Biocinematics

Redshift

Are you really a carbon-based life-form?

Animation, Making OfStuart Jantzen

I recently published the first video in an animated series I'm creating about human biology. It's targeted at as broad of an audience as I could make it, and doesn't make too many assumptions about prior knowledge. If you haven't already watched it, I highly recommend giving it a look.

The purpose of this blog post is to give a little peak behind the curtains to see some "making of" material, and to house the references I used to support the information in the video.

For the animation, I used Houdini almost exclusively, rendered with Redshift, comped in Blackmagic Design Fusion, and edited and mixed in DaVinci Resolve.

Houdini is a very interesting and unique 3D application, in that almost everything is created in a procedural nature, which means that you set up "rules" for how things are created, instead of creating each thing individually. This was very helpful for creating the Periodic Table which featured in the video.

I started by laying out a grid of points that would determine where the elements would end up.

Computers start counting from zero. Adjust accordingly.

Computers start counting from zero. Adjust accordingly.

Then I imported a spreadsheet of data about the elements, including symbol, name, element number, and atomic radii. Then I mapped that data to the grid of points.

If there are any typos, it’s wikipedia’s fault.

If there are any typos, it’s wikipedia’s fault.

Then, when I had to create animation, for example when pulling out a highlighted element, I was able to set up a "selector" which allowed similar animations to be repeated quite simply.

Oxygen comin’ atcha!

Oxygen comin’ atcha!

Probably the most involved shot in the video is the "Thinker" being filled with colored atoms pouring in. I was able to find a 3D scan of the sculpture by Rodin, and after some cleanup and retopology, it was ready to fill. Of course things usually don't work out immediately.

I’ve certainly felt like this before.

I’ve certainly felt like this before.

But eventually I got the spheres filling the statue, albeit with some leakage.

The leaking was a lot worse in other iterations.

The leaking was a lot worse in other iterations.

Ultimately I set up a rule that if a sphere leaked outside the statue, it was killed from the simulation, so it doesn't show up.

Not quite right.

Not quite right.

And rendering is its own challenge. I started using a very basic type of sphere geometry, but it turns out it was designed for very small particles, and so I had to switch to a more complex kind of sphere (skimming over the details here) to avoid artifacts like this where the spheres and glass statue intersect.

I'm pretty pleased with how the final shower of atoms turned out (at 3:17 in the video). Of course I had to search for some "rainstick" sound effects to fit with the visuals.

And now for something completely different. 

You may not know that I've spent quite some time in an academic setting considering how one might present the references that inform different aspects of an illustration, video or animation, from narration to objects, behaviours, and even colors. I contributed to a publication in Nature Methods on the topic: http://rdcu.be/doo5.

Needless to say, dumping references here without linking bidirectionally to specific points in the video is a failure in many respects, but it's better than nothing, and I plan to improve the way in which I present this kind of information as time progresses. Maybe I should re-read my article. Also, almost certainly this is an incomplete list. I’m pretty sure there were lots of wikipedia pages I used at various points and didn’t go through the trouble of tracking down primary references. Lots of room for improvement.

References:

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