The Ian Report #480 – Mechanical Bulls and Digital Doubles
Jan 2010 21

So… the digital double work in this film has been an interesting process [for those who don't know, a digital double is a computer generated replica of a character in the movie, used to do stuff that we couldn't get footage of]. At first, I was planning on keeping it nice and simple and just doing it with animated stills (putting a little person in a background cockpit, stuff like that), but as time went on it became more obvious that we were going to need to step it up.

For use in a chase sequence, Nathan Vegdahl rigged up a simple man with an animatable torso, whose hands could be easily affixed to a joystick or something for use in driving the ship. I gave him a sloppy texturing job and made him a little gasmask and hat, and it worked fine for those types of shots.

But as time went on, we kept finding more and more uses for that little guy, culminating in this last week, when Nate Taylor delivered a shot of Jerry tackling Subject C’s head and riding it like some sort of 200 foot mechanical bull (quick note about this shot; it’s one of the most awesome bits of animation in the entire movie—I absolutely cannot wait to render it out; Nate Taylor is great!). He’d obviously had to revamp the rig to include legs and stuff, and it looked great—but my texturing was now demonstratably blase (Blaze? Blaz-aye? Blahsay? Bluesy?). It was basically just pants and coat painted on some sorta naked guy.

[TIP OF THE WEEK: Directors making a VFX-heavy sci-fi movie; just make all the characters nude/body painted, and avoid all these problems entirely (anyone seen Avatar?). Better yet; make all the characters simple flat-shaded geometric shapes, which respond to a completely unknown set of rules for the physical world. And then film old Windows 95 screen savers and give it a kickass voice over (I suggest Morgan Freeman). Dude. I'd watch that.]

So I went insane, and decided to try doing a cloth simulation for all his clothing.

And it worked!

I’d never tried doing one before. Oh, I’d messed around with the cloth sim, but creating actual pants and a coat for a guy? Over one of the most chaotic 250 animated frames I’ve ever worked with? E’gads! Add to that the fact that Jerry starts out the shot flying through the scene at a speed of about 3 of his own body lengths every frame (or something). I knew enough to know that this would be pretty darn tricky for a cloth sim.

To the credit of Blender’s amazing cloth sim, after pumping up the quality to about 50 (out of… 80? Why 80? Because… of… binary.) it actually worked, and the little Jerry dangling on for dear life now looks even more awesome.

Now I’ve just gotta figure out if the the baked sim is included in the blend file when I pack it to send to the render farm. Anyone have any tips? I’m hoping it will just not be a problem.

…Now I wanna add a cape to everything, though. Spaceships with capes? Would that be awesome? I think that would be awesome.

Ian Hubert
Writer Director

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