Prototyping to air #b3d


Generally at work, I have to solve problems very fast. The TV stories we create run about 6 minutes long and tend to have gaps that are difficult to illustrate. We will shoot a bunch of interviews while trying to gather some overlay video (or B-roll) to cover the ideas that are raised during the interviews. Often this results in sequences of video that are, at best, tangential to the actual story. Occasionally there will be actual video or photos of an event that we can use.

More often there are no photos or video to illustrate a point. In fact it sometimes there is no possibility of finding pictures or video, as the event may not even have occurred yet. Or it maybe pure speculation or conjecture.

There was a terrible tragedy at a local Theme Park where 4 people lost their lives on a park ride and we had no pictures (and I wouldn’t want to see them). At the time I was constructing a story for our TV News and the current affairs program. This left little time to reconstruct the event in question. However by the following day I had taken time to consider the most efficient manner to recreate it in 3D.

I grabbed a park map online and traced the path of the water based ride.

Old Dreamworld-Map
Pre-accident map

Having ridden it with my kids a week before, I was reasonably aware of the technology that I needed to include and what I could leave out. I found some first person videos of the ride on YouTube.

rapids yt

For the sake of efficiency I chose a graphic Non Photo-realistic style and selected Blender Internal for the render engine. This way I could have reflections without a big time penalty for animation. The biggest challenge was trying to give the rafts reasonable motion without resorting to physics, as I needed to make very specific choices about movement and timing. I parented the rafts to empties and slid those empties along a path, in this way I could release the raft from the path when they collided.

Another feature of the animation was the conveyor belt that lift the rafts. I could have made a tread-like array on a curve but opted for an animated texture instead. This rendered quickly and was in keeping with the NPR style. For bonus points I used the node editor for a BI material.

conveyor material

This work made great use of Blender Freestyle, an overlay effect that detects edges and geometry from the render. I used it to provide definition to simply shaded objects. Sometimes the yellow seats would merge into a blob, the outline lifted them out from their surroundings.

I wanted to define the water with ripples but that would have taken to long and taxed the Freestyle edge detector, so I used a voronoi texture. With a hint of reflection it looked glassy without being mirror like.

water rapids

The nice graphic floor was a simple subdivided plane with a material set to “wire”.

After all of this work, testing the render type and making sure that the resulting animation was not distasteful (I chose to not use small human characters),  I submitted it for use in our story. Unfortunately the animation was lost in the network (we send artwork interstate to another department), and nobody mentioned it. However a replacement clip was produced elsewhere and looked eerily like mine, except for some obvious mistakes. Oh well, I guess the lesson is don’t bite off more than you can chew… unless you plan hide it somewhere for later.


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