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I have been a little torn between using somewhat realistic CG landscapes or digital paintings for this project. After doing a number of tests each way, I felt that a hybrid matte painted look was going to be better for the introduction of this character…

I started with a Digital Elevation Map (DEM) and exported a greyscale image from MicroDEM. The DEM files and software are available for free here.


Using the greyscale values, it is pretty simple to generate a terrain mesh. In this case, I used Zbrush to generate the geometry, but I exported it to Sculptris to work on the detail and textures. The reason I wanted to use Sculptris is that I could use the Reduction brush to simplify the geometry in the distance. The detailed rocks in the pass is where the main action of the scene is, so I figured that I could just drop the landscape in as a PROP and render everything in A:M…


Unfortunately, the maximum texture resolution in Sculptris was too pixelated when rendering up close. So I decided to render the landscape by itself to get the lighting, and retouch it in Photoshop to create matte paintings to use as background rotoscopes in A:M.

I added the dunes in the distance, and the sky, as layers underneath the rendering. Then I added extra detail of the rocks and scrub as an overlay layer.


I set the ground plane to Front Projection Target and Flat Shaded.


Now the only object in the shot is TAR. The dust particles are Sprites emitted with each step, and are drifting off to the right as though blown by the wind (actually there is a fan Force Emitter creating the wind).

I started rendering the shot (in HD, 1280 x 720), The first couple of frames took over 1-1/2 hours!  With over 400 frames in just this shot, that was way too long…I knew that I was going to have to make some compromises….  I eliminated global illumination, ambient occlusion, and multipass–relighted the scene with Z-buffered shadows instead of ray-tracing. The new render time was only 2 minutes per frame!



Zbrush to Animation:Master

I’ve been learning to digitally sculpt in Zbrush, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned Animation:Master. I need to be able to take the sculpture back into my animation program to rig it and animate.

I’m still learning my way around Zbrush, but thought it might be helpful to some if I documented the steps to get a model from Zbrush to A:M:






The Zremesher is really awesome–I went from almost 1/2 million polygons to a little over 6,000 patches! There are some retopology tools that I’m going to explore too (looks like I can manually redraw sections of the mesh if I don’t like the automatic results…)

Animation Magazine

I was overwhelmed to open the January issue of Animation Magazine this week–this coming year is the 15 year anniversary of Zandoria Studios, and they included a half-page bio on me and my project!

It was very sweet and made my week! I had just resigned some of my responsibilities at SMP Instore Marketing (my day job), in order to work part time from home and focus on my art…I was pretty nervous about the decision. Reading this tribute brought tears to my eyes–it was a real Godsend. I felt affirmed that I was on the right path


Zbrush to A:M

I had an idea this evening to see whether I could combine Zbrush and Animation:Master by using the extract command in Zbrush to create equipment (in this case a helmet) and bring that geometry back into A:M as a PROP.

So I exported the Hyena as an .obj and imported it into Zbrush, painted a mask for the helmet and extracted the geometry. I then sculpted some detail–though  not too much, because I wasn’t sure it would work…


Before exporting the helmet, I ran the Decimation command on it to reduce the polygon count, then exported an .obj file. In A:M I imported the helmet and assigned a rusty steel DarkTree material to it. I dragged and dropped it into an Action and it perfectly aligned with the Hyena model! All I had to do was add a translate to and orient like constraint to the head controller and I was done:


I’m not sure if I will use this technique on some of the gear, or if I would just model from scratch in A:M. I just wanted to try it and see what happened. A:M has a reputation for not playing well with polygon-based programs, but I think you just have to understand the limits and work around them. For landscapes or hard-surface objects that don’t need to deform, use the PROP feature and you shouldn’t have any problem.

I recently experimented with modeling a simple landscape object in Sculptris, and it also worked great in A:M



Digital Watercolor





Experimenting with some digital watercolors over top of a scanned sketch. Done in ArtRage4. This is one of the dancing girls at the Waterhole.

TAR of Zandoria Kickstarter is LIVE!

My Kickstarter campaign is LIVE! Please check it out–and pledge your support! For only $1 you will have my gratitude and I will list you in the credits as a supporter.
Please pass it on and help me spread the word! The key to the success of this effort is letting people know about it!

I’m raising money to produce the first episode of this series. Please help bring TAR of Zandoria to life!

Forever Alone Filmmaking Podcast

M Dot Strange recently interviewed me for the Forever Alone Filmmaking Podcast. It is a show made by and for 3D animators who are making their own original films. We talked about how I got into animation, the TAR of Zandoria project, Animation:Master and other stuff….

Hope you enjoy! Leave a comment below, if there is anything that came up that you would like to talk more about.

Modeling the Ninja Hyena

hyena with furImage

I’m still plugging away… Not as much progress as I would like on this project, and it feels like I am years away from where I would like to be.

I’ve finished the model and am into the rigging and CP weighting now. I was discussing the future of A:M with some fellows on the Hash forum–It doesn’t seem like there are as many projects going on as in the old days…. At times I feel like there are only a handful of artists and studios using this software, so I thought I should post an update.

[edit 2/12/13] I’ve been working on the textures and fur. Still some tweaking to do… Using the Muhair shader

I was watching the credits on Brave and recognized a couple of Animation:Master alumni on the Pixar crew (Pixar has a proprietary software, not A:M)–Barry Zundel was one of them. Barry has been writing a series about software usability on his blog, and had this to say about A:M which he used while working at Avalanche Software :

…In the ensuing years, I used A:M exclusively and came to understand what “usability” really is. It is still one of the best examples of a truly non-linear pipeline ever. Nothing that I have tried has ever come close.

I have to wholeheartedly agree with Barry on Animation:Master’s usability! Barry also has a series of A:M tutorials available on his website that I highly recommend.

Bring Your Dreams to Life!

Bring Your Dreams to Life!

I was reading a story in the LA Times about low-budget animated movies. The writer says:

Last year’s “Puss in Boots”was made on the lush 13-acre DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale by 300 people working for four years at a cost of $130 million.

Its knockoff was made on the second floor of an office building just two miles away— by 12 people, in six months, for less than $1 million.

The tone of the article isn’t what got my attention, instead it was the difference in approach between the two types of studios, and the radical difference in thinking… I think that there is a mentality that it can’t be done except the Dreamworks/Pixar/Sony/BlueSky way: lots of people and lots of time.

One of the objectives of The Tin Woodman of Oz project was to road-test the production capabilities of A:M–and it did! I already knew that it could–I used it to create CG animation for Brian Michael Stoller’s “Miss Cast Away” a few years before. There is no reason that producers wanting to try to cash in on the animation craze shouldn’t be looking at Animation:Master and its community of animators.

I’ve been working with A:M since 1999, and I can take a character sketch and turn it into a ready-to-animate model. Or I can start with just your idea or script and help you to produce it. I’m available as a consultant if you need help setting up a studio, or with training.

For an independent animator, or a small studio, or if you are a producer looking to create an animated film, I can help you bring your dream to life.