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Max Workshop: Completing Sc-01

This section takes you through the final steps needed to complete Sc-01. All the techniques and processes in this chapter and the ones preceding it will be used to create the rest of the scenes for Area51.avi. An interesting part of this section will be animating the field of view of the camera to create the zoom specified by the storyboard for Sc-01.

Animating the Camera Field of View

Camera moves, as discussed earlier in this Workshop, are an integral part of your toolbox for creating dynamic imagery to entertain your audience. The camera movement for Sc-01 doesn't require any actual movement like some of the other scenes. Instead, you'll animate one of the camera's parameters—the field of view. This is a variation of a technique used in mystery and suspense movies and will help create an interesting depth effect to the scene.


Inspiration for cinematic camera effects comes from observing and copying the work of master cinematographers. The push pull camera move for Sc-01 is a subtle variation of the kind of camera work pioneered by Alfred Hitchcock in his movies Vertigo and Psycho and the multi-plane camera used by Walt Disney.

  1. Press H to open the Select Objects dialog box and choose Camera01 from the list, as shown in Figure 5.29.

  2. Figure 5.29 The Select Objects dialog box is an indispensable tool, especially when you want to select an object that is not currently in the viewport or when you are working with a complex scene and need to find a specific object easily and quickly.

  3. Click the Modify command panel to see the Parameters rollout for the camera, and adjust the FOV to 42, as shown in Figure 5.30.

  4. Figure 5.30 The basic camera control parameters enable you to adjust lens and FOV settings, change camera types, and modify certain camera viewport display components.

  5. Click the Animate button to enter Animate mode and move the Time Slider to frame 287 in the Track Bar. Change the FOV setting in the Modify command panel to 35 and exit Animate mode. Click Play Animation to view the animated effect—a slow dolly move closer to the tower. You can also see the FOV value in the Modify command panel change over time as the animation is played.

Save Sc-01.max and open Sc-01_Clouds.max. All that's left to do for this scene is adjust the cloud layer material and animate the FOV camera move for the clouds.

Adjusting the Cloud Plane Material

Although the clouds created in Chapter 4 are suitably ominous, their black color is a bit too stark. A dark blue or green would be a better choice because it will blend with the scene ambient color and still provide a dark background for the cooling tower in the foreground.

  1. Press M to open the Material Editor and click the BG_Clouds material preview window.

  2. Click the color swatch next to Luminosity in the Raytrace Basic Parameters rollout. Add a deep blue color to this material by changing the HSV values of the Luminosity color to 158,212,53. Adding the color changes the cloud color to dark blue, which will help the image layer blend with composition and the cooling tower material.

  3. Click the Map slot next to Transparency to access the Noise map used to create the clouds. Change the Threshold Low Noise value to 0.3 to soften the clouds.

  4. Open the Output rollout and change the Output amount to 1.6 to soften the visual intensity of the Noise map. Invert should be checked in this rollout; the rest of the parameters are left at their default settings.

Adjusting the Sc-01_Clouds Camera Animation

You've animated the Sc-01 camera to create a subtle dolly-like move toward the cooling tower. For the cloud layer imagery, you are going to animate the camera FOV to move the camera in the opposite direction—away from the clouds. This will create a dual camera move in the same scene, emphasizing the weirdness of Area51.avi that will also enhance the perception of depth in the shot.

  1. Select the Camera, open the Modify command panel as you did in the previous section, and change the FOV to 38.

  2. Click the Animate button to enter Animate mode and move the Time Slider to frame 287 at the right end of the Track Bar.

  3. Change the Camera FOV to 50 and click the Animate button to exit Animate mode. With the Time Slider set to frame 287, your Modify command panel should look like Figure 5.31.

Figure 5.31 Relating your max camera work to traditional cinematography is an important element in your education as a digital artist.

Save your work and open Sc_01.max to begin the layer rendering process.

Rendering Sc-01 Layers

Sc-01 is composited from three image layers: the BG_Sky, the BG_Clouds, and the cooling tower in the foreground. Rendering these layers will show you the basic render-and-save process you'll use for the rest of the Workshop. A simple file structure and naming convention will also help you keep track of the image files. This is important because working with layers can get a little complicated and it's easy to get confused if you haven't organized yourself effectively.

Sc-01 BG_Sky

The first layer you'll create is the BG_Sky layer. This is an easy one because it's only one image:

  1. After SC_01.max opens, select and hide the cooling tower models. Click Rendering, Environment to access the Environment dialog box you used to create the BG Sky map. The BG Sky (Gradient) map is in the Environment map slot. Leave this window open until after you have rendered the BG Sky layer (see Figure 5.32).

  2. Figure 5.32 The BG Sky is a still image that will be composited as the background image for the other two layers of Sc-01. Using the Video Post Event Track Area, you'll adjust its frame length to appear as the BG for the entire 288-frame scene.

  3. Click the Render Scene dialog box icon in the Main Toolbar. When it opens, be sure the Time Output is set to Single and the Output Size is 640x346. Leave this window open (see Figure 5.33).

  4. Figure 5.33 You'll use the Render Scene dialog box to organize how and where you'll save the layer images for all the scenes in Area51.avi.

  5. When you have confirmed that the settings are correct, click the Render button at the bottom of the Render Scene dialog box.

  6. When the image is finished rendering, click the Save Bitmap icon in the toolbar at the top of the Virtual Frame Buffer (see Figure 5.34).

  7. Figure 5.34 Using the Save Bitmap command in the Virtual Frame Buffer for single images such as the BG Sky is often easier than using the Save File function in the Render Scene dialog box.

  8. When the Browse Images for Output window opens, browse to your MAXWorkshop master directory and create a new folder titled Area 51 Final Targas. Create another new folder inside Area 51 Final Targas and name it Sc-01. Save the BG Sky image in this folder as Sc-01_BG_Sky.tga. The Browse Images for Output window should look like Figure 5.35.

  9. Figure 5.35 Because the BG Sky is a single image, it doesn't need another folder of its own as the other two layers will. Being this organized is imperative—it will save you headaches, embarrassment, and frustration.

  10. Click Save when you are done. When the Targa Image Control window opens, fill in all the additional information and be sure that 32 Bits-Per-Pixel and Pre-Multiplied Alpha are selected. Your window should look like Figure 5.36.

  11. Figure 5.36 Your information will, of course, be different, but follow the basic guide shown here and add any other comments you deem necessary.

  12. Click OK to save the image and close the Targa Image Control window. Then close the Virtual Frame Buffer. You won't need the BG Sky map in the layer images for the foreground cooling tower layer, so uncheck the box next to Use Map in the Environment dialog box.

Close the Environment dialog box when you're finished and save your file. The next two image layers will use the Render Scene dialog box commands to set up the location and information for the rendered images before you render them.

Sc-01 FG Tower

The first step to render this layer is to unhide the Cooling_Tower_Master and Cooling_Tower_Lattice models. Be sure your Camera viewport is active and the Render Scene dialog box is open. Make the following adjustments to the Render Scene dialog box settings:

  1. Change the Time Output selection to Active Time Segment: 1 to 288; leave the Output Size set to 640x346; and click Files in the Render Output section, as shown in Figure 5.37.

  2. The Render Output File dialog box that opens does the same thing as the Browse Images for Output dialog box you just used. Browse to MAXWorkshop\ Area 51 Final Targas\Sc-01 and create a new folder named Sc-01FGTower. Inside the Sc-01FGTower folder, name the targa images for this image layer: FGTower.tga. Before you click Save to exit this dialog box, click Setup (see Figure 5.38).

  3. Figure 5.37 After you click Files, the process to save and organize your images is the same in function as the process used when you saved the BG Sky image using the commands in the VFB.

    Figure 5.38 Setup also takes you to the Targa Image Control dialog box in which you'll enter all the important organizational information for these images.

  4. Click OK to exit the Targa Image Control dialog box, and then click Save to exit the Render Output File dialog box. When you specify a name, such as FGTower, for a sequence of images, max adds sequential numbers after the name you specify to the image files when they are rendered. The rendered image filenames for FGTower will be FGTower0000.tga, FGTower0001.tga, and so on.

  5. When you return to the Render Scene dialog box, click Render to start the rendering process. If you don't want to render at this time, click Close. This will save the settings and image path you've set up during this process. To begin the rendering process, return to the Render Scene dialog box and click Render or press Shift+Q (see Figure 5.39).

  6. Figure 5.39 The images for this layer took about 35 seconds per frame. Total rendering time was two hours and 40 minutes on a Dual P3 450, Windows 2000 machine with 390MB RAM.


    The settings you establish in the Render Scene dialog box will be used whenever you use any keyboard shortcut or UI command to start the rendering process. If you have forgotten that you had a render process set up and start to render a new layer without changing the Render Scene dialog box settings, max will always alert you that you are about to overwrite any saved images.

After the FGTower images are rendered, save SC_01.max and open SC_01_Clouds.max to repeat the rendering process for the cloud image layers.

Sc-01 Clouds

The process to render the cloud layer is basically the same as the one used for the FGTower images. When you render the images for this layer, they will appear black in the VFB because there is no sky gradient behind the cloud layer. Don't be alarmed, the images are there. Here's a recap of the steps to take to render the cloud layer images after you've opened SC_01_Clouds.max:

  1. Open the Environment dialog box and uncheck the Use Map option to turn the BG Sky map off.

  2. Change to the Camera viewport and hide the cooling tower that was used for reference.

  3. Open the Render Scene dialog box and be sure the Time Output and the Output Size are correct. Then click the Files button in the Render Output section, browse to MAXWorkshop\ Area 51 Final Targas\Sc-01, and create a new folder named Sc-01Clouds. Name the image files Clouds.tga and access the Targa Image Control to annotate the files and set up the image quality parameters.

  4. Return to the Render Scene dialog box and render the images.

  5. TIP

    These are the basic steps you'll use to render all the image files for the rest of the scenes in this Workshop. If you need help, just come back to this section for a quick review.

Compositing Sc-01

The compositing process follows the same basics that you learned in Chapter 2, "Virtual Viz: The Art of Pre-Production for Digital Content Creation," when you created the animatic for Area51.avi. You'll use Video Post to create a single composite image of all three Sc-01 image layers. That single image will be used in the animatic taking the place of the placeholder images in that file.

It's easier to create a separate max file to use for compositing each scene. This keeps all the compositing processes organized and makes any changes easy.


Click File, Reset. When the alert window opens asking whether you want to save your changes, choose Yes if you haven't already saved Sc_01_Clouds.max. If you have saved, then click No. When the next alert opens asking, "Do you really want to reset?" resist the urge to curse and click Yes. Save this new file as Sc_01_Compositor in MAXWorkshop\Area 51 Final Targas\Sc-01.

Setting Up the Video Post Queue

Click Rendering, Video Post to open the Video Post Editor window and follow the next steps to composite the image layers for Sc-01:

  1. Click Add Image Input Event . This opens the dialog box shown in Figure 5.40.

  2. Figure 5.40 The Add Image Input Event dialog box is the gatekeeper of the Video Post Queue. It controls how and when the images added to the queue are used.

  3. Click Files to open the Select Image File for Video Post Input dialog box. Browse to MAXWorkshop\Area 51 Final Targas\Sc-01 and select Sc-01_BG_Sky.tga. Then click Open to return to the Add Image Input Event dialog box.

  4. Change the VP End Time to 287, and then click Options, as shown in Figure 5.41.

  5. Figure 5.41 Changing the VP End Time to frame 287 tells Video Post to make the BG Sky image last for the entire length of the scene.

  6. When the Image Input Options dialog box opens, first select Do Not Resize in the Size section, and then click the center box in the Alignment section. Then click OK to return to the Add Image Input Event dialog box (see Figure 5.42).

  7. Figure 5.42 The rendered output format for Area51.avi is 640x480. The images used in the movie are letterbox format 640x346. The Image Input Options dialog box allows you to specify where the images will be placed within the larger format and their size in the rendered imagery.

  8. After the Options are changed for this layer, change the label for this image to BG Sky and click OK. Video Post loads the image file into the queue, as shown in Figure 5.43.

  9. Figure 5.43 You might prefer to use the real name of the image file instead of a label. Sometimes a label can be more descriptive of the image and its function in the compositing process.

  10. Click Add Image Input Event and click Files when the dialog box opens. Browse to MAXWorkshop\Area 51 Final Targas\Sc-01\Sc-01_Clouds and click the first Cloud image in the folder: Clouds0000.tga.

  11. When you click the file, a preview image appears in the bottom-right corner of the browser window. To the left of that image is a check box titled Sequence. Click that box to select all the sequential files for the cloud image layer (see Figure 5.44).

  12. Figure 5.44 The single selected image will be the only image file loaded if you don't check the sequence box to specify that a sequence of images be loaded.

  13. When you click Open, the Image File List Control dialog box opens. All the settings are correct; click OK to load the images and return to the Add Image Input Event dialog box. Label this sequence: Clouds (see Figure 5.45).

  14. Figure 5.45 Max uses Image File Lists—also called IFLs—to control sequential images. Image File Lists are text files that can be edited to combine images from different source files. You'll learn more about IFLs in Chapter 9.

  15. Click Options and click Do Not Resize first, and then align the image to the center just as you did with the BG Sky image.

  16. NOTE

    Notice that the VP Start and End Times are set to 0, 287. This yields a 288-frame sequence and differs from the setup in the max scene files where you specified your start frame as frame 1. The important number, in this case, is the total frame count regardless of the start frame number.

  17. Click OK to exit the Image Input Options dialog box and click OK to exit the Add Image Input Event dialog box. The Cloud sequence is now loaded into the queue.

  18. Repeat the same process to add the FGTower IFL to the VP Queue. Remember to adjust the settings in the Image Input Options dialog box. Label this layer Tower. Your VP Queue should now have all three image layers in place (see Figure 5.46).

Figure 5.46 Compositing the image layers together will use an Alpha Compositor. This is an Image Layer Event that uses the alpha channel of Targa files to create composited imagery.

Adding the Alpha Compositor Layer Event

The next step in this process will use the alpha channels of the targa images you've created to combine the sequential images into a single layer. The following steps show you how to add the Alpha Compositor Layer event to the VP queue:

  1. Hold down the Ctrl key and select the first two image layers in the VP Queue. This will activate the Add Image Layer Event button , as shown in Figure 5.47.

  2. Figure 5.47 Alpha channels are an integral part of the data structure of 32-bit Targa images. Without them, compositing doesn't work.

  3. Click the Add Image Layer Event button, choose Alpha Compositor from the list shown in Figure 5.48, and then click OK.

  4. Figure 5.48 Compositing these layers takes two Alpha Compositor Layer Events. Later in the Workshop, you'll learn more about the specifics of alpha channels and how they work.

  5. Hold down the Ctrl key and select the Alpha Compositor Layer Event you just created and the Tower layer, as shown in Figure 5.49.

  6. Figure 5.49 The length of the Alpha Compositor Layer Events is derived from the images they are compositing.

  7. Click the Add Image Layer Event button, choose Alpha Compositor from the list, and then click OK. Your VP Queue should look like Figure 5.50.

Adding the Image Output Event

The final component of this VP Queue is an image output event to create the composited sequential targa images for the animatic. Be sure none of the existing layers or events are selected when you add the output event to the queue.

Figure 5.50 An image output event is necessary to complete this queue and render the composited images.

Click the Add Image Output Event button , browse to MAXWorkshop\Area 51 Final Targas\ Sc-01, and create a new folder titled Sc-01 Composite. Open this folder and save the images as SC_01.tga. Click Save and fill out the information in the Targa Image Control dialog box when it opens. The VP Queue should now look like Figure 5.51.

Figure 5.51 The Video Post Queue now contains all the events needed to render and composite the image layers for Sc-01.

Render the Images

Now that the images are configured correctly for compositing, the next step is to tell max to render the combined sequential layers into a new sequence of combined images. Be sure nothing is selected in the VP Queue before continuing. Save your max file.

Click Execute Sequence to open its dialog box. Click the Range radio button to select the frame range of 0 to 287. Leave the size set to 640x480 and leave the other settings as they are. Your Video Post Queue and the Execute Video Post dialog box should look like Figure 5.52. Click Render to render the composites.

Updating the Area 51 Animatic

When the Sc-01 composite images are finished rendering, you can add them to the Area 51 animatic. Save and close Sc_01_Compositor.max and open Area51_Animatic.max. When it opens, click Render, Video Post to open the VP Editor window (see a href="javascript:popUp('/content/images/0789725460/elementLinks/05fig53.gif')">Figure 5.53).

Figure 5.52 The compositing process should take about 45–60 minutes, depending on the speed of your system.

Figure 5.53 The queue you just created for Sc-01 was simple compared to this monster. This is where the intense organization of the animatic you created in Chapter 2 begins to pay off.

Follow these steps to add the combined Sc-01 images, which you just created, to the VP queue:

  1. Double-click Sc-01 Still Image to select it for modification. When the Edit Image Input Event dialog box opens, make a note of the VP Start Time: 191 and VP End Time: 478. The sequential images you'll be adding create the correct length but they will need to be positioned in the queue at the correct location.

  2. Click Files, browse to MAXWorkshop\Area 51 Final Targas\Sc-01\Sc-01 Composite, and select and load the sequence of composite images you just created: Sc_010000.tga to Sc_010287.tga.

  3. When you return to the Edit Input Image Event dialog box, click Options and select Do Not Resize. The alignment selection should already be set at the center position. Click OK to exit the Image Input Options dialog box and adjust the VP Start and End Times to 191 and 478, respectively.

  4. Label this sequence Sc-01 Final. The Edit Input Image Event dialog box is now complete (see Figure 5.54). Click OK to exit and return to the VP Queue.

  5. Figure 5.54 This is the process you'll use from now on when you want to add final imagery to the Area 51 animatic.

  6. The last step to update the animatic is to execute this sequence and render out the animatic .avi.

This chapter's Workshop and Sc-01 are now complete. The beauty of the layering process is in how easily image layers can be added into the composite process. As you work through the rest of the scenes for Area51.avi, you might want to create some additional effects of image layers to make Sc-01 even more interesting.

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