Unfolding the World of Bunraku
The visual style of the work in Bunraku was a departure for Hotz and his team at Origami Digital. "Most of our prior work was of a photorealistic/invisible style. Achieving the stylized look that [Moshe] wanted took a lot of trial and error, so we came up with a work flow that allowed for experimentation without incurring overages or getting into a major time crunch," he explains.
"Another challenge was the length of the more intricate transition shots that, at 2000-plus frames each, included a lot of geometry and passes to allow for control later, during compositing. Perhaps our biggest challenge was doing this all with a small team. At our largest, we had 25 artists," Hotz adds, "but we had a very good crew and a streamlined work flow that allowed us, on average, to get 40 to 60 shots out per week—including all the exploration time that the director needed."
Hotz entrusted his Bunraku workflow to NewTek’s LightWave 3D, which he chose as the primary 3D application for all the modeling, texturing, and rendering. Artists also used LightWave to do all the setups for the shots. "We used [Autodesk’s] Maya to create a majority of the transition sequences where buildings had to fold and unfold, and then transferred the animation back to LightWave for texturing, lighting, and rendering. Not having to think about licensing the LightWave renderer on our render farm was a huge relief," he affirms. "We then used LightWave to create all the passes that we needed and then passed those off to compositing."
A smooth, tightly integrated production pipeline was a prerequisite for Origami Digital artists to produce a wealth of scenes combining live action, CG with high polygon counts, and striking VFX—all on a deadline.
"The integration of LightWave and Maya on the 3D side, as well as getting camera and geometry information from LightWave into our compositing software (Eyeon Fusion), was key to the speed in which we were able to crank out iterations of work," Hotz insists. "Having this seamless integration allowed me to make certain calls that would allow the artists to work more effectively. Sometimes, we would choose to use the geometry in the compositor rather than a 3D package, because we could make interactive changes while sitting there with the director."
Origami Digital also enjoyed tight integration with its internal job tools. The artists did not need to create render folders or passes folders, Hotz mentions. "We automated things like z depth or matte passes, and submissions to the render farm—all to make it easier on the artist, who could concentrate more on the creative work.
"The integration with Maya was also key in moving elements to and from LightWave," Hotz says. "We used our own tools for that integration and it was a very smooth process. We have a very tight integration of LightWave with the rest of our tools, including our entire motion-capture pipeline."
Artists need to be able to iterate to improve work, admits Hotz. "LightWave allows us to do that," he says. "I find shading and texturing in LightWave so intuitive that we didn’t run into any slowdowns on that end, giving us the opportunity to explore many different looks in a very short amount of time.
"It has an extremely fast renderer, and where you usually shudder to use motion blur with [other] renderers, I don’t even have to think twice with LightWave," Hotz enthuses. "We render with 3D motion blur."
LightWave also proved to be highly effective with scenes having large polygon counts. "We had millions of polys for our transition shots, and we had a much easier time dealing with the geometry in LightWave," Hotz continues.
Bunraku’s visuals are being compared to those of Sin City and 300, both of which commanded much larger budgets than Bunraku’s modest $25 million price tag. "I am extremely proud of the work we have achieved," Hotz says. "I’m equally proud of the way in which we were able to manage this project.