Post Magazine

February 2016

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FROM HEAVEN TO HELL www.postmagazine.com 32 POST FEBRUARY 2016 "This gave us the flexibility to arrange the crowd per the artistic requirements." However, the animators, working in tandem with the director and the crowd VFX team at Assemblage, had to change a few camera movements and framings in the sequence so the shots could be delivered on time. ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS Norm contains a wide assortment of environments and backdrops, including various locations in the Arctic (Pride Ice, Grandpa's land, and the shore, to name a few) and in New York City (such as Times Square, Greene Square, the warehouse, Mr. Greene's building, various streets, and more). Altogether, artists constructed more than 600 buildings — a low num- ber compared to some features, but a challenge for the small crew working on this film. "New York City was one of our main challenges," says Mathieu. "We needed to re-create a complete and personal version of the city, in sync with Wall's view. The GPU cache of Maya helped a lot in this regard, whereby NYC was divided into several different zones that were loaded into Maya depending on our needs. To help the production flow, we also had to create matte paintings that were used in some shots to show the buildings in the background. Trevor [Wall] wanted to give the feeling of a very dense city that was really lively, with lots of cars, crowds, and buildings." The modelers at Assemblage used Pixologic's ZBrush, mainly for the de- tailing work on the sets in the Arctic. "Lots of the mountains were detailed in ZBrush and rendered with displacements in Maya, giving the environments a more lively and natural look," says Mathieu. "Although this produced heavy scenes with long render times, we wouldn't have been able to achieve the look and feel Wall wanted otherwise." The effects artists had their hands full, too, creating water, snow, ice — "just about everything except fire," says Wall. Snow proved a big obstacle, making the Arctic scenes especially complex. These effects, as well as most of the movie's VFX, were achieved in Maya. To add footprints in the snow, the group first employed an automated system that was based on the position of the feet of the characters making the tracks, along with displacement on the surface. It also worked for characters sliding on the ground. However, the artists realized that the creation of those footprints needed a little more precision on close-up shots. So, the system was improved to get a smoother creation on the surface. Water effects were tricky, too, gen- erated with Maya Fluid as well as Side Effects Software's Houdini. According to Mathieu, the water simulations involved a great deal of surface area and detail, often resulting in sims that took three to five days to compute. Water was a major occurrence in a giant storm sequence near the end of the movie, with rain, lighting, splashes, and wind. It is the sequence in Norm that Wall is most proud of. Vayu Digital in Mumbai created the simulations for the storm, working in sync with the anima- tion department at Assemblage to match the animation of the boat. "When you read a script where the main furry characters are living in the Arctic, going to New York City, and sailing into a storm on a huge barge in front of a tidal wave, you already know that you're going to spend a lot of time in the office," says Mathieu. "What I mean is, given the production constraints and the time, there were many obstacles on this ambitious project. But all the studios and everyone — from Splash CEO Nicolas Atlan [who stayed in contact with the production team and regularly visited Mumbai] to each and every artist — met those chal- lenges head-on." THAT'S A WRAP! Assisting in the production of Norm in LA were two animation veterans from Disney and DreamWorks, who Wall says showed him how other studios approach CG features. "I learned from them the right way to do things on a feature film," he adds. Assemblage's CEO, Max Madhavan, also hired several leads, production managers, and a new COO, Milind Shinde, all coming from DreamWorks, who brought their expertise and experi- ence to the project. According to Wall, the tight sched- ule was the biggest looming issue for everyone involved. At one point, the filmmakers held their breath for an entire week, fearing something devastating had happened to the movie halfway through production following a fire at Assemblage. "We were already on a tight sched- ule, but they stepped up, worked day and night to fix everything, and in less than three days had everything back on track," Wall says. Wall believes audiences will embrace Norm. "It has a basic but heartwarming story that will be liked by children and adults. It also has entertainment value," he says. "I am proud of the entire film." Wall will return to broadcast work, but has since fallen in love with moviemaking, breaking the ice, so to speak, with Norm. In fact, he, along with many of the others who dipped their toes into the frosty waters of animated feature filmmaking with this project, are not that dissimilar from the characters in the film, who determinedly set out on a big adventure into unknown territory for something they believe in. And now we can enjoy the results of that journey in theaters. Norm's fur consists of roughly 1.5M hairs.

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