Saturday, August 8, 2009

Concepts for Lenovo "Virus" Commercial (Motion Theory/EmbassyVFX)

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Aeon Flux: Visual Explorations

Back in 2004 I had some very preliminary discussions with Karen Kasuma who was signed on to direct Aeon Flux. Afterwards at ILM, as i was putting together some bid materials, I was mulling over my discussions with her which flittered between science fiction, surrealism and modern art and i became obsessed about coming up with a whole new approach to the design of the technology of Aeon's world that lived up to the creative possibilities of our chat.

At the time, i was pretty bored with the trend of vehicle design prevalent in films and games. I saw that there were alot of talented concept designers I was working with had exceptional rendering and painting skills. However I felt that something was amiss as their 2 dimensional renderings were translated into 3 dimensional forms. I was of the opinion that they had became overly focused on the rendering techniques and not enough on the forms themselves.

I'm still not sure what set me off in this direction but i remembered a little store in the East Bay across from Marin that sold animal skeletons and other natural artifacts. I went there and picked up some small bird and mammalian skulls as well as some rubber gloves. When i got back to the art dept. at ILM, i quickly cut up the gloves into rubber sheets and proceeded to wrap it around the skulls. The following image is the result of one of these experiments, backlit by the luxo lamp at my desk and photographed with a cheapo digital camera.
I found that i loved working this way. It was a very different approach - instead of pulling the forms from myself which ran the risk of being derivative, I "found" the forms in natural shapes in front of me. I wasn't "rendering" as much as "finding". I tried various layers of skin on top of the skulls, letting the backlight scatter through the shape "carving" it and revealing a depth that suggested something else altogether. In some other images i added little details like windows which gave these images an immense sense of scale and other worldliness.

In hindsite I'm glad i did not participate in that project but I was really happy with these explorations and still hope to use them somehow one day.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Scion TC "What Moves You"

Back in 2006 my old friend Winston Helgason from the Embassy Visual Effects gave me a call to work on a little project in vancouver so i took a break from ILM and spent 9 weeks commuting between san francisco and vancouver. I ended up doing production design as well as co-directing 2 full CG commercials for Toyota Scion alongside Rob Dupear and Simon Needham (creative director/Attik).
In hindsite - and everything is clearer in hindsite - it was a very compressed schedule considering the ambition for the projects.
The 1st one was for the "TC" and during the initial meetings with Simon we immediately realized that 100% of the commercial will be CG - the original concept was thrown out before the start of production and in its place was a giant conveyor belt test facility that would pit the Scion TC against increasingly more difficult condiitons. As the concept design progressed over the 1st weeks (see below) the scale increased until it ended up the size of a football field. I had started producing some previz in XSI showing exactly how the track and the obstacles can rotate and move. Meantime, the CG supervisor at the Embassy (Simon Lagermat) and animators worked round the clock to figure out the modeling and rigging for the contraption, as well as the pipeline to get it into their render farms.
Something that at first seems simple ended up to be extremely challenging, especially the deformation of the track as it forms "hills" as well as the choreography and motion of the cameras as we tried to reconcile the motion of the car (which had a forward velocity of zero relative to the world, but a velocity of 100mph+ relative to the conveyor belt surface) with the need to emphasize the speed and power of the car itself.

The second commercial for the "XB" proceeded a little smoother. it was alot easier to choreograph as the subject sat in the same locale. During a visit to toronto I did a photoshoot under the bloor street bridge and that became the basis for the virtual set. Most of the work had to do with designing and storyboarding all the detailed transformations (see sketch of shift knob transformation below) and then working with modelers and animators to execute.

At the end of the day, despite the chaos (as always), the awesome talented and crazy artists at the Embassy had pulled it off (again). Looking back working on these 2 commercials was probably the most stressful and rewarding moments of my VFX/CG career - even compared to ILM.
It gave me a chance to direct commercials (and also made me realized that i probably wouldn't want to do it again unless it was extraordinary circumstance) as well as to be a part of a very tight group of crazy, dedicated, super-talented artists who are also friends...and if that's not every artist's dream i don't know what is.

link to "TC" movie on YouTube in HQ
link to "XB" movie on YouTube in HQ

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Thursday, August 6, 2009