• CGFilm :: Redrover Animation Studio's
    'The Plumber'

    Redrover's Richard Rosenman
    talks about ‘The Plumber'

    23rd March 2005, Paul Hellard

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    CGN: Tell us a bit about Richard Rosenman. How did you get into 3d?
    Richard Rosenman: When I saw my very first computer generated visual effect in 1985 in "Young Sherlock Holmes" I was instantly fascinated by this new artistic medium. I immersed myself in the creative and technical aspects of computer graphics in the early nineties during my teenage years, and this is when I got my first taste of 2D graphics software, primitive 3D software and even computer graphics programming, which I still do in my spare time. During this time, I also came into contact with one of the first consumer-based 3D software packages, 3D Studio for DOS v1.0. I studied classical animation for three years at Sheridan College in order to take the post-graduate one-year computer animation course. After graduating from the three-year program however, I had enjoyed classical animation to such an extent that I decided to work in the field for an indefinite period of time. During the next few years, I worked in various cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, etc, in the classical animation industry producing series animation, game animation, etc. As time passed, I eventually became more and more involved in the computer animation business through projects that would inevitably come my way. As a result, it wasn't long before I ended up working back in Toronto at a large computer animation and design studio using Softimage. I began animating commercials and eventually ended up directing. From that point forth, I have worked primarily as an animation director locally and internationally, in the commercial and short film computer animation industry. For the last three and a half years, I have been leading the 3D department at Redrover Animation Studios Ltd. in Toronto, directing computer generated commercials, as well as our short film ‘Plumber'. At this current time, we have started our second short film that is in early production stages.

    CGN: So, what's the story,
    how did you came up with the film and what inspired you?
    RR: ‘The Plumber' was our first fully computer generated short film produced over a six month period at Redrover Animation Studios Ltd. in association with Bravo!Fact. It was directed by Andy Knight and I, and produced by Randi Yaffa. The concept initially began as a pitch for a short film grant from Bravo!Fact and, after a storyboard and animatic was created and submitted by Andy Knight, we were chosen as one of approximately twelve final contestants. With the grant officially awarded to us, we began production only one week after that in late August, 2002. The film was completed in February 2003, making it a six-month project from start to finish.

    CGN: What specifically were you trying to achieve
    with the story of The Plumber?
    RR: The purpose of producing the short film was to introduce Redrover into the short film production industry as well as to push the studios' creative and technological experience to the limit. In doing so, we learned a great deal about longer format production as we had always focused on commercial production usually in the range of 30 seconds or less. Finally, "Plumber" provided an opportunity to combine Andy's classical animation background with my computer animation experience, producing a film containing a combination of creative and technological sophistication.

    CGN: Can you elaborate on the concept designs for the main characters?
    RR: "Mario" originally began as a character developed for an entirely different story altogether. The original design was dramatically different from the one you see here and it has undergone numerous variations along the way before arriving at this final stage. Mario, as well as the environment, all began from drawings originally created by Andy Knight. As we all contributed to our vision of what Mario would look like, a character slowly began to emerge. A model sheet was eventually created which contained front, side and 3/4 designs to facilitate the modeling for Ben Pilgrim. As Ben modeled the character, Andy continually updated the designs and made revisions that Ben later reflected in the model, along with the rest of our collaborated suggestions. There were also numerous sketches of facial close-ups, as well as mouth positions and facial expressions that were later used as reference for modeling morph targets. Even after the model was completely built in 3D, additional proportional enhancements were made through the use of lattices for enlarging the head and hands, shrinking the feet slightly, exaggerating the belly, etc. Ben's model was built using a lower-resolution mesh that would use a meshsmooth modifier for increased tessellation during rendertime. It was modeled using traditional polygonal box modeling techniques.

  • CGN: Can you elaborate on the technical aspects of creating and animated these characters?
    Richard Rosenman: Modeling was challenging as it always is when developing any kind of geometry from designs on paper. There are always proportional issues that cannot be fully derived from the drawings or are inconsistent and therefore creative license must be taken in these instances. As a result, there were numerous revisions of character volumes that caused the modeling process to move at a much slower rate than previously anticipated.

    Rigging was a key issue we continued having problems with because we didn't have the time available for proper research and development prior to the production. Therefore, we had to create new and advanced rigs which we had never tested before, including ones that supported both IK AND FK concurrently since each scene called for radically different performances in which one rig could perform but another couldn't. As a result, we ended up producing various rigs that we could use depending on the scene and what was required from Mario.

    The entire environment was meticulously modeled by Chris Crozier. Extensive reference material was researched (particularly for the bathroom), since 90 percent of the film takes place in that one setting. Specific decisions pertaining to the style of the bathroom appliances were important as they were the only objects in the film that would indicate the time and date the film was supposed to take place in. The additional shots which involve the basement, the exterior of the house, the neighbourhood, and the destroyed house, were also modeled by Chris, some from reference drawings developed by Andy

    Texturing human characters with conventional 3D mapping tools is extremely difficult and time consuming. As a result, it took a great deal of effort to texture Mario properly. There were more than ten seperate textures and mapping modifiers for the face alone. In addition, since we needed high resolution textures of wrinkles and aged skin, we hired an older male life drawing model whom I photographed for Mario's skin texture. Mario was fully textured by myself and the environment was textured by myself and Chris Crozier along with additional assistance by Raine Anderson.

    The animation was entirely keyframed and produced primarily between Kyle Dunlevy and myself. Additional effects animation as well as some additional scenes were produced by the rest of the team when it was required. The animation phase ran for a period of about one and a half months, although Kyle continued tweaking the final animation once I moved onto lighting and rendering. The Animation phase was divived into body, face and clothing. The body rig was generic to begin with but in many cases the rig was modified to accommodate a particular scene. Having bones shaped to match the volume of the character sped up the animation process immensely as geometry could be hidden and animation could be played back in realtime. The facial rig was based entirely on morph targets. Since there was no need for dialoge, we managed with approximately 25 expressions, many of which were created for specific scenes. Once the naked form of Mario was animated in a scene, he was ready to be passed off to Ben to do us all a favor and put some clothes on him!

    The clothing dynamics were simulated by Ben Pilgrim. There was a great deal of testing involved in this and one of the most challenging aspects was deciding whether we wanted a stiffer, less interesting but more cotton-like behaviour, or a floppier, more interesting velvet-like behaviour (which most clothing simulators default at). We went with the more interesting one for creative reasons. We also realized that heavier modeled patches of geometry such as the seam of the collar and the sleeves were going to be problematic. This was because the dense cluster of polygons in these areas were causing the cloth simulator to believe it was a heavier part of the shirt and it would therefore behave in an erratic manner. Realizing this, Ben remodeled the shirt and shorts containing an evenly distributed density of vertices and we relied on textures instead for seam details.

    The fluid dynamics were simulated by Mike Oliver. For most of the shots involving water that was not interactive with the character, Mike needed to set up key elements for his simulations such as the sink, the pipes, the walls, the floor, etc. These were the first of the shots tackled since they were the easier ones to start off with. In the meantime, we had to animate the character so that he would eventually have it for use in the simulations. The first tests came soon afterwards and most were initally too blobby. This is a typical problem associated with fluid dynamics since it works by simulating particle densities and then generating the polygonal mesh around it. The fewer particles there are, the faster the simulations go but the blobbier the mesh becomes. Mike continued his second set of tests with higher particle counts and received better results but in much longer time periods. It quickly became evident that several weeks of simulation time would be required for a great majority of the shots.

    The lighting and rendering was produced by myself as it falls directly into the realm of art direction. I had originally wanted to go for a stylized, very colorful palette and I therefore spent weeks researching and investigating various films before developing the art direction. After conceiving numerous lighting tests, Andy and I agreed on the ones we liked most and together we finalized the look. It was only after the art direction was established that I began thinking about the technical aspects of the rendering because I didn't want the creative to be driven by technology, but rather the technology driven by the creative. Using global illumination rendering technology in combination with image-based lighting and conventional light rigs produced a color palette for the film that was unique and visually intriguing. However, because of the global illumination lighting, rendertimes became a serious issue and we invested in a 20 machine renderfarm to assist in the large volume of rendering we had to produce.

  • Richard Rosenman: The compositing was produced by Brad Husband. Brad imposed a filing system in which we would log final rendered scenes and submit them to him upon completion. This proved very helpful for everyone since we had a total of about 56 scenes and keeping track of all the layers required would mean following a strict and organized system of submission everyone could understand. Brad began compositing Plumber about halfway through the film's completion so that he would have plenty of time to experiment with color tests and treatments in an effort to further develop the art direction. As soon as all the layers for a scene would be completed and the log sheet submitted, Brad would set up the base comp, output a rough test, and write down any errors/bad masks/missing elements required for us to render / re-render. A typical scene would usually have at least one or two buggy or incomplete layers which would have to be revisited. Because there were so many revisions, we had to prioritize them in order of "absolutely crucial" to "re-render time permitting". In addition to all that, Brad also helped us whenever possible to avoid having to do unnecessary re-renders. For instance, if a post camera move could suffice instead of rendering out an entire sequence, he would do it. Camera shakes were also produced in post as well as some 2D motion blur effects, some 2D particle systems, several volumetric effects, and many others.

    CGN: What software/hardware did you use?
    RR: ‘Plumber' was created using Discreet's 3dsmax 4.2 for all modeling, texturing and animation. Adobe Photoshop was used for texturing creation/editing, Chaos Group's Simcloth for dynamic clothing, Next Limit's RealFlow/RealWave for computational fluid dynamics, Chaotic Dimension's VRay 1.09 for lighting and rendering, Discreet's Combustion for compositing and Avid for editing. Plumber was rendered on 20-30 Intel machines rangine from dual P3's to 2GHZ P4's, each with 1GIG RAM over a duration of about three weeks to a month

    CGN: What sort of a team did you have to assist with the production of ‘The Plumber'? How long did it take from concept to completion?
    RR: "Plumber's" credit list is long and there are far too many people to list who were kind enough to contribute their time and resources. It continues to amaze me how generous some production studios and facilities were in contributing to this project which had such a small budget attached to it. Our core group of artists at Redrover consisted of about eight people and our time of completion from start to finish about six months.

    CGN: If you could have done anything differently, what would it have been?
    RR: Although we attempted to be as organized as possible, and even set up a fairly well-designed filing system, our productivity would have been much greater if we had been even more organized. When dealing with approximately 60 scenes, each with multiple layers, a properly followed filing and naming system is crucial. Otherwise, files get lost and artists get confused. If we could have done it differently, I would have paid more attention to the pipeline and management of the production.

    In addition, more research and development time would have been ideal for testing various aspects of the would-be production since we didn't have the option of really going into detailed testing of clothing, fluids and rendering technology. As a result, it could have looked better with more R&D time.

    Finally, because there were only two of us working on the character animation, we were quite rushed. It would have been nice to have more time to focus on the storytelling and performance of the character as opposed to just "getting the scene done on time". But of course, time is always a luxury, especially in short film production.

    CGN: Who did the music, tell us about how it was composed for the short.
    RR: The music and orchestration was written and recorded by our editor (and musician) Scott Bucsis, and performed by Scott and Alexa Pienaar on cello. We wanted a sparse, timeless European feel to the score, to compliment the feel of the character and the simplicity of the story. As the frustration of the character increased, so did the pacing of the theme. Luckily, this style also meant the recording could be done rather simply, basically in an afternoon with a borrowed accordion and glockenspiel, and Alexa's cello (which unfortunately one of the microphones fell and crashed through during the final take). All of these elements, including a full foley track by Marina Adam, were generously mixed in Dolby 5.1 at Tattersall Casablanca, Toronto , by Erik Culp.

    Directors: Richard Rosenman and Andy Knight
    Producer: Randi Yaffa
    Art Directors: Richard Rosenman, Andy Knight and Brad Husband
    Editor: Scott Bucsis
    Sound: Tattersall Casablanca
    Voice Record: Grayson Mathews
    Voice Talent: John Watson

    Modeling, Rigging and Cloth: Ben Pilgrim
    Character Animation: Richard Rosenman and Kyle Dunlevy
    Backgrounds and Props: Chris Crozier
    Fluid Dynamics: Mike Oliver
    Texturing, Lighting and Rendering: Richard Rosenman
    Assisting Texture Artist: Raine Anderson
    Compositing: Brad Husband

    Related links:
    Redrover Animations Studios
    Richard Rosenman

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