Thursday, 15 November 2007

Day314 AEAF Day3

Australian Effects and Animation Festival - Thu
Lucky last day, again completely dominated by MacbookPros by the presenters, this time round we had 4 of the Macs and 2 used DVDs - no Windows to be seen. I am still amazed how much trouble we have to endure as far as connecting machines to projector's go. With every type of hardware, OS and such there always seem to be issues that need to be fixed in semi-random ways.

I am really glad I took the time and dollars to attend the event - though I feel it really needs more humans in attendance to make it sustainable.

Peter Nofz : Imageworks
Peter's worked as DFX Supervisor on Spiderman 3, and kicked off his session with a showreel of the cool bits from the film - and boy is there a ton of class in there. This was his third Spiderman film and commented that even though the effects shotwise (1000) didnt rise much - the complexity in those shots ramped up significantly.

He covered the creation of the buildings and environments in Maya which were very accurate re-creations of actual buildings in New York. One reason they felt justified in going to town on the detail was so the assets could be reused in future projects. Many of the interiors in these buildings were just fisheye images mapped to simple boxes behind windows an curtains.

We were shown plenty of detail on the design iteration and creation of the 'goo' follwed up unsurprisingly with extended coverage of sand. The sand code had their 3 coders working for 2.5 years to deliver the results in the customised tech they required.

I liked the way they didnt use any mocap for the film, the argument was that these characters arent like normal humans, they are superheroes and as such can be hand animated to do more heroic and spectacular movement.

This presentation was extremely familiar to me - some of the sequences and explanations I have definately seen before. Peter seemed familiar to me as well - but I couldnt quite place the connection. I have blogged on Spiderman 3 of course, on Day142 I covered the film and the amazing concept artwork, plus back on Day137 I was at an AutoDesk event with similar content - but given by Chuck McIlvain...


The LaB
We had a bunch of presenters for this session, all from Sydney's the LaB (including Peter Spinaze & Richard Geluk). Their talk was predominantly about their creative work on Erky Perky. The kids show which was on the ABC for series 1 and which will be on ch 7 for season 2 starting soon. I didnt know anything about this cute little cartoon until this session, and it is very cool.

They have a very tight and detailed set of processes, timelines and workflows for their entire end-to-end. Their script stages were very defined which fed into storyboards - really beautiful storyboards actually. They would produce a Leica (storyboards cut together with audio and timing) which would go to the production team for animating. The storyboard artist walked us through some of his work - explaining keeping them loose for the first pass, then detailing them up after approval for the animators and more detail for the director and Leica.

They would have 12 episodes running at once in different stages of development. A series would be 6400 shots - HUGE. All done in Maya (even the rendering except the MentalRay occlusion pass at half res).

The lighting was kept very simple with variations added in post. They had an automated character lighting setup that took into account camera position and character locations. The backgrounds were all bright and light - even for the night shots. This was to ensure the chatacters arms stayed visible at all times. They had a very automated Shake workflow which could render up a whole episode on its own apparently.

The animation was based off the Leica and was strongly pose-2-pose based. Their animators were producing 30 seconds of approved animation a week using this method. They had task tracking for all the staff (much like IT job queues) plus scripted and automated version numbering (auto increment plus duplicate a 0 version for the latest). The farm was automated as well allowing them to create all this with just 26 staff.

[some images of the Erky Perky characters from the official site]

They also showed us a little bit of the breakdown for their Arnott's Pizza Shapes TVC. All up this session was very informative and revealing - great stuff.


Jami Levesque : Animalia
Another children's animated cartoon. Jami worked directly for Animalia and was tasked with keeping their legions of production vendors working harmoneously and productively. They would bake in lots of lighting data in Maya to cut render times. The rendering itself was in Renderman which allowed them to get multiple layers of data from a single pass - kinda neat. Again things were composited in Shake - this was definately the trend in the presentations as a whole.


John Dickinson : Adobe
This was the Masterclass session in After Effects. John broke down the process he used to create the 1 min promo spot for Fox Classics. His AE file was very neat, making extensive use of nested Comps and good naming etc. He used masks to simulate primative rotoscoping and some linked expressions to control things from high-level objects.

His spot for Crime Investigation Channel was nifty as well.

Rob Bredow : Sony Pictures Imageworks
This session was all about Surf's Up, which I havent seen yet. After seeing this though I am sad that I didnt catch this at the cinema, it is not only visually stunning - but it looks like a pack of laughs as well. Rob was one of 2 VFX Supervisors on the film and delivered a 5 hour version of the session at this years SIGGRAPH which is on his website at

Rob did a great job of walking us through the creative and then technical process of bringing parts of this special little film to life. First he covered the "animated documentary about sufing penguins" logic and the adherance to this surfing doco feel. After checking out the reference they built a system that allowed them to use a real camera linked up to Maya that allowed them to film the CG characters as if they were holding a camera to bring that handycam feel to the camera work. This is a very clever use of technology in my opinion. It obviously worked as they then used this method for 85%+ of the shots.

On their journey to create this animated doc they used 'characterised reality'. The characters (as in a doc) are aware of the camera and behave differently in front of it. The voice talent often worked without scripts to maintain this feel.

We were shown a fair bit of detail on how they researched and developed the technology for the waves. They went with a keyframable model rather than a sim which then would generate particles for white water and such. So basically it was blend-shape driven on top of their 3 basic wave types with lots of secondary controls. The rendering was interesting - at times having to deal with 1.5 billion particles (they had to develop software to send this to renderman in pieces :-) The water is basically opaque with everything fakes with a huge number of render layers on the water surface. The underwater bits were often built with macros and in post.

The production team was 250 artists working away for the 2.5 years - since the DVD is coming early next year I will have to wait until then.

[some images of the waves from Surf's Up's review on the Rotten Tomatoes site]

Andrew Hellen & Dave Morley : Fuel
The final session was about the new Aussie movie Rogue (all about a nastly piece of salt water croc). The set was built in Melbourne and then they treated things to give the Northern Territory feel to things (in Shake again).

They modelled the lair of the croc in 3D first (Maya) from which they generated slices which were built from steel at full size to create the set.


Crysis is here
I have it in my hot little hands, though I didnt get to play yet. I went to bed with the little install progress bar sliding along gently - the tenstion mounts.

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