Emo­tional Re­al­ity

Di­rected by Jeff Gip­son, Dis­ney’s first orig­i­nal VR short Cy­cles fol­lows the lives of a fam­ily in a mid-cen­tury home.

Animation Magazine - - Front Page - By Tom Mclean

Di­rected by Jeff Gip­son, Dis­ney’s first orig­i­nal VR short Cy­cles fol­lows the lives of a fam­ily in a mid­cen­tury home.

The first thing that comes to mind when dis­cussing the still-nas­cent medium of vir­tual re­al­ity is the tech­nol­ogy, from the soft­ware to the head­set re­quired to ex­pe­ri­ence it. But it’s hu­man emo­tion that’s at the heart of Cy­cles, Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios’ first VR short film, which de­buted in Au­gust at SIGGRAPH.

Di­rected by Jeff Gip­son, a light­ing de­signer for the stu­dio whose fea­ture cred­its in­clude Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana and the up­com­ing Ralph Breaks the In­ter­net, Cy­cles is a three-minute ex­pe­ri­ence in which the viewer stands at the cen­ter of a graf­fiti-cov­ered, aban­doned, mul­ti­level mid-cen­tury home. A glance at the front door of the home turns the clock back some 50 years to see young cou­ple Bert and Rae move in and make the house into a home. Us­ing color, light­ing and time-lapse tech­niques, the viewer fol­lows the lives of the cou­ple in the house as they raise their daugh­ter, Rachel, grow old to­gether, and even­tu­ally leave be­hind a house im­printed with their lives.

Gip­son says the idea came from his own ex­pe­ri­ences. A for­mer ar­chi­tect, Gip­son used to de­sign skate parks and spends his off-time BMX freestyle rid­ing in empty swim­ming pools. Most of those pools are on prop­er­ties through­out South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in­clud­ing houses that have not been lived in for years, but still re­flect the peo­ple who once lived in them through worn car­pet pat­terns, in- den­ta­tions from where the fur­ni­ture was and the color of the walls.

“In ar­chi­tec­ture school, you are taught that ev­ery home and ev­ery build­ing can tell a story over time,” he says. “I just love that idea that space changes over time.”

In­spired by Fam­ily Pho­tos

The other part of the story came from spend­ing a lot of time while grow­ing up at the home of his grand­par­ents, who also are named Bert and Rae. (Gip­son’s mother, Jaquie Gip­son, is a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian and pro­vided the score to the movie.) “I loved look­ing at old pho­tos of [my grandma] and my grandpa when they were young and in love,” he says.

The tech­ni­cal chal­lenges of putting to­gether the short were sig­nif­i­cant. “We didn’t have an es­tab­lished pipe­line to make a VR short,” says Gip­son. They also wanted to main­tain the an­i­ma­tion and vis­ual qual­i­ties that Dis­ney brings to its fea­ture film an­i­ma­tion. As­sets were pro­duced us­ing the tra­di­tional Dis­ney pipe­line and then con­verted to Alem­bic for­mat files to be trans­ferred into the VR space, which ran us­ing the Unity game en­gine.

Gip­son says they started out with 2D sto­ry­boards and an En­vi­ron­ment Scout Tool de-

‘ Be­cause the story is based on mem­o­ries, we wanted to use it as a sto­ry­telling tool, but also as a way to guide you where you know the story’s hap­pen­ing and how you can fol­low it.’

veloped by soft­ware lead Jose Gomez, which al­lowed them to cre­ate the house space in VR and place the flat boards within it. Quill was then used to cre­ate VR paint­ings to add vol­ume, prox­im­ity and scale to the boards.

Some mo­tion cap­ture was used in cre­at­ing the pre­vis, but all the an­i­ma­tion in the fi­nal short is done by hand, Gip­son says.

With real-time en­gines of­ten lim­ited in their abil­ity to han­dle things like hair or cloth sim­u­la­tion, those ef­fects were “baked in” to the char­ac­ters and con­verted to an Alem­bic file that could be placed into the VR space. “Then we wrote a cus­tom shader for the char­ac­ters that gives them a kind of a graphic look, but also keeps them in that world,” says Gip­son.

To an­i­mate in the space, Gomez and his soft- ware team came up with a VR pos­ing tool that al­lowed an­i­ma­tors to put on the head­set, en­ter the VR space and pose and rough out the an­i­ma­tion al­most like in stop-mo­tion, says Gip­son. That rough pass would then go back into Dis­ney’s tra­di­tions pipe­line for fi­nal an­i­ma­tion.

Guid­ing the viewer’s eye in VR is a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion, one solved on Cy­cles by dark­en­ing and de­sat­u­rat­ing the im­age when look­ing away from the ac­tion. That, along with the time lapses, guide the viewer through the phys­i­cal space as well as through the time­line of the fam­ily story.

Ex­e­cuted by Gomez, Gip­son says the idea came out of con­ver­sa­tions about how peo­ple re­mem­ber the color and light in front of them in a mem­ory, but noth­ing about the sur- round­ing space. “Be­cause the story is based on mem­o­ries, we wanted to use it as a sto­ry­telling tool, but also as a way to guide you where you know the story’s hap­pen­ing and how you can fol­low it,” ex­plains Gip­son.

Com­plet­ing the project in the al­lot­ted time frame re­quired the team to work to­gether closely — much like a fam­ily of its own, says pro­duc­tion lead Lau­ren Brown. “We think that the group had a sense of chem­istry in it, and it was some­thing that we fig­ured out along the way,” she says. ◆

Cy­cles will screen at the Con­ver­gence pro­gram of the New York Film Fes­ti­val, run­ning Sept. 28-Oct. 14. A “flat” ver­sion of the film is be­ing pre­pared for re­lease, as is a 360-de­gree video ver­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.