Animation Studio: Research & Portfolio

Short Animated Film: An act of replicating the poor environments and developing an outcome which implies an art-friendly message to help raise awareness about plastic pollution and aquatic ruins.

This image on the right of the baby turtle role is to play as a visual focus, referring to the emotional message it (the baby) is trying to send to the viewers — additionally, on a grander scale, the ocean is proposing an act to of expression and communicate (awareness) to us.


This post introduces new studies around the module: Animation Studio. Together with a particular group of students, we have been assigned to specific jobs roles and instructed to design and develop an animated concept.

On an individual level, this documentation will focus on the additional roles and responsibilities of Script developer and overall Production Supervisor on organisation and planning.

Furthermore, progressing into the design and development stages of the Character Artist role, covering collaborations with other members during pre-production, production and post-processing.

Production Supervisor

In short, this role focused on specific duties and responsibilities of managing a more efficient production. This role involves the arranging of meetings, the arrangement of roles and responsibilities to group members, organisation of network-based import and export pipeline.

Mover over on job election, it was conducted with each group member individually to identify what their focus is, their skills, software preference & experience and interests of practice. As a conclusion, this role focused on the significant part of decision making and focused on the building of a collaborative environment around the different areas of the project.

Furthermore, together with Paul, the pre-production leading story and concept artist, we have moved the project forward, brainstorming ideas from all members, recording notes of new and effective techniques. Thus, aspects that must or should be considered throughout all production stages; which eventually lead to an end of pre-production planning to a finalised concept that everyone in the group favours.

Early problem-solving acts

We have had various levels of discussions and arguments about the direction in which our idea was heading, and as different individuals, each of us had a slightly different style of picturing and approaching things, thus, leading to small personal inconveniences. It was a very challenging event.

However, we were determined to of finding a solution to this problem we faced; we had also realised that by focusing on a current world issue, we could find a common interest. The idea was to try to raise awareness through the means of 3d animation. This was the primary element that had affected the direction of our animated product in figuring out the prime objectives and outcomes.

Script Developer Role

This screenplay document is essential, and of great importance to achieve at a professional standard. Scripts are written in specific formats; thus, research into scripting development from an online support service at[], which outlines the importance and explains some benefits of writing a well-formatted script.

The content on [] covers a new point to pick up on: “when a writer deviates from industry standard formatting, a reader will quickly lose interest and most likely stop reading, thinking the story will be as amateur as the flawed formatting".

The research was of great advantage, providing techniques to use from a free PDF format offering tips to learn the industry standards and understand all the essentials around the proper script writing.

This was a practice activity in which I took part with Darren and Paul. Our aim with this was to try and picture the animation map using the different object at hand and establishing different aspects to come up with a concept story idea, creating characters and plot points outlined to build a Start/Middle/End timeline for the baby turtle path.

The script development had started with a study around the storyboard & plot points covered by Paul, focusing on formatting the details for the different elements:

  • Mood/Atmosphere

  • Characters

  • Scenes/Cinematics

  • Particles/VFX

  • Sounds/Music

  • Environment

Script development using a professional format to build detail that will support other group members and focus on guiding future development of assets (underwater sound effects and symphonic ambience).

Character Artist & Designer Role

To support Ben, who is the leading character artist and designer.

I am responsible with everything around the secondary and third rank design of characters.

Character Design Pipeline Breakdown

Project Plan

Process development after major peers feedback


Design Research & Visual referencing

Character Animation Research

Research into how artist use shapes to structure characters

e.p. shapes to portray good and evil in characters, circles of cute and happy characters, also squares or triangles for sad or wicked (evil) characters.

Tamatoa, Disney’s Moana’s big baddie

Here we have the final design of a crab character which is part of an animated film of Disney, Moana (2016). The crab in this animation presents many exciting aspects of design, such as the vibrant materials, colours and expressions. The expressions or body language of this character brings its unique charm in the film, especially the realism of crab animation providing fluent moveability of limbs to navigate or walk.

The challenge with boarding this style of building an animation character is the necessity of advance knowledge and practice in facial rigging.

As shown in the image reference, Tomatoa's facial structure especially the eyes and mouth have been designed in such a way to form an emotional connection to the audience by having more human-friendly face expression while talking to the real people in the story. Additionally, while using character scripts and dialogues, the use of facial aspects that have a similar pattern to humans is supporting for reading the words visually without entirely requiring the necessity for clear audio.

Moreover, the scale or shape of the body proportions is designed to impose his super dominant strength, durability and oppose to stand as a threat towards the rest of the characters. The character artist uses a sharp structure of lines to express order, strength, danger to the other characters in the scene. This design is aesthetically correct from the real-life reference as well, as the shell durability, sharp lines limbs and claws scale present the creature as a tough subject.

A more supportive and progressive aspect in this example is the colour selection and how different colours blend to form vibrant contrasts and patterns. In the image above, the artists have used a dark purple to white progression, which helps to distinguish between body parts and to impose more focus and highlight specific areas of the model.

The Legend of The Crabe Phare by Crabe Phare Team

Crabe is a short animated film, published on 9th March 2018, using the most up to date technology for developing creatures such as a crab, for underwater animation. This animation is charming and adorable, making it pleasing to view. The crabe pahre team uses lovely colour selection in their environment or characters reflection real-life scenarios, thus, while focusing on the movement in the film, especially the crab character, the keyed animations and procedural simulations of effects are well developed on having the proper behaviour, the motions and reflexes.

The short animated film is extremely surprising and impressive, being an award winning CGI 3D animation within the CG circle.

  • Study of Crab Dynamics

  • Crab Animation Movement

  • Texturing & Colour selection

  • Sharp or Bumpy Details

Real-life references

To pick up on the changes in style and the previous research examples. This next section will look into a realistic animation approach.

Once the visual style of the animation was adequately realised, referenced and translated to the members of the group, the approach of the character design will require to form a very realistic approach for the structure. For example, where the use of textures and finer details will hint of a stylised effect.

These animations types below describe the picky inspirations on the style but most importantly, studying the effects painted textures have on the composition, thus, the focus to refined detail in colour or animations to help the film appear realistic to the eyes of the viewer.

  1. Disney & Pixar, Piper

  2. ESMA, The short story of a Fox and a Mouse

Adding to the selected style, the critical thing to mention is the focus on overall body movement rather than focusing on the expressions of the face. The script development specified that characters do not require facial rigging in order to animate dialogues.

From a technical point of view, the animation and rigging will require more focus on move-ability of the eight-legged custom rigging instead of exploring facial rigging and avoid losing time performing a test on that.

Fiddler Crab (Male)

Referencing to major claw dimorphism

Brown Crab

Referencing to scale and size

Galapagos Sally Lightfoot Crab

Referencing colours/textures

The image above was used as inspiration, studying the Sally Galapagos Lightfoot crab anatomy, move-ability .

Advanced software techniques:

  • Custom rigging techniques

  • UV mapping tools

Rigging mechanics

There art two main types of handles attachments for animation rigs.

  • Forward kinematics works on a parent>child behaviour, using hierarchy chain links. It can move using rotation in an arch/curve style.

  • Inverse Kinematics works slightly opposite to FK, but one is able to have all the chain with the end effector (shoulder). It moves in align trajectory.

Further Experimentation and Progression

Primary Research Sketches

Early experimentation (block-out, rig, animate)

Method of Block-out

Method 1 - Zbrush primitives block-out

  • Advantage - Shorter workflow, directly into concept buildup. However, the method requires many practice attempts at mastering the primitive objects manipulation and being aware of its constraints.

  • Issues - harder to amend in the event of needing to make drastic changes in the structure and design

  • Issues with early tests (mesh distortion, no weight paints)

Further Research

This diagram presents a breakdown of the spider walking cycle. The process is divided in two groups. Group A: controls the movement of 1st pair and 3rd pair of legs and they begin with taking the left step forward. Additionally, Group B: controls, the 2nd pair and 4th pair of legs which works opposite to the first group, meaning that they will be using the right leg to step forward. This is explained in greater detail by the famous Richard Edmund Williams, former Disney animation director for the famous 2D animated film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".

Other research followed below will present a different idea to the one presented above, and although they are both, 8 legged creatures, the spider movement isn't the most accurate reference for a crab walking animation.

The crab indeed tends to have a slightly different approach following a side walk progression of movement. In fact the majority of species of crabs make use of the side to side option as the main and faster method of traverse. The forward and reverse methods of movement are only applied for short distance when scouting or moving closer to focus on a target.

Rigging and Animating Experimentation

For the purposes of our animation and with intention to keep a good level of realism to real-life senators, our grab plans to move longer distances using the side walk method and forward walking method to focus on objects.

Based on this information and considering the shape of a crab the following basic written skeleton plan developed.

Rough Crab Rig Break-down, looking at the hierarchy and skeleton layout. This will aid with grouping the FK and IK.

First Rig Example: Naming Convention and Constraint

First Animation Test: reflecting from the spider diagram example

Method 2 - Zspheres block-out

This method happens to be more effective for early buildup and accurate positioning. For example, rotation and movement of body parts are easily made and overall character shapes are not drastically affected which saves time.

Zspheres First Draft

For blocking out a basic design using the Z-Spheres technique in Zbrush.

Deformation and anti symmetry details improvements: to create a distinct variance of imperfection in the anatomy of the character.(also as a design choice to support the negative effects of pollution and trash, scaring the body of our crab, darker and sadder shades of the pollution affects)

Top and Bottom views listed below.

Claw design variation to consider for usability and functionality

Crab Character design

Major Inspiration

2D Concepts (mature adult crab built, male)

Observational drawings with adaptation to personal animation needs

Zspheres Second Draft

This section shows a structure development where the proportions have been refined to reflect the research and to support the process of rigging the character.

The development plan of features: what type of eyes detail to use and why

While redesigning the draft two of the crab character, the anatomy, the proportions there is a necessity in keeping a consistent level of detail between the first characters and the secondary characters of the animation. This design focuses on the interaction aspect looking at how the crab observes and how the crab interacts with the environment or other characters in the animation.

From the script development, it is clear that ideally, the crab is to make eye contact with the turtle and use the bottle to chase it away.

After discussing this particular design plan with the group, dissecting the advantages or the disadvantages with each design's idea. The feedback resulted in developing something between section 2 and section 4 of the sketch plan.

Zspheres Final Draft

Fixing the aspects of how limbs are attached to the body, with subtle and more elegant progressions. Thus, while testing the mesh preview the legs appeared a little short and thicker in certain areas which reflecting to the references appear to be very thin and similar in thickness progression from the first joint to the end on the tip.

Crab Detailed Zspheres v2 (facial features for emotions)

Testing more design aspects of adding eyes and moustache as a plan for improving the level of observation and image of the crab. The model appears to have a good base for beginning the sculpture stage, this method is advantageous, and due to previous knowledge, it was more intuitive in blocking out the areas properly.

Sculpting development

Use of poly-groups while sculpting can help a lot when needed to focus on particular parts, in areas where due to the angle or shape it may be hard to reach and edit. Equally to other processes of building detail, with the sculpture here, a very traditional method of blocking out detail is complete and slowly more shape is highlighted to build this realistic image of a crab.

Additionally, the models of both the fish had to maintain a similar level of detail followed by the leading turtle's character artist and environment, and corals artist. The communication is critical, from a business and industry perspective, it would be devastating or time-consuming to develop a character that does not communicate well with the rest of the design of the film/animation.

An excellent example on this topic is the release on the new Sonic movie, where after the feedback from the press release creators of the film have decided to gone back into the studio to rebuild the main character as it did not quite fit its purpose.

First poly-groups update

Before adding above details, the poly groups of the model have been cleaned up so to have better control over objects of the character, reflecting the video describing the method of toggling between groups, the head of the mode shows multiple selections of groups. This messy breakdown of poly-groups was due to the more significant number of spheres used when making the central body portion of the crab.

The solution used to clean groups is to set the irrelevant limbs to invisible and group visible groups of the body block. Results are shown in the images below.

Details development

While working on the proportions, it is clear that the anatomy and symmetry of a crab hold together very uniform and seems very accurate on the left in comparison to the right side. In 3d modelling, this aspect of over symmetry is often seen as weak and lazy design. The model should provide a difference in design to give its unique character; to create diversity and story.

Additionally, feedback from the group suggested for the crab to have a disproportionate detailed progression on the face. The approach here was to construct a disfigured, robust scared detail that shows/explains the roughness of living in the environment and involving oneself with dangerous or sharp objects of the pollution.

Challenges while sculpting

Due to the bulkiness of Zspheres skinning, the shell had had to pass through a series of flattening and reshaping stages. The beginning is not anatomical correct as the shell shows to cover almost double the built of a regular crab.

Thus, even later into the details application of tiny spots and circuit map of the shell's top, the shape still felt slightly higher when comparing to the references.

Maintaining a uniform thickness of details for each of the crab legs; thus, for the spaces near the connection point between the legs and limbs for move-ability.

While working closely on the details of the legs, the small nibs and nobs require manual fiddling to extract and subtract small patches of detail (spikes). Moreover, on studying the anatomy of the legs, there are placements near jointed areas or along the exterior length of a leg where bones and shell builds are exaggerated to strengthen the structure and durability of the creature.

The legs and other anatomy detailing provide a sophisticated and distinct form of progress. If not executed to the right proportions, the image of the model and movement will also be affected.

Details application and redesigning anatomy for movement and functionality

Claws functionality and move-ability

In the figure below, the first section of the dominant metamorphic claw, it provides higher amounts of detail, which should be continued all over the body, thus, for the future polishing of the crab model, it needs to be refined in the section marked as two of the smaller claw arm.

Section 3 and 4 of the crab have been modified through a series of passes in order to create some adjustment of the claw angle or the rotation of the claw when interacting with an object from the environment. Lastly, in section 5, the claw surface is has developed some rugged jaw pattern to get an excellent firm grip onto items.

Leg functionality and move-ability

Additionally, both the legs and claw arms are planned to have a near body joint which will act as a human shoulder, giving the ability to rise to the desired height by rotating to the angle of the degree in x, y and z coordinates.

Second poly-groups update

From high to low poly workflow in preparation for export (decimation tests, zremesher, retouching poly-groups)

The updated poly-groups change mainly affected the point areas where limbs on the model present a clear separation. In the first grouping update, the masking process was imperfect, creating a messy finish leaving parts of the body incorporated in the lens group. It was a necessary step to redo in order to provide a clean wrapped cut out for the export of UVs texture.

As mentioned above going over in more details, it is necessary to mask the parts of the body section with exceptional accuracy to refine the details of the poly-groups, this is so that the separation can work successfully. For this process, Zbrush provides additional options where one can choose to make groups based on masked areas.

Compositing for visual inspection and environment population practice

Future development of incomplete details

Texture Development breakdown

• Layout UV (clone, keep groups, unwrap, copy UVs, morph UVs onto mesh

• Exporting normal map

• Texture character (setting up standard material, poly-painting model using brushes)

From the first progression, the videos show a process of applying the painted texture to cover the front of the crab and legs detail. It is reflecting from the crab references of colour blending and continuation. The second video describes a similar application from the opposite side of the model. During this process, it appears necessary to balance the details of the legs in order to correlate given the necessity for the crab to be shown from multiple perspectives.

The second progression videos of the painting applied, covering the body, face and claws refinement, reflecting from the inspirations of using colours to highlight certain aspects.

The functionality of toggling between groups can be noticed in these videos as certain parts of the model are appearing or disappearing.

Major texture issues with progress development

Final render shots before exporting for rigging stage

To conclude on the final 3d texture, a sculpture refinement was completed to add a better highlight of some of the colours. This refinement was necessary for clarity in design, to display well through the foggy and depth of focus of the animation. It shapes and distinguishes the details of the shell and uses the DamStandard brush to sharpen details near the face.

Turntable video of the completed 3d texture paint

Preparation of low and high division levels

The UV unwrap requires a specific workflow; the technique used to compile the unwrap is explored during an asset development for the video games module. The goal is to maintain an informative breakdown of each body part into individual playgroups. The reason is so that while unwrapping each section is split evenly, and the quality is maintained throughout every flat face of the body.

It is ideal for cloning the model and working on a copy because it allows for the UV to be copied and morphed onto the original version, this version should hold both the high and low poly elements to export the normals map and the 3d painted texture of the base map.

UV Unwrapping & UV Morphing Finals

Exported texture/normal map

Rigging workflow

Due to having a complex character, the only choice for developing a product that can compare with big industry animations is by building a custom rig skeleton.

The process of rigging involved the following aspects:

  • Drawing out the skeleton points to map out the bones and joints of the character (challenge involved the naming conventions in keeping the bulk of items organised, studying crab references for flexibility to distinguish between limbs movement capabilities and limitations).

  • Weight skin paints are useful to control the intensity of influence to each part of the character. This process is necessary for establishing bones and joint locations on the body. It is also very important to practice for keeping a consistent, clean level of animation that plays smoothly and to avoid deformation.

  • Attaching and colour coding constraints into layers to the left or right of the model for faster manipulation of limbs and other elements.

  • Model UV issues (UV map was not applied or misplaced when the underlying mesh was used to rig and only discovered that UV was missing after binding of the rig to mesh was complete)

  • Problem-solving model UV issues - to transfer the UV map from one model to the one with the rig attached using the mirror function and node graph editor to control which parts of the model should transfer and receive the information. The model had to include the same structure and shape.

Rig function and complexity

The controls and constraints of the character were assembled and attached to the rig in order to have a clean viewpoint when animating and not be able to accidentally move bones that should not be moving as it could result in ruining a segment of frames for that character.

The skeleton bones and IK handles of the rig have been selected and attached to a layer which is set to hidden and locked; the joints or skeleton cannot, therefore, be modified or keyed during the animation process.

Another issue is that when animating, one is likely to select the mesh of the character which is slightly annoying, but, can also result in further issues where for example the location of the mesh is changed, and keyframes will not play properly.

An additional benefit with using this minimalist workflow is that the user can only interact with the controls and only the controls, therefore, set keys. That minimises the amount of search which needs to happen in order to look at specific keys and modified them according to improving the animation by modifying certain angles of the character.

Painting Weights

Testing the movement of the basic controls before animating

Using Maya layers to control rig selection.

Rig Test, manipulation of controls to observe if the movement is good and test for the skin weights deformation

Animation stage

After the character has been rigged successfully or to the desired level, the next stage in the process is animation. With the start of the task, it is essential to look at examples and understand the complexity in crab movement and style of movement. The relationship between the left and right legs coordination tend to express a distinct pattern seen insides movement in order to push the weight of the character forward or sideways.

One must take into account that looking at the video below the legs also tend to have pattern variations in extension or contraction for each leg action.

For the majority of the time the movement is fluent and due to suitable weight paints does not show any problems or issues. However, in order to replicate this style of movement where the bottom of the leg drives flat on the floor, with this particular rig there is a limitation off ground height which when set to reach way under the centre of the crab it results in the limb twisting and snapping the bone of the character.

One can observe this bone-snapping action in the video below, where it shows disproportionate or deformed movements of the character leg.

One could also say that the movement in the video of the crab does seem to hint a deformity in the front legs movement as those particular front limbs tend to push outwards.

Walk Animation

For most of this experiment, the plan was to build a reusable animation movement for populating the environment with contents to improve on the overall believability of our animation. During these moments, one is required to communicate with the rest of the team to identify the speed of Motion and momentum to be able to work at the same level and keep that animation consistent.

It is reflecting from the research video above the movement of the crabs slightly dodgy and unfamiliar as it dries with the bottom of their tip a lot of the times additionally their legs twist and reaches into very extreme lengths which were not entirely possible with the reg developed in this example.

The reason for this rig not being so flexible is due to the long bones of each leg and distance between the body and the ground level. As an overall target, all of our animations are aimed to functions and reference 24 frames per second; therefore while animating the drug movement the legs retract and repulse between each second of the animation time frame.

The challenge with this movement concept is to animate eight individual legs, which ideally correlate with the second neighbouring leg. Moreover, to get more variants in the loop of the movement, the walk cycle had been set to repeat after both the first and the second step are completed. One step further with the two build a third step parent which can be randomly placed between the personal timelines of the animation to fully randomised the walking cycle of the crab.

In terms of positioning and height variance, the goal and objective is to position the crabs at the bottom of the ocean beds, which is likely to consists of flat surfaces where no height variance is required. This decision will support the time constraint for the completion of the animations.

For future references and character development, the scaling of front and back legs has caused or shown issues in terms of animation; this was due to not reaching far enough in the environment to grab onto terrain properly to set a good movement of the crab.

Crab rig issues:

The IK handles for the legs are possibly attached to the wrong joint (this creates tension when moving the leg of the crab too far inside and begins to turn which appear as then the middle point of the leg bends to unnatural angles). An additional idea may be that there is a height and joint limit for the rig which the real crab does not have, the leg twisting of the crab reference appears to be way more flexible.

Keying pattern:

Based on the chosen 24 frames per second, as an approach to simplify the placement of keys and save time of refining many aspects of the animation one should stick to a specific set of pattern in the frames and movement progression. in this example the animation progresses between 24 to to frames meaning that each second the character will produce major movement in the animation.

Final Animation Test (claw IK not parented to body control)

As a development from this plan, there are other modifications required to refine the movement or angling of the claws or limbs. For this development, additional tweaking had been between the 12 frames of a second and between the 6th frame of a second, which result in diving the movement by four different key levels in between each second.

This method of keying is developed from the previous knowledge on developing a walking cycle and controlling the frames.

However, to make more direct and fast moving this technique will not work, therefore in areas where the crab needs to hit the bottle on the rock surface the movement of the exact keys is dragged forward by a minimum of 4 to 5 frames.

  • Animation motion seems to perform best when flipping every 6,12 or 24 frames depending on the movement type.

  • There are 4 animation steps to complete a single leg's step: out, middle, in, middle and then out again

Another process in cleaning the animation is to assess the framing using a graph edition which describes the placement of set frames based on the length of the animation. It is through a lined graph.

Mock-up and Final Animation

Demo with Crab Animation

The expressions and liveliness of the crab movement have been carried out throughout the frames and kept very consistent. The main interest is for him to play with this bottle object and try to crack or damage the surface of it by continually hitting and checking.

The main goal with this animation is to focus on smooth movement, due to how some of the issues manifested with animations export and importation issues. The crab and bottle scene had shown to be a vital stage to polish and complete in order to composite the first few scenes of our pollution awareness story.

The feedback was that the crab behaviour and speeds are consistent, and the leg movement is precise. An advantage with this animation is that it can be assembled from any angle and view directions as to when testing, the animation was evaluated and refined to fit all perspectives. The important and focus was to animate the mass of the character and how, through movement, it balances on different selections of limbs. Additionally, this balancing quicken feet movement it to show a playful engagement which it holds intending to grab the glass bottle on the rock.

Fish Character Design

Major Inspiration

Mood boards help designer is to build ideas and reference in the design of their character. The research below consists of two very different types of fish to get a reasonable variation in the functionality and fish design. The first example (lyretail anthias) is useful for reflecting on colour selection and details; the linear movement of school is reflecting from the second reference of the great barracuda.

Sculpture Development

When working on the establishment of design in sculpture or drawing, additionally any other practice, our group consistently collaborated and shared ideas on each other's designs and maintained the same level of quality.

In this image is the final sculpted progression of the fish character, the method of applying details to the fins, eyes and tail flipper are achieved using a spotlight tool from Zbrush. The basic formation of the shape follows a moving and extraction method for bringing out fins and shaping the claw design into the shape of the fish.

As a final overview today minimalistic design in the sculpture of the fish was also affected by the stand chosen for animation which provides minimalistic and basic ways of developing naive realism.

The focus with this design was to block out the shapes and height to length variation of the fish appropriately. By blocking out the right proportions, the schooling of fish appears more believable once the simulation is complete. As feedback from the group suggests, the density and poly count of the model is way beyond the desired budgets.

To control the level of detail but drop-down in poly count one could use decimation master, this tool has previously been useful in other modules to reduce the poly count and prepare models for re-topology.

In terms of body animation for how the fish fins move, ideally, the tail animates to give an impression of using momentum to propel through the water.

Material Development

The fish character does not hold great camera focal interests; this means that for the majority of the time they will be running in the background, and time could be saved by not having to texture each fish individually.

Has a different method of bringing some pattern and texture to the body of the fish to create the illusion of scales and texture using Maya one can modify the material shader graph and attach of remap ramp to the colour of the material.

With a little bit of tweaking of attributes of the remap ramp, one should be able to achieve similar outcomes to the example shown below. The selection of colours for the fish varies from black, blue and violet to give a patchy effect of dirty brush strokes.

Mash Flight Simulation

Research - Shoaling & Schooling of fish

Before beginning to develop this schooling fish system, it was necessary to gain some knowledge on the behaviour of fish. To learn how these systems work and to evaluate what drives the flock members to choose to steer towards particular directions. With this research, one can understand the focus to the distance between fish, the zone of attraction, the point of visibility and blind zone of the fish.

The individual and group functioning of schooling fish content from current biology describe and highlight the behaviour of fish in great lengths of detail, explaining the structure leadership dynamics and coordination of the groups. Also, explaining how low sociability scores in fish so that they are likely to swim faster as there is a less social behaviour.

This report research explains that schools of fish behave the way they do and simulate these patterns naturally in the approach for a better chance of survival and foraging success.

Tutorials for developing fish simulation

During the process of simulating the movement of fish schooling, a method in Maya, one which attaches the model mesh to a mash flight node. A tutorial from the developer (Ian Waters) of this MASH plugin describes the possibilities and how this method works and the sort of possibilities available around adding fish patterns manifesting behaviour of cohesion, alignment and separation. Lastly, to be followed using curves with a locator to act as a point of attraction to generate the fishing movement.

Mash Flight Experiment

The goal with the experiment below was to produce an example on the possibilities of using the MASH flight node. This animation is the most developed experiment which includes all three fish variations with material attachment. The example includes explicitly an obstacle described as the red ball; this obstacle is not solid shape, fish can pass through, but it is used to create a distress signal in the location to break the smooth movement of the flock. In an ideal real-life scenario, the red ball acts as the shape of a larger predator fish or shark.

The purposes of this test are to visualise the regrouping method and set a strong attractor influence to force the group to continue their trajectory.

The height and zones of search and separation are modifiable from the fight node, attributes editor menu. There are many more modifies that impact on the build-up to accomplish a dynamic level of pattern in the fish formation and flow. The important ones in this example are: steering force, rotational force and randomised control of translate seed in x, y and z coordinates.

Thus, the use of a motion path locator as the focused attractor provides the individual fish with information of drive and leadership.

The majority of the height information is achievable by editing the placement of the curve vertices, and the animation can be developed further from the graph editor to assign harsher rise or fall in the movement.

Video of Fish Flock Render

Development of refined fish animation:

In this section, the individual fish model has a rig with four sets of bones which are IK animated with keys to display a simple movement of the tail fins. This swinging motion will hopefully give the animation a more realistic effect and the illusion of real-life fish behaviour. Also, the flight node simulation had been reworked to fit the new, more compact scenery.

The rig build-up consists of the head bone, two back bones and one for the end of the tail fin.

Based on the old render of the fish flock, group feedback was to reduce the large volume of fish as there needs to show a sad and empty environment. As a result, to support the cause of the story, the fish are now traversing in lower packs of 5 to 10. Additionally, the reduction of meshes meant that more details are visible; this advantage was approached by working to develop better dynamic movement and scale diversity to show younger and adult individuals.

The issues with developing the material in Maya shader is that at this port in time the fish have not exported with materials as it shows that Alembic file format doesn't maintain the same material used in Maya when imported into the game engine. Therefore, in the final composition, the fish do not include the same texture details explored above.

Team Collaboration:

The animation required accessibility and mobility to work on the project from multiple units and location. With this section the focus was on building a pipeline that will solve the issue of accessibility, saving location & issues (shared drive had a limiting space - not the most reliable option for shareable repository). In this case, during the last push of solving other problems of import and shared drive space limit a new workflow was discovered and applied to the rest of the group members, one where we initialised the google drive tool on the desktop in order to sync the folder repository to any computer which connected to our university email.

This method of collaboration allows for direct updates and for UE4 project to be available to all members.

Git Hub tests & issues:

Github was suggested and tested; however, during the early stages, the group had been experiencing some issues with large file upload and connectivity. Therefore resulting in dropping this platform from being used to manage work within a mobile network repository.

Import Export Problem-Solving

In the event of completing an animation, the keys needed baking and to export from Maya to Unreal Engine. For animation type file format, Unreal can only read FPX or ABC; out of these options, the FPX format is more reliable to maintain a low budget. Proceeding with the method, however, had shown to be tricky as during export, several issues emerged from the FPX exporter window.

Due to the seriousness of the subject, research into these errors had shown a process of creating cloning of character rig that aims to fix the issues of the skin weight deformation. This process involves unbinding skins and deleting history; thus, by repainting weights, one needs to ensure that all bones have some influence over the rig.

This workflow of solving the issues would have taken far too long.

The other option is to export with Alembic, this is achievable, although based on last fish flock tests, it seems to have huge memory issues.

Once imported, Alembic at first showed a texture applicant issue and displaying the wrong information of textures.

However, through extensive problem solving and group collaboration, the problem appeared to come from the settings menu of Maya, alembic export.

The solution was to have "write UVs" ticked in the export settings and writing colour sets which should additionally be ticked. This solution turns out to fix the issue of textures not appearing correctly as the alembic models now have the correct UVs information. The next matters seemed to arise from the placement of the bottle.

For the gain, without a clear progression, it was suggested that models and objects are baked and exported separately which can later be positioned to fit again, this is not ideal as the positioning of the bottle is slightly off, however, this baking and export method worked good eventually resulting in the animation build-up below.

Given that the workflow was refined and problems have been explored now, the next plan is to continue building content around the animation film with the rest of the group, to include the animations that have not yet made it in the first draft building something portfolio worthy.


With a little bit of luck, I am interested in devoting time to practice the knowledge learnt on texturing, rigging and animation with plans for designing a personal game idea. In addition, this project was very supportive and an excellent task for gaining extensive knowledge of character design, to create immersive scenarios, and to develop team skills while practising and working with others to craft our own animated short film.


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  • University of Konstanz, ( September 2017) Individuality drives collective behaviour of schooling fish. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Feb 2019].

  • Elsevier Ltd., (September 2017) Consistent Individual Differences Drive Collective Behavior and Group Functioning of Schooling Fish: Current Biology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Feb 2019].

  • Waters, I., ( 2016) Maya 2017 - Schooling fish with MASH Flight node - YouTube. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Feb 2019].

  • Uhr, ( 2017) Maya: Mash - Flight and Flocking - YouTube. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb 2019].

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