Non-Photorealistic Animation for Immersive Storytelling, our paper about the look of “Age of Sail” in Expressive ’19, is now available online via Eurographics. (You can also find it on the Google Research site.)
Next week I’m heading to Europe for a couple of conferences: FMX (Stuttgart) where Jan Pinkava will be giving two talks about our work at Spotlight Stories, and Expressive (Genoa) where I’m presenting a paper about our look development work for Age of Sail: Non-Photorealistic Animation for Immersive Storytelling. I’m beyond excited to meet up with old colleagues and new ones, learn about the latest graphics techniques, mangle two foreign languages, and explore some cities I’ve never been to before. If you’ll be at either of these events, let me know!
Here’s a thing that happened. Remember that crazy accidental stereo photo that we shot at the LA wrap party for “How to Train Your Dragon”, back in 2010? Well, not long after that, we had a second wrap party in Palo Alto, for the PDI part of the crew. At one point I was talking with Chris Sanders, and I showed him that stereo photo from the other party. His eyes got really big, and his inner ten-year-old, always very close to the surface but particularly so in that moment, looked at me very seriously and said “we have to do this again… right now… with EVERYBODY HERE!” Without any kind of plan, we just snapped into action, moving tables, herding animators, passing on instructions in a game of telephone as everyone gathered in a big circle with Chris, Dean, Bonnie and Bruce in the middle. Cameras and phones out and ready, on a count of three, we all snapped a shot– as simultaneously as a crowd of reveling filmmakers can manage (which turns out to be not simultaneous at all, but hey, we’ll fix it in post!) I got everyone to email me their photos the next day, and spent way too many hours truing them up over the following weeks. I even did some very bad morphing at one point. I never quite got it to a state that felt good enough to share, so this sat on my hard drive for the better part of a decade without anybody seeing it.
But the third chapter in the trilogy comes out today! So in honor of that, and all the amazing artists who were there in that room nine years ago, and the many others who have worked on these movies before and since, here it finally is, in the form of an animated GIF: Dragon Wrap 360!
Photos by: Jennifer Yip, Craig Rittenbaum, Kathy Altieri, Craig Ring, Gil Zimmerman, Andy Wheeler, Susan Hayden, Ronman Ng, Melanie Cordan, Jennifer Dahlman, Rebecca Huntley, Ben Andersen, Janet Breuer, John Batter, Andrew Pearce, Katrina Conwright, Toshi Otsuka, Lou Dellarosa, Nara Youn, Michel Kinfoussia, Kevin Andrus, Dave Torres, Michael Baula, Tanner Owen, Karen Dryden, April Henley, Kate Spencer, Cassidy Curtis, Ron Pucherelli, Scott LaFleur, Simon Otto, and Dane Stogner.
Maybe this should have been obvious, but it took me totally by surprise: rainbows are made entirely of polarized light! (I’m guessing this is because of how the light bounces off the insides of the raindrops on its way back to you.) So if you put on polarized lenses (like some sunglasses) and tilt your head sideways, you can make them disappear— or make them look twice as bright against the non-polarized sky!
It’s not every week you have to fly down to LA twice, but what a great reason to do it. “Age of Sail” was nominated in a bunch of categories, and won Outstanding Production Design at the Annie Awards, and Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project at the VES Awards. I’m so grateful to have worked with this amazing team of artists, and and so proud of what we’ve accomplished together!
Way back in 1999, I had the pleasure of contributing a segment to a SIGGRAPH course on non-photorealistic rendering. By that point I had made a whopping two-and-a-half animated short films with different visual styles (Brick-a-Brac, Fishing, and a never-finished The New Chair) which in those innocent times made me an authority on the subject. So I threw together a loose framework based on what I’d learned from those experiences, and built my piece of the course around that.
I went back and re-read it the other day, and was surprised to find a lot of it still holds true. In particular, one lesson that we carried through in both Pearl and Age of Sail is that if you plan ahead and you’re smart about it, committing to a stylized look can also save you a lot of time and money.
So if you’re interested in making a film with a new visual style, but you just don’t know where to start, have a look!
I’m talking about “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” of course. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen, and already want to see it again. (If you still haven’t seen it, you are missing a major milestone in film history. Get off your tuchis and go to the movies already!)
There’s a moment in the film when our newly super-empowered Afro-Latino hero Miles Morales and the original Spider-Man Peter Parker meet for the first time. Their spidey-senses activate, and suddenly they both realize what they have in common. “You’re like me!” That moment of recognition, beyond its first purpose of conveying the powerful “anyone can wear the mask” message of inclusion, hit me personally on a whole different level. I found myself looking through the screen, senses buzzing, at the amazing team of artists and technologists who made it, people who really get it: the idea that when you take the art seriously, when you use every step of the process to amplify that artistic voice instead of sanding off its rough edges, when you’re willing to break the pipeline and challenge “how it’s usually done”, that’s when you can make something special, unique, and meaningful. This movie is a triumph, and every single person involved in making it should be incredibly proud. I see what you did, I know exactly how hard it was to do it, and I see you.
I can’t wait to watch this a few more times to soak in all the details– the smear frames, the animation on twos, the silhouette lines and suggestive contours, the halftones and Kirby dots, the CMYK misprints, the world-class acting choices, the strong poses, the colors and lighting, that crazy Sinkiewicz flashback, all of it.
I also hope this marks a turning point for the animation industry. Listen to your artists. Trust them. Let their work shine on the big screen the way they meant it to look. And don’t let anyone tell you what “can’t be done” with the look of your film. The non-photorealistic rendering community has been building the technology to do this, literally, for decades. Let’s use it!
Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks since we launched “Age of Sail“! Hard to keep track of all the news, but here are a few highlights…
It’s been nominated for four Annie Awards…
For the first time, the Annie Awards will honor animated VR productions. Vying for the prize are “Age of Sail” by Google Spotlight Stories and Broadreach Pictures; AtlasV’s “BattleScar”; “Crow: The Legend” by Baobab Studios; “MindPalace” by Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg GmbH; and Polyarc’s “Moss.”
In addition to the VR bid, Google Spotlight Stories’ “Age of Sail” came away with three other nominations, including character animation in an animated TV/broadcast production (Sikand Srinivas); character design in an animated TV/broadcast production (Bruno Mangyoku); and production design in an animated TV/broadcast production (Celine Desrumaux and Jasmin Lai).
Gnomon released the video of the making-of talk that John Kahrs and I did. (John’s part is not to be missed: a life lesson in thoughtful, personal filmmaking.)
Still reading? Really? Well, here’s some other nice press, about both VR and cinematic cuts:
- Google releases gorgeous VR short film ‘Age of Sail’ (Engadget)
- A Powerful & Emotional VR Experience (RoadToVR)
- New AR/VR Worth Watching (Variety)
- Watch: John Kahrs’ Acclaimed Short ‘Age of Sail’ (Animation Magazine)
- Short Pick of the Day (Cartoon Brew)
- Vimeo Staff Pick (Vimeo)
- Interview with John Kahrs (Animation Scoop)
- Worth The Sea Sickness (UploadVR)
“Age of Sail” was directed by John Kahrs, and produced at Chromosphere, Evil Eye Pictures, and Google Spotlight Stories. Working on this story, with this crew, has been an unforgettable experience. I’ll have lots more to say about it in future posts, but for now: enjoy the show!
After years of not doing anything particularly special for Halloween, this year we decided to start early and actually make our own costumes. Of course our plans were way too ambitious, so despite the fact that we started in August, by Halloween morning only one of our three costumes was actually finished.
The idea: inflatable nudibranchs. Nudibranchs (aka sea slugs) are marine invertebrates with incredible, psychedelic designs. If they look like something from a science fiction book cover, that may be because the designers of sci-fi aliens have been quietly stealing ideas from nudibranchs for decades.
I’d never made anything inflatable before, and barely ever used a sewing machine, so I learned a lot on this project. The material we used is this incredibly lightweight but sturdy stuff called 1-ounce calendered HyperD diamond ripstop nylon. (I chose this particular kind based on one negative review where a customer had made a quilt, and complained that it was hard to stuff into a sack because it kept trapping air inside it. Which was of course exactly what we wanted it to do!)
We did a lot of experiments to figure out the mechanics of inflatable structures. It’s pretty hard to visualize what 3D shape you’ll get from a bunch of flat parts until you’ve stitched them all together and filled it up with air. (Although I did find some interesting graphics research that solves the inverse problem!)
The trickiest part was figuring out how to attach the costume to a person’s body. With most inflatable costumes you can buy in stores, your whole body goes inside the inflated part of the costume, with just your hands and feet sticking out of elastic cuffs. This seemed like it’d be really hot and uncomfortable over a long night of running around trick-or-treating. So I made ours an outside-the-body design, with two belts of nylon webbing to attach to your torso, and a drawstring hood for your head. We found it wasn’t hard to rip the ripstop nylon at the point of attachment to the straps, so I reinforced those areas with a second layer, based loosely on how sails are reinforced at the clew.
One part I’m pretty happy with is the quilting of the blue fringe around the body. Without it, the body puffed up into a big potato shape. But I stitched in a pattern of alternating lines to make a little zigzag maze for the air to flow through. The result was a pretty decent match for the crinkly fringe of a real nudibranch’s foot.
The air blower is mounted in the ventral side of the body, below the waist so it would have a chance at clear airflow. And for illumination we ran two strands of LED fairy lights down the interior, from the tips of the blue cephalic tentacles down to the tail. This was okay, but not perfect: I would have preferred to light up more of the orange cerata sticking off the back. (The lighting was pretty rushed, and definitely something I’d like to do better next time…)
By now I am completely hooked on this inflatable costume idea. Which is good, because I’ve still got my own blue water dragon nudibranch costume to finish… but that’ll have to wait ’til next year!