulgarian Bible textures on the web proved quite difficult. Thankfully I had a really old Bulgarian Bible, from 1871, the very year that it was first translated and published into ‘modern’ Bulgarian language. So I took some pictures with a professional camera, but in an unprofessional setting. The lack of studio lighting is the reason some of the textures come with highlights and weird colours… which is very bad. The lense which I used was also very inappropriate as it was a landscape wide-angle lense (21 mm). Anyway, I shot it from all 6 sides, and after some minor image manipulation in Gimp I textured the CG book. Here are the textures I used in case someone needs to use them:

Back Cover of the old Bible.

Back Cover of the old Bible.

Front Cover of the old Bible.

Front Cover of the old Bible.

Side of old Bible

Side of old Bible

Pages of old Bible.

Pages of old Bible.

I also created a black and white pass for the side texture so that I can use that to enhance the letters on the side of the cover. This I did by increasing their specularity and making them look glossy and golden.

The Black and White specular pass of the side of the Bible.

The Black and White specular pass of the side of the Bible.

Here is a screenshot of the node set up for this particular section of the book:

Bible side, material and texture node setup.

Bible side, material and texture node setup.

The inside of the Bible was yet another story. I couldn’t just take a picture of the exact page of that same Bible, because the text is written with some old letters which are no longer used in the Bulgarian language and probably no one would be able to read them especially in the small amount of time. So I decided to make my own old looking page. This I did by finding a blank old-book-page texture and laying out the text which belongs to that particular page in the specific format and specific font, so that it looks authentic. As far as I can remember all the separate pages where textured the same way, by making only some minor changes to the page layout, but this is not really recognisable in the animation. Another benefit of doing this, rather than just taking an image of an existing page with that text, is that you get much crisper font, and you avoid any distortions and deformations that you would get otherwise.

Blank old paper texture (left) and the text from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark added to it in the correct format. (right)

Blank old paper texture (left) and the text from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark added to it in the correct format. (right)

The Logo

The logo itself is quite simple. I developed the logo look, prior to this project, and since I am no artist you can see that there are some issues with the perspective which I discovered later. Anyway, it works for now, so I decided to stick with it and just traced out a 3D model of it in Blender. I added to it 3D modells of the letters which comprise the name of the magazine “Духовно Слово”, which translates to “Spiritual Word” in English, and also the website of the magazine, “duhovnoslovo.com”. Blender has the option to convert letters into 3D models and you could use different fonts and adjust widths, bevels, etc.

The logo and letters have a brushed metal appearance, which was achieved with the following shader setup:

The node setup of the letters and logo, giving it a brushed metal look.

The node setup of the letters and logo, giving it a brushed metal look.

The Animation

In terms of animation and cinematographic challenges, the whole ‘film’ is made up of 1 scene, consisting of 2 shots. The second shot could also be a transitional shot, meaning that during the verse close-up, another shot could start. I don’t really change the setting in this particular animation so I like to think of it as one shot.

Shot 1

The first shot introduces just the sword and here the camera is static and the sword is the one that is translated and rotated. Usually, that is how most people will do it to avoid any complications, e.g. everything else would be animated relative to a static camera. This ‘rule’ was overlooked by me in the second shot though.

Shot 2

The book was by far the most complex animation asset in the whole project. Since the book is comprised of different parts and they are animated in different ways, (rig, shape keys…) I found that translating and rotating the book, complicated my already finished animation of a static book, which opens. Therefore I decided to move the camera around the book instead. This would normally be frowned-upon, however that is what I did for this shot and it sort of worked fine. From then on however the camera had to be animated appropriately till the end of the shot. The camera path and angle was not done using some cleaver algorithm, but by key framing it by hand using a trial and error technique :D.

Then the camera dolly’s into the opened book and zooms-in onto a specific verse, which states:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15) [ESV]

I used to particle system to focus the eye on the exact verse that was desired. This was done by modelling a simple plane with a hole in it, just enough for the verse, which was placed between the page and the camera. Then making the plane non-renderable, and using it as an emitter for a particle system and making the particles change their colour over time, and randomising their lifetime etc.

To guide the eye through the verse I played around with the DoF, and making it focus on an animated focus plane. This part I should have done in post, that is for sure.

The shot then proceeds by zooming out, and dollying back out of the book and up to a position which is suitable for the final look.

Then follows the transition from the book and sword into the logo (not very successful in my opinion). The way I did that was by adding an emission node to the book materials, then animating the emission so that it increases appropriately, half-way through this the logo, which has a transparency node starts appearing (by also animating the transparency), same goes for the actual book itself, which vanishes with an animated transparency node.

The rest of the shot was greatly inspired by Andrew Price’s logo animation tutorial on Blender Guru. I think it would be redundant, for me to try to explain things which he describes in great detail, so if you are interested in any technique which was used in that last part, check out his tutorial.

Some More Mistakes

Here I will list some of the mistakes that I did during production. This is by no means an exhaustive account of all the mistakes as they are too many. but hopefully they can give you some tips that you might not repeat them:

  • Lots of the computationally expensive effects could be done with much greater ease in post production, using software such as AE, NUKE, or others. Such effects include the slow-mo, the particles during the verse close-up, and mainly the depth of field (DoF) which I used excessively, not knowing it contributes a great deal to the final render time.
  • Not rendering as a sequence of images. Since the project had to be split up over two laptops over a great period of time (a few months), due to poor computation power and unnecessarily high render settings. At first I began rendering to a video format straight away, which is a great mistake, when your renders are taking weeks and your computer is prone to crash! This is so, because you cannot recover anything after a crash (at least not that I know of). I quickly understood that the way to go is rendering to a sequence of, say PNG’s. This way when it crashed I simply continued from the last good frame and all was well. Later you can compose the sequence in a movie format with ease in Blender Video Editor, or other software.
  • This leads to another problem. Because of the necessity of rendering on different machines over a great period of time. I had done some minor modifications in the actual scene, which altered the timing slightly, of course I fixed all the animations so they match up, but one thing that I didn’t really think about was the particles! Yes, the particles had to be taken into account as well, so be very careful when making time-wise changes to your animation which has a particle system, which is rendered halfway… Of course, it is best not to make changes to the second part of a shot, after you have started rendering the beginning of that shot! The effect of this thoughtlessness is quite obvious in the clip above. For the same reason the camera animation also jumps a few times, which breaks the flow of the animation…

Meaning

In case someone is wondering what is the relationship between the sword and the Bible, it is based on the following verses:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13) [ESV]

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