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Method Creates VFX Magic with Houdini March 2, 2008

Posted by farhanriaz in 3D, Review, Software, VFX.
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Artist Andy Boyd crosses the Pond to Create

High-end VFX for Method Studios in Los Angeles

Working in England, where he was Head of 3D Commercials for Framestore CFC, Andy Boyd developed a passion for creating high-end visual effects. His portfolio includes two well received Rexona commercials that feature digital animals running wild in the urban jungle. One of these creatures was even featured on the cover of 3D World #89 along with an article highlighting Andy’s furring technique.

In the summer of 2007, Andy set off for Los Angeles and a new job working at Method Studios. In six short months, Andy has tackled several high profile projects that range from a Hummer commercial to a high-profile Super Bowl ad for Bridgestone. In each project, Andy uses Houdini to help him meet tight deadlines while creating effects that can be easily revised in response to client and director feedback.

Particle Splashes

The first advertisement Andy worked on at Method Studios was a car commercial. A digital Hummer was being driven through a pool of water and Andy needed to supply the splashes. Given the tight timeline, he decided to use Houdini’s particles instead of a full blown fluid simulation because the water didn’t need to settle. He used Houdini’s particle fluid surfacer to create the splash geometry which he then rendered in Mantra using Houdini 9’s physically-based rendering.

Little Minx Project

Andy’s next project was a short film called As She Stares Longingly at What She Has Lost by director Phillip Van. Set to melancholy music, the film is part of the ‘Exquisite Corpse’ project launched by Little Minx in partnership with RSA Films. Andy worked with a team of talented artists to create an entire forest, a waffle cloud, a waterman, and vines.

For this project, actors were shot against blue screen and all the environments created digitally. The trees needed to be highly detailed in order to give an ominous feeling to the scene. Realizing that he would have to manage all this detail as efficiently as possible, Andy took advantage of the Mantra: Delayed Load feature. Trees were set up as scattered points on a grid with parameters that would populate the tree with details such as branches and vines at render time.

As Mantra rendered the scene, the geometry needed for each section was loaded in. Then as Mantra moved on to another section, the geometry was removed and new pieces were loaded. This approach allowed Andy to put as much detail into the scene as he needed without any memory limitations. At one point in production, he created vines that would creep up the trees but this shifted the focus away from the characters and did not get used in the final film.

By choosing Mantra, Andy was able to add motion blur, depth of field and volumetrics without significantly impacting his rendering time. Many of his colleagues at Method Studios were used to adding depth of field later using compositing techniques and were impressed that he could combine camera effects in one render pass. All of the shadows were created using the new deep shadow technology so that raytracing would not be needed.

Going to the Super Bowl

The ads that play during the Super Bowl have become as much of a spectacle as the game itself. Super Bowl ads are scrutinized in the press and companies pay a lot of money to showcase their products on the big day. For Andy, a Bridgestone ad called Scream would be his introduction to the world of Super Bowl ads.
In this spot, Method Studios had to create a digital squirrel that almost becomes road kill as he retrieves a fallen acorn. The squirrel, a number of other forest animals and a female passenger all scream out in fear while the driver, confident in his Bridgestone tires, easily swerves around the frightened animal. Working under a tight six week schedule, Andy would need to help create a number of digital animals including the squirrel that would be cut against a live-action squirrel. To make things even more challenging the squirrel’s scream would be a close-up shot in HD that would leave nothing to the imagination.

Andy’s experience creating furry animals at Framestore CFC came into play with one key difference. In England he was rendering with RenderMan and had access to programming talent to build all the fur procedurals needed to achieve a realistic look. In Houdini, Andy needed to create his own system using the Mantra fur procedural. Luckily the grooming features of the fur could be created using Houdini’s CVEX language instead of coding in C. This was a time saver because the CVEX didn’t need to be compiled every time a new feature was added.

Andy needed to add lots of detail to the squirrel because of the HD broadcast. He imported the animated squirrel into Houdini and fixed smoothing problems using Houdini’s procedural modeling tools. He then assigned and groomed guide hairs that would be used by the fur procedural to create the final fur. These curves were then run through a Wire dynamics simulation for added realism. The procedural was then used to generate about 1.5 million hairs – all at render time. Andy also used a CVEX shader to set up clumping and painted a number of different attributes on the squirrel’s skin to control the final look of the fur.

Andy’s confidence in the fur tools he created in Houdini helped him handle such a high level of realism, in such a tight schedule. Being able to have complete control without relying on programming talent showed that even smaller shops can create film-quality work while respecting client budgets.


Going to the Super Bowl

The ads that play during the Super Bowl have become as much of a spectacle as the game itself. Super Bowl ads are scrutinized in the press and companies pay a lot of money to showcase their products on the big day. For Andy, a Bridgestone ad called Scream would be his introduction to the world of Super Bowl ads.
In this spot, Method Studios had to create a digital squirrel that almost becomes road kill as he retrieves a fallen acorn. The squirrel, a number of other forest animals and a female passenger all scream out in fear while the driver, confident in his Bridgestone tires, easily swerves around the frightened animal. Working under a tight six week schedule, Andy would need to help create a number of digital animals including the squirrel that would be cut against a live-action squirrel. To make things even more challenging the squirrel’s scream would be a close-up shot in HD that would leave nothing to the imagination.

Andy’s experience creating furry animals at Framestore CFC came into play with one key difference. In England he was rendering with RenderMan and had access to programming talent to build all the fur procedurals needed to achieve a realistic look. In Houdini, Andy needed to create his own system using the Mantra fur procedural. Luckily the grooming features of the fur could be created using Houdini’s CVEX language instead of coding in C. This was a time saver because the CVEX didn’t need to be compiled every time a new feature was added.

Andy needed to add lots of detail to the squirrel because of the HD broadcast. He imported the animated squirrel into Houdini and fixed smoothing problems using Houdini’s procedural modeling tools. He then assigned and groomed guide hairs that would be used by the fur procedural to create the final fur. These curves were then run through a Wire dynamics simulation for added realism. The procedural was then used to generate about 1.5 million hairs – all at render time. Andy also used a CVEX shader to set up clumping and painted a number of different attributes on the squirrel’s skin to control the final look of the fur.

Andy’s confidence in the fur tools he created in Houdini helped him handle such a high level of realism, in such a tight schedule. Being able to have complete control without relying on programming talent showed that even smaller shops can create film-quality work while respecting client budgets.

Flying Free

The tools and techniques used to create fur for the Super Bowl squirrel were quickly put to use on Andy’s next project. In a commercial developed for Washington Mutual Bank, digital hair would be needed for a bald man who imagines driving a convertible along the coast as his hair grows back in front of our eyes. The tools used for this project were easily re-purposed from the fur project except the guide hairs would require more styling control and the wire dynamics would be much more dramatic.

“The flexibility of Houdini’s approach makes it easy to start from an existing solution instead of building every project from the ground up,” says Andy. “When working with tight deadlines, this gives us more time to focus on the creative needs of the project. For example, Jack Zaloga, Junior TD, was able to pick up the fur system from “scream” and right off the bat was render hair blowing around without any prior fur/hair experience.”

These projects demonstrate how far commercial VFX have come. These projects can be a real test-bed for tools and techniques that must achieve feature film quality in the new HD world. Tight deadlines rule the day and artist ingenuity is a critical part of the process. One can only imagine what Andy and Method Studios will pull off over the next six months.

[Related Links]
http://www.sidefx.com/

~ by farhanriaz

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Comments»

1. F. LaRouche - January 17, 2009

I’m looking into various fur/hair solutions and I have to say, that Andy’s works with Houdini shows that there’s more than Maya Fur/Hair and Joe Alter’s Shave and a Haircut out there. That’s impressive as hell. I’d love to know what kind of programming toolkit Andy came to this project with that enabled him to come up with his own brilliant solutions like this.


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