May 29, 2012 · 11 min read

Oh SNaP! A Video – Part I

Written by:  Matthew Perrin
Resident Ghost Writer


In the midst of our May merry-making, it occurred to us at ghOst that our blog has thus far only showcased our fantastic staff. Now admittedly, we could discuss their superpowers for years to come (and fear not, we shall), but we should also take some time to describe what those superpowers can create. ghOst Productions doesn’t just boast some of the coolest people on this planet, we also like to think that we make some of the coolest medical animations on Earth. But we want you to judge. So at least once a month, our blog will showcase one of our exciting projects. And what better way to balance ghOst’s projects with ghOst’s personalities than through discussions with the persons involved in various projects?

A revolutionary product of Spiracur

In fact, what perhaps makes ghOst Productions such a unique medical animation studio is our tradition of featuring people with our client’s products. Ever since the creation of our award-winning video “Heal,” we’ve built ourselves a reputation for producing animated videos that utilize 3D characters and narrative stories to demonstrate and explain medical devices and medical procedures. One such recent video involved a product created by the company Spiracur dubbed “SNaP.” Deriving its name from the negatively applied pressure that signifies both its function and innovation, SNaP is a wound treatment system that is designed to remedy a specific range of soft tissue injuries and that requires a multi-step application. For both these reasons, a character-focused and narrative-driven animated video was the perfect medium for displaying a hypothetical wound and a simulated application of the SNaP wound dressing. We at ghOst are proud of the result and we’re about to tell you why. But you can see why by watching the SNaP character animation below:

Spiracur SNaP – Starring “Charlie”

[vimeo w=500&h=281]


Okay, now that you’ve seen the finished product, let’s take a moment to explore what happened behind the scenes. This video presented a number of unique technical challenges and opportunities for our creative team. During a discussion of the video’s construction, various ghOsties who worked on producing this video remarked on the highs and hindrances they experienced throughout the process. Beware: beyond this paragraph, you’ll find plenty of tech talk but little translation. If that prospect excites or intrigues you, then we insist (beg) that you read on. There is much to be said, and in order to do so completely, this discussion will continue in the next blog post. But now we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning…

In the early stages of production, problems quickly began outpacing progress. Brian Thompson, our 3D Team Lead, seized upon the opportunity to experiment with a Maya feature known as Trax Editor. But his hopes were quickly trounced by the many frustrating idiosyncrasies of this otherwise promising program feature. Trax Editor is designed to easily layer animation using clips by assisting in the organization of animation leveraging character sets. However, choosing to rely on Trax Editor to do those things frequently results in broken links between character sets and animation curves. In severe cases, headaches and Hulk-like rage have been reported. The ghOst prognosis? Trax Editor has a long way to go before we feel comfortable riding on it. Until then, we won’t mind watching it vanish into the distance.

Trax Editor (Image: Jan Pijpers)

For each bane in the SNaP project, there also appeared a boon. Brian tackled and successfully surmounted the challenge of designing and realistically lighting the trees in the park scene of the video. Rather than model the leaves using numerous vertices, he simplified their geometry by applying transparent textures onto single-sided planes. On a per-texture basis, Brian then created unique shaders for the leaves that allowed their geometry to be correctly rendered through depth and occlusion passes. The visible result? Verdant and dappled foliage that is equally as inviting to the eye as it is to Charlie and his canine companion.

Depth pass of tree with custom leaf shader.

While Brian found success working in the park, our Lead Animator Jayson Slinger achieved similar success rigging the park’s human visitor, “Charlie.” Jayson credits the Maya plugin “Setup Machine,” developed by Anzovin, with expediting the rigging process. Setup Machine is a valuable tool for character rigging, because it is capable of creating a uniform and balanced system of joints, making the subsequent job of weight painting relatively painless. Setup Machine thus provides character rigs that are predictable and functional–two aspects that are often lacking in Maya. Those aspects were a blessing during the SNaP project, and it’s fair to say that Charlie is a better person because of them. Such small victories helped to offset the time and energy lost on Trax Editor, to which Jayson also fell victim.

A very useful plugin. (Image:

Join us again next week to hear more techie tales of triumph and tribulation from the SNaP saga!

Want to know more about what happens at ghOst Productions? Visit our primary haunt (a.k.a. homepage).