How I Did It
Here is a quick explanation for those of you who are interested in how I went about animating the Agrippa logo this year.
This is the first step in every successful project. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
Come up with cool idea
Not everyone in Robot Wars designs logos for their robots. There are two reasons I do it: one, because it is another way to convey power and motion to the design, and two, becuase it gives me a good excuse to get more black t-shirts printed up.
I wanted to try my hand at a 3D logo for the Agrippa after two years of flat logos for the Ag and Ax. Animating it was an afterthought but I do like the results.
Verify multimedia suitability
When I ran ideas around in my mind I had to make sure that whatever I came up with would work on the webpage as well as on the t-shirts. Not every 3D image translates easily to the 2D world of silkscreens and I wanted to minimize my downstream conversion time.
The program suite I used on this effort is called Visual Reality, written by Visual Software Inc. Somehow I managed to get on some mailing list which offered it to me for $200. I figured "what the heck" and bought it. It came on seven CDs, one for the programs and six full of objects, materials and textures. I'm beyond pleased with the deal.
Extrude font in Font Modeler
One of the programs in the VR suite is called Visual Font. It lets you start with a True Type font and extrude it into a 3D wireframe object, while controlling facets of the model like curve quality, skew and thickness.
Construct ring in Shape Modeler
The logo I envisioned had this name zooming through a ring, so I had to come up with a ring of sorts. I used the Visual Model program to generate this. The VM program is similiar to the font program except that the starting point is all sorts of 2D shapes like circles and boxes as well as 3D ones like spheres and meshes. Objects can be stretched, scaled, combined, spun and munged in 3-space.
Building the ring was simple: construct a thick disk and punch out a hole in the middle. Unfortunately this design obscured much of the text name. So back in the shape modeler I used a rectange at 45 degree increments to punch out sectors in the ring, a decision that then gave me an easy animation target.
Combine shapes in renderer
The heart of the package is the program Renderize Live. After copying both objects into the renderer I positioned them in space. This is where things can get confusing, between dealing with the coordinate axis of the envronment as well as separate ones for each object your head can start spinning in mere moments. I decided that I needed more coffee to complete this phase.
Position in 3D, define materials
Each object is composed of its own material in the environment, a complex definition that ultimately decides how it looks when rendered. Some aspects of a material are color, luminousity, transparency, whether it will cast or accept shadows and bitmap texture.
Add lights, position camera
Once the objects are aligned relative to themselves some lighting must be added to illuminate them as well as a camera to "snap" the rendered image. I used three light sources on this image, a white floodlight to cover the whole object set and red and green spotlights to mix with the object materials and cast some interesting shadows. Each light is positioned in 3D along with its dispersion angle and target point. I usually work this in four views to get it right.
From this point I can generate all the static GIF images I like. This is where the branch is made for the t-shirt logo.
Set animation keyframes
To animate the view I first tell the renderer how many frames of film is in the sequence, in this case 4. The periodicity of the ring object, the only animated element, permits me to get away with sequencing the motion through the first 36 degrees, as after 45 it looks exactly the same. So I generated two keyframes, frame one has the ring at 0 degrees and frame 4 has it at 36. By defining the start and end points of the motion the animator takes care of linearly inerpolating all the positions inbetween.
GIF image sequence
When the animator runs it can generate all types of output: AVI and FLC movie files as well as sequentially numbered static images like BMP, GIF, TIF and TGA. Since this animation was destined for the webpage I had it spit out GIFs at the final target resolution.
Crop and optimize in GIF animator
Once the animation sequence was in separate GIF files they could be combined into a GIF89a looped animation format. For this I used the program Animagic written by Right to Left Software Inc. While in the GIF anmator (technically a combinor) I cropped the image of unnecessary space (in the neverending quest for smaller webpage graphics) and marked the black background as an invisible color so it would work in all the places on my website. The output of Animagic is the animated GIF at the top of this page.
Well, that's it. The whole process took about 8 hours from conception to final tweaking.