Alvin and the Chipettes
DS: There's a quality difference in the fur between the guys and the girls. The girls' fur is finer and softer, so it was a refinement of color and size, but a continuation of the process done with the guys. And Rhythm & Hues has a history of doing these fur creatures. They continue to use this process and there are a lot of tricks they have to do with millions and millions of hairs on these guys in order to make them economically feasible to get them through a pipeline that can render them and can deal with the lighting issues of shadowing and things like that.
But probably the thing that took [the longest] was the addition of hairdos on these Chipettes' heads to get naturally-looking combed hair. And the hairdos actually represent the personalities of the characters. So, I know it sounds funny, but everything you do with these characters represents their personalities, so, again, there's a lot of thought that goes into the clothing and hair. And by thought, it's iterations that we have to do. And it could be very subtle work and just important to the various creative people that see that it has to look natural and move naturally.
DS: There are different styles of hair simulations that have to be done and we've added some in exterior situations, where there's usually a light wind blowing on the characters and when their heads are moving around, there's just a variety of tech animation issues as far as the hair rebounding and the mass of the hair, the speeds of everything that need to be adjusted for different areas of the head. Then there are the collision aspects of hair going through hair, hair going through the costumes, hair going through props, hair going through eye glasses. It's a very complex issue for all parts of the creatures' heads. So it was very time consuming to take it to the next level with these girls.
BD: Any new wrinkles for the guys?
DS: The guys had more clothing changes. And there were some special situations: Simon ends up going into a toilet and coming back out and being completely wet, so there was some Houdini waters works that was done for that. There are not a lot of off-the-shelf packages that are used at Rhythm & Hues for major shows but Houdini is used a lot and Maya is used a lot for modeling.
BD: What about that nice FedEx bag entrance by the Chipettes?
DS: That was an interesting process in terms of rigging and animating the bag. On a larger show, where everything is compartmentalized, the back and forth that needs to be done for some of these processes gets pretty sophisticated, which is probably harder to appreciate on a more contained show where you have sort of generalists doing everything, handing the animation back and forth so you can get closer and closer to doing a successful simulation. And re-rigging this thing ongoing and dynamically while you're reanimating is also an iterative process. There were a lot of surprises for trying to get something that doesn't behave like cloth but is sort of a stiff-sided, bendable material packaging. And these characters tear holes in the bag, are contained within the bag, flopping around and pop out of it. And there's a certain process that I like to follow going back to the basic artwork and almost the look development of the packaging and find out how we diverge from reality -- and just having a group discussion about these differences. What the pieces are as far as the animation goes, and what it is about the shape and the lighting that is keeping us from getting closer to a real physical object.