Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Uncharted 2 looks fantastic.

This year's Best Graphics category proves that beautiful games can exist in any genre, from military shooters like Modern Warfare 2 to dialogue-heavy adventure games like Heavy Rain. The list of finalists also gives us a good glimpse at just how talented the Ubisoft Montreal team is, with Splinter Cell: Conviction and Assassin's Creed 2 both boasting incredible visuals.

But one game rises above the pack, and that's Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Just as Guerrilla Games showed earlier this year with Killzone 2, Naughty Dog has proven that Sony's internal studios seem to have a knack for getting the most out of the PlayStation 3's unique hardware.

Whether it was the Sony press conference stage demo transitioning from a stunning rooftop view of Nepal to a firefight within a crumbling building, or the official E3 trailer that focused on the excellent character models and facial animations, Uncharted 2 is a sight to behold from any distance. Even more impressive is how Naughty Dog has avoided sticking to one visual comfort zone; instead, the game boasts environments that go from bright and chaotic urban streets to snowy, muted mountain terrain. It's that terrific balance between spectacle and attention to detail that snagged Uncharted 2 our Best Graphics award.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Autodesk Congratulates 81st Annual Academy Award Winners and Nominees

For the 14th consecutive year, every film nominated for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award was shaped with Autodesk digital filmmaking tools.

This year's Academy Award nominees continued to push digital imagery to new heights—from intricate and complex computer-generated characters to pyrotechnical marvels to invisible effects so realistic they deceive the eye. Autodesk extends its heartfelt congratulations to the artists and technologists who enthrall audiences with spectacular visuals. We are honored that these filmmakers utilize Autodesk digital technology from planning and previsualization right down to final grade.

Autodesk technology was used to shape Oscar-winning and Academy Award nominated films in the following categories:


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Oscar Winner—Matte World Digital, tasked with re-creating the early 20th century through Hurricane Katrina, created 3D environments, crowd simulations, and matte paintings using Autodesk® 3ds Max® as its main tool with Autodesk® Maya® 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software complementing the work of some shots.

Asylum VFX used Maya, Autodesk® Smoke® finishing effects software, Autodesk® Inferno® visual effects software, and Autodesk® Lustre® digital color grading system for 189 shots for the photoreal tugboat adventure that included extensive water simulation, digital environments and a computer-generated (CG) submarine.

Lola VFX created 100 age reduction and 200 makeup enhancement shots using a combination of tools, including Inferno and the Autodesk® Flame® system.

Evil Eye Pictures used Maya and Autodesk® Combustion® desktop compositing software to integrate matte paintings and environmental effects set in and around New Orleans.

Iron Man

Academy Award Nominee—Industrial Light & Magic brought the superhero character and his nemesis to life using Maya for animating and modeling the CG suits, as well as Inferno visual effects software as part of its SABRE system for compositing over 400 shots.

Pixel Liberation Front worked on the film for 19 months, relying on Maya to create reference models for extensive previsualization.

The Orphanage developed the thruster look and an exploding mountainside using 3ds Max and used Maya for the Gulmira, Missile Test and Stark Jet sequences.

The Dark Knight

Academy Award Nominee—Double Negative created the majority of visual effects in this film, using a combination of proprietary tools and Maya for most of the 2D and 3D work. Maya fluid dynamics helped shape a helicopter crash sequence. Maya® nCloth and Syflex Maya plug-ins were used for cloth simulation of the Batsuit.

Academy Award Nominee—Framestore produced CG environments, CG doubles and digital prosthetic makeup using in-house proprietary tools and numerous Autodesk software applications, including Maya, Autodesk® Mudbox™ software, Autodesk® Matchmover™, Autodesk® Movimento™, and Autodesk® Softimage® 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software.


Kung Fu Panda

Academy Award Nominee—DreamWorks Animation SKG developed new tools and workflows for this stereoscopic 3D film, using Maya for setting and rigging stereoscopic cameras, building virtual sets, and rendering.


This Way Up

Academy Award Nominee—Nexus used a combination of 3ds Max for modeling and animation and Combustion for compositing, among other tools, for this high-definition digital animated short.


Academy Award Nominee—Gobelins, l'ecole de l'image, a team of six students from the Paris-based school, created this short using Maya for animation.


Waltz with Bashir

CinePostProduction, one of Europe's largest film labs, relied on Smoke for the conform and online, Flame for visual effects, and Lustre for digital color grading.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why only 2 seconds of Transformers 2 has had 3 months to complete

About six months ago, Michael Bay approached Digital Domain, the Academy Award winning special effects company behind movies like Benjamin Button, Titanic , and the The Fifth Element, with a last minute request. He needed a closeup.

Digital Domain was already working on some secondary characters for Transformers 2 while George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic building the main robots like Optimus Prime. Yes, Transformers 2 had such a big budget that DD was hired just to ride shotgun.

One key moment of DD's handiwork depicts the transformation of a girl named Alice—played by actress Isabel Lucas—into a lethal robot. The main shot, seen above, uses digital techniques like advanced particle simulation (physics) to tear 10,000 pieces of skin away from a girl's body—the kind of high-concept graphics that require lots of software know-how, and computers to do incredible amounts of heavy lifting. It was the sort of shot that showcased everything DD could do.

When Michael Bay saw it, he found it lacking.

After watching an early edit of the movie, Bay had decided that although the wide shot of Alice was nice, the film was missing a close-up—he wanted 40 frames of the girl's face as she began transforming.

The close-up wouldn't take as much as the full-body master shot. Instead of 10,000 pieces of skin, only about 50 had to move. But because of time, budget and manpower constraints, this animation had to be done the old-fashioned way—working by hand. It meant that five guys would spend the next three months of their lives on less than two seconds of the finished film.

Computer graphics supervisor Paul George Palop walked me through their process of crafting the "very, very painful" 40 frames.

The goal sounded simple: Transform this closeup of a human into a closeup of a robot. Alice's face would begin to shatter away, revealing a gruesome creature underneath. But to model in 3D over digital film takes some prep work. To make the effect look real, the guys would need to map the 2D film original shot into digital 3D space. Then they could add all the neat robot stuff.

First, the DD team cut out all of the background and extraneous objects (including Shia LaBeouf's head), isolating the female figure. It's the first step of a classic technique known as rotoscoping, a trick that predates Disney, in which animators overlay cartoon characters and other animation on top of live action backgrounds. (Now that CG has blended humans and cartoons, it's probably safe to say that there isn't an FX-heavy movie made now that doesn't involve some kind of rotoscoping.)

With the basic 2D work done, DD used a laser scan of Lucas' figure to create a perfect 3D map. The rotoscope plate was then laid over this map, allowing the animators to work with real image depth and geometry. We don't have that exact shot, so we stole a still from the later wide shot to make the point. On the right, you have the 3D body scan model. On the left, you can see the 3D applied to the 2D figure.

One artist worked solely on the little skin plates that cracked away around Alice's mouth. Each of these 50 or so pieces was hand-animated, frame by frame, to create the short effect. But to enhance the illusion of movement, artists applied extra texture to the tiles along with some displacement mapping to each tile's edge, which essentially complicates the square shape into an array of small triangles. (See how they look all jagged in the version on the right?) One the 3D-animated shapes were laid out, they had to be naturally lit, lest the girl's skin look unnatural before she transformed completely into a metal monster.

In the meantime, the exact movements of the human Alice head needed to be applied to the newly animated robot Alice head, so that any movement from the former could be copied instantly in the latter.

Finally, all of the pieces were composited, rendered and placed on a newly drawn background. You'll notice that beyond the obvious visual effects, artists beefed up Alice's figure a bit. They rebuilt the end of her left arm and, while they were at it, added a bit more lift in the back of her hair. Even with a blockbuster megamovie deadline, there's always time for last-minute styling.
After all of this meticulous work—three months of effort from digital effects masters—audiences everywhere got a bonus 40 frames of remarkable robotic transformation. Ironically, one of the movie's chief complaints would be its length.