The Lament of Okada’s Ghost…
The secret to making good MMD videos
All MMD videos have three common components and these are listed below.
- One or more performance models
- A setting for the performance
- Performance data
But all these components should also ideally have a unifying factor, a “glue” if you like, that binds all these wildly different entities into a single cohesive whole. This glue is your theme and having a properly developed theme is the secret ingredient that is present in all the best videos made for MMD.
How to create a theme
All you need is “inspiration“.
The problem is that it is nearly impossible to describe a method on how to become “inspired“, but we will try. What I write next is what I do, not what I am telling you to do. We all have different ways to stroke our creative processes and each person does things there own way.
Every now and then I open MMD just to muck around and during this process I came across a model of Luka that I forgot I even had. I grabbed a random stage and as it happened it was a creepy stage. So for fun I put Luka in a scared pose as this model has the loveliest “scared” expressions.
But I needed a “ghost” to complete the scene and found one; so here’s the rest of the story…
Google the term “Okada ghost” and you will come across some interesting information. But, MMD’s Okada’s Ghost has nothing to do with those. She’s called that because her creator’s name is Okada. Her name is actually Yuko and she is a character created by her maker.
This is what she looks like; a rather basic anime design styled in the same manner as the default models. But she has the distinct feature of having transparent legs. In Japanese culture, white is associated with death as the dead are buried in white shrouds. Plus in many cultures, including ours, ghosts have no feet/legs. If I switched off Yuko’s outlines and turned off the ground shadows, you will not be able to see her feet.
She’s actually really cool which is why, despite the fact that her creator states clearly that she was intended for use only as a “mob” or support character, her model has developed quite a “life” of its own in parts of the Japanese MMDC.
Who doesn’t love ghost stories especially when you have a cute anime ghost?
But instead of using her to scare Luka, I had a “light bulb” moment. There’s a song perfect for a ghost girl in my MMD motion collection: Hear Me by Kelly Clarkson.
The genesis of our theme
One of the most important components to making a successful MMD video, or any video for that matter, is that all the components should work together as a cohesive whole.
Ghosts are individuals who have past “regrets“; the song’s lyrics are about “regrets“. Put the two together and you have the elements of a good “story“. Many MMD videos fail simply because they don’t have a “story“. This is not a golden rule but most of the successful MMD videos have these two elements to some degree or another.
But then even if you have a story, you have got to present that story in a convincing or persuasive manner.
Using a stage to set a theme
Choosing a stage to set a theme is really simple. If you want a sci-fi theme, you choose a sci-fi stage. It is as simple as that most of the time.
In this instance, with Yuko being a ghost, all I needed was a graveyard. But the thing about graveyards is that they have two distinct qualities associated with them. Either they are scary places or they are sad places. Making the right choice here was important. To work with the lyrics of the song we want a sad place not a scary place.
So we chose a stage probably ripped from a video game or may be from 3DCG; the download author did not give the source but it is as illustrated below. Plus it comes with a choice of suitable sky domes to help match the gloomy feel. So that made this set an easy choice.
The stage does have the issue of being a quick rip and conversion with hardly any effort made to correct it for MMD use. But these are minor issues, primarily the floor is not level and it only took 5 minute to fix this using the PMX Editor.
However, after loading it into MMD Yuko wasn’t happy…
The model comes supplied in PMX and DirectX formats. The difference in format are situational, but for this project I preferred using a DirectX format stage. Besides, it can easily be resized to suit requirements. I used Si=100 in the accessory control panel and also set it to cast and accept shadows.
Setting MMD into accessory manipulation mode makes it easy to move the stage to focus on the area that I wanted to use. Viewing the smaller version helped me to choose which part of the model I wanted the main scene to occur in since at that size, it kind of works like a map. Yukos’ complaint aside, we do usually work from a master plan…
You see those bright flowers at the top right corner in the screenshot above? Because the color space is primarily dull, drab colors, for making the video it would be really nice to leverage those bright colors for use in the background. You need to think about things like this when you set up your scenes.
A final inspection with both Yuko and the stage on screen helps us to work out a suitable shading strategy.
Why and how I use MME
Every MME that I apply to a project fulfills a specific purpose. Rather than go into the theories I will just show which ones I used and what they do and also the order in which they were applied. It will all make better sense as you read along.
Setting the model draw order
Before applying any MME, what I did do was to sort out the model draw order. This is the model draw order used and this was to ensure that there would be no issues as both Yuko and the stage uses transparent texture maps.
- Sky dome (CroudySunset2.x)
- The stage (Mansion.x)
- Yuko (モブ二号幽霊 02.ワンピース（141104).pmx)
It is set like this in MMD:
Done this way, MMD draws the two models on this list first, then it jumps over to the primary model draw order list to draw Yuko. There is no sense showing the model draw order panel as Yuko is the only model loaded.
All Yuko needs is a single shader: Cook-Torrance_Lite.fx. This is one of the effects that is a part of the Half-Lambert Shader v0.24 suite. The “lite” designation means that the effect uses MMD’s default lighting as its illumination source rather than the Post Point Lights with which this effect is usually associated. This makes the lite version ideal for models in large open spaces like this one. The Post Point Lights are not designed to be used to illuminate large areas and certainly there is also the sky dome to factor into the overall equation.
Yuko’s model is very simple, it does not require a bunch of fancy effects to render her nicely. Plus this effect works out nicely with the other effects we will be using.
Shading the stage
As mentioned above, the stage uses a lot of transparent textures and in its raw form, looks rather rough. We can solve all of these problems by using a single effect on it: DFL_with_ShadowMap.fx from the DetailUp_for_Landscaping v055 suite. This smooths out all the details but might not be too obvious from the screenshot shown below. But if you look more carefully, what it has done should still be pretty obvious.
The sky dome does not require any effects so it is used as issued.
Setting up the mood using MME
Only 3 effects are needed for this process.
Used to smooth out the imagery and to give the scene a little bit of a dreamy feel. Used at 1/2 strength: Tr=0.50
At full strength this effect makes the scene black and white since it de-saturates colors. But the primary reason for using this effect is that it really helps some of the texture maps look photo-realistic. It makes more sense to see what it really does in the video as the screenshot doesn’t really show this.
Used at 1/4 strength: Tr=0.25
The stage is really busy, there’s a lot of distractive elements. But the focus needs to be on the Yuko, so to reinforce “focus“, effects like PowerDOF are a godsend. Settings: Si=0.25 / Tr=0.75
The setting used balances out foreground and background blurring; it also allows sufficient details to show through to reinforce elements of “time” and “place“. These two elements help with “immersion” with reference to the overall scene.
Note also that this effect works best when “locked” to the model. This ensures that the model is in focus at all times; especially if the camera motion swings the view port around a lot as with the camera motion used with this performance.
To lock the effect, simply attach it to one of the model’s bones. The head, neck or upper torso bones are usually the best candidates. The screen capture of the accessory manipulation panel shows how this is done. The effect is directed to Okada’s model’s upper_torso2 bone and once the register button is pressed, it will be locked to aim at this point.
Proof of concept and the results…
The screenshots above serves merely to show what I did. But to fully appreciate what was actually done you will need to watch the video for which this schema was designed. Both the Yuko model and the stage model are comparatively simple by the standards of today, but this rendering schema is solid enough and is actually designed so that the end results is viewable on modern display devices including large screen LCD displays.
Immediately below is an actual frame taken from the video for comparison purposes. It is full size so click on the smaller image to see the original render.
Rendering the video
I use 30 fps for my recordings, some people prefer 60 fps. We could argue about the merits of either routes for hours. But for products intended for YouTube, my contention is that 30 fps works just fine.
I always set my MMD screen to be able to render in HD format. Since my monitor’s resolution is 1920 x 1080, I use the 1080 standard. I have two options, either to render raw or go through some degree of compression. Compression is a better choice as the file size is marginally smaller, hence more manageable. So I use the following scheme: UtVideo YW422 BT.709 DMO
But note that the resulting recording is still considered “raw” as it weighs in at 7,005,988 KB. So the next step is to fully compress the video and I do this using AviUtil combined with the Xvid codec suite. Since AviUtil is a video editor I also do some clean up work as well as add titles and credits.
Once compressed the end product is only 299,768 KB. Quite a difference and it only takes about 10 minutes to upload on my Internet connection which includes one hop over a WiFi connection.
Bear in mind that YouTube will further process/compress whatever you upload again anyway, so it pays to give their servers a quality video to work with. Anyway, without further ado, the end product can be viewed below.
Note: I had to make a serious decision about the global illumination level.
The image at the top of the article used the settings I had initially planned. It makes the scene much darker and moodier. But also, it made the video feel oppressive and depressing. Plus when viewed on a large screen, with the darker setting Yuko comes across as actually scary and I didn’t want the video scaring any little kids that might watch the video on YouTube.
So when I made the recording I used a much brighter level of illumination. She now comes across more like Casper the Friendly Ghost rather than something from a horror movie. You really have to pay attention to things like this, so watch your own stuff a few times, preferably full screen before making your recordings.
… always have a plan; preferably before you even load all the models into MMD.
Use this flow chart if it helps:
Credits and resources
Okada’s Ghost model (Yuko):
REM’s Megurine Luka V4X
Half Lambert Shader Ver 0.24
Hear Me motion
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