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!
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
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.
On the Recent Work page, and indeed right here, is a video of a few of the shots I worked on for Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary journey.
The first and last shots featured are both from the same ‘journey’ setup that was used for many other shots too. The setup featured many different elements on their own passes, each passed into its own part of a Nuke composition. As the project progressed, both the 3d scene and the Nuke script needed subtle reworking.
The second shot is a pair of emFluid particle systems, whereas the third is a simple enough ICE simulation in Softimage. The particles in those two shots were rendered with beta versions of Exorcortex’s Fury rendering system which loads the particles onto the graphics card, rendering them in OpenGL. Without Fury the second shot would have been particularly time-consuming to render. It contains millions of particles and took many many hours to cache out.
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.
That’s the shop, not the band, pop-pickers.
Recently I was called upon by Pretzel Films to aid them in the creation of an animation for the ladies clothing shop Oasis. We see a girl walking along changing clothes to suit her environment, the time of day and such, focussed on the idea that there is a pair of jeans for every occasion.
My input was the background images, drawn mostly by hand, then animated into the background based on a rough edit provided for me. The girl was not filmed against a green or blue screen, allowing the director, Jake Dypka a greater freedom when it came to lighting, however this did mean Jake ended up doing a lot of rotoscoping. Fortunately he was using the new rapid rotoscoping tools in After Effects CS5, which I’ve yet to look into. It was an enjoyable piece to work on, being something that provided enough creative leeway to not be restrictive.
Update: The film was viewable on Oasis-stores.com but is no longer part of their marketing. However, it is currently sitting on youtube apparently. http://bit.ly/a2ID0h
Following on from the previous post, this week’s episodes of Waking The Dead on BBC1 focussed on the story of Gemma, a girl raped twice then thrown off a bridge, and somehow surviving with a few broken bones and a shattered pelvis.
I worked on one shot for this, the falling stunt Gemma. A digital stunt double works out cheaper, and safer than a real one.
Being how she is seen at a distance I was able to get away with modifying a pre-existing female model straight out of Poser. I reduced the detail level to something managable, altered the overall shape to match the adjacent shots and set about animating using a slightly modified default rig in Softimage. Once that was cleared as being fine, the hair and clothes were added, the whole lot rendered out and passed on to Sascha for compositing.
Series 8 of Waking The Dead started last night on BBC 1, here in the UK.
Around the 17 minute mark, 2 people go inside a building and get many cg flies thrown in their direction, created by my fair hand, animated one at a time in XSI, composited in After Effects by Sascha Fromeyer of The Green Apple variety.
More to come on this show… Hopefully show reel rights, who knows?
Film 4’s Frightfest was on again this year at the Empire in London’s Leicester Square.
I was one of a few freelancers lucky enough to work on Tom Six’s ‘Human Centipede’, a thoroughly odd concept for a film. I briefly mentioned this in a previous post, incorrectly referring to it as the Human Caterpillar. I guess a caterpillar does seem slightly cuter than a centipede! The rough premise for this is that a surgeon, previously separating siamese twins for a living, is now collecting people to build a centipede where each person’s mouth is stitched to the anus of the person in front. Yup. You read that correctly.
My part in this was to fix a few things in After Effects that couldn’t be sorted on set. The lady above is having her teeth removed in order to facilitate the passage of waste from the person in front. In that instance is was up to me to remove teeth from the 3 shots involved. The rest was mostly tracking stuff, and a few blood spatters, but there were a couple of time consuming shots involving animating a load of rain drops on a car window. The shots were filmed out of sequence on a night when it genuinely was raining, but some were missing the obvious rain drops one expects from having just driven through rain. The best bit about this was Tom Six saying something like “Rain from a rain machine always looks shit. Nothing like rain,” a statement I highly agree with. Lovely guy. The kind of person you wouldn’t expect to come up with a film about stitching people together in a chain.