Lukas Schrader - Demo Reel
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Lukas Schrader - Demo Reel

Lukas Schrader
by Greum on 1 Jun 2022 for Rookie Awards 2022

This video represents my final Demo Reel as a result of my final class at the PixlVisn Media Arts Academy. It consists of three different projects. As my current focus is 3D Animation, you will see creature animation, character animation and lip syncing.

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Spoiler: As the rendering quality of my second Demo project "Android's dream" was not convincing, I tried the LiveLink between Maya 2020 and the new Unreal Engine 5 to enhance the rendering quality. 
The result was mind blowing!

The day of the Bee

Animating the bee model without an actual rig (the controllers were missing) was quite challenging. It was the first time on a project where I had used Quixel Megascans for building scenery. To increase efficiency of the build I used the Quixel Bridge to import the assets along with the texture maps. Using the same type of approach, I used the Redshift render in combination with the Fox renderfarm.

Revelation in the desert …

The objective of the third Demo Project was to lip synch a fully rigged character, and to include the expression of emotions and cinematic acting. The lecture given by Richard Williams’ “The Animator’s Survival Kit” was used to provide guidance and support; this gave tips and ideas about animating expression as well lip synching a character’s mouth to an already existing audio recording. This new field of experience was really amazing, it was a real pleasure from the beginning to the end. Sometimes I felt a real interaction with the character

How to become the bee's knees...

The objective of my first Demo Project was to animate an animal or insect to challenge my understanding of how they move in real life. This caused me to play with size, weight as well as with speed and slow movement. I also had to keep in mind that these types of creatures walk on 6 legs and have constantly moving antennas. In the end I decided, that I wanted to go to all-out and animate a flying insect with 4 wings. This made my choice of selecting a bee an easy one!

Words are like bees – some create honey and others leave a sting

This Demo Project proved and showed me the importance of references – these are so necessary throughout the whole project.

To create realistic movement and behavior of my bee rig, I studied a lot of scientific and nature videos of bees. I realized that the most challenging part was the complex movement of the four wings, which move in a never-ending infinity-symbol, this movement when viewed at normal speeds is invisible to our eyes, however, it became clear to me that I had to start with a slow-motion animation to show these exciting and incredible details for the audience. 

Bee in motion!

Animation: Starting the flight scene in slow-motion with the animation of the four wings. This required a lot of manual optimization on the graph editor to make the wings move in a realistic and smooth movement - like an infinity symbol or a figure of eight. As the wings moved, I realized that the insect has to move all parts nearly constantly, creating the impression of a living hyperactive insect, this even had to work in slow-motion. It was therefore necessary to use the animation layers to protect the base animation.

The animation was shot from two different angles, this is to demonstrate that the movement of the legs and antennas is different on each side of the insect. Another “lessons learned” was the walk cycle of an insect: insects move three of their six legs all at the same time enabling them to stand securely at all times. In the few weeks I became a little entomologist. 😉 It goes to show that to get it right you have to do the background research!

An effective way of reusing the flight animation was to add an additional cinematic slow-motion shot, with a camera looking from the ground up to a group of bees flying in the blue sky.

Lastly, I created an animation of the bee in real time. Here I focused on the landing and departure of the bee on a stone with a backlight sunset. This required additional lighting and light effects to show the details of the animation like the walk cycle and the bee’s grooming.

In the breakdown I also wanted to demonstrate that the model’s rig has a skeleton with a lot of different joints - even within the back part of the body. However, in the absence of rig controllers, I was forced to move all respective joints in parallel for each and every movement of my little bee. I used the perspective camera to ensure a proper look of the movement viewed from all directions. Additionally, calculating the distance between the key frames showed me how the long a shot would take. 

Once upon a time, in a strange land not far away...

Scenery/Environment: The two different sceneries were used for the four different camera shots.

The first scenery was created with a texture map of a forest ground, a dome with a forest in the late afternoon sun with a lot of grass and flowers. All these assets and backgrounds were taken from Quixel Megascans. The Quixel Bridge allowed me to import the assets in Maya without needing to re-build the complete texture nodes. The assets immediately looked as intended.

The second scenery was much simpler. I used a stone to give the bee a landing platform and a dome with a country yard in the light of a setting sun. The camera was placed in such a manner, that the bee was the undisputed star of the scene; in my opinion no additional assets were required.

Let there Bee light

Light: Both domes were used in combination with a directional light to better control the light and shadow. The shadows were already visible on the scene background and they have to show the same direction as the shadows caused by the model and the assets. To create a realistic color in the scene I used the temperature setting of the light. This was especially important in the sunset animation of the grooming bee as this required an additional very warm light source to harmonize the whole scene matching the warm of the sunset.

ANDROID’S DREAM

Animating the movement of a robot in an organic manner, without destroying the impression of a heavily weighted robot, was definitely challenging. The android still had to move like an immense machine in motion, yet at the same time had to have some sort of natural movement.

It was the second time in a project, where I have animated a robot. What I learned from my first attempt was that the weight of the character effects all aspects of the animation.

The android shouldn’t move like “The robots” from the German Band Kraftwerk in 1978, but more like the current high-tech androids from Boston Dynamics or Lt. Commander Data.

This Demo project was fully rendered within Maya using Redshift

Let the fight begin…

The objective of my second Demo Project was to animate a robot in a space station to challenge my understanding of the acceleration and deceleration of heavy characters as well as rotating them in an action scene.

I first thought about letting the android dance, but this felt like a copy of the Boston Dynamics films, which have so inspired me. I decided therefore to create a fight scene, combining a high-tech android and its use of an ancient spear.

I need your clothes – Terminator I

The references I used were spread over decades or better millenniums. I used the German band Kraftwerk, the Terminator movies and Star Trek Next Generation from the old millennium; I also used the movie I Robot and the current promo videos from Boston Dynamics.

To create an organic and natural feel and at the same time heavy weight movement, I studied a lot of robotic videos, and additionally but I also studied track and field sport events. The discus and javelin events were good sources of inspiration.

Run Forrest, run! – Forrest Gump

Animation: Starting the animation with the android running, filmed with the perspective from outside the space station. This gives an impression of the limitations the robot must deal with: limited space, limited energy – shown by the poor light and the appearance of fog. I animated this way to indicates that the life support systems on the space station were either failing or were non-functional.

The second camera shows the running cycle of the android. Being linked to the chin of the android the camera gives the impression of heavy movement, like a backwards-running camera man operating a hand-held camera.

All of a sudden the robot stops with its enormous weight it to slides to a halt over the floor. Finally the android comes to a stop with an evade movement. At that moment, the viewer sees that a spear has been thrown at the android.

With a turn-around animation, which is a mixture: half martial arts and half discus throwing the android grabs the spear out of the air. Using his body weight to pivot around he manages to throw the spear back to where it came from.

Landing on his feet emulates a heavy touch down (like in American football) on the floor of station. The pivot movement required a lot of manual optimizations on the graph editor to make the arms and legs move in a realistic and smooth circular movement.

In the playblast I wanted to demonstrate that this android model has a perfect rig. The controllers worked very well, so the movement of arms, legs, hips and torso were pure fun to animate.

As opposed to my previous projects, I was able to concentrate on the total movement of the figure, instead of moving every joint of the skeleton. I also wanted to show the complete animation, which might not be visible in all details during the video.

To create the atmosphere of this nearly-lost space station required the combination of an intensive light from outside and a dystrophic foggy light shining inside the station. This contrast helps build the right atmosphere.

There is no escape, nowhere to run...

Scenery/Environment: In this project there is only one set of scenery, which is a corridor in a space station. A massive hunting robot is running down the corridor, when he is suddenly attacked.

The corridor with its texture map was taken from Sketchfab. To create realistic ambient lighting, it was necessary to double and mirror the corridor because it was open from one side. This would have allowed the dome light to shine into the open corridor, ruining the dystrophic spirit.

The light dome with its extraordinary starlight effects of red and blue was taken from Marcos Barrios Muñoz on Artstation. The dome created the red light falling through the windows of the station. I used several cameras in different positions to create a cinematic effect.

There were two different camera perspectives: one outside of the corridor filming the actions and the other inside the corridor. One of the inside cameras was a point and aim camera, which created the impression of a hand-held camera and another one, which was stationary - to filming the spear attack and the immediate defense reaction of the android. 

Light and heavy weight

Light: The dome, which I chosen had two extraordinary starlight effects of red and blue nebulas . The dome created an intense red light falling from a distant space nebular into the corridor and this light reflected onto the wall as well as onto the mirrored surface of the android.

This combined with the ceiling light, which was placed on top of the already existing light from the corridor environment. Additionally, I added the attribute “scale contribution” with redshift’s volume scattering on every third ceiling lamp to create the foggy corridor effect. If I had used this effect on every lamp, it would have resulted in an overexposed scene, so I had to be careful so as not to too much of this lighting effect.

Deep thoughts of a warrior

Revelation in the desert …

The objective of the third Demo Project was to lip synch a fully rigged character, and to include the expression of emotions and cinematic acting. The lecture given by Richard Williams’ “The Animator’s Survival Kit” was used to provide guidance and support; this gave tips and ideas about animating expression as well lip synching a character’s mouth to an already existing audio recording. This new field of experience was really amazing, it was a real pleasure from the beginning to the end. Sometimes I felt a real interaction with the character

If you can dream it, you can do it. – Walt Disney

In this project I collected only a few references; Richard Williams’ “The Animator’s Survival Kit” gave me a huge number of ideas, sources of inspiration and hints. Additionally I watched several Youtube videos, which more or less pointed out the same. One such source, where I had a deeper look at Puss in Boots (Shrek)”. This character really portrays strong emotions, mirroring Antonio Banderas’ Spanish soul, who provided the lip synchronisation. The sentence, spoken by my character stems from M’aiq the Liar, a character from Elder Scrolls IV.

Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Animation: After choosing the lines from M’aiq the Liar, getting the lip synchronisation right was my highest priority. During the animation I set three cameras around the head, so that I can see the face from the front as well as from the sides. It gives the viewer the opportunity to see any uncommon behavior from all parts of the face. I have learnt never to animate the teeth. Move the jaw first and the lips afterwards. It is important to use the eyebrows and other facial controllers to create emotions.

Cats have 32 muscles connected to each ear

The ears and eyes of a cat are always in motion. If this is not the case, the cat is most likely in really deep thought. Afterwards I animated the arms and legs to emphasize what has been said. I also moved the torso from side to side to achieve a more dynamic look. At the end the animation goes to the little details; for instance the ears are moving, including the ear ring, the cats’ eyes are blinking and the clothes were animated to follow any movement etc. 

Animation Breakdown:

In the “playblast” I put a focus on the lip synchronisation to show the exact movements according to the lines being spoken. In addition, I wanted to demonstrate the great variety of animations on the character. It was my intention to give the Warrior cat an authentic and life-like animation, which might not be visible in all details during the video. To create the atmosphere of a monk sitting in the desert to have a moment of peace of mind.

In the middle of nowhere...

Scenery/Environment: In this project there is only one set of scenery, which is a desert scenario. I created a rock in the desert with an asset from Quixel Megascans. I put it under a dome with a scene from South African desert. It immediately created an atmosphere of eternity and revelation. To create a very bright desert lighting, I put an intensive light from the dome in combination with an directional light. This puts the rock as well as the character into a an atmosphere of clarity. The character is alone with his deep thoughts. There is no distraction, there is nowhere to run. I used one slightly moving camera filming from the front: A typical western shot.

All Cats are Grey at Night

Light: The dome, which I chose had an authentic desert landscape for the background. The dome created the atmosphere of an overheated and overexposed rock located in the middle of nowhere. I used an additional directional light to create clear and sharp shapes from the character on the jagged ground. It was also used to set the correct angle for the light falling on the character.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing – Walt Disney

I faced the challenge of Animating an accurate lip synchronization with proper expression of character’s emotions and a handsome body language. My approach was to handle one problem at a time. The lip synching was key. After I had achieved a proper timing and pronunciation with the characters mouth, the face expressions came almost automatically. The body language of the torso, legs and arms was another challenge. I started with a thinker’s pose at the beginning, thereafter I used my PC’s camera as a mirror, where I acted out the key poses myself before transferring them to the character.

I learned a lot about character animation.

Accurate timing was the base for all further activities. Each word had to be spoken precisely by the character. Developing the animation of the expression was a real pleasure. I learned this technique from Milton ErwinMiltKahl, an US animator from the early days of Walt Disney. “Don’t change the expression during a broad move”. The combination of expressions and movement worked best in the way that there is an announcement of a movement to the audience. As an example, the character first moved an ear, afterwards moved his eyes and at the end turned his head.

Overall Credits

Assets by: Quixel Megascans

Bee model by: Evgeniy on Sketchfab

Spacecorridor by: the_table on Sketchfab

Ivan bot: Truong CG Artist

hdri by: Marcos Barrios Muñoz

Desert rock by: Quixel Megascans

Kaju Cat by: Game Animation Academy

hdri by: Greg Zaal on Polyheaven

In case of further questions please visit me on LinkedIn


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