Crane Wings

A few months back, the company where I work were involved in a musical theatre production that would be shown in China. We were in charge of some of the animation that would be projected onto screens behind and sometimes in front of the actors during the play. For one particular part of the production there was a grand Emperor crane, ruler of the golden land of the birds with an oriental theme. My job was to create a set of magnificent golden wings that would be projected behind the Emperor during his part.

This was very exciting for me as I’d never modelled any kind of creature before, and it was a whole new learning curve for me to model, rig and animate a bird. I did a lot of research into the structure of bird wings and their feathers .

Initially I modelled the full crane:

Full Crane

But later was told only the wings were needed:

wings wireframe

Now rigging was the real hard part! I don’t know if I was just looking in the wrong places, but it was really difficult to find any particularly good tutorials to rig bird wings! So I went back to good old Digital Tutors I learned about the Expression Editor, which I hadn’t used before, which involved a bit of scripting! It was relatively straight forward though; when the control object was rotated, I wanted each feather to rotate in the same way, but not all at the same rate. The outer feather would rotate 100%, then the next feather 70%, then the next 40% and so on, so that those set of feathers would fan out…if that makes sense!:

expression editor

Many parts of the tutorial got quite technical, and things got overly complicated when I tried to key a wing fold using Set Driven Keys, but I realised that for the purpose of the project I didn’t need a full wing fold (maybe that’s for another day!) I split the wing into 4 sections, and using the Connection Editor used various control objects to control the rotation of each section of feathers. Then I did the same for each individual feather should I have needed to control the rotation of them separately.

connection editor

This is the final rig:

I wanted to add some more texture and detail, even if it was just subtle, so I took inspiration from Chinese paper cutting and added a pattern to each feather by applying a simple normal map, and also put a nice gradient on the diffuse map for some more colour:


This is the final render of the wings, I added a glow to make it look more mystical and ethereal:

CraneWings TextureBump WIP2

And this is the final animated wing flap:

I’m quite happy with the result, I think there is some odd colouring in the final render possibly due to the lighting, and there is a lot I could improve with the wing flap animation, but I learned a lot, and it was certainly an interesting project! I think it would definitely be fun to do a full bird one day in better detail 😀

If you’d like to know more about the project this was for click here!

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