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PaulHellard
06-09-2008, 12:25 AM
http://features.cgsociety.org/stories/2008_06/kungfupanda/mmann_mta2.jpg

Markus Manninen
VFX Supervisor
DreamWorks

Markus Manninen grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, and later went to Kungliga Tekniska Hogskolan (Royal Institute of Technology), Stockholm (M.Sc.E.E) and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. While studying in Massachusetts, Manninen was introduced to CG animation and soon developed a passion for it; he continued to pursue his career choice when he returned to Sweden. His first job in the field was as a project manager for the Media Laboratory at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology.

He then began working as a freelance animator in his hometown, soon launching his own company, the animation studio Lightsite AB. He then segued to the position of CG supervisor at the studio Filmtecknarna. Relocating to London, Manninen went to work for Framestore as head of 3D commercials.

His first motion picture credit is for the vampire/werewolf thriller “Underworld,” serving as a digital effects artist. He also worked on the animated film “Over the Hedge” as CG supervisor and consulted during pre-production of “Bee Movie.” “Kung Fu Panda” is Manninen’s first film for DreamWorks and is now in its first week of release.

For a good read about the production of Kung Fu Panda (http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=4549), go to the Feature story on CGSociety (http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=4549).

To talk to the man himself, please feel free to post your questions and comments.

Please make a warm welcome to CGTalk’s Meet the Artist, Markus Manninen.

HellBoy
06-09-2008, 01:11 AM
Hello Markus, hope you're doing well and congrats on your success. I wanted to ask you, what does it take to start your own CG business? What are the major challenges within that?

Cheers

MarkusM
06-09-2008, 09:25 AM
Hello Markus, hope you're doing well and congrats on your success. I wanted to ask you, what does it take to start your own CG business? What are the major challenges within that?


Hi HellBoy, and thank you. I am very proud of the film and the way the crew worked together to deliver it. It was a great experience. To sweeten the situation I got a phone call from Jeffrey Katzenberg (!) yesterday saying the film is estimated to hit $60m which is a fantastic number. I hope that means the audience likes the film as much as we did working on it. I am off on a LONG vacation now, having worked on the film for 4 years and 9 months, so yes... I am doing really well. :-)

What does it take to start your own CG business. Hm. Interesting question. I am not sure I am equiped to answer it fully. My own experience starting a small animation studio was based on the [now loking back] naive idea that there was a better way of working than what was done else where in Stockholm at the time. I did learn a lot about how difficult it is to build a customer base and how to work with clients. The portion of my time spent doing creative work vs. looking for the next project made me look closer at the work flow and pipeline. Lessons that I was able to use in my career since. What became apparent to me at the time was that delivering the projects was the "easy" part of the equation, and creating opportunities and building the customer base are the areas where one needs to do more research and potentially find the right partnerships or relationships to build a successful business around.

If you do decide to try, make sure you can survive for a while, start when you have a few projects lines up, and the best of luck to you. There aren't enough good people willing to try.

Markus

LRomero
06-09-2008, 02:27 PM
Hello Markus!

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Congratulations on completing the film! Taking #1 this weekend ain't too shabby eh? hehehe. I admit that I haven't gotten the chance to see it but it is on my list before MGS4 releases later this week and will completely take over my life.

Anyway to my question...

For the last few years I've noticed a vast improvement in facial animations with characters as well as overall fluidity in their movements (I was very impressed in how Over the Hedge turned out). How much of motion capture technology was used in the film, especially in any of the fighting scenes?

HellBoy
06-09-2008, 06:22 PM
Hi HellBoy, and thank you. I am very proud of the film and the way the crew worked together to deliver it. It was a great experience. To sweeten the situation I got a phone call from Jeffrey Katzenberg (!) yesterday saying the film is estimated to hit $60m which is a fantastic number. I hope that means the audience likes the film as much as we did working on it. I am off on a LONG vacation now, having worked on the film for 4 years and 9 months, so yes... I am doing really well. :-)

What does it take to start your own CG business. Hm. Interesting question. I am not sure I am equiped to answer it fully. My own experience starting a small animation studio was based on the [now loking back] naive idea that there was a better way of working than what was done else where in Stockholm at the time. I did learn a lot about how difficult it is to build a customer base and how to work with clients. The portion of my time spent doing creative work vs. looking for the next project made me look closer at the work flow and pipeline. Lessons that I was able to use in my career since. What became apparent to me at the time was that delivering the projects was the "easy" part of the equation, and creating opportunities and building the customer base are the areas where one needs to do more research and potentially find the right partnerships or relationships to build a successful business around.

If you do decide to try, make sure you can survive for a while, start when you have a few projects lines up, and the best of luck to you. There aren't enough good people willing to try.

Markus

Thanks for the reply Markus.

MarkusM
06-09-2008, 07:42 PM
Hello Markus!

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Congratulations on completing the film! Taking #1 this weekend ain't too shabby eh? hehehe. I admit that I haven't gotten the chance to see it but it is on my list before MGS4 releases later this week and will completely take over my life.

Anyway to my question...

For the last few years I've noticed a vast improvement in facial animations with characters as well as overall fluidity in their movements (I was very impressed in how Over the Hedge turned out). How much of motion capture technology was used in the film, especially in any of the fighting scenes?

Hi Lloyd,

I am actually very happy to be part of this QnA. I've found these forum topics to be the most enjoyable aspects of CG Society myself, connecting artist around the world directly to artist who just have finished a project (one everyone have or can see and talk about) and can as a result give some insight into them. I wanted to see more of it. I try to be an active member here as much as I can. And since I finally had a project to talk to everyone about it was the perfect opportunity. Let me know what you think of the film when you get to see it.

Facial animation is huge. HUGE. Not only the capability of what we can do with designed characters. Giving them structure and movement that satisfy the design esthetic as well as the animation style. It's not trivial. It's an art in itself. We have amazing character technical directors at Dreamworks (yes Nathan Loofbourrow, I am talking about you and your team...). For facial setup Mariette Marinus really set the "tone" for the film working with Head of Character Animation Dan Wagner. Mariette did some of the most important facial setups on the show. We tend to task facial setup and body setup separately to make the schedule of a character as tight as possible. If you have more specific questions regarding rigging, maybe beyond what I can answer, and if Nathan's not here on CG Society, I'll see if I can get him to participate, either by signing up or through me. Ultimattely what really makes the difference is making sure that the character animators have enough time and ability to execute great facial animation. Ours did, have the time and the ability.

We didn't use any motion capture on Kung Fu Panda. It's not something we ever even talked about. For several purposes. We wanted to make an animated film with very designed motion. It was important for us that our characters did not look like humans dressed in animal costumes, and it was double important that they didn't move that way either. For motion reference our animators used the tools of the trade, video tape themselves or others doing moves, go through films for movements that they can study and understand, and our animators also did "workshops" where they got to practise martial arts to understand why the movements are executed certain ways. But always it was Dan Wagner's job with the animation supervisors to show the directors the motion in the style of our film.

From the very beginning of the project we decided that the animation of our characters was the most important aspect of the film that we had to deliver on. Not only as far as action, even thou that was the initial driver for the conversation, but also for the emotional animation, to carry the story of the film, which is very emotional, based on these awkward relationships between all our main characters.

I hope that satisfies you question. I guess I could've just said "no, we didn't use mocap". Erhm.

freeant
06-10-2008, 03:04 AM
Hi Markus,

I watched Kungfu Panda on last Monday here in Malaysia and planning to watch for second time this Wed. The movie is great and I am amazed by the whole thing, the Sifu master looks great with the fur and animation is awesome, lighting, I love it, jokes I dig, opening scence I enjoy it, character design sweet...the list goes on and on. Congrat !

One question from me ;D :
I have been involved in game industry for about 9 years, in 2d concept. Since last year, I have resigned and started my study in 3d. Is almost 1 year now. Could you give any advice for me who going to venture into 3d soon? ( I am studying and at the same time building my 3d portfolio)
My work portfolio is: www.1000tentacles.com (http://www.1000tentacles.com) Could you give some comment if possible?
Thank you so much and it is really amazing to be able to talk to you! (Never thought that it is possible, :) )

Freeant

MarkusM
06-10-2008, 07:58 AM
One question from me ;D :
I have been involved in game industry for about 9 years, in 2d concept. Since last year, I have resigned and started my study in 3d. Is almost 1 year now. Could you give any advice for me who going to venture into 3d soon? ( I am studying and at the same time building my 3d portfolio)
My work portfolio is: www.1000tentacles.com (http://www.1000tentacles.com/) Could you give some comment if possible?
Thank you so much and it is really amazing to be able to talk to you! (Never thought that it is possible, :) )


Thanks Freeant,

If I can find the time later I will look at your portfolio and contact you privately.

Starting in the business now. I suppose there's a few things I always tell students that have all the energy in the world but don't understand why they can't get the job they want, be smart, be patient and work hard.

I would say that you should research what the 3D industry where you are is looking for in entry position. That's your way in. Once you are in, it's up to you to show the company, and frankly the industry, what you can do. Computer graphics is an endless learning opportunity (or curse, depending on how you see it). We are all constantly learning new software, new methods, new tricks, new aspects of the medium. Your first job should be about getting your foot in.

When you build your portfolio or reel, make sure you at least have one kick-ass piece of creation that truly shows your potential as an employee. Doesn't have to be a "full" CG piece - modeling, surfacing, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering - but a piece that shows off one aspect of computer graphics. That allows people to see how you can be useful day one.

The other aspect for me that is important from the very beginning is self-awareness. If you've done creative work in another medium successfully you probably master this already. My point is that even if you don't have the greatest reel on the planet, if you can point out what you would have liked to have done better, it shows off that you understand the situation in which you created in (schedules are always a reality) and shows the company that you are able to do better work given the opportunity to. Another aspect of this is also understanding your own strengths. If you are a natural modeller, but want to be an animator, but your animation skills are only so-so, but you show a lot of your animation because that's the job you want, well...
You'd be surprised how often I saw this scenario back in Europe.

And when you do land that job, and you have experienced people around you, think of that like another education. Learn more aspects of computer graphics from them. Evolve. I don't think I've met many artist in our industry that don't like helping out someone who is passionate about learning. And the best artists are the ones who keep learning through out their career.

If you have strong 2D skills, you may have additional things to offer a company in being able to help with pitches and pre-production. That may be something to research in your local industry.

I hope that helped some. If you have follow up questions, shoot.

Cheers, Markus

freeant
06-10-2008, 12:30 PM
Thanks for the reply. I have few more if you dont mind :)

-my interest is in character modeling and texturing. Currently I am focusing my study in areas like modeling(of course), zbrushing, texturing and also learning the maya utilities and HDRI rendering. Any other things to look out for? In movie industry, is there a special group of artist whose job is only texturing? Or the modeler is the texture artist as well?

-without paper qualification, does it affect the employment chances in 3d indus? What about those who are self-taught? Do they have equal chance of getting in the business?

-for someone who are new in 3d, will his/her age be an issue? Say in mid 30s.

-you have been in the indus all these years, do you still face things/movie effects that requested by the director which you have no idea how to start with? That is totally new and almost no one has done it b4? If so, how do you solve it? Do you usually lock yourself in a room and have personal brain storming first?

That 's all and thank you for taking your time reading this.

Freeant

D`Cloud
06-10-2008, 06:45 PM
Hey Markus
I just got home from the cinema and I just have to say I definitely enjoyed Kung Fu Panda. I definitely enjoyed the art direction, taking styles from classic chinese arts.

I loved the 2D Opening and Ending sequences and felt it was a great nod to classic 2d animation. is there anything you could perhaps share about the opening and closing credit?

MarkusM
06-10-2008, 08:37 PM
I just got home from the cinema and I just have to say I definitely enjoyed Kung Fu Panda. I definitely enjoyed the art direction, taking styles from classic chinese arts.

I loved the 2D Opening and Ending sequences and felt it was a great nod to classic 2d animation. is there anything you could perhaps share about the opening and closing credit?

Thanks Dustin,

The "2D" sequences were all done a little differently.

The opening dream sequence was setup by the art department of the film who worked closely with Head of Story and Dream Sequence Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson to layout the shots. The art department painted layered photoshop files of each environment and key poses of the characters "on model". These files were then given to uber-animator (yes, I think of him this way) James Baxter and his team to use as a bases for their animation. Depending on the shot they either animated the scene traditionally and composited the shot in After Effects (using the layers from Adobe Photoshop), or in some shots they also used the layered elements (characters) and did limited After Effects animation to make the characters "come to life".

The end credit was a little different. An outside graphics company was used to design the moving segment of the credits, and then animators from our show (who did the 3D animation) actually animated the character moments in 2D and handed that to James Baxter's team to complete and give back to the motion graphics artists.

I am not sure what else I can say except that this was an idea close to all of our hearts in giving the film a unique sensibility. Thank you for highlighting it and enjoying it.

LRomero
06-11-2008, 03:16 AM
Markus,

I finally got to see the movie. Superb! Truly an enjoyable film for both children and adults. I can really tell that the entire team enjoyed working on it and that every scene was a gem.

This is the most character animation I've seen in a fully 3d-animated film. Another thing that impressed me (other than the character animation) was the way the characters interacted with the structures around them, such as collisions and how the structures crumbled.

Two scenes that stuck out the most for me was the bridge and the final fight scene. What did you guys to do achieve those type of effects?

Hey again thanks for taking the time out Markus, your team did a hell of an amazing job making this film.

beansnrice
06-11-2008, 03:43 AM
I found that a big, fun part of Kung Fu Panda was that the animated nature of the film allowed for very close and dynamic cinimatography. Often times you used shots which are impossible in live action. Many times I thought that Kung Fu Hustle wished it could have been animated to have some of the shots that you used.

The kung fu had a vivid sense of weight, balance and dynamic energy. There was such a consistent level of fun from the various cause and effect moves such as Po rebounding off a pillar from Tai Lung's attack as a counter attack.


Other times, however; you didn't and there was still and interesting sensitivity there. Take the turtle Ooguay for instance. He was a terrific character who would simply illuminate what was happening in the plot. His slow, deliberate, wise path was well very shot and timed. He provided much need stability for the plot and the camera. It was a peaceful contrast to all of the bouncy, wild action.

Later, as Po grew into his power during the last fight he bounced Tai Lung into the sky off of his belly. While watching Tai Lung disappear into the sky, Po had a personal moment of reflection as he scanned the clouds. By holding that shot for a split second longer, the audience was able to stop thinking of the conflict for a moment and were ablt to take in the simple beauty of the environment.

Which brings me to my question. How did the harmony and fluidity in Panda Kung Fu rise from the way the staff approached the cinimatography and editing? I felt that the timing and balance of jokes, action and acting was very effective throughout the movie. To quote Ooguay; "There are no accidents."

MarkusM
06-11-2008, 08:51 AM
This is the most character animation I've seen in a fully 3d-animated film. Another thing that impressed me (other than the character animation) was the way the characters interacted with the structures around them, such as collisions and how the structures crumbled.

Two scenes that stuck out the most for me was the bridge and the final fight scene. What did you guys to do achieve those type of effects?


Thanks Lloyd, I am glad it lived up to "the hype".

We did do some special "sauce" in effects on this film. We early on decided that it was crucial for the action to be believe able, have peril, and weight. It influenced Dan and his team in animation a lot. It also made me think about what flexibility we needed to do impacts on the environment.

Based on those discussions we pursued a procedural way of breaking geometry. We are in a NUBS based pipeline, so dividing and converting to polygons have large implications. Our Effects Lead Lawrence Lee developed a fracturing system that allowed us to art direct the breaking heavily. It's mentioned in the CG Society Production Focus article briefly. It allowed us to approach breaking the environment later in the process than usual (you usually need to "pre-plan" where you build for breaking early) which allowed flexibility in animation and layout to stage the coolest possible action. It was tremendeous help from that aspect. It also made it reasonable to use it often as the method retained the surfacing information, even allowing us to animate the fracturing over time as there was no "pop" in going from the unbroken geometry to the broken one. This was used in the "Tai Lung Escapes the Prison" sequence where the bridge at the end crumbles under him (it was a little confusing in the article, sorry about that).

What Lawrence and his team also did was to write a RBD (rigid body dynamics) pipeline taking the broken geometry into Houdini and procedurally running their new RBD solver to create the natural motion and behavior of the pieces there.

Procedural dust and small debris was also developed, I think Nic Pavlov did that working for Lawrence, and that was crucial in adding scale and sense of speed to the events. I just loved seeing this work coming together. And the directors were giddy with excitement when we showed them the first shots. We tried to approach the film as if we were doing an action/effects heavy live action film, but with a limited budget, so we had to be smart about our approaches without sacrificing what we could put on screen to help the story telling. Almost all of the effects in the film are what I tend to call "story driven effects". I spoke lengthy with the directors about being smart about the use of effects to be able to make sure we could spend significant time where it really helped make the film what we wanted it to be, and didn't spend it where it didn't give us true "value".

Where our procdural method wasn't the best approach we had our modeling department do the breaking "manually". Modeling Supervisor Jason Turner and his team did a great job turning that work around. Surfacing Supervisor Wes Burian like wise. Wes and his team also did great work on creating fracture patterns using displacement mapping. In several instances that work allowed us to avoid actual fracturing, and our effects department could simply do some dust and debris on top of the pattern that was revealed in lighting.

For the rope bridge fight scene that was a "collaboration galore" as far as our process goes. When I was first pitched the sequence conceptually half way through production by the producer in the story artist room (yes, it came in late) I was blown away by it and wanted to make sure that we could accomplish it. We had some experience at the company with rope bridges (Shrek) and I felt that we wanted to avoid some of the choices made in the past to focus everyone on doing what they do well, and rather than finding complicated technology solutions for effects to be done in animation, for instance, I felt that we could be smart about our approach and make the two (actually three when you include layout) working closely together during shot production. We started off with a series of meetings where every department was present and we discussed pros and cons in the different choices we could make. This put us all on the same page on the approach. The moving bridge was the key element that drove who did what and when.

Layout decided to use EMO to do their work (we'd slowly been migrating to Maya for action sequences on Kung Fu Panda for layout, a choice that shows after us are adapting). But since we wanted the ambient bridge motion to be the same in layout and animation, they made the choice to be in the same software, which was great. Animation then animated the characters and did "large" bridge motion based on the characters, leaving intricate behavior of the bridge to effects. After effects took their pass on the bridge, the shot was handed back to animation for tweaks based on the final bridge motion.

I think the initial meeting really clued everyone in on how much collaboration would be needed, and this allowed everyone to be comfortable with the process as we went through it. I actually wish every sequence could be as smooth as the rope bridge sequence was once we got going. Great planning allowed for great and smooth execution.

The final battle was, well, just us having fun with everything we'd been hinting at or showing some of through out the film. Now allowing our hero, Po, to be doing it. Breaking a building and running on the destruction (sorry if I am ruining the film for some), playing with noodles, you name it. I won't say more right now. Don't want to give anything away. By this time we were in the crunch to finish the film, but everyone had already been doing the work on other sequences so it ran real well. CG Supervisor Dave Walvoord did a great job of maintaining the calm and focus of bringing it all together in lighting.

mjdowswell
06-11-2008, 10:14 PM
Hi Markus,

Firstly congratulations on your success, to break into the industry in 2003 as a digital effects artist and get all the way up to visual effects supervisor on a major feature animation by 2008 is a great achievement.

I love pandas expression and the lighting on the fur is awesome. I’ve not seen the film yet but look forward to it.

My questions are always about what advice you would give to a struggling one man company that has been on the go for five years, a man who wont quit at directing short films but who hasn’t really shown the world them yet. Danny Boyle told me what I already knew, that the most important thing is persistence. But I only got to ask him one question.

I think that there and then, when I say "who hasn’t really shown the world them yet" that is my problem. A huge major problem...and, that here, writing this right now, persistence has to be *thee* most important thing.

I’ve always steered clear of getting a job in the industry and said no to various people who’ve wanted me to work for them...because all I want is to direct my own films, even if it means that I’m going to be eating jam sandwiches until the day they bury me six feet under...it’s what is most important to me.

What I’m finding out now is, that people in the industry tend to say to me as a director…"get a agent"...I’m just wondering and want to ask the questions to you, do you have a agent?...if you do, at what point did you get one?…and...how much importance do you place on a individual getting a agent?...and where does one go to get a really, really good agent?

Somebody told me that one of my major priorities should be to get myself to Comic-Con but I just don’t even know where to start...if I did go to Comic-Con (very big journey) what would I do exactly when I got there?

Thanks in advance

Mike (burnt out independent director)

MarkusM
06-11-2008, 10:53 PM
Which brings me to my question. How did the harmony and fluidity in Panda Kung Fu rise from the way the staff approached the cinimatography and editing? I felt that the timing and balance of jokes, action and acting was very effective throughout the movie. To quote Ooguay; "There are no accidents."

Hi Marcellus, thanks. A lot.

Wow. Thanks for noticing these choices. This is a huge question, and I am not sure I can do it justice in this forum, without visual aids and lots of hand waving, but I will try to answer it. Let me know if I understood the question wrong. It's a pretty open question.

From the very get go of the film we wanted to emulate a feeling of asian art in every way possible in the film, at the same time we wanted to bring the kind of excitement that we loved from the kung fu films to it. We knew we needed to marry all of this in to a single cohesive art piece. John Stevenson, one of our directors, spoke at length about the films that he wanted to bring inspiration from, especially Kurosawa, and he wanted us to think that we were making an epic film as if it was one of his, but with a Jack Black... or as he puts it, Jerry Lewis, character in the middle of it.

The start of this process was a inspiring amount of hard work from our story team, where they under Head of Story Jennifer Yuh Nelson's guidance, captured the essence of the film, and when our editor Clare Knigh worked her magic on it set the stage for what we would go and shoot. Head of Layout Yong Duk Hjun did a great job in translating the story ideas to a filmic version, with an active camera when needed, and a subtle graceful one at other times. Much iteration between Layout department and Editorial allowed us to capture the pacing of the film. When the animation department came online it was time to make sure that the acting can deliver within that pacing, and carefully decide when shots needed to change the established pacing.

For fight scenes, Rodolphe Gueneden, story artist, animator and fight choreographer on the show, took a pass to make sure that the fights are as cool as they can be. He took what Jenn had established and "kicked it up" a notch.

As far as the comedy, that came from the hard work of the directors, the writers and Jenn, working with Clare finding the solutions for the comedy to land, and feel like it belonged in our film. Once we got passed that stage the rest of us to some degree were there to improve it when we could, or at least not kill it. The animation team had a great way of adding great timing to the comedy, and physical comedy where possible.
We did go back and fine tune a lot of shots to get the most out of what we had.

Oogway was a funny character. It's probably not common knowledge, but his design was the first one that we nailed. Nico Marlet had made a great drawing of him, and John Stevenson pointed to it and said, that's it. We always knew what the character needed to bring to the story, but I have to say that the choices that animation made and the delivery that Randall Duk Kim brough to him, really took him to a new level. I also love the fact that he sets up the film, and then bows out, leaving all these tormented characters to deal with what is happening. I know people who do that in real life.

The moment with Po that you describe is an example of what we sought a lot in the action sequences of the film. We didn't want to disconnect the audience from the story that was being told during the action, so we paid particular attention to adding "character moments" to let us stay with the characters emotionally. It's a tricky balancing act when you also want to build the energy. The most difficult part is that we all watch these sequences over and over again during the course of making them, and we lose somewhat the ability to evaluate if we've found the right balance. I hope your comment means we did, most of the time.

Believability is an important aspect of why the fight scenes retained their sense of pacing as well. Because the characters look and feel like they are there, and that they will die if they fall off the bridge, we don't move into a "super hero" place where anything can happen. The camera is more believable as a result, it is grounded to the world most of the time, and when we do push the camera to do something "unique" it really makes a visual impact. It actually broadens what we can have the audience experience in a way.

MarkusM
06-11-2008, 11:23 PM
My questions are always about what advice you would give to a struggling one man company that has been on the go for five years, a man who wont quit at directing short films but who hasn’t really shown the world them yet. Danny Boyle told me what I already knew, that the most important thing is persistence. But I only got to ask him one question.



Michael, thank you. I have to say that I had a bit of a chuckle as I read your first paragraph. I didn't really break into the indutry in 2003. People in the industry in Europe actually wondered what happened to me in 2003 when I suddenly seemed to disappear.

Before I came to Dreamworks my main focus had been mostly commercials. I was fortunate to be part of and responsible for building the most successful CG commercial department in the world between 2000-2003 at Framestore CFC in London, UK, before Dreamworks approached me. And then I went "quiet", as I started on Kung Fu Panda in August 2003.

I am not sure I can really help you with great advise, but I can tell you what advise I've been given or I've heard people "in high places" give.

You have to have something to show. A completed film. If you don't, you are only one more person who says that can do it without anything to show that they can, and there's a lot of those people around.

My personal approach is that the best way to learn how to create great visual stories in any format is by doing the work or being part of doing the work. Especially doing great work. I am not afraid of admitting that I am very ambitious. Not just on a personal level, but also in context of the project and the company I work at. I want us to succeed beyond what we think is possible. That's what drives me to do what I do.

I've been fortunate to work with some great directors in my career, and I've been fortunate enough to have been able to direct projects myself, thereby getting to practise what I've learned. I use all these opportunities as my own continuing education. I work closely with people I respect to learn from what they are doing. I ask them for input on what I am doing. The artists and film makers I work with are very generous with their time. I learn a lot from them.

Danny Boyle is a very smart man, and yes, persistence and patience is a must. However, you also have to create your own luck in this industry.

Best of luck.

MarkusM
06-12-2008, 09:31 AM
Thanks for the reply. I have few more if you dont mind :)

-my interest is in character modeling and texturing. Currently I am focusing my study in areas like modeling(of course), zbrushing, texturing and also learning the maya utilities and HDRI rendering. Any other things to look out for? In movie industry, is there a special group of artist whose job is only texturing? Or the modeler is the texture artist as well?

-without paper qualification, does it affect the employment chances in 3d indus? What about those who are self-taught? Do they have equal chance of getting in the business?

-for someone who are new in 3d, will his/her age be an issue? Say in mid 30s.

-you have been in the indus all these years, do you still face things/movie effects that requested by the director which you have no idea how to start with? That is totally new and almost no one has done it b4? If so, how do you solve it? Do you usually lock yourself in a room and have personal brain storming first?

That 's all and thank you for taking your time reading this.

Freeant

Hi Freeant,

So many of your questions are really dependent on where you are. I am sure the industry is quite different in different countries. I've seen a huge difference between Stockholm, London and Los Angeles. What I do know for certain is that the reel/portfolio is always more important than an educational degree to land "a job" in our industry. I do think that higher education is often a necessity for certain types of jobs in our industry. But even for those jobs, I've seen people who are great at continuing their learning at work be successful.

Connections always help in finding interesting opportunitites. I've dragged with me a few of my friends that I worked with back in Stockholm in the mid 90's. "Forcing" them to work with me on projects. That's usually lead to them finding other interesting work around the globe.

I don't know about the age aspect honestly. I do remember hiring a CG modeler who had a long successful background in physical modeling. I was mostly interested in his talent. Age wasn't a factor on my part.

At smaller houses modeling and surfacing is often done by the same people. Especially for "simpler" surfacing, the normal paint based work. For more complex surfacing even smaller houses usually have Technical Directors who can "solve" a look. It is useful knowing both as you actually become a stronger and more useful modeler if you can anticipate the UV needs of surfacing, and you are more flexible casting wise.

At larger studios we tend to have people specialize since there's simply so much through put that it makes sense to use people for their special skills.

Solving "the unknown" is always challanging and fun, frankly. Usually once somebody pitches the idea I have a vague idea of how I would approach it. But rather than decide there and then, I put a group of talented people in a room and we brainstorm on the approach. It's a great way of getting started and motivated. If we don't get anywhere in the brainstorming I usually pitch my vague approach, and that either goes two ways the group latches on to it (out of pure desperation) and we build on it, or... they hate it and ridicule me for the rest of the brainstorm session, while we come up with a better approach. Either way it allows us to not get stuck.

The most important aspect after picking an approach is to stay fresh and evaluate it properly as you go. Stay flexible enough to adapt when you learn more about what you are trying to accomplish. Because you will as soon as you start actually working on solving it.

mjdowswell
06-13-2008, 12:43 AM
Dear Markus,

Well eight years to get to where you are now is a incredible achievement. What did you do before 2000 if you don’t mind me asking?

Somebody once told me that I wouldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t move to London, but I think it greatly depends on what are you doing. Surely, as a animation director I can live anywhere in the world?...it’s all about money at the end of the day...if I had the money (which I‘m sure I will get one day), I could use the internet as a tool...a communication tool to organise and co-ordinate a team...the best of the best.

I’m sorry if my letter of questions seemed a bit extreme and a bit of a rant…(I’d not slept in a while) I think that it was too many questions, and possibly too personal...also, the questions are probably really very silly...it’s just that I wish more than anything to understand how you progress in this industry to obtain the post...the post of a paid Director of feature films.

The only thing I have to hold onto at the moment (in a cruel sea) is to just simply keep making animations, enjoy making animations and hope that one day I’m happy enough to send one out to a film competition or some of TV channels here in the UK.

I absolutely love making films and am very, very lucky / privileged to be sat here making them, perhaps these are the best times of my life?...my only wish is to obtain a larger audience who can see them.

I just spoke to a friend last night about Kung Fu Panda, he loved it man, absolutely loved it...and I can tell you, he’s very hard to please. He doesn’t like the Shrek movies but said this was a very pleasant surprise. This makes me want to see the film even more now!

Mike


---

freeant
06-13-2008, 03:16 AM
Hi Markus,

Again, thx for the reply.

I have watched Panda KungFu on Wed for the second time, and this time around, paying more attention to the cg. One thing to ask regarding the story, can you tell me what is a "Wuxi Finger"? (not sure if I get the spelling right for dat) The one that used by the Shifu Master and Panda(to finally defeat Tai Long) with the finger thingie? Is it the greatest power of all? Will Panda KungFu 2 (hopefully)going to review this special move?

Freeant

CtrlAltDel
06-13-2008, 11:13 AM
Hi Markus,

I haven't actually watch the movie, but from the reviews, I know I gotta.

My question is probably a little off.
1) As an effect supervisor, what is really your job description especially in KungFu Panda?
Do you also handle some frames yourself?

2) How do you handle your staff that just "can't get it right" (if there were such thing in this project)

3) Have you ever feel frustrated being one? :)

Thanks for your time,
Iwan

overcontrast
06-14-2008, 12:07 AM
Hi Markus!

I've been anticipated to watch this movie for a long while. But sad news is the movie dosent realease in my area so have to wait for the DVD release. But from all the trailers i see this movie looks damn fine. The animation looks outstanding!!

Down to business. I was wondering how the Fur is handeled in the movie? Could you please give us some tech-specs on that. I mean I dont want you to spill out all the secrets but just the basic ideas, like what kind of program/plug-ins are used, how the fun is composited (or rendered with the character) a little on the fur lighting...things like that...

THank you so much and best of wishes for the upcomming weeks!

d-brooks
06-14-2008, 12:57 AM
Hi Markus!

First of all congratulations on completing work on Kung Fu Panda. I'm eagerly anticipating seeing your handiwork on the big screen!

Two questions for you Markus, if you'd be so kind,

In the article it mentions a procedural parenting tool for the bridge sequence....could you go a little more into this?

What was your favourite challenge of the show, and why?

Character rigging is an particular interest of mine, so if there is any chance Nathan can make a quick stop here that would be fantastic. I'm keen to learn as much as possible about the characters in Kung Fu Panda. They look great.

Enjoy your well deserved vacation! :D

David Brooks

MarkusM
06-14-2008, 09:15 AM
Hi Markus,

Again, thx for the reply.

I have watched Panda KungFu on Wed for the second time, and this time around, paying more attention to the cg. One thing to ask regarding the story, can you tell me what is a "Wuxi Finger"? (not sure if I get the spelling right for dat) The one that used by the Shifu Master and Panda(to finally defeat Tai Long) with the finger thingie? Is it the greatest power of all? Will Panda KungFu 2 (hopefully)going to review this special move?

Freeant

I think you'll have to wait for more stories to be told in the Kung Fu Panda universe to learn about the wushu finger hold and how Po defeated Tai Lung.

;-)

joliy
06-14-2008, 01:52 PM
Hello Markus,
I saw the prevue of Kung Fu Panda many weeks ago,and I was look forward to this new release,and finaly,abusolutely,You have take us a big apleasantly surprise!I am amazed by the whole thing,especially the style of the colour and the design of scenes,the character too!
I am a chinese girl,I admire you and your team for a sticking to this project just like Panda sticking to study Kung Fu !and what i want to say is,not merely westerner like it but also we easterner too!
About the story ,I have a little advise,in the end of the story,Si Fu asked his apprentices to evacuate the residents,and Si Fu fight a lone battle with Tai Lang,At this point,Any one of chinese people will not leave someone along to fight,hehe~_~,just a personal adcise.However,I understand that the whole story is most important thing.
In the end,I wish you and your family have a mirable ,romantic ,pleasant trip!and then Olympic Games will be hold in BeiJing soon,here with my pleasant I invite you and everyone come to china,to join to the gaiety of the festival with us!

freeant
06-14-2008, 04:31 PM
I think you'll have to wait for more stories to be told in the Kung Fu Panda universe to learn about the wushu finger hold and how Po defeated Tai Lung.

;-)

"Kung Fu Panda Universe"? Is it part of the Making Of in the dvd's feature or......Could you tell us where to get it or when it will be released?

Is your next project lining up already?

MarkusM
06-14-2008, 11:22 PM
Hi Markus,

I haven't actually watch the movie, but from the reviews, I know I gotta.

My question is probably a little off.
1) As an effect supervisor, what is really your job description especially in KungFu Panda?
Do you also handle some frames yourself?

2) How do you handle your staff that just "can't get it right" (if there were such thing in this project)

3) Have you ever feel frustrated being one? :)

Thanks for your time,
Iwan

Hi Iwan,

I hope you like the film when you get to see it.

As the Visual Effects Supervisor for the show my job is to over look the whole production to make sure the Directors get the film they want, as I am responsible for the technology, process and work flow choices we make, and I am also responsible for the look of the film together with the Production Designer.

The Production Designer and I work closely together, and we also work closely with Head of Story, Head of Character Animation, and Head of Layout. Since a CG animated feature film is such a large production, I have several department heads working for me that focus on the different aspects of the film - Modeling Supervisor, Surfacing Supervisor, Character TD Supervisor, Department TD Supervisor, Head of Effects, Character Effects Supervisor, Final Layout Supervisor, Matte Painting Supervisor, and CG Supervisors (5 of them, and they are Lighting Sequence Supervisors). Each of the department heads collaborate with their production supervisors who are crucial part of making it possible.

Don't use these as official numbers since I am guessing that we probably grew to around 150-ish people at the peak, and around 250 people probably touched the film in some way. Add on top of that technology resources, and I am not even sure how to count them.

I suppose what I am tryng to say is that it's a big operation and my producers want me to not be hands on. That being said, I was hands on at times, trying to solve specific creative challanges that we were having. Most of the time it was previs'ing something that the directors thought they wanted but weren't sure would work. I would use Photoshop and After Effects to quickly whip something together. Often collaborating with the Production Designer. Sometimes working over moving material out of lighting. It was in an effort to create a clear target for the artist to work towards.

At the very end of production I also started doing some, what I call, "extreme paint fixing". We have a great paint fix department. There was a couple of times when the solutions to make the image better was about changing the content rather than fixing it. For those it was easier for me to do the work. The paint fix artists were kind enough to then go on top of what I did to make it look good.

I don't recommend being hands on in my role particularly since my main focus should be to make sure that everyone else is on track and successful. However, I like doing the work, so it was fun.

When you have someone who can't quite get there it really becomes a management challange. Is it a casting problem - can you only cast certain types of shots to this person. Can the person with training reach where they need to be, is the supervisor not mentoring the person enough. Is the person in the role they should be in. In a large company like ours we are always dealing with people's career aspirations. It's part of what makes it fun for us, to see people grow. We were fortunate to see people grow on our show, starting in one position and transitioning to the next during the show. It's very fulfilling, but not always painless. As I said, it's part of what we do as a studio.

In general on our show we mostly had people that "out did themselves", everyone stepped up and delivered. That's why I am so proud of the final film. I can see everyone's passion and dedication on screen. The film was by no means "easy" to accomplish.

Let me see, the question is - have I ever been frustrated by "not being able to get it right"? Is that correct?
There was a project back in London where I was particularly frustrated. Getting it right wasn't coming easy. We were chasing something in Jonathan Glazer's head and I couldn't put my finger on it. I spent several days and nights working a shot of an exploding wall (it was a jeans commercial) and it didn't look right. I was trying to use procedural techniques to make the work a little more easy to handle, as we were going to have another 26 explosions in the spot. The turn around of a shot was painfully slow. I think on my tenth try when I finally gave up and started hand key framing the debris was when the look came together. Another ten iterations and the shot was done. That was really frustrating. Not just for me, but the other people working with me, waiting for me to solve my part.

I've been supervising for a long time and I've been doing hands on work during this time on the projects as well, and I suppose when you have the dual role, failure isn't really an option. You simple have to figure out what the director or client wants, and deliver. Listening skills are as important as your artistic ability.

MarkusM
06-14-2008, 11:34 PM
Down to business. I was wondering how the Fur is handeled in the movie? Could you please give us some tech-specs on that. I mean I dont want you to spill out all the secrets but just the basic ideas, like what kind of program/plug-ins are used, how the fun is composited (or rendered with the character) a little on the fur lighting...things like that...


I am not sure how detailed you want me to get. I suppose at some point I may need to ask one of my CG Supervisors for help.

We have our own propriatery software for surfacing and rendering. Most of the fur in our film was map based fur generation, meaning that surfacing controlled the fur look by painting attributes in maps applied to the underlying surface (the UVs), which in return controlled the look of the fur.

We had some fur, like eyebrows for instance, where we need to give character animators control over the motion of the fur. For these instances, modeling modeled guide hairs that drive the fur motion. Surfacing used the guide hairs to create the final look of the fur.

The final fur geometry gets generated at render time through the fur shader.

Is that enough detail?

It's not terribly revolutionary. The look of the fur really comes together as surfacing spends time setting up multiple "layers" of fur and create an underlying surface look that works with the fur density. For a lot of the characters we used a dense short fur layer, and a less dense longer fur layer to create specific design details that allowed for a more natural look to the characters. However, all hero characters had their own solutions.

An interesting detail is that we kept short fur every where to avoid dynamic simulated fur as much as possible. For instance, Monkey's cheek volume are actually geometry with a thin, short fur layer.

In lighting the lighters have control over affecting the fur alone, or the skin as well. We have shadow techniques that allow us inter shadowing between hairs. Depending on the sequence look the lighters used different tools in our lighting tool box to achieve the look.

We tend to render our characters in a single render pass. One of the reasons we have an interactive lighting tool is to allow lighters to do just that, work on a character a as whole.

MarkusM
06-14-2008, 11:50 PM
In the article it mentions a procedural parenting tool for the bridge sequence....could you go a little more into this?

What was your favourite challenge of the show, and why?

Character rigging is an particular interest of mine, so if there is any chance Nathan can make a quick stop here that would be fantastic. I'm keen to learn as much as possible about the characters in Kung Fu Panda. They look great.


Hi David, thanks.

We used a procedural parenting method to put the character back on the bridge after the effects artist ran their dynamics pass on the bridge, which created an offset between the key frame animated character and the bridge. This automated parenting took care of most cases, in the rest the character animators had to go back in and adjust the character animation.

Favorite challange. Hm. Real difficult. There are so many aspects from my point of view that allows for a show to come together.

The rope bridge is up there. I thought that was a great addition to the film. We really needed an exciting fight sequence and I was very happy that I could work closely with the team and find a solution that allowed us to get it made for the film. It's not always easy to expect people to work outside of their comfort zone, but when I did on this sequence, everyone stepped up to be counted, and it shows. I think the animation department really set a new bar, and the effects department really made their work take center stage. I was really impressed by everyone.

The other creative aspect was the look of the film. It was a lot of hard work getting the look of the film worked out. I am so happy with the way it worked out, and I am so thankful to have had some of the most amazing artist helping us figure it out early on... Dave, Mark, Betsy, Joanna, Jeff, Greg, Archie, ... the list goes on. I was impressed with their patience and percistense to deliver great work as we went through the look development process.

The unsung heros of our show where the Technical Directors. Greg Wuller and his team delivered consistently heroic work in making our tools and pipeline work for us. Without them we wouldn't have a show even close to what we have today.

If you ask some questions about the rigging of our characters I will forward the Qs to Nathan for some feedback, unless I know how to answer the questions myself.

Hellgaurdian
06-15-2008, 08:50 AM
Hi markus, Great to c u here.. but dreamworks fans in India r greatly disappointed.. The movie hasn't released here and i dont think it ll release here for another month and a half.. so v have to wait a long time.. But its ok.. Coz i am sure the movie is worth the wait.. anyway i want to ask u abt the aspect of the movie that interested me the most when i saw the trailers.. the backgrounds are mindblowing... just amazing.. i want to ask u how u went abt choosing wat kind of backgrounds u wanted to use and who were involved in creating such great and inspiring work.. thanx for all ur time and sharing with us ur experiences and great advice..

jcatlanta
06-15-2008, 05:51 PM
Hello Markus!

First and foremost congratulations on a phenomenal piece of beauty you and the Dreamworks team have created. It was an honor seeing such a wonderfully orchestrated project take form and breathe life into the hearts of the viewers. A rare gem.

I particularly enjoyed the beats and timing of this film. The rhythmic pace kept the story line from encompassing too many elements and guided the viewer gracefully, something which a lot of CG films tend to fail at. The animation was, of course, executed spectacularly with dazzling effects and gorgeous backgrounds leaving you wanting more.

My questions for you are:

1. This film had a tremendous amount of inspiration and references from China and other Asian Cultures. Was this difficult in transferring over to CG? What challanges were faced when bridging two cultures amidst one film and how has this experience honed your story telling ability?

2. A lot of the beauty in this film lies within its color palette and lighting. What steps were taken to insure that each scene worked harmoniously under these two departments? Did the Matte Painters collaborate with the lighting directors? And did the animators participate within this process to get a feel for the scene?

3. Were you involved within the early stages of the production during the character concept/design stage? How much input did the cg artist give and what if any were some of the changes recommended by you or your team? Was the vocal talent established at this point?

4. The Chor Ghom prison escape scene was one of my personal favorites! As the VFX supervisor, what particulars in this scene posed the most challanges and if given the task to fine tune (more than already) the scene, what aspects would you change/improve?

5. And finally, what particular character would you say you relate to the most? Personally I enjoyed Oogway the wise master turtle the most with Mantis coming in at a close second .."this soup is really good! I wish my mouth was bigger!" Wow that brought tears of laughter.....

Forgive me for the numerous amount of questions but I have not been inspired or touched by a film of this caliber in such a long time. Probably since the Lion King! I truly enjoyed viewing the passionate work everyone contributed towards and have high hopes to one day be a part of a production as successful and beautifully designed as this one. Many blessings to you and thank you for sharing your experience.

Regards,

Julian

CtrlAltDel
06-16-2008, 04:42 AM
Hi Iwan,

I hope you like the film when you get to see it.

As the Visual Effects Supervisor for the show my job is to over look the whole production to make sure the Directors get the film they want, as I am responsible for the technology, process and work flow choices we make, and I am also responsible for the look of the film together with the Production Designer. (edited....)

Thank you very much Markus,

Your answer is both inspiring and fulfilling :)
Hope to see a lot more of your touch on future masterpieces

Regards,
Iwan

MarkusM
06-19-2008, 03:44 PM
Hi markus, Great to c u here.. but dreamworks fans in India r greatly disappointed.. The movie hasn't released here and i dont think it ll release here for another month and a half.. so v have to wait a long time.. But its ok.. Coz i am sure the movie is worth the wait.. anyway i want to ask u abt the aspect of the movie that interested me the most when i saw the trailers.. the backgrounds are mindblowing... just amazing.. i want to ask u how u went abt choosing wat kind of backgrounds u wanted to use and who were involved in creating such great and inspiring work.. thanx for all ur time and sharing with us ur experiences and great advice..

Hi Hellgaurdian,

Sorry, I can't do much about the release schedule. I spoke to Paul and told him that I am more than willing to have the forum keep going (since I am a CG Society member myself) if people have more questions when they [finally] do get to see the film.

I am not sure how to answer the background question fully.

The design of the world came out of the Production Designer and Art Director, and their team in the art department. From the point the Directors had signed off on the design and the color concept for the sequence or location, the work went into production where our modeling, surfacing, effects and lighting departments dealt with the geometry based location.

The world beyond the geometry that we rendered through lighting, was established in our matte painting department. They worked based on a rough model of the world to create "correct" spatial relationships to make sure that the world was believable, but also used the geometry to add some depth cues.

A lot of our large locations went through a process where the world was created roughly in a software called Vue (e-onsoftware) by our matte painting lead Scott Brisbane. Then the renders out of that were painted on by our matte painters to define the finished detail and push the look and lighting further than what was done in Vue. The final matte paintings were then projected back on geometry by our matte painting compositors and rendered on the farm. Initially we used Maya for rendering, but late in the project we were able to switch to our own renderer.

The matte paintings on our film were the most advanced and the most shots that we'd done to date. Even larger than some of the live action films that depend heavily on them. I was truly inspired by their work. The Production Designer and I had planned to rely heavily on matte painting on the film, and we were extatic when the process worked out so well.

MarkusM
06-19-2008, 08:19 PM
Hello Markus!

First and foremost congratulations on a phenomenal piece of beauty you and the Dreamworks team have created. It was an honor seeing such a wonderfully orchestrated project take form and breathe life into the hearts of the viewers. A rare gem.

I particularly enjoyed the beats and timing of this film. The rhythmic pace kept the story line from encompassing too many elements and guided the viewer gracefully, something which a lot of CG films tend to fail at. The animation was, of course, executed spectacularly with dazzling effects and gorgeous backgrounds leaving you wanting more.

Thank you Julian, I am glad the hollistic "experience" was to your liking. It's particularly rewarding for me to hear as I am responsible for the hollistic execution of the film.

My questions for you are:

1. This film had a tremendous amount of inspiration and references from China and other Asian Cultures. Was this difficult in transferring over to CG? What challanges were faced when bridging two cultures amidst one film and how has this experience honed your story telling ability?

The work of finding the artistic version of "pre-historic" Chinese culture came out of research done by the art department. The directors were particularly passionate about the pursuit of this. We did discuss at length how much the characters and their behavior would be "westernized" so to speak. It was important to make Po, the panda, stand out in the environment, making him funny and different. This "contrast" actually helped make the world more Chinese in many ways.

The work the art department did was a great bridge between finding a new fresh take on a world, yet having it inspired by Chinese art and culture. The feel of this world allowed the story work to find it's "tone" in many ways. We had the look of our world much earlier than the story. A lot of the art work actually inspired the story telling.

2. A lot of the beauty in this film lies within its color palette and lighting. What steps were taken to insure that each scene worked harmoniously under these two departments? Did the Matte Painters collaborate with the lighting directors? And did the animators participate within this process to get a feel for the scene?

Lighting and Matte Painting were both supervised by the Production Designer and myself. The Art Director worked closely with the matte painting department for the design process to work as smoothly as possible. The Production Designer and myself were responsible in making sure that the two departments would "align". The CG Supervisors for each sequence communicated with the matte painting lead to make sure that the creative vision would translate.

The animators worried very little about the lighting of our scenes. Nor did layout. We did plan for the original staging to work with the lighting scheme that the Production Designer and I had been planning. After that we really had to make the lighting work shot-by-shot more or less. Most of the time this was not a problem.

3. Were you involved within the early stages of the production during the character concept/design stage? How much input did the cg artist give and what if any were some of the changes recommended by you or your team? Was the vocal talent established at this point?

Yes. I was fortunate enough to start only a few weeks into the design process. Early on it was really about thinking about the scope of the film. When we started in 2003 we had a different schedule. It was important for me to work closely with the producers and directors to figure out what was important for them and try to work out a scheme for the production. Once we had that concept worked out, the Production Designer and I discussed it and we would then start applying the theories to the design of the film. Some of these decision included using only short non-dynamic fur in the film, only doing simulated clothing on our characters (we didn't do any procedural wrinkling on the rigged clothing), developing a feather system, building "localized" environments.

As the designs came together we got Head of Character Animation, Character TD Supervisor and Character Effects Supervisor to look at the design to make sure we were able to achieve the design purpose in 3D. There was a lot of discussion about facial design, motion capability, neck design.

I don't think we had any vocal talent established at the point when we started. I know Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman signed on while we were in the process of creating the characters in 3D.

4. The Chor Ghom prison escape scene was one of my personal favorites! As the VFX supervisor, what particulars in this scene posed the most challanges and if given the task to fine tune (more than already) the scene, what aspects would you change/improve?

Hm. Difficult question. The Escape was actually our first action sequence into production. We had some "growing pains" while we were doing it. We were establishing the action in the film doing this one. One of the key concerns for me was POV (point of view) and the level of "cool" we could achieve. We did some previz work that was really inspirational, but completely lacked POV. It set off a process of finding the character in the action (a story based process), which was really helpful. Once we came out that process and we had the idea for the "why" and "how", we got into production. At this point the sequence was coming together, but to me it just wasn't elevating the film. So that's what I pushed. I thought the team really stepped up and delivered.

What would I change?
Hm. We actually made the sequence on a fairly tight budget because we wanted to leave more "gun powder" to the later sequences. If we could have spent a little more time on finessing what we started I would have been an even happier camper.

5. And finally, what particular character would you say you relate to the most? Personally I enjoyed Oogway the wise master turtle the most with Mantis coming in at a close second .."this soup is really good! I wish my mouth was bigger!" Wow that brought tears of laughter.....

I probably see myself mostly like Crane. I am somewhat confused by situations at times but try to make the best of them.

To my crew I probably come across like Po's dad, constantly optimisitically running towards the next disaster, telling them to hurry along, telling them stories from the past they've already heard a million times.

Forgive me for the numerous amount of questions but I have not been inspired or touched by a film of this caliber in such a long time. Probably since the Lion King! I truly enjoyed viewing the passionate work everyone contributed towards and have high hopes to one day be a part of a production as successful and beautifully designed as this one. Many blessings to you and thank you for sharing your experience.

Regards,

Julian

Thank you. I hope my answers did satisfy your curiousity, and I hope you get the opportunity to work on something as magical as the show we all worked on. My philosophy is that a great process can/will lead to a great product. Or maybe that's just Po's dad talking within me.

semprong
06-20-2008, 04:42 AM
Hi Markus,

Watched the movie with my son, and we both love it! Great piece!!

My quoestion is, how did you (and your animator teams) maintain the "feel" of the aniamtion during the production time? I mean, if I've been doing animation over and over for a some time, it sometime looses some of the right thing, because after that repeating process, the animation tends to look the same.

Thnx

Matrixg1st
06-20-2008, 11:22 AM
Hello Markus,
great to have you here. I enjoy it every time when a new Meet the artist thread opens!

I´m 26 and from Germany ,and the movie will Hit theatres on 07.03., which means i had no opportunity to see it yet (except downloading, but that´s unacceptable for me, i want to see this piece of art on the big screen!). I can´t hardly wait to see it!

I did al little 3D about 5 years ago, i was really interested in getting a job in the industry, but i didn´t know how to do it bvack then. I had to take a job directly after school and that left me only a few time left for my hobby. However, i tried to learn by myself with Lightwave and i was starting to get better. But somehow, while i was checking cgsociety or renderosity, i became the feeling that most people were evolving much quicker than me.
Do you think somepeople are like, born to do this stuff, and other´s aren´t? I usually thing there´s nothing i can´t learn or accomplish, but thinking about back then, it makes me wonder if i lack a specific understanding. I´m curious about your opinion on that!

3 Years ago i started Photography as a hobby, and thus i had much experience in Photoshop from my past, it soon became my first love. I actually quit my day to day (too boring and stressfull) job 4 weeks ago and startetd as a professional Photographer Fulltime. Taking me back to the "specific understanding". It seems i would have that rather in Photography than in 3D.

I intend to mix up,i want to learn Maya and use it for my Photographs, i know there are a few Photographers out there that do this, but most of the time,these are split in teams, One for Photography, one for maya,and sometimes even one person for Photoshop. I think having all the work done by one person would be a little diffrent !

Can you give me some advice how to learn more effective than i did before? I´m really busy starting my business so i don´t want waste to much time. Right now i have Maya 7 and bought the book Maya from Keywan Mahintorabi and the Maya Reference Book.

I don´t have the money right now to invest in workshops or something like that, so i would be thankfull if you have any advice for me.

If you interested to see some of my Photographs you can see a Portfolio on my website www.designforst.de

Iwill have a new website in a few months. But for now it´s stil lthe old version.

I hope my Questions are not too much off topic! And thanks for your time!!!

Hellgaurdian
06-20-2008, 04:26 PM
Hi Hellgaurdian,

Sorry, I can't do much about the release schedule. I spoke to Paul and told him that I am more than willing to have the forum keep going (since I am a CG Society member myself) if people have more questions when they [finally] do get to see the film.

I am not sure how to answer the background question fully.

The design of the world came out of the Production Designer and Art Director, and their team in the art department. From the point the Directors had signed off on the design and the color concept for the sequence or location, the work went into production where our modeling, surfacing, effects and lighting departments dealt with the geometry based location.

The world beyond the geometry that we rendered through lighting, was established in our matte painting department. They worked based on a rough model of the world to create "correct" spatial relationships to make sure that the world was believable, but also used the geometry to add some depth cues.

A lot of our large locations went through a process where the world was created roughly in a software called Vue (e-onsoftware) by our matte painting lead Scott Brisbane. Then the renders out of that were painted on by our matte painters to define the finished detail and push the look and lighting further than what was done in Vue. The final matte paintings were then projected back on geometry by our matte painting compositors and rendered on the farm. Initially we used Maya for rendering, but late in the project we were able to switch to our own renderer.

The matte paintings on our film were the most advanced and the most shots that we'd done to date. Even larger than some of the live action films that depend heavily on them. I was truly inspired by their work. The Production Designer and I had planned to rely heavily on matte painting on the film, and we were extatic when the process worked out so well.



Thanx Markus, now i really cant wait to watch the movie. I really appreciate u for taking some time off to reply to all our questions. I am sure all the other members also appreciate it as much as i do.. I have been hearing so much about the bridge fight scene thats its killing me with excitement..

And i hope you are enjoying ur holiday coz you and the rest of the dreamworks team deserve it..

holiwood
06-20-2008, 10:57 PM
Hello my name is Mark Gilbert I have a project for my animation class. I need to interview an industry expert. I am a big fan of your work and it would be an honor if you could answer these questions for me. 1) what do employers look for in hiring a new employee in animation

2)Do you have other experience in graphic design?
3)Is it better to be well versed in all types of graphic design or pick your area and work harder on that field?
4)What knowledge should a new animator have before starting work.
5)What challenges did you face while starting out as an animator ? If so are they common challenges that every beginner will face? Are they easy to over come?

6)What made you decide to start a career in the animation field?

Thank you.

MarkusM
06-23-2008, 10:52 AM
Hello my name is Mark Gilbert I have a project for my animation class. I need to interview an industry expert. I am a big fan of your work and it would be an honor if you could answer these questions for me. 1) what do employers look for in hiring a new employee in animation

There are a lot of variables. I assume that you are interested in learning character animation position, and entry level. This is not really my area to speak to. I don't think we often hire talent straight out of school for character animation positions. Someone who comes out of school with tremendous ability for acting and timing, and a reel that can show it may be able to land a junior position. On our show we did something unique and hired two junior animators to work as "crowd character animators". This meant that they animated the cycles for our crowds as well as what we call "hero background animation", where we want to keyframe animate one of the crowd characters to make the crowd as a whole feel less, well, "crowd like".

For other positions we actually do try to find talent out of schools. On the technical side we pursue finding technical directors. We actually collaborate with certain schools to make the schools aware of what we are looking for in their students.

In "asset creation" positions like modeling and surfacing, it's about what they can show us they know creatively. For Character TD's we look for very technically skilled people as our propriatery process demands that.

For students straight out of school it's also important to see their ability to function in a team environment. That they are positive about continued learning. Great personality. We often assume that they start almost from scratch with us, but that they've learn the process of learning so they will adapt quickly to a production environment which is very different from the educational environment.

2)Do you have other experience in graphic design?

When I came into the industry the path of how people arrived was much more arbitrary than it perhaps is now. I had a dance background before getting my M.Sc. degree. I did some work in graphic design in Boston, yes, but that was temporary more than a career choice. What I wanted to pursue was animation. To be able to do character animation in those days I pretty much had to learn how to do it all. That's probably a big part of how I ended up doing what I do today.

3)Is it better to be well versed in all types of graphic design or pick your area and work harder on that field?

Do you mean graphic design as in design, or are you generalising it to computer graphics?
On the question whether it's better to specialize or not in our industry I would say it depends on what you are talented at. I think a lot of companies look for people who they can see can arrive at their company and be useful fairly quickly. For that reason I think specializing is helpful early on. Knowing a little of everything may not help you.

If you are in an area where there are mainly small companies and everyone at the company pretty much has to do everything, well, then I think it's worth not only having one specialized area since it will be difficult casting you as an artist.

Also, depending on what area of computer graphics you will focus on - feature animation, commercials animation, feature visual effects, commercials visual effects, commercial still art work, product development/design, architectural visualisation, ... - they all have a slightly different focus and skill need.

My general advise is understand the whole, but get good at one part where a potential employer can see that you can be of benefit to them almost immediately.

4)What knowledge should a new animator have before starting work.

Listening skills. You will learn how to take direction as part of being in a production environment, but you need to come to it with listening skills. That way you will be able to learn quickly.

If we are talking about a character animator I used to look for people who had the fundamental understanding of acting. They were able to have a conversation about what a shot delivered emotionally and why. I looked for the more traditional aspects, do they understand weight, do they use timing to their advantage. My personal preference for animation has always been a little off the beaten path, so I always looked for animators that didn't do the "traditional" poses or expressions. Who clearly were able to experiment themselves, using their own expressions and behavior as a guide. But that's just me personally.

5)What challenges did you face while starting out as an animator ? If so are they common challenges that every beginner will face? Are they easy to over come?

Hm. When I started out I had real issues with the technology. There wasn't an easy way to generate character animation technically with the tools I was using at the time. So building a work flow/process was part of my challange. I don't recommend people to try to learn all that these days.

On the creative side I went through a process of learning character animation from the references I could find. I was a students many years after I left school (still am I would have to say). I gulped up any animation book, watch and re-watched, frame by frame every animated film I could get my hands on. Learned about the masters and the choices they made through reading and watching. I found myself particularly drawn to stop motion animation early on. Being on my own was probably the most difficult aspect of learning at that time. These days with AnimationMentor and the rich access to books and DVDs on the topics I had to learn by trying, well... I don't think it's quite the same. In a good way.

The best part of having to learn it myself is that I became very aware of every choice I was making. I didn't do anything arbitrarily or because someone else did it that way or told me to do it a certain way. I like that aspect of the challange.

One of the most difficult things to master is proper self-evaluation. The tendecy is that because you start with something so rough and it improves from there on, there's a potential risk that you stop at a point when you've seen the relative improvements and think it's great, when it really isn't good enough. Learning how to push your self is an invaluable skill.

6)What made you decide to start a career in the animation field?

Having had my artistic aspirations more or less fail in my teens (I was an aspiring dancer/choreographer) I went to school to get a "proper" degree. My education was very challanging but I was tremendously bored. When I discovered animation at UMass Amherst it was if the two sides, the artistic and the technical, found a perfect mix. It inspired me to seek the opportunity to learn more, and I got lucky that a few people around me at that time thought it was interesting and, I assume, saw that I had some talent for it.

From then on it was a constant choice to keep focusing on animation, avoid the trap of "getting a real job" (at the time it was difficult at best to make a living as an animator in Stockholm, Sweden). Persistence and passion was what enabled me to keep doing what I loved. I am very ambitious.

Did I dream that I one day would be on the other side of the world, working in Los Angeles for a feature animation studio, having significant contribution in a feature animated film. It actually seemed almost impossible at the time, but yes, I did dream.

holiwood
06-23-2008, 01:55 PM
Thank you for you time I realy appreciate you taking your time to help me in my project. Good luck on your further success.

MarksmanCG
06-23-2008, 07:34 PM
How does someone get an advantage in the animation industry? As if I were just starting out, or anyone for the matter.

iadagraca
06-24-2008, 05:50 PM
Hello, Total congrats on the film i loved it!

i've been putting my work on the internet for a while now. And my question is, do you think having a web site or profile on a website a good way to get into the industry faster? like if your work is well known over a period of time until your ready to find a job?


i also have one more question, my teachers always suggest going to an actual collage, rather than a technical collage like Full Sail. personally from what i've heard you only need a collage degree if its required or you want to teach. but in your opinion, does going to a technical collage hinder your progress to move forward in the industry?

and lastly, what where some of your first job interviews like? or what was the progress of getting your first job?

thanks ahead of time...

garfy1977
06-24-2008, 06:40 PM
Hi Markus,
congrats on your succuss with the movie,....i am surprised the way you guys have handeld the fur for panda itz so simple and looks cool...i have a problem with fur which i would like to ask you we are using 3dmax for our project and while rendering hair of the charecter we are geting flickering frames in between and as for the fur on animal it dosent have any depth ,......so i would like to know your expert advice on it,...once again kungfu panda rocks...

MarkusM
06-24-2008, 06:57 PM
How does someone get an advantage in the animation industry? As if I were just starting out, or anyone for the matter.

If I only knew... that simple yet fool proof solution to a career.

I think it's a combination of talent, work ethic, networking skills, and ambition. If you lack in one area, you have to work harder in the other areas.

If there's one thing I've noticed in the people that "make it" is that they do understand their own talent very well, how to utilize themselves in a project, and how to get others around them to "complete the picture" for the best possible result. It's a rare talent.

Maybe you can be more specific if this is not the answer you are looking for.

MarksmanCG
06-24-2008, 06:59 PM
Actually, that's quite helpful to me. Thanks a lot.

MarkusM
06-24-2008, 07:08 PM
Hello, Total congrats on the film i loved it!

i've been putting my work on the internet for a while now. And my question is, do you think having a web site or profile on a website a good way to get into the industry faster? like if your work is well known over a period of time until your ready to find a job?


Thanks!!
I think having a website that makes you appealing will help once someone is looking for you on the web, yes.

If you aren't connecting in another way to people to make them look at your website, well, then you actually have to treat your website as a broadcast channel, and somehow try to get people in the industry to view it. Or even harder, get an audience to "tune in" once in a while. That takes a lot of hard work.

If you are able to it may be a great way to start. The true potential of the "net" as a broadcast entity is still in it's infancy.

i also have one more question, my teachers always suggest going to an actual collage, rather than a technical collage like Full Sail. personally from what i've heard you only need a collage degree if its required or you want to teach. but in your opinion, does going to a technical collage hinder your progress to move forward in the industry?

Hm. Sorry, I am not sure I am completely aware of the differences, being from Europe.
I suppose I can say that except for maybe 20-25 universities or higher education institutions that we have some type of relationship with, most people actually come from educations we know very little about, and their true capacity is shown through the work they put in reels and portfolios, whether it's artistic or technical.


and lastly, what where some of your first job interviews like? or what was the progress of getting your first job?

thanks ahead of time...

Oh. I am not sure I have good answers for this. My first real interview in the business was after having worked for several years as a freelance artist and even had my own micro-studio. At that point I was asked to come visit some of my friends at a traditional animation studio to help them advance their computer graphics capability for a series of commercials.

So they already knew what I did, and I showed them some of the work in progress I was doing, and then I sat down and started doing work. Very casual.

Since then I've had more formal interviews with Framestore and Dreamworks, but at that point the companies knew what I did and it wasn't as much of an unknown. It creates a different dynamic. Sorry. Can't be more helpful.

MarkusM
06-24-2008, 07:20 PM
Hi Markus,
congrats on your succuss with the movie,....i am surprised the way you guys have handeld the fur for panda itz so simple and looks cool...i have a problem with fur which i would like to ask you we are using 3dmax for our project and while rendering hair of the charecter we are geting flickering frames in between and as for the fur on animal it dosent have any depth ,......so i would like to know your expert advice on it,...once again kungfu panda rocks...


If we spoke to Wes Burian, Surfacing Supervisor, he would say that this is some of the hardest stuff he's done creatively in his career. And he's done both photoreal at Tippett and some pretty wacky stylized stuff with us in his past.

I know Wes will put together a presentation at SIGGRAPH, but basically creating that plushed toy, with a hint of naturalism - using the break up of length and direction, with stylistic details - well the look is anything but simple.

I suppose that is the brilliance of the look of the film. Rich but not distracting.

I am not sure how to answer the question without seeing something. I am also not a 3DS Max expert.

The flickering could be that the fur assignment isn't "locked", i.e. the fur placement on the surface of the character is basically being re-evaluated every frame. This is very problematic. You need to look into those settings in your fur shader.

Back in the day, there used to be a bug that re-evaluated the placement when you started a render, but if you rendered your images on a single machines straight through the UI the render would work. But that was mid 90's type of stuff.

The depth aspect... is it that the hair looks thin, or simply doesn't detail?
The thin problem can be taken care by using a dense shorter fur layer and then adding longer less dense and more break up. Remember to design the length to create areas of visual interest that "describe" the design you are trying to present.

The detail problem can be how you are shadowing your fur. You need to get inter-shadowing of the fur to bring out the detail. That together with fur color changes, between fur strands and over the length of the fur, makes all the difference. Of course the real expert we should ask is Wes.

You may need different density settings for different "resolutions", close up or far away.

maheshgore
06-26-2008, 09:02 AM
hi markus,
thanks for sharing your experience n knowledge u r definately doing a great help to we artists to improve in our work, u r a great inspiration to us(u all guys at pixar n dreamworks) i have around 8 years of exp in only 2d animation and rightnow i am leading a team of 5 3d artists we are working on a 3d shortfilm project i dont have any 3d experince as such these artists know the tools n they extreamly passionate dedicated for their work, i look after the look of the project design,animation and everything we are facing some technical problems in terma of rigging n dinamics...dont mind but if you can give us your email id so that we can get back to you with our detailed questions, me personaly i am not aware of the 3d terms so i cant ask you anything rightnow i will have to sit with my team n send you the questions. presently we are able to achive a basic quality but we are amining at out put like pixar or dreamworks (u must b thinking with so small team how can we achive that quality but we have infra and the passion to do the quality work) since u r working with them you can help us out....in india here work quality is not that great or satisfaying and the expert guidence is also not there..i hope you can understand me....so if possible, think how can u guide us.
thanks mahesh

ViCoX
06-28-2008, 02:41 PM
Hi, First off! Your name sounds SO finnish, do you have finnish parents? = D I know one finnish director named Vesa Manninen. : )
So my queston, did you actually try to get that high position or did the job just naturally fall to you. I`m still quite young 19, actually and done 3d as an professional now soon 2 years. I would offcourse be interested in same level of career as you have, but I don`t know how to approach it. : /
You know, I have just done my stuff and always job just falls for me, but now I`m stuck. I`m in really good position here, but still I think I have so much to learn abroad. So the question is -> How should I approach such jobs? Is it just all about the reel and previous jobs?
I`m glad that you have started your career from sweden, its close to finland so maybe I still have some hope : ) Thanks!

MarkusM
07-01-2008, 11:21 AM
Hi, First off! Your name sounds SO finnish, do you have finnish parents? = D I know one finnish director named Vesa Manninen. : )
So my queston, did you actually try to get that high position or did the job just naturally fall to you. I`m still quite young 19, actually and done 3d as an professional now soon 2 years. I would offcourse be interested in same level of career as you have, but I don`t know how to approach it. : /
You know, I have just done my stuff and always job just falls for me, but now I`m stuck. I`m in really good position here, but still I think I have so much to learn abroad. So the question is -> How should I approach such jobs? Is it just all about the reel and previous jobs?
I`m glad that you have started your career from sweden, its close to finland so maybe I still have some hope : ) Thanks!

Hi, and your family name is very Swedish. My parents are both from Finland, and I grew up in Stockholm.

It's almost impossible to tell you how to get ahead. It's very subjective, it's very much dependent on your situtation, the company you are or can work for, and you, your talent, your leadership ability. All I can really do is generalize and clue you in on some of the things I did I suppose.

First of all, treat your current job like it's already your next job. Work hard. Bring excitement to it. Basically do such a good job that it seems silly to only have you do that job alone. Make yourself such a key element where you are that they don't want to lose you. If you get there, then the company, or another company will want to give you the opportunity to excel.

If you do "get stuck" in a position where there isn't an avenue "forward" to where you want to develop long term, then you do need to "make some luck happen". Work on side projects to show what you can do. Send a reel, or go visit, a company that you would really want to work for. If you do send a reel, don't just send a reel. Make sure the reel has something that will excite the company, make them feel that you can be an asset.

I've seen too many artist who believe that a company is lucky to have them. It's really the opposite many times. It's the artist job to make the company excited to have them. To then also want to fully utilize the talent.

THis is all part of being ambitious. There's a quote in acting "there are no small roles, just small actors". I think it's a little similar. You have to be ambitious at all times. Always wanting, needing, to do your best work. Elevating what you do and what you deliver. It will make you look good, but sometimes more importantly, it will inspire people around you to step up as well. Making the whole even greater.

I do think that working in one of the "larger markets" where some of the best work takes place does elevate people (if they are willing to learn). I brought with me some of the most talented people I knew from Sweden to London, and they were great to begin with, but they were awesome after a few years having gotten to exercise the muscle to learn, be pushed to do new things, to solve new problems, and to deliver the highest quality work. That lead to all of them having new opportunities else where. I am very proud of all of them and their work.

One of the key aspects that our business forgets is creative leadership. Learning how to recognize talent, use the talent in a group situation, and create an evironment where the sum is greater than the pieces is not trivial. One reason for staying at companies for a while (except for the fact that companies get nervous if you don't seem to be able to stay anywhere) is that you want to get the opportunity to exercise, learn and follow through on leadership opportunities. Starting small and building. It's invaluable later on.

You are young. I didn't go abroad until I was... well... 29 I think. I've been working in the industry for, erhm, 16 years or so. But, and this is a big but, I benefitted from the last aspect greatly - great timing. I was at the right place at the right time, with the right skills, and a company that needed to grow. Twice. But your ambition will need to take you to that place. To create your own luck.

I am not sure this was helpful at all.

animatorboi
07-02-2008, 10:13 PM
i am fadi i called my self animator boi i though the animation field is not that good for me i am tryin my best to be the best so i so impressed with u panda u made is just beauitful work
as in u have studio well i need a project i can be known as u sir just see my work as i m freelance now i got no job ..also see my CV in my profile
thanking you sir
i remember me frnd of mine told me i fi i wanna be the best i got work with best ..
looking forward to heart form u sir

meathead
07-04-2008, 06:00 PM
Hello Markus,

I am a big fan of the film. The colors, the world it takes place in. The mix of matte paintings and characters, the ducks and rabbits. My two year old daughter found the trailers one day and became instantly addicted, waking up every morning saying Panda, Panda and pointing at the computer.. I have seen parts of the movie atleast fifty times over.. "you are free to eat, AM I, Are you!!!" I have been reading this forum about all your advice. Abviously you have a lot ot offer. it's great..

The last post, about why and how to work for companies is really relevant for me. I was just able to be the 3D Supervisor on a Nickelodeon cartoon series, mostly environment art, and it was a mix of great fun, and really taxing emotional/interpersonal strain.. But it definitelly lets you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. All of what you say above applies to it, so I apprecaite reading your advice and I will read it some more. If you are inspired and feel generous, my portfolio on this forum has Environment images from the show. The show is Speed Racer. Next Generation. I dont know if it will exactelly make some luck. But it is worth a try.

Thanks, and thanks for the Awesome movie, I will be watching it for years, and I hope you stay heavilly involved with the sequils and make those un-imaginally good as well!!

Thanks,

Chris

PS - Your levis spot is really great to.

xxbinxx
07-05-2008, 11:42 AM
Hi Markus
I have just watched the Po's story with my wife and we had a so great and Funny time with the movie . Just wanna say thank you for Great movie

animatorboi
07-05-2008, 11:58 AM
i was wondering why did u chose the animal panda why did't chose some othe animal like white tagir or white monky perphas any othe animal which is really hard to find and only a few are aviable

animatorboi
07-05-2008, 12:01 PM
thank so much for the awesome movie and also thank for the all people who workin int texturing and rigging and eniverments lighting is alot of work i knw that will take alot offered really thank for all of them ..

mallik
07-10-2008, 06:29 PM
HI MARKUS,
I'm Really happy on your success.
may god bless you to get more n more good projects'

ur,
mallik

Jeremydjutras
07-15-2008, 12:02 PM
Wow, cool stuff

MarkusM
07-16-2008, 08:40 PM
Hey, thank you everyone. There are some sporadic questions that may or may not be able/allowed to answer. The panda came with the original concept, together with the furious five, Shifu, Tai Lung and Oogway.

If you have any additional questions keep them coming while you have the chance.

Markus

MusaX
07-17-2008, 11:15 AM
Hello Markus.My name is Musa YİĞİT.I am from TURKEY.I came new 3d business.I am you to become like for working.My imaginary DreamWork,Pixar,20th century,Walt Disney working.You are with more speak want.Thank you....

PaulHellard
07-17-2008, 11:27 AM
Thanks Markus for your sterling effort and the crew of Kung Fu Panda. It will surely become a classic. Thank you so much everyone for your questions. A solid round of applause for Markus Manninen, for answering the incoming questions for such an extended time; over a month.

Closing the thread now.