The CGI of Shaolin Soccer

  • Shaolin Soccer: An Interview with Ken Law
    By Tito A. Belgrave, 06 October 2002
    Image: This Bruce Lee look alike feels the heat

    My name is Ken Law and I'm an Animation Director. I'm also the head of projects, including the award winning feature film - Shaolin Soccer and the new Ocean Park (homegrown theme park) simulation film showing at the Park's 100-seat Film Fantasia theatre. This is the first locally produced simulation film in Asia.

    Centro is recognized as one of the most sophisticated, digital studios and developed a technical and creative skill-set unrivalled in Asia combining digital animation and effects for film and video with interactive development. Over US$27 million to date has been invested to create a versatile, resolution independent studio with comprehensive hardware, software, and creative expertise all under one roof.

    Working from three inter-linked facilities in Hong Kong, Centro's 150-strong team of production and post-production personnel have consistently stretched the boundaries of the imagination as they provide design and production for television commercials, video games, interactive applications and feature films.

    3D Festival: What we would all like to know is, where did the story of Shaolin Soccer originate from?

    Ken Law: The story of Shaolin Soccer was originated by Stephen Chow - the director and the lead actor of the movie. If you know Chow, he is a fan of Bruce Lee and martial arts. He thought that there would be an impact by combining soccer with martial arts and that is how he came up the concept of Shaolin Soccer.

    3D Festival: What were your responsibilities and involvement in Shaolin Soccer?

    Ken Law: I was the Special Effects & Animation Director in the movie. My duties included supervising the progress of the special effects, animation and post production of the movie. I was also on set discussing ideas with Chow while they were shooting the effects shots.

  • 3D Festival: During a practice session in the beginning of the film we see Chow kicking the ball into a wall repeatedly. How was this accomplished?

    Ken Law: Before shooting this, we had Chow keep kicking a ball towards the wall, thus we would be able to calculate the traveling time between. Then, we had Chow pretend kicking a ball while there is none, added up with a CGI soccer ball and particle effects to accomplish the effect.

    3D Festival: The wire work was quite impressive throughout the film, how was it setup for live action composite in the open soccer field?

    Ken Law:Thank you. Like you said, the soccer field was wide open and there was nothing much we can do about it. We did our best to remove the wires. We did shoot a clean pass for most of the wire work shots and those passes were useful for digital retouching.

    3D Festival: Did you explore any alternative options besides using wires for the levitating actors?

    Ken Law: In some shots, we created some digital actors in CGI. For example, there is a shot where an actor was being kicked by Chow into the air and rotated 720 degree. We shot the first and last shots while the in-between motion was totally animated.

    3D Festival: The flame effects were a special part of the film, what program was used for this?

    Ken Law: We used Maya to create most of the flame effects in the movie. For some shots, we combined real flame footage and CGI flame.

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  • 3D Festival: Live action composition was very well done throughout the film, can you elaborate on how the rippling effect of the grass was achieved?

    Ken Law: We used Maya Paint Effects to create the grass and we used the wire deform tools in Maya to achieved the rippling effect. We also needed to match the 3D camera to the live footage. The most challenging part of this shot was that we had to cover the whole soccer field with Paint Effect since the majority of the whole soccer field was deforming. So, the shot ended up with 80% CGI elements.

    3D Festival: How were the numerous particle effects handled?

    Ken Law: We created most of the particle effects in Maya. In some special cases, we needed the assistance from our Research & Development Department to write scripts for particles to archive the effects (to modify the program in order to fit our visual requirements). For example, in the shots where the goalie's clothing (the guy who looks like Bruce Lee) was being burnt and ripped apart. We had our programmer write various scripts to archive the particle motion. We used RenderMan to render the particles because it was able to handle a large amount of particles with motion blur.

    3D Festival: What was the most difficult effect to accomplish in the film and why?

    Ken Law: I believe the most difficult effects to accomplish are those shots with digital doubles. In the shot where Chow kicks the ball and the camera rotated 135 degree around him. We only shot the starting position and ending position of Chow. The middle tracking part of the shots was totally created by CGI.

    3D Festival: What software and hardware was used for the effects in the film?

    Ken Law: Most of the soccer ball and digital doubles effects were done in Softimage|XSI. The particles effects were created in Maya and rendered in RenderMan. Compositing was done in Adobe After Effects and Quantel Domino. Windows NT stations were also used.

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  • 3D Festival: Can you tell us what's your favorite scene in Shaolin Soccer?

    Ken Law: My favorite scene is the Shaolin Temple shots. This was the first time we used final gathering rendering in an actual production. Animating the monks was a fun task because we had to learn different Shaolin kung fu style while we were animating them. So, every animator was fighting Shaolin kung fu in front of a mirror. The shots took us around 2 months to finish and we are very happy of the final outcome.

    3D Festival: Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

    Ken Law: Our recent projects include a fully CG animated simulation ride for Hong Kong Ocean Park. The duration of the ride is 4min 30sec and the output was in 70mm film. Another project we are working on is a 360 degree dimensional theater constructed with eight projection cameras. This requires elaborate techniques to render 8 different cameras in our CG environment for the 8 projection cameras. We are compositing the visuals in HD.

    3D Festival: Toward the end we see a young lady "parking" her car Shaolin style, how was this done?

    Ken Law: This was also a challenging shot as well. First, we shot the lady pushing a real car in Shaolin style. We then used XSI camera projection map to create the car after the push. We digitally removed the real car and replaced the animated CGI car in the shot.

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    Related Links:
    Centro Digital Pictures Ltd
    Shaolin Soccer Official site [In chinese]

    Credits:
    Interview: Tito A. Belgrave
    Editor: Leonard Teo
    Images: Centro Digital Pictures Ltd

    Special thanks to Tommy Tom of Centro Digital Pictures Ltd for making this interview possible.

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