Christian Cardona and the VFX of Bones
DS: What are the main tools your team uses on this production?
CC: Since we have a small team and we have to move quickly, we do have specific tools that we use. As far as 3D software, normally we use Maya, but we have a couple guys in here who use 3D Studio Max. I have been trying to incorporate it a little bit more. It really depends on our specific needs. We will turn to Max at times, as it has some interesting tools that I think work pretty well. For example, we’ve been doing a lot of explosions, and the program has great fire and fume effects to help facilitate those elements.
Our main compositing software is After Effects. The reason being is there are a lot of great third-party plug-ins that are already packaged with the software. We have a great 3D tracker in there now. We have a great planar tracker with mocha. There are some really good particle emitters that we use. So, it gives the compositor a lot of control. The 3D tracking software that we also use besides the one inherent in After Effects is the new PFTrack. We have some really, really fantastic stuff that helps us streamline a lot of our tracking needs. There are also some new tools that we’re looking forward to using. We were playing with them towards the end of last season, but there hasn’t been that show yet that has required something new or something different.
There are so many plug-ins in After Effects that we’re really excited to start using. There is a 3D rendering package now that allows you to import models, animate them, apply different materials and shaders, and they behave with all the cameras and lights in After Effects. It renders almost in real-time and you get some pretty advanced rendering options as well, like ambient occlusions as well as some ray tracing and global illumination qualities. So, you get some pretty high quality renders almost straight out of the box. Depending on what those models or those 3D objects are, that could be pretty useful considering our workflow. So, that’s a tool we’re interested in incorporating this season, as well as some third-party plug-ins in 3D Studio Max that do fluid and dynamic simulation.
DS: How do you decide what to do as practical effects and what you’ll have to create digitally?
CC: When we plan with the studio on how to accomplish the visual effects, I really look to shoot a lot of our elements practical for a couple reasons. One, it gives us a quick turnaround. We don’t have to spend our time generating elements when we could just be compositing them. Secondly, it puts the cost back on to production, so that allows us to utilize our budget a lot more effectively on the digital components of the shot. We see eye-to-eye in that philosophy and we get some really good results because of that.
DS: Looking ahead over the course of the new season, do you anticipate being asked to work on any big new VFX shots or elements that will be much different from the type stuff you’ve already been dealing with?
CC: I don’t necessarily think there’s going to be anything new, but there will be an expansion of what and how we’re used. Because they see how much we can accomplish, for example in areas such as set extensions, they realize they have more options, what stories they can tell, what locations they can use, where they can shoot. They realize they don’t need the perfect location. They know we can help out quite a bit. They are looking to us now to help them out a lot more when it comes to locations, helping them figure out those components. They are much more willing to go to us and help out with the set extensions.
Actually, there is something that I can tell you, actually, that we will probably see more of. So, for instance, on these parking garage explosion elements that we shot, we ended up building a third-scale miniature. Not detailed, just rough geometry of the parking structure plus its cars. Then, we ended up igniting some explosions in a specific area and matching those camera angles, then extracting those fire elements and explosions and compositing them into the shot, where we got some interactive lighting and rigs that moved and shook the cars and so forth.
This was the very first time they essentially gave us the budget to do this type of shoot ourselves. We went out together with another company, Fantasy Seven, who built the miniature. We were in charge of the entire shooting process. Normally, the studio would always be in charge. But, because of schedule constraints and crew operations, this type of shoot would end up being pretty expensive. I pitching them the idea that these are really our elements anyways, we know what we need, and if I could find a place to shoot it and a company to help us build it, get the right pyro guys involved as well, I think we’d come in considerably cheaper. We ended up coming in at roughly only one third of what their cost would have been. And we were able to get all the elements that we needed without being rushed. We were able to spend two days blowing stuff up, where they would have given us maybe six hours. So, they were really, really happy with that, obviously, because they were able to save money. But second, it was a responsibility that they didn’t need to worry about anymore.
DS: They trusted you with more of the process.
CC: Right. So, I have a feeling if there is any sort of element shoot, be it fire, water, smoke or whatever, that’s something that we will take charge of. We will be taking it upon ourselves to shoot these elements rather than putting that on production. So I think that’s going to be something that’s different from what we’ve been doing in seasons past. And I think it comes from what you were saying; they’re trusting the process more.
Dan Sarto is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Animation World Network.