Articles Written By: Henrik Englund

How to setup a realistic 3D bird wing

Some days ago an email arrived from an artist, asking me how to setup a realistic bird wing in 3D.
I was planing on replying his email with a short tutorial but then I realized that there maybe be more artists out there that have the need of a bird wing tutorial.

I have always been inspired by birds and the complexity of their wings. So about one and a half year ago I adopted a budgie for the sole purpose of animation studies. Pretty soon we were best friends and she learned to speak a few simple Swedish words. At first glance it seems like birds have a totally different bone anatomy than a human, but in fact bird joints are not very different from human joints at all. The tricky part in a bird rig is all the freaking feathers everywhere. The feathers are not randomly placed and do not have the same shape, so study pictures of wing anatomy before you start, and remember that different birds have different types of wings.

A bird wing has two main types of feathers that are good to know about. Primary flights and Secondary flights. Primary flights are parented to the Corpomatacarpus joint and the Secondary flights are parented to the Ulna joint. Don`t forget that you want the pivot point to be placed at the feather bracket. If you move the Corpomatacarpus joint in the rig you should have two groups of feathers that are not connected to each other. So the next step will be to get the feathers connected to each other. To do that I select 3 feathers ( A, B, C in the picture to the right) and use a rotate orientConstraint, so if I rotate A or C, the B feather will stay in between. Just keep on repeating the last step so that every feather is constrained to its neighbor. This step can take some time but it shouldn’t be to hard to make some sort of script to speed up the process. Now the core of the bird rig is finished and if you now move the Corpomatacarpus joint the folding and unfolding should work! If you want a more lifelike bird wing you might want to add dynamics to the feathers or some sort of bend controller.

All the small feathers covering the body of the bird are a bit more tricky to achieve. If you google for pictures of feather tracts you will get a basic understanding of where to put the small feathers. Nothing is random as I mentioned before. Basically the best way I have come up with is to make nurbs planes that are skinned into the rig and filled with small feathers connected to controllers so you can have control over the feather surface. My advice is to paint a regular texture for the body and skip the body feathers if you don’t have any close up shots. Its not worth the time it will take to get a good result and your computer will most likely cry rivers if you try modeling out every single one of them.

Making of the Train station backdrop

In the fancy HD version of the Journey Down, as we have announced earlier, we will add some new puzzles and a couple of new rooms to explore. This week’s focus has been on finishing the new train station area. Below you can see the animated backdrop that will be used in that scene.

For every area we finish, our work-flow becomes more and more streamlined. I`m also guessing that our speed increase can have something to do with Theo’s bad habit of coming to work one hour before everyone else and making sluggish crazy black coffee. Our developing speed has almost doubled since the beginning of this project.

Our process when building graphics for this type of scene is often straight-forward. The first step is a design meeting. We try to have it as short and intense as possible. We often come to the conclusion that the fastest approach is to put Theo on painting a backdrop for the environment. We try as much as possible to stay away from 3D for our environments. 3D often makes everything so much more time consuming and hard to tweak.

After Theo finished the painted backdrop we animated a simple train in 3D. Its actually funny how simple your 3D objects can be if you focus on the big picture all the time instead of the small details. We used a super simple and fast render with motion blur to fool the eye to think it’s more real than it is. We added the train and the the backdrop to the same movie in post-production. Some final tweaks are made. In this case we painted three different “light” images to blend between when the train passes by. We also animated doodads in the scene like lights in the horizon and added a bloom filter. Once we think we have a something that looks good and has correct timing, we give the scene to Markus so he can add sound effects and time it all up with the background music made by Jazzmaster Simon D’souza.

A fun fact is that the lightning in the scene is hand painted as you can see in the video below.