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Recreating an Animated Enviroment



A three week assignment was given to reproduce a scene from an animated feature of our choice. A group of three students joined me in attempting to recreate the iconic opening scene from Finding Nemo.

We first gathered to distribute different tasks we would take in achieving such a complex scene. I was able to gather references from the film as a way to examine how light, water, and the foliage came together to create the composition above. Such references were helpful when modeling and texturing the assets, as we attempted to create them as close as possible to the originals.


The following is how we as a group, divided assignments and progressed throughout the assignment. The following are written per individual.

Cody King:

At the start of the project, I began scrubbing through the film to gather references and an overall sense of the scene. I also researched how specific aspects of the scene would be created by finding a document on how the original film was made. This document discussed subsurface scattering and caustics that were implemented to create the iconic lighting effect.

I then began modeling on the branch-like coral on the top left side of the composition. The branch was essentially a cylinder extruded and scaled to fit appropriate conventions., By creating a single branch and duplicating it different ways, I was able to create the shape needed. This gave a sense of depth to this specific asset.

Finally, as the project drew near an end, I began set dressing, careful to replicate the original image as closely as possible. I focused on the placement of each coral to create a sense of depth by layering them accordingly. Set dressing came with its own dilemmas. As the "true depth" of each asset is unknown, I placed both by location and scale to give the illusion of the layered effect. The base rocks were then placed below to give a grounding to the foliage.

The final scene was a result of these different sections rendered as individual sequences and composited together.


Nathan Lindig:

My role in this project involved the creation of all aspects of the sea anemone (modeling, rigging, texturing, scripting, animation, etc...). I also created all the textures which included the subsurface scattering textures and all the bump maps. I lit the front coral section of the scene and helped set up the different render layers. I also composited the final video in After Effects.


Nicholas Smith:

For my part in this project, I modeled some of the coral in the scene procedurally using Houdini. My process for creating the first coral file is as folows:

- Start with a single "branch" of coral - begin with a tube, then extrude into desired shape

- Scattered random points across surface of this shape

- Duplicate a sphere onto this set of points to make polyps

- Apply a Bend transformation to get some variation in the shape of the branch

- Create a dome and scatter points across its surface sparsely

- Use a copy stamp node to duplicate the branch onto these points to create a "bush" of coral.

- Create variables and formulas in the copy stamp to randomize each branch's rotation and bend for more variance.

It was very easy once I had this done to go into the transformation history and edit the model and twist effects to produce thin, twiggy coral instead.

I also did some general lighting and almost all of the caustic effects in the scene. The water effect is divided into three different types of effects, which were all done in different files: the water's surface, the light beams (or "god rays"), and the actual reflected light playing on the rocks and coral.

All three effects can be shown in a single file in this picture, which was one of the tests I did to learn how to use Maya's Ocean displacement tool. Here is my process for creating the ocean in Maya:

- Start with a square polygon plane that has 100 subdivisions on each side

- Set up the camera to be rendered from, and add background planes to catch light and apply shaders to

- Apply the built-in ocean displacement map to the initial plane and convert into polygons with history, allowing it to be animated

- Create a directional light and apply volume photon shaders to the background material and the ocean plane

- Have the light emit photons and adjust the ocean material and shaders to create the desired effect

This process creates all three components of the ocean lights that I described, but in the final scene I separated the effect into three separate files to better control how each one looked independent of the rest. In the file for the ocean's surface, I added many different background planes to get the desired sky color reflecting through the water, and I also added a second displacement map to the water plane.

For the "god rays", I made the background black to focus exclusively on the rays and used a point light to make each beam fall at a different angle.

And for the actual reflected light on the rocks and coral, I didn't use a background or overall plane at all, choosing instead to create a small, separate ocean plane and light for each major coral group (one foreground and two background).

Each of these layers was rendered separatelyand composited into our final video file.


Anthony Eason:

In this project, I assisted with some of the modeling of the coral and rocks. After reviewing reference images from the film scene to get an accurate depiction of the coral, I created models for two different versions of coral, the background and foreground rocks, and the rocky plane the coral bunches sit on in the foregroud. All modeling was done in Maya. Here is the process in which I created the individual models.

-For the Coral shaped with a gaping opening, I started with a Polygon Pipe,and using a variety of techniques moving vertices, edges, and sculpting with the Sculpt Geometry Tool to create an organic appearance.

-For the Coral shaped like rounded tubes, I started with a cylinder, extrudedthe top multiple times to create a rounded top, and extruded a hole down the center. I used similar techniques with the gaping open coral to create an organic appearance.

-For the Rocks, I simply created spheres and used the Sculpt Geometry tool toget the correct indentions and slopes. For one foreground rock I used a rectangle instead of a circle to give a sharper edge. One issue that was addressed was that the shadows underneath the coral might not show without them sitting on a ground plane, so I created a plane for the coral to sit on and sculpted it to look like a rock.

In addition to modeling, I assisted in renaming and organizing the Outliner in the Maya files.


Special Thanks to Andre Thomas, Benjamin House, and Jan Pinkava for their input and feedback throughout our progressional stages.

#digitalenviroments #maya #findingnemo

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