Archive for the 'preproduction' Category

End of Development.

So, this is the end of a long hiatus marked by very few posts.  We’ve just entered into full production, and I’ll be keeping this blog updated. I’ll also enjoin other team members to contribute on their own work through this year.

The above video is part of our recent development work, and took place at a studio, and their neighbor, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The video describes some of our process working with actors, miniatures and cg characters.  As we get a bit further into production, and have worked a bit more with our actors, I’ll go into some more of the details of the process.


  • Director: Sunit Parekh-Gaihede
  • Producer: Søren Fleng
  • Animator: Nicolai Slothuus
  • John: Lars Mikkelsen
  • Liz: Charlotte Munck
  • Sound: Rune Klausen
  • Set: Karin Ørum
  • Miniatures Assistant: Charléne Barre

The Danish Film Institute and other news


So, this blog has been pretty quiet for a couple of months. Hydralab has been busy with a number of other projects (which we hope to put up soon), and also with developing our pipeline tools.
At the same time, for the last 6 months, we’ve been working with the Danish Film Institute, through their New Danish Screen initiative, and spending some more time with the script. The focus of the story has sharpened considerably, and we’re now entering our second development phase, where I hope to test out some of my ideas.
We’ve also stepped back to rethink the production process. I’ll post more on this later, but our new process puts a considerable emphasis on a robust previs, with a skeleton crew, before any production begins.

Loco and the city

Above is a recent motion control clip of one of our city sets (shot on our loco rig).  There’s a bit of compositing on the movie above, and we have a test running with 15 CG characters in the scene to see how much animation we need to put in for the scene to read believably.  If we get around to lighting that scene before production starts, I’ll put it up here.

Below are some more of the reference plates from the shoot, as well as shots from other city sets in progress.  The stand-in figures are built by the talented Hanna Habermann who will be joining the project again in January for the rest of the shoot.

Color, texture, and a making of



At the top is a version of the test with some color/texture, and simple shaders.  I’m also posting a “Making-of” so people can follow some of the integration process.  These are both roughs – there are comp, animation, and render errors, but are nonetheless interesting for us.

While I think the test got the crew used to the general pipeline/workflow, aesthestically we’re still a bit off.  At the moment, this hits closer to something from Monster House, or Polar Express.  I’d like to move more towards stop-motion, and we hope to get in some animation studies over the next few weeks, spending time with some shots from the fantastic Madame Tutli-Putli.

At the moment, the textures are mostly without detail (both in the diffuse and specular), so we’ll be working to increase some of the sophistication.  We might also spend some time with the shaders, although I’m not yet convinced we need anything more than a blinn, some fresnel, and hi-detail textures.

Sets, lighting, and motion control


We’ve now got our own motion control rig set up.  It’s based off of the last rig, which we shipped down to Studio SOI, who are using it for some exciting projects.  The test above is from a demonstration we gave to the Danish Film Institute earlier today.  There is a bit of subtle shaking in the shot, which comes from us handling the rig while the move was in progress.

Below are some recent tests of the trees Bente Laurenz Jacobsen (who is pictured below) is building for the project.  We discovered that ambient daylight is difficult to recreate indoors, so we built a large rig (like a flash umbrella), that we will be stretching cloth over and hanging above the sets for the day shots.  The shots below represent both the indoor light tests, and some outdoor shots.  The environment around the workshop provides an interesting backdrop to the shots.

There are also some shots with Nancy Munford and Karin Ørum who came up for a weekend in February to finish work on the street sets.

The stairs on the house were some of the last items that got painted – hence they’re still foam in the pictures.

Concepting heads


I’m trying to work out a visual vocabulary for the level of caricature in the film.  This is one of the tests – above is the turn around of the high detail version, and below are some shots of variations.  One of the concepts in the film is that the characters are imprinted with some of their personal histories – kind of like scars.  It’s not clear here, but I’ll keep posting examples of what that means in later posts.  These examples are also a bit conservative – I’ll be trying to push a bit more in the next couple of iterations.

Again, these are done with ZBrush.

Character concepts

Here are some character concepts – these are pretty dated, but still the ones I’m working off of.  The last one is a 3d sketch, trying to work out the look.

Reclining man: ZBrush test


This is a test for some of my process ideas.  I’ve gotten recently back into using ZBrush, and I thought I’d see how far I could get starting from just a polygonal cube – above is the result of about a day and a half of working with the mesh.  In production, I’d expect to have a posed (possibly) higher resolution base mesh, with a nicer topological layout, but this was an exercise in figuring out how much mesh resolution I really needed to start with.

I expect that the majority of secondary characters in the film will have very little movement on a shot by shot basis, and rather than fully rigging/modeling/texturing these characters, I expect to work predominantly from the camera’s perspective.  It’s an idea I tried out on a recent commercial project I directed and supervised (which at some point I’ll put up here).  The storyboards and 2d animatic were locked down (after many revisions) well before production, which allowed us to really economize the production time on only what we would see.

Below are some progression shots.

Realism test


This is simple test with a still image of the miniature shoot from last year.  The idea to to see how much I get from the plate, and how much I need to add in order to hit a high level of detail.  The doll was our character stand-in – the animation is just some image warping.

Most of the work is done in Shake (with a bit of Photoshop).  I’ve added live elements, balanced light, lens flare, defocus, a background replacement (with a simple key), animation, and a bit of paint over to cover up some odd lighting in the original plate.

Below is the original image:

Old storyboards

As I’m updating this blog, I’ll also add some of the early pre-production work.  These are boards from near the beginning of the project.  The story and the boards have changed significantly since, as has my boarding style.


In preparation for the shoot, I’ve installed Earth from Rising Sun Pictures, which keeps track of disk usage.  It’s browser based, and runs off a Postgre database and RubyOnRails.  I think I’ll be expanding the server soon – since the pipeline is based around 16bit float (RAW/EXR), and the motion control shots will likely have more than one pass, our data for the shoot will take at least a terabyte of space.  The production, I’m anticipating, will easily eclipse that number.

Along with showing usage statistics, Earth also has a neat radial display:


Concept Mapping

I’ve recently discovered this open source tool for planning the production:

The below picture is my first try at mapping out some of the general processes in this film.


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