Roger Wickes

Creative Software Solutions

The Sinewy Beast Comes Alive

My customer wanted this creature with a long tail to come to life (click here to view), rear up, move around a little in a massive sort of way, and then eat the cameraman in one gulp. I worked off-site to accomplish this in two weeks.

For this animation, I used inverse kinematics to position this sinewy character's head, hands, feet, shoulder, hip and tail, which drove the reset of the bones in his armature to achieve good poses. This keyframed 1-minute animation (1600 frames) needed hundreds of keyed positions and interpolation adjustments, working both with just the armature and then with the mesh to resolve collisions. I used driven shapes to control sets of bone rotations, so that, for example, by rotating that pyramid his whole hand would open and close. I used driven shape keys with custom shapes as well, which you can see floating there in front of his face. These shapes controlled blinking, jaw and lip motions.

The Strawberry Episode

This 60-second TV commercial (view 24meg Flash) for cable broadcast was designed to increase brand awareness. A whole series was envisioned, each with the "CupMan" doing something light-hearted with the fruits used in the smoothies: baseball with the banana, dribbling the strawberries, juggling the blueberries, that sort of thing. For this project, I was the sole resource so I did it soup to nuts: concept development, scripting, storyboarding, modeling, texturing, lighting, animation, compositing, background music (my son played the keyboard), voice-over, mixing, and DVD mastering. I used interlacing for NTSC broadcast.

Why Visualize?

Spending a little extra money on using me to develop a pre-construction visualization has always resulted in plan changes BEFORE construction and permitting, avoids costly mistakes, enables more accurate estimates, a happier client, and a win-win situation. No finger-pointing, costly last-minute changes, or invalid assumptions ("of course the weight set will fit in here") and lawsuits enter into the job. Electrical for the home theatre projector is planned, and does not have to be cut in after sheetrock/wallboard install. Central vacuum stubs are planned out, as is whole-house audio. Alarm panels are placed, and the client can see that they will be able to view the panel from their bed. Client is able to "look out the window and see the pool", or see how easy it will be to keep an eye on the kids in the pool while they work at their desk. Think of my services in this area as part of the planning stage, budget for it (three days of labor for the first go-round, one day for each revision), and use me as insurance against disaster. If engaged by the client, your plan can be used to give to builders for bids and enable consistent, comparable bids. If I am employed by the contractor, your bid will be more accurate and concrete without a long  list of client assumptions. You will get the job done faster with more consistent results from client to client.


This project wanted to build a home on a very steep (2:1) downslope lot. Inital SWAGs put about $200k into retaining walls and excavation alone, so they hired me to get a little better handle on the concept. Good idea. I first took the plat and entered all of the setbacks (front, side, rear, sewer, road, drains) and lot dimensions to scale using the angles on the survey. Next I entered the topographic survey as a 3D mesh, which ranged from 900 to 950 ft above sea level. Now we could begin our virtual building; working with the builder we put the garage as close and as high as possible to the road, but close meant a shorter driveway and thus a steeper slope. Further back gave more driveway but put the house close to the rear setbacks and further down from the road. Working with my toolset, we were able to accurately place sub-basements, the house, and the garage at elevation with a 3D driveway. Once the driveway was placed with all the subbasements, we could then place retaining walls and accurately estimate how much dirt had to be moved (720 cu yd, if you're curious). We then were able to locate places to put that dirt to minimize hauling and save $50,000 on escavating, and were able to have a scientific plan to present to the county in obtaining the land disturbance permit. Got a tricky building project? Let me help you!

The Grand Plan for the Yellow House

This large job, bid at US$120,000 involved a complete basement finish and pool install in a very tight back yard (due to restrictions). The basement included a home theatre, 1.5 baths, steam room, sauna, work-out room, pool hall, wine cellar, kitchenette...and the pool was custom. I worked with the architect and the pool people in pre-visualizing their designs for the client, and this one was ultimately selected. The pool was really cool with a cave and a swim-out and continuous swim "treadmill" and hot-tub. Initially, the home gym was in the back room and opened into the home theatre, but after I took measurements of the elliptical and weight set and that room, I was able to tell them it would not we adjusted the plan to fit that piece of furniture and resulted in using the Lounge Area instead, which prevented a disaster and resulted in a better plan. I was able to place the indoor elliptical trainer with a person on it looking out the window at the pool, so the client could see what they would see. For this job I took all the measurements of the rooms, and of course everything is to scale. The pool bid was very accurate since they base their bids on the finished perimeter length, and my model enabled them to measure that precisely. I was able to render views from the deck and patio and various places where they would "be", and we actually moved the hot tub for more privacy.

"Oh My, How Much?"

A large basement (2400 sq. ft., 250 m3) was going to be finished (much like the yellow house, and the client wanted to see some plan/alternatives and see "what it would look like", so I was contacted to do this. I even laid out a backyard pool that would have required a retaining wall. After seeing the price tag of their dream basement (sauna, steam room, pool, exercise room/gym, oak-paneled library, etc), they scaled back to this plan of only 1600 sq ft, which was what they could afford. This visualization prevented a disaster from occurring, primarily NOT because the client could see the results beforehand, but because the eager builder could see what they were getting into and revise their cost estimate to be a lot closer to reality, thus avoiding a job at a price where they would have either lost their shirt or had to beg for more money to complete the job. I remember the builder pointing to the steam unit and asking "what is this 220v run?" and the light bulb clicked on, and he started asking me a lot more questions about materials and items that would have to be done to make it happen, and the cost estimator in him woke up to reality. Even though they (client and builder) spent more time and effort on revisions to the plan, they ultimately saved money and hassle later on. One neat thing about this plan is that the bathroom was planned for wheelchair access so that if this becomes an aged in-law suite, they will have their own space where they can navigate in independently.

What I learned

The Strawberry Episode (circa 2003) was my "trial-by-fire" project that forced me to explore all aspects of CG. I had to do a lot of research and learning, experimenting with and learning armatures, IK solvers and FK rigging, timing, non-linear animation, compositing. I learned to appreciate subtlety and nuance. For example, have you really really looked at a Styrofoam cup? It has a lip, an recessed base, translucency, and a very strange (Voronoi) texture that affect color and bump. Oh, and yes, the all important decal technique (which I still get questions on today). Nuances in movement convey many hidden messages. And making a cup talk is no small feat!

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