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Old 04-16-2012, 03:14 AM   #1
PaulHellard
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Meet the Artist: Sharon Calahan

Hey there,

It is with great pleasure I present this 'Meet the Artist' thread to follow on from the Artist Profile of Sharon Calahan. A leader in the field, with many Oscar winning animation features to her credit, Sharon has carved out a niche for herself at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville.

Click the image to go to the artist profile and return with your questions.

Please make her welcome. She'll be online soon to answer questions.


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Old 04-16-2012, 09:44 AM   #2
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Hello there!

Is this "Meet the artist" active? Im not seeing any post in here...

Well now to my question,

Sharon,
could you briefly tell us whats the biggest change in lighting process since your first movie? I mean if the tools changed so the way you work these days. Also whats the hardest part of the lighting design? Initial idea or the technical aspects...

Thank you for answering these.

L.
 
Old 04-16-2012, 09:53 AM   #3
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Thanks Libor,

You're the first one. Welcome. Please give Sharon a few hours. It's 3am in California...
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Old 04-16-2012, 09:55 AM   #4
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Ravindra Badgujar
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Finding Nemo and Ratatouile are one of the best in terms of Animation and look.

Would like to see some discussion on the technical side of the lighting designing like what software's are involved, how the artist perceived realism is transferd to shaders... renderers.
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Last edited by bkravi : 04-16-2012 at 10:18 AM.
 
Old 04-16-2012, 05:15 PM   #5
SCalahan
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Sharon Calahan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Libor
Hello there!

Is this "Meet the artist" active? Im not seeing any post in here...

Well now to my question,

Sharon,
could you briefly tell us whats the biggest change in lighting process since your first movie? I mean if the tools changed so the way you work these days. Also whats the hardest part of the lighting design? Initial idea or the technical aspects...

Thank you for answering these.

L.


Dobrı den Libor,

We have had many changes in our tools since we created Toy Story. In those days, to add a new light to a scene, it was a matter of typing code. The lights themselves were simple point light sources with no softness controls. Now we have area lights, irradiance, occlusion, and ray tracing, all with a nice sleek user interface. I think that the biggest change in process is the fact that the scenes we are lighting are much more complex, so we probably spend about the same amount of time lighting, some of it is in managing the complexity, hopefully most of it is evident in more beautiful and sophisticated imagery.

I would say the hardest part of lighting design is usually also the most fun. Most of the time there are parameters such as time or day that provide some framework, but occasionally it is a blank slate. Then I think the challenge is to try to create something new.

I hope that this answers your questions!

Děkuji!

--Sharon
 
Old 04-16-2012, 05:36 PM   #6
SCalahan
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Sharon Calahan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bkravi
Finding Nemo and Ratatouile are one of the best in terms of Animation and look.

Would like to see some discussion on the technical side of the lighting designing like what software's are involved, how the artist perceived realism is transferd to shaders... renderers.


Hello Ravindra,

I'll first start with the disclaimer that I am not a technical person. At Pixar, our lighting, shading and rendering tools are all currently in-house proprietary software designed by our amazing software developers. For clear reasons we use RenderMan as our renderer. We do however use some non-proprietary software packages, for instance Maya and Nuke.

Our philosophy at Pixar has never been to try to create photorealistic imagery, but rather looks that are more stylized while still being believable. I think that this is more of an art direction issue rather than a tools limitation. Ultimately the look of a film is determined by the director's vision for the story. Creating something that looks more real definitely requires the artist to pay much more attention to subtle details in how light and surfaces interact no matter how sophisticated the illumination model. I will try to answer more specific questions if you feel that this answer is too vague.

Thanks!

--Sharon
 
Old 04-16-2012, 08:01 PM   #7
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Pushing the envelope

Regarding the lighting aspects in Ratatouille, how far do you go when trying to push the envelope to get the right mood, and by this I mean when you have a clear idea of how the lighting should be done, is there any limitation imposed by the software or you've always achieved the look you have in mind and a second more specific question, you mentioned that the way light surfaces interact creates something more real, do you have any example in mind that you can share with us where lights can rescue the looks of a scene and a model?

Thank you for your answer
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Old 04-16-2012, 08:33 PM   #8
SCalahan
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Sharon Calahan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cgmodeler
Regarding the lighting aspects in Ratatouille, how far do you go when trying to push the envelope to get the right mood, and by this I mean when you have a clear idea of how the lighting should be done, is there any limitation imposed by the software or you've always achieved the look you have in mind and a second more specific question, you mentioned that the way light surfaces interact creates something more real, do you have any example in mind that you can share with us where lights can rescue the looks of a scene and a model?

Thank you for your answer


Hello Eduardo,

There are always limitations when creating a movie, which can be both a blessing as well as a curse. The most common limitations are schedule and budget. There are definitely times where I wish we could spend more time on something and make it better, but in addition to the look of the film, I am also responsible for delivering shots on time and without killing the crew. Often also render times or memory footprint is a limitation. There have been many instances where I would like to use something, for example more volumetric lights or more raytracing, but have to make compromises to fit within a rendering budget. It is all about making smart choices at every stage to make sure that we get the biggest bang for the buck and that it shows on the screen. And of course, there are always some limitations with the tools, as good as CG has become, it is still only an approximation of the physical properties of light and surfaces.

In answer to your second question, here is one very small example. Say you have a white porcelain mug. If you simply throw on a reflection without tweaking it, it doesn't look quite right. If you really look at a white mug, you might notice that it doesn't tend to reflect a lot of color and it doesn't tend to reflect anything except the brightest highlights, and even these are fairly dim. If the reflection isn't dialed in right, it can start looking too metallic and not like porcelain. Porcelain also has some subtle subsurface effects that scatters the light. This is a small example, but it took us several months to tweak the surfaces (after shading) of the hundreds of the objects in the kitchen in Ratatouille to get them to respond perfectly to the lights and reflections in the scene. We were spending a great deal of time in the kitchen in that movie so the investment was worth it. For a movie like Cars 2 where we spent comparatively little time in any location, it didn't make sense to invest as much time refining light responses per object.

Thanks!

--Sharon
 
Old 04-17-2012, 07:05 PM   #9
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Hi Sharon,

Thank you for taking the time to do this. It's much appreciated . I was wondering on some of the productions you have worked on how often the shading team resort to multi-purpose shaders (sometimes called "Über" shaders ) as opposed to writing / constructing (with SLIM) etc every shader from scratch?
I imagine 'hero' character/items obviously warrant more attention/time/effort but even for those mid distance items of which there could be many, especially with different material properties; what policy (if any) do you determine when a stock shader you guys have developed is what should be used?

Also I would love to know your thoughts on compositing for animated features. I find it a similar relationship between principle photography for live action and the editing process, giving the director a second pass at constructing the film. Having different passes for all lights/shadows/objects/diffuse/spec. etc. how much of a role does compositing play in the final look of the film, specifically to lighting and colour correction.


Again thank you for taking the time to do this.


-andrew
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Old 04-18-2012, 03:18 PM   #10
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Hi Sharon, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

How much artistic and how much technical is your profession? I'm asking because i see that your education is fully artistic, and lighting feels that it's mostly technical.

Your paintings are lovely, by the way!
 
Old 04-18-2012, 05:31 PM   #11
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What is it like?

Hello Sharon,

I am very happy to see you're participating in this post and I have just one question for you. I am interested in pursuing a career in animation for films or video games, but I don't much know what the REAL WORLD does in that field. What are the divisions of labor for a film like Ratatouille and how does each group work with the other in order to create such a beautiful finished project? I understand this might be a big questions and would be happy to be more specific if needed.

Thank you,

Phillip
 
Old 04-18-2012, 07:13 PM   #12
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Hi Sharon,

A warm welcome to you on cgtalk and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

It would be great if you could tell us a bit about the lighting process in your films. For e.g. how early on do you actually start lookdev for a set and how closely do the lighting and shading team work with each other? Are issues like those related to fidelity of surface detail, hold out matte AOVs and geometry complexity resolved at this stage before shot production begins?

Also, how do you usually light your fur/hair/foliage assets? Do they use the same kind of toolsets that are used to light regular geometry or are they treated and rendered separately and integrated back in compositing?

And how much of a role do you play in taking stock of your existing toolsets and then coming up with your requirements for further development on a show? Because any kind of R&D would probably require a lot of time and of late we've been seeing an amazing amount of development happening in prman in terms of raytracing. I guess a lot of it has to do with your "demands" for such lighting solutions?

Apologies if any of my questions are vague and I'd be glad to expand on them. Your work with Pixar has been inspiring and all props to you and your team for continuing to inspire us all.
 
Old 04-18-2012, 08:04 PM   #13
SCalahan
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Sharon Calahan
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Pixar Animation Studio
Emeryville, USA
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phrenzy84
Hi Sharon,

Thank you for taking the time to do this. It's much appreciated . I was wondering on some of the productions you have worked on how often the shading team resort to multi-purpose shaders (sometimes called "Über" shaders ) as opposed to writing / constructing (with SLIM) etc every shader from scratch?
I imagine 'hero' character/items obviously warrant more attention/time/effort but even for those mid distance items of which there could be many, especially with different material properties; what policy (if any) do you determine when a stock shader you guys have developed is what should be used?

Also I would love to know your thoughts on compositing for animated features. I find it a similar relationship between principle photography for live action and the editing process, giving the director a second pass at constructing the film. Having different passes for all lights/shadows/objects/diffuse/spec. etc. how much of a role does compositing play in the final look of the film, specifically to lighting and colour correction.


Again thank you for taking the time to do this.


-andrew


Hi Andrew.

We definitely use Uber shaders for creating classes of materials that share similar visual characteristics. We also create custom special-purpose shaders when necessary. Especially for vast sets, it can be a big time saver to use an uber shader. It can also allow somebody who has great visual skills, but more limited technical expertise, to easily create beautiful surfaces. The shading lead(s) is who determines which approach is best for any given surface.

At Pixar, we do not do a heavy amount of compositing. I have definitely worked that way in the past, but generally I prefer to get as much of the look as possible "in camera" with minimal compositing. So we don't render out each light on a layer and take another pass at tweaking the film in compositing. I find that whatever tweaks I would like to do post-lighting I can generally accomplish in the color correction suite. I've definitely worked in a more compositing heavy pipeline in the past, but I very much prefer to get the look I want "in camera" for the most part. I find it easier to manage continuity and I think it looks better and less "processed". I also feel that the lighters become more skilled at lighting by working with the actual lights. Both approaches are certainly valid however. When I was doing commercials and effects, I preferred a compositing approach. Now that I'm doing feature work, I prefer an in-camera approach.

Thanks!

--Sharon
 
Old 04-18-2012, 08:17 PM   #14
SCalahan
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Sharon Calahan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ForzaInter
Hi Sharon, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

How much artistic and how much technical is your profession? I'm asking because i see that your education is fully artistic, and lighting feels that it's mostly technical.

Your paintings are lovely, by the way!


Hi Dionysis,

Thank you for your kind words!

When I first got into CG many years ago, it was much more technical since tools interfaces were scarce. My formal education is in art, but I also took several programming and related classes to be able to work in this world. Over the years the tools have become easier for non-technical people to use, and over the years my role has become less technically focused, although my early experience writing code still serves me well when I need to conceptually understand how something works under the hood. But it is a bit rusty, the other day I was struggling to remember how to write a simple shell macro and had to look up the syntax for some sed stuff. Fortunately my vi muscle memory was still functioning! And back in the day, I remember writing a particle system in C++ for a commercial I was working on, and writing enough shader code to understand the fundamentals of an illumination model. The lighting team itself is widely varied in peoples' artistic and technical educations and abilities. It may seem too obvious to state, but the people who tend to be the strongest lighters tend to be both artistically and technically strong.

Thanks!

--Sharon
 
Old 04-18-2012, 11:51 PM   #15
SCalahan
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Sharon Calahan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pnogu003
Hello Sharon,

I am very happy to see you're participating in this post and I have just one question for you. I am interested in pursuing a career in animation for films or video games, but I don't much know what the REAL WORLD does in that field. What are the divisions of labor for a film like Ratatouille and how does each group work with the other in order to create such a beautiful finished project? I understand this might be a big questions and would be happy to be more specific if needed.

Thank you,

Phillip


Hi Phillip,

You might deduce the following with a close scrutiny of our credit crawl, but hopefully this is easier to parse:

Story - They draw storyboards and help the director develop the story
Editorial - A continuous process of editing the film from pre-production through post-production
Art - They design the sets, characters, etc.
Layout - They stage the action to the camera and move the camera
Sets - Modeling, shading, set dressing, matte paint for sets
Characters - Modeling, shading, hair/fur grooming, cloth tailoring, rigging for characters
Animation - For hero characters as well as other moving objects
Crowds - Set up and animation for non-hero crowd characters
Simulation - For cloth, hair, fur, etc.
Effects - For special effects such as explosions, water, etc.
Motion Graphics - For any 2D animation graphics
Lighting - Includes support team for optimization and lighting tech support
Rendering - Renders final images and manages the render farm

All of these groups work closely with many other groups, it is a very collaborative process. As you might expect, the character riggers work closely with the animators as an example. The various groups change or merge with other groups depending on the needs of the particular film and who the leads are.
I hope that this begins to answer your question.

Thanks!

--Sharon
 
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