Arraiy 4.11.19

Category Archives: 3D

Wonder Park’s whimsical sound

By Jennifer Walden

The imagination of a young girl comes to life in the animated feature Wonder Park. A Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies film, the story follows June (Brianna Denski) and her mother (Jennifer Garner) as they build a pretend amusement park in June’s bedroom. There are rides that defy the laws of physics — like a merry-go-round with flying fish that can leave the carousel and travel all over the park; a Zero-G-Land where there’s no gravity; a waterfall made of firework sparks; a super tube slide made from bendy straws; and other wild creations.

But when her mom gets sick and leaves for treatment, June’s creative spark fizzles out. She disassembles the park and packs it away. Then one day as June heads home through the woods, she stumbles onto a real-life Wonderland that mirrors her make-believe one. Only this Wonderland is falling apart and being consumed by the mysterious Darkness. June and the park’s mascots work together to restore Wonderland by stopping the Darkness.

Even in its more tense moments — like June and her friend Banky (Oev Michael Urbas) riding a homemade rollercoaster cart down their suburban street and nearly missing an on-coming truck — the sound isn’t intense. The cart doesn’t feel rickety or squeaky, like it’s about to fly apart (even though the brake handle breaks off). There’s the sense of danger that could result in non-serious injury, but never death. And that’s perfect for the target audience of this film — young children. Wonder Park is meant to be sweet and fun, and supervising sound editor John Marquis captures that masterfully.

Marquis and his core team — sound effects editor Diego Perez, sound assistant Emma Present, dialogue/ADR editor Michele Perrone and Foley supervisor Jonathan Klein — handled sound design, sound editorial and pre-mixing at E² Sound on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.

Marquis was first introduced to Wonder Park back in 2013, but the team’s real work began in January 2017. The animated sequences steadily poured in for 17 months. “We had a really long time to work the track, to get some of the conceptual sounds nailed down before going into the first preview. We had two previews with temp score and then two more with mockups of composer Steven Price’s score. It was a real luxury to spend that much time massaging and nitpicking the track before getting to the dub stage. This made the final mix fun; we were having fun mixing and not making editorial choices at that point.”

The final mix was done at Technicolor’s Stage 1, with re-recording mixers Anna Behlmer (effects) and Terry Porter (dialogue/music).

Here, Marquis shares insight on how he created the whimsical sound of Wonder Park, from the adorable yet naughty chimpanzombies to the tonally pleasing, rhythmic and resonant bendy-straw slide.

The film’s sound never felt intense even in tense situations. That approach felt perfectly in-tune with the sensibilities of the intended audience. Was that the initial overall goal for this soundtrack?
When something was intense, we didn’t want it to be painful. We were always in search of having a nice round sound that had the power to communicate the energy and intensity we wanted without having the pointy, sharp edges that hurt. This film is geared toward a younger audience and we were supersensitive about that right out of the gate, even without having that direction from anyone outside of ourselves.

I have two kids — one 10 and one five. Often, they will pop by the studio and listen to what we’re doing. I can get a pretty good gauge right off the bat if we’re doing something that is not resonating with them. Then, we can redirect more toward the intended audience. I pretty much previewed every scene for my kids, and they were having a blast. I bounced ideas off of them so the soundtrack evolved easily toward their demographic. They were at the forefront of our thoughts when designing these sequences.

John Marquis recording the bendy straw sound.

There were numerous opportunities to create fun, unique palettes of sound for this park and these rides that stem from this little girl’s imagination. If I’m a little kid and I’m playing with a toy fish and I’m zipping it around the room, what kind of sound am I making? What kind of sounds am I imagining it making?

This film reminded me of being a kid and playing with toys. So, for the merry-go-round sequence with the flying fish, I asked my kids, “What do you think that would sound like?” And they’d make some sound with their mouths and start playing, and I’d just riff off of that.

I loved the sound of the bendy-straw slide — from the sound of it being built, to the characters traveling through it, and even the reverb on their voices while inside of it. How did you create those sounds?
Before that scene came to us, before we talked about it or saw it, I had the perfect sound for it. We had been having a lot of rain, so I needed to get an expandable gutter for my house. It starts at about one-foot long but can be pulled out to three-feet long if needed. It works exactly like a bendy-straw, but it’s huge. So when I saw the scene in the film, I knew I had the exact, perfect sound for it.

We mic’d it with a Sanken CO-100k, inside and out. We pulled the tube apart and closed it, and got this great, ribbed, rippling, zuzzy sound. We also captured impulse responses inside the tube so we could create custom reverbs. It was one of those magical things that I didn’t even have to think about or go hunting for. This one just fell in my lap. It’s a really fun and tonal sound. It’s musical and has a rhythm to it. You can really play with the Doppler effect to create interesting pass-bys for the building sequences.

Another fun sequence for sound was inside Zero-G-Land. How did you come up with those sounds?
That’s a huge, open space. Our first instinct was to go with a very reverberant sound to showcase the size of the space and the fact that June is in there alone. But as we discussed it further, we came to the conclusion that since this is a zero-gravity environment there would be no air for the sound waves to travel through. So, we decided to treat it like space. That approach really worked out because in the scene proceeding Zero-G-Land, June is walking through a chasm and there are huge echoes. So the contrast between that and the air-less Zero-G-Land worked out perfectly.

Inside Zero-G-Land’s tight, quiet environment we have the sound of these giant balls that June is bouncing off of. They look like balloons so we had balloon bounce sounds, but it wasn’t whimsical enough. It was too predictable. This is a land of imagination, so we were looking for another sound to use.

John Marquis with the Wind Wand.

My friend has an instrument called a Wind Wand, which combines the sound of a didgeridoo with a bullroarer. The Wind Wand is about three feet long and has a gigantic rubber band that goes around it. When you swing the instrument around in the air, the rubber band vibrates. It almost sounds like an organic lightsaber-like sound. I had been playing around with that for another film and thought the rubbery, resonant quality of its vibration could work for these gigantic ball bounces. So we recorded it and applied mild processing to get some shape and movement. It was just a bit of pitching and Doppler effect; we didn’t have to do much to it because the actual sound itself was so expressive and rich and it just fell into place. Once we heard it in the cut, we knew it was the right sound.

How did you approach the sound of the chimpanzombies? Again, this could have been an intense sound, but it was cute! How did you create their sounds?
The key was to make them sound exciting and mischievous instead of scary. It can’t ever feel like June is going to die. There is danger. There is confusion. But there is never a fear of death.

The chimpanzombies are actually these Wonder Chimp dolls gone crazy. So they were all supposed to have the same voice — this pre-recorded voice that is in every Wonder Chimp doll. So, you see this horde of chimpanzombies coming toward you and you think something really threatening is happening but then you start to hear them and all they are saying is, “Welcome to Wonderland!” or something sweet like that. It’s all in a big cacophony of high-pitched voices, and they have these little squeaky dog-toy feet. So there’s this contrast between what you anticipate will be scary but it turns out these things are super-cute.

The big challenge was that they were all supposed to sound the same, just this one pre-recorded voice that’s in each one of these dolls. I was afraid it was going to sound like a wall of noise that was indecipherable, and a big, looping mess. There’s a software program that I ended up using a lot on this film. It’s called Sound Particles. It’s really cool, and I’ve been finding a reason to use it on every movie now. So, I loaded this pre-recorded snippet from the Wonder Chimp doll into Sound Particles and then changed different parameters — I wanted a crowd of 20 dolls that could vary in pitch by 10%, and they’re going to walk by at a medium pace.

Changing the parameters will change the results, and I was able to make a mass of different voices based off of this one, individual audio file. It worked perfectly once I came up with a recipe for it. What would have taken me a day or more — to individually pitch a copy of a file numerous times to create a crowd of unique voices — only took me a few minutes. I just did a bunch of varieties of that, with smaller groups and bigger groups, and I did that with their feet as well. The key was that the chimpanzombies were all one thing, but in the context of music and dialogue, you had to be able to discern the individuality of each little one.

There’s a fun scene where the chimpanzombies are using little pickaxes and hitting the underside of the glass walkway that June and the Wonderland mascots are traversing. How did you make that?
That was for Fireworks Falls; one of the big scenes that we had waited a long time for. We weren’t really sure how that was going to look — if the waterfall would be more fiery or more sparkly.

The little pickaxes were a blacksmith’s hammer beating an iron bar on an anvil. Those “tink” sounds were pitched up and resonated just a little bit to give it a glass feel. The key with that, again, was to try to make it cute. You have these mischievous chimpanzombies all pecking away at the glass. It had to sound like they were being naughty, not malicious.

When the glass shatters and they all fall down, we had these little pinball bell sounds that would pop in from time to time. It kept the scene feeling mildly whimsical as the debris is falling and hitting the patio umbrellas and tables in the background.

Here again, it could have sounded intense as June makes her escape using the patio umbrella, but it didn’t. It sounded fun!
I grew up in the Midwest and every July 4th we would shoot off fireworks on the front lawn and on the sidewalk. I was thinking about the fun fireworks that I remembered, like sparklers, and these whistling spinning fireworks that had a fun acceleration sound. Then there were bottle rockets. When I hear those sounds now I remember the fun time of being a kid on July 4th.

So, for the Fireworks Falls, I wanted to use those sounds as the fun details, the top notes that poke through. There are rocket crackles and whistles that support the low-end, powerful portion of the rapids. As June is escaping, she’s saying, “This is so amazing! This is so cool!” She’s a kid exploring something really amazing and realizing that this is all of the stuff that she was imagining and is now experiencing for real. We didn’t want her to feel scared, but rather to be overtaken by the joy and awesomeness of what she’s experiencing.

The most ominous element in the park is the Darkness. What was your approach to the sound in there?
It needed to be something that was more mysterious than ominous. It’s only scary because of the unknown factor. At first, we played around with storm elements, but that wasn’t right. So I played around with a recording of my son as a baby; he’s cooing. I pitched that sound down a ton, so it has this natural, organic, undulating, human spine to it. I mixed in some dissonant windchimes. I have a nice set of windchimes at home and I arranged them so they wouldn’t hit in a pleasing way. I pitched those way down, and it added a magical/mystical feel to the sound. It’s almost enticing June to come and check it out.

The Darkness is the thing that is eating up June’s creativity and imagination. It’s eating up all of the joy. It’s never entirely clear what it is though. When June gets inside the Darkness, everything is silent. The things in there get picked up and rearranged and dropped. As with the Zero-G-Land moment, we bring everything to a head. We go from a full-spectrum sound, with the score and June yelling and the sound design, to a quiet moment where we only hear her breathing. For there, it opens up and blossoms with the pulse of her creativity returning and her memories returning. It’s a very subjective moment that’s hard to put into words.

When June whispers into Peanut’s ear, his marker comes alive again. How did you make the sound of Peanut’s marker? And how did you give it movement?
The sound was primarily this ceramic, water-based bird whistle, which gave it a whimsical element. It reminded me of a show I watched when I was little where the host would draw with his marker and it would make a little whistling, musical sound. So anytime the marker was moving, it would make this really fun sound. This marker needed to feel like something you would pick up and wave around. It had to feel like something that would inspire you to draw and create with it.

To get the movement, it was partially performance based and partially done by adding in a Doppler effect. I used variations in the Waves Doppler plug-in. This was another sound that I also used Sound Particles for, but I didn’t use it to generate particles. I used it to generate varied movement for a single source, to give it shape and speed.

Did you use Sound Particles on the paper flying sound too? That one also had a lot of movement, with lots of twists and turns.
No, that one was an old-fashioned fader move. What gave that sound its interesting quality — this soft, almost ethereal and inviting feel — was the practical element we used to create the sound. It was a piece of paper bag that was super-crumpled up, so it felt fluttery and soft. Then, every time it moved, it had a vocally whoosh element that gave it personality. So once we got that practical element nailed down, the key was to accentuate it with a little wispy whoosh to make it feel like the paper was whispering to June, saying, “Come follow me!”

Wonder Park is in theaters now. Go see it!


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.

Behind the Title: Nice Shoes animator Yandong Dino Qiu

This artist/designer has taken to sketching people on the subway to keep his skills fresh and mind relaxed.

NAME: Yandong Dino Qiu

COMPANY: New York’s Nice Shoes

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Nice Shoes is a full-service creative studio. We offer design, animation, VFX, editing, color grading, VR/AR, working with agencies, brands and filmmakers to help realize their creative vision.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Designer/Animator

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Helping our clients to explore different looks in the pre-production stage, while aiding them in getting as close as possible to the final look of the spot. There’s a lot of exploration and trial and error as we try to deliver beautiful still frames that inform the look of the moving piece.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Not so much for the title, but for myself, design and animation can be quite broad. People may assume you’re only 2D, but it also involves a lot of other skill sets such as 3D lighting and rendering. It’s pretty close to a generalist role that requires you to know nearly every software as well as to turn things around very quickly.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
Photoshop, After Effects,. Illustrator, InDesign — the full Adobe Creative Suite — and Maxon Cinema 4D.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Pitch and exploration. At that stage, all possibilities are open. The job is alive… like a baby. You’re seeing it form and helping to make new life. Before this, you have no idea what it’s going to look like. After this phase, everyone has an idea. It’s very challenging, exciting and rewarding.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Revisions. Especially toward the end of a project. Everything is set up. One little change will affect everything else.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
2:15pm. Its right after lunch. You know you have the whole afternoon. The sun is bright. The mood is light. It’s not too late for anything.

Sketching on the subway.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would be a Manga artist.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
La Mer. Frontline. Friskies. I’ve also been drawing during my commute everyday, sketching the people I see on the subway. I’m trying to post every week on Instagram. I think it’s important for artists to keep to a routine. I started up with this at the beginning of 2019, and there’ve been about 50 drawings already. Artists need to keep their pen sharp all the time. By doing these sketches, I’m not only benefiting my drawing skills, but I’m improving my observation about shapes and compositions, which is extremely valuable for work. Being able to break down shapes and components is a key principle of design, and honing that skill helps me in responding to client briefs.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
TED-Ed What Is Time? We had a lot of freedom in figuring out how to animate Einstein’s theories in a fun and engaging way. I worked with our creative director Harry Dorrington to establish the look and then with our CG team to ensure that the feel we established in the style frames was implemented throughout the piece.

TED-Ed What Is Time?

The film was extremely well received. There was a lot of excitement at Nice Shoes when it premiered, and TED-Ed’s audience seemed to respond really warmly as well. It’s rare to see so much positivity in the YouTube comments.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My Wacom tablet for drawing and my iPad for reading.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I take time and draw for myself. I love that drawing and creating is such a huge part of my job, but it can get stressful and tiring only creating for others. I’m proud of that work, but when I can draw something that makes me personally happy, any stress or exhaustion from the work day just melts away.

Arraiy 4.11.19

Quick Chat: Lord Danger takes on VFX-heavy Devil May Cry 5 spot

By Randi Altman

Visual effects for spots have become more and more sophisticated, and the recent Capcom trailer promoting the availability of its game Devil May Cry 5 is a perfect example.

 The Mike Diva-directed Something Greater starts off like it might be a commercial for an anti-depressant with images of a woman cooking dinner for some guests, people working at a construction site, a bored guy trimming hedges… but suddenly each of our “Everyday Joes” turns into a warrior fighting baddies in a video game.

Josh Shadid

The hedge trimmer’s right arm turns into a futuristic weapon, the construction worker evokes a panther to fight a monster, and the lady cooking is seen with guns a blazin’ in both hands. When she runs out of ammo, and to the dismay of her dinner guests, her arms turn into giant saws. 

Lord Danger’s team worked closely with Capcom USA to create this over-the-top experience, and they provided everything from production to VFX to post, including sound and music.

We reached out to Lord Danger founder/EP Josh Shadid to learn more about their collaboration with Capcom, as well as their workflow.

How much direction did you get from Capcom? What was their brief to you?
Capcom’s fight-games director of brand marketing, Charlene Ingram, came to us with a simple request — make a memorable TV commercial that did not use gameplay footage but still illustrated the intensity and epic-ness of the DMC series.

What was it shot on and why?
We shot on both Arri Alexa Mini and Phantom Flex 4k using Zeiss Super Speed MKii Prime lenses, thanks to our friends at Antagonist Camera, and a Technodolly motion control crane arm. We used the Phantom on the Technodolly to capture the high-speed shots. We used that setup to speed ramp through character actions, while maintaining 4K resolution for post in both the garden and kitchen transformations.

We used the Alexa Mini on the rest of the spot. It’s our preferred camera for most of our shoots because we love the combination of its size and image quality. The Technodolly allowed us to create frame-accurate, repeatable camera movements around the characters so we could seamlessly stitch together multiple shots as one. We also needed to cue the fight choreography to sync up with our camera positions.

You had a VFX supervisor on set. Can you give an example of how that was beneficial?
We did have a VFX supervisor on site for this production. Our usual VFX supervisor is one of our lead animators — having him on site to work with means we’re often starting elements in our post production workflow while we’re still shooting.

Assuming some of it was greenscreen?
We shot elements of the construction site and gardening scene on greenscreen. We used pop-ups to film these elements on set so we could mimic camera moves and lighting perfectly. We also took photogrammetry scans of our characters to help rebuild parts of their bodies during transition moments, and to emulate flying without requiring wire work — which would have been difficult to control outside during windy and rainy weather.

Can you talk about some of the more challenging VFX?
The shot of the gardener jumping into the air while the camera spins around him twice was particularly difficult. The camera starts on a 45-degree frontal, swings behind him and then returns to a 45-degree frontal once he’s in the air.

We had to digitally recreate the entire street, so we used the technocrane at the highest position possible to capture data from a slow pan across the neighborhood in order to rebuild the world. We also had to shoot this scene in several pieces and stitch it together. Since we didn’t use wire work to suspend the character, we also had to recreate the lower half of his body in 3D to achieve a natural looking jump position. That with the combination of the CG weapon elements made for a challenging composite — but in the end, it turned out really dramatic (and pretty cool).

Were any of the assets provided by Capcom? All created from scratch?
We were provided with the character and weapons models from Capcom — but these were in-game assets, and if you’ve played the game you’ll see that the environments are often dark and moody, so the textures and shaders really didn’t apply to a real-world scenario.

Our character modeling team had to recreate and re-interpret what these characters and weapons would look like in the real world — and they had to nail it — because game culture wouldn’t forgive a poor interpretation of these iconic elements. So far the feedback has been pretty darn good.

In what ways did being the production company and the VFX house on the project help?
The separation of creative from production and post production is an outdated model. The time it takes to bring each team up to speed, to manage the communication of ideas between creatives and to ensure there is a cohesive vision from start to finish, increases both the costs and the time it takes to deliver a final project.

We shot and delivered all of Devil May Cry’s Something Greater in four weeks total, all in-house. We find that working as the production company and VFX house reduces the ratio of managers per creative significantly, putting more of the money into the final product.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 


VFX supervisor Christoph Schröer joins NYC’s Artjail

New York City-based VFX house Artjail has added Christoph Schröer as VFX supervisor. Previously a VFX supervisor/senior compositor at The Mill, Schröer brings over a decade of experience to his new role at Artjail. His work has been featured in spots for Mercedes-Benz, Visa, Volkswagen, Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Cartier.

Combining his computer technology expertise and a passion for graffiti design, Schröer applied his degree in Computer and Media Sciences to begin his career in VFX. He started off working at visual effects studios in Germany and Switzerland where he collaborated with a variety of European auto clients. His credits from his tenure in the European market include lead compositor for multiple Mercedes-Benz spots, two global Volkswagen campaign launches and BMW’s “Rev Up Your Family.”

In 2016, Schröer made the move to New York to take on a role as senior compositor and VFX supervisor at The Mill. There, he teamed with directors such as Tarsem Singh and Derek Cianfrance, and worked on campaigns for Hennessy, Nissan Altima, Samsung, Cartier and Visa.


Autodesk Arnold 5.3 with Arnold GPU in public beta

Autodesk has made its Arnold 5.3 with Arnold GPU available as a public beta. The release provides artists with GPU rendering for a set number of features, and the flexibility to choose between rendering on the CPU or GPU without changing renderers.

From look development to lighting, support for GPU acceleration brings greater interactivity and speed to artist workflows, helping reduce iteration and review cycles. Arnold 5.3 also adds new functionality to help maximize performance and give artists more control over their rendering processes, including updates to adaptive sampling, a new version of the Randomwalk SSS mode and improved Operator UX.

Arnold GPU rendering makes it easier for artists and small studios to iterate quickly in a fast working environment and scale rendering capacity to accommodate project demands. From within the standard Arnold interface, users can switch between rendering on the CPU and GPU with a single click. Arnold GPU currently supports features such as arbitrary shading networks, SSS, hair, atmospherics, instancing, and procedurals. Arnold GPU is based on the Nvidia OptiX framework and is optimized to leverage Nvidia RTX technology.

New feature summary:
— Major improvements to quality and performance for adaptive sampling, helping to reduce render times without jeopardizing final image quality
— Improved version of Randomwalk SSS mode for more realistic shading
— Enhanced usability for Standard Surface, giving users more control
— Improvements to the Operator framework
— Better sampling of Skydome lights, reducing direct illumination noise
— Updates to support for MaterialX, allowing users to save a shading network as a MaterialX look

Arnold 5.3 with Arnold GPU in public beta will be available March 20 as a standalone subscription or with a collection of end-to-end creative tools within the Autodesk Media & Entertainment Collection. You can also try Arnold GPU with a free 30-day trial of Arnold. Arnold GPU is available in all supported plug-ins for Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max, Houdini, Cinema 4D and Katana.


Sandbox VR partners with Vicon on Amber Sky 2088 experience

VR gaming company Sandbox VR has been partnering and working with Vicon motion capture tools to create next-generation immersive experiences. By using Vicon’s motion capture cameras and its location-based VR (LBVR) software Evoke, the Hong Kong-based Sandbox VR is working to transport up to six people at a time into the Amber Sky 2088 experience, which takes place in a future where the fate of humanity lies in the balance.

Sandbox VR’s adventures resemble movies where the players become the characters. With two proprietary AAA-quality games already in operation across Sandbox VR’s seven locations, for its third title, Amber Sky 2088, a new motion capture solution was needed. In the futuristic game, users step into the role of androids, granting players abilities far beyond the average human while still scaling the game to their actual movements. To accurately convey that for multiple users in a free-roam environment, precision tracking and flexible scalability were vital. For that, Sandbox VR turned to Vicon.

Set in the twilight of the 21st century, Amber Sky 2088 takes players to a futuristic version of Hong Kong, then through the clouds to the edge of space to fight off an alien invasion. Android abilities allow players to react with incredible strength and move at speeds fast enough to dodge bullets. And while the in-game action is furious, participants in the real-world — equipped with VR headsets —  freely roam an open environment as Vicon LBVR motion capture cameras track their movement.

Vicon’s motion capture cameras record every player movement, then send the data to its Evoke software, a solution introduced last year as part of its LBVR platform, Origin. Vicon’s solution offers  precise tracking, while also animating player motion in realtime, creating a seamless in-game experience. Automatic re-calibration also makes the experience’s operation easier than ever despite its complex nature, and the system’s scalability means fewer cameras can be used to capture more movement, making it cost-effective for large scale expansion.

Since its founding in 2016, Sandbox VR has been creating interactive experiences by combining motion capture technology with virtual reality. After opening its first location in Hong Kong in 2017, the company has since expanded to seven locations across Asia and North America, with six new sites on the way. Each 30- to 60-minute experience is created in-house by Sandbox VR, and each can accommodate up to six players at a time.

The recent partnership with Vicon is the first step in Sandbox VR’s expansion plans that will see it open over 40 experience rooms across 12 new locations around the world by the end of the year. In considering its plans to build and operate new locations, the VR makers chose to start with five systems from Vicon, in part because of the company’s collaborative nature.


Review: Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite 15

By Brady Betzel

We are now comfortably into 2019 and enjoying the Chinese Year of the Pig — or at least I am! So readers, you might remember that with each new year comes a Red Giant Trapcode Suite update. And Red Giant didn’t disappoint with Trapcode Suite 15.

Every year Red Giant adds more amazing features to its already amazing particle generator and emitter toolset, Trapcode Suite, and this year is no different. Trapcode Suite 15 is keeping tools like 3D Stroke, Shine, Starglow, Sound Keys, Lux, Tao, Echospace and Horizon while significantly updating Particular, Form and Mir.

I won’t be covering each plugin in this review but you can check out what each individual plugin does on the Red Giant’s website.

Particular 4
The bread and butter of the Trapcode Suite has always been Particular, and Version 4 continues to be a powerhouse. The biggest differences between using a true 3D app like Maxon’s Cinema 4D or Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects (besides being pseudo 3D) are features like true raytraced rendering and interacting particle systems with fluid dynamics. As I alluded to, After Effects isn’t technically a 3D app, but with plugins like Particular you can create pseudo-3D particle systems that can affect and be affected by different particle emitters in your scenes. Trapcode Suite 15 and, in particular (all the pun intended), Particular 4, have evolved to another level with the latest update to include Dynamic Fluids. Dynamic Fluids essentially allows particle systems that have the fluid-physics engine enabled to interact with one another as well as create mind-blowing liquid-like simulations inside of After Effects.

What’s even more impressive is that with the Particular Designer and over 335 presets, you don’t  need a master’s degree to make impressive motion graphics. While I love to work in After Effects, I don’t always have eight hours to make a fluidly dynamic particle system bounce off 3D text, or have two systems interact with each other for a text reveal. This is where Particular 4 really pays for itself. With a little research and tutorial watching, you will be up and rendering within 30 minutes.

When I was using Particular 4, I simply wanted to recreate the Dynamic Fluid interaction I had seen in one of their promos. Basically, two emitters crashing into each other in a viscus-like fluid, then interacting. While it isn’t necessarily easy, if you have a slightly above-beginner amount of After Effects knowledge you will be able to do this. Apply the Particular plugin to a new solid object and open up the Particular Designer in Effect Controls. From there you can designate emitter type, motion, particle type, particle shadowing, particle color and dispersion types, as well as add multiple instances of emitters, adjust physics and much more.

The presets for all of these options can be accessed by clicking the “>” symbol in the upper left of the Designer interface. You can access all of the detailed settings and building “Blocks” of each of these categories by clicking the “<” in the same area. With a few hours spent watching tutorials on YouTube, you can be up and running with particle emitters and fluid dynamics. The preset emitters are pretty amazing, including my favorite, the two-emitter fluid dynamic systems that interact with one another.

Form 4
The second plugin in the Trapcode Suite 15 that has been updated is Trapcode Form 4. Form is a plugin that literally creates forms using particles that live forever in a unified 3D space, allowing for interaction. Form 4 adds the updated Designer, which makes particle grids a little more accessible and easier to construct for non-experts. Form 4 also includes the latest Fluid Dynamics update that Particular gained. The Fluid Dynamics engine really adds another level of beauty to Form projects, allowing you to create fluid-like particle grids from the 150 included presets or even your own .obj files.

My favorite settings to tinker with are Swirl and Viscosity. Using both settings in tandem can help create an ooey-gooey liquid particle grid that can interact with other Form systems to build pretty incredible scenes. To test out how .obj models worked within form, I clicked over to www.sketchfab.com and downloaded an .obj 3D model. If you search for downloadable models that do not cost anything, you can use them in your projects under Creative Commons licensing protocols, as long as you credit the creator. When in doubt always read the licensing (You can find more info on creative commons licensing here, but in this case you can use them as great practice models.

Anyway, Form 4 allows us to import .obj files, including animated .obj sequences as well as their textures. I found a Day of the Dead-type skull created by JMUHIST, pointed form to the .obj as well as its included texture, added a couple After Effect’s lights, a camera, and I was in business. Form has a great replicator feature (much like Element3D). There are a ton of options, including fog distance under visibility, animation properties, and even the ability to quickly add a null object linked to your model for quick alignment of other elements in the scene.

Mir 3
Up last is Trapcode Mir 3. Mir 3 is used to create 3D terrains, objects and wireframes in After Effects. In this latest update, Mir has added the ability to import .obj models and textures. Using fractal displacement mapping, you can quickly create some amazing terrains. From mountain-like peaks to alien terrains, Mir is a great supplement when using plugins like Video Copilot Element 3D to add endless tunnels or terrains to your 3D scenes quickly and easily.

And if you don’t have or own Element 3D, you will really enjoy the particle replication system. Use one 3D object and duplicate, then twist, distort and animate multiple instances of them quickly. The best part about all of these Trapcode Suite tools is that they interact with the cameras and lighting native to After Effects, making it a unified animating experience (instead of animating separate camera and lighting rigs like in the old days). Two of my favorite features from the last update are the ability to use quad- or triangle-based polygons to texture your surfaces. This can give an 8-bit or low-poly feel quickly, as well as a second pass wireframe to add a grid-like surface to your terrain.

Summing Up
Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite 15 is amazing. If you have a previous version of the Trapcode Suite, you’re in luck: the upgrade is “only” $199. If you need to purchase the full suite, it will cost you $999. Students get a bit of a break at $499.

If you are on the fence about it, go watch Daniel Hashimoto’s Cheap Tricks: Aquaman Underwater Effects tutorial (Part 1 and Part 2). He explains how you can use all of the Red Giant Trapcode Suite effects with other plugins like Video CoPilot’s Element 3D and Red Giant’s Universe and offers up some pro tips when using www.sketchfab.com to find 3D models.

I think I even saw him using Video CoPilot’s FX Console, which is a free After Effects plugin that makes accessing plugins much faster in After Effects. You may have seen his work as @ActionMovieKid on Twitter or @TheActionMovieKid on Instagram. He does some amazing VFX with his kids — he’s a must follow. Red Giant made a power move to get him to make tutorials for them! Anyway, his Aquaman Underwater Effects tutorial take you step by step through how to use each part of the Trapcode Suite 15 in an amazing way. He makes it look a little too easy, but I guess that is a combination of his VFX skills and the Trapcode Suite toolset.

If you are excited about 3D objects, particle systems and fluid dynamics you must check out Trapcode Suite 15 and its latest updates to Particular, Mir and Form.

After I finished the Trapcode Suite 15 review, Red Giant released the Trapcode Suite 15.1 update. The 15.1 update includes Text and Mask Emitters for Form and Particular 4.1, updated Designer, Shadowlet particle type matching, shadowlet softness and 21 additional presets.

This is a free update that can be downloaded from the Red Giant website.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

 


Behind the Title: Gentleman Scholar MD/EP Jo Arghiris

LA-based Jo Arghiris embraces the creativity of the job and enjoys “pulling treatments together with our directors. It’s always such a fun, collaborative process.” Find out more…

Name: Jo Arghiris

Company: Gentleman Scholar (@gentscholar)

Can You Describe Your Company?
Gentleman Scholar is a creative production studio, drawn together by a love of design and an eagerness to push boundaries.  Since launching in Los Angeles in 2010, and expanding to New York in 2016, we have evolved within the disciplines of live-action production, digital exploration, print and VR. At our very core, we are a band of passionate artists and fearless makers.

The biggest thing that struck me when I joined Scholar was everyone’s willingness to roll up their sleeves and give it a go. There are so many creative people working across both our studios, it’s quite amazing what we can achieve when we put our collective minds to it. In fact, it’s really hard to put us in a category or to define what we do on a day-to-day basis. But if I had to sum it up in just one word, our company feels like “home”; there’s no place quite like it.

What’s Your Job Title?
Managing Director/EP Los Angeles

What Does That Entail?
Truth be told, it’s evolving all the time. In its purest form, my job entails having top-line involvement on everything going on in the LA studio, both from operational and new business POVs. I face inwards and outwards. I mentor and I project. I lead and I follow. But the main thing I want to mention is that I couldn’t do my job without all these incredible people by my side. It really does take a village, every single day.

What Would Surprise People the Most About What Falls Under That Title?
Not so much “surprising” but certainly different from other roles, is that my job is never done (or at least it shouldn’t be). I never go home with all my to-do’s ticked off. The deck is constantly shuffled and re-dealt. This fluidity can be off-putting to some people who like to have a clear idea of what they need to achieve on any given day. But I really like to work that way, as it keeps my mind nimble and fresh.

What’s Your Favorite Part of the Job?
Learning new things and expanding my mind. I like to see our teams push themselves in this way, too. It’s incredibly satisfying watching folks overcome challenges and grow into their roles. Also, I obviously love winning work, especially if it’s an intense pitch process. I’m a creative person and I really enjoy pulling treatments together with our directors. It’s always such a fun, collaborative process.

What’s Your Least Favorite?
Well, I guess the 24/7 availability thing that we’ve all become accustomed to and are all guilty of. It’s so, so important for us to have boundaries. If I’m emailing the team late at night or on the weekend, I will write in the subject line, “For the Morning” or “For Monday.” I sometimes need to get stuff set up in advance, but I absolutely do not expect a response at 10pm on a Sunday night. To do your best work, it’s essential that you have a healthy work/life balance.

What is Your Favorite Time of the Day?
As clichéd as it may sound, I love to get up before anyone else and sit, in silence, with a cup of coffee. I’m a one-a-day kind of girl, so it’s pretty sacred to me. Weekdays or weekends, I have so much going on, I need to set my day up in these few solitary moments. I am not a night person at all and can usually be found fast asleep on the sofa sometime around 9pm each night. Equally favorite is when my kids get up and we do “huggle” time together, before the day takes us away on our separate journeys.

Bleacher Report

Can you Name Some Recent Projects?
Gentleman Scholar worked on a big Acura TLX campaign, which is probably one of my all-time favorites. Other fun projects include Legends Club for Timberland, Upwork “Hey World!” campaign from Duncan Channon, the Sponsor Reel for the 2018 AICP Show and Bleacher Report’s Sports Alphabet.

If You Didn’t Have This Job, What Would You be Doing Instead?
I love photography, writing and traveling. So if I could do it all again, I’d be some kind of travel writer/photographer combo or a journalist or something. My brother actually does just that, and I’m super-proud of his choices. To stand behind your own creative point of view takes skill and dedication.

How Did You Know This Would Be Your Path?
The road has been long, and it has carried me from London to New York to Los Angeles. I originally started in post production and VFX, where I got a taste for creative problem-solving. The jump from this world to a creative production studio like Scholar was perfectly timed and I relished the learning curve that came with it. I think it’s quite hard to have a defined “path” these days.

My advice to anyone getting into our industry right now would be to understand that knowledge and education are powerful tools, so go out of your way to harness them. And never stand still; always keep pushing yourself.

Name Three Pieces of Technology You Can’t Live Without.
My Ear Pods — so happy to not have that charging/listening conflict with my iPhone anymore; all the apps that allow me to streamline my life and get shit done any time of day no matter what, no matter where; I think my electric toothbrush is pretty high up there too. Can I have one more? Not “tech” per se, but my super-cute mini-hair straightener, which make my bangs look on point, even after working out!

What Social Media Channels Do You Follow?
Well, I like Instagram mostly. Do you count Pinterest? I love a Pinterest board. I have many of those. And I read Twitter, but I don’t Tweet too much. To be honest, I’m pretty lame on social media, and all my accounts are private. But I realize they are such important tools in our industry so I use them on an as-needed basis. Also, it’s something I need to consider soon for my kids, who are obsessed with watching random, “how-to” videos online and periodically ask me, “Are you going to put that on YouTube?” So I need to keep on top of it, not just for work, but also for them. It will be their world very soon.

Do You Listen to Music While You Work? Care to Share Your Favorite Music to Work to?
Yes, I have a Sonos set up in my office. I listen to a lot of playlists — found ones and the random ones that your streaming services build for you. Earlier this morning I had an album called Smino by blkswn playing. Right now I’m listening to a band called Pronoun. They were on a playlist Nylon Studios released called, “All the Brooklyn Bands You Should Be Listening To.”

My drive home is all about the podcast. I’m trying to educate myself more on American history at the moment. I’m also tempted to get into Babel and learn French. With all the hours I spend in the car, I’m pretty sure I would be fluent in no time!

What Do You Do to De-stress From it All?
So many things! I literally never stop. Hot yoga, spinning, hiking, mountain biking, cooking and thinking of new projects for my house. Road tripping, camping and exploring new places with my family and friends. Taking photographs and doing art projects with my kids. My all-time favorite thing to do is hit the beach for the day, winter and summer. I find it one of the most restorative places on Earth. I’m so happy to call LA my home. It suits me down to the ground!


Autodesk cloud-enabled tools now work with BeBop post platform

Autodesk has enabled use of its software in the cloud — including 3DS Max, Arnold, Flame and Maya — and BeBop Technology will deploy the tools on its cloud-based post platform. The BeBop platform enables processing-heavy post projects, such as visual effects and editing, in the cloud on powerful and highly secure virtualized desktops. Creatives can process, render, manage and deliver media files from anywhere on BeBop using any computer and as small as a 20Mbps Internet connection.

The ongoing deployment of Autodesk software on the BeBop platform mirrors the ways BeBop and Adobe work closely together to optimize the experience of Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers. Adobe applications have been available natively on BeBop since April 2018.

Autodesk software users will now also gain access to BeBop Rocket Uploader, which enables ingestion of large media files at incredibly high speeds for a predictable monthly fee with no volume limits. Additionally, BeBop Over the Shoulder (OTS) enables secure and affordable remote collaboration, review and approval sessions in real-time. BeBop runs on all of the major public clouds, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure.

Cinesite recreates Nottingham for Lionsgate’s Robin Hood

The city of Nottingham perpetually exists in two states: the metropolitan center that it is today, and the fictional home of one of the world’s most famous outlaws. So when the filmmakers behind Robin Hood, which is now streaming and on DVD, looked to recreate the fictional Nottingham, they needed to build it from scratch with help from London’s Cinesite Studio. The film stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, and Jamie Dornan.

Working closely with Robin Hood’s VFX supervisor Simon Stanley-Clamp and director Otto Bathurst, Cinesite created a handful of settings and backgrounds for the film, starting with a digital model of Nottingham built to scale. Given its modern look and feel, Nottingham of today wouldn’t do, so the team used Dubrovnik, Croatia, as its template. The Croatian city — best known to TV fans around the world as the model for Game of Thrones’ Kings Landing — has become a popular spot for filming historical fiction, thanks to its famed stone walls and medieval structures. That made it an ideal starting point for a film set around the time of the Crusades.

“Robin’s Nottingham is a teeming industrial city dominated by global influences, politics and religion. It’s also full of posh grandeur but populated by soot-choked mines and sprawling slums reflecting the gap between haves and have-nots, and we needed to establish that at a glance for audiences,” says Cinesite’s head of assets, Tim Potter. “With so many buildings making up the city, the Substance Suite allowed us to achieve the many variations and looks that were required for the large city of Nottingham in a very quick and easy manner.”

Using Autodesk Maya for the builds and Pixologic ZBrush for sculpting and displacement, the VFX team then relied on Allegorithmic Substance Designer (which was acquired by Adobe recently) to customize the city, creating detailed materials that would give life and personality to the stone and wood structures. From the slums inspired by Brazilian favelas to the gentry and nobility’s grandiose environments, the texturing and materials helped to provide audiences with unspoken clues about the outlaw archer’s world.

Creating these swings from the oppressors to the oppressed was often a matter of dirt, dust and grime, which were added to the RGB channels over the textures to add wear and tear to the city. Once the models and layouts were finalized, Cinesite then added even more intricate details using Substance Painter, giving an already realistic recreation additional touches to reflect the sometimes messy lives of the people that would inhabit a city like Nottingham.

At its peak, Cinesite had around 145 artists working on the project, including around 10 artists focusing on texturing and look development. The team spent six months alone creating the reimagined Nottingham, with another three months spent on additional scenes. Although the city of Dubrovnik informed many of the design choices, one of the pieces that had to be created from scratch was a massive cathedral, a focal point of the story. To fit with the film’s themes, Cinesite took inspiration from several real churches around the world to create something original, with a brutalist feel.

Using models and digital texturing, the team also created Robin’s childhood home of Loxley Manor, which was loosely based on a real structure in Završje, Croatia. There were two versions of the manor: one meant to convey the Loxley family in better times, and another seen after years of neglect and damage. Cinesite also helped to create one of the film’s most integral and complex moments, which saw Robin engage in a wagon chase through Nottingham. The scene was far too dangerous to use real animals in most shots, requiring Cinesite to dip back into its toolbox to create the texturing and look of the horse and its groom, along with the rigging and CFX.

“To create the world that the filmmakers wanted, we started by going through the process of understanding the story. From there we saw what the production had filmed and where the action needed to take place within the city, then we went about creating something unique,” Potter says. “The scale was massive, but the end result is a realistic world that will feel somewhat familiar, and yet still offer plenty of surprises.”

Robin Hood was released on home media on February 19.