Annecy 2012: Wednesday

Today is the opening of the MIFA ( International Animation Film Market ) where 2,400 industry professionals from TV, cinema or new platforms from all over the world come together. The trade show is getting bigger and bigger every year, it’s impressive!

The Creative Focus also organises recruitment sessions, meetings and project presentations. The goal of these presentations is to support animation projects by giving them visibility and promotion. Thus, they will hopefully find the partners and producers they need to get off the ground. There are four different categories : short films, feature films, TV series and cross-media. A sponsor introduces each project, then the author explains his vision. I went to the Short Film selection:

  • Drole d’oiseau (Phuong Mai NGUYEN, France)
  • Tututú (Rosa Gertrudis PERIS MEDINA, Spain)
  • Parcham dar Sahel (Sarah SAIDAN, Iran)
  • Aube musicale ( Mauro CARRARO, Switzerland)
  • Wayang, les Ombres de Java ( Guillaume DELAUNAY and Sébastien D’ABRIGEON, France)

Apart from the trade show, the MIFA also arranges presentations. I went to the Side Effects Houdini 12 demo. The capabilities for this software are pretty impressive and I can understand why more and more facilities seem to turn to it for FX. I already started dabbling with it last year, but I am determined to learn more now. They also have a lot of free learning material on their website, which is really cool.



Annecy 2012: Tuesday

Yay it’s time to head to Annecy again, time to watch some amazing animation, listen to interesting conferences, learn more about the state of the art, meet cool people and overall enjoy yourself. The Annecy International Animation Festival is one of the biggest events dedicated to this medium with over 7000 participants. The 2012 edition started on Monday the 4th of June but Tuesday was my first day. Unfortunately I didn’t buy my accrediation in advance, so I couldn’t reserve any seats. One tip: get your accreditation early and be online the minute the reservations open. That’s the only way to get tickets to the most sought after sessions (anything Pixar or Disney, advanced screenings and making ofs).

I started off with a conference about hybridisation issues. Solidanim talked about their experience using motion capture in production and the development of their new product: Solidtrack. This system enables the previsualization of VFX by combining real time camera tracking and augmented reality. Platige Image presented “Another day of Life”, the first feature film by director Damian Nenow. It mixes the same stylised 3D animation he used in “Paths of Hate” and documentary footage. Finally Autour de minuit showed diferent examples of shorts and series that they produced, all of which mix different styles and mediums. I particularly liked the series  Babioles that will soon air on Canal Plus.

The line to get a ticket for the Making of Brave was incredibly long: impossible to get a seat. So I started queuing extra early for the next session: the Disney presentation about Wreck it Ralph, their next feature animation and Paperman a new short directed by John Kahrs. The over 2 hour wait paid off. Wreck it Ralph looks really fun. We got to see the first 10 minutes and the trailer (one day before it’s official release). Lorelay Bove, the Visual Development Supervisor showed us quite a few really nice designs. As for Paperman… well it’s just AMAZING! When I saw Tangled, I was really happy: it felt like Disney was finally back. With this short, they totally blew my mind. The story is pretty basic but the way it is told is superb: the pacing is right, the music is right, and the graphics… *sigh*… sooo beautiful… You don’t really know what you are looking at: 3D? 2D? both?… and you don’t care. It just looks stunning!

My last screening for the day was the 2nd selection of short movies in competition. As usual a very diverse selection, some I liked , some I didn’t, some I found interesting, some I didn’t understand at all.. My faves: Chinti by Natalia Mirzoyan for Russia and Hi-no-youjin by Katsuhiro Otomo for Japan (and if you are wondering, yes it is THE Katsuhiro Otomo…)

Overall a very good start to what will certainly be a great week!

Black Swan controversy

I was researching VFX breakdowns to give updated examples on the first day of the introduction to Maya course I will be giving tomorrow and I came across this Black Swan VFX featurette.

Ballet was my first passion. I trained to become a professional until I was 19 and still enjoy taking a few courses now and then. As a former ballerina, a VFX artist and a big fan of Aronofsky’s work, I was the best audience for this movie. And I absolutely adored it. It’s the first time a movie about ballet feels real to me. The environment, the interactions, life in the ballet world… they really nailed that.

This is why I feel so sad to learn about all this controversy. They created such a beautiful work of art, why spoil it with lies? Because even though she trained like crazy for a year, there is no way Nathalie could ever master the actual dancing. Her Nina character is supposed to be a prima ballerina in one of the top ballet companies in the world. So even the basic ballet exercices have to be perfectly executed (and are). Not many people realize, but even the smallest things are really really hard to master, not even mentionning the hardcore technical stuff like the last dance of the black swan. I trained for 10 years and never got even close to that level of technique! For anyone who knows anything about ballet it is just obvious that they used body doubles and head replacements. I didn’t even think twice about it. So why not give full credit to the dance double? I understand that Sarah Lane would feel used. Ballet is such an unrecognized profession already. I don’t think anybody realizes how much dedication, hard work, pain and passion goes into being a dancer.

What’s more, that does not take anything away from Nathalie Portman’s work. I usually hate it when actors play dancers. It never feels right. But she worked on just the right things: her posture, the way she walks, the way she holds herself. She is very convincing as a ballet dancer. Also all the head and arm movements are hers: that is quite a feat already. She certainly worked very hard to achieve all that. But she is an actress, not a ballerina. And that’s the whole point. She doesn’t need a twisted marketing scheme implying that she managed to dance as well as a professional ballerina in just 1 year to win an Oscar. What  is important is her performance as an actress. And what a performance! She was incresible, mesmerizing, breathtaking! She more than totally deserves that Oscar even though she never did a fouetté.

View Day 3: Thursday 28.10.10 (Part 1)

Things to think about during a VFX production Adam Avitabile, VFX Supervisor, Look Effects

Unfortunately I missed the beginning of Adam’s talk which was about their work on Step Up 3D. When I came in he was talking about his experience as a VFX supervisor and giving a few tips he found useful…

  • Stay near Video Village
    You never know when the director will need to talk to you so you have to make yourself available. You should show your presence.
  • Get to know the crew
    If you have a good relationship with them you will be able to count on their help… and this might well save your life!
  • Never tell the director “no”
    Instead you should explain to him/her, what problems whatever he/she wants to do will entail and try to find a compromise.
  • Get to know the editors
    They are the first to see your work and give criticism. If you have a good relationship with them, they will trust you more and try to help you.

Stereoscopy in Film Production: Theory and Practice Parag Havaldar, Software R&D Supervisor, Sony Picture Imageworks

I know nothing about S3D so I was really looking forward to understanding the process a bit more. This conference was very interesting and gave a good overview of what this new technique entails.

There are different types of stero 3D projects:

  • For fully CG films, you just have to render everything twice.
  • For live action, you can shoot in S3D  but you will also need to make a lot of corrections in post (alignment, color, lens distortion, vertical disparities etc).
  • You can also convert to S3D in post. It helps to know beforehand that you will be converting to S3D, as you will be able to gather mode information on set that will help with the process.
  • There are also legacy projects, which are the conversion of older movies (Titanic, Gone with the Wind) This is mainly done to generate new revenue with a new theater release.
  • Finally there are hybrid projects in which the post production techniques are used to correct a badly shot S3D scene.

A few technical points:

  • When you increase the distance between the two eyes, you increase the overall depth of the whole scene.
  • You have to be very careful when setting the point of convergence. This is the point where both eyes see the same thing. It is also where the viewer will focus.
  • To create S3D in post you have to first isolate the different elements. You can then create depth and render the other eye. Finally comes the clean up process.
  • You can also create the second eye by using computer vision techniques. But this does not work for all shots. You need to have very high level of detail textures. Indeed, the algorithms look for correspondences in the images so if everything looks the same, they will not work properly.

Renderman workshop Dylan Sisson, Renderman Technical Artist, Pixar Animation Studios

I didn’t manage to attend the Renderman presentation in Annecy this year so I’m happy to be able to here.

Dylan Sisson started off with an overall presentation of Renderman and rendering at Pixar. It is specialised for feature film rendering so depending on your scene it might not be the fastest renderer. At Pixar they usually render everything in camera (no compositing). They only split a shot to speed up render times (not everything has to be rerendered for each frame). Here is a graph of typical render times per shot and their evolution through time.

Dylan Sisson then talked about one particular problem they encountered on the production of  Toy Story 3: trash. In the incinerator scene, some frames could take up to 40 hours to render! They are very complex shots with tons of geometry. The strategy was to divide and conquer: i.e. use different methods for the foreground and the background. For the foreground they used more advanced techniques to get interesting effects like point based color bleeding. For the background they used one general scalable shader. They could control the density and the type of trash directly in the shader. This is a very cool feature and must have  really facilitated the artist’s work!

View Day 2: Wednesday 27.10.10

Ironman 2: Monaco Sequence Paul Davies,  Animation Supervisor, Double Negative

They shot this on location just before the actual Grand Prix. All the cars are fully CG as well as most of the set for the fight sequence.

The Ironman suitcase scene is a very special scene. A separate team was assigned to it and it was dealt with outside of the usual pipeline. They built custom rigging tools and even used Mental Ray for the rendering because the artist felt more comfortable using it rather than Renderman. The design and look of the suit also was special.  You only see this suit  in this particular scene. As it has to fit in a suitcase, it’s not the same design as the suit modelled by ILM. But even though it is different,  it still has to feel like Ironman.

I must say I am a big fan of this scene: totally love it. Apparently the team really sweated over this one… but man did they deliver! It looks AMAZING!   My most heartfelt congratulations to everyone who contributed to this scene.

For the fight sequence, they had to test out lots of choreography and animation ideas. They ended up using motion capture to be able to iterate faster. They also learned a valuable lesson: you should show a shot as filled in as possible. Never show block animation, add as many FX as possible and animate the props. For example,  just adding the whip changed everything for the director. He couldn’t “read” the animation properly without it.


Why animation rocks Tim Johnson, Director / Producer, PDI Dreamworks

It was very interesting to listen to Tim Johnson going over his amazing career and the different experiences and projects he contributed to.

1980 – 1985 Cel animation

1985 – 1988 Alias

1988 Pacific Data Images

1992 Pilsbury Doughboy This was a TV commercial and one of the first CG animated character to go on-screen.

1995 Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VI”

1995 Dreamworks

1995 – 1998 Antz (Director)

2001 – 2003 Sinbad (Director)

2002 – 2006 Over the Hedge (Director)

2006 – 2010 How to Train Your Dragon (Executive producer)

2010 Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special (Director)

On a side note: we were lucky enough to see the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special in 3D as a world premiere. Unfortunately it was in italian… Po isn’t quite the same when not voiced by Jack Black…  But still… nice stuff!


The Visual Effects of Avatar Bruce Holcomb, Digital Modeling Supervisor, ILM

ILM was brought rather late onto the project. Everything had already been decided: the look, the design, the models, the shots etc. They had very little wriggle room. Most of the assets had already been built by Weta, but as ILM have their own proprietary pipeline, they couldn’t just reuse them. They had to rebuild exact copies within their pipeline.

Lots of FX were involved in the shots they created. A few notable facts:

They used cloth sims to  make the grass move around when the helicopters land. Cameron was so specific about everything that he would actually come in with numbers for the force field values!

Even though Cameron wanted to go all CG, there is one practical effect in one of the ILM shots. When Jake first arrives on Pandora the big ship he lands in causes particles to swirl on the ground. These were  created by using a hose and blowing around different substances (walnut dust, baking powder, etc.) After several tests, they finally got the perfect effect and used it in the final shot.

View Day 1: Tuesday 26.10.10

Opening Talk “The Lighting of Toy Story 3” Kim White, Director of Photography, Pixar

Great talk by Kim White about different aspects of lighting in Toy Story 3: the challenges they faced, how they used the lights to serve the story and direct the viewer’s eye, the different color themes etc.

One of the challenges was to keep the Toy Story feel but still take advantage of all the advances in technology. Now they have  new tools at their disposal like occlusion, irradiance and reflection but they also had to stay true to the original Toy Story world. So what defines that world? There are lots of colors. Everything is very saturated. In the first two movies they even tinted the shadows to give more color. In Toy Story 3 they wanted to go for a slightly more realistic feel so they left that out. They also used a lot of indirect lighting: the character’s face isn’t always lit by the brightest light but by secondary bounce lights.

Now for the colors:
Blue=Andy and safety
Green=Bonnie. They also used alot of dappled lighting (lighting coming through trees) for these scenes.
Yellow and Red=Lotso. Bad and frightening.

She then went through a couple of scenes from the movie and showed us how these techniques were used and how the lighting enhanced the scene and what was happening in it.

One especially interesting scene is “Lotso’s backstory”. At the beginning everything is yellowish except for Lotso. He is lit separately and is very saturated and pink… until he gets replaced. He then is lit like the rest of the scene. This totally highlights the feeling that he was very special and unique. Oh and on a side note: they looked at Amelie Poulain for inspiration on this sequence…


Realflow Workshop Gustavo Sanchez Perez, Senior FX TD, Next Limit Florian Koebisch, FX TD, Pictorion das Werk
Seems like an interesting software to try out… Lots of cool features. I especially liked Hybrido which allows you to combine two different solvers: one grid based (for the base) and one particle based (for the details). So if aou are simulating an ocean crashing into rocks for axample. You can have the ocean base and then add particles to simulate the splashes and mist and foam. I’ll have to try it out!


“10 Obvious secrets in Animation” Craig Caldwell, USTAR Senior Research Professor, Digital Media University of Utah
Very interesting talk with lots of great references and examples. So here are the secrets!

  1. Basic skills that are transferable. not just learning the tools
  2. Weight
  3. Psychological gestures. Body language is the most important. Expressions and noth shapes will only work if you get the gestures right first.
  4. Thinking. If you can see the character think, this is what will lead you to no5
  5. Emotion
  6. Reference. Use all kinds of reference to get the animation right. (live action, other animation, yourself, etc)
  7. Audience ahead or behind. You should never loose your audience nor be too foreseeable.
  8. The gap. There has to be something unusual to make the story/character interesting
  9. Stereotypes. The gap works well with stereotypes.
  10. Change. The hero’s journey. The character has to undergo some kind of change during the story.


“The development of Nuke and Ocula in Support of Stereo 3D VFX Post-production” Simon Robinson, Chief Scientist, The Foundry

Wow I never thought S3d (stereo 3D) brought up so many challenges.  Just the rigs to be able to film with two cameras are really impressive. Then you have all the distortions and color corrections to deal with. The main problems the Foundry focused on when adapting NUKE for s3d were the following:

  • Color matching: With the rigs used to film with two cameras, one eye is filmed through a lens (polarized) and the other is not. You have to correct the color disparitied this will introduce.
  • Horizontal alignement: The cameras are never perfectly aligned. This has to be corrected or the audience will have a headache!
  • Rotoscoping: Automatic tools to transfer the rotoscoping that has been done for one eye to the other eye. Right now this tool doesn’t work very well yet.
  • Other lens issues: mismatched focal, focus, distortion etc.


“Career Realities for VFX” Pam Hogarth, Director of Marketing, Look Effects

Lots of great advice.

What does it take  to have a great career in VFX?
Of course: artistic ability, knowing the right tools, having the right degree and experience
But that is only half of it….
Collaboration, dedication, passion, communication, problem solving, flexibility, sense of humor, willingness to travel, willingness to learn, self motivation
are all very important and will take your career to the next level.

So what must you do?
Learn what you must, prepare your marketing package, network, market yourself, check your ego at the door and remember: it’s not YOUR vision.


“Enabling Wonderland: Technologies And Tools Developed For Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland” Parag Havaldar, Software R&D Supervisor, Sony Picture Imageworks

Lots of tools had to be developped to help the production of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. CG and live action were totally intertwined in this movie. Some characters were totally CG, some only half CG, some had a few features distorted by CG and scale went totally crazy during the whole with Alice getting bigger and smaller all the time.

  • Onset visualization
    With all this going on, they had to find a way to help the director get an idea of what the final result would look like. They used green screen live composition. They could triangulate the camera’s position and comp in the CG backgrounds on set so the director could immediately have an idea of where the characters were.
  • Pre composition for the Red Queen
    To get the big head effect, every scene was shot twice so they could get a very quick precomposition of the head of one shot (very high resolution) onto the body of the other.
  • Capturing performances
    They couldn’t use traditional motion capture as it was not set friendly. So they used inertial motion capture and developped a tool using a few optical markers to solve the root drifting problem you get with this technology.
  • Motion rig
    This was used for the scene during which Alice rides on the Mad Hatter’s hat for example. Alice had to experience the actual forces from the movement of the hat. To fake that, they built a big green motion rigged hat. They shot Johnny Depp’s performance and analyzed the movement of his hat. They then transfered that movement to the motion rig and shot Alice reacting to it.
  • Stereo
    Alice in Wonderland was not shot in S3D, it was converted in post. So they had to develop a pipleine to compute the second eye. (More about that in Parag’s second talk…


MPC Recruitment Presentation
Great prersentation. Totally made me want to work there even more… Fingers crossed!

Annecy part 3: Friday and Saturday

I’m so sorry this is such old news…it took me ages to get this online…

Friday 11th June part 2

16:00 Making of Pixar: Three Dimensional Storytelling

Finally! The world premiere screening of Day&Night! Catch it before Toy Story 3 or if you live in a country where it’s not out yet… (yeah… same here…) you can see an exclusive clip here.

I think the idea is genius! I really like the integration of 2D and 3D animation. On the story side though I prefered Partly Cloudy. Peter Sohn’s short really got to me. I cry each and every time I see it. I just can’t help myself. Day & Night isn’t as strong emotionally imo. But it’s more interesting considering it uses animation like never before.

After the screening, Teddy Newton, the director, talked about the making of. His initial idea came from a keyhole he was doodling. He added eyes and hands and thought the character looked rather fun. During a trip to Rome, he saw the view of St Peters through the Knight’s of Malta key hole and knew he wanted to do something with this idea…

The toughest part was to get the two mediums to work seamlessly together. He saw it in a very candid way at the beginning and thought it would be pretty simple, but realised quickly that they were actually going to make 3 movies in one: the 3D movie by day, the 3D movie by night and the 2D animation above it all. They had to find a way for the 2D and 3D animations to be framed and timed correctly even though the 2 teams could not see each others work! There was a lot of back and forth and tweaking and adjustments, but I must say, once again, they nailed it!

The second talk was about the use of stereoscopic 3D at Pixar by Bob Whitehill, Stereoscopic Supervisor. At first there was a lot of concern at Pixar about stereo: did they need it, wouldn’t it be distracting, etc.?  His main message was that the way they treat 3D at Pixar is the same as they treat all other techniques: it has to serve the story. It shouldn’t cry for attention, it should just blend in and enhance the mood of the shot.

After the conference I went back to the trade show to clean up the booth. In the evening I met up with friends for diner and drinks. We then went to a party at one of their friend’s apartment. Once again met lots of interesting people and had a great night. Can’t believe it’s the last “Annecy soirée” already!

Saturday 12th June

Only screenings today! Missed the morning one (hard to get up early and had packing to do…)

14:00 Redline
Director Takeshi Koike, Japan, 2009
Wow now that’s crazy anime! Fast paced, lots of techno music, harsh lines and bright colors, cheesy script. I must say it’s not my fave, but it was interesting to see….

18:00 Evangelion shin gekijoban: ha
Direction: Hideaki Anno, Japan, 2009
It is the second of four films released in the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy based on the original anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. I haven’t seen the series nor the first film so there are somw parts of the plot that I didn’t fully understand. Still it was a nice anime if not amazing.

I can’t believe the 50th edition is already over… It was a great year. I had a wonderful time even though I’m totally exhausted! Can’t wait for next year! 🙂