Carrara CG Workshop
Carrara Info section is about How Carrara Works and such. This section is more about how I work in Carrara to fulfill my goals, so I'll also talk about the other software I use.
Right from the beginning of my journey, I've had an ambition to render quickly while maintaining a final quality that I like to see in a moving picture. My first several years was just that... experimenting with ways to adjust shaders and lights against render settings. Thus, I am more 'in-the-zone' with speed rendering than I am with still frame image mastery. So I hope to improve in that along the way as well. But I do love putting this all in motion, so most of what I write is geared toward:
Using content from DAZ 3D, Renderosity, etc.,
Creating original 3d elements
Optimizing characters and elements for animation and rendering
Speed rendering for CG animations
Creating/collecting stock imagery for postwork
Setting up scenes for production
Using the above scenes to realize storyboarding ideas/renders/animation
Keeping it all organized and ready to go
Optimizing and Managing
Over the years I've developed my own method of making it much easier on myself to create animations that are cohesive in lighting and rendering. I share that in here.
In short, instead of designing and optimizing a scene with the characters in it, lighting it, setting the shaders, etc., each time I need to stage a scene; I manage a collection of Stages (scenes) and Characters (separately) in my Carrara browser that are optimized to work together.
I can therefore load in a scene that is already set up to render, then drop in the actors for that scene, whom are also optimized and ready to go so that, with only a few quick tweaks I'm ready to animate, set the camera angles and send to the batch render queue! It is a system that I think works really well and is just as fun to set up as it is to use - and is great for creating quick still images for storyboard use as well!
It's also important to have a good organization system so we can always find what we're looking for. I make a lot of shaders, for example, that work for most any surface - not just a specific model. My custom Shaders browser really helps on a day-to-day basis - truly!
Before we bring in our actors, let's give them a place to exist. Carrara is magic in how well it can load Poser/Daz 3d content fully intact. Now we'll make it look really cool, because that's what movies need - wonderful locations - dark and scary, bright and uplifting, magical and surreal, vast and breathtaking....
This area of our quest requires two broad aspects of study:
Indoor Scene Setups
Outdoor Environments Setups
This is an excellent part of our journey. From creating vast, realistic or mystical environments and bringing in castles, lost ruins, oceanic voyages or warehouse districts full of thieves, to indoor wonders, like dungeons, science labs, caves or our hotel room in a seedy place we just don't belong in....
Performing this task - filling our Carrara browser with scenes - like Sound Stages for movie sets or practical locations we send our camera crews to... this really helps to enhance how we feel about the scene we're about to create or to inspire possibilities for new adventures!
We'll explore techniques regarding optimizing, lighting and saving. Setting the mood and keeping it safe for later, when the actors arrive and bring it all to life.
About the Bryce 7 ad: I don't actually use Bryce, but I own it and the user's manual looks fantastic! So while I can't actually give any advice or answer questions about Bryce, I do support it and its amazing community forum members at Daz3d! I have a lot of friends using Bryce, and I love the work that they do! Cheers Brycers!!!
Now that we have places to go, let's work on our cast of actors. We'll need the Stars of the show as well as support actors and a plethora of background folks.
These different people or creatures can be optimized and setup in a very similar fashion across the board. This adds continuity without a lot of fuss when the camera crew is ready and time becomes costly.
I've developed my own methods of saving of Characters and Creatures so that there isn't a whole lot of optimization needed when I simply drag any of these assets into a scene. This is actually a LOT handier (and easier) than one might think. You'll see what I mean as we get into it.
We'll also explore avenues for getting our characters from our minds into 3d space using Daz3d technologies. It becomes a matter of taste, but I hope to demonstrate here how some of the previous generations of 3d figure can be a real boon and be made to look great. I'll also show how I use Daz Studio to create my newer generation actors.
Carrara has wonderful Dynamic, Strand-based Hair. If we're using that we'd better set that up on our saved characters and store it with them.
Cloth and Hair dynamic simulations - Virtual World Dynamics (VWD) has developed a plugin for Poser, now also for Daz Studio and a nice bridge plugin for Carrara. VWD Cloth and Hair is an amazing workspace that works directly within our workflow. We set up the character, animate, add what needs to become dynamic, and work the simulations within its own proprietary working window before we send it back to Poser, Daz Studio or Carrara, whichever we're working in at the time. Amazing!!!
Very much like scenes and characters, we set up vehicles and save them to our browsers into a drag n' drop solution to our travelling needs. Like characters, they'll get their own, subtle highlighting light rig and, like interior scenes, they'll also get functional and FX lights to help them work and look as expected when used in nighttime sequences.
Light Rigs & Practical Effects
Why start from scratch every single time? We'll make a convenient light rig that works for most of our exterior scenes and add it to our browser.
Practical effects? Well, in the movie industry Practical (Special) Effects are those shot directly in the camera - not the digital ones added in post.
While these will indeed be digital (Visual) effects, these are effects that we plan on rendering directly with our animated sequences.
Even though it can take a LOT longer to render scenes with these effects running in them directly, this sort of technique can sometimes be more Practical for getting the correct behavior of the effects as they have scene elements to interact with.
In a later discussion (Post Production Phase), we'll explore how we can use these and other elements to create Stock Footage for Visual Effect use in post.
Pre-Production Phase Articles
Tutorials and articles regarding how I use Carrara in the endeavors of the main subject of this web space - to make CG Movies. Within, I'll often include links to portions of Carrara Info topics and articles.
Shooting our Film Footage
Being a one-person-studio and animating can be an incredibly time-consuming endeavor. Luckily for us, we have some really great tools to help us speed up the process. Since I am also a low-to-non-existent-budget sort of one-person-studio, I might make short mention of setting up one's own motion-capture setup, but won't be actually discussing it, since that goes a bit beyond my current budget.
In this section we'll cover using aniBlocks, animated PZ2s and other options for getting our actors behaving the way we want them to. We'll delve into how we can use Daz Studio to help us out in setting up aniBlock files for our Carrara work, and how to use portions of aniBlocks (or other, etc.,) for some parts of an animation, and parts of other aniBlocks (or other, etc.,) for other portions and demonstrate how endless we can make a small collection of files become as a source of creating movements for nearly any occasion.
We'll also be bringing our actors and/or vehicles into our scenes, tweaking the lighting, working in custom shader ideas, setting various camera angles to get the most out of each scene, adding any effects (FX) we might need, and prepping for the final renders - then actually shooting them.
We'll be creating an organization structure to which we'll save our animated renders to so that, even if it takes years to complete our work, we'll still know exactly where to find our videos, and be able to recognize what they are at a glance.
This is very important for when it comes to Post Production when we have to stitch these various videos together into a single, watchable movie!
aniMating in Carrara
Let's aniMate! We're going to use aniBlocks to apply motion to our figures. Don't worry if you don't have a collection of them yet. If all you have are animated PZ2 or BVH files, we'll be working with those too - even turning them into aniBlocks, if you have aniMate 2 (beyond the free sample version that comes with Daz Studio).
This topic takes us much deeper than simply using stock aniBlocks off the shelf - we'll be tweaking the originals part of the time, breaking bits off of some and replacing those with bits of others, and more in this fun-filled action area!
Requires aniBlock Importer for Carrara
Combining Actors and/or Vehicles with Scenes
Sometimes we'll be bringing our actors into scenes that we've created, other times we'll be loading the scenes over our actors. What's the difference? We'll talk about that, for it is important.
Either way, we'll combine everything we need into a single scene and apply motion to everything and make sure that everything is in the scene as it should be - like making sure that our character's feet are on the ground, not above or below, making sure that our animations fit the scene, etc.,
Tweak the Lighting
Let's make sure that the character's light rig matches the scene we're in and make sure that it follows the character properly. We'll also put some of the scene lighting to motion, perhaps even add a light or two. Or three... We have a lot of options here, so let's have some fun with it!
Custom Shader Setups
Did we just create a rainy scene? Is there fire? Is it freezing cold? Are we drudging through the mud?
We'll spend some time creating custom shaders for our actors and possibly other scene elements to better fit what's going on.
Carrara has a unique ability that allows us to animate shaders, even use animated files, like avi, sequenced images, etc., as texture maps in our shaders, so let's make the most of this if we can!
Cinematography Camera Setup
We're getting closer. Much closer. Before we go any further it's time to set up various cameras. We'll put some of them in motion, either following the action or making some - or both. We'll also be sure to set up some still cameras that watch the action from a single point of view.
Adding Effects to the Scene
Heed the warnings regarding the differences between running particle systems and other effects during the beauty pass (what we're working on making right now) vs adding it in Post! Please!
We'll discuss whether or not to add FX to the beauty pass scene and offer really cool ways that we can avoid it.
Some effects, like volumetric lighting, might be a lot easier and turn out a lot better if we go ahead and include those now - so we'll discuss all of that too.
If you ever watch 'Behind-the-scenes' specials for effects movies, in this step, we're the person from ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) who is present during the shoot to determine what the VFX team will need in the shoot to succeed.
Now we'll create a nice and simple folder structure so that we get off to a good start at saving our animated render files in a manner that is easy and quick to find and understand before we begin our final renders.
This can make a HUGE difference when it comes to the final editing process, where we're stitching all of our various video together to form a single, continuous movie.
Trust me on this!
As you'll see when we get to DaVinci Resolve (but even if you use something different), a proper folder structure can easily be dragged right into the interface to be used throughout the final production phase - saving us a lot of time as well as saving us from possibly forgetting clips that have taken hours to render!
Rendering our Scene
It's always a good idea to do some test renders to check our animation. We'll take a closer look at the different types of test renders we should get used to performing before continuing on to our final renders of our beauty pass.
Now that we've tested our scene, it's time to load our scene into the Batch Queue. In the queue, we'll also add some Multipass functions to assist us in our Post Processing, like adding VFX, individualizing Color Grading, or simply using filters to sharpen or blur certain portions of the video, without affecting the rest.
Putting it All Together
So far we've gone through the entire process of creating multiple videos for every action point of every scene. We'll be repeating the above processes for quite some time, building up enough footage of video clips to be able to tell an entire story from start, through the middle, to the very end. Now it's time to start stitching it all together to create a single film... our final goal of this whole adventure!
By this point, we should be able to easily identify how our movie's story flows, simply by looking at the folder structure we've assembled during the Production Phase. If we have holes in our story or in the video clip footage we've stored, that we can't readily see, it will become apparent in this phase.
If we need extra footage to finish out the work, don't fret - this happens to many filmmakers. We simply go back into the Production Phase and create the missing pieces - even if we're already in the middle of (or even just about to finish, for that matter) our final edit.
In this phase, we might use Carrara for some things, like creating stock footage for use in VFX, for example, but most of it will be conducted in other software, which we'll get fully into.
Excited? Yeah... me too!
Assembling our Story
We're going to go through all of our video clips and place them in the Timeline of a movie editor software, like Vegas Movie Studio, DaVinci Resolve or VideoStudio Pro, just to name a few that I have, to create a full flow of the entire movie - start to finish.
This is where we will notice how it really helps to have the multiple camera angles we've shot in Production. Sometimes we'll need a specific camera angle just to change thing up from what we've chosen before and after. other times we may need to extend, or even shorten a particular section - it's these multiple angles that can really help.
It's time to add some bling! We'll be going into Howler, HitFlim and Fusion to add some stunning visual effects to our film. This takes place on individual clips of video, not the overall finished story. We just needed to Assemble our Story first, so we know which clips need FX, and which clips aren't going to be used at all.
We'll take a look at using Carrara to create some cool effects for a lot of different things. The cool part about Carrara is that it can handle going beyond the boundaries of our very imaginations, so....
We'll also explore getting stock footage from other sources online, as well as creating effects directly within our compositing software. Remember, our main goal is to stay within our low-to-non-existent-budget, so the more we can make ourselves or get for free, the better off we'll be.
Having effects to work with is one thing. Applying them convincingly to our film is another. We'll go through the various ways I've learned so far, and I'll add to this as often as I can as I learn more - but don't let my current range of studies hold you back. We'll also take a look at how we can learn more advanced techniques on our own. That way we can each study the best techniques for our own specific needs.
Voices and Sounds
Even if we've captured audio from our Mimic sessions, we may still need to apply the original recordings in our movie editing software if the voices don't match perfectly with the animation. If it seems like the audio matches the animation, be sure to look closely and be very picky about this. If it's off by just the tiniest amount, you'll likely end up wishing you'd have replaced the audio later down the road, long after everyone has seen your final production.
We'll also be adding necessary sounds to bring this whole thing to life. This can be a really fun process that can easily (accidentally) go either way - too rushed so the sounds aren't quite appropriate, or too involved, where there's simply too much sound and the outcome is overly saturated with unnecessary distractions.
We'll take a quick look at a few options for creating and obtaining sound files, but this section will be more focussed on adding them in an effective manner to our movie.
Adding music can be even more difficult than getting the sounds just right - and when the soundtrack is finished we need to balance the voices, sounds and music throughout the film.
There are many avenues to take - getting music into our piece and, again, I'll be touching on various means of getting and creating music, but the overall scope of this section focuses on tips towards getting it mixed into the movie.
We want to make certain that we're not doing this during the VFX section, where we might be really tempted to do so. Don't worry, I put a warning in that section already. We need our grade for the whole film, even if it changes throughout. All of the movie editor software we've discussed so far have color grading features but the most powerful/professional of them in this particular regard is DaVinci Resolve, whose life started out with this process as its singular goal before being expanded into a fully-blown movie editor.
Color grading is what will artistically set the mood of the movie. We'll look at some examples and discuss cinematic contrast, 'legal' colors, over saturation and more in this topic of vast study. I'll also point to some ways to get more information about all of this incredibly deep subject.
Subtitles and Credits
Wow. Our movie is really awesome right now! So Cool!
Remember when I mentioned that it's a good idea to keep track of names of artists, vendors and folks that have helped out along the way? You'll be amazed at how easy it is to go blank when it comes to thinking up all of the credits to mention in that final scroll.
It might not be legally necessary, but giving credit where credit is due just seems (to me) to be the right thing to do and it's really embarrassing that the mind goes blank on names that one could never forget, ever (until it's time to fill in the credit roll)!
Although this subject won't get a whole lot of attention here, I thought it was imperative to include it so that we can discuss how important it is to do. Seriously. Just mentioning that we have to remember to do this can help to inspire us to keep notes along the way to help us when this important step comes due, because at this point we'll be really excited to get this whole thing done - hence the ease at how quickly one's mind can go blank!
Publish the Movie
Whew! The movie is completed in the movie editor software and now we need to present it to the world. Different software offers a variety of formats. We'll take a closer look at some of our options.
Congratulations! It's been a long journey and one amazing adventure! I say Bravo to You!
Now get back to work and do it all again!