Meet the Artist: Kenn McDonald

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  11 November 2007
Hey Kenn,

I just started my new job as an animator for this game studio. I was just wondering, if you can give any tips? Maybe things animators need to pay attention on and what most junior animators tend to lack or what mistake they usually do?

Also, maybe the thought process when creating any animation?

Thanks for being on the forum, pleasure to have you.

Veara Suon
  11 November 2007
SORRY! about that...didnt mean to post all that, I press submit alittle too many times, i did try deleting them
  11 November 2007
Much respect to Team Beowulf

Hello Kenn,

Thank you for giving us an opportunity to talk to you.

Firstly, much respect to all of you who worked on this feature. You guys earned it.

Having read a lot of negative stuff about the movie, and being disappointed myself when I first saw the trailers, I must say I pretty much liked the film (and I didn't even watch it in 3D). Overall, it wasn't as bad as some people were making it out to be. Some shots were amazingly photoreaslistic, though they were very small in number.

Like other folks in these forums commented, even I found that the cg quality improved as the movie progressed. Did that really happen as your tools and workflow got better and you learnt more from your own experiences or is it just us who feel that way?

Also, the infamous eyes. How did you go about trying to better what you had learnt from The Polar Express? I thought the eyes were much better in this movie though not completely there (did you look at Davy Jones closely for inspiration?). Did you on a personal level see any room for improvement in that department but didn't have any more time to go about doing that?

Also, I was quite surprised that there were a lot of acting bits in this movie. The fight sequences were mostly the much talked about Beowulf vs. Grendl and Beowulf vs. Dragon sequences. The rest of the movie had a lot of acting bits and you guys did deliver in some shots.

Again, kudos to you and your team for trying to push the envelope.

  11 November 2007
Cool It ain't no thang.

Originally Posted by sphere: Congratulations Kenn on your work and thanks for taking a bit of time to answer questions

I'd like to know how it was moving from the style and method of animation in Open Season to the one in Beowulf. Was it an easy transtition between the two styles of animation and approach to the work? Also, which do you prefer and why?

And just quickly, what were some of the major issues or complications that arose in animating for Beowulf?


I didn't really find it hard switching gears between Open Season and Beowulf. My background is in 2d animation and I come from the Warner Bros. school of what's funny. My favorite Warner director is Robert McKimmson followed closely by Chuck Jones, so Open Season was a treat for me after rolling off of Polar Express. Since I had done Polar Express, going onto Beowulf after Open Season wasn't a big leap. The only time I felt a little schizophrenic was at the beginning when I was splitting my time between the two shows as Open Season wrapped up and Beowulf got started. Once Beowulf was rolling it felt very comfortable.

Major issues and complications? Whoever heard of such a thing? Seriously, I'll cover that in a seperate post after I've had a few days to mull it over.

Thanks for the questions.

  11 November 2007
Originally Posted by herobix: Hi ken =)

here is some questions from Sweden:
1. what program did you use?
2. why did you make some of the character so highlighted? looked like they allways was oíled in or that they were made of plastic oO just what I think =) (what I have seen on trailers)
3. Can't wait to see the movie

Good Morning Herobix,

We used a custom tweaked version of Maya 7.0 for animating on Beowulf. We also had many many custom tools that were written in house and were invaluable in working with the performance capture and dealing with the large crowd scenes in the mead hall.

We also use a program called Endorphin from Natural Motion. It's hard body simulation package for the human form. You can set key poses and variables like muscle strength and rigidity to finesse the simulations. We used it primarily to give us a starting point for many of the soldiers who get thrashed by Grendal in the mead hall. The use of Endorphine on the show was headed up by Keith Kellogg who was my right hand man on the show. He took some rough tests I had done with Endophin and hammered together a pipeline that allowed us to move our animation into Endorphin, run the simulations and get the new motion back into Maya. Great job Keith.

The look of the film was based on the idea of using available light, so most of the interior shots look like they are lit by torches or a fireplace. There was some hero lighting involved, but the look the VFX Supervisor, Jerome Chen, was going for was natural lighting. It resulted in what I think is great dramatic lighting with lots of dark and light contrast. I don't think the quicktime trailers pick up the subtlety you're going to see in the theater. I think when you see the movie you'll find that the characters look amazing.

Thanks for the questions and let me know what you think of the film.

  11 November 2007
I must say i liked the body animation, it was great, also some of the characters looked pretty real.

Aldo like all 3d films, also this one.., the facial animation ruins it all, it was pretty rigid, the facial movement was just the front part of the face. I'm really surprised why the ears for example wernt animated at all.

especially the scenes with the John Malkovich character, the facials where like a mask.
now my question is why wernt the ears animated with the jaw, to give that much more realism to the facial animation ?

Because this movie was basicly only done to just see what could be done with 3d.
And i must ad, not to come over as a total critic only, that it was way better than for polar express. or any other in this league, up till now.

Last edited by Diependaal : 11 November 2007 at 02:41 PM.
  11 November 2007
A question that popped out of my head is not about Beowulf, it is about polar express, my old teatcher told me that it was done in Cinema 4D, is that right?
  11 November 2007
The Eyes Have It

Originally Posted by Dogway: Hello Ken!

Congrats for the movie. I really liked it, it seems to have had a huge amount of work to have it done.

One of the questions is for eyes, maybe the most challenging task. Did you use any special technic to give them "soul"?. From my point of view, main character's chubby partner's eyes are the best, along angelina jolie's (among human models), could you find any special reason?

and last, wich renderer did you use? how long did it take for an average frame to be rendered? did you render in passes?

Thanks, and I hope this makes an start for other full CG movies.

Jose L.

Hi Jose,

Great question. The eyes were an aspect of the animation that we really concentrated on. I wanted to make sure they were really alive in the animation. We approached the task from three directions.

The look dev team did a lot of work creating the textures and shaders and working out just how to light the eyes to make them convincing. They made major advances compared to what has been done in previous films.

In animation we spent a terrific amount of time in reasearch. We also had in a guest speaker who is an expert in the physiology of the eye and has also done a lot of research on the psychology of eye movement. What we came away with was the understading that it's not the large eye movements that create the feeling of life. It's the small movements called saccads and micro saccads. These are small adjustments to the eye that are both voluntary and involuntary. They are often almost imperceptible.

A few months earlier a small team of technical wizards had started development of the ElectroOccularoGraphy system to capture the actors eye movements on performance capture set. We called it EOG for short.

The EOG system uses 4 small electrodes placed around one eye to capture the electrical impules of the muscles that move the eye. The data is converted into curves that we applied to the eyes of the digital characters. The EOG data really showed us just how much the eyes are moving all the time. Like the performance capture, the EOG was a great starting place for the animators. Sometimes we were able to use it right out of the box with minor adjustment to the eyeline. Other times the EOG was more of a guide to the performance, but we always tried to use the data on some level to keep that subtle life in the eyes.

When all of these elements came together I think that we made a big leap forward in the look of the eye animation and were able to express some of that "soul" you mentioned.

  11 November 2007
Amazing all I can say

I saw the movie twice in RealD 3D loved it. Some of the best human animation in a movie I have seen to date.

Congrats to you and the team at image works for doing such a great job on this film. Love the detailed textures especially Grendal with those 4k and 8k textures he looks great. The performances were some of the best I have seen in a CG movie as well so congrats to the voice actors / motion capture.

My question is with the advances in todays hardware I am curious what type of Render times per frame you guys were seeing with this film and its extensive amount of detail? And how do those times compare to with past projects?

Also I read you used renderman. What type of hardware was needed / used to produce such a amazingly detailed film in the alloted time frame?

And lastly what programs / skills would you recommend aspiring artist here on CG talk learn / acquire to further there careers to someday work on films like this?

Headphones, Laptop, Refreshments = Don't bother me I'm creating :)
  11 November 2007
Originally Posted by Paul McLaughlin: Were you guys attempting to come as close as you could to creating lifelike cg, or was there some attention paid to the aesthetic of the medium?

I guess this is more of a art direction question, but I think it still pertains to the animation aspect of the film.

Hi Paul,

That's a really good question. Our mandate from Bob Zemekis was to be as true to the actors original performances as possible. That meant really paying attention to small details, particularly in the facial performances. As the VFX Supervisor, Jerome Chen, was fond of saying, "Details, details details." It became our mantra. We used the performance capture as a base to work from, but it was really the HD video reference that was shot on set that we used as our final guide. We did push expressions or performance to make sure the actor's intent came across, but it was often very subtle. We spent much of our time just studying the performances and the way the actor's faces moved. We were constatntly updating our facial animation rigs to get new shapes and expressions as we moved through the show. One thing I do want to make clear though is that we were not trying to fool people into thinking that was really Anthony Hopkins up there. There is a level of stylization to the movie, but ultimately, the film ended up look more 'real' than was originally planned.

The level of detail in the animation eventually had an effect on the style of the final rendering. Jerome and the lookdev artists started looking for what was missing. The more detail we put into the animation and the look, the more apparent it became to us that elements were missing. During this phase of production we worked back and forth until we came to the final look of the film, revising the level of detail in the animation and the rendering. Eventually we even ended up with peach fuzz on the character's faces.

Details, details, details.

I hope that answered your question.

  11 November 2007
Duplicate post

Ooops, duplicate post.

Last edited by kennmcd : 11 November 2007 at 11:40 PM.
  11 November 2007
Wow Thankyou Kenn for giving you time to answer everyones questions, Im off to see Beowulf Tonight in 3D W00t!.

just Three quick questions on animation, My main big questions where already answered in your replies (thanx)

1) In your experince in animation has there ever beens times where you had to animate in software other than maya like XSI, Max or motionbuilder?

2) Also whats your thoughts or advice for young animators that are aiming to get into the film industry as animators that are using software other than Maya, is worth continuing with your native software and learn it well or would learning maya for it animating side be the better way to go? (As studio max user im stuck on this fence of wanting to be a animator for VFX & Highend Film, but woundering if i should be changing software for maya melscripting pipeline)

3) As someone who had a chance to play with motion capture & software that went along with it(2004). Whats the sort of skills sets to the motion captures artist need to have in this day and age?

Cheers Jay
The Hamster made me do it...

  11 November 2007
double post
The Hamster made me do it...

Last edited by Sneakybunny : 11 November 2007 at 11:13 PM.
  11 November 2007
Duplicate post.

Ooops. Duplicate post.

Last edited by kennmcd : 11 November 2007 at 11:39 PM.
  11 November 2007
double post
The Hamster made me do it...

Last edited by Sneakybunny : 11 November 2007 at 11:12 PM.
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