After wrapping up production on a large project I found myself with some time to get back to playing and hopefully hone some skills that I have wanted to brush up on. I initially had the idea of working on walk cycles and making them adaptable and variable to suit a character's personality and I remembered a website I used to go to called Mixamo where you could apply motion capture from their library to a 3d rig. I also remembered reading that they had been bought by Adobe so maybe there was some sort of integration that had been developed.
Going to the site it was nice to see that service is in tact and that it is included in your Creative Cloud subscription but it's not too much different than when it was acquired. I hope Adobe has plans to develop and possibly integrate it more fully into its suite of products in some way.
Still, the library is pretty extensive and it does work, somewhat - which I will explain shortly.
In looking through the library of walk cycles I stumbled on motion capture files for the dance routine of Michael Jackson's Thriller music video. Immediately my mind started conjuring up possibilities for what could be done with these. Because my original focus was working on my 2d animation skills I was focused on trying to make these animations work on a flat 2d plane so I experimented with creating nulls as children of joints and bringing them into After Effects to attach items but this dance routine is quite complicated and there are quite a few turns in Z depth that I eventually turned to adopting it in 3d and then move to 2d for added effects.
So I knew what skills I wanted to work on but I needed a concept. Something to pull it together, make it fresh and new and a bit challenging. I thought of using old people thinking I could have some fun with their moves and their design. But eventually that idea started to seem stale and a bit obvious. Laying in bed early one morning I was trying to come up with different titles that would be an homage to "Thriller". I stumbled on "Chiller" and from there the idea of using food started to develop. Given the original video featured rotted and decaying people, it was clear this food should also be rotting and decaying.
The first step before creating characters was to lay the foundation. Going to Mixamo and using a default rigged character I downloaded all 4 parts of the dance routine. I rendered out a wireframe of the routines in Cinema 4D and pulled them into Premiere. I got a copy of the original Thriller music video and in Premiere edited the routines and matched the timing to the video. I now had my base from which to work.
I will admit up front that I am not a 3d modeller. I have done some modelling in the past but this wasn't about honing up on modelling skills, I wanted to work on animation and storytelling. I knew I could manipulate existing meshes for my needs so I figured that was the best route. Over the years and hundreds of projects I have worked on, I have purchased 3d models and downloaded many free ones and so I started to search for food items that could work as dance characters. My copy of Element 3d from Video Copilot has a food pack and there were several nice models to start from there. The pineapple stuck out as an obvious choice as he could stand out as a lead given the tall spikey "hair" so I started off with him. He was Michael.
Of course, to dance he needed arms and legs. Mixamo has a collection of characters you can download as well. Most of them are game oriented and I needed something more in the cartoon vein which there are a few. I chose a couple models that I liked and begin pulling them apart in C4D. I knew I could stitch and sew the polygons of the arms and legs to the mesh of the pineapple but given the pineapple was a very complicated mesh, I opted to just stick them in and hoped the rigging system would read it correctly. This was all experimentation and learning so I was okay with making mistakes and trying again.
I have rigged in C4D before and it's not too cumbersome but I thought I would take advantage of using the automatic rigging system of Mixamo (creating your character in a T-pose and uploading an fbx and aligning key points and let the software rig it). Doing it this way also has a higher likelihood of the joints and weighting adapting to the Mixamo mocap better I figured.
Turns out I was only partly correct. There were some glaring errors in the weighting system of the joints I was going to have to fix. His body was being pulled along with the arms way too much (an issue that would be a factor in several of the models). To my surprise the fact that he didn't actually have a head still seemed to work even though there was stretching of polygons.
After applying the different dance routines to the rig and mesh and downloading, I wanted to start putting the character into the scene just to see if it was going to work before I started into refining the mesh errors. I replaced the default character with the pineapple, editing him into the scene and then started to create the camera moves to match the original video.
Part of the way through this I realized the framing was going to have to be modified as there were going to be 10 characters in total and I needed to know where they were in space so I could frame properly. Instead of creating all of the characters at this point, I just duplicated the pineapple and placed the characters where I wanted them. Even though the pineapple is a complicated mesh, the system handled it very quickly so it wasn't an issue and at this point I was just dong software wireframe renders.
With the blocking and timing laid out, I set in to modify the pineapple mesh to correct the errors. I don't have very much experience with joints and weighting so I was learning as I went using a trial and error method until I ended up with a satisfactory result. I knew I didn't need it to be perfect as 1) all characters were meant to be partly spoiled and therefore somewhat disfigured and 2) my final renders will be toon shaded which would cover up some of the errors.
With pineapple ready to go I started the long process of populating the scene with the rest of the characters. Many different models and ideas were tried and ultimately most of the choices were made as a result of either what was available, easily created and/or translated well as a dancing character.
The most obvious choice was a piece of cheese as it could show mold and stand out. I created a piece of cheese myself as the shape is basic and using booles creates holes easily enough.
A piece of broccoli I thought would compliment the shape and color of the pineapple so it was next - using the same method of sticking in arms and legs but this time using the female character limbs as they seemed to suit the character more.
A rotting piece of meat was another obvious choice. Another easy shape I could model myself with splines and extrusion.
A red pepper because the bright color would create a nice contrast.
An avocado because they rot very quickly and his pit would become the catalyst for the carnage that ensues.
A chicken drumstick. I found this model and just thought it would look funny dancing.
A milk carton - because avocado needs something to slip on and milk spoils.
An opened can of spoiled food. I thought the warping of the mesh of the tin can would work as a bloated item you shouldn't eat. The lid can act as a convenient head.
After trying so many other ideas I settled on the jar of preserves, Firstly with the lid and fabric it works well as a head and secondly she can be the casualty.
I knew the placement of these items were critical on 2 fronts; Color and shape. I therefore had to start applying color to them by getting in and making mesh selections on their polygons and created the materials and getting the colors just how I wanted them. I would worry about making them look spolied later. Adding various lights and playing with placement was required to get just the right modelling of light and shadow on the group.
Once I got the look of each item how I wanted, I looked at the different camera angles particularly the main front angle and decided final placement for each character.
I did several test renders and decided early on that I didn't care for the 30fps real time look with tooned characters. I experimented with different frame rates and settled on 10fps as it gave the look I wanted and seemed to match the overall design. Later I would realize that the timing of the edit points would need to be adjusted as certain actions would be just starting at a cut point appearing jarring because of this drop in frame rate. I had intended for this to be cut exactly as the original but some modifications were going to have to be made to ensure the timing was right and the action cutting was fluid.
I also found I needed to play with timing a bit here and there and therefore needed to render out more than I was intending on using. For this reason I created several different cameras for each angle and labelled them with the frames they were intended to render. They were all rendered in separate passes. Because of the overlap I couldn't use the Stage tool.
With all materials applied I needed to start making them look spoiled and so entered into unchartered territory - Bodypaint. Another learn as you go process with only middling success. In retrospect it would have been easier to just apply a layer to a channel and import photoshop-created blobs with alpha onto the mesh and use the texture tool to position.
Since we were supposed to be in a pseudo fridge interior, I created the bottles, jars, cans and containers, textured them and placed them in the background, sometimes moving them for different camera angles to optimize the shots. Serval different lighting systems were used with exclusions to maximize their look and not affect the character final renders (though a 2 pass render was an option).
The final dance sequence renders were edited into Premiere and I realized there were some mesh errors that needed cleaning up on Broccoli and Steak. It probably could have been easier to resolve these tears and seams had I been more experienced with polygon manipulation but I ended up painting in Photoshop using the video timeline.
I also found it easier to create the splat effects in After Effects as I didn't need the characters to move for these shots. The slip shots were a combination of 2d and 3d using animated masks and shapes.
To set the scene at the beginning and end, I created the kitchen from scratch except for the fridge itself which was purchased and turned out to be the perfect style for what I envisioned.
The final shot with the jar exploded was created using a combination of Bodypaint and masked images on textures as layers.
The final edits of the music made along with sound design and the video was complete!