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Wander - Winter Break

This is my dailies blog for the current short animated film production, Wander, releasing Spring 2019. As the Technical Director, I'm working on lighting, look development, and research & development for the film. 

The official film blog can be found here.

week 1


I wanted to try some quick lighting tests for the previs forest. I was trying to block out the basic light direction/key-fill ratio, but the lighting test was quite useful to help me determine some of our priorities moving forward. 

Image from iOS.jpg

I made this rough paintover on one of the frames from our establishing/opening shot to help me better block out the mood, colors, composition, and lighting with atmospherics. 

The overall lighting mood/tone doesn't change significantly throughout the film, but there will be many sequence-specific changes I may have to work with later on. 

The mood of our environment is inspired largely by that of an Overwatch promotional animated short, "The Last Bastion." Here are some other paintings/images that serve as inspiration for our environment.

The password is ducks.

I rendered a short test sequence with lighting as Nia walks through it to roughly test the light direction/positions for the forest.

  • The lighting will diffuse through the leaves on the trees (right now, the trees are solid geo & creating solid shadows)

  • The trees will be in different positions & there will be more of them

  • It'll be easier to light the character once we're using the final rig with her face

  • I don't have a lot of experience lighting moving characters, and her twirling/facing different directions & the umbrella casting shadows presents an interesting challenge.

I also created a layout for the forest with proxy trees using the new height field scatter node in Houdini 17. The new HFscatter provides random rotation/uniform scale for free, and it's easy to create a hierarchical scatter system to generate foliage around the trees.

I'm currently using the copy sop with packing (I'm using the copy number to randomly select a type of tree in a switch node). However, since we have now decided we'll be using Arnold, I will probably need to re-create this system with instancing & Arnold procedural .ass files instead. 

With either system, it's easy to switch out these trees with the real trees, and it's easy to add or remove more varieties of trees to the system as well. These trees are separate from our hero/shot-framing trees along the path, which I will be placing & transforming manually. 


week 2


This week, I've been experimenting with the Mantra hair shader because we've been considering rendering in Mantra instead of Arnold (for licensing purposes). However, I've been having a bit of difficulty using Mantra to replicating the results I got in Arnold. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 7.20.18 PM.png

The image on the left was my render from Arnold, and the image on the right is the same exact lighting setup except in Mantra with Mantra shaders (the ground plane color might be darker in the Mantra shader). 

The image on the right is my most recent iteration, after I tweaked my lights, fur thickness, fur density, and clumping (and also sent my file to the render farm with the hair cache hooked up incorrectly... haha) 

I tried my best to tweak the Mantra hair shader parameters to improve the appearance of the yellow fur.

Compared to hair shaders I've used in other renderers (I experimented with the Renderman PxrMarschnerHair here and the Arnold Standard Hair here), I felt like the Mantra hair shader did not scatter the light as realistically in light-colored hair, even after playing with the render settings and jumping inside the shader and tweaking some things in vops. 

Though I was hoping I could get the duckling fur looking right in Mantra, our team and I decided it would be easier for us to render the film in Arnold instead of Mantra. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 7.13.21 PM.png

I've also been working on the UVs and a few miscellaneous model fixes for the main character. Although Nia's clothes are in progress and being made in Zbrush & Maya, I've always wanted to learn Marvelous Designer and decided to experiment by making her romper. 

The back of the shorts are way too short (which makes it look really tight around the crotch), it has too many wrinkles/creases for our purposes – we are planning to use a wrap deformer to attach her romper.

Although we aren't planning to use this for the final model, I appreciate that Marvelous is intuitive enough to learn the basics and make a decent model in just a day.

week 3


The password is ducks.

I spent a little time troubleshooting the fur and making some miscellaneous tweaks to the duckling groom.

Since I have to focus on the lookdev for Nia, the main character, and the environment set dressing & lighting as well, the duckling lookdev will be on hold until I have access to HtoA back at SCAD.

Once we were done finalizing Nia's model, I got started on the final version of her UVs in Maya. 


I wanted to try using UDIMs on Nia to get a better texture resolution for her head & face. Though I don't have a ton of experience with the UDIM workflow, I've been working ok with the UDIM texture sets in Substance Painter and plan to move into Mari for finishing.


I've been watching some useful YouTube tutorials for lookdev techniques. 

I am also continuing to update our production-specific Houdini/Arnold documentation to help our crew members find the resources they need to start learning & getting comfortable in Houdini.

week 4


I've been working on the textures & shading for Nia's face & eyes in Substance Painter and Maya. The images below are some of my in-progress iterations of her lookdev.


Some of the changes I'm planning to make to the skin/eyes in the most recent iteration include:

  • Fix "5 o'clock shadow" look (increase scattering/saturation around mouth area?) 

  • Add normal/bump/displacement detail to surface of the skin

    • Specular roughness variation​

  • Smooth lines drawn around lips, fix "overdrawn" lips look

  • Darken colored rings around iris/eye whites

  • Add sharper definition to irises/bump map

  • Change placement of freckles (move away from tip of nose)

  • Create subtle color/texture map for whites of eyes

The hair and eyebrows grooms will be done in Houdini, so I'm using proxy geometry for now.

Although I'm not quite ready to start on the hair, I wanted to visualize her with some different hairstyles.

The purple sketch is traced from the proxy geometry, and the red sketch is Erin's drawing based off the original concept & the new geo. The green sketch was drawn based off the original concept, and the blue sketch is the same but warped and shrunk. 

I haven't done a groom this complex before, so I'm excited to get started!


week 5


This week, I worked more on Nia's lookdev for her skin & irises. Instead of using procedural noise patterns to shade her eyes, I used a texture map. I also worked on the skin texture painting in Substance Painter and troubleshooting some UV mapping/subdivision issues in Maya. 


Smooth Mesh Preview (hotkey 3)


Original Mesh but with shape node's Arnold settings > Subdivision > Type set to catclark, iterations set to 2, and UV smoothing set to linear

I had been having a texture map issue around the lips, where the corner of the left bottom lip looked smooth in Substance Painter but had a strange bump in my renders in Maya (in the Smooth Mesh Preview image on the top left).

Even after trying to fix & repaint it several times in Painter, I figured out the issue was actually the way it was smoothing the UVs when subdividing the geometry in Smooth Mesh Preview. Setting the UV smoothing to "linear" prevented the appearance of the ridges in the lip texture.

Original Mesh (hotkey 1)

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