A recent animation project has provided me the opportunity to build one of the most interesting looking structures within the human body as far as I’m concerned, the glomerulus: a jumble of capillaries within the nephrons of the kidneys responsible for filtering urine from the blood. I have actually gotten the chance to build this intricate and beautiful micro organ two times before: once about 8 years ago and then one more time maybe 5 years ago. In both situations I needed to resort to kind of “shorthand” representation of the structure, partly due to time constraints (always a challenging factor in medical animation) but to be totally honest, mostly due to lack of know how as to how best to model it at the time of the projects.
This time, I really wanted to take a step back before diving in and figure out the most efficient and most accurate way to approach the modeling process. After studying several scanning electron microscopy images online, as well as looking at how other medical illustrators have approached it, I decided to begin by building the intricate multi-tentacled octopus-like cells called podocytes separately from the capillaries that they wrap around.
I began in Cinema 4D using the old metaballs object. I drew dozens of spheres from the top view to block out the interlocking “pseudopods”, the feature which gives the podocytes their distinctive look. I then played with the metaball settings until I got the tightest skin around the spheres, while keeping the resolution light enough to be able to almost paint the meatball shape in realtime.
I built about 4 or 5 variations of the podocytes at different sizes, some large and complex and some simple and small, so I could pick and choose the perfect fit for each section of blood vessel I would be wrapping them onto. In order to begin the wrapping process, I first needed to break up my tubules into small sections. Each cylindrical piece of the tube would need to be individually UV mapped, which I accomplished using the built in bodypaint UV tools. The reason I needed to UV map the glomerulus tubules was that I would be using C4D’s Surface Deformer to wrap the podocytes around the tubes.
This process, although tedious (lots of time spent UV’ing about 20 parts of the tubes) worked pretty well, but I still found that there were still lots of areas beween the separarately wrapped podocytes where there were noticeable gaps. I wasnt getting the feeling that the podocytes were continuous throughout the surfaces of the tubules. I then turned to the plugin Paint On Surface to draw the spheres DIRECTLY onto the surface of the tubules. This proved to be a MUCH MORE efficient way to create the podocytes, and soon realized that I should have done it this way from the start! Here is a VIDEO from the DNS plugin site showing how this workflow works.
If I would do this again, I’d probably take a stab at this via ZBrush which is probably the ultimate way to go for most complex organic shapes like this one. I actually just bought a license of Zbrush recently from a friend who no longer had much use for it, so I do plan on getting up to speed with it soon.
Sometimes you just have to accept that there just isn’t enough time or budget in a project to do things exactly the way you want to, but the results are still good and more importantly, your clients are still over the moon with the end product despite your feelings of not hitting the mark. In time however, and especially with medical animation, where the subjects tend to run in cycles, you will eventually have the chance to do things right.
Just some shots from various work over the past year or so
Just a test to get up to speed with the physical renderer in Cinema 4D 13. Wondering if it is viable for real animation work. The kind with deadlines.
I am currently getting ~8 min per frame rendering at SD widescreen. Only rendered a short sequence (130 frames) so I looped it a few times.
SSS was turned OFF as it was taking ages for the irradiance thing to cache (this was with optimized SSS settings).
I have 1 bounce for self illumination, AO on, motion blur and DOF on.
At the moment it looks like I still have some more optimization options to explore. Render times feel too heavy at the moment for long-form medical animation (usually between 4 to 10 minutes of HD animation) but maybe Ok for short shots for spots and such. We’ll see.
Continuing my experimentation. Removed sub-poly displacement and put SSS back in. Reduced settings significantly. see below)
Got much faster render times (~2min/frame). Still needs refining. Lighting is all HDRI now so could use a bit more directional light. Turned on reflections as well instead of using an HDRI environment map for fake reflections. Also added a second layer of phospholipids (now its a proper bilayer) and threw a couple of proteins into the dynamics group.
Working on a new tool /rig for Cinema 4D users for the quick creation of animatable floating dust particle environments. Should be ready soon!
I recently had the opportunity to work with Dominic Faraway, a talented and quite prolific cg animator/art director residing in London. Check out the life-size holograms he produced for a recent Black Eyed Peas concert.
Above: a B-Lymphocyte undergoes apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the bone marrow.
Below, the next two shots approach a macrophage as it engulfs immune complexes which have accumulated on tissue surface. There was an exaggeration of scale in order to get the concept across. The antibodies would be much smaller than what is shown.
All cg was created in Cinema 4D, with heavy use of thinking particles and the mograph module for many of the effects throughout. To allow for smooth renderfarm renders via the NET render module, all particles were baked using a separate cloner targeting each thinking particle group. I then swapped the particle geometry from TP and used it as a child for the cloners. The result is an identical duplicate of the thinking particle setup, which can easily be baked using the mograph cache tag.
For post work, I used the plugin Zblur 2 to generate good depth passes and then used Frischluft Lenscare in After Effects for the depth of field. Trapcode Particular was also used for some additional particle effects and smoke. Video Copilot’s Optical Flares was used rather extensively (perhaps abusively!) in order to accurately replicate the lens flares you’d get from teeny the tiny floodlights deep within the interstitial spaces of the human body. Viva la lens flare.
Looking for some micro-environment inspiration and found a nice scanning electron microscopy image of Stomach Lining. Still a work in progress.
The displacement really needs to be enhanced as the surface doesn’t look like its composed of the individual mucosal cells, looks more like a displaced surface. Need to add the thin webbed membrane stretched over the surface as well. And also need to add a better sense of the folds and “caves” prevalent on the stomach surface.
Cinema 4D render:
Some more fiddling. One mesh. Five deformers. (not sub-poly displacement–displacement is achieved with displacer deformers)
Still NOTHING like the reference image, but it illustrates how when using multiple versions of the same displacer deformer with the same noise loaded in and set to Vertex Normal you can get quite interesting looking surface. (Updated a bit since original post)
The bottom 2 displace deformers are using the same noise/settings.
The first of the 2 displaces the normals based on the noise shader. The second 2nd of the 2 takes the new normals (pushed out and altered by the 1st deformer) and pushes them further with the same noise. This way you create the illusion of separate spherical objects while its really all one mesh.
Below is the mesh with just one 1 displacer deformer activated used just to create an undulating base mesh from which to apply the bottom 2 deformers to.
In part 1 of this tutorial I will show you one technique for modeling “spongy bone matrix”, the cavernous mesh-like bone tissue found deep inside human bone.
Even if you aren’t a medical animator, or have no interest at all in science visualization, I think you may learn a few things about metaballs and the mograph module. The mograph tools in cinema 4D are not only great animation tools, but useful modeling aids as well.
Part 2 will cover texturing, lighting and rendering.
UPDATED version: November 21, 2010
• Trimmed some fat and boosted the audio.
Here’s a clip from a 10-minute animation about HDL-cholesterol and it’s effects on the body. The client had asked us to choose several shots from the show and repurpose them into a shorter piece: an “eye candy” montage that would be displayed on a super-wide wraparound screen mounted above a cafe booth at a trade show. The dimensions were 1800 x 400 pixels. Click the full screen toggle for a better view.
I used cinema 4d and the mograph module to set up the blood flow, and then used the aging but trusty pyrocluster shaders applied to a particle emitter inside the vessel to add the sense of smoky plasma whooshing through. Not happy with how the pyrocluster smoke came out, a bit patchy, but hope to remedy it soon. Really needs sound!
Well, its been a few months without much activity here from me. Thats the challenge and the caveat to starting a blog. You get busy and updating a website becomes the last thing on your priorities list!
I am hoping to update the blog here with some clips from a few recent projects, but in the meantime, here are a few shots from one project in particular. It was a stereoscopic project for a production house in Toronto. Will post more later.
It’s late night Saturday night, which means its time to rev up Cinema 4D and see what I can do with it. Found this old model of a Dendritic cell from an old project. Dendritic cells are a component of the human immune system. I took the base model (shown below) displaced and smoothed a bit, then cloned the little white spheres (representing the antigens the cell presents to other immune cells) via the Mograph cloner object. A little subsurface scattering, transparency, ambient occlusion and the ever-present medical animation “floaties” and I’m beginning to get something interesting.
The low-res, untextured base model was built in Maya by another 3D artist, and then exported for use in Cinema 4D. Below is the low res model we started with.
Below are a few Dendritic Cell images found on the web which were used as reference:
Thanks for looking!
Here’s an image that began as an experiment in Cinema 4D. It was included recently in an earlier post on my blog.
The result begins to resemble a macro shot of ice crystals, or some other crystalline formation. I really liked how the original image above turned out, which was created about a year or 2 ago, and always intended to explore what more could be done with it. I just recently re-discoverd the file, and finally had the chance to experiment with it some more; the result being this short animation clip.
The entire model is parametric, generated from a simple plane whose faces are randomly extruded via the MOGRAPH EXTRUDE object and altered with the RANDOM EFFECTOR, with visibility being the only parameter checked. The MOGRAPH DISPLACER DEFORMER was applied and then additional displacement was added in the shader. I also used the Transluscent Pro plugin shader for quick subsurface scatterring (transparency is actually inactive here). You can see the general workflow in the image below.
If time allows, I hope to do a more in-depth tutorial soon.
Heres another set of images created in Cinema 4D derived from what was essentially an idea to create bone matrix at a microscopic level a few years ago.
What you see here is what you get when you throw a wavy spline into a cloner, and then the cloner into a metaball object. Sub-poly displacement and ambient occlusion help create bumpy pock marked surface. Environmental fog and depth of field help to give a sense of scale and distance.
The result is looking more like a rocky, or bark-like terrain moreso than bone, but thought it was cool. Another happy surprise from C4d.
Going through my hard drive and found some images from some recent projects that I thought I’d share. All created in Cinema 4D for various medical animation shows.
UPDATE: I replaced an older version of the receptor image with a newer shot (below)
Finishing up a 10 minute long animation about how too much cholesterol in the blood stream can eventually lead to atherosclerosis (plaque-clogged hardened arteries). Thought I’d share a short shot of a macrophage entering the space just outside of a damaged vessel where plaque is beginning to form. I’m using some similar techniques as used in a previous post, ie: Cinema 4D deformers used to squish the cell as it enters the space.
Composited the depth pass and AO pass separately in AE. Used Frischluft Lenscare for the DOF and RSMB for, well, motion blur. This stuff grosses my wife out, but I have fun with it.
This heart model is from the Zygote 3D Science model collection. The base materials were also included in the collection. In fact the model comes pre-animated with 36 morph target states (internal valves and chambers included).
The problems that arise with the morph target technique of animating this model are twofold:
1. The morph targets do not take into account the coronary vessel models which hug the surface of the heart. Animating via morph targets results in these static vessels intersecting with the surface of the heart as it pumps. Not good.
2. In my opinion, the included morph target animation sequence, although correct from a technical point of view, lacks fluidity, and comes off rather stiff and rigid.
Using a combination of several deformers, including the mograph displacement deformer with the color white loaded in and set to spherical falloff, as well as some twist deformers, helped with both of the issues, as I was able to apply the deformers to the entire group including the the coronary arteries and veins. I then tweaked the succession of defomer animation until it felt more fluid and “realistic”. What you see in the animation above is the reworked result.
I should also note that the materials, although based on the included texture files provided by zygote were also enhanced to allow for more richness in color as well as sub surface scatterring via Arndt von Koenigsmarck’s shader plugin Translucent Pro. Click here for info on the plugin
The flickering is a result of Cinema 4d’s in-camera depth of field post effect, which is still somewhat of a problem when using with animation. I must admit however, although unintentional, I kind of like the effect here.
Here is the previous scene with textures and lighting applied. The lights on the surface of the blood vessel represent cell adhesion molecules, which is what proteins on the monocytes grab onto to as they traverse the surface of the endothelium.
Cinema 4D has loads of useful deformers which are a big help in both modeliing and animation. In this test below, which is still a work in progress, I have used several Mograph DISPLACEMENT DEFORMERS to create the undulating irregular surface on the rolling cell.
The displacement deformer is a tool I use in practically every project I work on, and because one can quickly achieve some very cool organic surfaces and motion with it, it’s a very useful tool for medical animation.
Another favorite of mine seen here is the SQUASH AND STRETCH deformer. This creates the effect that the cell is compressed against the surface of the blood vessel wall as it lands and moves along.
For the tendril-like protrusions coming off the surface of the monocyte (pseudopods), I’ve used the Mograph EXTRUDE DEFRORMER. I pre-selected polygons on the cells surface for this deformer to effect, then keyframed the effect to trigger as the cell lands. There were issues with the pseudopods going out of whack as they came into contact with the SQUASH and STRETCH deformer, but that was easily fixed using a SHADER EFFECTOR with the color white loaded in and set to a spherical falloff at the base of the cell where the SS deformer is, which counteracts the extrude effect in that area.
I’ve also used the MORPH TAG to quickly animate the endothelial cells spreading apart as the monocyte moves through. Finally the good old BULGE DEFORMER, one thats been around as long as I’ve been using C4D, creates the squeeze effect as the cell infiltrates between the endothelial cells of the vessel wall.
Working on an animation about atherosclerosis. Actually on any given week I seem to be working on an animation about atherosclerosis. With all the research on chloesterol’s effect on the cardiovascular system, this disease has become a hot topic and everyone wants this process highlighted in their trade show events. Still need to add blood cells, platelets, particles, rupture, and the all pervasive medical animation element, shallow depth of field.
The scene was created in cinema 4d R11. I am using the Mograph displace deformers with the default color white loaded in and spherical falloff on either side of the vessel. This allows for easy rigging of the vessel walls to expand (changing the default displace mode of “normals” to linear using the x axis) as the plaque grows within.
Hope to post more soon. Thanks for looking.
Finishing up a project at work. The brief was to create a 4 minute HD video that explains the science surrounding a procedure in which human B-cells are fuzed with cancer cells to eventually produce an antibody that may help in the fight against cancer. Etc etc…
The video was to be set in a “futuristic” laboratory facility created in cg where composited live action actors would give the audience a virtual tour. I used the new Cinema 4d Plugin CineCAT to 3D track the live green screen footage of the actor(s) and was happily surprised at how smoothly this process went. You can learn more about this plugin at
The cg sets were built in Cinema 4d and rendered via C4d 10.5 and 11. I intended to use full GI for this job, but since (for specific reasons) I needed to use both versions of C4d, I opted for trying to achieve a “pseudo” GI look via area lighting/shadows and lots of ambient occlusion, as 10.5 wasnt the best choice for rendering GI animation. There were approximately 20 shots in this show, and my first low res pass needed to be delivered less than 2 weeks after the shoot, which for just one guy meant a busy 2 weeks.
At some point in the future I would like to do a more detailed outline of the production process, from storyboards, to set design, to greenscreen shoot all the way to finished piece.
Here are some WIP stills from the show. I hope to post some clips of the finished result once I am able.
Above is a recurring hand sensor activation panel that makes the doors go whooosh.
Still working on getting some glow through the hand as well as some material work needed to be done on the cg elements.
Some shots are still needing some better integration of live footage with cg. Light Bleed for instance was done with the old Walker Effects plugin for AE (not yet added to a few of these shots), but I’m looking into better methods of achieving this effect.
Today during some down time, I got to test Robert “Kuruyome” Templeton’s great new additions to his Ivy Grower Plugin for C4d, which he adapted from Thomas Luft’s popular app “Ivy Generator”.
The plugin, along with some of Robert’s others can be found here:
Robert who is well known for his Interposer plugs for C4d, not only responded to my (and other’s) requests to add some sort of animateable vine growth ability (a feature many mograph and medical animators would find quite useful) but actually hit it out of the park with the addition of a spline generator with a keyframeable growth parameter, making growing organic random viney things quick and easy.
Heres a quick test (click on image):
Of course one could achieve a similar result using a Thinking Partcles setup in conjunction with the mograph Tracer object in order to generate splines from the particle trails (then sweep), but its always a plus to have options. And an option which consists of just a few clicks, odds are that will be the one you want on a tight deadline.