AMA Unclassified: Some Stuff I've Done at Work

 I haven't been able to blog that much lately about creative 3D stuff because since I started work at AMA, I have been working on 'sensitive but unclassified' material.  Essentially, it's stuff that if I told you what I did, I'd have to kill you... or at least hit you with a wiffle bat.

Anyway, since most of my time at work is taken up with 3D, I haven't done that much at home.  However, there are a few things that I've worked on either as personal learning projects or developing something that might come in handy in the future.  A lot of what I now do would fall under the category of 'generalist' in the 3D world's terms.  That means I do a lot of 3D modeling, texturing, rigging, lighting, animating, rendering, and compositing... which is the whole kit and kaboodle, basically!  (I even do the music and sound effects now...)

One of my learning projects, I actually did this afternoon in After Effects.  My coworker told me about a great tutorial site called Video Copilot, which sells some great plugins for After Effects, but also has plenty of free lessons on how to do certain things in the program.  One of their tutorials inspired me to try something out to get some more practice in After Effects.  I never used it much before, except to composite my 3D frames together.  Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Now, you're probably wondering why I am proud about creating the above footage.  Well, let me first off explain that nothing of what you see in the video was actually captured as video footage.  I started off with two still images:

The Ares rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral

A NASA T-38 chase plane

Pretty odd, huh?  I watched a tutorial where the guys at Video Copilot took a still image of a volcano and turned it into something that looks like it was video footage shot from a helicopter.  Essentially, it involves taking the still image and slowly distorting it from start to finish in the following fashion:

This gives the illusion of parallax and tricks your brain into thinking that the image is actually moving.  There is a lot of cleanup work, however.  For example, because the towers look goofy in the above twisted image, I had to separate them from the background and then clean up the area behind them so that it looks like nothing is there.  (I actually learned a lot about the tools in AE from this little exercise.)

After that, I added the small chase plane with a particle emitter coming out the back to give the sense of exhaust coming out.  I also added subtle things that help you think that it is real like the shaky camera movement, film grain, the spotty lens artifact, lens flares, and even some subtle chromatic aberration.  All in all, I spent some good time making it look pretty, which I probably wouldn't really get to do in a real production.  Most of all, I've learned how easy it is to fake things in 2D rather than creating them totally in 3D.

Another project I like showing off is the Earth-Moon rig I created using Modo:

My desktop background at work

I found some very nice, detailed texture maps on the internet and used them to create a 1/10,000th scale model of the Earth (Modo wouldn't handle the real scale).  The whole purpose of the rig is to be able to quickly adjust the controls so that you can get realistic lighting conditions and scale for whatever Earth-Moon image you might want to create.

There are controls that let you switch out the cloud texture, change the backdrop, change the season, change the time of day (and the dark side of the Earth will automatically light up... pretty cool stuff, if you ask me).  You can even scale up the moon and the sun if you want to go for some artistic license.  It has been a little side project of mine, but it has actually come in handy when someone came in and asked for a to-scale image of the Earth, the Moon and Mars for a presentation.  I just had to whip out that file and I was done within a half hour.

Bottom line: I'm really liking my work.

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