Renewal of the technical and artistic approach of professionals? Real-time production management and tracking with ArtForge, realistic crowd rendering with Golaem Crowd, previsualisation software, use of a video game rendering engine, all innovative tools serving creativity and productivity in animation.
Agence de Doublures Numériques
production management tools, HD3D, Mac Guff, The Third Floor, Electronic Arts, ArtForge, Golaem Crowd, previsualisation, Autodesk Maya, animatic, rip-o-matics, mocap, video games, Annecy conferences, animated film
Cédric Guiard introduced the four areas underpinning the presentations in this conference:
With the multiplication of production assets on the one hand, and the need to share tasks between studios spread around the world on the other, a production management tool becomes crucial to avoid delays, mistakes or budget overshoots.
"Up to now, production management solutions available were limited to ERP, often too expensive to support, Microsoft Project, which is very restrictive, or an MS Excel spreadsheet, whose main drawback lies in synchronisation problems", said Laurent Alt, president of HD3D. The Paris-based company is an offshoot of the Cap Digital cluster.
Producers are often subject to increasingly heavy challenges:
Faced with these challenges, new opportunities appear: the arrival of full digital and the omnipresence of web technologies.
In this environment, the HD3D consortium has developed partnerships with various animation studios 2 Minutes, Mac Guff Ligne, Mikros Image and TeamTO not only to mutualise costs, but also to increase feedback and draw up an inventory of key needs. "We had to see how everyone worked, which methods they used, which tools, and then seek the best possible synthesis of it all", said Laurent Alt.
The project was started in 2006, by Jean-Noël Portugal, and took two years to develop, plus a further year for implementation, with a budget of around €2.5M. Its name is ArtForge, with a MySQL database.
ArtForge, is currently available in version 1, it is a web-based digital content production management software suite. Settings can be customised depending on studios’ needs. It does not have to be installed, because it is accessible via a simple internet navigator, with a login and password.
Kirikou, les hommes et les femmes is Michel Ocelot’s next feature, made with Mac Guff Ligne. The studio used the very latest version, 1.3, to manage this production. "This tool was shown to me in January 2011", said Zoé Carrera, head of production on the film, and I was immediately attracted. Up until then I used to pile up Excel files, even going as far as have spreadsheets to track the spreadsheets… The fact of everything going over the web is ideal, because all the data is pooled instantly. As well as that, you can consult it from anywhere in the world".
Zoé Carrera considers that "ArtForge is the reflection of a production manager’s everyday life. The interface is clear and each tab has the name of one of the aspects of a production. There are templates to show a project quickly depending on your needs – for a feature or a series – with a management arborescence in all the views".
Each tab is divided into sub-tabs and task tracking is automatically updated as things are validated.
ArtForge means that all the production tasks can be tracked, and the production flow information is saved along with the associated comments. The programme also makes it possible to track production data in real time: the status of the tasks, time spent, checkpoints, comments, approvals, links to other files, etc. Its flexibility facilitates the management of changes to shots and immediately passes them on to the rest of the production teams. ArtForge is a collaborative tool making it possible to process production information at several levels: to-do lists, data necessary for collaborative work or production schedules, or dashboards. ArtForge is easy to learn and to use, and is an intuitive tool enabling each user to manage their work efficiently and feed back precise, up to date information to the whole of the production team. It is sold in France by Post Logic.
Created by 10 partners, 8 of whom came from the Bunraku team of IRISA (Institut de recherche en informatique et systèmes aléatoires), la société Golaem, (Research Institute in Computer Science and Random Systems), Golaem, based in Rennes, develops software solutions making it possible to simulate humans in a complex active situation in 3D digital models. Stéphane Donikian, formerly of INRIA, is the CEO.
Golaem has developed a range of tools, including:
The latest, Golaem Crowd, is a plugin for Autodesk Maya, designed to provide an alternative to Massive, a solution which was originally created for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. "Concretely, our plugin provides animators with the possibility of managing crowd behaviour without any programming", explained Stéphane Donikian. Golaem Crowd is a collaborative project in partnership with Mikros Image and supported by the Riam Oséo fund.
The principle is based on managing Maya particles to generate crowd behaviour. "All the elements of a character are associated with a particle and then the behaviours of populations, particles, and therefore characters are designated".
On a given production, Golaem Crowd will generate all the assets: bipeds or quadrupeds; movement (motion capture or key frame animation); shaders, etc. "The populations must then be placed in an environment, the must be made to move depending on their profiles and then exported to the rendering engines".
Among the functions proposed for the set up are:
Golaem Crowd also provides the possibility of adding avoidance algorithms, which do not require "repulsive forces". The "target" particles are then defined to generate, or not, fighting behaviour, associating opponents, or random movements.
Speaking of export performance, Stéphane Donikian said that "10 000 entities could be exported over Google Protobuf, an alternative to XML".
Golaem Crowd was used by Mikros Image for the film Alésia, le Rêve d'un roi nu directed by Christian and Gilles Boustani for the Alésia museum-park. It was used for the wide-angle shots of the famous battle.
Available in beta version since April 2011, it has been on sale since May, and version 2 is planned for September, with an integrated behaviour editor.
On the price side, Stéphane Donikian put forward a price of €9,999 for a perpetual licence or a lease/sales system on one or more projects. "We have a flexible pricing system which can be adapted to studios’ needs", he concluded.
The beginnings of previsualisation can be found in… the storyboard. "The first people who saw the importance of having as detailed a storyboard as possible, down to the nearest image, were Alfred Hitchcock and Saul Bass, on the films Psycho and The Birds", explained Chris Edwards, founder of The Third Floor, who are leaders in the field.
Animatics and rip-o-matics (the re-use of existing shots) were also precursors of previsualisation. The arrival of lipstick cameras (so called because of their shape) opened up the way forward for staging preparatory shots. "In 1983, Stan Winston used them for the chase scene in The Return of the Jedi, the third part of the original Star wars saga. Using models around 20 cm high, he could adjust all the stunts and camera angles, in short, he gave life to one of the first forms of previsualisation". In 1986, the first computer previsualisation tests were done on vector graphics as opposed to computer graphics, but it was not really until 1999 and the pod race in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, that digital previsualisation came of age.
It was at this time that Chris Edwards was hired by George Lucas to supervise the synergy between the art department and a 10-person team in charge of previsualising each of the scenes which had a large number of digital elements. Six of them, including Chris Edwards, later left Lucas Films to set up The Third Floor.
There are many advantages to previsualisation. "Firstly it is a win/win relationship for the director and the producer, as it both fosters creativity and saves a lot of money. It also helps the director reinforce his artistic vision… or change it".
Previsualising is now perfectly integrated in the production pipeline of feature films with large amounts of visual effects, and is also a working document for… post-production, in the sense that its high degree of development makes it a precious tool for creating effects. "It is can be used as a sort of pilot, or pitchviz", explained Chris Edwards, "and also in commercials and video games cinematics".
After introducing the history of previsualisation and its benefits, Chris Edwards went on to look in detail at the various steps involved. "You start by creating 3D assets before a quick block out during which you choose the camera angles and positions, and the variation between the intensity and the emotion of the shots and their impact on the scene, etc. The advantage of this phase of previsualisation is that you can play around with the options, decide which are the best and provide the broadest possible range to the director".
As proof of this Chris Edwards screened different camera angles from a scene out of Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton: subjective camera, view from above, dragon’s eye view, etc.
"The third stage, continued the founder of The Third Floor, is an animated previs that we can provide using Xsens MVN vests. These jackets enable the acquisition of movements of the human body in real time without a camera, which opens up mocap to exterior shoots. The results are amazing! Finally, previsualisation can be used in post-production for prototyping visual effects".
In Chris Edwards’ opinion, the idea of previsualisation in the sense of visualisation before the shoot will not be around in a few years. "In Avatar, previsualisation was used throughout the production chain, without interruption. It’s what we call virtual production".
In conclusion, he said that "previsualisation is not only designed for blockbusters. Any film can use a tool like this, as the initial investment releases creativity and makes savings". He also mentioned a future development: stereo 3D previsualisation.
Frank Vitz, visual effects technical director at video game publisher Electronic Arts, explained that convergence between animation and video games is more than a hypothesis and is now reality. Although the cinematics originally served to occupy players while the next level was being loaded, they now have a much more important role. They have gone from being gameplay links to being a complement to the narrative and are almost as important as the game itself.
For Fight Night Champion, the latest boxing game developed by Electronic Arts, the production chose to use 40 minutes of cinematics, i.e. 74 scenes and 33 different environments, with cinematographic camera movements and lighting. The photorealistic option required a very singular approach. "We shot all the cinematic scenes with real actors using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II", explained Franck Vitz. The particularity of this shoot was that the motion capture actors served as references for the game, to guarantee better integration. "We also did a 180° of the actors’ faces to be able to place realistic maps on the 3D models. We did a massive amount of work on the lights reflecting off the boxers’ sweaty skin with speculars and an occlusion pass to get as photorealistic a result as possible".
In Frank Vitz’s opinion, Fight Night Champion is the perfect example of the convergence between animation and video games, particularly as their production methods are becoming one.