August 6th, 2007

5:50pm So, I’m sitting here with a second-row seat waiting patiently for the special Siggraph session “‘Happy Feet’ Thawing the CG Pipeline” to start. Traditionally, these special sessions are more of a bragging session to showcase some of the more fantastic pieces that have been produced in the past year, so I’ve got high hopes.

5:52pm The presenter tipped his hand, killing the presentation for a moment; enough to reveal they’re running Keynote on a Mac rather than PowerPoint!

5:54pm They’ve got a presentation of some of the concept art from Happy Feet running, showing painted instances of several of the animals in the film and the background matte concepts. Looks like the concept art was done in pastels, as they’ve got a great soft edge to most of them. They’d likely be good art pieces on their own.

5:55pm One of the underwater ice caves that Mumble gets chased by the leopard seal through has a face frozen into it in the concept art; wonder if that ever made it to the film…

5:58pm Some of the concept art is for “Spaceship interior” options 1-3… I don’t remember a spaceship in the movie. They’ve also got some concept for an ethereal-looking penguin, like what appeared over the heads of the dads at the beginning of the movie while they were singing in the night, but I don’t remember actually meeting ‘alien’ penguins…

6:01pm The overhead music stopped; the session’s supposed to start at 6pm

6:03pm Jerome Solomon (from ILM, Siggraph Special Sessions co-chair) introduces the Animal Logic team. Jerome apparently works for ILM and has donated his time after work to be the Siggraph special sessions chair.

6:04pm There’s another special session tomorrow morning that’s on Transformers, which I was unaware of. There’s also Spiderman 3 and Shrek III presentations

6:04pm Justen Marshall (R&D supervisor, Animal Logic) takes the stage.

6:05pm Their goal is not to do a behind-the-scenes but rather a concept progression of how it came to be (since there is a behind-the-scenes on the DVD).

6:07pm “refresher” view of mumble learning to dance and encountering the “flyin’ boids” and learning about the “aliens”.

6:11pm Animal Logic is based in Sydney, is about 15 years old, has around 200-400 employees. Did pieces in Tomb Raider, 300, Harry Potter, House of Flying Daggers, and Stealth; Happy Feet their first full-length.

6:12pm Initial concept of Happy Feet was to capture the grandeur of Antarctica and photographic in concept. They feel the original concept carried through to the final treatment of the piece.

6:14pm Film was not always to be a musical but the heartsong was always there due to the birds calling to each other across great distances in reality.

8:14pm Proof of concept shown; a piece with basic motion capture and a scanned terrain. Shows a penguin climbing an ice set of stairs, and on the top doing a little tapping. Model is much taller than final penguins used, and can see more feet than in the final film.

6:16pm Baby Mumble test; greatly evolved from the original proof of concept; have a pretty final model of the Mumble baby; I think it was the sequence used in some of the initial theatrical trailers. Missing some particle snow being kicked up from Mumble’s feet. They shifted away from more of a documentary style to a more highly detailed set of character models so that individuals became distinguishable, and could interact on screen.

6:19pm Explanation of traditional pipelines going from A to B without much going backwards to previous steps. Their concept for the film was a “Bermuda Triangle” of Motion Capture, Lensing, and Editing of that content, then it went on to Animation and lighting, and came back to the triangle for more tweaking. This piepline looks like it would increase cost and time by a lot since it involves a lot of going back and getting critiqued by previous steps in the pipeline.

6:20pm Gratuitous shot of Happy Feet’s Oscar

6:21pm The concept of the pipeline was needed for the Director, who required more input on the storytelling process throughout.

6:23pm Explanation of various story development processes: Storyboards, Previsualizations, and Lensing. Lensing was a new one for me; Animal Logic used this stage as one to make the camera final even if the animation wasn’t complete and the renders weren’t up to full quality. This allowed for the director to start making editing decisions.

6:25pm The lensing process was actually something they came up with, to give the directors more of a scene-based vs. shot-based approach to editing. Lensing could be described as a shooting day on set, but the editing team is there “on set” too.

6:27pm Demo of a Lensing session of the shot seen earlier; used “calamari” characters (ones split into rings for simplicity, such that they could be rendered in real-time.

6:29pm The director loved how the lensing sessions evolved and for some shots gave up storyboarding and in some cases previsualizing too, and jumped straight to lensing the shot.

6:32pm Aidan Sarsfield (Character supervisor, Animal Logic) takes the stage

6:33pm The modeling and animating of the characters became more important as the process evolved, leading to a divergence from the natural appearance (penguins can’t get their knees up to their chests, as they did when dancing). Additionally the facial animation needed more focus as the camera was moving closer to the characters.

6:35pm about 70 full characters were modeled down to the muscle motion. There were about 15 rig types per character, which averages out to one rig created per rigging artist every two days!

6:40pm Showing research material used for rigging modeling and anecdotes of useless feedback from other departments that became irrelevant later on.

6:42pm Mumble’s first screen test shown; a Mumble character in teen plumage and a fixed body showing just face and head animation talks to two off screen rock hoppers about appealing ot Lovelace’s better nature. The screen test was so well received that a lot of characters got auditions, showing height deformations, lip sync, and expression extremes.

6:45pm See Ramon’s audition, Leopard seal, and an early Elephant seal test that used a sound byte from Gloria for lip sync testing.

6:48pm screen capture session of a rigger using their automated controls to create a basic rig with a template rig and guide controls.

6:50pm Originally, motion capture was to be the primary animation method of the characters, with animators only doing facial animation. It eventually was diminished in favor of layering it with traditional animation.

6:53pm to simplify their process, they truly analyzed their process and automated as much as possible of the rigging pipeline.

6:55pm Gag reel created by the FX folks who got sick of going snow kickups from version after version of the Mumble tap dancing scene, where Mumble gets hit and overrun by a rolling snowball.

6:56pm Ben Gunsberger (Lighting supervisor, Animal Logic) takes the stage.

6:56pm montage of lighting scenes and styles done by the movie.

7:00pm originally the lighting of the piece was to be taken from nature and photography of the actual environment, which quickly degraded into pushing it beyond what they could capture, resulting in the need for a concept art team to be formed later in the game.

7:07pm They did create a HD/Blue-Ray color grading of the film separate from the standard grading, which they say they spent more time on, so the truest color and best ‘look’ is to be had in the HD version, not only for the increased detail, but the increased color balancing and grading.

7:12pm demos of lit previsuzlization pieces used to set the initail color theme of the movie.

7:17pm The Lighters did most of the Compositing as well, and added in the effects like the eyelights, depth of field, and volumetric fog post rendering. This allowed a lot of versions of these effects without having to go back and re-render the scene, which would have been too time-prohibitive.

7:21pm They are hiring at the job fair tomorrow! Will check them out, though they are based in Australia.

7:22pm Floor opened for Q&A

One Response to “Live from the Happy Feet discussion at Siggraph 2007”

  1. TheFilmist says:

    Interesting read. One of the things that most caught my eye, though, was your mention of the ‘spaceship interior’ concept art, and the face in the ice. Somebody who’d claimed to work on the film that I’d spoken to a while back had mentioned something similar, and that it was actually a major, major element of the film that was hacked out at the last minute. This only confirms that.

    Would you happen to be able to tell anything else?