Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Matter of Time

Lately, I've been asked a few times about some of my choices for this project, specifically regarding the time periods I'm representing (especially about EO in the theater).  I've been meaning to talk about this for a while and now seems like a good time.

I guess I should start by admitting I have no real master plan.  When I started this back in Feb 2011, I was just trying to see if I could do it at all and honestly expected to get bored with it and stop at some point.  Somehow, that never happened and the project just kept expanding with no real direction. 

Once I thought about it, I realized that I was re-creating memories from my childhood.  These memories were fuzzy and grossly inaccurate as it turns out.  And the gaps were filled in with whatever photos I could find on the net, regardless of the year they were taken.   In fact, in the beginning, I modeled using the current building for reference (hence the colors in the photo above).  When I finally started doing real research, I understood that I had created a pavilion that never actually existed.  Let me 'splain...

This attraction has been around for nearly 30 years and has included 3 different rides, 4 different 3D movies, multiple movie pre-shows, countless Image Works configurations, and a hundred landscape / paint / decorating changes.  And to make this more complicated, I can't find a good timeline of when many of these things changed.  To get around this problem, I've been dividing the entire model up and picking different time periods for each section.  Some of these are roughly on track and some need more research.

In case I've given the wrong impression, this project was never intended to represent opening day.

The landscaping and decorating outside is roughly set in the same time period as Captain EO's first run (1986 - 1994).  I haven't nailed down a specific year yet, but it is probably after the original fountain sculpture changed.  I'm still trying to figure out when the bushes around the ride entrance were added.  Those may be part of the JIYI update.  Right now, I kind of have both versions covered since the bushes AND the trees in pots are both there.  At any rate, this time period accommodates the various EO graphics and structures in the area.

I should say that I would love to have that cool, original fountain sculpture in the model.  However, it is really hard to work out that complex geometry from the photos I can find.  It was hard enough figuring out the simpler replacement sculpture.

The ride is meant to represent its overall form during its 15 year run.  I don't think there were a lot of changes but any subtle differences aren't documented enough for me to do anything about it.  I can only really say that this is set after the exit speed belt was removed.

I get asked about this the most.  I usually say that I picked EO over Magic Journeys because it was my favorite and I consider that period to be the Golden Age of that pavilion.  There are some practical considerations as well though.  I have almost no Magic Journeys reference material to work with anyway, but I think the best reason is that EO was a lot more interesting to look at.  It had big graphic elements, bright colors, cool logos and signage.  It is a lot easier and more fun for me to recreate, but I think it is a lot more interesting to explore since there is no actual movie playing in there.  I can at least provide the static images and music.

But what about the pre-show?  I'm still trying to work this out.  My research indicates that "Makin' Memories" and ''Capture a Smile" ran during EO.  I'm currently running "True Colors", but I guess I should change that.  I can't find a good copy of the music from "Capture a Smile" so I may choose "Makin' Memories", which would put my time period around 1986.

Just to make all of this irrelevant, my current interior of the theater is modeled after HISTA (the weird frame around the screen).  That's because I can't find any decent images of the theater interior when EO originally ran (let alone Magic Journeys).  Still working on that.

Image Works is the huge exception to the "not opening day" thing.  My Image Works is currently set in the opening day configuration.  Why?  I have pretty good documentation of that version and most of those interactives are much easier to model.  I considered trying to time-align this area with the EO time period, but IW has gone through so many different configuration changes and I don't know the exact layouts by year.  The only thing I really know for sure is what it was when it started and what it was when it died.  "When it started" seemed like a better choice.

This part of the model is the most modular in construction.  Since I did it after I had made all my mistakes in the other sections, I had a pretty good idea of how to set it up right.  That makes it easier to update later.  Maybe one day, I'll change its year.  Maybe.

That's it.  If you were wondering about the time periods and plans, there you have it.  There isn't much of one.  I'm still open to opinions and feedback so feel free if you have some.  And as always, please send any reference that might help me be more accurate.  I appreciate it.

And now back to work on it...


Saturday, March 17, 2012

JII Version 6: Lighting and Geometry


Version 6 of the web simulation is now live.  It was going to be 5.4 but a whole lot has changed, both visible and behind the scenes.  Here's what is new:

- Lighting has been added everywhere.  It isn't that noticeable outside, but it shows in the ride and theater.  I think the new lighting in the Image Works is the most dramatic change though.  I'm really pleased with it.
- I have divided up the geometry into smaller pieces everywhere and fixed the "normals".  Both of these things should improve the quality of the textures and lighting as well as make future updates easier on me.

- The new elevator cover and lobby murals are in.  Yay!
- The weird transparent exit doors from EO no longer look into the void.

- Brand New Show and Laser Ballet are a little more fleshed out.
- The music sync issues should be all better now.  Let me know.
- Some transparent and missing walls are fixed.
- I have set up a system to turn scenes on and off as you move through the ride to save processor work load.  This still needs to be tweaked and is obvious in a few places.  I can't guarantee there won't be weird behavior when walking around.

- This are just got new lighting and a bunch of geometry fixes.

Image Works
- Bubble Music, Magic Palette, and Rainbow Corridor are updated.  Bubble Music has sound too.

Known Issues
- I'll fill this out as bugs become known.  Should be any minute now...

What's Next in 6.1
- Dreamport scene in the ride.  Finally something not at the end of the ride. 
- Light Writer and Lumia in the Image Works.
- In the theater, I'm switching the pre-show to Makin' Memories, removing the HISTA frame around the main screen, and adding the automatic doors on both sides.
- I haven't decided about the Outside scene just yet.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Me vs. Lighting

I just had an "Aha!" moment followed by a big sigh of relief.  I just discovered that I'm not as stupid as I was starting to feel.

I have been trying to add lighting to the model since I started and have been hitting major roadblocks every step of the way.  This is the reason that the model has been mostly uniformly lit from a single direction.

What kills me is that a big chunk of my real-life career was spent as a theatrical lighting designer and technician.  I swear I know what I'm doing when I can get my hands on a wrench.  However, I'm not a 3D artist and everything there is to know about building this simulation is learned as I go.

So, not knowing any better, I just grabbed a bunch of virtual lighting fixtures and went to town.  Trouble is, the lights would behave very strangely.  They would spontaneously change dimmer levels, have weird shadows, and even point in directions that made no sense.  I briefly had lights in the theater but it looked so bad that I removed them out of frustration.

Today, I did some research and found out that my problem was not the lights themselves.  It was the surfaces that I was lighting.  The 3D models have these things called "normals".  I won't bother explaining, but the short story is that I was using the normals wrong.  I fixed that thanks to some explanation in a Unity forum and BOOM, everything is working like it's supposed to.

I'm adding proper lighting to the ride scenes that are already in now.  I may get some lighting into Captain EO and Image Works in the next release as well.  Until then, please enjoy the screenshot above of the first lighting fixture in the model to work correctly.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Trials of Music and Motion

One of you recently discovered a bug in the current version of the simulation.  If you use the skip function in the ride, the music gets very out of sync shortly after.  Thanks for letting me know, Catherine.  It will be fixed in the next version.

Anyway, this got me thinking that I'd like to write a little bit about how the music timing works in this simulation.  It involves a bit of background into the soundtrack and an explanation of how the simulated ride system works compared to the original real thing.  

In other words, this is an excuse for me to geek out.  This may be boring.  You've been warned.

I'll start with the soundtrack.  In the original ride, the music consisted of a series of synchronized loops that played endlessly and simultaneously.  As you moved from room to room, the loops naturally cross-faded smoothly by way of distance from the speakers.  There was no specific beginning or end of a loop as a rider but you would likely hear most of a loop as you passed through depending on the size of the room.

This is not how it works in the simulation.  I do not have the ability (currently) to run a bunch of simultaneous loops like this.  I have a single track that represents a ride through the attraction.  However, it is not an actual recording of the ride through.  Someone took all of the separate loops and mixed them (very well) to basically represent the overall experience of the ride in the correct order.  In order to make the audio experience better, the cross-fades between scenes are deliberately set at the beginning and end of the loops.  This sounds great and lets you hear the soundtrack in its entirety, but it does not accurately represent the length of time you would spend in the scenes if you were on the ride.  For example, the Literature scene (scary part) is very short on this track and the Science scene is very long.  More on this in a minute...

The original ride system was unique in that it had several speed changes and synchronizations that made it spectacularly complicated.  There was a slow speed for the Omnimover-like load and unload areas, another speed to lock up to the turntable movement, and another speed for the train-style movement through the rest of the ride.  This system had a lot of technical problems that contributed to it opening later than the rest of EPCOT and eventually being changed to its current layout.  Trying to recreate this has given me more than an appreciation for how troublesome this ride system was.

The recreation uses a Unity 3D plug-in called Splines.  I used it to create a looped track of 200 points.  You can see some of these in the picture above shown as white boxes.  Each point represents a new turn, incline or decline, speed change, and horizontal rotation.  These points are invisible but they are aligned to the fake track visible in the ride.  In the lobby, there is a completely separate 20 point track guiding the empty vehicles in a small loop just for the visual effect.

So, here we have 200 points and a fixed length piece of music.  To make this appear to work correctly, I have added about 10 different speed changes.  I initially tried to do the math to work out the timing.  Bust.  In the end, I simply picked a speed, started the ride, watched how far off the end of the scene was from the music, made a guess at an adjustment and then did it all again.  To ensure consistency, all subsequent scenes were timed after waiting to get through the earlier scenes.  I got pretty tired of the repetition after a while and do most of the testing of other things with the sound muted now.

At the very end (when I thought I had everything right), I added the ability to jump over the turntable scene.  I actually managed to get the music jump and the track jump right on the first try.  I was very happy with myself.  So much so that I overlooked something that seems obvious in retrospect.  The turntable skip also skips a very important speed change point (by only 2 points).  Because of this, the vehicle is moving way too fast through the Dreamport and Arts scenes.  I didn't see this because I didn't ride the rest of the ride after I tested the jump.  Oops.

The good news is that after more testing and adjustment, I have fixed this in the next version (6.0).  I hate to leave the error out there for all to see but 6.0 is still under construction for several other things and will have to wait a little while longer.  In fact, I'm getting back to work on that very thing right now.