Week 4: Starting on Research Project!
I did a couple of things on Monday. First, I presented a sheet of character styles to Dave. I'd compiled this sheet over the weekend by searching for images of 3D models on Google. (As a note, I wasn't surprised to discover that there is an abundance of scantily clad female models on the web, but not half as many preteen/kid models.) I've attached the two character sheets to the bottom of the Week 4 blogpost, if you want to take a look. Dave and I both liked Option 3 for the male model and Option 2 for the female model. However, I suspect that almost anyone would have preferred those two - they're the most polished models of the bunch and have that "Pixar" look (as Dave called it).
After we agreed on a style to pursue, I started sketching some mockup character designs in Photoshop (see below for those too). What was (surprisingly) challenging about these designs was the difficulty involved in creating realistic hairstyles! In particular, I found it quite hard to think of "ordinary" girl hairstyles - almost every hair style I sketched seemed stereotypical (i.e. blunt bangs and straight hair for some emo/Asian looking girl, side-swept bangs and medium-length hair for a "good girl" type...). I've come to the conclusion that I'm completely out of touch with middle-school kids; I no longer know what's "cool" in the preteen world (not that I ever really knew, haha).
I also got started on a base mesh for the character. I'm making this base mesh in ZBrush because I am far more familiar with ZBrush than I am with Maya. Of course, I have some reservations about this - what if the mesh requires intensive re-topologizing or if it isn't compatible with animations in Maya? Hopefully, this won't be the case...At any rate, also check out my base model in the slides below.
Tuesday was also spent (like Monday) working on a number of different tasks. Dave wasn't in the lab in the morning to talk about the character design sketches I'd sent him; so I spent the morning watching some ZBrush/Maya tutorials. Specifically, I watched tutorials focusing on re-topologizing in ZBrush as well as a few videos regarding basic polygonal modeling in Maya (something I still have not mastered). A matter that worries me (and could potentially be troublesome) is the ZBrush-Maya workflow. On one hand, I'm far more comfortable modeling in ZBrush than in Maya. However, since I haven't animated anything in Maya before, I'm not sure whether a model created in ZBrush will require extensive modification to work in Maya. I've already started modeling in ZBrush, so I hope that's not the case! At any rate, the tutorials I've found online certainly give me hope. Around noon, Samantha came over with another task. For her user study, she wanted an image-based scale of formality. On one end of the scale, the "informal" end, she wanted a picture of African American kids playing and/or chatting. On the other end, she wanted a picture of an African American child speaking with his/her Caucausian teacher - a "formal" setting, that is. I'm never one to give up an opportunity to draw in Photoshop (one of my goals this summer is, after all, to get better at digital art), so I was pretty excited to take a break and create the two images Samantha needed. The results of my effort are posted below. In the process of drawing Samantha's pictures, I realized that my hand is a lot shakier than previously imagined (or perhaps I've just aged prematurely). As the keen observer will note, both pictures required the blatant use of noise filters to disguise line wobbliness. I also worked more on the base mesh I'd created on Monday. I was frankly rather frustrated by it. Knowing that the model will be animated in Maya, I have to ensure that the topology on the model is good. Furthermore, the model must have a low polygon count because it'll eventually be animated. Both of these constraints are unfamiliar to me - I'm used to creating models with millions of polygons that exist solely as eye candy. What's more, although I'm excited to try my hand at the Pixar-style that Dave prefers, I'm so used to creating (or at least trying to create) very realistic models. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on Tuesday messing around with my base model, trying to get it to look just right. As a result of my unresolved frustrations, most of Tuesday night, too, was spent working on the base mesh. I hate my model's ugly topology, but I figured that retopology could fix most of my problems later on. See results below.
Continued work on the model. Dave and I met around lunchtime to go over the character design sketches I'd sent him earlier in the week. We decided that the male character should have short, brown hair (but not so short as to look military-esque). Similarly, the girl would have brown hair, preferably tied in a ponytail of some sort. Our conversation established good guidelines as I started to get into the "meat" of modeling. Again, pictures of the model can be found in the pictures below. I was able to finish the basic sculpt for the girl character and even got into coloring (my favorite part). I find modeling a very relaxing (and somewhat addicting) task - I easily lose myself trying to get a character's nose to look just right, or trying to block in the underlying muscles of a character's body. All in all, enjoyable work! A Side Note: People who read this blog (hey Mom and Dad) will wonder why all my work is art-related, rather than CS-related. I wonder about that too. But the way I see it, my job as an intern is to help with any tasks that the graduate students/lab members assign me. Since this is a HCI-lab (and a particularly multi-disciplinary lab at that), I'm not surprised that quite a few tasks are related to art. After all, our lab focuses on communication - and don't they say that a picture is worth a thousand words? :) I suspect my work will delve more into code once my models are complete, so for now I'm enjoying the relaxation that drawing/modeling brings me. On Wednesday, Samantha also had a few more art-related assignments for me. Specifically, she wanted a few more pictures in the same vein as the informal/formal pictures I'd drawn on Tuesday. I finished these pictures a lot quicker than I'd expected (thank the gods of Digital Art for the ability to easily copy and paste parts of images). I'm not completely done with the pictures, but I'll post them too by the end of the week. I'm excited for Thursday's meeting, when I'll get to show everyone the models I've been working on!
Kept working on the models. I've started on the male agent - about half way done with his basic mesh. I don't have much to say about the two models, except that they're definitely coming along. There are a few aspects of the models here and there that bother me, but at least I'm making progress. Of course, the models' topologies are still awful, but I'll try to fix them when I get the actual sculpting done. We also had our lab meeting today. It was a pretty long lab meeting, but I can understand why it had to last for the duration it did. There's a lot that needs to be done at the lab - most of it in a very short time period. Samantha's user study is going to be piloted either this week or next week. Then, two weeks from now, we'll be going to Assemble to collect data on the African American students there (Assemble is the science camp that Samantha is running). These large events remind me of the student government events I used to help organize back in high school; a lot of minor logistical issues come up and its those that become a pain to resolve. Although I'm not much help when it comes to making the written materials used in the study, I'm glad that I'm at least able to help the lab by photoshopping creature pictures and creaing illustrations. Later on Thursday, I attended the next lecture in Go Research's seminar series. This one was about writing a personal statement for graduate school applications. I hate to sound ungrateful since the seminar series is free, but I didn't particularly benefit from this lecture. I'm sure that the speaker is a very capable writer, but there were a couple things that detracted from her lecture. First, her powerpoint was far too verbose. An English major is no reason to use full-blown, lengthy sentences in a powerpoint. It kind of negates the use of bulletpoints. Second, the speaker's points were too abstract (at least for me). Instead of going over what a personal statement is about, I would have appreciated case studies of personal statements that work - and statements that don't work. Or, I would have appreciated a list of Things to Avoid When Writing a Personal Statement. I like hearing specifics, and that was something I didn't receive in this lecture. Even so, thanks to the Go Research program for hosting this series; at the very least, the lecture motivated me to start thinking about my personal statement - what I want to say, how I might frame it. It also inspired me to start looking at the websites of a few graduate schools. I'm about 51% sure about graduate school at this point (i.e. not sure at all), but as the speaker noted, time is of the essence. Ironically, I know what graduate school would be my top choice were I to apply, but I won't reveal its name online because I'm a little embarrassed to be aiming so high when I haven't yet accomplished that much.
Continued working on the models. I have nothing special to note, but look below for progress pictures. sAs a side note (not really related to the DREU and only partially related to graduate school), I'm thinking of applying to the Wired! Lab's 2013 fellowship, so that's another thing I'll be working on this summer. The Wired! Lab is an interdisciplinary lab that uses technology for visualization purposes, mostly in the service of the humanities (archaeology, art history, general history). Some of the projects involve really cool technology (3D laser scanning, photogrammetry), and I think learning those technologies will make me more competitive for graduate school. Even if it doesn't, the technology itself is intriguing enough to make me want to apply.