ANIM_46-51_Booklet

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ANIM_46-51_Booklet

  1. 1. 46 “CG is a bit like synthesisers in music,” says Quentin Miles, animation director at Cinesite Europe. “When they first came out, you ended up with loads of really-in-your-face electronic music. Today, a lot of what you listen to sounds completely organic and live, although, in fact, most of it has been created on samplers and synths.” This draws a useful parallel between industries transformed by the incredible advance in computer technology over recent decades. In CG, faster computer speeds have opened up unusable techniques computer generated VIVE LA EVOLUTION Roaring success: a T-rex emerges from a computer animator’s imagination Want to be let in on a secret? The dinosaurs, flying fish and mudskipper in the Guinness noitulovE spot weren’t actually real. Sam Mitchell assesses CG’s past, present and future ANIM_46-51_Booklet.indd 46 9/6/06 8:14:34 pm
  2. 2. 47 conceived of years ago; renders that would have taken days just for one frame have now been reduced to hours. As these techniques are put through their paces, new areas of discovery have opened out, driving advances even faster. “We are learning new things and genuinely new ideas are coming along,” explains Andy Lomas, head of computer graphics at Framestore CFC. Though most CG-based companies do have research departments, what ultimately drives innovation is the clients. The time and expense of R&D makes this a necessity. In the features world, the studios set the pace, searching out material that can feed the next effects extravaganza within realistic financial constraints. Commercials work in much the same way because they are able to benefit directly from feature-film development, which, due to the superior budgets and the relative lack of time constraints, often leads the line. Sell-through of solutions created during features are now becoming a good source of revenue, directly justifying an R&D spend. Massive, the crowd-generating program developed for Lord of the Rings, is perhaps one of the best known. The software is now widely used throughout the film and commercials industry, in Sony PlayStation’s Mountain, for example. “It’s a very good argument for having commercials, TV, film and whatever else within the same company because they can cross over. R&D in one can lead to useful techniques that can then be employed in another area,” Miles Out of the primordial sludge: a mudskipper focuses his beer goggles ANIM_46-51_Booklet.indd 47 9/6/06 8:14:35 pm
  3. 3. 48 notes. Not only can this generate revenue for the company, but it can also save on buying in expensive externally developed software. Feature films have long been seen as the flagship of CG work. It is, however, widely felt that computer games are becoming a real player in the CG arena. According to Samuel Moss, studio assistant at Escape Studios: “Having an involvement in both video game and film industries, we are interested in how much it seems they are converging. The tools are becoming common among both. Maya (Alias) has always traditionally been used in the film and television industries, but is now being used more by game companies. The quality of visuals on the latest gaming hardware has come so far that the assets required are often comparable to that of a film. In fact, the assets used for many film-licensed games, like King Kong, for example, shared as much as they could with the film.” One of the most hotly debated areas around CG is the creation of totally King of the swingers: Rexona on how to make a monkey of yourself “The quality of visuals on the latest gaming hardware has come so far that the assets required are often comparable to that of a film. In fact, the assets used for many film-licensed games, like King Kong, for example, shared as much as they could with the film” ANIM_46-51_Booklet.indd 48 9/6/06 8:14:36 pm
  4. 4. 49 believable artificial characters. One of the first attempted, Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode One, led many to doubt it could ever be done convincingly. Yet only a few years later Gollum arrived in the Lord Of The Rings films. Gollum was the product of a recent trend for using motion-capture technology to generate CG characters, a technique again used by Peter Jackson in King Kong. But, as Miles is quick to point out: “Huge amounts of manual editing work still goes on with these characters, to the point that it’s like the old stocking: if you keep stitching it up how much of the original is actually left by the end? The discussion ends up being about whether believable humans can be achieved. It’s a bit of a pipe dream really because it’s not about getting the look of a human to work on screen. What feels real isn’t just about how something looks, it’s about the performance. I just don’t think anyone is going to get there in the near future.” For Moss. this all leads into questions of artistic talent: “The problem with ANIM_46-51_Booklet.indd 49 9/6/06 8:14:38 pm
  5. 5. 50 Jar Jar Binks wasn’t knowledge of the software, and it certainly wasn’t the size of the budget, it was simply artistic. It’s almost as if the industries have grown out of their pre-pubescence and are now ready to be used as artist’s tools. It’s no longer about what can be done, but how well you do it in service of the narrative and the director’s vision.” Lomas, also sees the industry as having reached an interesting point: “Working in computer graphics over the last 10 years has gone from being a Wild West sort of industry, where people were almost inventing things off the cuff, to a place where the serious science has started coming in. In the past, if you looked into the maths and physics of what was being done, you would have found people had already gone way beyond what the computer graphics people were trying to do. Now it’s like the serious scientists have started stepping in, and there’s some really cool stuff going on. We’re talking about a mature-industry type of thing. All the obvious things have been (Above) Taking a leaf: CG gets seasonal with trees “Now it’s like the serious scientists have started stepping in and there’s some really cool stuff going on. We’re talking about a mature-industry type of thing. The obvious things have all been invented but now we want to push those things that much further” ANIM_46-51_Booklet.indd 50 9/6/06 8:14:41 pm
  6. 6. 51 invented, but now we want to push those things that much further.” Moss concludes: “Convincing cloth, hair, fur and liquids are all still massive technological challenges, but they only exist because directors and artists want to use them. If you want to make a technical director sweat, tell him you have an entirely CG character covered in hair and fur that jumps into a swimming pool, wearing a shirt.” So in the years to come the CG world looks set to plumb increasing depths of subtlety following its noisy adolescence. As the industry matures, more serious science is attracted in to the top level. Increasing computers speeds are allowing this dense and rather esoteric research to filter down into practical solutions in the hands of an ever-more skilful group of artists. “That’s something I really like about this industry,” Lomas concludes. “You’ve got the really top- level craft side tying up with the top- level academic side that makes it really fascinating.” (Above) Water works: how CG can make a waterfall. (Below) More monkey business: Rexona goes ape � ANIM_46-51_Booklet.indd 51 9/6/06 8:14:47 pm

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