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December 28, 2006

Anselm Kiefer at the SFMOMA

Kiefer_Star_Fall.jpgRebecca and I visted the SFMOMA today, and enjoyed the work of the German artist:

Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth

Friday, October 20, 2006 - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kiefer's work is dark, full of meaning, and rich with texture. There are dark scorched earth and ocean pieces, sheets of lead into bound into huge books, meteorites as symbols for angels, pieces that contain serpents and the struggle with evil on earth. Some of his work didn't strike me at first, but as I went through the gallery learning more and more from each piece I had to go back through and quickly found more and more appreciation for it all. Pieces like Star Fall stood out, you feel him lying down amongst the stars and do feel as if they are falling down around him. (also reminded me of The Fountain) I really liked Osiris und Isis (150 x 220 inches huge!) The picture doesn't do it any justice, but "According to Egyptian mythology, the god Osiris was murdered and dismembered by his brother Set. All the parts of his body except the penis were then reassembled for burial by his sister- wife Isis, so that he could have eternal life. An immense liturgy of transformation grew from this myth, and Kiefer uses it to connect primal fertility rites to the no less awful mysteries of nuclear technology. The painting is filled by a gigantic step-pyramid, the site of Osiris' burial but also, by implication, a nuclear reactor. Osiris' body parts are ceramic fragments scattered at the base, each wired by bright copper cable to his ka, or soul, at the summit of the mastaba, represented by a circuit board. Death and integration: fission and fusion. Through such metaphors, Kiefer sets forth images charged with warning and suffused with hope."

The Sixth Trumpet is another huge piece that has dark rain...thousands of sunflower seeds falling from the sky as a symbol of hope from the signal(trumpet) that released a cavalry that destroys a third of humankind. "Creation and destruction are on and the same." -Kiefer

view more of his works here @ hirshorn.si.edu

SFMOMA.org has a small taste of his work in this Interactive feature:
Explore 40 years of art by German painter, sculptor, photographer, and bookmaker Anselm Kiefer. This interactive program includes compelling interviews with the artist, as well as dozens of images from Kiefer's career-long meditation on the relationship between heaven and earth. Video interviews with the artist are presented alongside dozens of images of artwork and documentation from the artist's studio.

Born in Germany in 1945, Anselm Kiefer is widely recognized as one of the most significant artists of our time. The first American survey of Kiefer's work in almost 20 years, this exhibition features more than 40 paintings, sculptures, books, and works on paper created between 1969 and the present. The selection emphasizes the layers of meaning in the artist's work, specifically his career-long meditation on the relationship between heaven and earth. Using symbolically potent materials such as clay, lead, ash, and gold leaf to masterful effect, Kiefer embraces a complex array of subjects, including alchemy, mythology, and Jewish mysticism.

Here is another good description of Kiefer's exhibition...

and finally here is a great site with a lot of Kiefer's work on it.

Posted by dschnee at 3:35 PM

December 26, 2006

Charlotte's Web - Post Production Summary

A Paramount Pictures Release
Directed by Gary Winick

Special Effects

SPecial Effects Supervisor - Clay Pinney

Animatronic Effects

Stan Winston Studio
Wilbur puppets / Golly & Gussy puppets
Animatronic Effects Supervisors - J. Alan Scott, Christopher Swift, Matt Heimlich

Visual Effects

Visual Effects Supervisor - John Andrew Berton, Jr.
Animation Supervisor - Eric Leighton
Visual Effects Producers - Karin Joy, Allen Maris, Jamie Stevenson

Rhythm & Hues
face replacements & talking effects for live & animatronic animals
270 shots
Visual Effects Supervisor - Todd Shiflett
Animation Supervisor - Craig Talmy

Rising Sun Pictures
Charlotte / spider webs / live animal morphs & composites
232 shots
Visual Effects Supervisor - John Dietz

Tippett Studio
Templeton / talking crows
239 shots
Visual Effects Supervisors - Joel Friesch, Blair Clark
Animation Supervisor - Todd Labonte

Digital Pictures Iloura
CG Wilbur / Ike falls over / season changes
53 shots
Visual Effects Supervisor - David Booth

Fuel International
live animal morphs & composites / Gus & Golly talking / baby spiders
156 shots
Visual Effects Supervisor - Simon Maddison

Digital Dimension
fairground & crowd enhancement
1 shot
Visual Effects Supervisor - Tammy Sutton

Illusion Arts
misc fix-its & web enhancement
4 shots
Visual Effects Supervisors - Syd Dutton, Bill Taylor

Micronite
motion control photography
Miniature Effects Supervisor - Kent Allen

Proof
previsualization
Previz Supervisor - Ron Frankel

-CINEFEX 108 p84, January 2007

Posted by dschnee at 12:27 PM

December 21, 2006

Disney dropping CGI? a lot riding on Enchanted...

disney.jpgWalt Disney recently fired director Chris Sanders (LILO & STITCH) off the upcoming film AMERICAN DOG, which was supposed to be the studio's big 2008 release. Sanders created many of the film's characters and wrote the script and was fired along with 150 staffers? Doesn't sound like a Merry Christmas at The New Disney... But, according to Jim Hill Media, new Disney animation head John Lasseter didn't ditch Sanders because he didn't like the film. Apparently, Lasseter's new plan for Disney is to return the studio to its 2-D, traditional route. That's right - no more CGI-style CHICKEN LITTLEs from Disney. Sanders, who had designed his film to be a CGI feature all along and wasn't ready to redesign his film to fit the traditional mold, then left while a new director could be brought in to do said redesign. It's a tough break for Sanders and AMERICAN DOG but probably a smart move in the long run for Disney. Pixar, under this plan, would produce all the CGI films while Disney would produce only traditional film. That would mean that other projects in the Disney pipeline, like RAPUNZEL and THE FROG PRINCESS, could as well be transitioned into traditional style.

A lot, apparently, is riding on next November's ENCHANTED, live-action/traditional animated film, to see whether traditional animation can still be successful.

-joblo.com

Catmull & Lasseter ... Well, they don't really want Disney Feature Animation to be in the computer animation business as of 2008.

"Wait a minute ..., " you sputter. "You don't mean ... You can't mean ..."

Yep. Following the release of "Meet the Robinsons," Ed & John would like WDFA to go back into the traditional animation business. Full-time. With their battle plan being that -- from here on in -- Pixar would do all of the CG features while Disney Feature Animation would then become a strictly traditional operation.
Obviously, this is a pretty bold plan. One that (given the $100-million-plus that WDFA spent over the past three years to retrain that studio's staff as well as to change Disney Feature Animation into a start-of-the-art CG operation) Bob Iger reportedly hasn't entirely embraced yet. The way that I hear it, Disney's new CEO wants to see how well "Enchanted" does at the box office next November as well as how the story reels for "The Frog Princess" turn out before he officially commits to Catmull & Lasseter's new scheme.

So again ... When you take in the view from a thousand feet back ... And you realize that animated features are like ocean liners. In that they both take years to build & then launch ... If Disney Feature Animation really is going to get back into the traditional animation business ... Well, that means that -- at some point -- WDFA actually has to stop working on those CG-only projects that it already has in its development pipeline.

read the entire article here (jimhillmedia.com)

Posted by dschnee at 9:28 AM

December 19, 2006

More Charlotte's Web Articles

Cinefex_Ad.jpgCheck this out: here is the spiffy congratulatory Ad will be featured in Cinefex #108 listing Tippett's talented CH crew, nicely done dLink!
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How a Complicated Web of CG Work Brought Charlotte and Friends to Life
Six Visual Effects Studios Push the Boundaries of Reality in Charlotte's Web's Barnyard
(filmandvideo)
Filmmakers rarely rely on visual effects to tell humble stories, but the gentleness of the new film version of Charlotte's Web depended largely on the artists who made the talking live-action and CG animals believable. [article w/pics] [read me]
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'Charlotte's Web' gives a rat sass with a 'so real' presence(usatoday.com)
BERKELEY, Calif. — E.B. White may have been a master wordsmith, but Steve Buscemi actually says it best: "The rat rules!"
Templeton was born out of a warren of darkened offices here at Tippett Studio, whose animators conjured up Hellboy and the giant bugs of Starship Troopers. But imaginary beasts are one thing. [article w/pics] [read more]
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Berkeley Animators Create 'Templeton' Character (nbc11.com)
BERKELEY, Calif. -- An animation studio in Berkeley created the computer-generated version of Templeton the rat, who stars in the newest movie version of "Charlotte's Web," which opens in theaters this weekend. [article w/pics] [read more]

Spinning A New Charlotte's Web (VFXWorld.com)
J. Paul Peszko reports on the collaborative CG effort between Tippett Studio, Rhythm & Hues and Rising Sun Pictures in bringing the new live-action Charlotte’s Web to the screen. [ article w/pics] [read more]

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How a Complicated Web of CG Work Brought Charlotte and Friends to Life
Six Visual Effects Studios Push the Boundaries of Reality in Charlotte's Web's Barnyard

December 20, 2006 Source: Film & Video

Filmmakers rarely rely on visual effects to tell humble stories, but the gentleness of the new film version of Charlotte’s Web depended largely on the artists who made the talking live-action and CG animals believable.

Director Gary Winick brought the adaptation of E. B. White’s classic children’s tale to the screen for Paramount Pictures; visual effects supervisor John Berton wrangled the effects crews. Six VFX studios worked on the film, with Rhythm & Hues, Tippett Studio and Rising Sun Pictures taking the lead.

The circle-of-life story in Charlotte’s Web revolves around a young girl, a young pig, a motherly spider, and a bevy of barnyard residents. Rhythm & Hues created lip synch and some facial animation for Wilbur, the pig, and most of the barn animals including Ike the horse, Betsy and Bitsy the cows, and Samuel the Sheep. Tippett Studio created Templeton the rat in CG and also digitally enhanced the mostly live-action crows. Rising Sun got Charlotte, a spider who is always CG.

“We wanted to keep each of the characters in one house so they could develop the personality for the character, understand it, and constantly and consistently put the character on screen,” says Berton. “That caused us to go into the morass of compositing these shots in different places with someone in the center knowing how to take the blocking from one character and send it to another studio. But we decided to bite that bullet to get consistent performances.”

The filmmakers shot dozens of real pigs playing Wilbur, along with other barnyard animals, though not all at the same time. It turns out that real animals aren’t as companionable as in the bucolic children’s tale. “Geese attack sheep,” says Berton. “We previs’d the whole movie to understand the relationships and what the shots were like. Without that previs, we could have been standing on the set going, ‘The geese are going to do what?’” Proof handled the previs. Tippett visual effects supervisor Blair Clark handled the second unit.

“It was so time consuming,” Clark says. “We had to do multiple motion control passes — the cows didn’t like the horse and the geese had to be on their own. And we had big sweeping camera moves into the barn. We had to film the animals in order to get the shadows right.”

Rhythm & Hues, which would make most of the live barnyard animals talk, hadn’t yet signed onto the film during most of the principal photography. “We put in requests for the kind of information we needed, though, while we were bidding,” says Todd Shifflett, visual effects supervisor. “But not getting to go through our usual process for measuring the set and the animals was one of our biggest challenges.”

Usually the studio, which won an Oscar for making Babe talk, takes stereoscopic images of the animals from two cameras simultaneously, front, top and sides. They use the stereoscopic images to build a model in 3D and to get precise measurements.

“One of the most difficult parts of the process is doing the modeling and match move for the facial tracking of the animals. That sets up the foundation for the entire effect,” says Shifflett. “It’s hard to hold a ruler up to an animal, which we also do, of course.”

Because they hadn’t taken 3D stereo images, the crew pored through outtakes looking for two pictures they could sync up to create substitutes. The outtakes proved a valuable resource in other ways, as well. “We like to get footage of the animals looking up, from each side, lighting reference and materials we can use to extract textures from,” says Shifflett. “So we looked for angles that would be useful to us.”

One of the most invisible parts of the talking-animal process is background replacement. Artists must remove an animal’s jaw before adding the talking muzzle because in a profile shot, for example, a remnant of an old muzzle might become visible when the animal opens its mouth. Thus, artists patch in a new background, sometimes using a simple garbage matte, but not always. “The sheep were particularly difficult when they were talking on top of one another because that put another sheep in the background,” Shifflett says, “and sheep wool is a difficult texture to paste back in.”

To do the lip sync, the studio creates the animal’s head and neck in CG to make it easier for match movers to line up the cg animal with the real animal. Animators work with the entire face – eyes, nose, cheeks and jaw – and occasionally even the neck. Rhythm & Hues models in Maya, but otherwise works with proprietary software.

“Essentially, this effect is a complex 3D morph,” Shifflett says. “We line up the animal in the original space, then move it, pushing and pulling the texture around to make it look like the animal is talking. We’ve done a lot of these talking animal projects, so we’re always looking for new things. What I found interesting on this project was that we pushed the technology in ways that allowed animators to make more subtle movements.”

The new technology is more realistic CG hair, fur, and shading models. When Rhythm & Hues worked on Babe, for example, they didn’t have enough rendering power to put thousands of strands of hair on the pig’s face, and subsurface scattering didn’t exist in CG.

“We used tiny little texture-mapped cards for Babe,” says Shifflett, “painted maps for the strands of hair – tiny little sprites. We’d line them up along the edge and then smear in color from the surrounding footage to look like the right color for the animal. Now, we can really color the fur, not just use background texture. We can have an accurate shading model for the hair.”

Shading models such as subsurface scattering, which added luminescence to skin, gums and teeth, also meant the team could more effectively blend the animated CG surfaces into the photography. “One of the most difficult things is to transition from live-action photography used as a texture to the CG mouth, and that happens somewhere along the lip,” says Shifflett. “You wouldn’t see the subtle motion created by the animators if we only used textures from principal photography. When you’re pushing and pulling texture around, you don’t get a lot of shading change.”

The horse provides a good example. To make it look like the lips are moving, the big broad fleshy areas of the mouth must move up and down, but without shading changes on the malleable surfaces it looks fake. “The surface is a mixture of the original background and a CG texture,” says Shifflett. “That allows us to introduce our own CG lighting, which is different from the set lighting, to create the the shading and shadow that should happen when the muzzle changes shape.”

When a muzzle stretch exposed part of an animal’s face not caught in principal photography, artists in the lighting department created a 3D patchwork quilt of textures to fill the spots. “They might have 20 or 30 spots on any shot that they have to paint and blend together,” says Shifflett. To do this, they paint a series of mattes and then reveal textures they know will work through those mattes. The tiny textures come from different frames in the film – the outtakes. “Think of using the little clone tool in Photoshop,” Shifflett says. “It’s like using it on a 3D surface across time.”

Although compositors might have handled this process, the studio decided that, because the lighters focused on lighting the eyes and inside of the mouth, it was better to have them stitch the patches.

Anyway, the compositors had enough to do. They had the finishing touches – the specular highlights for the eyes, the color blending, and more. “It wasn’t as simple as getting this thing from the lighters and comping it on top,” says Shifflett. “They had to maintain the grain of the film. Some of the pieces in the patchwork on the face are individual frames that we locked down or stuck onto the creature for the shot, and some are patches of animating textures. Mapping the textures onto the animal affects the grain structure, so we had to blend those or you’d see floating blobs on the screen. There’s no way to do that automatically.”

Berton believes that the work Rhythm & Hues did for Charlotte’s Web pushed beyond that for talking animals created in the past. “In the past, you’d try to get away without creating fur for the pig, but you can’t, and we didn’t,” says Berton. “The fur rendering on the pig was incredibly important. It was a technical achievement. We had a subtle story to tell, and our characters could tell it in a way that fit the tone of the film. You can’t do that without complex surfaces and people who can manipulate those surfaces.”

Berton believes the most difficult animal in the film, though, might have been Charlotte the spider, who saves Wilbur, the spring pig, from becoming Christmas dinner by spinning words into her web. “At the end of the movie, when she says, ‘The miracle is you,’ in full close-up, she has to be to bring it home,” says Berton. "We worked very hard to make Charlotte perfect for that moment.” Charlotte had to be endearing, but she was still a spider in a live-action film.

That challenge fell to Rising Sun Pictures in Adelaide, Australia. There, visual effects supervisor John Dietz led a team of more than 60 artists who convinced audiences that spiders, or at least this particular spider, could be endearing.

“It’s a dream job to have a title character,” he says. “We had worked with the filmmakers before, and we did a good test that I think convinced them we understood the book and the nature of her character.” Also, taking this role would be an important step for the studio, which had not yet handled a lead character in a film. “The filmmakers knew we wouldn’t let Charlotte not turn out as good as she could be.”

To create Charlotte, Rising Sun used Softimage XSI for the modeling, rigging, and animation of the eight-legged creature, and for grooming her fur. For rendering, they use 3Delight, a RenderMan compliant renderer; for compositing, Shake; for tracking, Boujou with Hype software from Visual Appliance. “It’s a cool piece of software that removes lens distortion so you can work in an undistorted environment,” says Dietz of Hype. “It helps Boujou get better solves on the tracks.” Cinesync software from Rising Sun's sister company allowed them to share QuickTime versions of their dailies over the Internet with Berton once he returned to the States after filming in Australia.

The biggest challenge for Charlotte, Dietz believes, was her design. “At first we tried to make her fluffy, but she had to be real so we moved into more of a lifelike design,” he says. “But photoreal was too much.” To soften her creepy-crawly look, the artists gave her humanistic eyes, moved her secondary eyes above her “brows,” made her face heart-shaped, and developed a smile line from her fang lines. When the camera moves close, she becomes a performer; when the camera moves away, she becomes a spider.

But Charlotte wasn’t the biggest challenge for the crew. Her webs were. The studio created the webs using three different materials, each with different tensile strengths, and proprietary software that works inside XSI. “Nothing off the shelf could take those three materials, turn on dynamics for the combination, and make them behave properly in the wind,” says Dietz. The web also had to react to the spider’s sticky feet. A dramatic sequence, during which the spider first weaves words into a web, is entirely CG.

Fortunately, Charlotte often appeared on camera separately from the other characters, but in a few sequences, she needed to share the spotlight with other animals. “We determined who would be the lead vendor on a sequence-by-sequence basis,” says Dietz. “If Charlotte and Templeton [the rat] worked together, we’d share gray-shaded stuff.”

Tippett Studio created the always-CG rat Templeton. While Clark was on set during principal photography, co-visual effects supervisor Joel Friesch managed the rat work back in Berkeley. As with Charlotte, the challenge was in making a scary animal not so scary.

“He had to look like a real rat because he plays against real animals,” says Friesch, “but when he’s true to real, he could go scary easily.” Moreover, this rat had to act in ways real rats don’t. In one shot, for example, the rat rolls gloriously on his back in buttermilk, which a real rat wouldn’t do, and in another, drinks out of a little wax bottle. To soften the rat’s rodent demeanor, Tippett played him nose down to avoid looking at his big, yellow teeth. They also turned his eyes in a bit and made his “hands” act more squirrel-like than ratty.

Templeton stars in the film’s action scenes – racing through his little tunnel (a practical set) and scampering through the crowds at the county fair. “Our goal was to have it look like a trained rat was precisely hitting his marks,” says animation supervisor Todd Labonte who worked with a team of as many as 18 animators to create walking patterns and behaviors for the rat based on dialog from voice actor Steve Buscemi.

Working in Maya, animators blocked out the performance in low-res, then moved to temp animation for approvals. In low-res, they could toggle a shell to estimate the shape changes once Templeton was furred.

For fur, Tippett uses proprietary software they call “Furocious,” and for rendering, RenderMan. Tippett also animated the two crows by match-moving and tracking the live crows’ beaks.

During one shot, the Tippett animals all appear together: Templeton lures the crows into an arcade and into crashing into a scarecrow. In this shot, the crows were sometimes elements shot in Los Angeles, sometimes CG; Tippett filmed the scarecrows in Berkeley. For feathers, the studio modified its fur tools. “Fortunately, the crows are black,” says Friesch, noting that these shots arrived after they were well into production.

Two other studios, both in Australia, contributed to the visual effects. Fuel International in Sydney created baby spiders and beak replacements for the geese. Digital Pictures: Iloura in Melbourne created Wilbur’s stunt double. “They did something along the lines of 50 shots,” says Berton. “Anytime you ask, ‘How did they get a pig to do that?’, he’s probably a digital pig.”

With so many studios working on the effects, Berton masterminded a novel method for dealing with color-space issues. “We picked a digital image from each scanned sequence as a target,” he says. “As long as the studios could match that picture, I knew everything would match. It didn’t matter if that was the right color; it only mattered that it was the same color.” As a result, a color-correction that worked for one shot worked for all the shots, which sped up the DI process at the end.

For Berton, this project was a labor of love. “Charlotte’s Web was the first book I read that didn’t have mostly pictures. The story of friendship and sacrifice blew me away. It was a big moment for me.”

Sadly, though, the charming film wasn’t chosen to be a contender for the visual effects Oscar. Berton thinks that’s probably fitting. “It reminds me of the scene where the big pig gets the blue ribbon,” he says.
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'Charlotte's Web' gives a rat sass with a 'so real' presence
Updated 12/20/2006 8:04 AM ET
By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY
BERKELEY, Calif. — E.B. White may have been a master wordsmith, but Steve Buscemi actually says it best: "The rat rules!"

The new live-action version of White's iconic children's tale, Charlotte's Web, features a computer-generated rat so lifelike that animal actors everywhere should be quaking in their hides.

THREE OINKS: Charlotte's Web review

"I always figured they'd use a real rat for some scenes, like they did with the other (animal) characters," says Buscemi, who voices Templeton, a rodent with a bloated ego who grudgingly learns the value of friendship from his barn mates. "I was amazed when I first saw him. He just looks so real."

Templeton was born out of a warren of darkened offices here at Tippett Studio, whose animators conjured up Hellboy and the giant bugs of Starship Troopers. But imaginary beasts are one thing.

"We assumed someone in the audience would have a pet rat and know if what Templeton was doing didn't look right," says effects supervisor Joel Friesch, who with colleague Blair Clark oversaw Tippett's work on Charlotte's. "We had to get it right."

The key to the CG rat's uncanny resemblance was found just down the block at a zoo-like reptile emporium called the East Bay Vivarium.

"We picked out a brownish rat that was destined to be a big python's lunch," Friesch says.

Nicknamed Splinter, the critter soon found himself fed, handled and videotaped by his new family. But despite being saved from the jaws of a snake, he wasn't entirely on board with the project.

"We had a chart of everyone he bit, some more than once," Clark says, smiling. "Boy, what a prima donna."

Months with Splinter helped animators create a lifelike rodent using computer mice and digital pixels. But they also found that some rat habits and movements would take major effort to translate to the big screen, if they could at all:

•Because a rat's mouth is tucked way under its nose, "whenever Templeton spoke, we had to make his head tilt up a bit without it looking too awkward," Friesch says.

•"Rats are very clean and groom themselves constantly, like cats," Clark says. But in the film, Templeton revels in filth.

•Sequences of Templeton twisting his head 180 degrees relative to his body were nixed. "Real rats do it, but on screen it looked sort of creepy," Clark says.

By far the toughest animation challenge was a three-second pan that took weeks to conjure. It shows Templeton lolling in a tub of buttermilk. To see how a rat's fur would mat when wet, Clark and Friesch gave Splinter a bath.

"Ah, let's just say that's not something I'd want to do again," Clark says. "He was not happy."

Alas, Splinter is no more. Templeton's template died a few months back. Clark buried him near the company's outdoor picnic tables, beneath a headstone that resembles a block of cheese.

In a nod to a poignant moment in director Gary Winick's Charlotte's Web, it reads, simply, "Some rat."

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Berkeley Animators Create 'Templeton' Character (nbc11.com)
BERKELEY, Calif. -- An animation studio in Berkeley created the computer-generated version of Templeton the rat, who stars in the newest movie version of "Charlotte's Web," which opens in theaters this weekend.

Joel Friesch supervised the creation of Templeton, which involved about 170 people at Tippet Studio in Berkeley, NBC11's Susan Siravo reported.

"We strived really hard to make a real rat," Friesch said.

Friesch said animators used a real rat, which they named Splinter, to help create Templeton.
Click here to find out more!

"You start with a wire-frame rat with a model builder, and give that to the puppet guys or the riggers. They'll put a skeleton in it, so the rat can move," Friesch said.

Animators studied Splinter to replicate his appearance and movements.

"(We) took video of him, photographs of him, made him go through obstacle courses for the animators, people got to hold him," Friesch said.

Splinter got to live the good life at Tippett Studio for about two years. Sadly, he has passed away and was buried near the company outdoor patio, Siravo reported.

Friesch said she doesn't expect to receive many accolades, because actors get most of the attention. He said that if people don't notice their work, they've done their job well.

"If you're watching the movie and you think Templeton is real, and they did mouth replacement to make him talk, that's a huge compliment to us, because that means we fooled you," Friesch said.

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Spinning A New Charlotte’s Web (VFXWorld.com)
J. Paul Peszko reports on the collaborative CG effort between Tippett Studio, Rhythm & Hues and Rising Sun Pictures in bringing the new live-action Charlotte’s Web to the screen.

This month marks the release of Paramount’s much awaited live-action version of E. B. White’s classic children’s tale, Charlotte’s Web (Dec. 15). The process, as producer Jordan Kerner explains it, involved making two movies. "We made one movie with our wonderful live actors. Then we made another movie that added computer images, face replacements, eye rhythms, moving mouths and facial expressions that mimic the actors. Hopefully, this second movie fits seamlessly with the first."

To accomplish this, five visual effects houses joined forces to create the computer-generated effects: the Tippett Studio in Berkeley, Rhythm & Hues (R&H) in Los Angeles and Australia-based houses Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), Fuel International and Digital Pictures Iloura. Through the cineSync program developed by RSP, director Gary Winick, Kerner and the visual effects staff could fully communicate in realtime even when thousands of miles away from each other. First, let's take a look at the two effects houses on this side of the Pacific before moving on to RSP.

Joel Friesch and Blair Clark were the visual effects supervisors for Tippett Studio. “We were to create Templeton, which is the rat,” says Friesch. “He was going to be completely CG throughout the whole film.” This, as you can well imagine, presented several challenges. “First off the rat had to be photoreal,” states Friesch. “He had to cut against and with real animals. So, if our rat didn’t look real that kind of blows the whole illusion of real animals talking. That was our biggest challenge. The second one was to build a photoreal rat and yet still give him the ability to act because he had a definite character curve throughout the movie. So, we had to make sure he could still act and show emotion. Then our next challenge was that, a third of the way through the production, they came to us and asked if we could do some crows. We had not really prepared for that in pre-production. So, we had to build a feather tool and create crows that were also photoreal and squeeze it into our pipeline. Our crew, our pipeline and our schedule were set up to do the rat and this was a little something extra.”
Tippett Studio has done quite a few furry animals for various productions, including the sentient cat from Catwoman and the Russian Blue from Cats & Dogs, so creating Templeton was something they could really sink their teeth into. Having a proprietary fur tool already in the pipeline along with detailed movement studies allowed the artists and animators at Tippett to accelerate and enhance their renders to the point that they were ahead of the other vfx houses working on the production. “We were always moving, and the cup was constantly changing, so we were having to change things,” Friesch explains. “Sometimes we’d work on a shot and find out that the shot was cut. Then we’d stop and find out the shot was back in again, so we’d have to start up again. Things like that were always happening.” However, because they were always ahead, Tippett tended to take the lead in completing the shots. “So, in the shots that we had to exchange with Rising Sun or R&H, we’d pretty much have our rat down and give them an alpha channel, and then they would take the shot and put their character in.” Since Templeton was completed first, this enabled the Tippett crew along with director Winick to establish the eye lines that the other companies would follow in subsequent shots.

Not only did their previous experience with furry animals allow the visual effects team at Tippett to speed up their production but also to be more creative. “Among other things, this show didn’t have huge technological leaps, where you had to figure out how to do something,” continues Friesch. “It was a nice show for our artists to really concentrate on being creative because they didn’t have to worry about any of those limitations. The stuff that we had to do, we had pretty much done before on other shows. So, we were pretty confident that we could pull the rat off. The artists could just create and didn’t have to worry about technology so much. It was a little different for the crows, but it wasn’t so bad. But for Templeton, it was nice just watching people be creative.”

All in all, there were approximately 115 artists working on the Tippett crew at the height of the production. As for technology, Friesch explains, “We used RenderMan for rendering. All of our animation, models, a lot of the effects animation and things like that were done in Maya and composited in the new Shake. I believe we used RealFlow for some water effects.”

While Friesch remained at the Tippett Studio in Berkeley to oversee the creation of Templeton, Clark, their other visual effects supervisor, went on location to Victoria, Australia, for principal photography. “My job on location was to work with John Berton Jr., who was the overall visual effects supervisor,” says Clark. “We ended up working quite a bit together, and also they created a second unit. So, I went on to oversee the plates shot on the second unit while John stayed on with the main unit. That kind of entailed shooting motion control passes for all the animals as well as the stuff specifically for Tippett, which would be the plates for the rat and the plates for the crows.”
Clark worked closely with second unit director, E. J. Forester, and John Mahaffey, the second unit dp. “Most of the shots were things that didn’t have any live-action actors in them,” Clark explains, “so we kind of focused on the more time-consuming, laborious kind of things like motion control and getting all of the plates where they had to have all of the characters in the barn together.” Shooting all of those different animals was by no means an easy task. “You couldn’t shoot them all at once mainly because of maintaining eye lines, and all of the animals (gathered together) at one time would have been a nightmare. It was hard enough, say, just with the sheep. You had five sheep and a trainer with a little stick with a ball on the end to get their eye lines. You’d always get one sheep that was just going nuts. So, we would shoot them in different passes. And some of the animals didn’t get along. The horse didn’t like the cows because they were in close proximity. You’d have to shoot them separately. Then you’d have to shoot the geese separate from everyone. The geese were so hated universally by the other animals. Then you’d have to shoot them in a specific order, so you wouldn’t run into problems as far as the shadows cast from the cows onto the geese. There was a lot of that. And that’s pretty much what the job was, making sure everything was shot in an organized order for technical reasons and making sure that everything was covered with any necessary bluescreen and getting all the reference we needed. We shot a lot of reference.”

Todd Shifflett, the visual effects supervisor for R&H, explains their work on Charlotte’s Web. “R&H was responsible for creating the facial expression and articulation for the live-action barnyard creatures, everything from animating their vocalizations to subtle emotional cues that come from a squint, a frown or a smile,” explains Shifflett. “Time and production schedules are always a complicating factor. We're always caught in a need to improve upon the techniques while at the same time make the process go faster. There are a lot of challenges that arise from that. You need a team of not only experienced artists but a creative production staff as well.”
One of the challenges that R&H had to face was character matchmove without sufficient modeling. “R&H really came onto the production after principal photography had completed and so we did not get to employ some of the modeling and measuring techniques we normally use with a talking animal project,” states Shifflett. “The modeling and matchmove process is the foundation for the entire effect and requires very exacting detail. The nature of working with live animals on set means that there have got to be several real animals playing the part of one character, each of which has slightly different features that can make recreating that motion a real nightmare.”

To overcome this, R&H developed automated facial tracking software, but, according to Shifflett, the real key is still to rely on very skilled and persistent artists. “With the look and feel of the animals in Charlotte's Web, we were able to utilize some more recent advances in the speed and quality of rendered fur to help add reality to very subtle facial motion which allowed the animators to really explore the animal's emotional expression. Usually, with talking animals, you struggle with needing to over exaggerate an expression just to make it read, and we're now really getting to the point where we can manipulate very small details, which has a subtle effect that leads to a much larger impact on the audience.”
Another challenge was that of trying to apply a universal standard to the collaborative effort. As Shifflett explains, “Sharing shots with other visual effects houses is always a challenge. And we were lucky enough to work with some very talented people in other facilities. But the visual effects industry still struggles with standards, in particular how to manage color. With each facility attacking the problem in a different way, you can very quickly generate a lot of confusion. I have to say that, as we come to terms with how to produce a film whose delivery is now digital rather than on negative, John Berton did a fantastic job holding all the pieces together so that each studio could concentrate on what they needed to do.”

Meanwhile, RSP had the role of creating the lead character for Charlotte’s Web. Starting in January 2005 and finishing in July 2006, RSP delivered 242 shots of spider Charlotte and her magnificent webs that comprised approximately 23 minutes of screen time. A team of 65 artists and 25 support staff developed the photorealistic CG character, who is voiced by Oscar winner Julia Roberts.

Naturally, a realistic yet lovable Charlotte was crucial to the success of the story. Like Templeton, she needed to display an onscreen presence without breaking the illusion that this unique arachnid was as much a part of Zuckerman's barn as the rest of the animal cast. RSP built a collaborative relationship with the filmmakers, especially director Winick, vfx supervisor Berton Jr. and animation supervisor Eric Leighton. They succeeded, says director Winick, by paying special attention to the eyes. "They had to have a quality to them that would be expressive." An additional challenge that RSP undertook was the creation of the web, which Charlotte uses in the story to communicate with the world. The team at RSP developed an extensive set of custom tools for Charlotte to interact with her web and the environment and for the web to look suitably magical and realistic.
John Dietz, visual effects supervisor for RSP, talks about the daunting task that faced them. “Because of the nature of her character, being so iconic, and also that she's a spider who needs to be nurturing, motherly and endearing, design and finding her character proved extremely difficult. Getting it wrong just wasn't an option.”

Finding the proper balance was essential. “We started with the look design, and went through many iterations. We went from too cute and cuddly, to too photoreal and spidery and back and forth. Finding that balance was always the main key and also to get the performance out of her because this isn't a typical visual effects movie (she sits on screen for extended periods of time delivering intense dialog). We had to try and develop a language in the design of her face to keep her a bit humanistic but not lose her ‘spideryness’ or become too cartoony.

“On a spider, the main place to go is the eyes. There really isn't much else there that's human. We took the eyes of a spider, which are pretty much just spherical, and we made them almond shaped. Also, we edged on the side of a human iris. These things also made her feel feminine. Spiders have eight eyes, so we used the secondary eyes to represent a brow line to get slight expressions. Spiders also have chelicerae, which are basically the fangs, so we used the line between those fangs and the main shape of her head to have a line that represented a mouth line. We didn't animate it that much, but we could come into a shot more in a smile or turned down into a frown. Also the shape of the head, and the chelicerae made a heart shape that we really focused on, also to give her more femininity. We always went back and forth on Charlotte having a mouth, but in the end we animated the fangs on major phonemes, simulating a mouth behind. [It was] almost like the fangs played like a vale, or cloth. Again very feminine.”
Femininity is certainly not something a moviegoer would associate with a spider’s fur or exoskeleton. Dietz explains how RSP handled that problem. “Actually spiders are usually pretty spikey -- that's not very feminine or attractive, so we went with a more downy type fur, like a fawn but still let the exoskeleton play through the fur, mostly on the legs. The combo becomes sort of furry/cuddly, but the exoskeleton takes light nicely and let's you know that she's still a spider.”

Another unattractive aspect of a spider when it comes to a screen heroine is her twitchy posture and movement. Gangly at best with all those legs moving up and down in a choppy staccato motion as she crawls along, her posture is anything but feminine or such that it can evoke a variety of emotions. “We had to do a similar process for all of her animation/performance, building that language of her posture when she's happy, sad, angry, etc.,” Dietz discloses. “Also to keep that balance between spider and character, we really animated her ‘spidery’ in wider shots, where her legs move more naturalistically. Then you come to a close up for impact, and we toned down all the spider twitchiness and major movements and let her perform more like a character to get the meaning of the shot. Making sure all that language was correct to deliver an arc of her character and have the audience bond with this spider was by far and away the most difficult part of this project.”
RSP did their rendering using 3Delight, a RenderMan-compliant renderer. The 3D animation was done in XSI and 2D in Shake, while boujou was used for tracking. Lighting was carried out using a custom RSP light rig in XSI. “Because we rendered out of 3Delight and did our animation and lighting in XSI, we had to write a proprietary .rib exporter for XSI called Affogoto,” Dietz explains. “Also, because of the nature and complexity of the webs, we wrote all the web dynamics ourselves.”

In addition, ambient and reflection occlusion were used on the body to mask out the HDR reflections and the lighting. 3Delight added extensions for hair rendering that allowed quality control beyond the industry standard. HDR environment maps, captured on the set, were utilized for eye and body reflections and anisotropic reflections on hair for realism. Due to the need for interactive tweaking of the look of Charlotte and her web, there were more than 30 separate elements passes for Charlotte and 40 for the web.

As mentioned above, RSP used cineSync, a remote review and approval tool that was developed by Rising Sun research, that allowed all the companies involved in the production to review each other’s images and communicate visually in realtime no matter where they were in the world.

In that regard, too, Dietz says that all of the other visual effects companies were great to work with. “Iloura, R&H and Tippett did CG characters or facial replacement work, so when Charlotte was in a shot with a CG Wilbur [the pig] or Templeton, we'd pass the plates back and forth for blocking and to develop eye lines. Fuel did the baby spiders, so we worked with them as the Charlotte design was developed.”

Dietz is extremely pleased to have pulled off the lead character of a classic tale. “Everyone stayed focused, passionate, resolved, to get this done right for a long schedule. I'm as proud of the work as I ever have of any project, but I'm really proud of the people who made it happen. It was a special project!”

J. Paul Peszko is a freelance writer and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He writes various features and reviews as well as short fiction. He has a feature comedy in development and has just completed his second novel. When he isn't writing, he teaches communications courses.

Posted by dschnee at 9:59 PM

December 18, 2006

Charlotte's Web Screening Review

Ok, Ok, Ok... I admit it, my bad, I sincerely have to eat all my words and take back all the 'creepy comments' I've had for the look of the spider Charlotte, I thought she looked fantastic! Especially in the spring time when she was healthy. But the work Rising Sun did with the web making sequences and camera work, and the look, feel, and animation of the webbing was very well done.

Onto the movie itself, Humble, Radiant, and Terrific pretty much sums it up. I thought it turned out great, it flowed by with ease and the near 2 hours felt like 1 and a half. The opening and closing credits were done in the style of Garth Williams Illustrations like the images from the book come to life in 2.5D, traveling through the images in 3D space (think the opening credits for Carnivale). watch it here!

The Rat did in fact Rule, especially for his close up's, the fur and animation looked damn good seing it so large on screen. It was very cool to see Tippett's work come and go through out the film as well, a lot of times we will work on one or 2 sequences and we see our work then that's it... but everytime we see Templeton, we ge to see the work!

click below for the rest of the review...

The crows were halarious, I really wished they got some corn though... I worked on a pretty tough shot after they were chasing Templeton in the junk yard they crash into big metal fridge and land in some pepto bismo pink paint, it looked really blue from the DI or color timing... much too blue for my taste, but It was still fun to see.

Wilbur was voice cast perfect, I enjoyed evertime Dominic Scott Kay said "Great Name!" and the work that R+H did with Wilbur was great as well, even the back flip, ;) - R+H always rocks the mouth replacement stuff though.

Lastly, the work that really was fun to see was the 'weeeeeeeeeee' sequence that I think Fuel handled with all the tiny spiderlings crawling from the egg sack and casting their webs in the air flying away, it was so cool and so well done, the voices, the animation, the intigration, all superb.

Ok, I know I've given it a lot of praise, but what can I say I liked it, it pulled on your heart-strings a bit and I'm proud of the work Tippett Studio did on it, and proud that I got to work on a few shots for a great movie for children, one I will get to show mine someday.

I can mention some dislikes though, the geese felt way too puppeted and felt very odd most all the time. (sorry Fuel) I think Fuel did the talking geese, but they obviously didn't do complete head and neck replacements just beak work for the dialog, so it's not their fault, :) Not a movie killer but a bit hard to watch.

There is also a noticalbe progression with the look of Templeton, and I think the DI had a role to play in it, Templeton looked very contrasty and dark in the first sequence, and over the course of the movie he had a better filled in light quality to him really showing off the look of him and the fur, some of this was the ever improving look of the rat, but the color timing and DI didn't help us out, :)

And I must admit as much as I liked the look of Charlotte the spider, as she aged and looked more sickly and desaturated It wasn't really working for me anymore... and we never did get to see the crows again after the fair, we needed one more sequence or even a few more shots to bring them back and finish their development off.

It was a fun night, the experience of watching it with the entire crew is always a good time, we get to hear a few choice words and stories from the supervisors, we laugh at the horrid previews, cringe at some others, clap when we finally get to see our first Templeton sequence play through, and bask in some of the other visual sequences from the other talanted vendors, while sharing our work with friends and family enjoying what turned out to be, dare I say it, a great movie.

Posted by dschnee at 9:46 PM

Seven Vie for Visual Effects Oscar

2_oscar01.gifBeverly Hills, CA - The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that seven films are in consideration for achievement in Visual Effects for the 79th Academy Awards.

The films are listed below in alphabetical order:

"Casino Royale"
"Eragon"
"Night at the Museum"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
"Poseidon"
"Superman Returns"
"X-Men The Last Stand"

What the F@#$! Where the heck is Charlotte's Web!!! come on, that rat rules! and the spider was fantastic! Son of a B@#$%, Tippett get's no love... :(

On Wednesday, January 17, the Academy's Visual Effects Award nominating committee will view 15-minute film excerpts from each of the seven shortlisted films. Following the screenings, members will vote to nominate three films for Oscar consideration.

Nominations for the 79th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2007, at 5:30 a.m. PST in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented on Sunday, February 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST, beginning with a half-hour arrivals segment.

-oscars.org

Posted by dschnee at 11:04 AM

December 15, 2006

Charlotte's Web is Released!

in the USA 15 December 2006

visit Charlotte's Web @ imdb.com

chReleased.jpg

Box Office Results December 15-17, 2006

Number: 3
Weekend Gross: $11,457,353
Theatres: 3566
Theatre Average: $3,212
Weeks in Release: 1
Total Gross: $13,966,672
Budget: $85 million
Running Time: 1 hrs. 53 min.
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: G

Not a terrific opening, but how many people have time to go to the theatre this time of year? I think it do well over the holidays.

"Star vehicle The Pursuit of Happyness chased down the weekend top spot, exceeding two literary adaptations with presumably loyal followings, Eragon and Charlotte's Web. Compared to last year's King Kong opening, though, overall weekend business was down seven percent."

"Charlotte's Web spun $11.5 million on around 4,600 screens at 3,566 locations, which was about average for an adaptation of an older children's book but below par for a talking animal picture. Around Christmastime, though, business for family pictures is spread throughout the holidays. The $80 million-plus version of E.B. White's famous novel, which seemed to suffer from its resemblance to Babe and other recent yapping animals, will hope to weave a long run like past December releases Jumanji and another White adaptation, Stuart Little."

more info and what I thought of the screening last night coming soon...

BoxOfficeMojo.com's "Charlotte's Web" Statistics

Posted by dschnee at 7:03 AM

December 14, 2006

Crew Screening of Charlotte's Web

Tippett is treating us to a crew screening of Charlotte's Web tonight! One night before it opens in theatres tomorrow, fancy that! Aruna went to the VES screening @ Paramount Studios in Hollywood last weekend, head on over to digitalgypsy for the scoop!

I'm excited for tonight, to see all the hard work, animator sweat, and CG Fur that is Templeton on the big screen, I came in toward the end of Tippett's work on Charlotte's Web, so there is a lot of work I will be seeing for the first time tonight.

I'm also excited because I get a chance to bring my cousin Melissa along and share the crew screening experience and show her some of the shots I got to work on!

A couple more tid-bits, this is cool! KTVU Mornings on 2 will be interviewing our Compositing Supervisor for Charlotte's Web, Colin Epstein, LIVE at 8:45AM Today! about our work on Charlotte's Web.

*** Check Out That Interview *** A STAR IS BORN: Visual Effects Artist Colin Epstein Talks About The Creation Of 'Charlotte's Web" Star Templeton The Mouse ***

Secondly, breaking away from Charlotte's Web for a moment, It was exactly 1 year ago today, that King Kong was unleased and released to the world, I can not believe it has been over a year since I was in New Zealand and got Engadged! This year has flown right by!

Lastly, check out a Clip from the movie with Templeton talking to Wilbur 'The Rat is Handsome' (comingsoon.net)

Posted by dschnee at 7:07 AM

December 11, 2006

Spider's Web, Double07 & a slick Dragon in Cinefex #108

Tippett and Templeton were in the running to make the cover for this issue of Cinefex, but being that it's Charlotte's Web... well yeah it's not called Tempelton's Words so yeah the spider gets the cover... I think it looks great as a spider, but a bit too photo-real, ie creepy.

Arachnophobia & Musophobia was the consensus from: Ebert(Aisha Tyler) & Roeper... Roeper thought it was a sweet and charming adaptation with less appealing creatures...Charlotte was pretty creepy and there is no rat that charming...(Bah, The Rat Rules!) but that Julia Roberts did a lovely job voicing charlotte (really?) Lastly he said Charlotte's Web could have been better as an animated film? but he gave it a thumbs up enjoying the film but that spider and that rat not so much, even with that impressive cg work.
Tyler also gave it a thumbs up but, said the rat being creepy is part of the original story but agreed that the spider was not beautiful, but CGI was very well done. Roeper said CG is almost too effective during the spider sack and spiderlings scene... but lovley and great acting all around... (Ebert&Roeper Early Review)
---

Casino Royale:
Back to Basics

In a break from tradition, Casino Royale, the latest entry in the enduring James Bond series, directed by Martin Campbell, reverts back to the franchise’s leaner beginnings, eschewing the fancy gadgetry and slick CG tricks of more recent installments in favor of practical effects, exhilarating stunt work and meatier character development. Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould and stunt coordinator Gary Powell teamed with visual effects supervisor Steven Begg and Peerless Camera Company to handle the requisite high-octane action featuring a new, more intense Bond – Daniel Craig – who, having just earned his stripes as a double-0 agent, falls in love and tangles with terrorists in a plot that spans the globe from Madagascar to Miami.
Article by Joe Fordham

Charlotte's Web:
Arachnophilia


Adapted from the children’s classic about the unlikely friendship between a barnyard pig and a spider, Charlotte’s Web offers up a live-action retelling of the beloved tale, directed by Gary Winick. Visual effects supervisor John Berton invited Rhythm & Hues – whose pioneering use of CG muzzle replacement in Babe made it the go-to company for talking animal effects – to craft an even more sophisticated version of that technique in the service of Wilbur, the talking pig. Tippett Studio and Rising Sun Pictures provided CG character animation for the film’s other two protagonists, Charlotte and a rat named Templeton, while other contributors to the project included Digital Pictures Iloura, Fuel and Stan Winston Studio.
Article by Jody Duncan

Eragon:
Searching for Saphira


For his debut film, Eragon, based on the best-selling novel about a boy and the sapphire-colored dragon he raises from a hatchling, former visual effects supervisor-turned-director Stefen Fangmeier appealed to former colleagues at Industrial Light & Magic for help in conceiving and animating the CG fantasy creature. When the volume of shots grew in postproduction, additional CG dragon shots were assigned to Weta Digital, with visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister coordinating the work emerging from the two facilities. A variety of non-dragon effects were divvied among eight other facilities, with visual effects supervisor John Van Vliet overseeing the work.
Article by Jody Duncan

OVERVIEWS

Q&A: ROB LEGATO

Operating out of a home-based visual effects unit set up in his basement, Oscar-winning freelance visual effects supervisor Rob Legato discusses his decision to break away from a studio-based paradigm, as well as his most recent work with Martin Scorcese on The Departed, and Robert De Niro on The Good Shepherd.

FLYBOYS

Visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang elaborates on the clever use of practical, CG and miniature effects to capture authentic aerial battles for Flyboys – a film about the daring escapades of the Lafayette Escadrille, a combat unit of youthful American pilots who battled German forces in Europe prior to the United States’ entry into World War I.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and myriad other exhibits in New York’s American Museum of Natural History magically come alive in Night at the Museum. Visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel and associate producer Ellen Somers examine the challenges of mining the film’s fanciful premise for its full comic potential.

-Cinefex #108

Posted by dschnee at 7:39 AM

December 10, 2006

Building a better rat in 'Charlotte's Web'

A look behind-the-scenes at the making of Templeton the rat.
By Sheigh Crabtree, Special to The Times

ANIMATORS at Tippett Studio took the tenets of Method acting to a new level when they rescued a rat from a snake's mouth and put him up in luxurious digs in their Bay Area studio where they could scrutinize his every move.

It was all to prepare for a leading role in Paramount Pictures' "Charlotte's Web," opening Friday, which revolves around a series of startling events that occur in a barnyard filled with ordinary animals.

Director Gary Winick sought to root the creatures in reality: For starters he cast the film with actual animals — the only exception being two of its stars: Charlotte the spider (voiced by Julia Roberts) and Templeton the rat (Steve Buscemi).

To cast the film's computer-animated rodent, producers at Paramount turned to seven visual effects houses around the globe. Each shop was sent a packet of test materials, including an illustration of the Templeton character, 15 seconds of barnyard footage and a clip of an actor reading the rat's dialogue. The studios had two months to build a computer model, animate it in sync with the dialogue and composite their pest into the barnyard plate.

One hopeful, Tippett Studio in Berkeley, created a 15-second performance piece showcasing its take on the famously grouchy kids' book character. Looking back, Tippett visual effects supervisor Joel Friesch says their version of Templeton looked a bit like a bear, while supervising animator Todd LaBonte says it recalled a miniature dog.

But something about the rat's attitude in the screen test captured the imagination of Paramount production execs; they awarded the job to Tippett a few months later. When the artists heard the news, their first order of business was to head to a pet shop and splurge on a $7 Dumpster rat for reference.

Quickly dubbed Master Splinter, after the all-knowing martial artist rat in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," the new pet would serve as muse to a studio of computer artists working to create the most believable CG rat possible. They say Master Splinter lived a life of leisure except when he was doused with water so artists could study the way the liquid altered his fur.

Founded by CG luminary Phil Tippett, the studio is well versed in fur effects. The company wrote an in-house software tool now in its fourth generation called Furoscious that enabled visual effects artists to cover the CG model of Templeton with 1.5 million realistic rat hairs.

It was up to the animators to minimize a tendency toward human pantomime and deliver realistic rat kinetics to Winick's specifications by becoming experts in rat motion. Animators were going for the antithesis of the boyish mouse in "Stuart Little." Instead, Templeton's humanistic gestures are layered lightly onto a virtual rat and expressed primarily through his "movie mouth," says LaBonte.

And while some celebrities are badly cast in animated voice roles, delivering flat performances, LaBonte says Buscemi's voice for Templeton was a delight to animate.

"A guy like Buscemi conveys so much humor and menace and intensity in his voice that it makes our animation so much cooler," he enthuses. (For their own edification, the animators created a reel of Templeton performing to Buscemi's expletive-laden scenes in "Reservoir Dogs.")

Once the movie got underway on location, principal photography provided animators with a few natural gifts too. Animators often spend hours combing through raw footage (known as background plates) looking for opportunities to tie the CG world and real world together.

In one case, animator Raquel Cahuelo spotted a take in which a real-life newborn gosling accidentally tripped over itself. She incorporated Templeton into that plate to make it look as if he pushes the baby out of his way to grab an unhatched egg with the intent of turning it into dinner. "It was so cold-hearted we had to leave it in," LaBonte chuckles.

And what about Master Splinter? Three weeks before Tippett shipped the last of their 280 shots, their in-house rat passed away. "Master Splinter served his purpose," LaBonte says in his best Buscemi voice. "Roll the credits, cut to black."

-Building a better rat in 'Charlotte's Web' from the latimes.com

Posted by dschnee at 11:21 AM

December 8, 2006

Templeton's POST Magazine Cover

Tippett's Cover Art team: Joel Friesch, Blair Clark, Todd Labonte, Colin Epstein, Aharon Bourland, Will Groebe, and Lee Hahn contributed to the December cover of Post Magazine! And what do you think? Congrats guys and gals, It looks great! The featured article is below: (Charlotte's Web is in theatres December 15th 2006)

ANIMATION - 'CHARLOTTE'S WEB'
Ken McGorry
mcgorry@optonline.net
-
BERKELEY, CA - To help dramatize a tale with the whimsy and heart of E.B. White's classic children's story, you'd start to think in terms of Sony's lovely, photoreal work on the Stuart Little mouse character (also a White creation) a few years back.

Well don't go there. For one thing, the lead rodent in the new Charlotte's Web is a rat. A rather skeevy rat voiced by none other than Steve Buscemi.

For another thing, the photoreal rodent animation was done here at Tippett Studio, a shop that long ago graduated from creating Starship Troopers' hard-edged, armored alien creatures to cozy mammalian fur for Blockbuster Video's guinea pig and rabbit spots. Of course, convincingly cozy fur is geometrically harder to, uh, pull off than solid objects. And then there's lighting and compositing it all. And all that barn-floor straw.

All told, Tippett (www.tippett.com) provided around 250 VFX shots for Paramount Pictures' Charlotte's Web and director Gary Winick. With the production duties split largely along character lines, Tippett was responsible for Templeton the rat and the two trying crows, Elwyn and Brooks (E and B, get it?).

Post Magazine Issue Date: December 1, 2006, Posted On: 12/5/2006

Live action was filmed in Australia and local shops Rising Sun Pictures (www.rsp. com.au) handled the titular arachnid with Fuel International (www.fuel-depot.com) creating the baby spiders. Digital Pictures Iloura (www.iloura.com.au) did some stunt shots of a fully digitized Wilbur the pig. LA's Rhythm & Hues (www.rhythm.com) provided their expertise in face replacement for the film's live animals with speaking parts.

YOU SCRUFFY RAT!

Director Winick and Rising Sun had to wrestle with the level of realism imparted to Charlotte in this film in which every creature is portrayed as natural looking. Charlotte is, after all, a spider. But that was not an issue for Tippett artists, says the shop's VFX supervisor Blair Clark. "Our directive was always to stay as photoreal as possible," he says, "within the confines of the actions that Templeton had to do beyond what a real rat would do."

Templeton's very naturalistic rat-like movements are balanced with anthropomorphic vignettes such as flopping onto his bed with a Coke in hand and, later, wallowing in a bath of buttermilk and cavorting inside a cotton candy machine.

"Templeton is not the most savory character," Clark says. "We got the go-ahead to make him definitely like a barn rat — kind of realistic-looking and scruffy."

Clark co-supervised Tippett's work on Charlotte with Joel Friesch; both had worked together supervising VFX on Hellboy and Cats & Dogs. The two bring different skill sets to bear, says Clark: "I come from an animation background and Joel comes from a painting and art background."

So Clark would communicate more with animation supervisor Todd Labonte, and Friesch worked more closely with compositing and paint artists. Clark goes on location; in this case four months in Australia while Friesch remained on the farm overseeing the character animation through finalizing the models and getting the facial blend shapes and paint work done.

Clark communicated with Tippett via phone, conference calls, email and sending files back and forth on CDs overnight. He loved the Australia experience and worked with the production's overall VFX supervisor John Berton, who placed him in charge of the second unit shooting background plates.

A RAT'S BUTT

Todd Labonte's animators worked in Autodesk Maya and rendered with Pixar RenderMan. But for him and his crew, animating a rat is not about fur — fur is extremely CPU-intensive. Instead, Templeton's "like a shaved rat with little hair plugs," he says. "Since he's shaved, his silhouette is different and his proportions are different. You're waiting days [for fur rendering] to see what he really looks like and if it works."

All the Tippett crew studied a live, caged rat who visited during the production, but Labonte and his animators had a particular area of interest: Templeton's butt. "Especially with our photoreal line of work, we always struggle with weight," says Labonte. "It's critical — posing it so it looks like it has weight. The computer operates in zero gravity. First you have to work out the main performance and make sure that the performance has the weight and the rat-like quality. The butt has a lot of weight and mass and is a big, inertial part of his body."

A lot of the CG straw had to be animated by hand, with the art department building 12 different straw models rather than relying on generic simulation, Labonte says. "We'd animate it so that when his foot placed down in it, it would squish a little bit."

Labonte's crew studied footage of a real rat's pelvis and back legs when it walked. "You absorb it all so you don't think when you're animating; you just know," he says. "How do you make a rat scurry? It's sudden stops and starts."

READY FOR POST

"Getting the rat done was job one" at Tippett, according to Friesch. That includes "the CG model, the fur, the paint job, the puppeting, so you're ready to go into production." When Clark returned from the four-month shoot, Tippett was ready to go right into post production. On Charlotte Tippett had upwards of 170 craftspeople and artists at work on the shots, although many were also splitting their time with other Tippett business.

Each week as sequences were finished Clark, Friesch and Tippett VFX producer Alessandra de Souza would fly to LA and present the work to director Winick. Clark particularly liked getting Winick's reactions in person, since Clark could emulate animated movements live, rather than describe them over the phone.

There's another reason the rat needed fresh, CG straw. Friesch says that "the depth of focus on these plates where the rat goes is so narrow that we had to put in CG straw to give us a place in the plate that was as focally sharp as the rat would be. We also used a lot of plate-warping, effects animation, displaced the surface of the plate — a lot of compositing tricks."

LIGHTING A RAT

"One problem with a rat is, they're designed to be camouflaged," Friesch says. "We found that rim lights really help fur; especially computer fur." Friesch's team worked hard to exploit opportunities to give their rat a rough, textured silhouette and avoid any sense of a "slick, computery" look that would distract the viewer.

Tippett's lighting supervisor, Steve Reding, was in charge of lighting the rat. Templeton even has silver tips on his otherwise gray rat fur. Since Templeton would not be on hand at the principal shoot, DP Seamus McGarvey would light the area appropriately, but leave any fine lighting on the absent CG rat to Tippett.

The compositing process would often see last-minute adjustments like tweaking eye reflections and kick lights in the eyes, brightness on toenails and fingernails, the backlight on the ears, and fine tuning the light on the rat's whiskers for each shot.

COMPOSITING HOG HEAVEN

Besides the barn's somewhat monotone, straw-and-wood feel, Templeton also ventures out to a dump and on to a country fair, which has some intensely lit night scenes. Tippett primarily used Apple Shake on Linux for compositing with artists, led by Colin Epstein, occupying about 12 seats.

A complex sequence involves Templeton's immersion in a hog heaven of garbage and goodies at the fair, culminating in his enraptured plunge into a practical, swirling cotton candy machine. The cotton candy climax was comped by Chris Morley. Although the team had reservations about attempting this shot, Clark says, "It looks great; you totally buy it."

"It's kind of gross," adds Labonte, "this big rat in a cotton candy machine, but we still tried to get the weight right."

Morley was also involved when Wilbur gets his pre-fair buttermilk bath in a trough. Here the camera pans down and there again is Templeton stealing the scene, laying beneath the pig and wallowing in the raining buttermilk. The buttermilk is real, with additional liquid shot by Tippett and more buttermilk-like liquid created in Maya and hitting the rat's wet fur.

Friesch counts this sequence as a favorite. "It was just a pig and buttermilk," he says, "so we had to stick Templeton down in there and get him interacting with the buttermilk. That was probably the most extensive and complicated of our comping shots."

"The buttermilk bath was fairly straightforward for animation," Labonte says. "We basically animated him relaxing and making like a backstroke in this pool of buttermilk. It's a great piece of animation by Raquel Coelho. When animation was done, they then had to create fluid simulation for ripples and streams of milk pouring onto him, and that fluid also affects his fur; the fur is parting like when you put your head under a tap. That was a lot of work for the effects animation department and then the compers just had a huge challenge to integrate all that stuff."

THE BLACK CROWS

Tippett did either CG beaks or full CG head replacement on real Australian crows — with complex specular light on the CG feathers to match the real birds — to create the spirited pair of crows who end up at the fair. In one outrageous sequence, the crows, lured toward an arcade game by Templeton, appear as a mixture of shots: real flying crows interspersed with CG crows who ultimately crash into the game and are ensnared in a CG net with a real scarecrow. "That was really a complicated series of shots," Clark says.

Friesch says it was crucial to have Clark out on the Australian set because, with his animator's background, he knew how long certain shots needed to be to allow for the CG characters to complete their movements. This shot's real scarecrow had to be filmed greenscreen at Tippett, then comped into the plate, then adding the flapping CG crows, CG net and CG net shadows.

CHARLOTTE'S EGG SAC

Back on the farm at the film's end, Wilbur must convince Templeton to rescue Charlotte's egg sac. "It needed a lot of effects animation to get that diaphanous look of these layers of webs over the eggs," Clark says. Templeton has the sac in his jaws as Charlotte thanks the rat. "He has to shoot a look back at Charlotte in a very sympathetic [way], like, 'You're welcome.'" This was a delicate scene to animate, with its extreme close-up of the rat conveying the sense that Templeton understands the importance of his rescue effort. "All the animators will be crying," Clark says, "because they understand!"

-Post Magazine - ANIMATION - 'CHARLOTTE'S WEB'

Posted by dschnee at 10:36 AM

December 5, 2006

Pirates 2 Dead Man's Chest DVD Released!

p2dvd2.jpgThe DVD does contain a small snippet on the Set: The Bone Cage (3:47) The sequence (shhh) we (Tippett,shush) helped complete, it takes a closer look at one of the flick's more outrageous action sequences... and some of the VFX..."Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend is a 13-minute featurette that gives away most of the special effects magic used to bring the wild-looking villain to cinematic life. The 10-minute Creating the Kraken does the same thing for that mythical mega-beast."

-DVDTalk.com Review

See Also: Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest is up For Your Consideration Best Visual Effects (Buena Vista Pictures Awards)

Check out the dvd details on my previous post Pirates Sequel 'Breaks DVD Record'

Posted by dschnee at 11:19 PM

December 4, 2006

Local Rat Makes Good

from Diablo Magazine - Dec. 2006
By Peter Crooks

To create an American setting of bucolic farms and state fairs for the movie version of Charlotte's Web, Paramount Pictures filmed in Australia. But the studio didn't outsource the movie altogether. Effects wizards at Berkeley's Tippett Studio were hired to digitally animate a key character: the self-serving, food-obsessed rodent Templeton.

Animation Supervisor Todd Labonte, who lives in Berkeley, managed a team of 17 computer animators to craft Templeton, whose voice is provided by actor Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Monsters, Inc.). "He's such a great voice actor; half our job was done for us," says Labonte modestly. Labonte's team studied rats for hours so they could re-create their movements and generate a naturalistic (although talking) rodent with computers.

Because the movie was shot down under, Tippett's artists worked with director Gary Winick via videoconference calls. "He would draw all over the screen, like John Madden does during a football game," says Labonte.

Fans of the book will note that this live-action version of Charlotte's Web tries to be closer to the gentle tone of E. B. White's beloved book than the 1973 musical cartoon version by Hanna- Barbera studios. And animation buffs will be pleased to know that Tippett Studio's next project is a big-budget adaptation of the best-selling fantasy books The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Posted by dschnee at 10:00 AM