I intended to enter the 11sec Club character animation contest this month. I was making progress on a rather complicated sync to the audio of the popular Broadway play, Hamilton. The transcript went as follows:
Voice 1: See if you can spot him.
Voice 1: Another immigrant coming up from the bottom.
Voice 1: His enemies destroyed his rep, America forgot him, and me…
Voice 1: I’m the damn fool that shot him.
I decided to set the scene on a farm with the farmer sayingthe words, while a rabbit invaded his garden. The idea behind was a bit toned-down and more playful than its original meaning, but still I wanted to work in a statement by showing a mountain of rabbit turds that the rabbit had supplied as fresh fertilizer that the farmer would miss after he shot the creature (I was actually hoping to find a better example of the rabbit's contribution, but apparently rabbit turds are particularly good for soil, I've read, and it was enough to relay the idea that this "intruder" was helping out in a way the farmer hadn't even considered.)
I started rounding up assets: First the characters: Malcolm worked well- as one of his outfit options is that of a farmer. The only changes I made to his appearance were some of the materials of his wardrobe.
I had previously found a rabbit rig by Arman Musovic and Dalila Avdukic from the internet to use. (In fact from the very beginning I was browsing through my treasure trove of 3d assets, until I found two characters that would fit in to the theme of the audio clip.)
I found a keyboard piano with keys that I could animate. Then I started looking for environmental assets: the wooden house pictured above, with some dirt and grass textures. I imported three different types of plants, duplicated them, lined them up, rotated and scaled them individually -these assets were located where there is only grey now surrounding Malcolm in the image above, as I turned off their visibility to have better access to the character controls.
Perhaps the most challenging part of this project was working with the audio, which had music mixed in with it. I didn't have the visuals audio cues one would normally use to place mouth shapes, because an audio spike could be an instrument just as likely as spoken word. Adding to the challenge, I was animating the character actually playing the keyboard piano - again without any clear audio cues to look at.
I first started to animate the Malcolm character playing the keyboard. I wanted to represent this accurately so I found the sheet music for "Alexander Hamilton", the title of the song in which the excerpt is found (which also took a bit of research) and then looked up the chord positions and notes needed to play the music. After syncing up the piano-playing, I moved on to the lip sync. part-way in I was disappointed to find a problem with the "funnel" attribute on Malcolm's lip, where vertices from the upper lips were also influenced. After some investigation, I read from the Animschool site that they were fixing it for the next rig release and that I needed to use the individual controls until then - unfortunately these controls couldn't quite create the same mouth shape.
I roughed out all the phonemes and their timing, with some corresponding eye and eyebrow secondary animation and some body movements, when something went terribly wrong. The next time I went to open the Maya file, it stopped at 40 percent progress and just... froze. It wouldn't open. Maya stopped responding. I tried importing the scene into a new file. Didn't work. And just like that, all that work was lost :( This has only happened to me once or twice before, and not in a long time, but it reminded me of how bloody important it is to save incrementally. Lesson learned. Moving on...
Richard Cunningham - IHM Founder