Getting Wild About Facial Animation
The texture was extracted from each original frame and re-projected back onto the 3D model with the image "warped" to match the animation. CG eyes, mouth interiors and fur were all added, and 2D paint work helped complete a convincing final image.
"The beauty of it is that the lighting was essentially making sure that the eyes and the mouth had the proper light direction, but it wasn't so complex that you had to spend a lot of rendering time and a lot of time defining and refining where the light would come from to be accurate," Jeannette adds. "It's what we used. They also had to do a lot of compositing to reconnect all of the detail. Post-production lasted two years but they had eight months to do the animation."
They originally worked out of Australia, where the movie was shot. Animal Logic, Rising Sun and Iloura did early work. The technique was devised primarily by John Dietz at Rising Sun and Iloura in Melbourne. And then further R&D was done by Animal Logic.
"We did three or four months of development with them and as we were gearing up for post-production, they decided to re-tool a little bit and reshoot some elements to refine the story," Jeannette continues. "And that was in the middle of the strike. So we had to stop work for a few months and then did additional photography last year. But when we came back, we had to basically find a new home for the project for all kinds of reasons. Some because our vendors' slate might've grown too big and they couldn't take on as much work as we were hoping and also because at some point, I realized that, given the time we had left to do the work, piecemealing it was a very daunting template to follow, so we looked to find a single facility to do all of the work. And that's where Framestore came in.
"As it goes, a lot of the work we did in Australia was very useful but not necessarily translated into Framestore's pipeline. So we had to rebuild all of the meshes and everything to fit their pipeline, which is essentially Maya for animation, and rendering in RenderMan for the eyes and inside of the mouth. Given the money and time, this was obviously the best approach.
"The challenge for Framestore was developing a pipeline in a very, very short time. An animator works on a low-textured look of a character and that goes to lighting and they apply the shaders and it goes to compositing. Here, compositing in animation happen at the same time. In fact, you had to do a lot of compositing ahead of animation so that the animators could work with the textures as they were photographed, as opposed to working with gray-shaded characters, as you usually do. What was great for us was they came right off of Despereaux and had a crew of animators already there. And they had that experience of character animation on a large scale."
"I think it produces a really lovely visual aesthetic -- one that was certainly right for the feel of Spike's film," suggests Ben White, Framestore's CG supervisor, "It looks photographed and real in a very unfussy, non-CG way, so it's easy to concentrate on the performances."