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CGI n n n n posed of a system of Maya bones, influence objects, wire deformers, and lattices working together in concert to shape a given character’s facial expression. It is most likely similar to ex- isting facial systems out there today, but I had to invent it along the way as I needed it.” While Chen shouldered the work all by To create the lush, colorful environment in “Amazonia,” the artist mixed procedural textures with photographic textures, making sure that the plants looked hyper-real, not photoreal. was brought in and the levels adjusted for maxi- mum dynamic range,” Chen explains. Ten he used the Frischluft Lenscare After Effects plug- in, crafting the camera depth-of-field effect us- ing the grayscale depth information. “Being a big fan of National Geographic and Planet Earth videos, I wanted ‘Amazonia’ to have a nature- photography look, whereby backgrounds are often blown out and appear painterly and im- pressionistic due to the extremely shallow depth of field,” he adds. Atmospheric haze in the humid rain forest often created areas of light bloom and glow in the brightest parts of the image, along with distinctive bokeh highlights in the back- ground. All these effects in the Z-axis resulted in proper separation and depth between the layers, and effectively controlled where the audience’s eye should be focused. In some scenes, Chen used rack-focusing to bring the attention from the background characters to those in the foreground. RE:Vision Effect’s ReelSmart motion- blur plug-in helped smooth out all the fast- action sequences and bring a professional pol- ish to the entire film. “Te end product is a testament to the importance of reliable post- production tools in helping a one-man project cross the finish line with high-quality results and on schedule,” says Chen. Once Chen rendered and composited the HD 720p frames, he output them as uncom- pressed QuickTime movie clips using the ani- mation codec. Ten, he transferred them into Sony Vegas Pro for editing and mastering at 30 fps. Mastering to DVD and Blu-ray was done in Sony DVD Architect Pro. “After I switched from the workstations to the notebook PCs, I used Sony Vegas exclusively,” he adds. Going Solo In “Amazonia,” Bounce and Biggy benefit from their teamwork. Chen, though, had to face his challenges alone. “Te most challenging part about being a one-man show is trying to stay fo- cused and passionate about the project for four long years,” he says. “Whenever I was traveling, vacationing, or working on freelance projects for clients, it meant that zero work was getting done. Tere was no one to tag-team with, no work to pass along to keep the momentum going. After returning to the film even after a short hiatus meant a few days of low productiv- ity while I struggled to regain my bearings and resume forward momentum.” On a more practical level, whenever com- puter systems fried and hard drives crashed— “and there were many instances,” according to Chen—he was unable to appoint someone to do system administration. “Te production would often come to a grinding halt, requir- ing me to switch from a filmmaker’s hat to that of a computer systems engineer, and roll up my sleeves for a day of technical trouble- shooting. It was maddening at times,” he says. However, thanks to his computer science engi- neering degree and work experience at Silicon Graphics, the filmmaker was in a much better position to address those problems than other filmmakers would have been. Without the support of an R&D depart- ment or tool engineers meant that Chen had to occasionally write MEL scripts to perform certain tasks within Maya. For the most part, though, he kept his solutions off-the-shelf. “At times, I improvised and created my own unique systems mainly because there was nothing available at the time,” Chen says. “For instance, my character facial rigs were com- himself, that is not what he had planned when he embarked on his jungle trek. “I believe in collaborating with artists who share a common vision and a common passion for excellence. Nothing is more exciting than being part of a world-class team producing amazing CG work,” he says. “Having said that, when I set out to create ‘Amazonia,’ I didn’t meet anyone who shared the same passion as I had who didn’t already have a demanding job creat- ing feature animation or commercial work in high-pressure environments. A few actually ex- pressed interest early on but gradually dropped out as the workload ramped up. So I marched onward, hoping to come across other collabo- rators. Before I knew it, four years had gone by, and I found myself standing on the summit of the figurative Mount Everest alone.” Nevertheless, the filmmaker was determined to bring Bounce and Biggy to life. “As with most ambitious independent film projects, the goal of ‘Amazonia’ was merely to cross the finish line alive,” Chen says. “As my own harshest critic, I also wanted the end result to be excellent, and something I would be proud of. It might sound like a cliché, but I’ve always believed that if I set the bar extra high for myself, and I reached it, then everything would take care of itself.” Indeed it has. A crowd-pleaser at SIG- GRAPH’s Computer Animation Festival, “Amazonia” currently is enjoying a world tour of the film festival circuit (having just won an Audience Award at a venue in Europe), leaving little time for Chen to enjoy the fruit of his labor. Once that is over, will Chen breathe life into yet another uniquely styled project? “I’m excited about getting right back into creating, animating, and visual storytelling,” he says. “Tis time, I’m looking forward to collaborat- ing with fellow artists on anything that catches my attention. Tis can either be in feature animation, turning my short into a feature, or even game animation and cinematics. I’m keeping my options open in case opportuni- ties come knocking. In the meantime, I’m go- ing to enjoy the wild and unpredictable ride.” And just as Bounce and Biggy chased their culinary dreams, so, too, did Chen. Te end result: A CG feast for the eyes and the soul. n Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of Computer Graphics World. August/September 2010 33

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