A couple of months ago, when we were at the Noah Conference, we also visited AIG’s new Ark Encounter. It’s an amazingly full-sized accurate replica of Noah’s Ark on the outside, and, thanks to Kentucky building codes, a slightly less accurate replica on the inside (I’m sure Noah’s family didn’t have clearly illuminated exit signs and a 198B.6401 certified sprinkler system), but the craftsmanship of the timber inside is worth the trip.
I visited the workshop in January of 2015, just before construction began, and while designers were feverishly working on exhibit plans, there was nothing built. To see a completed Ark only 18 months later was simply astounding, and everything inside, from the living quarters to the the animals to the dioramas of the pre-flood world, is fantastic. I was inspired to create a little flood-based art of my own, and I used the week after the conference to do a quick animation.
I’ve always been fascinated by anything underwater, and I wanted to see how things might have looked after the flood, as the world began breaking up. There was a great pagan temple design in the ark, and I modeled that as well as I could remember. The great thing about personal animation projects is that you can experiment with tools that techniques that you might need for future projects. This was the first time I used Lightwave’s flocking tool, and it created a very passable school of fish.
I’d also never used Lightwave’s super-fast Bullet Dynamics system before, so a major goal of this animation was to smash the temple into tiny pieces and realistically simulate its destruction by falling debris. This was the most time-consuming part of the project, since the dynamics were a little fiddly for a first-time user to grasp and I was trying to simulate blocks of stone flying around in water.
Of course, the bad thing about personal projects is that they can easily consume too much time, so I gave myself a self-imposed deadline and a few rules, like no re-renders and no volumetric effects, to prevent endless tweaking. This means that all glitches are still there, and all particle effects like bubbles and distortion were created in 2D using After Effects and Particular. This isn’t the best way to do it, but it was the best way to do it in a week, on the couch, while Heidi and I were recovering from managing all the meals at the Noah Conference.
Doing all the bubbles in After Effects meant exporting motion vectors and depth buffers and other render passes in EXR files – another fun thing to tinker with on my own time. A surprising amount of things were cheated with masks and keyframes rather than real physical simulations, which works for small fast projects.
And of course, the most important part of animation is the sound design. After a week’s worth of nights-and-weekends animation, and another week’s worth of rendering, I spent a few hours putting all the sound effects together, and my brother Ben provided the most important part of sound design: a powerful musical score.
There is so much that could be tweaked and fixed and added to this animation that I hesitated to post it. If it were paid work for a client, it would have a lot more depth and time and detail, and it would probably be 30% raw creative work and 70% refining work. As a personal project, the ratio went the other way, since it was designed to permit some experimentation with a fun idea.
Of course, artists should be careful to be good stewards of their time, paid or unpaid, but purposeful personal projects like this are very useful when used for R&D and honing a particular skill. Hopefully this little animation is also honoring to Ken Ham, the staff at AIG, and especially all the hard-working artists who made the Ark Encounter what it is.