|In Depth with Francisco Cortina|
By Tito A. Belgrave, 28 August 2002
|Image: Dr Sid from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Steven Giesler: skin texturing face modeling. Francisco Cortina:skin wrinkles, John Monos: hair & lighting.|
I studied painting and drawing at the Maryland Institute of Art, where I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1996. While attending college, I was able to intern at Big Shot Productions. It was at this studio that I was able to learn, and subsequently develop skills as a post-production effects artist. In 1995, I was hired as a CG Artist for a medical laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Here, I created 3d models and animations, and also demo videos of surgery tools using a hybrid video editing system.
I began my tenure at Square USA in 1996. As a CG Animator/Modeler, I worked on many different productions: the video games “Chocobo de Battle”, “Parasite Eve”, “Final Fantasy IX” and the feature film “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Just prior to Square’s studio shutdown this past summer, I worked on the CG short “Animatrix” for Warner Brothers/Silver Pictures as the Character Supervisor. I currently reside in Glendale, California, where I am working on a CG feature film at Dreamworks Animation.
3D Festival: What were your responsibilities in the creation of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within models?
Francisco Cortina: Having transitioned from the games division, Square allowed me to broaden my abilities as the project evolved. I was responsible for creating the characters’ facial wrinkling, which included wrinkle shader expression setup and displacement mapping. I created the hair for the lead characters and extras and assisted in the hair deformation setup. In addition, I modeled and textured the faces of various secondary and extra characters. As the project neared completion, I assisted in the creation of hi-resolution publicity imagery to promote the movie, created body and clothing models, and did scripting plus TD work.
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|On Technicalities||Image: Photorealistic texturing and wrinkle work by Francisco Cortina.|
3D Festival: What methods were used to create these models?
Francisco Cortina: Most companies have two starting points for character model creation: Drawings and Sculpts. Some companies follow a philosophy of tight design style that cannot be deviated from, while others allow its 3D artists to resolve the look in 3d. What we realized for Final Fantasy was that in many cases, we had to put aside the drawings and reference sculpts and let the character models come to life 100% in 3D, relying more on real life references. We started by collecting and scanning photo books, women’s and men’s fashion magazines, hair styling magazines, and even Victoria’s Secrets catalogs for all the necessary character references and stored them in Photoshop files.
Almost 100% of our characters and their ornaments were created with polygons. We developed a subdivision surface pipeline using Renderman along with many custom tools that were written in-house. Square initially attempted to create models in NURBS, but found them to be mechanically cumbersome and very problematic. Even if we could stitch the seams together, we still had the problem of mismatched point counts between patches. The polygon UV problem was resolved with some useful in-house UV projection tools, which was integrated into our model creation pipeline.
3D Festival: What are your thoughts on the use of Triangular polys with Quadrilaterals?
Francisco Cortina: Our model pipeline consisted of modeling in polygons and rendering in Renderman subdivision surfaces. Unlike the multi-leveled hierarchical implementation of subdivision surfaces that Maya created, Catmull-Clark Sub-D's are much faster and more efficient. They are a variation of cubic B-spline surfaces, having all the advantages of NURBS and none of the awful disadvantages. There are times when I need to add non-quads to achieve a particular curvature, or in some cases, create a texture border for the UV layout. You can see this effect on Aki in Maxim and in the Animatrix naked body and clothing models. Although these days I generally stay away from leaving triangulated faces in my models, all faces are turned into quadrilaterals at rendering time or when using a subdivision proxy model anyway.
3D Festival: What process do you use for photorealistic texturing?
Francisco Cortina: I have always used a combination of 2D (Photoshop) painting and 3D (StudioPaint) painting. After collecting all the references I need, I begin my texturing in Photoshop and lay out a general texture effect to start. I set up different layers to generate channels like Bump, Specular, Diffuse, Side-specular, etc., in a first pass state. For certain textures, like rough leather, for example, I usually scan and heavily retouch a reference image which I then composite in Photoshop and paint over in StudioPaint. Although doing 3D painting allows for very good detail layout throughout a whole model, nothing can compare to the fine painting work that can be done solely in 2D. That’s why I always finish my texturing process in Photoshop. 3D painting programs always tend to bleed and blur textures. In the end, however, it’s just about really seeing things and pushing the details artistically. While working on Final Fantasy, I was able to learn from and collaborate with fellow artist Steven Giesler (Lead Texture Artist, FF:TSW). We worked on many characters together and learned each other’s tricks in painting, modeling and creating shader effects. Texturing is really like a magic trick if you think about it. It’s all smoke and mirrors and mostly done by hand.
3D Festival: Hair has defeated many an artist, but yet you have accomplished great feats with your implementation, can you elaborate on that?
Francisco Cortina: I have to credit the talented programmers that worked with us to develop and refine our hair modeling tools, shaders, and deformation techniques. With that said, by default, the tools were really dead in the water unless we pushed what they could do artistically. To model the hair, I used both our in-house hair creation tool and Maya Fur. Our tool made up for all the things that Maya Fur lacked; like handling very long, flowing hairs and being able to model very specific hairstyles. With Dr. Sid, for example, I used the in-house hair tool for the hair on the back of his head and Maya Fur for his beard. For deformation, we also used two different techniques. One utilized our in-house simulation tools to apply physics like wind, gravity, etc., and the other utilized a more conventional Maya based deformation setup.
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|Animatrix||Image: Sample Animatrix shot. Lighting by Greg Lev, Jue body model by Francisco Cortina.|
3D Festival: What role did you have in the creation of the new Matrix-style series "Animatrix?"
Francisco Cortina: At the beginning of the Animatrix project I was slated to continue what I had done for Final Fantasy: character modeling, texturing (facial wrinkles, etc.), hair and hair rigging. As the project ramped up and picked up steam, I was transitioned into acting supervisor of the Character department. At that point, I took on several new responsibilities and worked closely with the team manager on scheduling, task distribution, training, etc. Most of my time was split between modeling, hair work, and supervisory duties such as character uploading and maintenance, interfacing between departments and the Director and writing miscellaneous mel scripts.
3D Festival: As we all know lighting plays a crucial role to any given render, what type of lighting was used on the two Animatrix renderings?
Francisco Cortina: For that sequence, we initially wanted to push the envelope and try to do a global illumination pass in addition to our normal render pass, then add the two in compositing. Due to project constraints, we opted to create a "fake" bounce pass within Renderman and Maya and then composited it with the normal "key" rendering pass. The result was surprisingly good, although it was technically very challenging and the renders took a very long time to finish. Big credit goes to the TDs and Supervisors for making it work even when we thought we couldn’t do it.
3D Festival: What is the most challenging task for yourself to complete, be it working on the Final Fantasy genre, Animatrix or even your personal works?
Francisco Cortina: I would have to say that it was a split between the hair in Final Fantasy: TSW and the anatomical body models that I created by hand for the Animatrix. Technically, the hair was both a curse and a blessing. Part of the time was spent in frustration while waiting for renders or model updates, and the other part was pure fun. The bodies, on the other hand, were artistically the most challenging for me. When I look back, I realize that all my figure drawing and painting classes during my high school and college years really paid off.
3D Festival: What software and hardware was used in the creation of The Spirits Within and Animatrix?
Francisco Cortina: Our workstations and data servers were SGI and our renderfarm consisted of a mix between SGI (Silicon Graphics) machines and Intel Linux boxes. We also each had a PC by our SGI machines for web/e-mail and Photoshop work.
3D Festival: Is there anything you would advise to artists wanting to accomplish photorealistic renders?
Francisco Cortina: The importance of great reference cannot be overemphasized, so I would say absorb as much as you possibly can and pay attention to every little detail. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details!
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