Oscar 2012: Weta's Sebastian Sylwan Talks Apes, Art and Technology
DS: So would it be safe to say that most of the innovation and R&D you do is driven by the practical requirements of existing projects?
SS: Pretty much all of it. In some cases it’s the current projects, in some cases it’s projects that we will have in the future. But, yes, all of it.
DS: Can you talk a little bit about some of the more recent R&D advances you guys have made in areas such as rendering, simulations, lighting and motion studies?.
SS: The easiest ones to quote are the two papers presented at SIGGRAPH. We have one paper on a quantitized diffusion model for sub surface scattering and another one on fluid control. In reality, we are working on almost every area of computer graphics and animation. These are just two examples. Rendering better skin, better humans or better apes in some cases is of course always a goal and a challenge. Conveying the soul of a character is the ultimate goal. Creating the environment in which that soul can be expressed and enacted is still part of the same challenge. We are still trying to create an environment in which the audiences can live the dream.
DS: Speaking of the soul of a character, can you tell us about some of the challenges you faced on Rise of the Planet of the Apes?
SS: We developed a number of technologies that were used on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The one that probably was featured most prominently was the hair of the characters. In reality, what we do is provide technological tools to the artist, so that they can create a character that not only is realistic, but also emotes. So there were a number of technological improvements and advancements that were pushed specifically for this film.
The soul of the character comes through the animation, comes through the lighting, comes through the shading of all the parts. It needs to be realistic enough to not throw you off from the suspension of disbelief and at the same time be subtle enough to convey the character of Caesar.
DS: What were some of the advancements made on the film?
SS: Every project comes with its own set of challenges. There certainly are some advancements that we made with on set capture on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There was also a lot of work on the creature side. The creatures department did a lot of work making sure that the movements of the apes were incredibly realistic. There was a lot of simulation time spent on the muscles of the creatures. There was simulation and artist time spent on the hair, the clothing, the textures of the skin of the apes. There was of course a lot of algorithmic complexity and tools that went into making the apes.
But I think that they speak pretty much for themselves. Not only the quality of the imagery, but also the subtlety that the artists were able to bring to those characters, into the character construction. It’s definitely one of the things that impressed me the most.