Guess who woke up feeling like they were about to pop from inflammation again? This guy! So I got up at four, downed an alleve, and did a bunch of work on sea anemones because, for some reason, those awesome animals were the first thing on my mind.
I may know a few tricks but I won't pretend to be the greatest artist in the world—eventually, though, I aim to get there. Lately I've been studying animal anatomy, especially exotic animals, and how it could potentially congeal with humanoid anatomy, which, let's be honest, I could also spend some time studying. The Animator's Survival Guide by Richard Williams has been helping quite a bit, but there's a lot left to read; along with Anatomy for 3D Artists. Eventually I want to get a humanoid up here that didn't start from a kit mesh, not because I can't in practice use a kit (given I follow their license), but because it's something I feel compelled to know how to do, from nothing. There's that aesthetic curiosity kicking me. I can do cartoony figures pretty well, but there are so many styles to master!
Specific to this animal, we've got a sequence of Musgrave textures bump mapped and hue shifted on a number of materials, which is great for giving it that weathered, real-life look. There's a little bit of Voronoi on the starfish. The rock looked a little too clean initially, so I scattered a bunch of broken shells on it, also with a geometry shader (probably actually a _compute_ shader now, but a geometry shader in principle).
Wiggling was done with a few shape keys, one for the stretch and bob of the main body of the anemones, and three others for the curve guide to the nematocysts (the little wiggly tendril thingies), each of which had a tuned noise modifier applied to it so it appears to be from some combination of anemone muscle (or whatever they have) and water pressure. I normally would also have added a lattice animation, but it seemed unnecessary at this point. The light is from a plane overhead, which is mapped to a progressing Voronoi texture in an effort to simulate caustics—I know you can barely see it, but I found the difference satisfying.
One thing I forgot about was just how expensive glowing translucent materials are to ray trace—the default, 4,096 passes, took more than three minutes a frame to render, before the compositor! The worst part was that after the first 64 passes or so, I couldn't even see a noticeable difference! So, I turned it way down to 32 passes and just activated denoising in the compositor to make up the difference. I'm satisfied with the result, though I feel it might benefit from twice as many passes; but this was just a friendly exercise, after all, and I don't want to spend all day on that. (Total render time would have been 14 ½ hours. Yikes.)