Tackles 3D Challenges for Spy Kids 2
skeletons, a miniature zoo, and menacing mutant animals are among
the new adventures awaiting siblings Carmen and Juni Cortez, who
are back in action in Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams,
which was released in theaters nationwide on August 7, 2002. ComputerCafe
created extensive photoreal 3D sequences for the sequel to director
Robert Rodriguez's phenomenally successful Spy Kids, which
has grossed more than $100 million domestically.
to stretch beyond what we've done before," says ComputerCafe
digital effects producer Vicki Galloway Weimer. "The most
important thing a project offers is to push the studio and advance
our creativity and knowledge. It's been a rewarding experience
working with Robert (Rodriguez) on Spy Kids 2. He's a creative,
innovative director and was very involved in every aspect of our
A Tabletop Zoo Where Mutants Run Amok
In Spy Kids 2 a new mission takes Carmen and Juni to a
mysterious island where they meet a wildly-inventive genetic scientist
and his imaginative creatures. Professor Romero has created the
ultimate children's toy, a tabletop zoo featuring waddling penguins,
a hopping kangaroo, a pouncing lion and a lumbering elephant.
But in sizing up the miniature animals for older kids to play
with, the professor accidentally unleashed gigantic mutant animals
- bizarre combination creatures whose names reveal their dual
origins: tigershark, catfish, horsefly, spiderape, which quickly
take control of the island.
Over a three-month
period ComputerCafe's Santa Maria studio devised approximately
16 photoreal CG animals for 35 shots of two to ten seconds duration.
Many feature multiple creatures, with some scenes including as
many as 50 animals.
to keep the animals as anatomically and physically correct as
we could, right down to the fur, texturing, color and movement,
so they look real and seamless," reports ComputerCafe animation
supervisor Domenic DiGiorgio. "We spent a good bit of time
studying African wildlife documentaries and referencing real animals
to match key moves with the right walks and gaits for more believable
was challenged to blend the bizarre mutant animal combinations,
which were more than just join two halves of very different creatures.
For example, the catfish has fur and scales, the head of a fish
and the body of a normal cat with tail fins.
animators modeled all the animals with Lightwave 3D using subdivision
surfaces. With this technique, the animators could work with low-resolution
models, then render at any resolution desired. "That let
us animate very quickly because there's less data to manipulate.
We can increase the surface subdivisions when ready to render
the final imagery," DiGiorgio explains. "We could preview
chunky, boxy animals on screen but render them smooth and clean."
The technique was also helpful in controlling scene complexity
by decreasing resolution for animals blurred by depth of field.
animation was done with Project: Messiah, a Lightwave module,
which offers additional animator controls not found in the basic
Lightwave package, which was employed for lighting, texturing
and rendering. "Because 90 percent of the animals had fur,
and fur is traditionally tricky, we used Worley Labs' Sasquatch,
a Lightwave plug in and fur shader, which we pushed to the extent
of its abilities," DiGiorgio adds.
fur look realistic, and creating correct and realistic movement,
were key issues," he continues. "A lot depended on how
we rigged the creatures to show their muscles moving, their lopes
and gaits. Because most had four legs, each animal was twice as
complex, and required a lot more animation per animal than do
sheepdog proved particularly challenging. "It's a sheep with
a bulldog's head and feet," DiGiorgio says. "We didn't
want it to look like a dog wearing a sheep's coat. Wool proved
to be much more complex than fur to render. It gave us some hairy
- Flying Pigs, The Spork
One of the more entertaining creatures to create was The Spork,
a pig endowed with eagle-like wings. Though it first appears as
part of the Zoo Too menagerie, The Spork reappears to play a key
role in the conclusion of the sword fight with the swashbuckling
most challenging aspect of creating The Spork was developing a
flying style to match its bulk," admits DiGiorgio. "The
Spork is a fat, heavy creature which almost struggles to stay
in the air. It moves its wings with big, labored flaps as if it
takes enormous effort to lift its' weight." To give greater
realism to the wings, the animators modeled and added translucency
to each feather individually.
lit the creatures to match the live-action plates they would be
composited in, director Rodriguez often asked animators to enhance
a shot, by making the creatures' lighting more menacing or mysterious,
DiGiorgio notes. Sometimes the lighting was altered so the animals
would stand out better against the background plate.
effects supervisor David Ebner, the Santa Maria studio composited
the zoo and mutant animals' sequences using eyeon's Digital Fusion
as their primary compositing package and 5D's Cyborg for keying
greenscreen elements, which, like the movie itself, was shot in
is compression in the HD image so when you pull mattes the blue
video channel is very noisy, making it difficult to get a good
key," Ebner explains. "Out of all the compositing packages
we have, Cyborg has the best keyer and allowed our animators to
build frames together and play them at high resolution and full
2K resolution, revealing more detail before we finished out,"
Ebner says. ComputerCafe wrote a custom HD grain tool to add the
format's subtle grain back into composited shots.
and Ebner found a number of advantages in working with HD source
material. "Everything was digital and at the right frame
rate so we were able to work immediately without waiting for film
scans," DiGiorgio says. "I was very impressed with the
quality of 24p HD. It was very close to film."
Sword Fighting With Skeletons
About one month from the delivery date of the zoo and mutant animals'
sequences, director Rodriguez presented ComputerCafe's Santa Monica
studio with an additional challenge: of creating approximately
38 shots in which the Spy Kids battle swash-buckling skeletons
clambering up a rocky promontory. The siblings succeed in beating
many of them back -- one of the skeletons loses his head but catches
it and plops it on backwards -- until an exciting twist turns
an animatic that was originally done in Alias|Wavefront Maya,
by animator Chris Olivia," says Jonathan Stone, associate
producer at ComputerCafe, Santa Monica. "The scene data came
on CD and was integrated it into our studio's Maya to Lightwave
pipeline. The animatic was low-resolution, with initial animation
and simple textures. Chris did a wonderful job of articulating
the skeletons and establishing the character animation. However,
once we received the scene data we had to polish the animation,
tweaking and smoothing motion and actions in conjunction with
direction of The Santa Monica offices animation supervisor, David
Lombardi, a team of Maya animators continued with animation and
later incorporated all new high resolution models and textures
into the scenes. In addition they added new skeletons in order
to guarantee continuity from scene to scene. . "We hand animated
63 characters," reports animation supervisor David Lombardi.
"Over 28 shots feature multiple skeletons." Beaver translation
software enabled the animators to efficiently translate all the
necessary Maya data into Lightwave for lighting, texturing, and
rendering, which calculates bounced lighting, was done in Lightwave.
"It's uncommon to use radiosity rendering in production,"
Lombardi notes. "Traditional CG rendering is faster, but
radiosity rendering is much more accurate and realistic, especially
for an outdoor scene with nooks, crannies and sword reflections,
because it's what happens in nature." The shots were composited
in After Effects.
was also charged with the sequence's wire removals; the kids had
been rigged for safety on a dramatic real rock formation as they
battled the as-yet-unseen skeletons. "Seven of the shots
were the gnarliest wire removals I've seen," reports Lombardi.
"They were tough for even the most experienced artists."
The camera moved on three axis changing the 3D perspective on
the rocky promontory and making wire removals extremely difficult.
For one shot that was crisscrossed with wires animators rebuilt
an entire clean rocky terrain in 3D. It was tracked into the shot
and composited under the kids. The majority of the easier wire
removals were done using Discreet's commotion while the more challenging
removals were done utilizing the company's Discreet flame*.
animators were assisted in their communications with Austin, Texas-based
director Rodriguez by the use of QuickTime Synchro software developed
by visual effects studio Hybride Technologies, in Quebec, which
also worked on Spy Kids 2.
licensed QuickTime Synchro to all the companies working on the
picture," Domenic DiGiorgio points out. "We'd do a conference
call with Robert in Texas, run the program, bring up a QuickTime
of a shot that Robert would see on his screen. He could talk and
draw on the frame, and we'd see it in real-time. It helped make
communications 200 percent clearer." The files, which Rodriguez
marked-up, were saved for future reference.
on Spy Kids 2 was fun because Robert had such a strong
vision and was so involved with the visual effects," notes
Vicki Galloway Weimer. "Everyone on the Rodriguez team was
professional, great to work with, and collaborative."
located in Santa Maria, CA, was founded in 1993 by partners
Jeff Barnes and David Ebner to create broadcast promotion
and ID packages for television stations. Today the company
draws clients from all corners of the entertainment world,
including feature films, (The Panic Room, The One, Armageddon,
Flubber), commercials (Doritos, Microsoft, Burger King)
and broadcasters (CBS, HBO, NBC). Both the Santa Maria,
and the new Santa Monica location, which opened in 2000
to serve its growing feature film and commercial clients,
are outfitted with the latest effects, design, compositing
and rendering technologies, including Discreet Logic Flame,
Cyborg 5D, Commotion, Lightwave, Digital Fusion, PhotoShop
and After Effects. Both studio are Unix-based and T1 networked
for real-time creative collaboration.
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