Meet the Artist: Doug Ikeler, Sony Pictures Imageworks


#1



CGTalk Meet the Artist: Doug Ikeler,
Visual Effects Supervisor, ‘Open Season’
Sony Pictures Imageworks.

   Intro by Barbara Robertson.
   
   ‘Open Season’ is Sony Pictures Animation’s first CG feature and the first animated feature created at Sony Pictures Imageworks. 
   Imageworks has scored two Oscars recently for its CG work – a visual effects Oscar for ‘Spider-Man 2’, and a Best Short Film Oscar for the CG animation ‘The Chubbchubbs’. Sony funded ‘The Chubbchubbs’ in part to test whether the studio’s pipeline could handle an animated feature. With ‘Open Season’, Imageworks got the real test – and what a test it was.
   
    ‘Open Season’s directors decided to base the style of the film on paintings by Eyvind Earle, an artist who developed looks and painted backgrounds for Walt Disney Studios in the 1950’s. Earle’s distinctive style focused attention on foreground characters with such techniques as reducing background environments to their essence, taking backgrounds out of focus, and using long, raking shadows. 
   
 Visual effects supervisor Doug Ikeler led a team of around 250 people at Imageworks who worked on ‘Open Season’. They converted the 2D visual style from SPA’s art department in to a 3D film, animated the film using classic pose-based, non-volume-based animation techniques implemented in 3D software, and allowed the film to be art directed as if nearly every shot was a still painting.

 In addition to new layout tools and data management software, under Ikeler’s supervision, Imageworks developed specific tools to handle the demands of the visual style: Fur and cloth that doesn’t break a character’s stylized profile, water simulations that hit the beats, 3D trees that look 2D, rendering tricks for casting shadows that are not accurate to geometry, and much more.
   
   
   
   [img]http://features.cgsociety.org/cgtalk/meettheartists/doug_ikeler/OS-002.jpg[/img]
   
   [img]http://features.cgsociety.org/cgtalk/meettheartists/doug_ikeler/OS-003.jpg[/img]
   [img]http://features.cgsociety.org/cgtalk/meettheartists/doug_ikeler/OS-004.jpg[/img]
   [img]http://features.cgsociety.org/cgtalk/meettheartists/doug_ikeler/OS-021.jpg[/img]
   [img]http://features.cgsociety.org/cgtalk/meettheartists/doug_ikeler/OS-011.jpg[/img]
   
   Before joining Imageworks, Ikeler was effects designer and supervisor on DreamWorks’ ‘The Road to El Dorado’, and received an Annie nomination for his work on a water system he developed and animated for that film. Prior to DreamWorks, he was a modeler at Rhythm & Hues for ‘Babe’ and at Amblimation, he supervised compositing and digital ink and paint for ‘An American Tail: Fievel Goes West’, and effects for ‘Balto’.
   
   During SIGGRAPH this summer, Ikeler and members of his team taught a course titled, “The Art of Open Season: Traditional 2D Styling with Today’s Bells and Whistles.”
   
   Please welcome Doug Ikeler!
   
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#2

very very goooooood


#3

How long was the process between character design and the final 3d model before rigging?

Pick any character to describe.

-Morenike


#4

Hi, I wanna ask a personal side questions.

How did you end up being you? I mean how did u know that u want to do what u do for life?
How long did it take you to get ur level? Any wise words for cg beginers? any advice?

If you are not busy, I am sure you are :s, can you see my reel and tell me what you think?

Thanks in advnace. I can’t wait to see the movie. Not yet playing this side of the world :wink:

http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=410368


#5

Really Awesome.
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?

Thanks and congrats for this great work.

Michael Marcondes


#6

Incrediby wonderful


#7

Hi Doug.

thank you for taking the time to do this.

I found the “tricks” for your latest film very interesting. Two questions:

What kind of render tricks did you have to use to cast shadows that were not geometry based?

and What was your first interview to get into the business like?


#8

Amazing work, great character animation, beautiful renders all and all nicely done.

I am an Instructor teaching XSI and 3DS Max at a college, although i have had students hired in industry its few and far between. What would you say is the most valuable thing you have learned on your jouney that led you to Sony Imageworks?

Thanks,
Jeff Stalians


#9

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!

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?

What kind of feed back to the animators get when they are animating ( what kind of mesh and rig are they looking at)? Lets 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?

Also Those water simulations were amazing! How did you get it to hit beats?


#10

Hi Mr Ikeler
its so great we have you here:).
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?


#11

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).

Great work. The first trailer was the very first thing that went on my iPod months ago.


#12

I really like the story behind Open Season.
And I just loved the approach to manage it.
I’m really looking forward to see it (It is still not shown at Mexico, i’ll have to wait!).

QUESTIONS:

  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)?

    CRITIQUE:

  3. Could you take a look at my shortfilm Sex And The Socket ?
    and/or

  4. Critique on my latest character: Rusty

Thanks!!:slight_smile:


#13

Hello Mr. Ikeler, thanks for taking your time to do this. 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. Thanks again!


#14

Hello, SonyImagesWork is my Idol
Waiting for Spider Man 3. Good luck to all of you and Mr. Ikeler.


#15

Hi and thank you very much for your time.

I would like you 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.

Thanks


#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/


#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!


#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.


#19

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?” [color=LemonChiffon]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. [/color]

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.

#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.