In the Still of Night - technical details


To create the animated paintings, I first create a still frame of the animation, and then projected it onto canvas. The canvas was painted according to the outlines projected. I created the rest of the animation, adjust the colours and put the whole thing together.

There are three main technical parts to this project, how the animations was created, and adjusting the colours to animate the paintings, and how the entire piece was tied together. All the modelling, shading, textures and animation was done with Houdini.


stillofnight/t_frontoutline.jpg stillofnight/t_blend.jpg

The ferret shape is defined by spline curves that blend from one to another.

stillofnight/t_spheremat.jpg stillofnight/t_insphere.jpg

The overall shading of the ferret is produced by masking the shape out of a bounding sphere. This gives a nice gradient from light to dark, but the ferret still looks like a cut out.

stillofnight/t_frontbump.jpg stillofnight/t_frontbump_blurred.jpg stillofnight/t_edgemask_coloured.jpg

The shape is further defined with high lights and low lights. A bump in the shape of the ferret is created, and softened. The high lights and low lights around the rim of the outline is extracted.

stillofnight/t_oversphere.jpg stillofnight/t_inside.jpg

By overlaying the high lights and low lights over the sphere gradient, a more three dimensional feel can be created. The ferret still doesn't look completely 3D, but a bit like shading on a relief, which is something that might occur in one of my paintings. I like the effect enough that I will probably try doing something like this in a painting.

stillofnight/t_inside_blur.jpg stillofnight/t_complete.jpg

I blurred almost everything in the animation :). It gives a nice soft effect that is more painterly. I found out how well it worked when one of the fine art profs saw an image of Watching Ferret on the computer and asked me when I did that painting. The final ferret is created with a front and back layer to give it more dimensionality.

Other parts of the animation, such as the moon, were done similarly with a few layers and blending.


The room where the ferret sleeps is the only 3D model in whole animation.

Colour Adjustments

A large part of the project was devoted to adjusting the animation so that it would add to parts of the painting and make other parts disappear.


If this is the image I want to see, and it is projected straight onto the painted canvas, the underlying colours would affect the image and I would see both the sitting ferret from the canvas and the jumping ferret from the projection.

I need to adjust the projected image to compensate for the colours on the canvas. For example, if I want to see a dark blue over the light blue sky on the canvas, I need to project a light, desaturated blue, and if I want to see the same colour over the light brown of the painted ferret, I need to project a very saturated blue to cancel out the brown. The fact that there is an underlying painting puts a limit on what colours you can use to paint and in the projection. You cannot make a painted colour to appear any lighter than it is, and you can't remove colour components (e.g. you can't make blue look yellow).


The above is what the final image that is projected looks like. The colour adjustments are done manually, component by component. Since the canvas is painted by projecting outlines of a still from the animation, the component information is readily available.


This is a photo of the image projected on canvas. The colours for all the images shown here aren't quite what you would see. One of the problems is the fact that monitors and projectors have very different gamuts. The projector I used had a much larger range, so that colours that appear to be desaturated on the monitor still look quite saturated when projected. And the photos are of images in a high contrast setting, so it was hard to get accurate colours.

The projection does not match up perfectly, but since I have so many people lecturing me about why I shouldn't be a perfectionist, I figure I would let it go :). Actually, I think the little defects make the piece more interesting. Once people figured out there is a painting underneath, they want to figure out what is real and what is projected.

Putting it all together


To tie the two animated paintings together, I also had to used the projector to simulate the lighting you might find in a gallery. Here's a short animation that shows what the piece looks like with and without simulated lighting and shadows.


The final animation is sequenced together with Flash 5.0 to create a random quicktime movie. I also created a 15 minute documentation of how the project was made using Houdini and Premiere. The above is my favourite clip from the documentation video. It is just a lot of ferrets!


Last updated: Monday, 12 August 2002 @ 00:14:50 EST