A Liar's Autobiography

CGSociety :: SPONSORED FEATURE

1 December 2012, by Paul Hellard

Justin Weyers is the Australian [Ballarat-born] co-founder and producer at Made Visual Studios in London, the lion-tamer of studios in the production of the Graham Chapman film 'A Liar's Autobiography - The Untrue Story Of Monty Python's Graham Chapman’, now on release in the US and coming to the UK late January 2013. Weyers has made his living bringing print and TV ads into the world but there has always been a niggling passion for quality comedy, the visual arts and facing insane challenges into the bargain.


As producer and production manager at Made Visual Studios, Weyers gathered together 14 different studios and animators to create a complete stereoscopic 3D animated feature movie based on original audio recordings by the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python. After a selection and culling process, the maze of which studio did what sequence in what style was sorted. In the end, there were to be a range of one-man band animators, working alongside multiple team studios, using 17 different animation techniques. The sting in the tail was that none of them had any experience whatsoever working with stereoscopic 3D techniques. “With a whole lot of positive initiative, we went out to find as much information on how to create a stereo production as we could find,” says Weyers. We originally built our own stereo rig in Adobe Creative Suite 4 and found that, by the end of the project, Creative Suite 5.5 was released and had everything we needed.” While the production was animated in all kinds of software and formats, in Softimage, Photoshop, Maya and Flash Professional, everything was brought together through After Effects and Premiere Pro.


Trailer

Initially the script was split into about seven different styles of animation, due to the segues in the life story that is included in the original book Graham wrote. But after the pitching stage, such inventive colorful ideas came back that Justin and the directors decided to cut the film into thinner pieces to keep the visuals even fresher. Of course, this meant more studios and more concurrent input.

“We invited 90 studios, then about 40 were invited to submit their pitches demonstrating their styles and direction. There was stop motion, comic book art, fully 3D CG, as well as some experimental oil on glass. Once the team had decided on which styles were to be used and where the animators were commissioned, they got to work to produce their 'segment', with After Effects, Photoshop and Premiere Pro at their fingertips and Adobe at their back."


 

RESEARCH 3D

The stereo production wasn't easy for Weyers or for the 14 studios full of animators. "There was a massive learning curve, because none of us had done anything like this before," states Weyers. "We created a stereoscopic bible, bringing in research from those who'd worked on Avatar, Coraline, from inside Adobe's research labs, everything." Then he set out to train all the crews in stereoscopic development and get in touch with the best people as good at the technology as he could muster.

"When we were selecting the studios, we didn't really mention the 3D element of the challenge until they were onboard, we didn’t want to scare them," explains Weyers. "But we took them by the hand and assured them we were all going to learn together, like a school. That's where 'ProjectChapman3D started." [See Related Links below.]

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PROJECTCHAPMAN3D

All the lessons, tutorials, unique tips and tricks gathered during the creation of the Chapman feature were documented onto the ProjectChapman3D site. The site was used to give each animation company a profile and also share everything they were learning along the way. If someone wanted to start creating their own style in stereoscopic this would be a great start.




ADOBE SOFTWARE

Delivering each left and right eye frame as a 2000x1080px stereo DPX frame, each company's sequence could then be rendered out after folding it into After Effects. “The biggest power within Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects was in Dynamic Link when we set up compositions in After Effects for left and right, complete inbuilt 3D glasses effect with a filter system, and we ran a script playback for just one eye or side by side”, explains Weyers. Justin would use Dynamic Link to quickly go between After Effects and the Premiere timeline. The early beginnings of the project were done with Creative Suite 4 developed further with the added features of CS5.5 and finally the journey ended with output through CS6.

Weyers took the whole project through and edited it on one Z800 HP workstation, holding an ultra fast Fusion-io card, and also an NVIDIA Quadro 5000 card. “With all this software that seamlessly talks with each other, you don’t need to go to a huge production house, like in Soho. You have everything you need sitting on your desktop giving you the tools to be as creative and professional as you like. It all just works together really, really well,” says Weyers.

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PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Meshing all of the content together was where After Effects and Premiere Pro really came into their own. "Andy Hay and I were the technical support for this whole film," explains Weyers. "We researched Final Cut and AVID editing systems but we found we could build our Stereoscopic compositions within Adobe After Effects, and with a couple clicks you go in to the file and play with the depth and convergence points. We could actually do it. If I wanted to just look at the left eye or just the right eye for an edit, again these were easy steps. Continuing forward in the workflow if you wanted to edit on a Premiere Pro timeline, Dynamic Link could keep all of the After Effects comps and pop them straight onto a Premiere timeline without intermediate rendering. So we had a full editable stereoscopic workflow with flexible rendering possibilities that immediate operational advantage would be impossible using Final Cut Pro."

Premiere was used as a hub during the project. There were two main technical workflow stages during the creation of the visuals of 'A Liar's Autobiography'. First, each company were creating their sections in their preferred stylistic techniques in stereoscopic 3D, using CGI packages, cell animation, After Effects, Flash, stop motion and so forth. These sections ran - from three minutes to 13 minutes in length. Secondly, the editing of the entire film was done where all the companies finished animation sequences were brought together into After Effects again, then dynamically linked into Premiere Pro where the film had its final editing and timings tightened. From this they would output a final DPX left eye image sequence and right eye image sequence.

WORKED ON ONE SEQUENCE MYSELF

Even though none of the three directors had ever worked on animation project before, Justin wanted to know what it was like to be told what to do by a director, so he animated a sequence within the film himself and took copious notes. This gave him the clues to how to communicate and delegate work to others in the production environment.

CREATIVE OWNERSHIP

A lot of the animators working on this feature did it for creative ownership of a piece of Python history. Similar to the crews on Prometheus with stars in their eyes about working on an Aliens film, 'A Liar's Autobiography' was a project that ticked a lot of boxes for them all.

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ADOBE CREATIVE CLOUD

If the Adobe Creative Cloud had been around during the production of 'A Liar's Autobiography', Weyers certainly would have used it as another form of hub to hold assets and help with the communication between companies because of its storage space and accessibility. As it was, for the final compilation of the movie he used an HP Z800 workstation, which could handle up to 190Gb of RAM, along with a Fusion-io card and an NVIDIA Quadro 5000. The combination of these technologies, optimized for Adobe software performance, and the Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere Pro allowed him to work real-time on files in After Effects and Premiere Pro. "Otherwise I'd still be sitting there now waiting for the green line to RAM preview, six months later," Weyers says with a giggle.

GATHERED PARTICIPANTS

The surviving Monty Python actors were invited to participate, and voice the different characters in his life playing themselves on occasions and then also other colorful characters from his life. Graham Chapman died 28 years ago, known as one of the creative giants of the comedic group. Openly gay and secretly an alcoholic, he was said to be very protective of his private life, though he wrote a book about his life titled 'A Liar's Autobiography'. The title says it all. This animated feature is a loose attachment of that story. The appearance on the selected list of the Oscar Animated features shows the unique achievements this film is already being recognised for. On his deathbed, Graham is said to have told his partner, David Sherlock who is seen in the film rising from a shell alike to Botticelli's Venus , "Don't tell them anything." Those people who have seen the film say they were expecting a documentary, another repeated Monty Python history lesson, maybe find out more about the man that did not want to say anything. Its a unique journey like never seen before.

Animation companies involved:

A for Animation
Beakus
Cake
Made Visual Studio
Mr & Mrs
Not To Scale
Peepshow
Sherbet
Steven Lall
Superfad
Treat Studios
Tundra


Directed by: Bill Jones, Ben Timlett & Jeff Simpson; A Bill and Ben Production. Presented by EPIX and Brainstorm Media in association with Trinity.