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  • Rendering Tutorial – Using Maya Software and AfterEffects

    2014 - 06.25

    Hello animators! So you’ve pushed your animation as far as you can, you’ve polished and polished and Polished until there’s not a single flat tangent in your graph editor. Congratulations! ….. now what? Send in your Reel right? Hold your horses there little feller. You’ve got to render it out.

    Granted, if you’re applying for an animator position they should just be looking at your animation. But I would be a fool to think that they don’t consider the overall presentation of your Reel. Its kind of like a cake that hasn’t been decorated yet. Yeah, it still has the same great taste but they’re not going to know that until you compel them to try a piece first. So here’s a quick tutorial on how to easily add some visual icing to your animation cake!

    Just a quick note before we get started. This is just a simple render technique that is meant for animators who have been pushing there work and want to just render it out quickly. In collaborative/ studio work, lighting and rendering your projects is WAY WAY WAY more complex than this.

    Step 1 of 8 – Setting your project.

    First you have to set your project. This is going to make it, so that your renders all go to one place and is easier to find later.

    In Maya go to File>Project Window

    Then click New. Then click the little folder Icon under New. Now just name and pick where you want the project to be saved in. This is going to create a bunch of subfolders that say Sound, Images, Movies, etc.

    Now move your Animation Scene into the Scenes folder.

    Next go to File>Set Project and look for your Project. SINGLE click it. Then click on the bottom where it says Set.

    Next go to File>Open Scene. If you did the steps correctly, your Animation Scene should be right there. Just SINGLE click it and click Open.

    Now your scene should be ready to go and the renders will be easy to find!


    Step 2 of 8 – Adding the lights and shadows

    Now for the fun part, adding lights and shadows! I’ll go through setting up an Ambient Light and a Spot Light, but feel free to add more if you like.

    Go to Create>Lights>Ambient Light. This adds just that little bit of light so that you’re not in complete darkness. Then move the light to where you want it and set the Intensity to 0.8. Now for the Spot Light.

    Go to Create>Lights>Spot Light. I would suggest creating at least two of these.

    First move the light to where you want it. I like pressing T on the keyboard. This makes two different cursors pop up so that it’s easier for you to point the light exactly where you want it.

    Next you have to adjust your settings on the Spot Light. Feel free to make your own adjustments to achieve the look you are going for, but here are the settings I used for this particular scene.

    First go to Decay Rate and set it to Quadratic.

    Next go to Intensity and set it to 60,000.

    Then go to Cone Angle and Penumbra Angle and set those to 50.

    Now go to Shadows and check the box that says Use Depth Map Shadows. Then crank the Resolution up to 7500 or more. This will help the shadows not look so pixelated.


    Step 3 of 8 – Render Settings

    Once you have all the lights you want, it’s time to fine tune it in the Render settings and get it ready to Batch Render.

    Go to your Render Settings by going through the menu or clicking the little Render Settings Icon.

    Now click on the Maya Software tab. Then, where it says Quality, change it to Production Quality. Now render right quick and see if you need to make any adjustments to the lighting. Once you’re ready you should get something like this.


    It looks a little flat right now but that’s ok. We will fix that in AfterEffects. For now just make sure that there is enough light and that the shadows are not that harsh of pixelated. Now it’s time to set up the Batch Render.

    In the Render Settings click on the Common tab.

    Where it says Image Format, set it to Targa.

    Under that where it says Frame/Animation ext:, set it to name.#.ext

    Next change the Frame Padding to 3.

    Now under Frame Range make sure to include all the frames you want rendered. In this example I wanted to render out frames 620 – 652. So in the Start Frame: I put 620 and in the End Frame: I put 652.

    Finally, under Renderable Camera make sure you choose the camera you made for your animation. In this case, I created a camera called ShotCam. So it is set to ShotCam.


    Step 4 of 8 – Batch Render

    Almost there, now you just need to Batch Render. Just a suggestion, if you want to make sure everything is set up right, try rendering out only 5 frames and make sure they are being sent where they are supposed to. In your project, you should be able to find the renders under the Images subfolder. It’s important to make sure you did it right because rendering takes a long time.

    So once you’re confident that everything is setup right, it’s time to Batch Render.

    In the Rendering menu go to Render>Batch Render. That’s it. Now you just have to wait till it’s done doing its thing. If you want to see how far along it’s coming, just click on the Script Editor icon. A window will pop up telling you how close to done the renders are. It’ll say something like Rendering frame 1 of 200, then 2 of 200, etc. Once it’s done, it’ll say Rendering Complete.


    Step 5 of 8 – Importing to AfterEffects

    Were almost done, just have to make it watchable for everyone!

    In AfterEffects go to File>Import>File

    Navigate to where your renders are (They should be in your Project folder in the Images subfolder) and click on the first Render. In this case its Shot09_Final.620. Then make sure that Targa Sequence is checked, then click Import.

    Another window will pop up. Just check Straight – Unmatted and click OK.


    Step 6 of 8 – Interpreting the Footage

    THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP!!! If you skip this step, your animation will look different. It might look slower or faster.

    In the Project window Right click the footage. Then go to Interpret Footage>Main.

    In this window, change the frame rate to whatever frame rate you chose to do your animation in. In my case, I animated at 24 FPS, so I changed the frame rate to 24. Hit Enter. If you did it right the number next to your footage in the project window should be at the correct frame rate.


    Next drag the footage down into the Composition.


    Step 7 of 8 – Color Correction

    Now comes the part where we fix the flatness that we talked about earlier.

    Select your footage, then go to Effects>Color Correction>Levels.

    Now in the Effects window, move the top two sliders around. One slider is for the darks and the other for the lights. What you want to do is make the darks a little darker and the lights a little lighter. This will add some contrast and make the footage really stand out.

    From here you can add more colors or effects to whatever works best for your animation. In my case I added a Ramp effects and some Calculations.


    Finally we can make the .mov file.


    Step 8 of 8 – Exporting the .mov file

    Once you’re happy with the way it looks, go to Composition>Add to Render Queue.

    In the Render Queue window, click on Lossless.

    Then change the Format to Quicktime.

    Next click on Format Options. In here, you can choose whatever compression format you like. In my case, I like using Sorenson Video 3.

    Now click on the file name next to Output To:

    Then name your file and choose where to save it.

    Finally, click Render. Yay, were done!


    Thank You

    I hope this tutorial helped you to put that extra icing on your cake. If you have any questions or anything was unclear, feel free to comment below or email me. HAVE A GREAT DAY!!! :D

    Lightning Returns…But Will I?

    2014 - 03.14

    I love Final Fantasy games. I’ve been playing them since FF7 on the PSone. They always tend to have fun stories, beautiful artwork, and fun gameplay…until now. Final Fantasy 13: Lightning’s Return is FF’s latest installment in the series and the last part of the 13 trilogy. Before it came out, I heard about some of the changes they were going to make. I was hopeful and had a positive outlook on the changes. Then I actually played the game and man was I disappointed.

    Change and experimentation is good. Anyone who’s played a couple FF games knows that each one is a little different. FF13 introduced the ATB system, FF10 had a progression tree, jeez…FF8 even had a system where you collected your powers from the monsters (kind of like Pokemon) My biggest and main gripe with LR is it’s progression system.
    Gaining Experience

    In most FF games the way you get stronger is by simply defeating monsters. The bigger the monster the stronger you get. In LR, that’s not the case. In LR the way you gain experience is by completing side quests and helping people out. It can get pretty tedious sometimes just running around fighting monsters to level up, so this premise sounded pretty good. In actual practice though, it’s not. Usually you’ll be sent to go find something and at times it can be difficult to know where to look next. To make matters worse, certain locations are only available after midnight. Ok that’s fine, I’ll go do another quest in another area. But the monsters in that area are too strong right now. Ok then, I’ll just go to an inn and fast forward time. But the world is coming to an end in a couple of days so you should make the best of your time and do quests(More about that annoyance next). Ok so, I guess um…I’ll just keep running around finding clocks for example. FAIL

    Time Limit

    LR only gives you a couple of days to complete the game. I’m ok with that. It gives the game a sense of urgency. I assumed it would be like Majora’s Mask where you were able to turn back time to complete more quests. I assumed wrong. The days go by and at the end of the final day the world blows up, fades to black, GAME OVER. Now I kind of start to panic. I calm down, okay I’m sure I’ll be able to keep my upgrades and any main quests I’ve completed. Wrong again. I do keep some of my gear but every quest is reset and I have to start over again.

    I don’t mind playing a game again. Actually, I think replayability in a game is important. But come on, I put 30+ hours into it only to have to start over again. Most of those quests weren’t even that fun to begin with. It’s like working on a school assignment for weeks, having your computer crash, attempt to recover it, and only get half of the data back. FAIL

    Second Chance

    The Final Fantasy series’ artwork, music, cut scenes, and battle system are still one of, if not, the best in the genre. But will it be enough to bring me back to LR’s broken gameplay mechanic. I don’t know.

    Favorite Emotional Scene from Game of the Year – The Last Of Us

    2014 - 01.11

    With IGN awarding the game The Last Of Us with game of the year, I figure it’s about time I share with you my top emotional scene from this game.

    The Setup –

    The Last Of Us takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie infested world. One of the main characters is a teenage girl named Ellie. Ellie was born and raised during the apocalypse. Her childhood has consisted of living in military compounds and running away from zombies. Ellie lost her parents at a very young age.  She also lost her best friend Riley because of a zombie attack. After the attack, it’s discovered that Ellie is immune to the zombie virus. She is then introduced to Joel who has been put in charge of taking Ellie to an important laboratory to find a cure for the virus. Joel is an older man that lost his own daughter during the beginning of the apocalypse.

    At one point during their journey to the laboratory (by this time more close friends have died)Ellie runs away. She finds out that Joel is trying to leave her with his brother and be free of the burden of taking Ellie to the laboratory. Joel catches up to her and finds her in an abandoned house. The scene then follows…

    The Elements of the Scene –

    Up until this point, Ellie has been very strong and independent. She is constantly telling Joel that she can take care of herself. The soft lighting, the stuffed animals, her curled up seating position, it all reminds the audience that Ellie, despite of the horrors she’s faced, is still just a scared girl.  When Joel tells Ellie that she “…has no idea what loss is.” you can see the mixed emotions of being scared, sad, and infuriated to the point that she even pushes Joel. Also notice that they chose a flat camera angle during their dialogue. The camera is not angled low or high despite the fact that Ellie and Joel differ greatly in height (I think they might have cheated a little to achieve this effect). This helps to show that neither character is stronger or weaker than the other. They both have had their share of hardships and loss. Their body language communicates what they are trying to accomplish. Ellie stands directly facing Joel even leaning in a bit as if to say “I’m going to take control of my life for a change” Joel on the other hand is facing away from Ellie, turning his back to her as if to say “I don’t want to face my problems and be reminded of the daughter I lost.”

    Congratulations to the creators (Naughty Dog)! They have definitely helped bridge the gap between Movies and Video Games. To hear more about the game, check out the link below to hear what IGN had to say about it. But if you really want to enjoy the game, just play it. Trust me, even if you don’t usually play video games you’ve got to play this one.


    First Weeks at Andy Toonz Studios

    2013 - 11.18

    My first weeks at Andy Toonz Studios have definitely forced me to branch out into other areas of the creative process. I applied for the internship to work as an animator, but surprisingly, animation is the least of the work I’ve been doing. I’ve been working on everything from concept art, storyboarding, and even teaching other interns animation fundamentals. Andy Toonz Studios has great ambitions and potential but they are not at the animation stage yet. This is perfectly normal. When artists come up with ideas, the final product is only as good as the amount of planning that was put into it. There is tons of planning going on at Andy Toonz Studios. I’m excited to be a part of it. And even though I’m not actually animating, I am picking up concepts and ideas that I could put in my animation later on.

    Eddy Garcia – Intern @ Andy Toonz Studios