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Light Chaser Builds a Fast, Sustainable Lighting Pipeline for China's ‘Little Door Gods’

Beijing-based Light Chaser Animation Studios employs Solid Angle’s Arnold renderer to produce high-quality computer graphics for China’s ‘Little Door Gods.’

Light Chaser Animation Studios in Beijing is the brainchild of Gary Wang, founder and ex-CEO of China’s number one Internet video website Started in 2013 to create world-class animated films with a Chinese cultural touch, the studio released its first feature-length movie, Little Door Gods (Xiao men shen), which opened wide in China January 1, earning $10 million in its opening week.

Wang, who directed the film, brought in DreamWorks veteran Han Lei (Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2, Monsters & Aliens, Shrek Forever After) not only as VFX Supervisor, but also to help build the new studio’s animation pipeline back in 2013. “We built up our CG pipeline really fast,” Lei said. “There was aggressive recruiting of talent from Chinese 3D companies and within six months the team had grown to about 150. My biggest challenge as we approached production was to build a fast, sustainable lighting pipeline.”

Prior to its first project, the short film Little Yeyos, the studio tested two rendering packages extensively. “We chose Solid Angle’s Arnold because it required few shader development -- we can use the standard shader to do mostly everything and the quality is good. Also, at the time, it was much further advanced in terms of global illumination and ray tracing than other renderers and more affordable.”

Building out to Katana

The Foundry’s Katana was the base of Light Chaser’s lighting pipeline on Little Yeyos, but as there is no procedure for getting Autodesk Maya’s fur system directly into Katana’s asset-based software, they weren’t able to get the Maya fur procedure to Katana/Arnold for rendering. 

Han Lei is the Visual Effects Supervisor for Light Chaser Animation's ‘Little Door Gods.’

“First we tried directly outputting Maya fur to Arnold as an .ASS file then transferring to Katana, but that jammed up the pipeline with too much data,” Lei said. “We ended up using Peregrine Labs' Yeti to build up fur assets, and it had a procedure that directly generates the render process, so we didn’t have to carry the big fur cache. The final solution was using Maya’s hair dynamic and Yeti’s procedure to render in Arnold.”

After the pipeline’s success on Little Yeyos, Lei and the team deployed it for Little Door Gods, and is currently using it on their second animated feature.

In terms of lighting challenges, Little Door Gods presented many. One scene in particular, a dancing sequence in a bar, has more than 200 lights. “Some of them were geometry lights,” Lei explained, “and we had over 200 characters in that scene, with volume data and complicated lighting; there were 200 kinds of lights in that shot alone. We rendered it out in one layer all together. We were really pleased with Arnold’s stability, particularly for that scene.”

Light Chaser Animation’s render farm has close to 30,000 cores; 1,000 machines with either 16 or 32 cores and 32GB of memory. For Little Door Gods the average render time was about two hours per frame on workstations with 32 procs. In total the feature required 80 million render hours.

“We were looking for a fast pipeline -- in terms of render performance and also in terms of getting artists up to speed and into the pipeline quickly. Using Arnold’s standard shaders and Al Shaders gives you really good quality. It’s easy to do the general look, and artists don’t have to have a strong technical background to use and control it.”

With 200+ characters and 200+ lights, this sequence presented a rendering challenge.

Source: Solid Angle

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.