An­i­ma­tion Ar­chi­tects

Animation Magazine - - Features -

In­dus­trial Light & Magic has cre­ated pure movie wiz­ardry for four decades — and we look back at some of the

best an­i­mated mo­ments from its vast archive of achieve­ments.

The cre­ation of the all-dig­i­tal wa­ter pseu­do­pod re­quired ILM to ex­ten­sively up its R&D ef­forts, ad­vanc­ing the world of 3D com­puter graph­ics while demon­strat­ing to Hol­ly­wood the po­ten­tial of CG ef­fects. Ev­ery nat­u­ral el­e­ment seems to need its own movie to de­velop con­vinc­ing dig­i­tal ver­sions, and that’s ex­actly what this film did for fire ef­fects. The ground­break­ing all-dig­i­tal ef­fects on the T-1000 (and the buck­ets of cash the movie made at the box of­fice) made this film and its tech the envy of ev­ery film­maker on the planet. An­other dig­i­tal mile­stone, this time for cre­at­ing the first all-dig­i­tal an­i­mated crea­tures for a fea­ture. A cre­ative ground­breaker for its imag­i­na­tive use of ef­fects to in­ter­act con­vinc­ingly with his­tor­i­cal events and peo­ple. Build­ing on Roger Rab­bit, ILM brought 2D an­i­ma­tion in the style of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones to con­vinc­ing and hi­lar­i­ous dig­i­tal life. As Back­draft to storms. While Casper fea­tured the first CG-an­i­mated lead char­ac­ter in a fea­ture, Dragon­heart made a much big­ger im­pact. By track­ing CG el­e­ments into crisp live-ac­tion footage, ILM’s work con­trib­uted greatly to the scope and emo­tional im­pact of the open­ing D-Day in­va­sion se­quence. This is one was all about the hair, as ILM matched an ac­tor in a go­rilla suit with dig­i­tal fur on an an­i­mated go­rilla to cre­ate a con­vinc­ing char­ac­ter. Mo­tion-cap­ture makes a grand de­but for the dig­i­tal mum­mies, while the sand­storm work also set new bound­aries. A huge VFX achieve­ment that es­tab­lished new mile­stones of qual­ity and quan­tity with more than 2,000 ef­fects shots fea­tur­ing all-dig­i­tal char­ac­ters, high-speed races through vir­tual en­vi­ron­ments and mo­tion-cap­tured armies of com­bat­ants. ILM brought its Episode I ex­pe­ri­ence to a his­tor­i­cal event, cre­at­ing re­al­is­tic and ac­cu­rate hard-body sim­u­la­tions to cap­ture the in­fa­mous event. ILM used pre­vis for the first time and cre­ated the Mo­tion and Struc­ture Re­cov­ery Sys­tem track­ing so­lu­tion to match­move the ef­fects that cre­ated half-hu­man, half-robot char­ac­ters. The first all-dig­i­tal fea­ture, ILM con­vinc­ingly an­i­mated the movie’s huge bat­tles as well as the all-dig­i­tal version of Jedi Mas­ter Yoda, who pre­vi­ously was a pup­pet. Match­move soft­ware en­abled more free-flow­ing cam­era work and dig­i­tal cos­tum­ing took a huge leap, but the se­quence that had ev­ery­one agape was the stun­ning im­age of pi­rates turn­ing into skele­tons when hit by moon­light — a seam­less and im­pres­sive vis­ual ef­fects tran­si­tion.

Bring­ing Marvel’s green go­liath to life was a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge, get­ting the mass and scale cor­rect and in­cor­po­rat­ing mo­tion cap­ture into the movie’s CG star. Kick­ing off with an ef­fects-laden bat­tle shot that’s the long­est in any Star Wars movie, ILM de­liv­ered a com­pelling an­i­mated vil­lain in Gen­eral Griev­ous on top of an in­creas­ingly com­plex se­ries of vir­tual en­vi­ron­ments. Steven Spiel­berg’s in­va­sion tale fea­tured some very long ef­fects shots and im­pres­sive first uses of vir­tual cin­e­matog­ra­phy, as well as seam­lessly com­bin­ing dig­i­tal in­vaders with minia­tures for some great de­struc­tive mo­ments. Ladies and gen­tle­men: Davy Jones. Bill Nighy’s mo-capped char­ac­ter was the first to ben­e­fit from Imo­cap tech that al­lowed un­fet­tered on-set in­ter­ac­tion be­tween ac­tors. It also im­ple­mented the new Zeno pipe­line and earned an Os­car. The un­prece­dented, head-ex­plod­ing amount of de­tail ILM brought to the ro­bots and their me­ta­mor­phoses drove fans wild. Build­ing Tony Stark’s suit of ar­mor was a highly de­tail-ori­ented task for ILM that in­volved mo-cap and some spe­cial new tools to give it depth. The stu­dio also cre­ated and an­i­mated the in­no­va­tive HUD dis­play Stark sees in­side the ar­mor. The sub­tle, mul­ti­pronged evo­lu­tion of VFX was ev­i­dent in the work ILM did on this re­boot, from cre­at­ing tools that repli­cated di­rec­tor J.J. Abrams’ style of pho­tog­ra­phy to us­ing ad­vanced sim­u­la­tion soft­ware in the de­struc­tion of Vul­can. ILM came aboard this movie to help Weta meet the dead­line for the movie and did about 250 shots, mainly air bat­tles and CG ex­plo­sions that seam­lessly matched the ex­ten­sive work al­ready com­pleted.


ILM fi­nally makes its first full an­i­mated fea­ture and it looks like noth­ing else — which is say­ing some­thing given how Pixar orig­i­nated as part of ILM. Of course, it won the Os­car for Best An­i­mated Fea­ture. Af­ter sev­eral at­tempts, the Hulk fi­nally turned out right in this mas­sive su­per­hero epic. ILM cre­ated this version of the char­ac­ter from mo-cap of ac­tor Mark Ruf­falo and key-frame an­i­ma­tion. It also cre­ated the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli­car­rier, then the largest model the com­pany had cre­ated, and a dig­i­tal New York City for the Chi­tauri and Avengers to fight in. Guillermo del Toro’s mecha vs. Kaiju epic re­quired ev­ery trick in the book to cre­ate con­vinc­ing gi­ant ro­bots, crea­tures, wa­ter bat­tles and city de­struc­tions — all de­li­ciously ren­dered. Re­turn­ing to Marvel’s ul­ti­mate su­perteam meant bring­ing to life Ul­tron, which ILM did thanks to ex­ten­sive mo­cap and dis­cus­sion with ac­tor James Spader. It also topped it­self in cre­at­ing an en­tire for­eign city to lift into the sky and then drop. If you thought the di­nos in Juras­sic Park were im­pres­sive, then hold on for the up­dated version com­plete with ac­cu­rate and com­plete skele­tal and mus­cu­lar struc­tures for each pre­his­toric preda­tor. The cir­cle is now com­plete: ILM re­cap­tures the spirit of its first, most iconic suc­cess with fly­ing colors. And it does it all with a mod­ern flair that uses dig­i­tal tools to cre­ate a time­less look. [

It’s really a stan­dard work­flow. We cap­ture the mo­tion, do a lit­tle pro­cess­ing, sync up the takes and send them to the VFX houses that use an­i­ma­tion lay­ers to en­hance the act­ing. They also keyframe the lip sync and a lot of other stuff. For our post-vis, we use a slightly older method, where we use a multi-skele­ton rig that blends the mo­cap and keyframe. The only thing we’re do­ing dif­fer­ent is we’re be­ing very mo­bile about the cap­ture set-up, do­ing it on lo­ca­tion when pos­si­ble, and the ac­tor in the suit is also the di­rec­tor. That makes a huge dif­fer­ence and it’s an un­usual sit­u­a­tion. Seth (MacFar­lane) is very spe­cific about what he wants and is us­ing the tech to en­sure the per­for­mance comes out how he en­vi­sioned. Some of the lo­ca­tions were ex­tremely chal­leng­ing, and rough on the gear. We had some bad weather in Bos­ton and cramped con­di­tions, shoot­ing in tight spa­ces - tiny bars, the diner, Tom Brady’s bed­room. We had the ded­i­cated BOXX that runs the mo­cap sys­tem in a pro­tec­tive case, but it can only shield so much from heat, dust, damp­ness, and bumps. And ev­ery day, it was on-and-off the truck. For those tight shoot­ing spa­ces, we would have to take it out of the pro­tec­tive cart and set it up free-stand­ing on the floor of a lo­ca­tion. Well our VFX su­per­vi­sor, Blair Clark, was adamant that we not do any­thing “too dif­fer­ent” that would re­sult in a change in the char­ac­ter, so we took in­cre­men­tal steps. We im­proved the look of the real-time hard­ware ren­dered Ted (which is what the crew sees on-set) and the post-vis Ted model, and we re­designed the way we use the suit so that ap­pli­ca­tion time was cut way down. Ev­ery sec­ond counts on a live ac­tion set, af­ter all. In the mid­dle of our Ted 2 pro­duc­tion sched­ule, how­ever, Xsens, the makers of our mo­cap suit, re­leased a rad­i­cally bet­ter version of their sys­tem which uses much smaller sen­sors with great im­prove­ments in their soft­ware. So we used that suit for a big mu­si­cal num­ber fea­tur­ing Ted and a huge cast of dancers. For that one se­quence, four dif­fer­ent dancers wore the new Xsens suit, each of them play­ing Ted in dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the se­quence. That was really chal­leng­ing, fun, and a real test of Xsens’ new sys­tem. It worked really well. The BOXX unit that we pur­chased in 2011 on Ted has been in and out of my pro­fes­sional life for four years now. Be­cause Seth MacFar­lane’s team pro­duced the new Cos­mos, I ended up work­ing on the same ma­chine do­ing pre-vis for the se­ries. And when Seth was do­ing a pro­mo­tional com­mer­cial that was a tie-in be­tween his film A Mil­lion Ways to Die in the West and Ted, we did a couple of mo­cap ses­sions for that. Dur­ing pro­duc­tion on that com­mer­cial, the sys­tem was be­ing un­loaded from a truck (I wasn’t there) and was dropped off the back and onto the side­walk. The mon­i­tors shat­tered, but the BOXX made it through just fine with one lit­tle scar from the event. We’ve never had it ser­viced and it has been work­ing in all sorts of ter­ri­ble lo­ca­tions since 2011. I’m just amazed by its dura­bil­ity!

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