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Making of: Taking the Plunge
Posted: Jul 13, 2010
Published by: AREA
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Maya
Category: Animation, General, Illustration, Modeling, Rendering
Skill: Beginner
Tutorial Steps
1Designing the Characters
5Lighting and Comp
6Thesis Animation : Taking the Plunge
7Additional Link

This Making-of is by Alison Donato

I'm going to make this a sort of brief and summarized "making of" my thesis going over the major parts of the process focusing on the creation of Mabel and then completing the film.

Designing the Characters

When making the designs of my characters I took into account a number of things. I'll talk about one character here (Mabel). I wanted Mabel's design to fit her personality; tricky and manipulative. She needed to be heavily stylized, but still be recognizable as an old woman. I also wanted to give her a strong and unique 2d silhouette, with simple shape designs and a lot of appeal.

I began my research by finding what makes an old woman look old. Since she was a very simplified character, adding a bunch of fine wrinkles and details to her face wouldn't fit with the style. I modeled extra skin over and under her eyes, along with a heavy crease from her nostrils to the corners of her mouth. This worked in at least making her recognizable as an older woman. Her exaggerated bent posture helped as well. Her design ended up being pointy and somewhat angular in order to fit her "evil old woman" persona.

Despite being in 3d, I wanted Mabel to have a strong 2D silhouette. I made sure that her shapes were interesting from every angle (front, side, 3/4). She needed to look appealing from any shot or angle I would be putting her in for my thesis. After I saw Mabel's design in 3d, I felt that the shape of her body was fairly boring (when standing her up completely straight). To remedy this, I worked out her curvy S stance. This was also an attempt at achieving a more interesting pose, and giving her another exaggerated elderly characteristic. The crazy hair-do was an attempt at balancing out the "weight" of her head, which juts far forward out in front of her, and may have otherwise looked visually unbalanced.

Because I was only a student, designing, for example, a fat/round character could take much more time to properly weight and rig and risk putting me behind schedule. When planning, I tried to take into account my limitations as a lone student working on a two minute film with tight progress deadlines.


Some changes were made to the character during the modeling process to tweak the design. I played around with lattices in Maya or the broader tools in ZBrush to find if I could improve the model's shapes and designs. This way I could easily see how appealing my model looked like from all angles. Having modeled my own character designs and drawings in 3d has helped me during the 2d design process. I've learned a bit after each project in terms of what works and doesn't work in a 2d to 3d transition. A lot of times, a few nice aspects of the 2D design do not translate so well into the 3d model, or are challenging to weight or rig. This is usually the point I try to fix any such problems I find pertaining to this, and learn from them for the future.

The topology and edgeflow were catered towards smooth deformation in motion. I am by no means an expert rigger, so I used The Setup Machine to automatically build my rig, giving me the freedom to redo the rig quickly if necessary. Rig tests were done to locate any problematic areas in terms of weighting, geometry and bone placement. I tweaked all of these aspects of my character until I came up with a suitable rig for animation.


My blendshapes were heavily exaggerated to a point that I would likely never need to use. By doing this I gave myself a lot of leeway, however, in style and animation. Since Mabel was elderly, and had a lot of extra facial skin, I made sure to put extra details into making her blendshapes believable. I made sure that when she made her expressions, her face didn't appear to be "losing volume," and that her skin was displaced.

After working on my blends, I did some tests to make sure she could create some of the facial expression that I wanted (mostly the angry ones). Once satisfied I used the tool jsfacial to hook up my set of controllers. The arching setup for some of the controllers allows things such as eyebrows to be tapered easily in any direction. I used set driven keys to make sure the teeth moved properly within the mouth.

After the blendshaping process and rudimentary texturing, I did a quick blendshape test animation of Mabel shifting through a few emotions. Her posing and textures have changed a lot since then, but it gave me a basic idea of what she would look like in motion.


The texturing process was pretty straightforward. After messing around and creating overly fancy textures using Mayas texturing nodes, I pulled back and kept it simple so I could focus more on lighting. I had already decided on Frank's colors early on (the green argyle vest), so I went with a purple color for Mabel, in contrast. The bump map on her clothes is a generic weave pattern and is very light. I used fake highlights (small circles of geometry w/ a white surface shader) parented to the eyes (though probably wouldn't do it again). I also used a few gradients in the color to give it a more interesting and differentiated look. Finally, Mabel's skirt and neck trim is made using a trim alpha pattern in the transparency attribute of the texture, so I didn't have to model it all out.

Lighting and Comp

Since my thesis focused on the "light of heaven" luring away Frank, lighting ended up being of extra importance to the project. To save on time, some of my lights were created (or faked) in Nuke, particularly the lights that otherwise would have been moving/animated in Maya.

I guess I tend to think of lighting a shot the same way I would while painting an image. I figured out my focal point in each shot and tried to use the lighting in order to focus a viewer's eye onto that spot. I learned a lot from this project, in that aspect, as this was the most lighting I had done before (33 shots over a couple of months). For each "room" in the house I set up a generic lighting setup that I imported into any shot taking place there. From that point I tweaked until I got an acceptable result. Frank had a transparent ghost effect and glow that I added in Nuke afterwards, so I rendered him out on seperate layers for each shot he was included in. I also did depth of field in Nuke during compositing.

Thesis Animation : Taking the Plunge

Additional Link

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Posted by RANUCE on May 11, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Very good work , keep going
Posted by uwe ziese on Apr 07, 2013 at 10:58 PM
very nice
Posted by sundaram.M on Mar 10, 2013 at 09:01 PM
Posted by helloworld_2 on Feb 12, 2012 at 11:07 AM
:) love it
Posted by Banna00747 on Dec 11, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Great work....!!!!! keep up good work