How We Got to NAO!!1! (Part 1)

RDS-Sample-3Studded amongst many of our blog posts, you’ll find a common phrase that we use to describe some of the choices we’ve made for Errant Heart. And that phrase will typically start with: “Because of our background in animation and comics…”.

The “comics” part of that phrase is simple enough to corroborate. All one has to do is take a look at the Van Von Hunter webcomic, or the print books (although, I think most of the remaining copies have been since shredded and used as filler in cheap cereal bars). Or a more succinct option would simply be to browse the VVH Wikipedia entry.

But what about the “animation” part of that phrase? Well, that’s a little more complicated. You see, we’ve done what I consider an admirable job of scrubbing references of our animation exploits from the web. Oh, they’re still there. But they’re just difficult to find. Basically, unless you know what you’re looking for, you’ll never stumble across it.

Why? Well, I think like most artists, we simply can’t stand our earlier work. It’s a constant reminder of our lack of skill. That’s not to say that we didn’t learn from the experience. Quite the contrary. But we feel the past is best left in the past. Live in the now, as they say.

However, we thought it would be best to provide some carefully curated information that does corroborate our background in animation. So where to start? At the beginning, of course. Which means we need to speak about our first animation project. Indeed, it was the first artistic project that we worked on together, the first project which we showed to the public and which spawned Pseudomé Studio itself— II:Prologue.

I won’t go into too many details. But in short, back in the late 90’s, we were newbie, doe-eyed anime fans who wanted to create our own anime series. Over the course of a couple of years, we collected enough ideas to spawn a title which we simply called “II” (Two). II:Prologue was our attempt at creating an animated short of that universe.

Creating hand-drawn animation was just too time-intensive for our purposes. So we settled on 3D animation. After all, 3D has the advantage of maximum re-usability. Once a character model is done, it’s done. No need to keep redrawing over and over and over. No need to worry about consistency—it’ll always look the same in every shot.

So what to use for 3D animation? Well, we needed an all-in-one solution. Something that could allow us to model and animate. And it needed to be cheap. There were a few options out there, like Infini-D. But we settled on Ray Dream Studio (which, ironically was later merged with Infini-D to create Carrara).

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It had a pretty basic extrusion modeler. Which means that while it was easy to make piece-parts, it was difficult to make large, complex meshes. In fact, strictly speaking, it DIDN’T create meshes. Once you created a piece part, it needed to be attached to another piece part, and so on and so forth.

For example, if you wanted to build an arm, first you would model the upper arm. Then the lower arm. Then the hand. Then the first digit of the thumb. Then the second digit of the thumb. Then the third digit of the thumb, etc. Once all the piece parts were built and assembled, certain ranges of motion needed to be locked in.

RDS-Sample-1

Sure, all these parts would intersect each other—thus making for a somewhat crude appearance. But at least with proper ranges of motion locked in, an arm would be able to move like an arm. BUT, remember, this is cheap, low end software we’re talking about. Ray Dream did not have any sort of Inverse Kinematics (it did at the very end with third-party plugins). Using our arm as an example, if we wanted to animate it reaching out and gripping a cup, we would need to animate the arm much like a traditional animator would do with claymation or stop-motion animation. We’d need to select a point on our timeline (say, a half a second in), and move the upper arm a certain amount. Then, move the lower arm a certain amount, all the way down to EVERY SINGLE DIGIT OF EVERY FINGER.

RDS-Sample-2

As you may be able to imagine, while 3D models did offer us maximum re-usability, it was still an incredibly tedious affair, as far as the animation itself goes.

And the end result? Well, we did manage to produce about 18 minutes worth of footage. And it was complete with voice acting, sound effects, music, etc. Heck, we even managed to work with a reproduction company and had VHS tapes, with printed sleeves made (and shrink-wrap: the hallmark of all official merchandise).

II_VHS

Was it any good? Eh…I won’t say one way or the other. However, there are a few reviews of II:Prologue out there.

Perhaps the most authoritative review was penned in the print magazine, Animerica (anyone remember that?)

So, after saying all of this, I imagine you probably have a mild curiosity about what the end result looked like, huh? Well, not much footage survives to this day. At least, not footage that is easily posted on the web. AND, keep in mind that this was created quite a long time ago. Due to computing constraints, and the limitations of NTSC standard definition resolution, we had to render the footage in some seriously low res. What does still exist is our trailer, as well as one full scene.

The trailer was obviously created to be as eye-catching as possible. But frankly, I like the full scene example. It’s actually a very “simple” scene, with just two characters talking. But by the time we animated this section, we had learned a great deal about the craft—ways of making sure the 3D characters continue to move ever-so-slightly, even while sitting still in order to keep them looking “alive”, changing up the shot composition, using occasional special effects, etc.

Anyway, we had a couple more animation projects after II:Prologue. But, we’ll save those for “Part 2” in our How We Got To NAO!!1! series.

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3 thoughts on “How We Got to NAO!!1! (Part 1)

      • II is still my favorite Pseudome project. The animated leaves in the background and the walking turtle scene really impressed me at the time. Most people in their first project back in 1999 probably wouldn’t bother which such detail.

        Having used RD5 and spending weeks on a few mesh models, painstakingly positioning and attaching single vertices, I was thinking you’d need to be a nutcase suffering from severe OCD to make a 20 minute movie with this tool.

        You should post it on youtube. Come on, you still must have a copy on disk somewhere. If not, you’re even nuttier than I thought not to backup a project that took two years to make.

        Sadly, I gave away my copy to another Pseudome forum member who wanted to see it…. The good ole forum days-The Kooky Corner was so much fun. At least it was until the online/offline status of the forum became like North Korea’s power grid and finally went away without notice. I think some of us went through withdrawal symptoms. Thanks Ron.

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