Making Science Come Alive

Duncan Evans discovers how Cinema 4D helped animate and tell stories for Discovery Science in a series of five-second sketches

The concept sounded straightforward enough: use the Discovery Science logo, a pebble, as an animated character, that plays through a brief sketch, then turns back into the logo again. The project came about because Discovery Science wanted to launch a new YouTube channel for a wider and younger audience. The series of characters were meant to reflect the different areas of programming within the channel. The challenge for Pryce Duncalf of Munk Studios, who was given the assignment, was the short length of each sketch. A completed clip was just five seconds, but with transition animations at the start and end, that was whittled down to just 2.5 seconds of animation to tell the story.

There were six scenarios, but the problem right from the start was working out how to transition from the logo, which was an irregular and asymmetrical shape, to a well-formed and animated character to perform the gag for a couple of seconds, and then transition back again.

Pryce explains how the transitioning was achieved, "My first step was to rig the pebble in such a way that the shape could be animated into each different character, so the legs and arms were also adjustable in length, thickness and positioning on the body. It took a few days to get this right, but once this main rig was created, the rest of the characters took no time at all to create. All I had to do was model the props and costumes, some of which were purchased from TurboSquid."

Although Discovery Science had a rough idea of how some of the characters were to be dressed, such as using a sweatband and one with lots of gadgets, others were still open to interpretation. Pryce had a meeting with Discovery to discuss exactly how they should all look then went back to the studio to write up short scenarios for each character. Once this was agreed, some rough sketches of shapes and proportions were produced to act as guides for the 3D modeling.

Various tools from Cinema 4D were put to good use in the project for animation, light effects, object placement and destruction. There’s one scene where a character is welding a car. Pryce explains what tools were used, "The light effects with the welding torch were done using MoGraph. I simply used a thin plane object in the cloner and changed the axis, then randomised its scale and spread with a MoGraph random deformer. I set the deformer to noise with a high animation speed setting then rendered this out with an object buffer and added the glows in After Effects."

MoGraph was also used in the scene where a spaceman appears on a lunar landscape. It features lots of rocks scattered about. Here it was used to place the rocks randomly, with the benefit of being able to transition them on and off using a plain effector with a falloff.

One of the more spectacular shorts featured exploding barrels that required a combination of methods, as Pryce revealed, "The explosion itself is composited in After Effects, and I rendered out a depth pass as a matte to help integrate the explosion into the animation. I then used glows and optical flares in After Effects to give an extra bit of dazzle to the explosion. A destruction plug-in was used to break up the barrels and then a dynamics tag was added. The explosion was created using a sphere with a collider tag on it to trigger the detonation."

In one of the simpler effects, one of the characters is integrated with some text, but as a transition starts the text comes away. Pryce applied the text as a texture onto the original log but as it transitioned into the character, the original logo animated off.

By the end of the three-week project there were six five-second clips, rendered out at 1080p resolution using a pair of Xeon Mac Pro's. Pryce summed it up, "It seemed crazy to try and tell a story in 2.5 seconds, but after lots of curve refinements and meticulous tweaking of keyframes we managed to do it. I find Cinema 4D to have pretty much everything you need for narrative animation and rarely find myself leaving the application until the compositing stage. There is a tool for every job and usually more than one solution to a problem."

Duncan Evans is the author of Digital Mayhem: 3D Machines, recently published by Focal Press.

All images courtesy of Munk Studios.

Munk Studio Website:

Previous slide
Next slide