Thursday, 24 April 2008

Seasonal Affective Disorder

While I would never admit to being afflicted by a condition whose acronym was S.A.D. (being, y'know, a grown-up with a modicum of self-respect) I can't deny that the weather will affect my mood, although almost always positively. Any time I get a nice sun/cool-breeze combo my spirits will be high as a consequence. Bad weather doesn't have the same effect - I think that living in the UK one's entire life builds up an immunity to any blues that rain or grey skies might cultivate in a person hailing from sunnier climes. Being a British citizen and getting your arse drenched on a regular basis just goes hand in hand. What does bum me out however is bad weather of a different variety - whenever it rains in 'House Guest' my heart sinks. One explanation would see me feign an artsy-fartsy sense of empathy for my fictitious characters. The real reason is that rain takes fucking forever to render out.
The rendering process is when you export all the comped layers, effects, animations and (sometimes) sound as a single movie file. This flattens all the layers and reduces a scene to simply a series of still images, so it's vital that the After Effects documents and all accompanying source files are held onto if things need changes or corrections later on. I recently spotted a recurring error in a number of rendered shots where the background seemed at odds with the character animation. Once I had worked out my mistake I needed to re-render all the shots which misused this background and replace it with the proper one.
This is a very easy task in After Effects, I can simply take out one background and drop in another without redoing any animation. The bitch of it is that in all the shots there is a foreground layer of rainfall. So a sequence of shots that should take a handful of minutes to render now takes about three quarters of an hour.
This is a consequence of applying a combination of gaussian and motion blurs to the rain layer, as well as looping a downward motion path. While it would reduce the rendering time a great deal by simply applying the blur effects to the source file in Photoshop, I've found that each shot needs a specific set of parameters that vary from one to another, so I can only really do it in After Effects to get the precise desired result. I'm pissing and moaning about it because, well, I like to piss and moan. It's in the Mitchell blood. Plus I'm in the latter stages of producing a scene in which the Duck and Hunter meet for the first time on a stormy night.That means a shitload of rain.
The good part is that when I'm done with these shots I'll never have to use this cursed rain layer again!
Sunnier times, they are a-comin'...

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