The Making of Earth Day: Hibernating Bats

This wee project all started with my little bat buddy above. I sculpted him as a result of a daily prompt during the month of SculptJanuary, which I encourage anyone who appreciates the creative process to participate in. There were a handful of us VR artists who were creating our sculpts in Oculus Medium and MasterpieceVR, oftentimes sharing virtual studio time via our Discord channel. By day 19, I was officially going batty, so perhaps that played into the subject. I had found a great reference photo of a bat who fit the day’s prompt of “obscure” and felt compelled to bring him into being, vulnerable eyes and all. Sketchfab really helped to push the sculpt into more cinematic territory in post, especially when it came to giving texture and atmosphere to the cave and fur.

I give you this spiel about SculptJanuary because it was an instrumental first step in a daisy chain setting up the following animation I produced for Earth Day:

Creating some of the pieces in January with the intention of giving them life later was a psychological hack that really helped my overall focus. And so our bat buddy finally had his own Earth Day to make his animated debut. Here is how that recipe took shape.

Painting in Oculus Medium

It was time to give our subject a little paint job in Medium. Although I used reference images, I settled on a brighter palette that skewed more towards picture book than realism. He had to be vibrant enough to stand out in the initial darkness. And because I wanted to envelop this animation within a narrative, I had the harebrained idea of leveraging the very real life wonder of Sir David Attenborough’s narration around hibernating bats. Here’s a wee timelapse of the paint job:

Rigging with Masterpiece Motion

I happen to be one of the lucky brats who have beta access to this revolutionary new tool called Masterpiece Motion. It’s a part of a suite of tools that MasterpieceVR, primarily known for sculpting, will be deploying to help fill out more of the VR production pipeline that is actively being laid down across the industry. In this case, it addresses the painful aspects of rigging, weight painting and posing of 3D models. It took a number of tries for me to get it to a point where it could be properly exported. Remember I’m working with a winged creature in a very specific pose, not a T-posed humanoid rig. The UI is separated into 3 parts for each respective function. Rigging feels very intuitive in terms of creating a skeleton from a root bone. Weight painting is strangely meditative but I still have to learn how to truly finesse it so the deformations are smooth. I haven’t touched posing yet. I also have yet to learn how to properly retopo so the model doesn’t come apart when I bring it into the next package. Here’s another timelapse of what this process looks like:

Animating with Tvori

For me, the most orchestral part of the process is when I bring all the pieces, decimated earlier in Medium, into Tvori. It’s a tool that allows you to set the stage with cameras, props, effects and lights, animate your models and most importantly, weave a story in a way that feels like play. To me, it’s always felt like I had my own little stop motion studio. In this case, I was able to utilize specific features to flesh out the crux of the story. The ability to set materials was actually one of the primary reasons why I went with the hibernation angle. One of the feature’s allows you to change any model’s look to Fog. For the thermal camera scene, I realized that this would give me the exact transparent look I needed. I also used the Toon shading material on the cave itself so it would feel more crystalline. Setting up lighting rigs and bringing atmospheric effects like snow and fog also helped to give the bat a cozy spotlight. Various camera angles and color were also employed to give the viewer a progressive view of what the bat was going through as he was waking from a deep slumber. This timelapse showcases what it feels like to be animating from within the cave, modifying materials and colors on the fly while animating with the help of a timeline and preview window:

Post Production in Adobe Premiere

The last step was assembling all the various renders into a coherent piece with Premiere Pro. This gave me the chance to fine tune the temperature from cold to warm over the running time as well as various cross dissolves and titling. I also had to cut down Sir David’s narration so it would speak directly to what was happening onscreen.

Closing Thoughts

This is of course is only one example out of a myriad of approaches to a XR pipeline. But hopefully this illustrates that even in its early days, there’s a world of possibility that we can realize together with a smidge of imagination, technical willpower and yes, the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough.


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