The Anatomy of a 3D Character Build: How I Create a Virtual Character

I’ve already posted about the fun 3D gargoyle character I’m creating but today I decided I’d like to go more in depth into the process of getting the model from concept to fully-realized and ready to animate. That last is still a work in progress (a “WIP” in the vernacular) but it’s quite close to completion now. I’m always excited when a build gets to this point because then the real artsy fun can begin!

To recap, I became intrigued by a gargoyle statue in my neighbor’s coffee shop and decided I wanted to do something related as a 3D character. This is a photo of the statue itself:

Gargoyle Statue

Dude: you know you want to buy me a coffee.

With that image in mind I set about sculpting the gargoyle’s form. I won’t go into the gory details of the build process here because I’ve already posted about how I do that sort of work. You can see an example of a torso build in my post about working in virtual clay as well as watch a video of me sculpting a very basic toon style head.

Two challenges of this build were the “digitigrade” style legs and the dragon style wings. Although I’ve built many character models, even a 3D cartoon bear, all of those models have featured “plantigrade” or human style legs and none have had wings. I tried, and failed, to craft pleasing legs from my mind’s eye alone and eventually realized something all good modelers should know: work from reference material whenever you can. A quick session with Teh Google and I had a nice collection of photos of various animals in fleshed and skeletal form. I also found this extremely useful sketch related to “anthro” or anthropomorphic animal characters (said leg style being exactly what I was trying to get to):

leg reference image

Who knew there were so many variations?

The wings, once I thought about it, turned out to be rather simple to create. They are just arms, hands, and fingers that are proportioned so the arms are short and the fingers fanned out, long, and slender. The only difference was adding the membrane but thanks to the miracle of modern modeling software that was a snap. One note was needing to make sure the membrane’s polygons were aligned with the finger joints to insure smooth deformation later on.

I banged out the primary build in roughly two and a half days—not working full-bore on the project, but putting in a respectable number of hours per day. Again, the unfamiliarity of the leg/hoof style plus experimenting with several approaches to the wings made the build a little slower than normal for me.

This is a screen shot of the full model in low-poly mode (the version of the model that I actually worked with):

wires cage

Pretty ugly and blocky, no?

This is the same model in subdivision surface mode, where the blocky-looking polygon cage is automagically smoothed (this is, of course, the version you actually see in renders):

wires subd

Much purtier!

A staple of model construction at this point is the “turntable” render where you can examine the model from multiple angles under typical studio lighting. It will reveal any problem areas in the basic geometry that could cause rendering artifacts or unpleasing silhouettes. You can also get a start on the surface materials you want to use. Here is one such test for this model using a surface I created in homage to the silvered one of the original statue:

Your basic Power Twirl

Note that although the model is not yet rigged at this stage I partially posed the wings to get a better look at them. Of course the version for rigging has them aligned to the major axes to make adding bones easier.

Then comes the rigging! The rigging process is possibly the most tedious one that exists in the modeling/animation world (next to waiting for a lengthy render to complete). The current state of the art has come a long way in that regard, thankfully, and I have gleefully embraced every advance in rigging technology as it’s become available to smaller Studios like mine. Nowadays I can (minus testing and tweaking) bang out a fully-realized body rig in just a couple of hours.

Standard practice is to start a rig with a “root” bone that will be the One Bone to Rule Them All. Moving this bone around will take the entire rig with it. For bipeds the best place for this root is in the hip region. From there individual preferences vary; mine is to build down to the ground first, getting the lower body and legs in good form and then building from there up towards the arms and finally the head. A lot of folks like to get the spine in place right away but I march to the beat of a different drummer.

Here’s a look at the lower body portion of the gargoyle rig. The tail assembly is very heavy, 30 bones, because I want the tail to be extremely fluid when I start animating it. I tried a couple of lower-count versions and was just not happy with the segmentation under tight curves. Fortunately my Mac Pro has the horsepower to handle this sort of thing with no issues.

rig legs

Dem Bones

Then it’s a slog, adding bones and building up the skeletal structure and the associated control objects for posing it. Long gone are the days of directly clicking bones (or boxes in a schematic of the rig) to pose them. Those control methods still exist but I’m not Old Skool enough to want to use them.

Now I’ll go into three views of the “final” (no rig is ever final, even if you had to deliver it to Production. There is always something that could have been done better) rig for my gargoyle as it stands today. This first one is what I’ll be looking at when posing and animating the character. Note I changed the texture of the model to a material that looks as though the gargoyle were carved from stone—the traditional medium for this character.

gargoyle rig 1

Which ones are the twerking bones?

Here’s a view of the same rig with the model hidden so you can appreciate unobscured the elegant beauty of a bunch of virtual bones.

skeleton rig 2

Look Ma: no skin!

So, what’s up with all that orange blocky stuff? Those are called “cage deformers” and they are one of the newer fun toys in the animator’s arsenal. In practice, no matter how good your model and rig, the lack of actual muscles under the skin keeping the skin pumped up can cause the model surface to lose volume when deformed. Shoulders, elbows, knees…the typical problem areas are legion. There exist many ways to fix such things, such as hold bones, “muscle” bones, corrective morphs, and the like. Deform cages yield the same result: the ability to tweak geometry in a pose to correct deformation problems. The difference is that, IMNSDHO, being able simply to drag cage points around to tweak geometry on the fly is a vastly easier method to apply corrections. Since the cages also deform with the bones, and the fine-tuning you do by dragging the cage points around gets saved as key frames in your animation, you can pose and tweak on the fly with scarcely a pause. Cool stuff!

Here’s one more look at the skeleton with the cages faded out so you can see more detail of the actual bone structure:

skeleton no cage

Gargoyle Uncaged

As you may have guessed, all those colorful shapes are the controllers for moving the rig parts around. Creating such controllers has long been both extremely tedious (IMNSDHO) and a black art where every rigger has their favorite control methods for various parts. That situation has changed tremendously in recent years, as “auto-rig” plugins proliferate. Such tools typically offer both fully-realized standard rigs for a variety of creature types and a library of rig parts you can toss in ad hoc when constructing something that needs a custom treatment. I am rather fast at dropping and linking bones manually but I believe I’ve mentioned in the past how I despise hooking up and programming control items. No real reason I can point to, I just personally find that task a chore and a bore. The drop-in rig parts usually come with pre-set controllers and the better plugins even give you a choice between multiple control set-ups for each part. Good plugins also allow you to work seamlessly with the basic rigging operations giving you complete control when you need to add stuff that might not be in the library. My personal favorite rigging tool is called Rhiggit Pro, the master work of one of Lightwave3D‘s most renowned rigging experts who is also a gifted plugin coder. Rhiggit meets every one of my criteria for a production level rigging tool and the author is wonderfully responsive and helpful when I have questions.

Once your model has passed the turntable test, and you’ve checked out your rig with some test deformations (straightforward stuff like moving the limbs around into various positions, including extreme ones, and revising as needed) it’s time to do some test poses on that bad boy. I like to come up with a cool scene and place the new model therein so as to evaluate both its deformation and its appeal in a “real scene.” Partly clinical, partly just because I dig doing this stuff and playing with a new model is fun.

Here is the initial pose test for this model:

pose test 1

My Preciousssssss….

For a first pose I was pretty happy with how this image turned out. Chief issues were loss of volume around the knee joints, some oddness around the shoulders, and the hip joints weren’t deforming as I wanted them to. For the first two issues it was time to start tweaking the cage deformers to smooth out the shoulders and flesh out the knees:

test pose 2

Kneeded some work.

Ah, much better! But wait: what’s up with those hip joints? Ugly creases! Seems when I tweaked the thigh deforms I bled the polygon shifts into the hip region. No problemo, because I thoughtfully added a deform cage for the hips and this rig comes with some nice twisty-bone controllers to help unroll stressed geometry in the limbs. A little tweak here, a little tweak there, et voila:

more tweaks

Almost there….

Now we’re cooking with gas! My one critique at this point is there is a bit of segmentation along the edges of the wing membranes when viewed at this angle. Smoothing normally takes care of that but in these cases the silhouette doesn’t lie. The current geometry is at the “sweet spot” where the membranes deform beautifully when the wing digits are posed; more or fewer polygons and they start to crumple in odd ways. What to do?

Turns out this is an easy fix, at least in Lightwave (I’m certain most—if not all—other titles offer something equivalent, just being parochial here). Remember the concept of subD and how it smooths the base geometry? Well, that’s where the problem lies in this render. The “sub patch level” is configurable and in my test render it was simply set too low for that particular pose angle.

Here is the posed model if rendered at sub patch level zero:

sub patch 0

A cubist’s nightmare

Note how simple is the wing membrane geometry; that single seam allows it to bend perfectly when the digits are posed and give it that nice billowing look without any odd motions creeping in. Here is the same pose at the default level, three:

sub patch 3

Close, but no cigar.

That’s the level those test renders were taken at and, for most situations, it’s fine to leave it there. Like I said: smoothing takes care of almost all segmentation issues; it’s when a particular scene introduces a full-on foreground silhouette like the wing’s edge that the segmentation becomes apparent. So, now, here is the same pose again, but with the sub patch level cranked up to ten:

sub patch 10

But, does it go to eleven?

As you can see, the segmentation has been massively reduced. Note that in each of these cases the actual model has not been changed one tiny bit, only the level at which the render engine calculates the smoothed version. A lower value than 10 might be plenty but since this is a one-off static render there was no need to spend time trying to find the best balance of complexity and good render results.

Why not just leave it at something really high all the time? Render times, my droogs. When you’re in production, and deadlines come into play, you need every precious second available and in any 3D production (at least for those of us with modest render farms or with only a single render machine) you should assume roughly 60% of your timeline will be spent rendering. You need to fine tune your scene so as to use the minimal amount of resources necessary to achieve the desired results (unless time is of no concern to you). For this guy I expect most scenes are going to be rendered at the default of 3 and I’ll only need to crank the level up on specific scenes where the wing edges are rather close to the camera and/or seen edge on.

Without further ado here is our hero all smoothed out and tweaked to the nines:

patch 10

Ready to terrorize Gotham.

Ah, now we’re talking! In Lightwave the desired sub patch level is just typed in and I have no idea what the upper limit is. Might be fun some day to find out, but not today.

And there you have it: my workflow when creating a new character model taken from conception to final posing tests. The next time I post about this cute li’l guy we’ll talk animation stuff.

Until then!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Be the Change that You Want to See in the World

Take charge

No one else is going to look after your interests, it’s up to you.

Some personal slice of life musings. Read on at your own peril.

I’ve been wanting to “get involved” for a long time. As I see it: if you want things in your life to change your next step is to get off your keister and set processes in motion to effect that change. I’ve stood by that philosophy in terms of my professional and personal life, and I can honestly say I live by my principles.

But what about the stuff around me? I can b*tch and moan online until my fingers fall off but apart from indulging some catharsis WTF am I accomplishing?

Right: el Zippo.

So, where do I even begin trying to help clean up the messes that I see?

First off, the idea of getting active politically does not fly with me. I get that corrupt and dysfunctional institutions (in other words, essentially every government agency there is) need to be infiltrated by “good guys” with an agenda of cleaning house, but in the end I see participating in such a process as tacit endorsement of the idea that government needs to be involved in positive change. I reject that notion. I am no Reagan fan (sorry, but no) but one quote does resonate with me:

“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

So. There are other ways to get involved and I am taking the first steps down that road. I’ve already been reasonably active in local Chamber of Commerce activities and I’m upping the ante on that involvement. I’ve joined a newly-resurgent local small business council and the quality and energy of my fellow members is heartening. I’m also making connections with local grassroots movements, forming alliances with other local “solopreneurs” and becoming part of a groundswell of local people taking charge and making stuff happen outside of “official” channels.

There will be hard work, and frustration, and setback, and often the only compensation for my time and energy will be good karma. I’m cool with that.

This town is my home, and it (along with a lot of America) has been adrift for far too long under the mistaken idea that “they” (meaning the powers that be) are handling things. They are not. We have some wonderful local politicians, don’t get me wrong (I can name three without even trying, starting with Utica’s awesome current Mayor), but in the end it’s up to us—the citizens and businesspeople of this town—to do the grunt work to make good things happen. I know from personal experience the local government (the part that’s functional) is on board with that notion. I applaud their demonstrated interest in the movements I’m aware of, and trust they will also know when it’s necessary to do the most good by simply stepping aside and not getting in our way.

Waiting for someone else to create a job for you, or to clean up a local problem, or to do pretty much anything you want to happen is an exercise in futility. “They” are not looking out for your interests, they have their own issues. It’s up to you.

You don’t like something about your life? Get out of your chair and change it.

whining

What are you going to do about it?

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Fun 3D Gargoyle Project

You know what they say about all work and no play!

My next-door neighbors own the Utica Coffee Roasting Company, a most amazing local coffee shop (they roast their own blends, as you might have guessed, and they use only top shelf beans they purchase from all over the world) that could hold its head high in NYC or Boston; on a shelf there you can find a really cool gargoyle statue keeping an eye on the place:

Gargoyle Statue

Keeping things real.

I’ve long wanted to have a play modeling and rigging something similar but only recently has work allowed the time. After a weekend of experimenting (and messing around until I was happy with a design) the primary build is done (barring any needed tweaks after rigging and deformation tests, because no model ever survives first contact with a rig).

Here’s an image showing the “wireframe” construction of the completed model:

gargoyle wireframe

Struttin’ his stuff

And here’s a quick turntable test for examining the model under typical lighting conditions from various angles:

The model’s metallic texture is inspired by the somewhat rough silvered finish of the statue (otherwise I would probably have gone with some sort of rock surface). Next step is adding the facial morphs and then I do the rigging. Once he’s done I plan to use him in some fun little animated shorts.

And that’s the scoop. Make a point of heading down to Utica’s historic Bagg’s Square to see the statue in person and have a cup of the best coffee in the Mohawk Valley. Tell Frank and Heather hello from Spinny!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Creating a “Toon” Style Character Head

A finished head model

A finished head model

This post is a followup to my earlier piece explaining how 3D modeling can be likened to sculpting in virtual clay. Last time I used a basic torso build for my example; today I’m going to up the ante: I’ll not only go into the beginnings of modeling a “toon” style head, I’m going to do it live, with video. W00t!

Before we run the film I’ll give you a little background to help put what you’ll see into context. First, the style I favor for this sort of modeling is known as “box modeling.” The name comes from beginning with a very basic shape, such as a simple box primitive, then chopping that starting shape up, adding and deleting stuff, coupled with pulling and pushing the remaining points around until the shape you want emerges. There are many primitive shapes available, depending on your modeling software; you needn’t begin with a box. As you saw in my previous post for torso builds I like to start with a faceted tube. For character heads my primitive of choice is the ball, or sphere. The number of polygons (faces) in the starting shape is entirely up to you, and depends on your style and the final form you’re trying to achieve. Sometimes you just wing it and then add/delete stuff ad hoc if it turns out you didn’t start with the perfect shape. It’s all good.

Another important consideration: in most cases a head model will need to be animated. That means that, next to sculpting the face to match the desired model, the geometry (the sum of the points and polygons making up that model) must be conducive to forming the various facial expressions that will be needed. The best way to achieve that is to understand how an actual human face is shaped, how the muscles flow and move. The two most important areas for facial expression are the eyes (taken as a pair) and the mouth. In an actual face those areas are encircled by “loops” of muscles which control their movement. In keeping with art following nature, it turns out the best 3D geometry for those areas follows suit. Here is an example of how you create “edge loops” around those areas of the face to facilitate moving them realistically later:

Edge loops are your friend

Edge loops are your friend

There are numerous techniques for ending up with those loops where you want them; my favorite will become clear when you watch the video.

A couple more notes: you will see me start with the “polygon cage” and then soon into the build I’ll switch the model to “subdivision surfaces” mode. This is a smoothing technique that mathematically subdivides the base mesh (the cage) and smooths it on the fly. Most character models will employ some variation of this, depending on the modeling application, but in the end they are all pretty much the same thing. When I drag stuff around I’m actually manipulating the now-invisible cage rather than the high-polygon geometry you’re actually seeing. This operation isn’t as difficult as it may sound and you very quickly get the hang of where to grab and drag to make the subD shapes you want. Trust me.

You will also see me working in “symmetry” mode off and on. In that mode when I grab and move stuff its mirror image (when the full model is viewed as left/right halves) will also move. Very useful for avoiding duplicated effort. Now and then I want to use a tool that doesn’t support symmetry; in those cases my approach is to work on one half of the model, then delete the other half and mirror the new stuff over so my new build is again symmetric. When you see me grab just the middle points before I do the mirror I’m making sure all of the ones along the left/right seam are exactly on zero in the X axis in case I accidentally moved any. The seam must be at exactly zero or the mirroring will get borked.

A quick disclaimer: this working model is at a lower polygon count than I usually work with and, in the interest of not unduly boring you, I stop when the model is still in need of massive shaping and tweaking. It’s actually going to be quite ugly but it’s meant to show you the basic geometry and workflow that goes into this sort of modeling, not to win any beauty contests. If you manage to sit through the whole 5.5 minutes at the end you’ll see a finished model going through its paces as well as the ugly mess the hidden polygon cage becomes once a subD model has been sculpted.

Without further ado, here goes:

And there you have it! Hope you’ve enjoyed the peek into what I do; please feel free to hit me up with any questions you might have.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Spinny’s Networking Tips: Selling Yourself

That Guy

Just don’t

This post will eventually devolve into a diatribe about sales tactics and techniques. That process is inevitable, as I see it, because the primary goal you are trying to achieve when networking is to get others to “buy” you, buy your brand, and establish you in their mind’s eye as an attractive source for what you’re selling. The process might be a gradual one, but that is your end goal.

Yep, it’s a sales thing. I say that with no small amount of trepidation because I consider being a “salesperson” tantamount to having every hair in my head plucked out while being forced to watch Brady Bunch re-runs. Yikes.

Choosing the right networking venues can alleviate some of that experience, to be sure: mixers, Business after Hours events, social-cum-business gatherings where barriers can come down, you can apply a bit of liquid courage if desired, and so on. Nevertheless, once you’ve met and chatted up enough people eventually you have to cut to the chase: you are selling something and at some point in the future you’d like them to either buy it or be instrumental in someone else buying it. Probably not today, but eventually.

The very first weapon in your “buy my stuff” arsenal is, as I see it, your elevator pitch. Now, I’ve linked it but I think the concept is important enough to spell out as well.

What is an “Elevator Pitch”?

An “Elevator Pitch” is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description about your company that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride up an elevator.

What an “Elevator Pitch” is not:

It is not a “sales pitch.” Don’t get caught up in using the entire pitch to tell the Investor how great your product or service is. The Investor is “buying” the business, not the product. Tell him/her how you will run the business.

That definition comes courtesy of the article How to Write an Elevator Speech which I highly recommend you read. It not only explains the concept well, it also provides a nice little checklist for writing yours.

Now, that being said, here comes a rant: I abhor the “hard sell.” I know full well there is a school of thought out there that advocates meeting and refuting a prospect’s objections, how to turn them into opportunity to keep your pitch going, and so on. What these advocates seem to neglect is adding how this approach is fraught with risk, and requires a finely-honed instinct for recognizing when you are just being obnoxious. In fact, I was just reading an article on the subject as a refresher before I wrote this blog post and I found myself getting angrier at every bit of “advice” on how to get around “no.” If I’m your prospect, all you have done is annoy the crap out of me and present a very negative image of your brand. Case study? The only people who have ever succeeded in selling me a car have been the sales reps who get this, and who quickly backed off and “let me drive.” Those were the ones I didn’t cut off and walk away from in search of someone I could deal with—at a different dealership.

I may not be a typical person in this regard, but I am certainly not rare, and you had best know how to recognize when I, or someone like me, meant “no” and now I’m just trying to disengage politely. If you persist, the politeness just might fade.

In networking terms? Don’t behave like this. Ever. I’ve hit the “they are there because they want to talk business with people like you” nail more than once, but also realize there are limits. They are also wanting to enjoy talking business in a relaxed, informal and social atmosphere and if you start running down your checklist of how to keep the prospect talking long after they’re clearly not into your stuff you are probably going to fare badly. As in the quote above: elevator pitch, not sales pitch. If they show any sign of flagging interest or wanting to change the subject your role is to respect that and either follow suit or politely disengage and move along.

In short? Don’t be “that guy.” Nobody likes a pest, especially at a social mixer. With even a moderate level of social awareness you should have no problem picking up on the appropriate cues—just make sure you’re looking through a social lens and not sales sights.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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No, you are not ‘running late’, you are rude and selfish

Oh, my fur and whiskers!

Oh, my fur and whiskers!

Inspired by reading this fine article whose title I stole by Greg Savage.

As we said when I was in the USAF: if you’re not 15 minutes early you are late. I live by that. I don’t expect a full 15 minutes early from you but if it’s 10:05 for a 10:00 meeting you can expect I will be texting or calling you asking whether there’s been a problem—and we will not have gotten off to a good start.

Leave earlier. Don’t overbook your time. Tell your current meeting sorry but time’s up, you have elsewhere to be, and you can talk later about a followup to finish things. You are “not all that” where you can justify keeping people waiting and if you can’t manage your time well enough to be prompt in all things your skills in that area need work—see “don’t overbook your time.” Realize there are often traffic delays and allow for that—see “leave earlier.”

If you wind up early to your next meeting and sitting in your car (or in a chair) for five or ten minutes (or even longer) beforehand then you’re getting it right. Congratulate yourself on your excellent timing and use that period to get your thoughts and materials settled. If the meeting is worth having it is also worth that much of your time to make sure you arrive prepared and don’t hold others up; conversely, if it isn’t important enough to merit that extra bit of your time then you need to question why you are having it.

Whatever befalls, don’t be late—except on some singularly rare occasion when something unusual happened out of your control that will never occur again. In that case make certain you notify the others in timely fashion and make it clear you completely own the fact this was a problem and not the norm. Once things settle out take whatever steps are necessary to insure that “never occur again” requirement.

Don’t operate as though routine tardiness—even being slightly late—is acceptable. Not if you want to do business. It sends a terrible message and does your credibility considerable harm.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Spec Work? Just Say No!

Wakely is not amused.

Wakely is not amused.

I’m going to start setting up the grounds for this rant by sharing a little recent personal anecdote:

For the first part of 2015 business at Spinland was more than slow: it was nonexistent. That situation was of my own making as I let myself become drawn into a lengthy on-spec project that consumed all my time (which also meant no time spent marketing). This project was potentially a Big Deal™ with promise of paying back the time investment handsomely. It actually fizzled when, after no few months of hard (and uncompensated) work on my part, circumstances forced the other involved party to back out and move on to other things.

During that period I ran through my “war chest” and racked up a couple of nontrivial debts to cover expenses. Not a comfortable feeling but at the time it was supposed to be simply an investment.

The good news is I recovered. I went back to marketing my services and pushing hard in every arena and landed enough well-paying gigs to finish out the year with a respectable profit. This morning I made the last payment on the last of the debt I incurred during that bleak period. Spinland is again debt free (except for the mortgage on the Studio property, of course), with a decent sized war chest already rebuilt and a rather nice pile of cash coming in from outstanding invoices.

I learned a valuable lesson about spec work: mainly, don’t. If you want to draw on my skills to support your project you’re going to need to absorb the bulk of the risk while compensating me for my time. I will probably be open to a discount rate based on the likelihood of the project bringing me more revenue once completed, but I will not work for just a promise.

This stance goes double (maybe even triple) for “contests.” When you hold these contests what you are really saying is you want numerous professionals to spend uncompensated hours of their skilled time to create a suite of products from which you can choose. The lucky chosen get paid for their work while the rest go away empty handed.

If you don’t understand what a total scam—and an insult to the valued time of creative professionals—that process is then I don’t know how to get you to understand what is wrong with your thinking. “Exposure” is a great thing, but you have to provide both that and a fair compensation for the time we spend that benefits you in the end. You can’t pay bills with “exposure.”

Creative skills are valuable, and can be expensive. I’ve spent nearly 20 years developing and honing my craft, not counting the vast sums invested in the facilities, hardware and software it takes to do what I do. Add to that the overhead simply of living, plus keeping my skills and infrastructure current, and you should easily understand why I don’t work for free. That attitude holds for every freelance professional on the planet, but today’s focus is on those who seem to think creative skills don’t merit every bit as much respect (and compensation) as those of a doctor, a dentist, a plumber, or any other profession and trade out there.

Would you think to get a dozen different lawn mowing services to take turns at your lawn over the Summer with the understanding only the service who did the “best job” will get paid for the season? Why, then, would you think a graphic designer, a website designer, or an animator would be willing to work under similar terms? I contend that attitude is based on a fundamental lack of understanding of—and appreciation for—the level of skill and experience that goes into making that “It’s just a logo.”

Think about it. Then think again. Don’t ask it of us, and don’t be put off when we shut you down if you do.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Another Happy Client Speaks Out

super_slab_at_work

Tooting my own horn here, but that’s sort of what “marketing your business” is, non? Just received this testimonial from one of my recent clients:

We recently worked with Mark and Spinland Studios to develop a series of animated narratives that demonstrated our modular precast concrete roadway system and the construction techniques used in its installation. There was limited video footage of the product’s application to assist Mark with the animation’s development.

Mark embraced the challenge of learning a new technology and the construction equipment/techniques used in the product’s applications. He provided great insights on how to modify the animation and allow us to craft and fine tune the message.

It was a pleasure working with Mark. From a customer’s perspective we couldn’t be happier – a great and realistic video conveying the message we wanted that was on time and on budget!

Ted – Product Manager www.super-slab.com

Happy clients are the life’s blood of my business. Looking forward to your joining the club! :-)

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Another “Welcome to my world” Musing

certainly I can

“Certainly I can!”

First things first: this is not a whine. Oh, no. I love what I do and when it gets challenging life just gets better (if a wee stressful at times).

That disclaimer out of the way, some 3D geek musings on tweaking my Wakely model.

First issue: I had already built the head and was playing around with the features and stuff when the client dropped the bombshell right before (as in, one day before) Xmas: they really wanted the first animated promo piece by the following Wednesday night to support a New Year’s Eve party. The original plan was the first piece wouldn’t be needed until Valentine’s Day.

Aiee.

Of course I stepped up and said I could do it, then went about making that happen (while still not letting it interfere with quality Holiday family time).

I had to (gasp) take some short cuts to get the body finished, textured and rigged in time to do the animations and renders. The shirt, cravat and tuxedo jacket are all separate builds layered over each other. In subdivision surface modeling (subD), at least when I do it, getting good contoured seams and crisp demarcations between textured areas takes some time to get right by my standards (bezier curves, which control subD poly flow, are influenced by the nearby connected geometry) and time was one thing I didn’t have. The quick and dirty method looks fine when static but during deformations that leads to potential issues with one layer bulging out through another, and so on. I faked it this time around with corrective morphs and transparency, and it helped the character didn’t have to do much.

Yesterday I finally had time to sit down and rebuild the whole upper body as a single contiguous subD mesh (including the jacket, shirt, cravat and cuffs) that will deform properly under any reasonable pose.

Second issue: I made the base model with the snooty frown from the reference mural. Mistake, if you intend to do facial animation. You always model the face with a neutral expression and then sculpt that into the various other ones for animation. I built to the original reference image to make sure I had the mouth sized and placed properly and had planned to adjust the facial morph suite once I had the full build done. There wasn’t time to go back and fix that, I had to deal with ad hoc corrective facial morphs as I went.

That, too, is now fixed.

Third issue: the rig itself wasn’t fully tested before I had to start animating because render time is immutable and so are deadlines. The last thing I did last night was tweak the rig I already created and then add better static and mobile hold bones to help hold the shape of that massive belly during larger deformations. Then I did tons more testing and pronounce the new rig vastly improved and ready for the next job.

Which, apparently, is landing right now with another tight deadline.

Aiee, times two. Welcome to my world. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. :-)

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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A Buzzword-Laden Musing on the “New Economy”

New-Economy-flat-for-web

I’ve had an interesting long-term gig that doesn’t pay top dollar (far from it) but can be rather satisfying.

See, a major pillar of my business model is teaming up ad hoc with other solopreneurs to synergize (oooh, lookit at me using buzzwords like a big girl!) our respective skill sets to tackle clients’ pain points (oh, oh, I’m getting excited here) and deliver an effective product without needing to form a long-term company for that specific offering. Agile, baby (I might need to lie down soon)!

One such collaborator is a kick ass designer but her coding skills aren’t her forte. I’ve been doing coaching and mentoring as I help her through the trickier aspects of coding some of the more fun web gadgets and capabilities. She’s creating the site, I’m just advising and offering assistance on the rough patches as well as some guidance in what might be the best solution for what she wants to do in various areas of the site.

I like this kind of collaborative work, and we’re also ironing out a combined workflow that we intend to leverage (gasp! My heart just went a-flutter again) with an eye to teaming up on future site design/builds for external clients. That opportunity going forward is a large part of why my pricing for this gig isn’t at the high end of my scale.

This sort of ad hoc teamwork is the future of our economy, and why people such as we are driving it right now. We can adapt and meet a rapidly-changing problem space without being hampered and hobbled by bureaucracy.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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