Hello again Chibi friends! Now that RWBY Chibi Season 3 is back for more wacky hijinks, it seemed like a good opportunity to take another look behind the scenes into what goes into developing a shot for our little show!
This week I'll be going over Ruby's big sun-busting moment (the actual BIG sun, not the Junior Detective) from Season 3 Episode 7: Mysterious Red Button. Though it's not as overtly stylized or filled with blazing effects as some of the other shots I've gone over, the one has some subtle complications and considerations that make it worth a look!
As always we start off with this segment of the script by Tom Alvarado:
Ruby walks along and sees THE BUTTON. She shrugs and pushes it. The sun blinks out like a light bulb.
Huh, I did not expect that.
She pushes it again and it turns on.
Push - the SUN POPS like a burned-out bulb. Yang walks out.
What's up with the flippin' sun-
I didn't do it!
Ruby runs off in a panic
Next Animator Nicole Moellner digs in, creating hand drawn thumbnails of the action to establish the rough timing, stage direction, framing and a number of other rough factors. These help bring up conversations about poses, expression and everything else that she'll be dealing with next.
Once Nicole gets approval from Chibi Director Paula Decanini, she continues on by loading the the characters, set, props and setting the scene's camera to capture it all! From there she'll set about animating everything, which will involve several reviewed stages from rough pose placement through to final approval. One change you can see from the script is Ruby pushes the button many more times and has her devilish grin worked in. These sort of modest changes happen organically during the animation process when the Director and/or Animators realize a funny or important moment can be further enhanced!
The final product of this stage is a completed animation playblast, which is movie quickly produced by our 3D Package (Maya) using a low quality, generic light and textures that allows for visibility but not much else! As you can see things like skin tone, reflective surfaces and even some basic surface colors aren't present.
LIGHTING & COMPOSITING
Now it's time to start lighting! We've got a general established look for the Forest set for consistency, so there's not lot of fine tuning or review needed on that front other than to position the sun's lighting direction in a camera-friendly place. However...
...because Ruby is interacting directly with the button and the tree it's attached to, it will be far easier to render those as separate elements from the backdrop itself. That way we can chose to render only the background frames where the camera moves and then freeze the image the rest of the time. This reduces our computation time on the render farm and makes us far more efficient!
This is one of the other big reasons for separating the tree out. Because Ruby's shadow will cross over that of the tree and button repeatedly, it makes more sense to produce them in one pass. Otherwise you risk having the shadows overlap and double-up which, given the strong single light source of the sun, would look incorrect and require a lot more effort to fake.
ADDING THE FOREGROUND ELEMENTS
Now it's time to start layering things on top of our backdrop. These are going to be lit with the exact same lights as the Forest. First up is the tree and button, which get their own pass as a joint object. The button has it's own special light to give it the internal glow that it always sports when active, though note terribly noticeable here in the daylight (more on that soon though!)
Next up is Ruby, who has a few extra lights herself. Generally we add a fill light or two to the Chibi characters to help with the shadow shaping on them. Because their heads are so big and round, most overhead lights tend to cast a lot of unwelcome shadow on their mouths and chins. We also give her eyes and teeth some attention to help them pop and increase her expression readability.
Last we add a final beauty treatment which adds a subtle glow and vignette to draw the eye to the center and give everything a slightly soft, warm feel.
All done right? NOPE!
Ruby breaks the dang sun!
That means we've actually got to light this shot twice, and the second one is a time of day we don't usually see in the Forest, so we're starting from scratch!
We're actually going to set this up fairly similar to the day lighting in terms of direction since we don't want to make the audience dizzy with something DRASTICALLY different when it starts rapidly flipping back and forth. It'll be hard to tell until we add the objects back in, but there are some differences to help it stand out however. We also have to replace the skydome providing the background sky. Luckily I made one for the Mystery Bunch sketch last season, so I can just drop that in back there!
Because the Forest dirt clearing is SO distinctly bright yellow, once we're in our compositing tool (After Effects) we opt to de-saturate and color shift the ground to a paler, blueish hue that helps imply 'moonlight' rather than just 'dim sun.' Attempting to do with by coloring the actual light would be possible but would have proven less effective, and would also have colored everything in the scene excessively in the process. That said, I provide a similar adjustment to the rest of the backdrop as well to help it blend, it's just far more subtle.
Just like before we have the tree and Ruby as separate elements sharing a shadow pass. Here you can finally see the other main difference from the sun light, the moon provides a much less crisp shadow. It stays somewhat sharp near the contact points on the ground but grows much more blurred as the tree (and Ruby to a lesser extent) rises into the air.
DEPTH OF FIELD
Another little enhancement we're going to make (and one applied to the daytime set as well) is to have the backdrop become blurred the farther it gets from the camera. We do this by using a Depth Pass, one of a number of hidden utility layers that we have included INSIDE of the background and character passes. This treatment is fairly common to the Forest and most other outdoor settings to help them feel even more expansive.
Depth passes are visualized as below. They generally look pure black at first glance, but we're able to adjust them in After Effects to set a near point (black) and a far point (white) with the grey in-between allowing for a partially blurred transition between the two.
ADDING THE FOREGROUND ELEMENTS (AGAIN!)
Time to add the tree to the shot in this version too. As you can see, the button's internal glow is much more obvious in the darker night lighting. One problem that becomes apparent however is that since the tree is in a separate layer, the glow from it isn't having an effect on the ground below!
Not to worry though! We can add an extra pass that hits the environment and then layer that on top too. Since we'll want it to land on Ruby AND have the her shadow from the button light hit the ground too we'll include her in the pass at the same time. Adding it to the composition now creates a SpOoKy GhOsT RuBy!
Time to bring Ruby into the scene properly! Because she naturally has a lot of dark colors that might get lost in the shadowy undersides of the trees behind her, we add a pair of gentle rim lights behind her that add definition to those spots. You can see those here as the slightly blue light lines on the left side of her hair. All this serves to help her silhouette pop off the backdrop even better. Depending on where she's standing the button light from above also provides this!
Finally we add the same glow and vignette enhancements, though fittingly they're less prominent in this darker lighting except around high contrast points!
Now that both of those lighting variations are set up, we can toggle between them with a quick adjustment in After Effects! That comes in handy for the end when the sun finally bursts, flaring and fading out in an uneven fashion.
That's it for now, thanks for checking out another making-of RWBY Chibi! I've got a few more of these planned, especially as we get deeper into the second half of Season 3 so keep an eye out!