Tag Archives: animation

ILM VFX Supervisor Roger Guyett on Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Studio Daily

Source: ILM VFX Supervisor Roger Guyett on Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Studio Daily

In the first Star Wars, when people watched the X-wing flying down the trench, did audiences think that was really happening? Did they believe it was a real X-wing flying? A model of an X-wing flying? What was their understanding of how real that was? Was it more real because the model was part of our world? Is that what people mean by real, a tactile thing? These are philosophical questions that you have to consider when you’re doing a visual effects movie.

[…]

I wasn’t interested in making a retro movie. That was not what I thought we should be doing and it would have had a limited shelf life. When you think of those movies, people were excited to see them, to go along for a great ride with amazing characters. Part of that world achieved a certain charm and authenticity because the filmmakers built sets and went to real locations. That part is fantastic. We wanted to hold onto the charm the original stories had but use the technology available now in a way that would make a more contemporary film.

How do you get the audience invested in the characters and willing to go along for the ride? Part of their brain says this is not a familiar world and what they’re seeing is slightly odd. How do you get past that? You want to convince the audience everything is happening for real by hopefully creating a world that’s a natural extension of the real physical world. My theory is that this is a bizarre extension of primitive storytelling. Think of how invested children become in simple puppetry. This is a crazy extension of that. The whole thing is a trick of some kind.

Clearly you were successful in making the digital effects believable. How did you achieve that?

Part of it was trying to photograph as much in camera as possible to help the actors understand the world they’re immersed in and as a better foundation for our work. We went to places and tried to photograph as much as we could. We tried to make each moment as real as possible and blend the line between real and imaginary as much as we could.

[…]

f you’re tasked to do something that by its nature undermines the concept, it’s hard to pull off. There’s a certain point, if you overexpose your hand … a film like this is so ambitious, so fantastical that no one could imagine it could have happened. The nature of filmmaking in a real space is that you see the place. You react to it. You design shots around that place. If you remove the idea that you’re really there, it becomes a different thing. We tried to show a real level of restraint to keep it in the charming category without losing a level of excitement, without ever being ludicrous.

[…]

In old-fashioned filmmaking, you didn’t go to Tunisia and then change it. You’d go there and that was in the movie. Sometimes, on other films, we might go to a location and then the director would want another version — taller buildings, a different sidewalk. They want their desert a different color. They don’t embrace what they have. This is the VFX era. Every blockbuster has big visual effects. People shoot and figure it out later. Maybe that’s why so many people shoot on green screen. We didn’t want to do that. We had a director who clearly wanted to go to the desert, and he was happy with the desert he went to.

[…]

When you have a ship that travels 600 to 700 miles per hour, it’s difficult to shoot plates, especially with the shot choreography we wanted, unless maybe you hire a jet fighter. So, in the Falcon chase, pretty much everything is digital. We could have just based it on the location and made up the rest, but we would have been in a place of guesswork. So we shot a lot of reference footage from a helicopter. It wasn’t directly usable, but it was incredible reference. You’d notice things about the way the desert behaved — dust coming off surfaces as we travelled. More importantly, the quality of the light on the sand, the geography of the environment. We ended up with 18 hours of aerial footage alone from one camera, and terabytes of photographs. We could see the nuances of colors of the sand dunes from photography based on the time of day and conditions.

The other thing we did was to survey the crap out of everything and everywhere we went. We researched and recorded environments as accurately as we could. We had a whole team on this. We had size and scale. We had stereographic views. This isn’t outside the bounds of what people do for visual effects movies, but we really wanted to be accurate.

When you see the little speeder moving across the landscape, it’s a completely digital shot. But because we’d been there, when we recreated that moment, we did it from a physically-based approach. I don’t know if J.J. [Abrams] knows how we constructed the images, but he was at the location and he knew how it looked.

The other thing is that we photographed these events in a way that I think did not cross the line of the impossible with complicated camera moves. We made sure if you had a Millennium Falcon, this is how you’d shoot it. We tried to photograph some kind of version of all these events to give us a point of reference even if we threw it away. One advantage I had in putting shots together in the final movie is that I shot second unit. If a shot involved visual effects, I knew what we’d need to achieve.

[…]

And our modelers had so much affection for these ships. Dave Fogler [asset build supervisor], who came to ILM from the model shop, was interested in rebuilding the Falcon in the way it should be built, with integrity and a referential quality. He had an inherent knowledge of the processes the model shop guys used. It was a very loving process in many respects.

[…]

Probably about a third of the time BB8 is digital. This is a perfect example of riffing off something that exists. It’s another version of my desert analogy. If you don’t build BB8, where does the personality come from? The personality came from being there with the actors and J.J. directing BB8 just like another actor. When we created the CG character, we had absolute reference. Each animator had a template. People could comment about the droid’s performance just like they would with an actor because his personality was defined.

[…]

We did motion capture tests at Andy Serkis’s [Imaginarium in London], and then did motion capture on set. Ben Morris, who set up the ILM studio in London, was on set for the shoot, and Mike Mulholland supervised the London work. I’ve always believed that if you cast the right person, the rest takes care of itself. You have to believe in the actor; motion capture won’t save a bad performance. Maybe it might, but chances are it won’t. Casting is what it’s all about.

Andy’s character didn’t move around very much, but we needed a great face performance. We shot Andy and then re-mocapped his scenes once we got the edit. We went back and refined the shots in his studio. He can play anything — small, large, in-between. Lupita is way more restrained. She does a softer, nuanced kind of performance. For her, we used image-based capture and some keyframe work. Andy’s studio helped us out with that, but it was really about the face, and we used systems from Disney research. The face of the character she plays is very different, so we had to make sure that translation was successful. But again, like with BB8, she defined the character, the nuanced performance.

[…]

I think I’ve learned that maybe showing restraint is something we should do more of in the future. Restraint sounds negative, and that’s not the connotation I mean. Just trying to make sure the shots are focused. More isn’t necessarily better.

It’s interesting how much the work has advanced, even in the last couple of years, and certainly from Episodes III to VII. It’s a completely different lay of the land, and the people are capable of so much more. You don’t want to do things you’ve done before. You want to do something more challenging and exciting in different ways. Sometimes, by defining what the box is, you can have a more interesting problem to solve.

 

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The Invisible Design Behind the Apple Watch’s Many Faces | WIRED

ON FEBRUARY 10TH, 1982, in a room full of designers and engineers drinking champagne and eating cake, Steve Jobs called out the names of Apple’s Macintosh team. And one by one, beginning with motherboard engineer Burrell Smith, they signed their names to a large sheet of paper.

These 47 signatures—some in perfect script, others loopy and illegible, a few just hastily printed—would soon be inscribed on the inside of every Macintosh, etched into the hard plastic case. According to former engineer Andy Hertzfeld, whose signature is on that paper and whose business card during his time at Apple read “Software Wizard,” this was a natural course of events. “Since the Macintosh team were artists,” he wrote on his blog Folklore.org, “it was only appropriate that we sign our work.”

[…]

Yet what Dye seems most fascinated by is one of the Apple Watch’s faces, called Motion, which you can set to show a flower blooming. Each time you raise your wrist, you’ll see a different color, a different flower. This is not CGI. It’s photography.

“We shot all this stuff,” Dye says, “the butterflies and the jellyfish and the flowers for the motion face, it’s all in-camera. And so the flowers were shot blooming over time. I think the longest one took us 285 hours, and over 24,000 shots.”

[…]

He flips a few pages further into the making-of book, onto the first of several full-page spreads with gorgeous photos of jellyfish. There’s no obvious reason to have a jellyfish watch face. Dye just loves the way they look. “We thought that there was something beautiful about jellyfish, in this sort of space-y, alien, abstract sort of way,” he says. But they didn’t just visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium with an underwater camera. They built a tank in their studio, and shot a variety of species at 300 frames-per-second on incredibly high-end slow-motion Phantom cameras. Then they shrunk the resulting 4096 x 2304 images to fit the Watch’s screen, which is less than a tenth the size. Now, “when you look at the Motion face of the jellyfish, no reasonable person can see that level of detail,” Dye says. “And yet to us it’s really important to get those details right.”

The Watch’s faces are littered with such details. The Mickey Mouse face, which is an explicit update on the 1933 Mickey Mouse Watch from Ingersoll, was particularly complex. Select this face, and watch Mickey’s toe tap once per second, in perfect time. Line up a bunch of watches, Dye says, and they’ll all tap at exactly the same time. There’s no reason to point out that almost no one will ever fact-check this claim—he doesn’t care. He did it for the same reason Jony Ive has taken to personally designing the internals of the Mac. Details matter.

The Astronomy watch face is another of Dye’s favorites: it gives you a view of the Earth as if you were floating peacefully above it. Spin the Digital Crown and you see moon phases, the Earth’s rotation, and even the solar system. It’s a riff on the oldest method of telling the time just with digital stars and planets instead of those far-away real ones.

Dye points out the subtlety of this face. “When you tap on the Earth and fly over the moon: We worked really hard with our engineering team to make sure the path you take from your actual position on the Earth to where the moon is and seeing its phase, is true to the actual position of the Earth relative to the moon.”

Apple employees often use the word “inevitable” to describe their work. When Dye uses it, it’s self-deprecating, as if to say: ‘this was always the right answer, but it took us a while to figure that out.’ It’s true of even seemingly simple things, he says, like the concentric circles the Watch uses to display your fitness goals.

“I couldn’t tell you from a design perspective the number of iterations we did on those three rings.” The human interface team wanted to make it easy to see progress and activity for the day, but also to make you want to hit your goals. “We spent a year, and did far more studies… enough studies to kind of fill this wall, probably,” he says, gesturing to the giant glass walls of Apple’s Caffe Macs cafeteria. “Different ways that, at a glance, someone could understand that information, and easily assess where they’re at in their day, and hopefully in a really simple and visceral way feel like they accomplished something when they fill them up.” They arrived at three circles because there’s just something about a not-quite-complete circle that drives you just crazy enough to take those last 400 steps.

 

fantastic journal: On the limits of anthropomorphic machines

fantastic journal: On the limits of anthropomorphic machines part 1

part 2

I spend an awful lot of time watching Thomas the Tank Engine. To be more precise I spend a lot of time with someone who spends an awful lot of time watching Thomas the Tank Engine. My (nearly) three year old son is obsessed by it; he sleeps with his Thomas trains, eats with a Thomas knife and fork and wears Thomas pyjamas. The words to the Thomas songs comprise almost his entire vocabulary.

[…]

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the roots of my son’s obsession. I’m fairly sure that he’s unaware of the antiquarian nature of steam trains or that the setting is nominally in a slightly distant past. My son doesn’t seem to care that there are aren’t any traction engines to be found anymore or that men don’t dress in spats and a top hat like the Fat Controller. In that sense the appeal of the books might genuinely be considered timeless. The world they depict is somehow complete enough in itself to form a hermetic, self-sustaining universe.

As any parent knows, children are Utopians. They construct fantasy worlds that run on rules of their own devising. These rules are often rigidly inflexible and uncompromising. The appeal of Thomas then might lie in the precise logic of an imaginary railway network. The simple rules that underpin the movement and actions of the trains might also be the part that makes them so successful. The engines themselves have very limited scope for independent action. They can move forwards and backwards, speed up and down, occasionally break down or have an accident but that’s about it. They can’t fight, or dance or play football or run. They don’t chase villains or solve mysteries and they have no special powers. Although they have been anthropomorphised they remain far more train than human. They are in many ways merely extensions of the way that we often attribute human characteristics to machines, giving them names and celebrating their faults as charming idiosyncrasies.

The engines also depend on humans for operation. In the original stories the relationship of the trains to their drivers and guards is very carefully delineated. It does not intrude so much that the trains become ‘simply’ machines but neither are they allowed any genuine independence. They can only deviate from the control of their human operators to a limited degree, normally with fairly disastrous results. These limitations also extend to the minimal nature of the stories where a fallen tree or a faulty turntable provides pretty much the only narrative hook. The legendarily boring nature of the stories is actually cleverly consistent with the repetitive nature of the engine’s tasks. The text mirrors this, repeating simple phrases in a way that is analogous to the movements of the trains. “Clickety clack went the trucks”, “We did it together, we did it together” etc.

Alongside this physically limited universe is an equally restricting moral one. Unsurprisingly perhaps given the identity of the author of the stories, the Thomas books are filled with simple pieties and swift retribution for crimes and misdemeanors. Instructions and justice are metered out by the all-powerful Fat Controller. Sometimes they get abandoned, like Duke the Lost Engine, or decommissioned or even on occasion cut up for scrap. A bleak Victorian morality hangs over the stories allowing for sentimentality and indulgence but only up to a point and only after the work has been done. The aspiration for the all the engines is to be considered “really useful”, a reward that that confirms both their status as machines and their role within an over-arching morality of duty.

The TV series of Thomas remained faithful to both the storylines and the moral universe of the books for some time. The fact that it was filmed using an actual model railway gave it in some ways an even greater degree of fidelity to the concept than the original illustrated books. If the model trains couldn’t do something then neither could the ones in the stories. The wobbly, home-made aesthetic of the model railway became part of the series’ ‘charm’, an anachronistic 1950’s toy used to recreate the equally anachronistic world of 1950’s steam engines.

More recently the series has been introducing new characters, partly as a way of boosting merchandise sales but also in order to create new plot lines. The relatively recent switch to CGI has produced a more decisive shift though. In contrast to the earlier stories, recent feature length Thomas’ have involved the discovery of lost towns, psychotically deranged diesel engines and journeys to magic islands. This expansion beyond the tightly controlled constraints of the original books pushes the logic of the series’ scenario beyond plausible limits.

In Misty Island Rescue, for instance, Thomas is set adrift on a raft at sea, eventually running ashore on an island that appears to be in the deep south of America. Even more bizarrely, when Thomas’ raft hits the beach the engine rolls straight onto a conveniently placed set of tracks running directly out of the water. Later on Thomas discovers some kind of portal or short-cut between Sodor and Misty Island via a vast hollowed out tree trunk. In other recent films Thomas discovers lost towns (The Great Discovery), battles evil baddies (Day of the Diesels) and travels through yet another portal to a contemporary mid-Western village called Shining Time (Thomas and the Magic Railroad).

These fantastical adventures cause a kind of conceptual crisis in Thomas’ carefully controlled universe. His actions are no longer those of a railway engine stuck shunting trucks but of a buccaneering adventurer. The Reverend Awdry’s pedantic fidelity to the movements of steam engines and railway lines is long gone. The driver and guard have become like those film crews accompanying TV explorers, something that it’s convenient to forget about lest they spoilt the mystique. It’s no coincidence that this capitulation to pure fantasy has come about at the same time as a shift from real-time modeling to CGI. Computer rendering allows Thomas the physical and conceptual freedom to inhabit any kind of environment in more or less any way. Thomas has moved from being an anthropomorphised machine into a human being who just happens to look like a train.

The first half of this post wasn’t intended as a rant against CGI, although it’s true to say that the original Thomas drawings are for more subtle and beautiful than the current animations. The development of computer animation has created a renaissance in children’s movies, particularly from the Pixar studio. It’s interesting then that Pixar’s own fantasy world creations are also most successful when operating in a similarly plausible but defined universe to that of the Railway Series.

Much of the humour and pathos of the Toy Story movies, for example, emanates from a tension between what the toys can and can’t do, and from the fact that they are restricted to a series of plausible movements. Their ability to stretch (Slinky Dog), disassemble themselves (Mr Potato Head) and organise military operations (Bucket O Soldiers) provides action sequences within precise physical limitations Equally important to the storyline is what the toys can’t do, such as Buzz Lightyear’s various heartbreaking attempts to fly. They may be ‘alive’ but they also only exist within a logical extension of their ‘toyness’. As in Salvador Dali’s Paranoiac Critical method, an absurd fantasy (of the toys being alive but still toys) is pursued with complete logic throughout.

The toys also clearly inhabit a human world although they fight for independence within it. This is in contrast to the recent Cars franchise which, interestingly, runs into many of the same problems as the new Thomas. Like Thomas, the Cars concept depends on the anthropomorphisation of machines. Unlike Thomas though the machines in Cars inhabit a people-less world, one where they have replaced the roles, characteristics and foibles of the absent humans. This conceit is wittily explored in the first film both visually (vans that look like Elvis, radiator grill moustaches that suggest redneck tendencies etc.) and structurally (a town designed by and for cars).

The action of the first film is confined to very limited spheres, essentially either the stadium in which the cars race or the isolated desert town of Radiator Springs. The choice of the town’s location is important because it avoids all sorts of contradictions that would occur in a larger and more pedestrian – and thus human – orientated realm. The functions of the buildings in Radiator Springs have been altered so that the generic Italian restaurant has become a garage and the petrol station the local drive-in. This is a car-based universe and nothing breaks the logic or the suspension of disbelief required to follow their anthropomorphised autonomy.

In the second Cars film the action has become global and follows the World Grand Prix, a series of races held in well-known cities. This creates a conceptual problem in that the cities (London, Paris, Tokyo etc) need to be rendered both plausibly recognisable and consistent with a people-less universe. Subtle scale changes are made to the sizes of doorways for instance and humour is found in car based versions of human spaces such as the rough local pub ‘inhabited’ by taxis and delivery trucks. And although famous landmarks have been rather fabulously ‘motorised’ (as detailed here) it remains impossible to imagine what they might actually be for.

But the film still begs some fairly fundamental questions which threaten to derail it entirely. What happens in the mansard roofs of those Parisian apartments? Why have upper floors at all? Who are the double-decker buses for? Not only that but the cars themselves are thrown into a full-on spoof spy movie where they fly through the air, set off booby traps and engage in tyre-to-tyre combat Jason Bourne style. As the cars have become more human, moving beyond simply being machines with characters, the absence of humans becomes oddly more telling.

Not only does the construction of an alternative car based society need precise rules to work but the humour depends on the careful substitution of one set of rules for another. The way that cars move, the things that they can and can’t do is very important. When they can fly through the air firing machine guns and foiling international villains their car-ness becomes far less implausible (of course) but also less important. Similarly, when they inhabit an environment whose underlying logic is clearly man-made (stairs, attics, Georgian windows etc), the suspension of disbelief evaporates.

In a sense, the moral universe inhabited by the Cars is every bit as pervasive as the one in Thomas the Tank Engine. The world of duty, obedience and responsibility delineated in Thomas is no less insufferable than the homilies about friendship and staying true to oneself in Cars. There is a confused environmental narrative at the heart of the Cars storyline too, presumably as an attempt to ameliorate the obsession with motor racing to start with. But children’s stories always have an explicitly moral message. The creation of alternative worlds be they miniature, anthropomorphic or whatever, allows for the creation of precise rules and limits. These serve not only to contain the fantasy but to communicate the ethical dilemmas the stories rehearse.

The ‘system’ which underpins the action is a kind of machine itself, a metaphor for a functioning moral universe where things have their place and people understand their role. Tests to the stability of this universe form the narrative for individual stories, helping ultimately to reinforce the desirability of the system to start with. Character’s that deviate from their roles are punished in the end and learn to accept certain limits to their freedom. This is why Thomas the Tank Engine is such a brilliant conception for children’s stories.

Introduction – Material Design – Google design guidelines

Introduction – Material Design – Google design guidelines.

A material metaphor is the unifying theory of a rationalized space and a system of motion. The material is grounded in tactile reality, inspired by the study of paper and ink, yet technologically advanced and open to imagination and magic

Surfaces and edges of the material provide visual cues that are grounded in reality. The use of familiar tactile attributes helps users quickly understand affordances. Yet the flexibility of the material creates new affordances that supercede those in the physical world, without breaking the rules of physics.

The fundamentals of light, surface, and movement are key to conveying how objects move, interact, and exist in space in relation to each other. Realistic lighting shows seams, divides space, and indicates moving parts.

[…]

The foundational elements of print-based design—typography, grids, space, scale, color, and use of imagery—guide visual treatments. These elements do far more than please the eye; they create hierarchy, meaning, and focus. Deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space create a bold and graphic interface that immerses the user in the experience.