Archive for the 'miniatures' Category

Loco filmed set dress

This is a quick timelapse filmed on our own loco motion control system. Here we see (mostly) Charlene Barre setting up props and buildings for one of our city sets. Very rough car animation by me – Sunit Parekh-Gaihede.

Eventually, we’d like to show the full evolution of a shot (from set dress to final grade), but we decided to put up this test sooner than later.

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

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.

City street


These are some of the images of one of our 1:24 scale city streets.  There are also some images of props, courtesy of Moddler, that we’ll be receiving in the near future and incorporating into the sets.  These sets are, as most things on the project, in process, and we’re currently adding more text (signs, placards) and color to bring more life to the environments.

One of the problems we’ve discovered is that one can never have enough studio space – the shooting space has turned into a labyrinth of metal rails (for the motion control), computers, sets, lights, flags, bounce cards, and our monolithic fill dome (which we’ll use to try to hit the roughly 7:1 key/fill ratio we want for our outdoor environments).

Below are some more city shots, and some of the bedroom (which we’ve started shooting), and of the studio. There’s also a forced perspective shot – from the kitchen to the street, where we set a 1:24 street outside the 1:12 kitchen.

Trees, trees, trees


So, part of our recent work has been developing trees for the film.  Below, you can also see some of the grass tests, using fake fur, and a base of different colors.  The “trees” are actually bushes donated by our local cemetary (by a very friendly and helpful group of caretakers), which were on their way out to the trash.  We’ve stripped them, reshaped them, and added bulk with various spice leaves (ground parsley, coriander, and other green/yellow dried spices).  Bente (who you’ll notice standing in the pictures) has systematically developed a process for detailing the many trees that we see in the film.

Also pictured are Charlène Barré (responsible for a number of the props), and Sian Puckett (our new Spanish intern).

Kitchen sinks, stove tops, boxes, and other miniatures


These are some of the recent miniatures props we’ve been building in our in house workshop, led by Bente Laurenz Jacobsen, and with Charlène Barré, Karen Rohde Johansson and Israel Hernandez.  These stills are just progress shots taken during our dailies – which means there’s significant noise and shallow depth of field in most of the shots.

Moddler & Rapid Prototyping


So, John Vegher, founder of Moddler (among other things), has generously offered to rapid prototype the props for our 1:24 scale outdoor sets.  Above is our first prop, a bench which we modeled in Maya, detailed in ZBrush and then sent on to Moddler.  Below is a turntable of the ZBrush model.

The idea is to ship the props over here and paint them before they integrate into the sets.  We have about a month left before the outdoor shoot, so we’ll be spending some time putting all of the parts together.

Clearly from the pictures, the results are fantastic.  This process saves us a tremendous amount of time building the props at the small scale, and also, having to re-build versions of the props in 3D in order to match to.  More photos below.

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.

3Delight & rendering


A more complete version of this sequence is here.

A lot of things have happened in the last month – one of which is that we’ve been sponsored by DNAsoft, developers of the renderman based 3Delight renderer. The character in the rough test above is rendered with 3Delight, which we – myself, Aske Dørge, and Nicolai Slothuus – spent about a week and some working with.  I’ve included some images below on the various stages of the process.  We took extensive set measurements to determine the camera position (although I think we’ll be trying out some image based modeling methods for the next test), shot chrome spheres, matte balls, and foreground bluescreen elements.  As always, there’s a fair bit of compositing in Shake as well as some sound mixing in Final Cut Pro.  Most of the sounds in this clip are downloaded from the great online resource

For the renders, we used 3Delight’s point cloud rendering methods – which meant that at small HD resolution, we could output our character with motion blur, displacements, depth-of-field, and occlusion (along with a range of other secondary passes – or arbitrary output variables) at under 1 minute a frame.  Our next test is to try and come up with a global illumination process, using our set survey data, and light emitting surfaces baked into a point cloud, and rendered using some custom shaders.  One of the great features with renderman based renderers is the simple shading language (RSL) which, in 3Delight, we can access through the Maya interface.  This means we can test and write custom shaders in the interface, before converting them to standard .sl files, which we then compile through 3Delight’s shader compile utility.

For the animation pipeline, we decided to rely on Maya’s geometry cache features, which allow us to isolate the animation and lighting pipelines from each other.  This means that the lighting scene references only the models (no rigs) and the layout, and the geometry cache imports all of the animation information.  As the animation updates, so do the lighting scenes.

We also implemented some custom spotlights, with falloff regions, and on-screen visualisation.  For this test, since we used spotlights to mimic all of our direct and indirect illumination, the falloff regions gave us more granular control over attenuation.  At some point, I may look into a linear workflow, at which point Maya’s standard decay types might be more useful (or not).

The last stages of building


Above is a timelapse of the last day of official work (the video is a bit low quality).  We shipped the sets the day after and have set them up in the studio.  Karin (and possible Nancy, another builder) will be coming here in about a week to finish some of the houses, and survey the setup.

Below are some of the stills.

Buildings and terrain

These are some of the latest pictures from the workshop.  We have four miniature outdoor environments, which are set on reinforced plywood and foam.  Karin has been cutting through the foam with a chain saw to establish the major forms, and from here we’ll go into the details.  A number of the streets are cobblestone (the pattern we’ve made is on the rolling pin), and the sidewalks are based on Berlin sidewalks – which are wide and both tiled and cobblestoned.

The LEGO rig on set

Goutte d’Or is now running with the LEGO rig daily on set.  Here are some images around the ship and of the new lift.  Above is one of the latest camera moves.

New modules and Goutte d’Or


Above is a test clip we shot yesterday for Goutte d’Or, a stop motion film by my friend Christophe Peladan, which is using the LEGO rig.  I’m rebuilding the lift, and using a more modular construction for it.  I’ve also organized a large part of the LEGO collection, which you can see below.

There have been some great replies on the nxstasy forum to my questions about minimizing slop in the gear train for our rig.  With any luck, this new version will add some more stability and user friendliness.

The software has also been updated to deal with both the Canon EOS 40D and the Canon EOS 400D.

LEGO Motion Control v2



We’re building the next major iteration of the motion control system, and are thinking of supplementing the LEGO with some more stable parts – the major part is the baseplate of the rig, which we’ll use MDF to start with, and see how much stability it brings.

Tomorrow, the 1st iteration rig also starts getting use on La Goutte D’or, a stop motion puppet film in production in one of the other buildings here.  With the new seek algorithm, I’ve sped up the incremental moves by 300%, which means we can shoot about 8-12 seconds automated per hour.

The movies above represent moves run with the new software.  I’ve started consulting my handy American Cinematographers Manual to look at the pan and lift speeds.  Both moves are processed with the “smoothcam” node in Shake.  As far as I can tell, the amount of pixel shifting that happens when smoothing has a minimal effect on the plate – I don’t see much introduced blur, especially since our processing happens at 4K (roughly), and then gets downsized to 2K.  I haven’t yet tracked a “smoothed” shot, so I might discover some issues there.  The jitter in the original plate is also pretty minimal, and hopefully with the next iteration of the rig, we can bring it even further down.

Below are some images of the 1st iteration.

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:


These are some images from the bedroom build (which, for schedule reasons, happened almost a year after the first build).  Karin made a brick pattern from a transparency and selected areas where the features would show on the walls.  The floorboards are cut from the side of a wooden beam, then placed, sanded, painted, sanded a couple of time to get a worn look.

Buildings 1

This is a glance into the building process.  All of these buildings are built to 1:24 and will eventually represent the city in the film.  The buildings are separated into a foundation (that goes into the sidewalk), a store front, and a top level.  The top levels will double as regular houses in some of the shots, and some of the top levels are interchangeable (with the store fronts).  Again, the credits go to Karin Ørum.

Doors and windows

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading different parts of our miniature process.  The work and design credit goes entirely to Karin Ørum, who’s been building all of the sets.

This is a selection of some of the doors and windows:



So we’ve gone back and forth with various modifications on the rig.  We added some boogie wheels and then realized that dynamic distribution of weight actually adds another factor of unpredictability to the motion.  The new rig is, however, more stable than the previous couple, and we’ve also attached a small Manfrotto head mount to the bottom of the lift.  Now the camera is much easier to mount.  The first movie below is the actual test, while the second is a stabilized version, taken through Shake.  The movie above is roughly color corrected, stabilized, and the background replaced.  The reflections in the mirror are Benny and I moving around as the move is running.



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