If you are working in the animation or game industry (or studying to become one), you may have experienced (or will) events where highly skilled professionals assistants go to explain their work. Or maybe you just like to know about this fascinating work and the people who make it.
This June, a week ago, in Barcelona (Spain) was celebrated the b’Ars VFX 2017, an event with many distinguished professionals that talk of a lot of interesting stuff. I’m an animation student, and I love these events, so I went (sadly, I could make it only for one day, Friday 9), and now I’ll tell you what I saw.
Photos and video recording were prohibited, so I’m sorry but I can’t give you more than what the event officially posts online.
So let’s go in chronological order through all the conferences:
Onirikal Studios: Caronte
The first conference was done by the only local professionals, Onirikal Studios, who presented their upcoming short film ” Caronte“.
Onirikal is normally dedicated to working on client’s projects, but in between work demand, they’ve been producing this short. This means that, for years, their spare time has been dedicated to this film, a few days, a couple of weeks, some extra time. They worked hard to make this, and the trailer promises something good. It will be 15 minutes long and is composed of a combination of 3d and live action.
It will be 15 minutes long and is composed of a combination of 3d and live action. And it will be finished for the Sitges Film Festival 2017.
In the conference, they talked primarily about how the short was made, with the software they already had like 3Dstudio max, they did the enormous job of any VFX in a professional movie, but in a little more messy way.
Recreating nebulas, space ships, aliens… creating all this incredible imagery with so many details and with wonderful designs, and compositing realistically, with impressive lighting and particles, they work has been excellent. Look forward to it.
TRIXTER: Cool concept art for Marvel (and others)
Przemek Duda is a great guy and a great artist (check his stuff, he is awesome), and made some of the best moments I enjoyed in the event (although, most of the other professionals were also very funny “cool guys”). “No one knows how to pronounce my name so you can call me “Jimmy” “. With this funny comment, he commences his talk.
From Studio Trixter, Berlin, Jimmy primarily talked in detail about his work in guardians of the galaxy 2, talking about 3 scenes.
First, some background of the robot hostesses, the alien city of lights, and the characters who appeared in that scene.
Second, the hyper jump scene, with the watchers and Korgs (which appeared in Thor 2, and could appear in Ragnarok too, because of the planet hulk connections). This scene was the focus of most of the conference, detailing how many iterations of the designs they went by to meet Marvel Studios requirements, with the watchers head being a picky subject (now more ovulated, not so much egg shaped, now the eyes…), and the Korg changing their clothes and it’s devastated background. Not to mention the space and details on it.
Did you know it? The hexagonal shapes they used to teleport are indeed a physical object, a mechanical portal, that appears when needed.
Finally, for the final scene of the film, they worked on what he called “Rocky’s ship” (and the rest of ships too). Very interesting design tips, where he talked about how they used marine animals to give shape to diverse shapes, and how valuable were the silhouettes.
In the end, this was a very interesting, funny, and in general, enjoyable.
Virginie Bourdin: Concept for assassins creed movie
Virginie is a highly skilled film industry professional who has worked on a ton of blockbuster films.
At the start of the conference, she talked about his career and experience, and pointing his different works in the art, VFX and production departments, among others.
But primarily, all the conference was about his work in the Assassin’s Creed movie, talking about two concepts in great detail: The antique Spain and the new animus.
“The past is like it is, we can’t change that, and we need to stick to it to capture it; but the director wanted more artistic freedom, so he changed the animus” Thus she described how the approached the two things.
The antique Spain recreation was awesome, with an architectural design made to the millimeter and recreating historical scenarios beautifully and accurately.
On the other hand, the new animus was a detailed beast-machine, with an inspiration from spinal cords, muscles, and other human body tissue and parts.
The conference, sadly, was very slow paced and centered about the process to think and rethink all this ton of details, which made it something heavy to watch. But don’t misunderstand me, this had its value, as you don’t always see professional design work explained with that detail. It makes you think of how much these people have worked on the film (even if it was unsuccessful).
Virginie also wanted to talk about Jurassic World 2, but she couldn’t for legal reasons, I appreciate his intention, but I still wanna see dinosaurs…
Daniel Peixe: Moana and some Disney stuff
Peixe is a Spanish animator who had the skill (and the luck) to enter in Disney Animation Studios. After working in the animation movie “Planet 51” Disney recruited him, where he has been working since “Tangled”, through all the recent Disney successes, such as Frozen, Zootopia or Big Hero 6. After talking a bit about he got there, he proceeded to talk about the most recent project, Moana, and his implication on it.
Disney is… well, Disney. It’s probably the most powerful animation studio in the world, and you can appreciate it more and mora as you know more about his projects. Moana, like other movies of the studio, was inspired by real-life references, in this case, polynesic mythology. Thus, some members of the studio went there to appreciate its culture.
Okay, not every Disney employee went, but all the animators also get exclusive professional talks and master classes and get some decent 8 hours only schedule in a nice work environment, which is not that common in the industry.
But the thing that was most impressive to me, was the technology used in the 3D software. Moana experimented, or rather, used 3 impressive technology advancements:
First, a combination of 3D and 2D very interactive. We’ve seen 3D and 2D combined in a lot of places, but Mawi’s tattoos interact with him as any other 3assets else on the scene, and in a clean and natural way, something that hasn’t been done at this level.
Second, Mawi’s muscles, 3D needs very well defined muscles and well-done weight to work, but Mawi is in another league. Mawi’s body has an entire and complex rig only for its muscles, it works both manually and automatically when interacts with the basics movements of its body, and gives de Demi-God a natural and flexible body full of realistic muscle movement, ideal for someone as buffed as him. Probably the 3D muscles more complex ever made (at least, as far as I know), which, in combination with the previous feature, makes this character, probably one of the more complex in 3D ever.
Lastly, the water in Moana is also a great work of new technology. Water is always difficult to animate, and harder to simulate realistically with 3D. Now imagine how hard was to make and entire ocean, and to make it a character with personality.
Daniel also shared the shots on which he worked, a couple of comedy scenes (his “specialty”), and explained the process he went through, as well as how, is working for Disney.
The conference was excellent, well-paced, fascinating and with a lot of interesting info that made clear why Disney is Disney, and that is a symbol of someone beyond great. The real demi-Gods are the crew at Disney, Daniel included.
Atomic Fiction: How to survive in the VFX business
If you’ve seen Deadpool, you may have heard how the merc with a mouth made his movie debut with a small fraction of what the other superheroes normally need. As a big fan of the film, I always wanted to know exactly why this is, and this conference shed some light on the matter.
“There were a lot of expectations for Deadpool, but while he’s part of the X-Men family, he wasn’t part of the X-Men budget.”
Laurent Taillefer, as part of the Atomic Fiction Team, talked about how they made it, and how they’ve established their small studio to make the same results as a bigger one, with a lot fewer resources.
The “trick” they used, is primarily in the rendering time, a big time and money consuming element.
For starters, they started using a new lighting product called “Katana”, this node driven lighting software allowed them to make it with a lot less render time in their hands.
The other factor was the rendering method, they developed “Conductor”, a new cloud-based system for rendering, which allowed doing it in record time.
The talk also presented the making of diverse scenes of Deadpool (down here, the open sequence city map), and also some “Ghost in the shell” (the recent Hollywood movie I mean).
Laurent was charming and funny, It was super interesting and made me think a lot about the industry future, and how new technology may change a lot of what’s been established until now.
Framestore: Guardians of the Galaxy, awesome talk
The end of the day presented the most awaited talk by the public, Arslan Elver from Framestore, who worked as animation supervisor on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (which was the entire and unique topic of the talk).
The conference started with how the characters were made. 3D characters are puppets to be used, so they need to be the best they can, so, instead of reusing the assets from the previous movie, they went and remade everything for this film, to assure the best quality with the newest technology (although, he comically admitted that he didn’t know what was better haha).
Rocket was a piece of pure art, a highly crafted fluffy doll with a realistic fur system, so detailed as a real raccoon, to emulate it correctly and animate just with the movement of the body. Also, it was fun to watch him “naked”, as the furless model was like a real furless animal (Something like this image, but with more wrinkles).
The other impressive model was baby Groot, as he was made with a procedural rigging, which twisted all his sticks and branches according to his body’s movement, so the animators could animate him without dying in the way doing all those details.
The animation was also very carefully picked, they started with making Groot walk like a child, but made him more rigid. Arslan also said that Groot is always in his own world, which makes him “funny” to animate, since its kinda eccentric.
The next thing that was discussed was the Abilisk. When I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I loved the creature from the first scene, and when Groot started dancing I thought “Poor guy or guys who made this” since the monster was blurred by being off focus (as the dancing plant was the point of attention). This was only confirmed on this talk. As you imagine, the Abilisk is the monster, and yes, it was impressively crafted.
The Abilisk was supposed to be a disgusting interdimensional being (and I love James Gunn even more because it was his special request to make him the most vomit inducing thing possible). A lot of design was put in this thing, whose skin comes for a naked mole rat, his teeth from a walrus, and his color from strawberry milkshake (among other references). Yes, it has variety.
The thing was no only had heavy making design process and a difficult visual aspect but was also a work of engineering for making its rig, and a heavier task to animate with its 8 tentacle appendixes and multiple teethed mouths.
“Do you remember those hairs on the back? No? Well, maybe it’s because it was out of focus and you couldn’t see them most of the time.”
“Unfortunately, during most of the shot, this monster is out of focus. All that work.”
I cannot reinforce enough how much it must feel for the work on that beautiful monstrosity going to “waste”. But, even so, Arslan didn’t complain too much about it.
Continuing with something less appreciated, the background was also a big work, making that cool space look it’s not easy, and the team worked even on a cloud system to make something realistic and good looking.
The same work was put in the particles rainbow that shot the Abilisk, at the same time that an unexpected inspiration of James Gunn came was revealed:
“James Gunn specifically said “I want colors coming out of his mouth when he screams! Like ‘My Little Pony’!”
Also, a thing that I liked is to know is that only in two scenes real doubles were used, and in the rest, they were all CGI, this which, in big productions like this, means fewer accidents and more work for animators. I thought the numbers would be low, but the real thing surprised me, as real people were only involved in the tiniest things.
Finally, Arslan talked about the process they went to do the baby Groot dance.
“James Gunn did the Baby Groot dance at the end of the first Guardians, and we begged him to do it again here. He accepted.”
From a Danbo like test character to a one with basic animations to the final polished asset, the whole process was shown. But the funniest thing was looking at the reference dance made by the team, Arslan, and even James Gunn, who uploaded a piece of the video that same day to his Instagram and Twitter.
In the end, I think this quote represents how difficult was this great scene to make:
“The opening sequence was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.”
And to wrap this up
b’Ars 2017 was a wonderful experience, full of great professionals, all great people, and speakers, who did a great job talking about the insides of their work, and bringing us closer to all these great movies and productions.
I hope next year I can enjoy it fully and with such high quality like this time!
Thanks for taking the time to read this!