VR Animation & Rigging: New Workflow

VR Animation & Rigging: New Workflow

Martin Nebelong and Ian Crighton showed a great way of using MasterpieceVR and Tvori to animate and rig your projects much faster.

Martin Nebelong and Ian Crighton showed a great way of using MasterpieceVR and Tvori to animate and rig your projects much faster.


80lv: Guys, in general, what’s your take on VR for professional production? We know it’s been around and there are tools like Tilt Brush, but does it have the potential to be a good enough tool to work with? Is the content you get precise enough to be used in games, films or cartoons?

Martin: I’ve been working professionally as an artist for around 15 years or so, and during all those years VR is definitely the most promising new art-tool that has come around. It’s quite obvious that the tools are still young, and there’s room for improvement in areas like precision, but I’m sure the developers of all the tools are aware of this and in the coming years we’ll see the tools evolve and maybe eventually even replacing or merging with their desktop counterparts.

Ian: I would echo Martin’s sentiment that VR is one of the most promising mediums for artists in recent years, With all new creative mediums it takes time for this to become fully apparent, it also helps that developers are really listening to the community when it comes to shaping creative VR/AR applications, and I believe that we are fast approaching the point where VR is a real alternative viable option for media, film and game content creation.


Project Idea

80lv: Let’s talk about your project. What did you want to do here? What were the main things you decided to test and play around with?

Martin: The idea for this scene came around when we were planning the promotional video to go along with the announcement of the release of Masterpiece Motion. We ended up going with another video produced by the talented Steeve Teeps and decided to do this scene as a follow-up video that would explore using Motion in a production pipeline. I pitched the idea to the team, and from the beginning, I like the idea of the octopus as a case study. Both because it’s challenging to rig traditionally, but also because working in VR literally feels like having 8 arms!

Features of MasterpieceVR

80lv: The octopus was created with MasterpieceVR. It looks a lot like a ZBrush version in VR, but less cluttered and more streamlined. Could you talk a bit about the way this tool works in terms of interface, features and so on? 

Ian: MasterpieceVR has a very intuitive interface, and everything is literally at your fingertips within the tool palette, it just feels more tangible or tactile than traditional 2D applications. Being literally able to look at your hand and select a tool or feature and not browse through a myriad of menus is quite liberating, not to mention being able to move around your sculpt in the workspace by using just your head or hands as well feels like a natural progression.

80lv: Could you tell us a bit about the sculpting here? What are the cool tools, how did the sculpting work, how do you work with it?

Ian: I am a traditional artist in the sense that I block out the rough shape and feel of the subject before committing to the final design, with MasterpieceVR you can easily sketch, shape and wireframe, in the case of the octopus I imported a few reference images into the app, and literally sketched the body shape with the clay sculpt tool and mirror options before blocking it in, I then added detail using a combination of the erase, smudge a pinch tools before converting it to a mesh object, I then created one tentacle in the same way, before mesh stamping the limbs/tentacles into position around the body and exporting as .fbx.

Building Assets & Environment

80lv: Apart from the octopus the scene has a bunch of other little assets and the whole environment. Can you tell about the way you’ve done this space? What way did you work on it? What were the challenges? What engine did you use and what were the tricks used to build the whole thing?

Ian: To create the buildings I made a four-sided building block, each with a different face using the grid snap tool clay sculpt and mirror functions, I then converted this into a stamp, allowing each floor of the building to be snapped/stamped into place while rotating the stamp to produce a variety of architectural shapes, I also created four roof types to add some variety.

Each element in the scene was designed with the idea that it could be pieced together like a Lego set, for example, the highway section could be replicated and used to extend throughout the scene.

The key or challenge was to produce set pieces that didn’t appear to look similar and had enough variance in design to make the scene feel natural.

I also broke the pieces down into separate mesh parts so that individual textures could be applied when Martin was working on them.

Martin: After I got the sculpts from Ian, I took them through UV unwrapping in Zbrush and RizomUV and then headed to texturing in Substance Painter. The scene consists of just a few modular pieces like a straight piece of road, one with a turn, a piece of building, road signs, a bus, two cars, and a sand dune.

Rigging & Animating in VR

80lv:  You’ve done the rigging for this project using Masterpiece Motion. What are the features you had here and how did you use them? Could you tell us a little bit about the way you’ve worked on rigging and what are the important features of Masterpiece Motion that help in this process? How do you do the rig, how do you work on keyframes? What are the benefits of animating in VR in general?

Martin: The main benefit of rigging in VR is the ease at which you can place bones in 3d space with real depth perception, compared to trying to place bones on a flat monitor. You can typically place a bone in the first try with one click in Motion, whereas in a normal 3d package you would have to rotate the camera, move the bone, rotate the camera, move the bone and so on until you actually get the placement you want. The same is true when you need to manually tweak the weight paint of your model. For those who are not familiar with rigging and skinning lingo, weight maps define how much influence a certain bone has over the mesh around it. You can’t do animation in Masterpiece Motion at the moment, so it’s purely for getting your model ready to animate. You can pose your mesh though, which also helps a lot in pinpointing problem areas in the weight paint of your model.

Once you’ve built the bone structure for your model in Motion, you can use auto-skinning to attach the model to the bones. You can also do this manually by painting the weightmap from scratch. Usually, it’ll be faster to do this automatically and then tweak the result. The rigging itself can also be done automatically for basic humanoid models. In the future, we hope to improve the way this works to automate even more of the tasks around rigging.

The actual animation in the project was done using a VR tool called TVORI. It’s a tool that allows you to animate and build scenes directly in VR and it works really well together with models that have been rigged and skinned in Masterpiece Motion.

You can animate using regular keyframes, or you can record the movement of your hand as you move objects around. A very fun and intuitive process!

80lv: How do you actually import this data from VR into the game and how accurate the animation you get is? Does the animation you get in VR actually work well without additional adjustments in Maya or Sequencer or any other tool you are using?

Martin: I imported the Alembic file with the scene and animation, directly into Marmoset Toolbag, so no additional tweaking was required. Due to the way TVORI exports animation at the moment, it’s a bit difficult to tweak the animation in other programs. This means that you need to get as close to the finished animation as possible in TVORI.


80lv: Finally, how do you think Masterpiece Motion and Masterpiece VR can be used in game production? What are the advantages these tools give to users?

Ian: MasterpieceVR allows you to get up close and personal to whatever you create, being able to scale an object to a 1:1 scale in VR has an advantage in the sense that you can see all those little nuances or details in the environment that it’s intended for. I also believe the speed and relative ease that this app provides will revolutionize the way that artists produce environments and characters within the game and movie design industry.

Rigging, weight painting and decimation in Motion have all of the same benefits as MasterpieceVR, especially considering how quick and easy it is now to add bones and pose characters, the autoskin and auto rig features are the icing on the cake.

Martin: Masterpiece VR could be used to sculpt high poly assets, just like you would Zbrush. These assets would need optimization in the form of retopology or decimation and could be used as they are, with the vertex color or you could take them through a high poly to low poly workflow where you bake in details through the use of a normal map. I could also easily imagine tools like MasterpieceVR and Motion being used as part of pre-production for movies or commercials to make animated storyboards or concept art.

Martin Nebelong, Freelance illustrator

Ian Crighton, Freelance illustrator, 3D and Digital Designer

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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