Meet the Artist: Doug Ikeler, Sony Pictures Imageworks

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Old 10 October 2006   #16
open season was pretty cool. i loved the overall look.
for anyone who is interested i found this link on open season

http://mag.awn.com/OpenSeason/
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Old 10 October 2006   #17
Well hello there Doug! Thanx for taking the time!

How does it feel to have 250 people working for you? A big responsibility I guess.
Can't get enough of those 3D animations! Lovin' the characters as well as the total look of this movie (creates a mood/atmosphere right away). The story and the characters, that's what's the most important for succes, right?
If you have the time, I would like you to look at a image I've done. I hope you will tell me, what you think is missing, so this pic/image could be stronger..

http://mvdb.cgsociety.org/gallery/340804/

Wish you and your crew all the best and hope you'll keep us amazed, with all that's possible in the digital world!
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Old 10 October 2006   #18
what were some of the logistical considerations in making a 2D stylized film that also had to play in a Stereo format. Seems like quite a challenge already to make a 3D film look more 2D, and then to take that and play it in stereo (3D IMAX DMR).

Also, did you use any sort of a frontal projected grid deformer to help mold the 3D geometry into the ideal 2D poses?

Sat through April's Painting Demo several times at siggraph this year, found the techniques used there to be very innovative.

Saw it opening day in Imax, and thought you guys did a brilliant job.
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Old 10 October 2006   #19
Talking replies to about half for now....

Hi everyone! So many good questions to answer already! Thank you very much for all the compliments. We are obviously very proud of our movie J . There are a few questions of “how did I get to this place in my career”. That seems like a good place to start. I’ll start by telling you something about how I got to my position and hopefully that will answer a few of the questions all at once. After attending San Diego State for Information Systems I quickly realized that the computer business wasn’t for me (no-duh huh?), and I took my computer skills to art school where I studied graphic design. My first job in the “business” was at a studio that colorized black and white movies. Needless to say, this isn’t what I thought I’d be doing initially, but it was work using digital imagery on a computer.

Se7enthcin asks “What was your first interview to get into the business like?”

I was interviewing to be a colorist (painting frames one by one all day) and as it turns out the woman who hired me liked that I wore leather bracelets, REALLY. So, go figure, I wasn’t hired for my talent, maybe she liked my portfolio as well. That was the opportunity that got me in the door and after two years of working with this technology we conformed it to be a digital ink and paint system for animation. That took me to London where I worked at Amblimation on American Tale 2 and Balto as a supervising compositor. I was in London for 4 years and then returned to Los Angeles where, after spending six months teaching myself 3D using the original 3D Studio (Max), I got a job at Rhythm and Hughes as a modeler. After working on Babe and Waterworld, I was hired by the then start up Dreamworks. And while at Dreamworks, I worked on Prince of Egypt, El Dorado, Spirit, and Sinbad as an effects artist and supervisor. It was after Sinbad that I joined Sony in the role of Visual Effects Supervisor for their first animated movie. So, mostly I was lucky—even my mom says this. But once I was in the door I excelled at what I did best, turning around images as quickly as possible, giving directors the most choices possible.



Porcupine asks “did you know that you always wanted to do this?” The answer is honestly – no, I thought I would be in advertising or something. You have to understand that in 1988 there wasn’t much of a digital imagery business so it didn’t really seem like a likely career. But once I started, it was the only job for me. And everyday, I feel lucky to have this job.



Razorb asks “What would you say is the most valuable thing you have learned on your journey that led you to Sony Imageworks?” You will be pressured to decide which area of CG you prefer to work in, and you need to make this decision. The larger studios don’t really hire “generalists”, rather they want to know if you are a modeler, lighter, rigger or whatever. Pick what you enjoy and excel at the most and then when you get into the company you can explore the other areas. Don’t be afraid to change your mind once you experience a job that doesn’t seem to fit you. Every discipline in CG animation has its benefits and rewards. Find the one that fits you the best.



From Buffichar: “How long was the process between character design and the final 3D model before rigging?” Roughly the answer is a month. We do al of our characters and all of our rigging concurrently, in other words as the first model finishes, it goes into rigging, and the next model follows subsequently. We may have five models in modeling at the same time with the previous 5 models in rigging. Obviously, the more important the character is to the story, the more time it gets in character design. We spent about 4 months on Boog and Elliot in modeling and most of our secondary characters went through in a month.



From se7enthcin “What kind of render tricks did you have to use to cast shadows that were not geometry based?” This is actually a very simple technique called gobo matting. In traditional film or stage lighting, a gobo is a card with shapes on it that is placed in front of the light to give interesting shadows within the set. We did the same thing. We made shapes that would complement the design of the set and cast shadows from them and often turned off the real shadows that would have been cast from objects in the sccene. For example Elliots horns are complicated shapes and the shadow they cast is even more interesting. So when you see the movie, look for these shadows under Elliot as he is tied to the hood (bonnet—see I was in UK) of the truck. They aren’t there.





From Crossbones: Loved the film. I did get the feeling that as I was watching it was like still moments were incapsulated as paintings in my mind. The whole team at Sony did an amazing job!



It’s great to hear that the movie left you remembering paintings because that’s exactly what we tried to do. Without going into too much detail, we basically treated each shot compositionally as if it were a Photoshop file. We relied heavily on the composite to get our final approval. By that I mean we used Renderman’s AOV’s (multiple image outputs) to render as much as possible separately. All characters, lights, shadows, props, ambient occlusion, depth maps, and even regions within character were rendered separately and put together in the composite. This gave us the ability to tweak each element as much or as little as we desired. The lighting was added together in the composite resulting in an image that would be the same as rendering it all at once. It sounds like a lot of work but it gave us the ability to compose the lighting for each shot specifically.



“In the pipeline at Sony were their any individuals that took shots on their own or ran together a series of shots and were responsible for those?

Our studio, and most CG feature studios, uses the CG Supervisor/Sequence Supervisor design that is, one GG Supervisor leads a group of artists to the completion of a sequence in a movie. The main benefit being those artists get a feel for that sequence and it gives the continuity and efficiency that we desire.





What kind of feed back to the animators get when they are animating (what kind of mesh and rig are they looking at)? Let’s say something goes wrong after the fact in a fur simulation where the animator had intersecting limbs and it caused a problem, would the animator be able to fix the mistake later on in the production?



Let’s start with the case of furred animals. Because the hair happens at render time, the animators don’t see it when they’re animating. We give them what we call a “volume stand in” that roughly represents the volume the fur will fill in. This is just a guess so there will always be the potential for interpenetration problems as well as shapes the animator didn’t expect. We use a system called “Kick Back” that basically, when it’s decided that a fix is needed, that shot goes on hold and the character gores back to animation to be fixed. This same example holds up for cloth and any unexpected deformations.



michaelmarcondes Asks:
The fur system is fantastic.
How did you manage to render that amount of fur?
How long did a frame took to render, in general?



Imageworks has a really strong hair system that was developed over the course of the Stuart Little movies. Darren Lurie, one of the 4 CG Supervisors on this movie, and Chris Yee our Hair Lead, were integral into developing the look for Boog. The early tests that they provided were so successful that the appetite for what we could do with hair kept growing. It gave us a very high benchmark for what we should expect our characters to look like. We then had a whole team of artist who provided dynamics as well as shot specific combing for things like character interaction or even just design changes if a shot needed it. THEN…we made all the characters wet! That was essentially a whole other pass through hair look dev for all characters. This included new dynamic attributes and shaders.

Boog had the most fur and one HD frame of Boog took about 45 minutes. That wasn’t that difficult to deal with. Our biggest problems occurred when we had to render many furred animals all at once. There is a shot of a bunch of squirrels up a tree. That took forever to render and often failed with memory problems. We kept trying to reduce hair count until you noticed they looked different and then split it up into Z comps when necessary.

Last edited by hmedia : 10 October 2006 at 12:55 AM.
 
Old 10 October 2006   #20
Hi, Doug,

I, overhere in Australia, havent got a chance to watch the moview yet but the trailer looks really promising. Can I have a few question for you?

To be a VFX supervisor, the man at the highest ranking in the production, how do you find your balance between the art and technology? Do you consider one important than the another? And I think you worked your way up from a junior artist to a highly-respected VFX supervisor. So, do you see any change in the way you look at VFX works?

Also, thesedays, many artists are jumping around VFX for film, cartoon and video game production. What do you think are the challenges, advantages and disadvantages of those coming from different production pipelines? I believe a lot of SonyImage's artists are there for many years focusing on realistic animation and rendering. Did you have to spend some times with the crew to get used to this cartoony, squash-and-stretch style of animation?

Thank you very much for spending time with us.
Richard.
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Old 10 October 2006   #21
Hey Doug,

I realise you worked in the effects department, but maybe you could shed some light on an element of animated features I find very interesting right now:

I've been animating for about 6 years, and I'm used to working with very loose blocking and working in a more straight ahead manner... which leads me to my question; I would like to know if the animators were generally required to conformed to a specific method of animating their shots ? ... to be specific, was it common for shots to be blocked in heavily, with progressive levels of detail that would be signed off in stages, or were shots approved less rigidly on an initial key pose blocking pass, that would allow more options for animators that like to work straight ahead ?
 
Old 10 October 2006   #22
Hi Doug,

I am amzed by your detailed 3D works. they are great indeed. well, i have only been learning maya for a year and now i am working on a scene modelling project in my school. So hopefully you could answer some doubts i have in doing my project .

I would like to know what is the best way to model sofas , curtains and other furnitures... as i seem have litte idea in doing this.

would be thankful if you can help me in any way you can.... thanks!
 
Old 10 October 2006   #23
Hi Doug!

Just would like to know:

What do you expect from the future of animated features?
What do you expect from your own future (maybe with Sony or wherever you want)? Any idea?

Thank you in advance for your answers.
Cedric
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Old 10 October 2006   #24
Nothing to say, very good.
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Old 10 October 2006   #25
no question, just want to say I really admire your work Doug and I can`t wait to see Open Season
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Old 10 October 2006   #26
Fantastic fur, i like it very much.

Doug, what you think about the new programs of computer graphics, like 3ds max9, maya 8, lightwave 10, what you think about the new features of these new programs?
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Last edited by Luks : 10 October 2006 at 03:29 PM.
 
Old 10 October 2006   #27
Post

Hi!

Well I d like to ask about pipeline in Imageworks. I mean what kind of sw platform do you use inclusive misc apps like maya etc.

Another question is regarding characters. Do you use any muscle system for them (maybe a bit silly question - maybe its already standard in every single feature film.) is it custom inhouse technology or not?

Thank you very much for your time Doug.


Libor
 
Old 10 October 2006   #28
Thank you for your replies. I had a feeling you used gobos (it was the first thing that crossed my mind but I wasn't quite sure). I am please to hear that gobos are actually being used in animation. I haven't heard anything about gobos in 3D films and it's nice to know that easy tricks that are pretty render friendly like this are yielding excellent results.

Another question for you.

If there where one tool in 3d or otherwise that would benefit you or you feel would benefit an animation team or vfx team. What would that tool be? Or/and if none come to mind, is there a specific set of tools that you feel you cannot do without?
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Last edited by se7enthcin : 10 October 2006 at 04:57 PM.
 
Old 10 October 2006   #29
Question

Hi Doug!

I was wondering if you could tell me what sort of hardware you guys run down there? Specifically displays, is it true studios like yourselfs still use CRTs? Which I can understand. It would be good to know what the pros run at work and at home!

Cheers
 
Old 10 October 2006   #30
Talking

living_for_cg asks:

a question i have is that i have always had problem to choose a kind of style for an animation project,it is not that hard for a still 3d image,but when comes to animation i usually loose the main style in production, what majors should i know or do for having the same style in any part of an animation?

I am only guessing, but it sounds like you need to find a style that suits the way you work.

I know it’s difficult as a student trying to make a short that requires you to wear all the hats of production. I think for the benefit of your portfolio you should tailor the requirements of you project to only use those parts of production you feel comfortable with and enjoy. You will always end up spending the most amount of time on the thing that is the hardest for you to do and you probably wont be happy with it anyway.

Otherwise developing an artistic style to your artwork and animation really is the result repetitive projects (personal or professional). Courses you could be taking…Life Drawing, Composition, and any Animation classes focusing on timing.



Bug_Eyed_Earl asked: (nice avatar Earl)

I see Maxon is using a lot of Open Season imagery on their site these days. What of theirs did you use in your pipeline? What else did you use for the unique look?

How was your team broken up into sub-teams (The intro says you had 250 people, how many were animators, lighting, modelling, riggers, etc).



We used the Bodypaint portion of Maxon for all of 3D texture paining.



The basic production structure for Open Season is as follows: (numbers are from memory)

Layout-- 15 artists (10 rough layout and 5 final layout)

Animation ---4 teams each led by supervising animator, each team is about 15 people.

Character Rigging and Support – 10 riggers and 5 support artists

Hair – 16 artists

Cloth – 7 artists

Effects – 18 artists

Texture Painter/Surfacers – 8 artists

Matte Painters – 5 artists

Shader writers -- 2

Software Developers -- 5

Lighting – 4 Teams supervised by CG Supes. Each team had approx 20 artists.



+++ various pipeline and support technicians.



cesarmontero asked:

1)How would you describe your work enviroment?(a pic would be great)!

2) How balanced is life at your work (health/work/personal time)?

We are situated near the Columbia and Culver Studios lots, so it is definitely a movie making atmosphere. Our actual 5 buildings are grouped together and each has its different emphasis. I am located in the Imageworks main building where most of the digital artists are located. My office is in what we call a Pod. I have the digital producer and most of the production coordinators around me. My office is also a sweatbox. That means that we do approvals with the artists in here. There is a nice large screen on one wall with a 2K projector that is driven by a linux box. The other buildings have the Art department in one, Sony Pictures animation in another, training in another.

How balanced is life at work? Good question. As a VFX that is what I hope to do the most for my team. With proper planning and management of expectations, we should be able to maintain realistic working hours so that everyone’s personal time is just that. It went pretty well on our first project. There was some overtime, but not near as much as we have worked in the past. Personally, I have a family, so it is very important that I don’t miss out on watching my kids grow up. No way that is going to happen. I expect the same for everyone on our production and we work very hard to make that happen.



SteveKey asked:

I've noticed there seems to be a lot of animal based cg films being released recently, and I was wondering if, while in production, you took note of what some of these other films were doing and adjusted accordingly, or if you disregarded what other films were doing and just followed through with all of your original thoughts and plans.

We are getting this question a lot lately..go figure.

I have many friends that work at the other studios so I had some sense of what they are working on. But that is really all, just an overview of story and characters. No specifics.

These movies take about 3 years from start to finish. You really cant try and second guess what the other guy is doing. Because it is really hard to try and make a good story alone, you cant be readjusting as you go. 3 years ago we did have an inclination that there were some other animal movies coming out, but beyond that we didn’t know too much.



Strob asked:

I would like to write a bit about the softwares you used for Open Season to create the special effects. And how does a big studio like sony decide to create a new software instead of using an already existing solution. And also please talk to us about the pro and cons of integrating a new software in a pipeline for special fx.



Wow, that really could take a while to do this question justice. I’ll try and give the short answer.

We use Houdini for our Special Effects. We use Renderman with a proprietary lighting interface to render. We use Maya for just about everything else. Sounds easy right?

Nope. The real flexibility to our system comes from in-house plug-ins, scripts and general “glue”. We customize just about every step of the process. The main reason this is done is for reasons like reusability, efficiency, and to achieve the highest level creativity. Every show usually has to take on a new (or new version) software. This can be painful and difficult, but the rewards are usually achieved in the next project. As long as you don’t change too much at once it usually goes well.



LucentDreams asked:

what were some of the logistical considerations in making a 2D stylized film that also had to play in a Stereo format. Seems like quite a challenge already to make a 3D film look more 2D, and then to take that and play it in stereo (3D IMAX DMR).



The conversion to stereo was actually done by another team who specialize in doing this. They were using our data though obviously. Besides the fact that we really never set up the composites to be done in stereo (stereo was an after thought) the main problem was the amount of 2d tricks we were doing in the comp. Roto mattes and extensive filtering made it tough on the guys who were doing the conversion. Honestly though, they kicked butt. They were finaling over a hundred shots a week to get this thing done for IMAX.



Also, did you use any sort of a frontal projected grid deformer to help mold the 3D geometry into the ideal 2D poses?



No, our “Shaper system” used circular cross sections to deform the character pose. It had no sense of screen space. In other words, the animator pushed and pulled the cv’s on the deformer rings (there were about 10 from head to toe) to shape their poses. The rings had about 6 cv’s usually and that was enough to handle all views that’s you may see the character from.





cgnetworks_le asked:
To be a VFX supervisor, the man at the highest ranking in the production, how do you find your balance between the art and technology? Do you consider one important than the another?



Art or Technology?

Yeah, I still don’t know the answer to that question even though I have been asking it for 17 years. As always it comes down to the artist in the seat. Those who are the most successful usually have found just the right balance of both.



And I think you worked your way up from a junior artist to a highly-respected VFX supervisor. So, do you see any change in the way you look at VFX works?



One of the first things you have to come to terms with when you enter supervision is that you are not on the box anymore. It is very easy to feel your worth and contribution when you see the exact pixels you made on the screen. As a supervisor and eventually VFX, I had to find my pride in my team’s work and my worth in what I could do for them to make their work as good as possible.






Also, thesedays, many artists are jumping around VFX for film, cartoon and video game production. What do you think are the challenges, advantages and disadvantages of those coming from different production pipelines? I believe a lot of SonyImage's artists are there for many years focusing on realistic animation and rendering. Did you have to spend some times with the crew to get used to this cartoony, squash-and-stretch style of animation?

I think jumping around the various CG business’ is fantastic. Everyone should do it, it makes you a more versatile asset. I mean it. It did take a while to adapt to the style of our movie, but that is usually the case on most productions I have been on. Every movie is a new beast.



Winner asked:

I've been animating for about 6 years, and I'm used to working with very loose blocking and working in a more straight ahead manner... which leads me to my question; I would like to know if the animators were generally required to conformed to a specific method of animating their shots ? ... to be specific, was it common for shots to be blocked in heavily, with progressive levels of detail that would be signed off in stages, or were shots approved less rigidly on an initial key pose blocking pass, that would allow more options for animators that like to work straight ahead ?



Our animators worked both ways. It really depended on the performance of the shot and to some extent the individual who was animating. Big performances with large sweeping motion for example, they usually blocked out. The Directors would approve the blocking on shots like this and they may see the shot several times before it went to final animation. Talking head shots could often be animated straight ahead as I saw it.





Drake83 asked:

What do you expect from the future of animated features?
What do you expect from your own future (maybe with Sony or wherever you want)? Any idea?

Well I think we all know that there wont be as many talking animal movies in our future.

That is after the 2 rat movies and the 2 penguin movies come out. I do hope that there is a day when a movie like Final Fantasy has a bigger audience. I am not saying whether it was good or not, it just didn’t seem like the public was ready for it.

My next project at Sony is Hotel Transylvania a monster comedy. After that? Who knows? I am pretty sure that I will stay in animation for a while though.
 
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