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Animate a proton canon shot with akeytsu and Marmoset Toolbag 

Etienne "Vexod14" Beschet on Mai 22nd, 2020
I had worked on a fun little animation in akeytsu for my Ocrane16 robot and I wanted to improve the final look of my work before adding it to my portfolio. Designing appealing finished looks can add a lot of work and applying materials or colors can get quite complex. Fortunately it can be a lot simpler when you have good software. In this blog post I will be explaining an efficient workflow using both akeytsu and Marmoset Toolbag to generate qualitative rendered animations to showcase my work.

Today we are going to break down the creation process of the below clip step by step and detail what tools were used in the process.
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This article features artwork by digital artist Jeff Anthony. Check his artstation page here and follow his Twitter to see what he's up to.

After I have completed my animation in akeytsu, I usually export it back to load it into Marmoset Toolbag and start working on surfacing and real-time rendering. I find that Marmoset is quick and well-designed to take care of these tasks. All about akeytsu’s interoperability, here.
SHADER SET-UP with PBR textures 

Lighting and environment

The screenshot below shows how you can edit different types of lightening, and then, how different shader settings will influence the type of material we get.

Capture your character’s shadows over your environment by adding a ‘Matte-Shadow plane’ Using a background colour rather than an actual environment makes up for a clearer render to showcase the animation work. When doing these portfolio renders I always want to keep the focus on the anim take and adapt lighting to the character rather than the other way around.

Once I’ve established a solid environment, I start tackling the final effects of the character. This is where I break my process down into more specific steps.

I start by adding spotlights to which I add intensity when my Musle Flash VFX turns on. In this instance lighting can add depth and make the fire shot more believable. 
You can play with the Emissive Intensity (which can be set manually at a lot more than the "clamped UI value of 10", like 500 or more), and key it, so the combination with VXGI will act "as if" you were using real spot lights.

If you really want to use spotlights, avoid putting them inside the mesh hierarchy, because if you do so, each time you'll modify the FBX source, Marmoset will automatically reload it and you will lose all keys you've previously made (which can be a bit frustrating).
Now that we’ve got the technical stuff out of the way, let’s go over the theoretical side and my personal process.
So how is the musle flash effect done?

Just like Ocrane 16, the Musle Flash 3D mesh (which remains fairly simple), has been imported in akeytsu once, then duplicated as many times as I wanted it for both canon (so here, 6 instances). Then, I added one joint to every instance of the Musle Flash and quickly skinned each of them to their associated joint.

Once this is done, I place these joints into the canon of the robot and create a Custom Reference Pose, this way, each time I'll start a new animation, my musles will already be in place. Then all I need to do is to scale up and down my Musle Flash joint sizes when the robot shoots a big blast. Once everything is animated, you can adjust the muzzle’s size. Same goes for laser meshes except that these are not parented to the arms of the Ocrane, but to his root, to make them move independently from the arm movement.

I find it quite handy do apply the ghost tool on Keys and on Frames to get smoother movements over time.
After that, I like to dislocate my characters (especially robots) when I animate, this helps a lot to direct the eyes as well as supporting weight, firepower and impulses.
Polish the animation 

Use curves to polish everything.
Refine poses  

Now is the time to refine and adjust poses so that you are happy with the shots.
Once you’re back in Marmoset, make a new export, wait a few seconds. The model will automatically reimport and update itself.
Don’t be afraid to keep making adjustments when you feel it doesn’t work well! Here, I chose to change the firearm to a more aggressive colour. Then, I also wanted to adjust motions for the final look. Motions are artistic but can be very technical, when finishing this firing ‘flow’ I wasn’t quite sure about its movement with akeytsu so I went back to marmoset’s timeline and checked where the poses weren’t quite matching to adjust the motion and make them smoother, making sure that everything is going well with the pipeline when exporting.
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Once the animation and all the camera previews are looking good, I am going back to akeytsu to adjust details. Here, I wanted to make sure that the armor parts were moving the best they could to finalise the action.

It’s also good to change the ghost mode from “Keys” to “Frames” and increase Prev. as well as the Next ghost’s numbers to get a good overview on the animation. I suggest to set them both at 5 to allow a good flow.
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Back on Marmoset, You should key the camera with a simple translate movement.
Once you’re happy with everything, you might want to set back up the final lighting. The lighting that has previously been made often gets removed from importing the FBX back to Marmoset.
It can be a good idea to create a second camera, without keys to make sure the key frame stays in place. This enables you to go around editing the animation without losing any work.
Then, use the Marmoset Key frame toolbar to edit your light intensity tangents to make sure that they are clamped at 0. This will avoid the interpolation to be negative.
And that’s pretty much everything about my process. There are lots of different ways to improve your character presentations but akeytsu and Marmoset’s toolbag both combined offers clean and functional animation integration as well as excellent real-time rendering features, and you should take advantage of this to push your character the extra mile.

You can also go even further with akeytsu by animating in sync the different audio layers such as adding music or even sound effects to strengthen your character’s credibility with akeytsu’s new Audio Layer feature.
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Each step during the character’s creation process is an opportunity to make choices towards the end vision you have for your character.
Thanks a lot for reading this article, I hope that by sharing my process, you learn new things or have ideas and inspiration for your future projects. Good luck and keep having fun making characters!
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