Wes Ball from OddBall Animation has completed the RUIN project, a stereo short he has been working on for six months. A graduate of Florida State film school, Ball has had a solid background of live action. In fact, his final year thesis film ended up being his first animated film, in fact the school’s first animated film project.
Wes Ball went straight into working for himself after he left film school and had been using NewTek LightWave, and Luxology’s modo ever since. CGSociety spoke with him from his home in Los Angeles. “I want to be making movies,” he fires off. “I decided to make my own movie, like it was a real job. Devote myself to it. Count it as an investment.”
The RUIN short was created and rendered out as a stereo movie. “It’s for real, I didn’t do any post conversion to stereo,” Ball explains. “Just straight up, rendered it out for two different eyes and everything! In a strange way, it also made compositing a whole lot easier. I couldn’t do any shortcuts, and I had to do it for real, so all my compositing is done in 3D space. All the dust, dirt and all that is true 3D.”
Three months were spent building assets for each of the sequences in the film. Roads, including all the surfaces. He created a replica of the Universal building in Los Angeles to house the opening sequence down the side. Trees, bushes, and the jungle of ivy that hangs off the walls of the roads. He’d save off different mattes for doing color correction tweeks, but essentially it was all done in-camera. Ball says he had been thinking about this story for a long time, approached a lot of the setups like it was a live action shoot, then exception being he would have to create everything he wanted in the shot.
Wes Ball has been playing around with using Recoil as a modeling tool to create quick complex building ruins. He talks about how he would just go ahead and make a few simple objects, then run the Recoil simulator, and things fall where they want to. He immediately copies those poly's and pastes into a new mesh layer, set that new mesh to a passive collision object, then run the simulator again. "After a few iterations, you get a pretty nice pile of rubble," says Ball. "My one pile is about 200,000 polys, which is really mean't for distant objects although it holds up fairly well at a medium distance. Replicating this object over a landscape and it's looking pretty nice. Almost all of the complexity of this film is done using replicators.”
He created the hundreds of trees in a small app on the iPad called TreeSketch that lets you draw trees, then export in FBX format, and then bring it into modo. He created the leaves in replicators, froze the replicators and put them together and created the trees. He even had the trees blow around in the exhaust of the craft that was hunting the hero. Ball talks about the happy accident of placing the ivy on the wall. He set it to continue placing and now it really looks like it is overgrown. Perfect.
“There is one modo file per shot,” explains Ball. “Then the character is rigged up in LightWave. The whole thing was also animated in LightWave.” When he says that the majority of the shots are created on the fly and in-camera, there is one exception in the tunnel where the lighting is created using an optical flare in After Effects, using depthmaps to control where the cutoff is in the illumination.
In the chase through the roads in the film, Ball had a live-action style to capture that motion. He created the road in the shot then made a line which would have bumps, up and down, left and right. Then he’d set up the null (which would be his camera truck). He would set up the bike out front as an asset, run the asset along the line in LightWave collecting keyframes along the way. “This is a poor man’s motion capture,” he laughs.
Wes readily admits as an effects guy, he is a frustrated film maker. The best lesson he has learned from making the film was that it is not about the shot; it’s about the sequence. “We effects guys work in the world of frames, and you just can’t do that when you’re making a short like this. You’ve got to find the shortcuts and you take them.”
Although it wasn’t his plan at the beginning of the project, Wes Ball’s plan is to show RUIN in Europe as a ride-film. He initially wanted to make the RUIN 3D short was to learn how to do the creative in 3D. Wes Ball has been in animation a long time making all kinds of graphics after winning a few awards with this final year film out of college. “I’ve just been doing motion graphics, animation and digital effects and every years I kinda do bigger and bigger projects,” explains Ball. “The only reason I really wanted to do it was to stretch the muscles, y’know.”
"This film IS basically a ride film," Wes Ball jokes, speaking at the LA modo User Group in January when he showed his short. There are plenty of unashamed references to scifi action movies. First of all the motorbike chase through the drains is a solid nod to the amazing Terminator 2, and the build of the aircraft is almost completely from Aliens. The ‘dragon’ missiles are based on real-life drones. He’d says he’d like to see more animation being produced that is in the spirit of live action. “I love Pixar and I love DreamWorks, and then Avatar was really one of the first animated live-action movies, told by a guy who really knows how to create a great live-action movie.”