Planet-9x is my thesis animation as part of my requirement for a BFA in Animation at Umass Amherst. Planet-9x applies the techniques that I have learned in my years in college as well as new ones that I learnt throughout the creation of this animation. Some of the new techniques I learned include using Mocap Data, Satellite Data for landscape creations, and methods to decrease render time for smoke simulations. Planet-9x was screened at the Herter Annex Gallery for their Senior Thesis show and for the Animators’ Collective Festival at the Umass Amherst Campus in May 2018.
Swift River Rising, was an Animation I started to work in the Spring of 2013. The animation was based on the real-life story of the Quabbin Towns. The towns were located on the Swift River Valley, these towns were: Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and, Prescott. The reason of why these towns were the focus of the animation is because these towns were disincorporated from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to build a reservoir for the City of Boston.
The issue of the need for more water for Boston arose as the city was rapidly expanding around the mid-1800’s. After research done it was decided that the construction of a gravity aided reservoirs would supply enough water to the city. The usage of reservoirs was deemed appropriate as local rivers didn’t supply enough water nor sufficiently clean for consumption. By early 1900’s the construction of the Wachusett Reservoir among others were nearing completion or were already in operation.
In 1922 a study endorsed the construction of a reservoir on the Swift River Valley damming the Swift river to create it. The Swift River was fed from upstream bodies of water in New Salem which came from three streams, the Swift River, the Swift River Middle Branch and the Swift River East Branch. The river continued southward towards Ware and then turning westward draining onto the Connecticut River. In the valley the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott were located. These towns were small in size but were interconnected with their surrounding cities. Walking or horseback riding were the primary methods of transportation, the towns also had connections with both the Boston-Albany Railroad and the New London Northern Railroad.
Once the construction of the reservoir started so did the displacement of thousands of residents on the valley. This move was controversial for the residents of these towns, there were protests and a legal lawsuit from the State of Connecticut but were unsuccessful. Some of the buildings were moved to nearby towns, the rest were razed and later submerged. The remaining of the former Township’s land was then given to the nearby communities up to the shoreline of the new reservoir. The destruction of these towns embedded itself into Western Massachusetts culture in which native residents might show distain towards the Boston area or legislature that seems to favor the State Capital and its nearby cities.
The animation surrounded the events of the announcing of the reservoir, the reaction of the citizens of those towns and the subsequent protests and later demolishing of said towns. The story started white the leader of the community of Enfield, Mr.Adams receives a telegram requesting a meeting with a state representative at his mansion in the Town of Amherst. He expecting him and greeted him from his staircase and asks him to come to his office. There he reveals the plans of constructing a reservoir were their towns lay. After this revelation he instructs him to break the news to the townsfolk in a town meeting.
At said meeting he stood in front of his peers and revealed the news, he was met with opposition as he had expected. Later at his office he met with the meeting’s moderator and discussed the matter further. The moderator reminds him that the townsfolk will not go out without a fight and that he should go and meet with the representative once again. He seems hesitant but still agrees to do it. On his way home he a child approached and asked him about the issue and if he would do something. He gave a surrounding yes as to not let the child down. Once home he is having supper with his wife, she also looked shaken by the news. She pleads to him to see the Representative, he finally agrees in an truthful matter and buys a ticket the next day. After a ride to Boston he meets the representative at his State House office looking over at the protestors with disgust. He tells annoyingly that he cannot do anything the plan is set in motion he suggest to discuss the matter with the main town representative of Amherst.
On his way back home he meets this “Female Fatale” archetype on the train’s lounge cabin. After some small talk she warms him and tells him to leave the matter alone, he disagrees. Next day he arrives to Amherst on the hopes he might find support on rescuing his town from destruction. Sadly his hopes weren’t met as this town didn’t have enough power to sway the opinion of this construction. That if anything he should reach the support of the county seat of Northampton. On his way out he sees the Femme Fatale waiting for him in her car she approaches him and told him that his search for help on this matter should stop. He ignores her while he gets on his vehicle, on his way back he encounters a vehicle full of men shooting at his vehicle. He continued running away until he reached palmer, there he lost control of the vehicle, crashing. Injured, he flees towards the railroad yard. There he is trapped between a warehouse and a rail cart. The men encountered him and shot him on the spot. Last scene is of his funeral subsequently his headstone is shown with a pan looking at the burning towns on the horizon.
The reasons why this animation wasn’t finished are many ranging from scheduling, story and, direction. During the time of production I was just entering College and I was seeking a Pre-Law degree and was still debating on the future of me doing animations at all. After a semester I decided to switch majors to Digital Media and most of my concentration was dedicated towards my education.
When later revisited I felt it wasn’t worth continuing. A lot of my “long length” animations are created because there is an obstacle, something I need to learn. This animation did not fulfilled that ambition as well as other animation like Robbery. Additionally my skill were low and my workflow was trying to emulate Hanna-Barbera production style of using recycled elements. I wanted to go back and change the style by improving the animation quality and adding 3D elements. This extended the production time and was ultimately canceled.
Another reason that came after distancing from the project was its appeal. The issue that this story talks about is obscure, the collective memory of these events are faint. The arguments are also weak and shallow and I didn’t felt anyone could relate to it. So I don’t plan to revisit this project in the future.
A good take away from this project was learning more about the local history of Western Massachusetts, gaining an interest in photo restoration & colorization and, modeling detailed buildings. In overall I wouldn’t call this project successful but I gained some positives from it.
The Images below are extra Imagery from the Animation :
Enfield Town Hall
Enfield Congregational Church, The Church Burned down uncontrollably in the middle of the night from an unknown cause.
The idea of Amherst WorldView is not new, it first iteration was called Amherst SndBx (Sandbox). Which came from the need to learn an understanding of geography on how it shapes the development of infrastructure and how we shape it. This quest on finding this answer comes from a project I was working on late spring / early summer of 2015. A 3D rendering of a fictional town I called Mistic.
The town would be located on the western side of the state of Massachusetts and would be a center of which planned stories would take place. This town would be the medium to introduce the audience to more explicit themes and stories. Once the first renders were created I noticed a large unrealistic factor that everything was placed flat within the axis. This made the area look unrealistic. I tried fixing up a bit but it’d still look unrealistic to me. I noticed that I needed to learn more about geography, how we as humans shape it to our desire and the occasional compromise.
I then started working on smaller scale render in which the topography of the terrain was the main focus. I did physical surveys of areas across western Massachusetts that I wanted to recreate. I used pictures as references as well. The end results were satisfactory but I wanted to experience a more diverse settings.
To do so I had to choose a location in which I was able to surveys routinely and close by, I selected the Center of Amherst as my starting point. The idea of Amherst SndBx comes from a childhood dream of being able to explore my local community freely, virtually in a sandbox-like mechanic. This came from my early exposure to Open-world Sandbox games. Which excited joy on just exploring the map to the point I had grew acquainted to the landmarks of map of places I’ve never visited before. What I would want to come out of the Amherst WorldView project, is to bring a sense of exploration to people and act as a learning venue of the history and culture of an area they’ve never visited.
The Amherst Sandbox was created in blender within Blender using the Blender Game Engine (BGE). The desired size of the map was around 3 square miles. One of the initial issues I encountered was on how to obtain all of this measurements as I wanted the world to be on a 1:1 scale as much as possible. I found a useful tool in the Amherst’s Town Website. A GIS-like map viewer in which you could draw your measurements.
This viewer turned out to be one of the most critical tools in the development of both Amherst SndBx and Amherst WorldView. To the point that if the site was down I couldn’t do much as I would be working blind. The process that I used to transform this 2D representation of the world was a learning process. I started by drawing the measurements of manmade structures under the assumption that manmade structures are:
Straight lines within a rectilinear shape.
Corners in general conditions are assumed to be 90 degrees.
This process is done by placing cubes as markers of key places were a wall, sidewalk or road would be placed. This process grows in complexity as more measurements are added essentially making all markers connected to each other. The terrain height is done by placing planes on their respective heights on the Z axis. The zero-height is set as zero and the following planes are set accordingly to the addition or subtraction of their real life height.
During the creation and testing of Amherst SndBx I learned the limit of my skills and of the software I was using. The BGE is a really outdated engine that doesn’t receive much support and had limitations like materials or a variety of export options. Graphic limitations which would required shadows and light effects to be baked on the texture through the Cycles engine for a realistic result. This process was cumbersome and I avoided it during the testing of the main map. Programming wise it used python and blocks to represent inputs or events/actions. My skills where also low. I made rookie mistakes like creating a sidewalk as multiple individual blocks rather than as a single piece textured or created trees as hundred of individual pieces. This and my lack of knowledge of the workings of LODs in BGE made the project highly inefficient memory wise. I ended the Amherst SndBx project Fall of 2015 with inconclusive results.
I dedicated the following months in researching on how do artists conduct surveys within the context of game design. What artists did like taking pictures, doing research and how they used this information to create a virtual world. I decided to try recreating a new environment, this time I picked the Umass Amherst Campus. I did it because the campus has a diverse architecture on different geographic locations which they could be potentially reused for future projects. I was also going to be on the campus for multiple years as a transferring sophomore so I had the opportunity and time to do research.
On late October of 2015 I decided to start a new project this time it’d concentrate on the Umass campus. The startling place that I choose were all the axis meet was the Haigis Mall as it could be considered a central place of the campus. Because z height is zero and the grade of the staring location is around 130 feet. All following measurements would be the product of a subtraction or addition to the staring place.
The process of laying down the measurements one by one is a relatively slow process. There’s a margin of error this error is compounded from the tracing done by the maps cartographer and my own. Making the margin or error as low as 1-5 feet a rather acceptable margin on my own standards in dense areas while a 5-10 feet margin on bigger/open space areas. This is due to the lack of nearby structures that would aid with measurements. This can lead to “stretching” or “warping” which would make the map imprecise when compared to height markers. To solve this I placed the items on the average of the difference between the two measurements. The nature of this process with its human error and approximation makes this project more of an artistic representation of the area rather than a direct copy of the area.
The usage of this technique hasn’t been limited to just this project. I have applied to scene tests and other animations to a less intense extent. During the 2018 Spring semester I decided to work on the animation Planet 9-x that used different landscapes as it’s set pieces. Creating a detailed landscape for each scene by hand would’ve been impossible with the time allocated for its creation.
I found a perfect tool for this project a website that generates satellite based height maps for a city simulator game. The website terrain.party enables you to choose virtually any place in the world and generates satellite imagery from both the ASTER & SRTM satellites. Which facilitates the creation of the terrain, the images come a bit dark which can be fixed in any image manipulation software and then placed into blender. By placing a 18km by 18km plane, adding at least 8 subdivisions. Then placing a displacement modifier with the image attached will create a rough idea of how the terrain would look like. You can add more subdivision to create a more finished look, but be aware of memory constraints. The same can be do with a subsurface modifier, it is still recommend doing a pass by hand with the modeling tool to soften any edges.
I see using satellite imagery as a good place to start a new scene, now any area of the world is at within reach in terms of creation. From the deserts of Egypt to the Green Mountains of Vermont all of their topographic data is available for imagination to come about. I will still use hand method in the Amherst WorldView Project but in future projects this tool will cut time on production and help focusing on other details like Buildings, Characters or other props.
As of February of 2019 around 68% of the campus has been measured and placed on the map. Just finished the “Grasslands” a large area of woods and hills that are located North East on campus. It took around 4 months to measure and model, this area was considered the “big piece” which would enable more accurate measurements on the outskirts of the map after its creation. After February 20 the process of creating the buildings will begin and more testing within the engine will follow. The next update will be by the end of this year.
Sample Size was originally created as a final project for an Animation Class. The animation was created under a month due to this time constraint most scenes were rushed and rendered half of the intended resolution (1080p). This plus the noise created in the scenes degraded the resolution to a point were some scenes are not as clear as they should’ve been. When shown to an audience both physically and online I received a lot of feedback specifically regarding the editing and noise.
I focused during the remastering process on rendering the scenes at full 1080p and added more details to some scenes. I learned that the cause of this noise was due to how the scene’s lights were setup, I abstained from modifying this as it would’ve added more to the “to-list”. Instead I worked on replacing every material to a PBR material and updated the skybox which in my opinion adds more than to have a plain color sky. I also replaced some models, these include the Human and Earth models to add more realism and continuity. Particle effects were added and deformations to create a more realistic environment.
There could have been more done to this short but this acted as a place to experiment and to learn from my early mistakes. I am pleased on how it came out.
As this year comes to a close I will be preparing for a new project for next season. I will expand more on the details once Winter comes to a close.
The animation Sample Size was conceived and created in three weeks or so as a final project for an Animation class. When the Animation was published online I received a lot of feedback regarding the overall quality of the project. In the sense that there was too much noise (“fireflies”) in the picture and blurry scenes due to upscaling. During the class critique I received feedback mostly regarding the timing of some shots as well with the position of the camera.
In the Remastered version of this animation I will address these points and will be adding some scenes that I initially visualized but they were cut due to the time that would be needed to create and animate those scenes. The Remastered version will also take use of PBR materials for a more realistic scenery.
The Remastered Version will be available Late November.
For my thesis in Spring 2018 at Umass Amherst I worked the project Planet-9x. Planet-9x explores the achievements of Space Technology and Space Communications. The animation was screened at the Herter Annex Gallery on Campus. Along with the animation four images were presented to set the mood of the short and a handbook to provide more background about the animation. The animation was shown as part of my Thesis Show, below is my Artist Statement for the show:
Planet-9x is a 4-minute animation that explores space navigation and communication with outer space beings. Along with the animation there is a series of four images. Three of them express the ideas of the animation and help set a mood. These three ideas are: Exploration, Communication, and Innovation. The other image is concept art that helped as inspiration for the creation of Planet-9x. Planet-9x is a 3D animation created in Blender and Maya 3D software. It uses Motion Capture data for the animation of humanoid figures and data from the ASTER-Terra Satellite to generate Earth locations. Three of the images were created specifically for this show to highlight the main ideas of Planet-9x.
The main concept is that communication enables the need for exploration which pushes innovation forward. This sequence is on a loop in this closed system – it feeds into itself. Generating new innovations to then be used again for even newer and better innovations. These innovations come from the innate curiosity within human ambition, however, this is not limited to human beings. Any sentient being, when given the opportunity of innovation, will evolve to find a way to make itself comfortable in its new environment. Like the cells and organism living within us we are opportunistic creatures by nature.
The idea of communication is of equal importance in this animation. Ever since humans developed radio communications in the late 1800’s, we have been emitting our signals into outer space like capillary waves. These run alongside other emissions from stars and galaxies lightyears away. This gibberish of overlapping signals travel lightyears away into foreign places we have not seen yet. In this animation, we explore the possibility of sentient beings responding to our messages through the same medium.
During Fall 2017 at Umass Amherst I enrolled to a Game Design class at Hampshire College. I participated in the Art Team were I work on creating UI Textures and Icons. The Game was created in Unity by Three other groups to produce the App Game Project IONA.
See the Assets created by me and other great Artists in Action on your Mobile AppStore.
Times is constantly moving forward and it does not care what it leaves behind, it aids the creation of the universe, galaxies and their demise. As long as it keeps moving so will the Everlasting Expansions of our Universe. Made in 2017