Tag Archives: documentary

Mars VFX work for Nat Geo at Framestore

There’s a solid reason why I’ve not updated my blog lately! This is because I’ve been fortunate enough to be working continually since April at Framestore on Nat Geo’s new super series Mars! Woo!
I spent a fair amount of time as a Terragen guru. At least that’s what I was labelled when I joined. After a long stint of planetary artwork and huge cliff faces, both of which Terragen’s great for, I moved on to doing layout and lighting work in Maya. It was the first time I’d used a Linux install of Maya, let alone as part of a Shotgun pipeline so there were some wonderful learning curves at times, but it all paid off.
Framestore is the first of the large studios I’ve worked at and one that I used to dream about after seeing Walking With Dinosaurs all those years ago. It was a real privilege to work alongside amazingly talented people every day. Mars was a great project to work on and what I’ve seen of it so far is top notch. Catch it on Nat Geo or Sky Atlantic in the UK.
As the show is currently airing I am unable to show anything here… yet. Updates to come!

Britain’s Most Extreme Weather and How The Universe Works

This past few months I’ve been beavering away at Lola Post on 2 series of shows, creating VFX of a weathery, Earth-scale nature for Britains’ Most Extreme Weather, and shots of all scales for series 3 of How The Universe Works.

Ordinarily I’d put together blog posts before a show goes to air, but in the case of Britain’s Most Extreme Weather it slipped from my mind as soon as I rocked back onto How The Universe Works. Much of my weathery input was particle systems and strands, either using existing setups from previous shows or creating new ones as appropriate. A particular favourite of mine was a system showing the movement of air around cyclones and anticyclones; A strand system that rotates particles around many points, allowing them to move fluidly from one direction to another as if air, all wrapped around a lovely spherical Earth.

How The Universe Works is a series I’ve been on for many many months now. I first started on it in November I think. The first episode, all about our Sun, is to be shown on 10th July on Science in the USA.
For that show I took Lola’s existing Sun cutaway setup, introducing a more boiling lava-like feel through judicious use of animated fractals and grads.
Overall I’ve worked on 8 episodes with a handful of shots in each show. After all that dedication to spheres in space I am now supervising the VFX on one of the last shows for this series!

More geeky details and videos for both shows to come!

Richard Hammond Builds a Planet – UK Airing

The first episode of the British cut of How to Build a Planet is to be shown this weekend at 9pm GMT on BBC One.

Information on what I did on the show is in my previous blog post.

The British cut is different to the US one. The cut shown on Sci had to be edited to allow for the ad breaks. So, if you like your Hammond unsullied, this is the showing for you! Additionally, this being the UK, Hammond appears in the title of his own show. The international cuts often drop his name so as to make them more marketable in countries where he is little known.

The second episode is likely to be broadcast a week or so later but is yet to be confirmed I think.

More info at the at the BBC

Brand New Showreel!

The work in the following reel is created using Softimage, Terragen, Nuke and PFTrack.
Text in the bottom right shows what I created for each shot.
See PDF for further details.
Download PDF shot breakdown

Edited on 15th Oct – Now updated with work from The Bible Series and How To Build a Planet

CCTV-9 Documentary Channel Ident

Update! The CCTV-9 channel branding, including this ident, recently won a Gold for Best Channel Branding at the PromaxBDA awards in Singapore!

I was called back in to work at Lola in London for this Chinese TV channel ident for CCTV-9 Documentary. Only 2 of us worked on this shot: myself and Tim Zaccheo, head of 3D at Lola.

The ident sees a waterfall coming down the side of a cubic mountain. The camera pulls back down a valley with scenery akin to the Guilin area of China, then out into space to reveal that the Earth is indeed cubic. CCTV have a cubic theme, so this makes sense in context. Thanks to the real-world scale of Terragen and the existing workflow at Lola, Tim was able to come up with a camera move that once imported into Terragen matched perfectly with the Softimage scene. The Earth’s textures and even the clouds lined up perfectly in both sections allowing a seamless blend.

My part in this was embellishing the initially blocked out Terragen scene with the necessary details to make it look like the Guilin mountains. A challenge there was that Terragen is great for pointy Alpine style mountains dusted with snow. That is easy out of the box. Guilin mountains are almost bell jar in shape, carpeted in trees with rocky cliffs here and there. The valleys between have been eroded away by rivers, leaving behind relatively flat farming land.

The solution to this was a variety of painted map shaders. Although this allows flexibility and great detail when it comes to controlling displacements, they’re best replaced with actual textures if possible, else the rendering gets very intense. In this case it wasn’t really an option. The painted maps were used to define areas of low and high ground, plus to define where the river goes and to control where the farmland appeared.

As there is quite so much foliage in the area there needed to be a solution that didn’t rely entirely on populations of tree objects. In come the procedural trees. This is essentially a series of overlaid displacement textures that build up to create the cauliflower head look to the trees. Similarly, the farming land was achieved using a tiled texture of fields and a few trees distrbuted along hedgerows. It’s very easy in a procedural program like Terragen to forget that a bitmap texturing approach is still a valid method and often faster.

Something that took a while to figure out was the cubic mountain at the start. The cube was initially displaced using a square displacement map with a falloff around the edges, plus an area eroded away at the front. The stoney displacements were then layered on to this, taking the new normals into account, rather than throwing everything up vertically as is the default. It was then eroded in various directions using extra displacement maps.

The waterfall was Tim’s baby, done entirely in Softimage’s ICE using fairly straight forward techniques, but along with some coloured mattes it all came together nicely in the comp.

There’s no sound on the video above by the way. I’ll replace it with one with audio once I’ve located it.

China and Mankind

After a long period of no blogging it is high time to update you all on what I’ve been up to in recent months, and indeed not-so recent months. Aside from the occasional time freelancing for others, I’ve mainly been encamped in Lola Post, London.

A little while back, myself and Tim Zaccheo, head of 3d for Lola, put together a TV ident for Chinese documentary channel, CCTV-9. I have yet to put this up here as I’m not sure it’s available anywhere else yet. Perhaps somebody in China could tell me if it’s broadcasting. If you head over to www.lola-post.com and look through the recent work there you will find a few screen grabs though! From my point of view, I did a fair amount of Terragen 2 work, really pushing the limits of what could be done with the time we had, recreating the somewhat iconic look of the Guilin Mountains and somehow fashioning a cubic mountain to go with CCTV’s cube theme they have. Tim was responsible for a rather smashing waterfall, comping, and the final resolve from the spherical Terragen world into a cubic Softimage one. It will make sense once I get hold of the video and post that up. Coming soon I promise!

After a brief hiatus of modelling trucks and various dockyard equipment I came back to Lola and started on the show that many others in London are working on, Mankind; The Story of All of Us, to be shown on History. It really is very VFX heavy and something to look forward to. Without revealing too much I’ve been animating arrows, maps, built an aqueduct faster than Caesar ever did, and worked on 2 bullet-time shots! Phew! It really is a cracker.

So expect a CCTV post soon and a Mankind related one closer to its broadcast.

Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey

This Sunday at 2100 on BBC2 sees the start of Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey, a 3-parter presented by Kate Humble & Dr Helen Czerski about the Earth, its orbit, its tilt and how these things affect us all.
It’s something of a VFX-laden job with the task of creating graphicky goodness falling into the capable hands of Lola, London. This included myself as a freelancer.

I worked on a handful of complicated shots for this including one where the hot air above india rises, sucking in cold air off the sea. That was a very dense particle system with a few caching issues, but we got there eventually.

The hardest thing with this show is there are a lot of shots which explain slightly different things but which share a similar 3D scene. Creating an appropriate camera move around what are essentially spheres in space should be a simple deal. One shot I was tasked with shows the Sun rising over the Earth. We pull back to see the Earth as a whole passing through space then follow it round its orbit. That was one camera move. Sometimes it’s the apparently simplest things that are actually the hardest. Moving the camera in such a way as to get the Sun to rise at a constant speed, then following the Earth at a reasonably constant distance, but continually orbit the Sun as well, took a lot of fiddling. We had a camera rig which worked really well for close to the Earth shots but not for wide shots. In the end it was hand-animated without a rig.

The second tricky thing with space is scale. We regularly had to move the Sun much nearer the Earth than it really is so it can be seen clearly as opposed to being a tiny insignificant dot with less drama than a wet tea towel.

See the link below for more details.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xztbr

Richard Hammond’s Journey To The Centre of The Planet

Not so long ago I finished working at Lola on this project, soon to be broadcast on prime time BBC here in the UK. Can’t say a lot about it yet other than it’s CGI heavy and interesting stuff. The name is possibly in progress. Not sure, it’s changed a few times! Here’s a press release and no I didn’t get to meet him.

http://bbc.in/lwdbRu

Do We Really Need The Moon?

If like me you did A Level physics, you’ll know the answer to this, but this documentary is worth watching.

For a good few months now I’ve been freelancing for Lola, working on a few things. Although broadcast first, this is the second show I’ve worked on there, with a few underwater shots like this pictured, a fly through the solar system to Jupiter, and a sweep across Saturn.

The water shots are mostly a 2d job run by a Nuke compositer, but in order to create a decent depth to things I tracked each shot, placing 3d geometry into a Softimage scene, then outputting depth passes. Fast Volume Effects output shader was used for the rays of light cast through the surface.

The solar system was a fairly easy task. There’s plenty of data freely accessible from NASA regarding where each planet is in relation to the others, their relative sizes and suchlike, but Jupiter was still cheated nearer for timing purposes. It’s also a little larger than reality for similar effect.

For a few more days, it will be up on iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer – Do We Really Need The Moon?

BBC 4 Electric Dreams

electric_dreams

Last night, a new 3 parter started on BBC 4 for which I did the title sequence. It’s a tunnel of disembodied electric items roughly in order of when they came about or at least became popular.  I put this together in a 3d composite in After Effects, made out of many many photographs, timed roughly to the music (Human League. Who could predict that?)  Three versions of the sequence exist. Each is the same bar the ending which is themed for the 70s, 80s, and 90s respectively.

The show itself was interesting stuff. A technology obsessed family has their house converted to a 70s theme with no central heating, one bathroom and nary a modern gadget in sight. As the week goes on they are allowed such luxuries as a freezer in the kitchen, a colour TV (which promptly breaks), and a teasmade (yes that’s spelt correctly). Next week is the 80s, then the 90s the following week.

In my opinion this show works best as a study in family social behaviour rather than a trip down memory lane. The target audience of BBC 4 is old enough to remember all of it. Living in the 90s wasn’t that different technologically speaking to now so I’m interested to see how the family sticks together as they get closer and closer to the current decade.

Check it out on iplayer if you fancy and be sure to have a nose around the supporting website, made by Illumina, the same company I put together the title sequence for.

[no longer on iplayer]

Official website

http://www.bbc.co.uk/electricdreams/