|“They’re look as if they were built with 19th century technology,” says Fowler. “They’re ornate – as if Rube Goldberg has designed them.”|
The mechs stop, the hatches pop open, and the gentlemen begin flinging insults. “Cheese pirate,” says Weatherby to Dubois.
Dubois, who carries a small French poodle in his mech, translates her barking as, “Fifi says she can smell the fear.” Pause for a beat while Fifi barks. “In your pants.”
Then, the battle begins.
Animators keyframed all the character animation in Softimage XSI; “Gentlemen’s Duel” is the first film for which Blur used XSI for rigging and animation.
“The whole idea behind the contest is to uncover new filmmakers and to show Hollywood we can do more than service work,” says Miller, “but it's also for R&D.”
“The switch to rigging and animation in XSI was a pretty big effort for us,” he adds. “This project [Gentlemen’s Duel] had a hard deadline, but a long deadline, so we could afford to f@k up.”
The move to XSI meant porting all the studio’s rigging tools including a complicated, proprietary “autorigger.” Rig complexity drove the software switch. The human rigs in “Gentlemen’s Duel” have 1800 different parts, according to J. D. Fievet, character animation supervisor. Now, about half the studio’s projects use XSI.
“The software has a very organized structure and we needed that,” he says. “Also it was a performance issue. The more complex you get, the heavier the model is to animate. We needed to have fully rigged characters in a viewport without being too slow to work interactively.”
One reason for the complex rig was the nature of the film. “We had to allow for as much deformation as possible,” Fievet says. “We needed to stretch the rigs in every possible way.” A small team of artists and animators defined the character style, which landed on the cartoony side of realism.
“We wanted something a little cartoony because it fits with the comedy side,” Fievet says. “But we have a touch of realism, especially for the robots. They’re huge characters, so you have to feel the weight. You can’t squash and stretch them like you can a furry animal.”
During the battle, the duelists pull out all of the mechs’ secret weapons. Weatherby has an electric eel in a compartment that creates a shock effect. Dubois can shoot a fist out from his metal body. Each mech has handgrips with which the fighters control their upper bodies and pedals to control their legs.
“This 19th century shell was the core foundation of the idea everyone thought was so cool,” Fowler says. “They have all these secret devices that create a whole bunch of opportunities for gags.”
|The lady being fought over watches the duel with her butler. “She’s almost like a prop,” Fowler says. “She’s the prize.” She doesn’t have a character arc – her role is to react to the mechs that, when the duel escalates, wreck everything in sight – the gardens, the house, and finally, each other. |
“We have a team of people who are really good at destroying objects,” says Fievet. “They start with a dynamic simulation that they use as a basis for keyframing the destruction. They were retouching and animating every little chunk of wood that flies off.”
For effects, Blur used tools in 3ds Max, and they also used Max for modeling, lighting and rendering via Brazil. For compositing, the studio used Digital Fusion.
“We kept pushing to make the film look painterly,” says Miller. “Rather than culling through a giant library of photo textures, we used hand-painted texture maps. We didn’t want photorealistic surfaces anywhere.” Even the metal mechs look hand painted, as do the clouds, which swirl in a style particular to this film.
Miller is proud that all of Blur’s shorts look different. “Aunt Louisa,” directed by Paul Taylor, which was shortlisted in the 2003 Oscar race, “Rockfish,” directed by Miller, which was shortlisted in 2004, and Fowler’s “Gopher Broke”, which was nominated in 2005 have unique styles.
“Aunt Louisa” looks stop motion, “Rockfish” is hyper real, and “Gopher Broke” is cartoony.
“Making our shorts look different isn’t a conscious goal,” Miller says. “But they’re all really different. For this one, we created stylized humans in a painterly world, which we’ve never done, not even for a client, but it seemed the right choice.”
This film incorporated several firsts for Blur – first painterly world, first film to use XSI, and first film to have characters with dialog – and it’s likely to once again raise Blur’s profile in the animation world, but this list isn’t what comes first to the crew’s mind when you ask what was most important.
“A very good thing about the short is that once in a while we do a project just for ourselves, just to have fun without the constraints of a client telling you what to do,” says Fievet. “We do it to fulfill our passion.”
As Miller puts it: “Blur is committed to continue to do short films because we love it.”
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