MyI@FarNiche

Building an XNA Game Studio XBox360 Indie Game.

[page 0067] ~ The Island of Doctor Merlot :

Updates: – Autodesk – Application Manager, Version 3.0.155.0 .
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Help me Doc, your my only hope.

Well the Doctor has a low resolution mesh, which is covered by a high resolution diffuse map, where that mesh has a skeleton with the capacity to be driven by animations, because those bone joint chains are manipulatable via a control rig set attached to the timeline.  The main point here is that it has the “capacity” to be driven.  So in this case, right now, it means that it does not drive any animation.  And this is what I am working on.  You would be correct in guessing that I have never built an animation rig, start to finish, for any video game character.  My only joint chain character rig run throughs were during my SoftImage 2012 one month trial and the recent 2014 Maya one month trial, both with the help of Digital Tutors.  The only “real” practice I could get prior to that was from Autodesk Softimage Mod Tool MS XNA Version 7.5.  This was a free offering back in 2008 when getting a paid subscription of the XBox 360’s Creators Club.  That version of Softimage was very helpful for learning what a 3D asset creation program was capable of building, but the save, import and export file types were limited to accommodate only the games made for the XBox with C# using XNA.  So this Doctor animation in Maya LT 2015 will be a case study in itself.  But my big question here is, where are all of the How To’s, and the like, to help me along from this point.  Believe it or not, there are many questions that are percolating up from in-between the, “leaps of faith”, as mysteries, that are growing into a mound of cluelessness.  I try to perceive solutions to fill those gaps but I am finding that they can only be answered, slowly, case by case where I create my own entrepreneurial “trade secrets”.  And so I forge ahead.

Time is slipping by.  The Doctor might not make his flight.  The Plumber could very well perish.  The launch of this months episode, “The Island of Doctor Merlot” is beginning to look rather grim.  There are tutorials that explain what the animation interface objects are and what they do.  But as for making the transition between building a character and then animating it with key frames on a time line … no, there is nothing that is all that clear.  That simple gap is missing.  Right now, I’m trying to connect the parts of my Doctors’ rig into the timeline.  That, when hooked in, will allow them to function correctly and follow the interpolated paths between those set keys.  Afterwards, while the animation is played back using the recorded keys of those objects transforms on the Maya LT animation timeline, a behavior should become apparent.  But getting those two things hooked together, the rig and the timeline, through, I don’t quite know what, is my biggest stumbling block.  I can’t just grab everything and say “Oh magic Maya LT make this Doctor dance” by just clicking a button.  And the biggest problem I am running across is that Maya LT has no “Character Set”, like the full version of Maya does, that is able to grab all of the transforms needed to animate this Doctor, or any character of mine.

Optimally, “The result is to be that character will emulate personifications through their associated behaviors found as the given animation paths”.

But, I have built this character mesh, painted it and have given it a skeleton of joint chains, “bones”.  “Skinning” this characters mesh to it skeletal bone structure provides it some degree of articulation because those bones joints allow for deformations of the mesh, the skin.  At times, because the mesh has been attached to bones whose vertex weights are closer to moveable joints, those polygons have the possibility to deform in a way that outwardly makes the skin of the character stretch beyond what looks natural.  At other times the skinning process allows for the volume of the mesh to not deform at all because it is further away from any moveable joints and so no distortion of the polygons occur.  But, what happens next, and this is where things get a little fuzzy, is that to get those polygons to reposition and possibly deform at all, I need to, somehow, connect those bones to a series of rig controls.

Those controls are like the steering wheels of the character.  A lot of things happen when you turn a cars’ steering wheel.  Both wheels turn, the sway bars follow along and the bushings all have different pressures applied to them along with the shocks and springs, even the car wheels angle.  The same is true for the character rig.  When a hand control, a part of the character rig, is moved, the whole joint chain for the arm moves along.  But the animation rig, being also considered “connective tissue”, depends on a sequence of other mechanisms that provide other “connective tissues” that help the animators life, my life, become easier and consequently, more fun during this process.  But I’m the one that needs to figure this out.  This also means the rig needs to use a series of various constraints made of differing types, point, aim, orient, parent and new in Maya LT 2015, pole vectors.  Also, at times, IK/FK manipulators are consolidated and simplified to assist in building these poses.  In the end, that characters animation tracks out a performance showing some recognizable task repeatable over a short period of time.

But the, “What needs to be selected and therefore attached to the timeline by setting its ‘key’ …” seems to be the part that is missing.  The “What” of the rig that drives the bones that are attached to the model is the “What” I need to find and have that “What”(s’) keys’ set in the animation timeline.  Simple, but I need a “set” the proverbial “Character Set” of all of the “What’s” that make up the character that need to be keyed along the timeline.  So not only do I need to know what to set, but I will need to set them all, the whole set, each time, all of them, between every movement that is to be interpolated between the set of keys that are set.  Eeek!  This leads me to believe that the Doctor is going to be walking around like Quasimodo or Igor (Young Frankenstein) as time, for this months game, grows short.

The biggest thing missing in Maya LT is, again, “What are character sets?”  It seems that animations can be set to any length of time for which their cycle is to be played.  That is the duration of what they are doing, their behavior, and that could be anything from blocking a punch, chopping wood, taking a drink or moving from a standing position to sitting on the ground.  Each behavior needs to be scripted through a series of movements where each movement changes the position of a bone in time and space.  Furthermore, the other connected bones must follow along because of IK/FK constraints.  Those, in turn, move the vertices of the polygons, the skin, of the character.  Concerted movements become the end result, the animation, the perceived behavior of the character.  A set of animations make up all the behaviors of what that character can do.  But right now I would like my Doctor to have something that has to do with him being able to move about the Island in search of his friend, The Plumber.

True, there are no character sets, that I have found, in Maya LT.  And from what few tests I have tried, I have only been able to make my Doctor character go through a short work-out warm-up routine.  Also, I am finding that while I initially construct the character, it is best to know what elements of that character are going to have their key frames set during the animation process, because here, in my Maya LT world, there are no “Character Set”(‘s).  As it stands, I don’t just do a drag rectangle “select all” of the character in the viewport and click Animate/Set Key at the first frame on the timeline.  That sounds like it would be a great thing to be able to do, but no, it does not work, believe me.  It might grab a couple of the right transformation objects, or so it would seem, and set those in the animation timeline, but I have found that while scrubbing through the timeline there are some movements that are missing.  Those missing interpolation keys, I would assume, are the ” Mystery ‘Whats’ ” that I have yet to find.  So, at times, the hands do not reposition themselves to their respective T-Poses from their initial stance, the character does not follow on to the next set of supposedly keyed transform transitions while apparently walking, or trying to, and when further scrubbing through the timeline the character snaps to all manner of unintended positions throughout the sequence.

Yeah, a little more forethought and actual knowledge of what is to be expected is needed and will become very helpful so I can prepend just what my expectations are and be able to extrapolate the process of, “If this is selected then it’s a good thing.” formula.

So, a character set seems to be a catch-all node that grabs everything that needs to be keyed in for an animation.  That is also exactly what I have found to be missing and is what I need now in Maya LT.  To figure out how to reconstruct and consolidate that missing piece from the full version of Maya into each of my character builds now and for the foreseeable future is my only hope.  Tick, tick, tick.

I have come to the conclusion and have found reason to believe that I will not find anything of help, in specificity, about my current needs because I have a whole hodgepodge of Digital Tutors tutorials “helping” me out to get to this point.  It has all been a mash-up of what makes sense, at the time, to me, of bone chains, animation rigs, timeline, pose this, procedure that, sing-a-long for a while, sit a spell semi-coherent, get it to work on my end of the deal learning curve contrivance of my own making.  And because I am learning that some things work in older versions of Maya and other things are missing in Maya LT, and of those that are not in Maya 2011 but are in 2014 but a little of that was added to Maya LT 2015 and on and on to what-ever as I go through the vastly assorted array of Digital Tutor tutorials to make sense of my plight, …  But I grow weary to explain further.  So of course that is how I study what they have to offer and how I have Frankensteined my Doctor together and is what keeps me moving forward.  So be assured that this is me just catching my breath for now and getting ready for my last haul to the goal line.  OK, breaks over, now back to it!

G’day.

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June 28, 2014 - Posted by | 2014 [0050] to [00??], The Process |

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