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Visual Effects Beowulf with Houdini January 1, 2008

Posted by farhanriaz in Movies, Software, VFX.
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The epic poem Beowulf tells the tale of a great Viking warrior battling dragons and monsters for fame and glory. Based on a script by authors Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, Academy Award -winning director Robert Zemeckis set out to bring this classic to the big screen as a digitally enhanced live-action movie that changes all the rules.

Presented as an immersive 3D cinematic experience, Beowulf is an amazing leap forward for hyper-realistic CG that is perfectly suited to its mythical setting. To bring this digital world to life, Sony Pictures Imageworks was asked to further enhance the audience’s experience with a wide variety of visual effects. From fire to charring wood, Imageworks knew that they could rely on their Houdini artists to achieve amazing results.

“The inherent nature of Houdini’s procedural workflow allowed us to build dynamic networks that could automate a huge portion of the work throughout the project,” says Vincent Serritella, FX Animation Lead. “This made it possible to manage extremely complicated imagery and large data sets while working under very tight deadlines.”

Streamlining the Production Process

Houdini’s Digital Asset technology combined with Houdini’s VEX scripting language was a great benefit as it allowed Imageworks to develop a streamlined production process at an early stage. Knowing that there were going to be literally hundreds of shots with similar effects, it made sense to build a library of Houdini Digital Assets to manage the repeating workflows.

One effect that would be repeated often in Beowulf was the complex weaving of small chain mail links worn by many of the characters in the film. Houdini made it possible to generate a chain mail system that could be used by the cloth department. Built using Digital Assets and Houdini’s scripting language the chain mail workflow proved to be extremely efficient and optimized.

Digital Assets were used in many different parts of the production process. From something as simple as initializing a scene by sourcing cameras, characters and scene data to something as complex as organizing entire fire, chain mail and water pipelines, senior technical directors utilized Digital Assets to efficiently build production-ready tools for junior TDs and artists.

Sketching in 3D

“As a fine artist by foundation, I like to sketch out an idea then refine the details as things develop,“ says Serritella. “This is something very familiar and intuitive for me, and with Houdini, I am able to work through shots very quickly, discuss the iterations with a supervisor, then either swap out or build on the network to make key creative decisions.”

Of course these decisions needed to take into account the greater context of the movie. Effects artists would therefore bring in virtual environments and characters from other parts of the pipeline to use in Houdini. Even if this work was done in other applications, the files fit perfectly into the Houdini workflow.

To heighten the reality of a shot, the animation from a character could be used to drive secondary and elemental effects such as snow, rotor wash, fog, steam, wind, smoke, embers and water to name a few. Being able to integrate Houdini with other parts of the pipeline was critical to making these shots work effectively.

In the end, the Houdini team at Sony Pictures Imageworks helped make Beowulf a visual feast worthy of the man whose name has been passed down in history as one of the world’s first true heroes.

All Images © 2007 by Paramount Pictures and Shangri-La Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

~by farhanriaz

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