Workflow: Adding Appeal with Sub-Surface Scattering

Add to the appeal of your polished and final animation

Appeal lies largely in the realm of how accomplished your acting choices, animation and character design are. However, the character look and feel impacts the character design, and as such, appeal as well.

Appeal (as condensed from the Illusion of Life by wikipedia)

Appeal in a cartoon character corresponds to what would be called charisma in an actor.[35] A character who is appealing is not necessarily sympathetic — villains or monsters can also be appealing — the important thing is that the viewer feels the character is real and interesting.[35] There are several tricks for making a character connect better with the audience; for likable characters a symmetrical or particularly baby-like face tends to be effective.[36]

Sub-surface scattering is a type of shader that will transmit the light in your scene through your characters’ geometry in a realistic fashion. The end result is a character that feels more ‘real’ or ‘grounded’ in the scene in that they are reacting to light in a way audiences are familiar with from life.


Don’t think for a minute that any of this actually improves your animation. Actually you have to be VERY CAREFUL this doesn’t make your animation worse, by taking time away from time spent actually….animating. Seeing your work rendered in a gorgeous manner can lull you into a false sense of ‘completion’ as well, and I highly recommend you work entirely with playblasts until the very end….then wait a couple months….make some changes….then render.

If you need convincing, check out this rough Milt Kahl pencil test. He doesn’t ‘need’ the inked version, the shot is working really well on it own. Keep these pencil tests in mind when you’re about to spend time rendering, lighting and compositing.


That all said, I do think that a well lit and ‘real’ feeling character can increase the appeal of your shot!

Enough Preaching. Details.

I’ve been using SSS for several years and I find the best way to learn is to tear a scene apart, so that’s what I’m going to provide! A sample scene below just needs ‘render’ to be hit. Inside it is a light panel that you can bring into other scenes and use, and a SSS shader that can be exported from the hypershade and reused.

These are Maya 2012 versions. YMMV.

Example Scene:


Technical Stills

Change the viewport settings to ‘Default material’ while you are roughly dialing in your lights.
The MR SSS shader will be red, green or pink which can make it hard to judge early lighting in the viewport.

These colors dictate the skin tone, and the change in color as the light penetrates the geometry.

Workflow: Animating Liquids on the Cheap

Animating liquids in animation exercises

There are some really great props for characters that have liquids in them (man drinking a whisky, tipsy valley girl with a martini, guy in the desert and a bottle of water, etc…). Generally there are two types of solutions.

“Meh: leave it as a solid object”

“Too Expensive to be worthwhile: simulating the liquids”

During production of my short film I had a bottle of liquid very close to camera and decided to come with with a third solution somewhere in the middle.I’ve used this idea in a variety of situations and it’s always held up and worked. Generally it takes a half hour to setup, and with only one controller, it takes very little time to animate (and is a lot of fun!)


Haha…ok, maybe not quite that good, but it works fairly well! It’s basically a series of blendshapes pumped into your ‘liquid’ geometry, one for each direction and then a fifth that has a wave deformer on it to ‘mess it up’ a bit. A controller with an osipa style setup drives each blendshape and allows for the fifth wave deformer blendshape to be dialed in and out.



  • Add an ‘average’ operation on the liquid geo to smooth it out
  • Use limits on the Liquid CON to keep it within a transx/y quadrant box
  • Connect the five liquid blendshape to the Liquid CON with utility nodes, or be lazy like me and use set driven keys
  • Add the wave deformer to the fifth blendshape, but only on the top layer of vertices.

Technical Stills

Me piping in the 5 blendshapes into the final geo.

Osipa style quadrant controller with limits set in the attribute editor.
It’s been hooked up to dial the blendshapes in and out as it moves to each quadrant.

I’ve hooked in the fifth blendshape to a custom attribute. This blendshape has a cycling wave deformer on it.

I’ve selected the top verts of this blendshape and applied a wave deformer. I can now dial in and out wave animation.


Technical Stills

…and an example of it being used in an actual scene.