Computer Graphics World

November/December 2014

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n o v e m b e r . d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 4 c g w 2 7 but we did a large part of the film, including the animation, in India. If we hadn't moved the schedule up, the film would have been entirely executed in India." S T A T E - O F - T H E - A R T P R E V I S In May, DreamWorks changed the release date from March 2015 to November 2014. The accelerated scheduled caused some changes in the standard filmmaking process. "When we had six months chopped off our schedule, we oen worked on the script and went straight to previs; we didn't board," Smith says. "I can't begin to tell you how bril- liant the previs guys were. They brought a lot to the table." At PDI/DreamWorks, "layout" consists of previs, rough layout, and final layout. Previs is the sandbox, and much of it takes place in what they call the "camera-capture" room located at the studio in Redwood City and set up for the first time for Penguins. The new camera- capture room would prove especially important. "Starting with Megamind, we had been using a different camera-capture system for films," says Conan Low, head of layout. "But we could track only one or two things at a time. So, we used [that system] only for camera work." In the new setup, people in the room also move objects in a scene in real time. "We do almost a mini-pro- duction," Low says. "It's usually an iterative process with the director, and we take input from all the department heads. We rough out what characters do, figure out what the set needs to be, and work with the lighting and effects supervisors." Smith was among those who took advantage of the new system. "Layout is close to my heart," he says. "A lot of people don't know that I created the layout department." Smith had been directing commercials in London for many years when he saw Toy Story and, having always wanted to work on a feature, decided he wanted to be involved in making a CG feature-length movie. "When PDI called, I told them I would only come to be head of layout," Smith says. "I loved camera work and editing, and we had done a lot of previs for the commercials, so layout seemed right up my alley. I knew I would be involved in every shot of the movie. They said, 'We really need a head of layout.' So, I created the layout department. I figured out the pipeline for Antz." Antz was PDI/DreamWorks' first CG film, released in 1998. At the time, previs was essentially rough sketches and rough block- ing of characters and camera moves. "It's like chalk and cheese from then to now," Smith says. "It's amazing what they do now in layout. Before, we couldn't even bend the characters' legs, and it was incredibly difficult to get any sort of emotion." Today, previs starts in the 20-by-25-foot camera-capture room, which is equipped with 10 Vicon MX-F40 cameras, two Hewlett-Packard Z800 workstations running Windows on one and Linux on the other, Autodesk's Maya soware, and a 12-foot screen that stretches across nearly half of one wall. Be- cause the screen is a quarter the size of a movie screen, in that relatively small room the viewing experience is immersive. Scattered through the room are several props fitted with the kind of reflective markers one usually sees worn by people in Lycra suits. The markers are set up in unique positional arrays so they can link to objects in the CG scene being projected on the 12-foot screen. If there are eight props with markers, people can move eight objects in the scene in real time. "It's like moving pieces on a chessboard," Smith says. "I used it mainly for scouting locations and to set up sequences, espe- cially action sequences. Board- ing can get you only so far." The room comes into play as soon as the studio launches the film, and then stays active through the process. "We get the script pages or a storyboard, and take the first pass at putting the story in the computer," Low says. "The art department has worked with the modeling department for the initial pass, so we get a rough indication of texture and color. We bring in the virtual set with the characters, and then invite in the creative leads, and we walk through the set together with the virtual camera. When we go through a first pass of blocking characters, we make sure the animation we're doing is some- thing the production rigs can do. And, we work with lighting and effects. The great thing is that the room removes the barrier to A NEW CAMERA-CAPTURE ROOM HELPED THE CREW DESIGN EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT SEQUENCES. " I TRIED TO BREAK THE JOKE-PER-SCENE RECORD AT DREAMWORKS."

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