A Learning Journey

A Learning Journey

Kianna Molino
by kianna on 30 May 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

Here I share the outcome of a few of the projects I've worked on during the past year as a student, and also part of my thought process and struggles. The amount of things I have learned is amazing and it just increases my enthusiasm for all the things I have yet to discover. Hope you enjoy going through them!

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The Insect Project: The Lemur Leaf Frog

Raw Render


The goal of this school project made from October to the beginning of December of last year was to have our first approach to organic modeling and afterward rendering several moving frames and using the AOVs, so it consisted of choosing an insect/amphibian and then elaborating a whole background around it, keeping in mind that we needed to develop a photorealistic look. The tools used for this project were Maya, Mudbox, Renderman, Photoshop and Nuke. 

For this project, I chose the Lemur Leaf frog not only for its peculiar look and classic frog eyes that project curiosity but also because it has been classified as a critically endangered species and every time I start a new project I look to put something I care about into it, which in this case it would be my care for the environment. Nature is so infinitely vast and giving, I feel like it's my responsibility too to keep that vastness, and give back by being conscious about how my actions affect my surroundings. 

Even when this was our first approach to sculpting by using Mudbox, I found that the interface was really easy to navigate and as long as you have a good model, everything runs smoothly. The two main challenges I found with this project were first, the composition, and then the environment.

When it came to the composition I wanted the leaf to act as an umbrella for the frog, but at the beginning it wasn't as it is in the image right now but inverted and it looked as if the frog was captured in some way which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to convey. But thankfully after the guidance of our rendering teacher and a lot of tests I arrived at the spiral composition shown above. When it comes to the environment, I feel like next time I would need to add maybe another or more branches in the back because right now it may feel as if the frog is flying. Also, I would redo the branch, since it lacks the proper displacement variations to feel real, as well as it lacks proper specular details and variations, I feel like the wood, even when wet, should be rougher. I would also add places where water collects and places that are completely dry. And finally, regarding the leaf, I would make it thinner.

A Glimpse at the Process

Another challenge of this project was rendering a video for the first time and dealing with the AOVs. Since it was our first approach, the only requirement was to move the camera. The trickiest part of this step in my case was understanding and achieving a good depth of field outcome with ZDefocus on Nuke. What I would do differently next time is increasing the parallax for the background, as well as adding a subtle glow to the frog and perhaps another grade to darken the parts that are not of interest and removing the bits of noise that remain in the video.

Raw Render


In conclusion, I am proud of the result and I'm thankful for having learned so many things during the process, like the use of UDIMs, sculpting, a different approach to modeling, how to make proper decisions regarding displacement map sizes, rendering AOVs, among others. 

The Fur Project: Milo, the Meerkat

Raw Render

This last rendering school project made during April-May of this year consisted of designing a character and then developing its fur using X-Gen. This was my first time modeling a fully organic character, as well as my first approach at grooming and shading hair. The tools used for this project were: Maya, Renderman, Mari, X-Gen, Photoshop.

A Glimpse at the Process

Raw Render

Grooming was definitely a challenge. The trickiest parts were avoiding bald spots and maintaining the flow as accurate as possible, since even when the design didn't need to be realistic the grooming and shading of the fur needed to be. The flow of the hair of the meerkat turned out to be unexpected in some parts and keeping the partitions of hair in the arms, legs and paws without it trespassing the geometry was tricky. What I would do better next time is definitely deal better with the thickness of the hair, since in this case it turned out to be too thick, as well as making it look less even. I would definitely play more with the density to add variations and vary more the sizes of the clumps. I would improve the overall design of the character and spend more time on the shading the hair, adding more color variations, mud, and places where the hair is more dry and/or more humid. Overall, I'm glad of all the things I learned from this project, they will definitely make me take better decisions in my upcoming projects.

A Glimpse at the Process

Concept Art

The Final Year Image: Maps and the Exercise of Power

First Framing Composited

First Framing Raw Render

First Framing: a Glimpse at the Process

This is the result of our final school project of last year's school year, it was produced during the month of May to the beginning of June and consisted of developing from concept to finish the workshop of an artisan. The preproduction started at the beginning of the school year and then the production took place for three weeks. The softwares used for this project were Maya, Renderman, and Photoshop.

In my case I chose to do the workshop of a mapmaker, Marco Cotrugli, a mapmaker who mapped America before its supposed discovery while being persecuted by the Spanish Crown, who stole his original map. The two framings were made so that we could glimpse at two moments in Marco Cotrugli's life: before his family was brutally murdered by the Spanish Crown, and after when he fled the Crown and sailed to find America.

In a few words, Marco Cotrugli is an Italian cartographer who sets sail into the unknown to fabricate maps of places never before seen; covering the true objective behind his trips with the buying and selling of art. In the first framing we see this part of his life, the part who wonders and wanders and is full of life, the warmth of the workshop as his purpose and his home. But He is currently in a precarious situation since, through his own findings and the recollection of the ones acquired from other anonymous travelers, he managed to elaborate a map of the exact location of America and is currently being persecuted by the Spanish Crown, who knowing about the existence of the territory wanted it to remain secret until they considered it was best for this place to be ‘discovered’, being this a part of their orchestrated future conquest. In the second framing, we see my craftsman currently inside his ship, we can see the map above the desk in his workshop illuminated by a fire lamp whose light contrasts with the blue night light of the storm that surrounds the ship, beside the map we find an ‘execution for treason’ notice distributed by the Crown with my craftsman’s name.

In conclusion, through his story I wanted to raise awareness of how much of our ideas are not actually ours but built into the collective consciousness by the continuous sources of political propaganda and overall information meant for manipulation through persuasion, making the need of being critical and able to discern the true intention of the information that surrounds us imperative to our and our society’s development.

Second Framing Composited

Second Framing Raw Render

Second Framing: A Glimpse at the Process

The main challenge of this project, in particular, was finding proper references to work with, since because we needed to stick to a photorealistic look and because the story takes place during the 15th century, there were almost no records of how paintbrushes, inkwells, or even the cabins of the ships looked like. Another challenge of this project was dealing with the fact that almost everything is made out of wood, and everything must look different but part of the same whole at the same time, meaning everything must fit together. Also, making the hair of the paintbrush as well as the quill pen was tricky without knowing how to fabricate hair properly in 3D as I know now. I ended up using several layers of geometry for the paintbrush and then using Renderman's presence on all of them, and for the quill pen I ended up using presence as well, adding specular details in compositing. What I would do differently next time is first taking care of the sea background on the first framing, since it lacks quality and without compositing it lowers the quality of the image. I would also improve the composition of the second framing and better the specular details of the quadrant and the compass. I would also make the wood humid and maybe add some drops of water on the table to give the feeling of a storm surrounding the ship, increasing the feeling of tension.

In conclusion, just as with all the other projects before, I'm amazed at how many things I learned from this project, and it just makes me more excited to discover more and more of the wonders of life out of noticing the little details of the world that surrounds me. 

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