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Thursday, October 30, 2008

ETEK trip, day 3


Way behind here, but this is what happened on Tuesday.

Rhythm & Hues:


R&H is particularly known for virtual animals -- having done work for Babe, the Golden Compass, and the Narnia Films (Aslan actually makes a cameo appearance in Night at the Zoo). Here our tourguide, Scot Byrd, is pointing out the primitive hair on the Polar Bear in the old R&H Coke commercial -- "It looks a little like toothpaste." Now the technology is sufficiently developed that animals models can have millions of individual hairs, which need to be tended by digital fur groomers.


Rhythm & Hues still deals with analog film -- they were one of the pioneers of high-resolution film scanning. You can tell Scot likes to handle the stuff. They keep a movieola in a back room, which also has this animal mugshot chart -- I'm assuming had something to do with the casting of Babe: Pig in the City.


Some 3D geometry for virtual models is scanned from actual physical models. For virtual models, only half of a physical model usually needs to be sculpted, the biological symmetry taken care of by replicating and mirroring the geometry of one side.




Their server farm is cooled by large ducts blasting enough air that the room feels a bit like a wind tunnel. You can get a small taste of the effect with Lee's (non-digitally-groomed) hair in the picture below.


There's a lot of art on the walls at R&H -- some beautiful drawings of dancers by Jules Feiffer, and a lot of animation artwork, including some "Princess Mononoke" cells and animation drawings of Bambi, Bugs Bunny, and so on.




Then, on to Sony Imageworks, where we had a demo reel screened for us, and a reconstruction of the elements used for a composite shot featuring a CG beaver from the first Narnia movie (both Sony and R&H have shots in that film).

We got to duck into an animator's cubicle (she worked her way up from an initial position as a motion tracker), and a Visual Effects supervisor stepped us through the creation of a complicated effects shot that was created with the Flame system, a quarter-million-dollar combination of hardware and software that allows you extrapolate the implied 3-D geometry of a location shot and its attendant camera motion, and composite 3D and 2D elements into that tracked space. It was a shot he'd worked on for four or five months. Sony is serious about their NDAs, so although the shot is from a film that's already been released, all I feel comfortable telling you is this: It was a crane shot of the aftermath of a _____ collision. As the camera climbed upward, various _____s of the _____ continued to pile up, spilling into the ____ and knocking over a few _________ _____ as well. Most of the _____ ____ were digitally inserted, as where the trailing vapors of steam and smoke, and a good number of the ____ on the ____ beside the _____ ______, as they receded into the distance. Trust me, it was impressive.


Jimmy Kimmel:


We had a couple hours to kill between arriving at Hollywood Boulevard and being admitted to the Jimmy Kimmel show. A lot of the shops on the strip had Halloween costumes, and it occurred to me that Halloween must be the worst time of year for the folks who dress up as Spider-man and Jack Sparrow and so on, in the hope of cadging money from tourists who want to have their pictures taken with pushy entrepeneurial simulacra. With everyone on the street in costume, every superhero is just another Clark Kent.

For roughly a half-hour before the show, there's a guy whose job it is to rev up the crowd, which he does by insulting them (or at least a few unfortunates among them). He's actually very funny, and at some point he noticed the row of our students, three of them wearing hats (and not just baseball hats -- we've long noted, this semester, our unusually high fedora-to-student ratio). I braced myself for a round of haberdashery-related abuse, but he moved on to other pastures.

The highlight of the show itself was Kimmel's interview with Cloris Leachman, who'd just been booted from "Dancing with the Stars." I haven't been following the show, but judging from the clips they showed by way of intro, Leachman was treating her stint as a profanity-laden piece of performance art, crawling, bouncing and siezuring her way through her routines. She kept up the vibe by starting off her interview with a complaint that her chair was too high, and proceeded to align herself and re-align herself across the seat in increasingly precarious positions, in postures that suggested something between a sexual proposition and preparation for a suicide leap. She finally threw the cushion behind the chair, and eventually deliquesced to the floor, where Kimmel, in gentlemanly fashion, joined her. They ended the interview in a sort of tender tangle, beneath the overhang of Kimmel's desk, holding hands.

I don't think the camera caught any of us in the crowd, but Gabor claims his hat made it into a shot.

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