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This project took an odd turn, originally meant for the early marketing teaser campaign, it was shelved shortly after as the client went in a different direction. I figured that was was it. Until I saw the movie years later that I was surprised to see my pixels fall on screen. I think the final on screen version works well, pruning the extra game nodes and removing the camera move, but the draft I submitted still makes me smile.
I learned a ton doing the RnD for this project, exploring how pixels in volumes could form, interact with the environment, how to tie in the retro feel to the visuals. All a lot of fun. As for the nuts and bolts of the creation process, I wrote a MEL script that would look for cubes/pixels inside the given control area, pick a random drop animation and key it. The drop animations where hand keyed at origin and were fairly basic mainly flickering the vis channel and adjusting the TY. Once the general creation for the entire letter or shape was done, I'd lattice all the keys in the hierarchy to fit the desired overall timing.
**EDIT** - Since people have asked for a few more specifics about this MEL script, see below
The pixels were created in a grid, each 1 unit apart. I'd select whatever pixels I'd want to animate, typically the entire cross section of the overall letter, about 4-5 cubes tall. The script would evaluate what pixels where in the selection and store as an array. Then it would select a single cube, then randomly select from one of the four placer shapes (T,l, 1x1 cube, single pixel), it would then see if pixels exist based on the surrounding world positions of the pixels in the array. To help find more, it would try rotating the placer 90 degrees over multiple axis trying to find a match. When a match was found it would group those found pixels twice (Placement_Grp > Anim_Grp > Pixels) and center pivot, if no match was found, it would group the originally selected cube in the same manner. Once the group was created, it would select from about four drop animations (blink/drop, blink/drop/blink, drop/blink/blink) that was created manually to get the desired timings. It would apply this drop animation to start at the current frame on the Anim_Grp (so the anim curves were always localised). Once completed, it would remove the found pixels from the original array and then select the next pixel and repeat the process. Once the cross section is animated, it would all drop in a single chunk since all the animation was keyed to start on the same frame. From here, I'd use my KeyTools to play with offset and randomisation values until I found a decent setting. Then once the entire letter was keyed, I'd select the entire hierarchy and globally scale/offset the timing to fit the desired scene timing. Looking back, this was a very inefficient workflow, but I was developing and animating under a time constraint, so there was a lot of poking around in the dark while plowing full speed ahead. It got the job done and the tool has been Frankenstein into future script, so that's always helpful.
As for the floor plane interaction, those were poly planes hand animated to bounce or turn over. I did explore more generated style floor animations but they ended up not being needed. That tech was carried over from a previous project you can see here: 3dfiggins.com/Personal/AnimLab/ (look for Audio Shockwave)
All and all, this is likely something a Houdini artist could bang out really quickly, but I was the only animator on the team, so hand key and MEL were the only tools in the tool belt.
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