Category Archives: Animation

The A-List: Lego Batman Movie director Chris McKay

By Iain Blair

Three years ago, The Lego Movie became an “everything is awesome” monster hit that cleverly avoided the pitfalls of feeling like a corporate branding exercise thanks to the deft touch and tonal dexterity of the director/writer/animator/producer team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Now busy working on a Han Solo spinoff movie, they handed over the directing reins on the follow-up, The Lego Batman Movie, to Chris McKay, who served as animation director and editor on the first one. And he hit the ground running on this one, which seriously — and hilariously — tweak’s Batman’s image.

Chris McKay

This time out, Batman stars in his own big-screen adventure, but there are big changes brewing in Gotham City. If he wants to save the city from The Joker’s hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up (somber introspection only goes so far when you’re a handsome billionaire with great cars and gadgets, who gets to punch people in the face with no repercussions).

Will Arnett voices Batman, Zach Galifianakis is The Joker, Michael Cera is orphan Dick Grayson, Rosario Dawson is Barbara Gordon, and Ralph Fiennes voices Alfred.

Behind the scenes, production designer Grant Freckelton and editor David Burrows also return from The Lego Movie, joined by editors Matt Villa and John Venzon. Lorne Balfe was composer, and feature animation was, again, by Animal Logic. The Warner Bros. film was released in 3D, 2D and IMAX.

I recently talked to McKay about making the film and how the whole process was basically all about the post.

The Lego Movie made nearly half a billion dollars and was a huge critical success as well. Any pressure there?
(Laughs) A lot, because of all that success, and asking, “How do we top it?” Then it’s Batman, with all his fans, and DC is very particular as he’s one of their crown jewels. But at the same time, the studio and DC were great partners and understood all the challenges.

So how did you pitch the whole idea?
As Jerry Maguire, directed by Michael Mann, with a ton of jokes in it. They got on board with that and saw what I was doing with the animatic, as well as the love I have for Batman and this world.

Once you were green-lit, you began on post, right?
Exactly right, because post is everything in animation. The whole thing is post. You start in post and end in post. When we pitched this, we didn’t even have a script, just a three- to four-page treatment. They liked the idea and said, “OK, let’s do it.” So we needed to write a script, and get the storyboard and editorial teams to work immediately, because there was no way we could get it finished in time if we didn’t.

It was originally scheduled to come out in May — almost three years from the time we pitched it, but then they moved the release date up to February, so it got even crazier. So we began getting all the key people involved, like [editor/writer] Dave Burrows at Animal Logic, who cut the first one with me, and developing the opening set piece.

You got an amazing cast, including Will Arnett as Batman again, and such unlikely participants as Mariah Carey, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes and Apple’s Siri. How tough was that?
We were very lucky because everyone was a fan, and when they saw that the first one wasn’t just a 90-minute toy commercial, they really wanted to be in it. Mariah was so charming and funny, and apart from her great singing voice, she has a really great speaking voice — and she was great at improv and very playful. Ralph has done some comedy, but I wasn’t sure he’d want to do something like this, but he got it immediately, and his voice was perfect. Michael Cera doesn’t do this kind of thing at all. Like Ralph, he’s an artist who usually does smaller movies and more personal stuff, and people told us, “You’re not going to get Ralph or Cera,” but Will reached out to Cera (they worked together on Arrested Development) and he came on.

As for Siri, it was a joke we tried to make work in the first movie but couldn’t, so we went back to it, and it turned into a great partnership with Apple. So that was a lot of fun for me, playing around with pop culture in that way, as the whole computer thing is part of Batman’s world anyway.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been very busy directing the upcoming, untitled Han Solo Star Wars movie, but as co-producers on this weren’t they still quite involved?
Very. I’d ask them for advice all the time and they would give notes since I was running a lot of stuff past them. They ended up writing several of my favorite lines in this; they gave me so much of their time, pitched jokes and let me do stuff with the animation I wanted to do. They’re very generous.

Sydney-based Animal Logic, the digital design, animation and effects company whose credits include Moulin Rouge!, Happy Feet and Walking With Dinosaurs did all the animation again. What was involved?
As I wanted to use Burrows, that would require us having an editorial team down there, and the studio wasn’t crazy about that. But he’s a fantastic editor and storyteller, and I also wanted to work with Grant Freckelton, who was the production designer on the first one, as well as lighting supervisor Craig Welch — all these team members at Animal Logic who were so good. In the end, we had over 400 people working on this for two and a half years — six months faster than the first one.

So Animal Logic began on it on day one, and I didn’t wait for a script. It was just me, Dave and the storyboard teams in LA and Sydney, and Grant’s design team. I showed them the treatment and said, “Here’s the scenes I want to do,” and we began with paintings and storyboards. The first act in animatic form and the script both landed at the same time in November 2014, and then we pitched where the rest of the movie would go and what changes we would make. So it kept going in tandem like that. There was no traditional screenwriting process. We’d just bring writers in and adjust as we went. So we literally built the screenplay in post — and we could do that because animation is like filmmaking in slow motion, and we had great storytellers in post, like Burrows.

You also used two other editors — Matt Villa and John Venzon. How did that work?
Matt’s very accomplished. He’s cut three of Baz Luhrmann’s films — The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and Australia — and he cut Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner as well as
the animated features Happy Feet Two and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, so he came in to help. We also brought in other writers, and we would all be doing the voices. I was Batman and Matt would do the side characters. We literally built it as we went, with some storyboard artists from the first film, plus others we gathered along the way. The edit was crucial because of the crazy deadline.

Last summer we added John, who has also cut animated features, including Storks, Flushed Away, Shark Tale and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, because we needed to move some editorial to LA last July for five months, and he helped out with all the finishing. It was a 24/7 effort by that time, a labor of love.

Let’s talk about the VFX. Fair to say the whole film’s one big VFX sequence?
You’re right. Every single frame is a VFX shot. It’s mind blowing! You’re constantly working on it at the same time you’re writing and editing and so on, and it takes a big team of very focused animators and producers to do it.

What about the sound and music? Composer Lorne Balfe did the scores for Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the animated features Penguins of Madagascar and Home, as well as Terminator Genisys. How important was the score?
It was crucial. He actually worked on the Dark Knight movies, so I knew he could do all the operatic, serious stuff as well as boy’s adventure stuff for Robin, and he was a big part of making it sound like a real Batman movie. We recorded the score in Sydney and Vienna, and did the mix on the lot at Warners with a great team that included effects mixer Gregg Landaker and sound designer Wayne Pashley from Big Bang Sound in Sydney.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
I wish we had those extra two months, but it’s the movie I wanted to make — it’s good for kids and adults, and it’s a big, fun Batman movie that looks at him in a way that the other Batman movies can’t.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Project Arachnid short targets online images of child sexual abuse

Early this year, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) launched Project Arachnid, a new tool that detects and helps remove images of child sexual abuse on the Internet. The centre, which operates in partnership with police forces across Canada, recently posed questions to 128 adults who had been sexually exploited as children and whose abuse had been recorded on camera. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were worried about being recognized years later, because the images continue to spread online.

To bring to life how Project Arachnid helps victims break the endless cycle of abuse, the organization enlisted agency No Fixed Address and Nice Shoes Creative Studio to craft a brief, but powerful animated short film that features a B&W hand-drawn look.

“It was very important to us to find a way to reflect the gravity of the matter, but not make people look away. We didn’t want the problem to seem insurmountable,” says Shawn James, creative director at No Fixed Address.

Nice Shoes creative directors Gary Thomas and Matt Greenwood, along with design director Stefan Woronko, developed style frames, taking the piece into an illustrative, textured direction inspired by Manga, graphic novels and the work of Frank Miller and Edward Gorey.

As the teams explored the concept, they quickly found they were on the same page, and worked closely to animate the dramatic and powerful story. “We felt the narrative should drive the visuals and presented a solution where only simple animation was needed to emphasize the story,” says Thomas, adding that they were brought in almost from the beginning. “We had reference from the creative team, but we really came back with the look and feel, and worked closely with the team to refine elements.”

Nice Shoes used Adobe Photoshop for all the illustrations in order to get a handmade quality. Everything was assembled in Adobe After Effects. “We composited the scenes and gave it a paper-like, distressed texture,” says Thomas. “We used Maxon Cinema 4D to do the spiders and globe sequences. We had a great character animator, Rob Findlay, come in for a few days and add the animated touches to the characters.”

In terms of challenges, Thomas says the only major one was a quick turnaround of three weeks. “The piece was tied to a big media launch for the CCCP, so we had a firm deadline to work with. It wasn’t really onerous, because we were careful at the outset to do as much as we could at the beginning to make sure the creatives at No Fixed Address were part of the process, and they in turn were able to keep their clients at CCCP in the loop.”

G-Tech 6-15
Photo: Mike Scott

Behind the Title: Flaunt executive producer Andrew Pearce

NAME: Andrew Pearce

COMPANY: Flaunt Productions (@flauntanimation)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Flaunt is a Scottish studio that creates high-quality animation for features, TV, commercials and games. Flaunt is part of the Axis group, which is made up of three collaborating studios with distinct goals, strategies and talent bases.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As EP, I’m one of the first points of contact in the studio. That means attending events, making new relationships, talking to clients and creatives and pitching and planning projects. My next trip is to Kidscreen Miami in February.

The EPs take the “thousand-foot-view” of projects. First, that’s about helping to assemble the right team and working with the director to develop creative and story. Then it’s about making a solid plan. When a producer takes over, it’s about ensuring that we’re exceeding clients’ expectations, and following the studio’s general strategy.

PHOTO: MIKE SCOTT

Flaunt headquarters. Photo: Mike Scott

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
How much we have to adapt to the changing market. There are no right answers to where we place our efforts; it’s a tricky combination of research, intuition, creativity and strategy.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The magic part! When the team comes up with something brilliant. Everyone knows when you’ve got something special, be that a design, a piece of music, an iconic performance or a beautiful shot.

I would also say the sense of excitement: since starting at Axis seven years ago, there has always been a feeling that anything is possible. The founders continue to be supportive of artists and producers who’re keen to push the envelope.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
So much to do, so little time. We see a million opportunities, both in creative and market terms. Our main impediment to trying everything is lack of time and people to explore.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Random meeting time! There is no set time, but it’s often at the lunch table. We have around 150 people in the studio right now and are planning to peak at 200 mid-year. So there are lots of opportunities for meeting interesting folks and hearing new things.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
A lot of our games clients have great companies — I would love to be part of the casual games explosion.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think that for the most part, the profession chose me. I’ve always been keen on business development and strategy. I guess after about three years in the industry my path became clear.

Lost in Oz

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We’ve just wrapped up a second feature for Mattel’s Monster High brand, and we are looking forward to the release in spring. Season One of Amazon Studios’ series Lost in Oz is in production now, for which we’re taking care of design and art direction. Our current production is a super-high quality series, about 80 minutes, due for release in summer. We are doing design and animation for the BBC show Dixi and television commercials for Goodgame’s Goodgame Empire.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Almost every project has some aspect that stood out, but I’d pick our Monster High features. We worked closely with Mattel to create a fresh, bold interpretations of the new toy line. The challenge was in retaining the iconic look of the characters, while updating them to better suit animation.

Mattel was aligned with our goal to create fun stories, packed with humor and charm. The characters weren’t just dolls; we created real, breathing characters that could connect emotionally with kids. Watch out for our making-of video later this month.

Monsters High

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I’ll go for three research tools here, all of which I use daily: LinkedIn, IMDB and Vimeo.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
If I really have to concentrate, I listen to classical music on headphones.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Stupid fun projects that have no deadlines or client expectations — the last one was a wall-mounted Hot Wheels track for my four-year-old, which wraps around his bedroom. I play on it a lot more than he does.


Jim Hagarty Photography

Blue Sky Studios’ Mikki Rose named SIGGRAPH 2019 conference chair

Mikki Rose has been named conference chair of SIGGRAPH 2019. Fur technical director at Greenwich, Connecticut-based Blue Sky Studios, Rose chaired the Production Sessions during SIGGRAPH 2016 this past July in Anaheim and has been a longtime volunteer and active member of SIGGRAPH for the last 15 years.

Rose has worked on such film as The Peanuts Movie and Hotel Transylvania. She refers to herself a “CG hairstylist” due to her specialization in fur at Blue Sky Studios — everything from hair to cloth to feathers and even vegetation. She studied general CG production at college and holds BS degrees in Computer Science and Digital Animation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an MFA in Digital Production Arts from Clemson University. Prior to Blue Sky, she lived in California and held positions with Rhythm & Hues Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

“I have grown to rely on each SIGGRAPH as an opportunity for renewal of inspiration in both my professional and personal creative work. In taking on the role of chair, my goal is to provide an environment for those exact activities to others,” said Rose. “Our industries are changing and developing at an astounding rate. It is my task to incorporate new techniques while continuing to enrich our long-standing traditions.”

SIGGRAPH 2019 will take place in Los Angeles from July 29 to August 2, 2019.


Main Image: SIGGRAPH 2016 — Jim Hagarty Photography


Chaos Group and Adobe partner for photorealistic rendering in CC

Chaos Group’s V-Ray rendering technology is featured in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, allowing graphic designers to easily create photorealistic 3D rendered composites with Project Felix.

Available now, Project Felix is a public beta desktop app that helps users composite 3D assets like models, materials and lights with background images, resulting in an editable render they can continue to design in Photoshop CC. For example, users can turn a basic 3D model of a generic bottle into a realistic product shot that is fully lit and placed in a scene to create an ad, concept mock-up or even abstract art.

V-Ray acts as a virtual camera, letting users test angles, perspectives and placement of their model in the scene before generating a final high-res render. Using the preview window, Felix users get immediate visual feedback on how each edit affects the final rendered image.

By integrating V-Ray, Adobe has brought the same raytracing technology used by companies Industrial Light & Magic to a much wider audience.

“We’re thrilled that Adobe has chosen V-Ray to be the core rendering engine for Project Felix, and to be a part of a new era for 3D in graphic design,” says Peter Mitev, CEO of Chaos Group. “Together we’re bringing the benefits of photoreal rendering, and a new design workflow, to millions of creatives worldwide.”

“Working with the amazing team at Chaos Group meant we could bring the power of the industry’s top rendering engine to our users,” adds Stefano Corazza, senior director of engineering at Adobe. “Our collaboration lets graphic designers design in a more natural flow. Each edit comes to life right before their eyes.”


Reel FX hires Chad Mosley as senior designer

Chad Moseley has joined Reel FX as senior designer. Moseley brings with him nearly a decade of experience in motion graphics and design, spanning television, advertising and broadcast promos.

He comes to Reel FX, which has offices in Dallas and Santa Monica, from Starz Entertainment, where he spent two years as a broadcast designer, concepting and executing promotions for original programming on series such as Outlander, Da Vinci’s Demons and Flesh and Bone, including teasers, spots and graphics packages. His work for brands such as Enterprise, Nestle, Purina and Busch Gardens has earned him a Gold American Advertising Award (AAA), a Gold Addy Award and an AAF Best of Digital Award.

Texas native Moseley studied graphic design and 3D animation in Denver. He developed his career at a Texas news channel, handling the video and graphics for the channel’s website. While there he learned post production. He then worked as a video editor/animator at Denver-based ORCC, later relocating to St. Louis to take a position as senior motion graphics/VFX artist at 90 Degrees West. While there, he contributed to post projects from concept through completion for national brands including Anheuser Busch, Enterprise and UPS, among others. An opportunity as an in-house broadcast designer at Starz Entertainment led Moseley back to Denver in 2014, before once again returning to Dallas once again to join the Reel FX team.


Rogue One/ILM

VES nominees announced, Rogue One gets most nods for features

The Visual Effects Society has announed the the nominees for the 15th Annual VES Awards, which recognizes outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials and video games as well as the VFX supervisors, VFX producers and hands-on artists who work on the projects 

This year, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story received the most feature film nominations with seven; Doctor Strange and The Jungle Book follow with six each. Kubo and the Two Strings is the top animated film contender with six nominations. Game of Thrones leads the broadcast field and scores the most nominations overall with 11.

The nominees in the 24 categories are:

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE

Doctor Strange

Stephane Ceretti, Susan Pickett, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, Paul Corbould

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Christian Manz, Olly Young, Tim Burke, Pablo Grillo, David Watkins

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Frazer Churchill, Hal Couzens, Andrew Lockley, Jelmer Boskma, Hayley Williams

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

John Knoll, Erin Dusseault, Hal Hickel, Nigel Sumner, Neil Corbould

The Jungle Book

Robert Legato, Joyce Cox, Andrew R. Jones, Adam Valdez, JD Schwalm

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Allied

Kevin Baillie, Sandra Scott, Brennan Doyle, Viktor Muller, Richard Van Den Bergh

Deepwater Horizon

Craig Hammack, Petra Holtorf-Stratton, Jason Snell, John Galloway, Burt Dalton

Jason Bourne

Charlie Noble, Dan Barrow, Julian Gnass, Huw Evans, Steve Warner

Silence

Pablo Helman, Brian Barlettani, Ivan Busquets, Juan Garcia, R. Bruce Steinheimer

Sully

MIchael Owens, Tyler Kehl, Mark Curtis, Bryan Litson, Steven Riley

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory

Angus MacLane, Lindsey Collins- p.g.a., John Halstead, Chris J. Chapman

Kubo and the Two Strings

Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner, Steve Emerson, Brad Schiff

Moana

Kyle Odermatt, Nicole P. Hearon, Hank Driskill, Ian Gooding

The Little Prince

Mark Osborne, Jinko Gotoh, Pascal Bertrand, Jamie Caliri

Zootopia

Scott Kersavage, Bradford S. Simonsen, David Goetz, Ernest J. Petti

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE

Black Mirror: Playtest

Justin Hutchinson-Chatburn, Russell McLean, Grant Walker, Christopher Gray

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

Joe Bauer, Steve Kullback, Glenn Melenhorst, Matthew Rouleau, Sam Conway

Stranger Things: Demogorgon

Marc Kolbe, Aaron Sims, Olcun Tan

The Expanse: Salvage

Robert Munroe, Clint Green, Kyle Menzies, Tom Turnbull

Westworld: The Bicameral Mind

Jay Worth, Elizabeth Castro, Bobo Skipper, Gustav  Ahrén 

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE

Black Sails: XX

Erik Henry, Terron Pratt, Aladino Debert, Yafei Wu, Paul Stephenson

Penny Dreadful: The Day Tennyson Died

James Cooper, Bill Halliday, Sarah McMurdo, Mai-Ling Lee

Roots: Night One

Simon Hansen, Paul Kalil, Theo le Roux Preist, Wicus Labuschagne, Max Poolman

The Man in the High Castle: Volkshalle

Lawson Deming, Cory Jamieson, Casi Blume, Nick Chamberlain

Vikings: The Last Ship

Dominic Remane, Mike Borrett, Ovidiu Cinazan, Paul Wishart, Paul Byrne

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A REALTIME PROJECT

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Brian Horton, Keith Pope, David Johnson, Tobias Stromvall

Dishonored 2: Crack in the Slab

Sebastien Mitton, Guillaume Curt, Damien Laurent, Jean-Luc Monnet

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Virtual Reality

Andy Rowans-Robinson, Karen Czukerberg, John Montefusco, Corrina Wilson, Resh Sidhu

Gears of War 4

Kirk Gibbons, Zoe Curnoe, Aryan Hanbeck, Colin Penty

Quantum Break

Janne Pulkkinen, Elmeri Raitanen, Matti Hamalainen, Ville Assinen

Uncharted 4

Bruce Straley, Eben Cook, Iki Ikram

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A COMMERCIAL

Coke Mini; A Mini Marvel

Vincent Cirelli, Michael Perdew, Brendan Seals, Jared Simeth

For Honor

Maxime Luere, Leon Berelle, Dominique Boidin, Remi Kozyra

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Diarmid Harrison-Murray, Hannah Ruddleston, Fabian Frank, William Laban

Titanfall 2: Become One

Dan Akers, Tiffany Webber, Chris Bedrosian

Waitrose: Coming Home

Jonathan Westley -Wes-, Alex Fitzgerald, Jorge Montiel, Adam Droy

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A SPECIAL VENUE

Dream of Anhui

Chris Morley, Lee Hahn, Alex Hessler, Kent Matheson

Pirates of the Caribbean; Battle for the Sunken Treasure

Bill George, Amy Jupiter, Hayden Landis, David Lester

Soarin’ Over the Horizon

Marianne McLean, Bill George, Hayden Landis, Dorne Huebler, Thomas Tait

Skull Island: Reign of Kong

John Gibson, Arish Fyzee, Sachin Shrestha, Anshul Mathuria

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience

Dan Glass, Brett Harding, Tom Debenham, Brian Delmonico, Matt Pulliam

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PERFORMANCE IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURES

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Niffler

Laurent Laban, Gabriel Beauvais-Tremblay, Luc Girard, Romain Rico

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Grand Moff Tarkin

Sven Jensen, Jee Young Park, Steve Walton, Cyrus Jam

The Jungle Book: King Louie

Paul Story, Dennis Yoo, Jack Tema, Andrei Coval

The Jungle Book: Shere Khan

Benjamin Jones. Julio Del Rio Hernandez, Jake Harrell, James Hood

Warcraft: Durotan

Sunny Wei, Brian Cantwell, Brian Paik, Jee Young Park

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PERFORMANCE IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory: Hank

Jonathan Hoffman, Steven Clay Hunter, Mark Piretti, Audrey Wong

Kubo and the Two Strings: Kubo

Jeff Riley, Ian Whitlock, Adam Lawthers, Jeremy Spake

Kubo and the Two Strings: Monkey

Andy Bailey, Dobrin Yanev, Kim Slate, Jessica Lynn

Moana: The Mighty Maui

Mack Kablan, Nikki Mull, Matthew Schiller, Marc Thyng

Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare; Omar

Bernardo Antoniazzi

Aaron Beck

Jason Greenberg

Chris Barnes

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

John Montefusco

Michael Cable

Shayne Ryan

Andy Rowan-Robinson

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards: Drogon

James Kinnings, Michael Holzl, Matt Derksen, Joeseph Hoback

Game of Thrones; Home: Emaciated Dragon

Sebastian Lauer, Jonathan Symmonds, Thomas Kutschera, Anthony Sieben

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PERFORMANCE IN A COMMERCIAL

John Lewis: Buster the Boxer

Tim van Hussen, David Bryan, Chloe Dawe, Maximillian Mallman

Opel Motorsport: Racing Faces; Lion

Jorge Montiel, Jacob Gonzales, Sauce Vilas, Alberto Lara

SSE: Neon House: Baby Pixel

Jorge Montiel, Daniel Kmet, Sauce Vilas, Peter Agg

Waitrose: Coming Home

Jorge Montiel, Nick Smalley, Andreas Graichen, Alberto Lara

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Deadpool: Freeway Assault

Seth Hill, Jedediah Smith, Laurent Taillefer, Marc-Antoine Paquin

Doctor Strange: London

Brendan Seals, Raphael A. Pimentel, Andrew Zink, Gregory Ng

Doctor Strange: New York City

Adam Watkins, Martijn van Herk, Tim Belsher, Jon Mitchell

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Scarif Complex

Enrico Damm, Kevin George, Olivier Vernay-Kim, Yanick Dusseault

OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory: Open Ocean Exhibit

Stephen Gustafson, Jack Hattori, Jesse Hollander, Michael Rutter

Kubo and the Two Strings: Hanzo’s Fortress

Phil Brotherton, Nick Mariana, Emily Greene, Joe Strasser

Kubo and the Two Strings: Waves

David Horsley, Eric Wachtman, Daniel Leatherdale, Takashi Kuboto

Moana: Motonui Island

Rob Dressel, Andy Harkness, Brien Hindman, Larry Wu

OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN AN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL OR REALTIME PROJECT

Black Sails: XXVIII: Maroon Island

Thomas Montminy-Brodeur, Deak Ferrand, Pierre Rousseau, Mathieu Lapierre

Dishonored 2: Clockwork Mansion

Sebastien Mitton, Guillaume Curt, Damien Laurent, Jean-Luc Monnet

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards; Meereen City

Deak Ferrand, Dominic Daigle, François Croteau , Alexandru Banuta

Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter: Citadel

Edmond Engelbrecht, Tomoka Matsumura, Edwin Holdsworth, Cheri Fojtik

The Man in the High Castle: Volkshalle

Casi Blume, David Andrade, Nick Chamberlain, Lawson Deming

OUTSTANDING VIRTUAL CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A PHOTOREAL PROJECT

Doctor Strange: New York Mirror Dimension

Landis Fields, Mathew Cowie, Frederic Medioni, Faraz Hameed

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, Michelle Blok, Christopher Baird, Drew Wood-Davies

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Space Battle

John Levin, Euisung Lee, Steve Ellis, Barry Howell

The Jungle Book

Bill Pope, Robert Legato, Gary Roberts, John Brennan

OUTSTANDING MODEL IN A PHOTOREAL OR ANIMATED PROJECT

Deepwater Horizon: Deepwater Horizon Rig

Kelvin Lau, Jean Bolte, Kevin Sprout, Kim Vongbunyong

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Princess Leia

Paul Giacoppo, Gareth Jensen, Todd Vaziri, James Tooley

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Star Destroyer

Jay Machado, Marko Chulev, Akira Orikasa, Steven Knipping

Star Trek Beyond: Enterprise

Daniel Nicholson, Rhys Salcombe, Chris Elmer, Andreas Maaninka

OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE

Alice Through the Looking Glass; Rust

Klaus Seitschek, Joseph Pepper, Jacob Clark, Cosku Turhan

Doctor Strange; Hong Kong Reverse Destruction

Florian Witzel, Georges Nakhle, Azhul Mohamed, David Kirchner

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Jedha Destruction

Miguel Perez Senent, Matt Puchala, Ciaran Moloney, Luca Mignardi

The Jungle Book: Nature Effects

Oliver Winwood, Fabian Nowak, David Schneider, Ludovic Ramisandraina

OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE

Finding Dory

Stephen Gustafson, Allen Hemberger, Joshua Jenny, Matthew Kiyoshi Wong

Kubo and the Two Strings; Water

David Horsley, Peter Stuart, Timur Khodzhaev, Terrance Tornberg

Moana

Marc Henry Bryant, David Hutchins, John M. Kosnik, Dale Mayeda

Zootopia

Nicholas Burkard, Moe El-Ali, Claudia Chung Sanii, Thom Wickes

OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL OR REALTIME PROJECT

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

Kevin Blom, Sasmit Ranadive, Wanghua Huang, Ben Andersen

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards: Meereen City

Thomas Hullin, Dominik Kirouac, James Dong, Xavier Fourmond

John Lewis: Buster the Boxer

Diarmid Harrison-Murray, Tushar Kewlani, Radu Ciubotariu, Ben Thomas

Sky: Q

Michael Hunault, Gareth Bell, Paul Donnellan, Joshua Curtis

OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE

Doctor Strange: New York City

Matthew Lane, Jose Fernandez, Ziad Shureih, Amy Shepard

Independence Day: Resurgence: Under The Mothership

Mathew Giampa, Adrian Sutherland, Daniel Lee, Ed Wilkie

The Jungle Book

Christoph Salzmann, Masaki Mitchell, Matthew Adams, Max Stummer

X-Men: Apocalypse: Quicksilver Rescue

Jess Burnheim, Alana Newell, Andy Peel, Matthew Shaw

OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE

Black Sails: XX: Sailing Ships

Michael Melchiorre  , Kevin Bouchez, Heather Hoyland, John Brennick

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards: Meereen City

Thomas Montminy-Brodeur, Patrick David, Michael Crane, Joe Salazar

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards: Retaking Winterfell

Dominic Hellier, Morgan Jones, Thijs Noij, Caleb Thompson

Game of Thrones: The Door: Land of Always Winter

Eduardo Díaz, Aníbal Del Busto, Angel Rico, Sonsoles López-Aranguren

OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING IN A PHOTOREAL COMMERCIAL

Canal: Kitchen

Dominique Boidin, Leon Berelle, Maxime Luere, Remi Kozyra

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Tom Harding, Alex Snookes, David Filipe, Andreas Feix

Kenzo: Kenzo World

Evan LangleyBenjamin Nowak  , Rob Fitzsimmons, Phylicia Feldman

LG: World of Play

Jay Bandlish, Udesh Chetty, Carl Norton

Waitrose: Coming Home

Jonathan Westley -Wes, Gary Driver, Milo Paterson, Nina Mosand

OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A STUDENT PROJECT

Breaking Point

Johannes Franz, Nicole Rothermel, Thomas Sali, Alexander Richter

Elemental

Adrian Meyer, Lena-Carolin Lohfink, Denis Krez, David Bellenbaum

Garden Party

Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon, Théophile Dufresne, Lucas Navarro

Shine

Mareike Keller, Dennis Mueller, Meike Mueller


ESPN’s NBA coverage gets a rebrand

The bi-coastal studio Big Block recently collaborated with ESPN to develop, design and animate a rebrand package that promotes their NBA coverage. With nearly a year of design development, the studio’s role expanded beyond a simple production partner, with Big Block executive creative director Curtis Doss and managing director Kenny Solomon leading the charge.

The package, which features a rich palette of textures and fluid elegance, was designed to reflect the style of the NBA. Additionally, Big Block embedded what they call “visual touchstones” to put the spotlight on the stars of the show — the NBA players, the NBA teams and the redesigned NBA and ESPN co-branded logo.

Big Block and ESPN’s creative teams — which included senior coordinating producer for the NBA on ESPN Tim Corrigan — collaborated closely on the logos. The NBA’s was reconfigured and simplified, allowing it to combine with ESPN’s as well as support the iconic silhouette of Jerry West as the centerpiece of the new creation.

Next, the team worked on taking the unique branding and colors of each NBA team and using them as focal points within the broadcasts. Team logos were assembled and rendered and given textures and fast-moving action, providing the broadcast with a high-end look that Big Block and ESPN feel match the face of the league itself.

Big Block provided ESPN with a complete toolkit for the integration of live game footage with team logos, supers, buttons and transitions, as well as team and player-based information like player comparisons and starting lineups. The materials were designed to be visually cohesive between ESPN’s pre-show, game and post-show broadcasts, with Big Block crafting high-end solutions to keep the sophisticated look and feel consistent across the board.

When asked if working with such iconic logos added some challenges to the project, Doss said, “It definitely adds pressure anytime your combining multiple brands, however it was not the first time ESPN and NBA have collaborated, obviously. I will say that there were needs unique to each brand that we absolutely had to consider. This did take us down many paths during the design process, but we feel that the result is a very strong marriage of the two icons that both benefit from a brand perspective.”

In terms of tools, the studio called on Adobe’s Creative Suite and Maxon Cinema 4D. Final renders were done in Cinema 4D’s Physical Render.


The Famous Grouse

Putting The Famous Grouse into CG environs for holiday spots

By Randi Altman

Flaunt Productions in Glasgow teamed up with the Leith Agency on a two-spot campaign for the Scottish blended whisky brand, The Famous Grouse. Heading the effort was director Ben Craig and Flaunt’s head of lighting, Jon Neill — they were tasked with putting the iconic grouse into a CG version of his natural environment for these holiday-themed ads.

The first spot, Perfectly Balanced, was released earlier this month and takes the viewer on a flight through the Scottish Highlands to reveal the Grouse with his chest puffed out and feeling proud of his environment. The second commercial, called Smooth, which aired the week of Black Friday, starts as the camera spins through the snowy Scottish Highlands.

flauntTo create the cinematic photoreal landscape, Neill and some of the team shot drone footage in Glencoe, which allowed real-life textures to be applied to the CG world.

In order to create a realistic grouse, Flaunt applied a feather system based on a fur and procedural shader that gave on organic look to the model. When it came to movement of the body and wing feathers, specific movements had to be animated to give a sense of realistic movement and the personality that is associated with the Famous Grouse.

We reached out to executive producer Andrew Pearce about the project and its workflow…

Photo:Mike Scott

Andrew Pearce

How early did you get involved in the project? Was the agency up for suggestions, or did they already have a specific plan locked in?
Director Ben Craig worked with Flaunt on a creative treatment, based on scripts from The Leith Agency. Their central idea was to bring the much-loved Grouse into his home environment: the epic, sweeping Scottish Highlands. Previously, all ads had been set against an infinite white background. With that in mind, we worked collaboratively with the agency to bring the ads to life.

The first stage after treatment would normally be storyboard. However, because our camera move was so extreme, we felt a 2D animatic would be misleading, so we proceeded straight to previs.

You used drone footage for the Grouse’s environment. How did you go about turning it into CG?
We drove up to the Glencoe ski resort and jumped onto the ski lift to get as high as possible. After a 30-minute walk, we attached a camera to the drone and sent it up into the sky — 360 overlapping stills were taken at three different heights.

We merged the images together to create a 360-panorama and applied this to geometry in Autodesk Maya. From there we rendered out the shot with this background, making creative decisions on what to add or take away. Next, we made simple 3D hills on which to project the images, thus providing parallax and a three-dimensional feel.

Was Maya your main animation software? Did you write your own particle systems off of that? What other tools were used?
Maya was used for animation, Side Effects Houdini for FX, Houdini Mantra for lighting and Nuke for compositing. We also had to write a feather system for the Grouse, which worked inside Houdini.

Can you talk about giving the Grouse personality in the CG world? What about facial (or beak) expressions, and his eyes and movements?
For these adverts, the Grouse was in a real-world environment. With that in mind, we didn’t want to go over the top with cartoony animation. The realism of the Grouse asset wouldn’t support that style, but we needed to give the Grouse some character beyond that of a real one.

Real grouse faces don’t move that much, and we didn’t want to change the anatomy too much. So we used the eyebrows and eyes as much as we could. Our rig also enabled us to exaggerate the shape of the eyes and eyebrows beyond the norm. These subtle anatomical exaggerations were enough for us to push the facial animation enough to engage the viewer.

When it came to the motions of the Grouse, we had to tread a fine line between realistic and anthropomorphic — fans of this brand love how it has moved in previous campaigns. We created various versions of all the actions as we honed in on the motion we wanted. The Grouse’s wink at the end of one of the adverts was the product of many iterations, having explored head tilts, nods, lifts, raised eyebrows and so on.

Before we leave you, anything you would like to add?
We had to strike a balance between a look that was both realistic and magical. This was partly achieved by mashing up some of the most incredible landscapes in Scotland. To augment the magical feel, we added lens flares and camera lens aberrations in the compositing. Subtle pollen particles were also added to give a sense of space as we flew through the environment.

Check out the making of the video here.

Splenda Naturals gets the stop-motion treatment in new spot

Production company 1stAveMachine worked with J. Walter Thompson Toronto and Splenda to create an integrated marketing campaign that promotes the Stevia-based, calorie-free sweetener Splenda Naturals.

Coffee, a fully stop-motion animated spot, features an office scene where a gruff boss (a coffee mug) is laying off a packet of sugar, telling him that “sweet ain’t enough anymore.” The sugar packet figures out it’s that new “Splenda Naturals gal” who is replacing him. The boss explains that not only is she sweet, she’s healthier than sugar. The piece ends with a box of the product and the tag “Hello New Splenda Naturals Sweetener.”

Production companies Tronco and 1stAveMachine worked together to provide production and post production on the piece. The directors of the spot were Becho Lo Bianco and Mariano Bergara, and the production director was Anuk Torre Obeid. 1stAveMachine has represented Tronco and Mab and Becho exclusively worldwide for the last seven years, each year doing more work in the North American and international market.

“Mab, Becho and Anuk are directors and storytellers first and foremost. They own a stop-motion studio in Buenos Aires and have been experimenting in and perfecting this craft for over a decade, but perfect craftsmanship is only a tool to tell the story. We worked in a very collaborative way with the agency and were lucky enough to be able to be a part of the films from the ground up. We designed and built every character as well as the set,” reports 1stAveMachine executive producer/partner Sam Penfield. “As we work with agencies from around the world, many times remotely, we have built many tools in order to collaborate from a distance. Many in our business have not worked in stop-motion, and it is has some peculiarities in regards to process. The first step when we begin a job is to educate anyone on the team who is not familiar with stop motion — how to exploit its natural charm and what limitations that one should be aware of. Once there is an overall understanding of process, we build and previs in CG in order to work on pacing, camera and, most importantly, acting. In stop-motion, even inanimate objects ‘act.’

“For each frame, we build a visual hierarchy so that the viewer follows the story easily and then we fill each frame with interesting details that make for a richer experience on each viewing thereafter,” he continues. “In the case of Splenda, the pre-production was done remotely and the agency/client attended the shoot. Having a great pre-production process meant the shoot went smoothly and we had plenty of time to enjoy being in Buenos Aires.”

The editor was Nicolas Rivas and Alejandro Armaleo provided the color grade. The sound mix was via Pirate Toronto.