A Bug's Life Antz Aron Warner Carl Rosendahl Dan Wexler Dick Walsh Dreamworks Drew Olbrich Eric Darnell Feature Film Games Glenn Entis Glenn McQueen How To Train Your Dragon 2 Jean Cunningham Jeffrey Katzenberg Juan Buhler Ken Pearce Lawrence Kesteloot Luca Prasso Nick Foster PDI Pixar Raman Hui Rex Grignon Richard Chuang Shawn Neely Shrek Tech Tim Johnson Toy Story

Re-Visiting PDI’s Tech From 20 Years Ago

Re-Visiting PDI’s Tech From 20 Years Ago
Might PDI truly make a cg function?

Rex Grignon (supervising animator): We truly began the character group at PDI in 1990 formally, they usually gave us a nook and we did issues very, very in a different way. I feel the remainder of the corporate was in all probability wanting over, type of going, ‘Why are these guys so particular?’ However we ran our personal little enterprise unit internally, which was nice. And we began determining what rigging meant. There was no Maya or something, we used all our personal instruments, and had to determine all this stuff in set.

An Antz crew photograph. Again: Fredrik Nilsson, Jason Reisig, Tim Keon, Raman Hui, Colin Hennen, Enrique Navarrete, Noel McGinn, Chung Chan, Eric Lessard, Edip Agi, Triva von Klark. Entrance: David Gainey, Donnachada Daly, Tim Cheung, Justin Kohn, Webster Colcord, Rex Grignon, Jennifer Dahlman. Picture courtesy Rex Grignon.

Over these first 5 years, we wrote a function movie that we shopped round – our aspirations have been actually to do a function movie. That was Bugs: Lights Out, written by Tim Johnson. There was a full script, we had character designs, we had character profiles.

Shawn Neely (senior R&D technical director): It was these little type of robot-looking issues. It was like, in case your television was on the fritz, it was as a result of there was one thing inside there messing with it, just a little gremlin. And we might do the inflexible physique articulations of those little bug-looking issues and stuff. The best way I recall is that that script was truly pitched to Jeffrey Katzenberg sooner or later and he declined it, however he stated, ‘No I’ve this different script that I’d such as you guys to take a look at,’ which was the script for Antz.

Rex Grignon: Bugs: Lights Out was fairly a unique story than what Antz ended up being. However, the purpose actually was that each one you might do then was onerous physique characters. So, it was bugs, robots, and toys. And Pixar had already completed Tin Toy, and there was tons of robotic stuff happening on the time. So we have been kind of considering, ‘What’s one other method we might do this?’ And our Bugs was a mixture of bugs and robots.

“Antz” animation crew. Picture courtesy Webster Colcord.

We did an animated check of this character referred to as Smack. It was truly animated and voiced by Glenn McQueen, who later went to Pixar [McQueen passed away in 2002]. We confirmed that check round and we shopped it round all of the studios, and we had a variety of studios very within the concept, however it was earlier than Toy Story, so no one bid on producing a function movie at that time. However what it meant was, we have been thrilled when Toy Story acquired funded. We have been like, ‘Okay, that is it. Lastly, any person’s unlocked that.’

The check we did was perhaps a 10 or 15 second check of this character doing just a little monologue. Glenn did this nice voice on it. At that time, we had what I assumed was some cool know-how. We’d acquired to the place we might do some fairly refined rigging and we’d provide you with a solution to do bendable surfaces that was fairly revolutionary on the time, and we have been utilizing it on a number of the business work. However the pitch didn’t get picked up. [Note: Grignon left PDI to work at Pixar in 1995 on Toy Story and later at the beginning of production on A Bug’s Life. He would return to PDI once Antz had been greenlit.]

Shawn Neely: Sooner or later, there was this realization that PDI truly did have loads of instruments. Properly, we had this massive assortment of instruments that began with the founders in 1980, however it was a query of scale. The instruments didn’t have excellent consumer interfaces, a whole lot of them have been command-line instruments, and the stuff to carry it collectively was all shell scripts. So we put a good bit of effort to reinforce the instruments. We sort of began earlier than we knew that we have been doing Antz, however I feel the goal of getting a movie undertaking was definitely in our sights.

Ken Pearce (R&D director): Device improvement was difficult as a result of there was this entire challenge that was problematic proper beforehand. There was an enormous factor referred to as CAST, the place PDI was going to create its personal kind of Maya-like software. PDI had been round for a very long time, and it had all this home-grown software program. A whole lot of it didn’t have nice consumer interfaces. So there was an enormous challenge to create one thing like Maya that had a really user-friendly UI and drove all of the PDI instruments. However it had been a failure, principally, so we needed to re-write numerous instruments.

[Dreamworks acquired a 40% stake of PDI in 1996, and the studio began working on Antz in May that year.]

Left to proper: Raman Hui (supervising animator), Jennifer Dahlman (animation coordinator), Triva von Klark (manufacturing supervisor), Rex Grignon (supervising animator). Picture courtesy Rex Grignon.

Animating with EMOtion

Rex Grignon: We animated Antz with our personal animation system which was referred to as EMOtion, and we referred to as it EMO for brief. It was a incredible software on the time. You’d have a digital camera view of your scene, and it was principally a timeline the place each management had its personal timeline. Some individuals referred to as it type of a spreadsheet software, however you take a look at at the place it went, at the place all software program went later, EMO was an actual chief.

So for those who consider a spreadsheet as only a entire bunch of stacked timelines, that’s actually all it was. After which in the event you go throughout to any cell within the spreadsheet, that’s the important thing worth at that body quantity. You might say it was an extremely refined timeline, the place you see the worth at the time-frame and also you see every of the tracks that you simply’re controlling.

A screenshot of EMO, which was nonetheless in use on “How To Practice Your Dragon.”

There have been some animators who simply beloved working that method as a result of they might simply dance round via the timelines and set their keys. Some animators turned very, very quick at doing that since you might copy and paste segments of animation very simply and modify them. We have been doing, I feel, seven or eight ft every week on Antz, which was numerous animation to do for a novice group. No one on our workforce had ever labored on a function movie earlier than.

Dan Wexler (R&D developer): The core of EMOtion continued for use for a lot of movies after Antz. It was the unique system for animation at PDI and it continued to be so and was advanced ahead with the core system being largely constructed on the identical system incrementally as imposed to thrown away and one thing new written. It was utilized in Shrek to do the muscle mass, and that advanced for a lot of extra movies.

[Dreamworks eventually developed a new animation system called Premo for How To Train Your Dragon 2.]
Award-winning facial animation

Rex Grignon: We didn’t need to be too cartoony in Antz – they needed these characters to be relatable, which means, their faces got here extra to human and away from cartoony. Raman Hui, the opposite supervising animator, and I labored with Dick Walsh, who was the first architect of the facial animation system on the time.

We sat down with him and talked by way of, ideally, what sort of management would an artist have over a face? And so we mapped it out – we’d completed some rudimentary stuff over the sooner years of the group, however that principally concerned simply shifting lips, and now we actually needed to get the entire face the place the cheeks and eyes have been built-in with the mouth and the nostril.

A nonetheless from “Antz.” The movie made use of PDI’s in depth set of present instruments, in addition to many written for the manufacturing.

Dick got here up with a implausible, actually wildly progressive system for integrating all that. It was a muscle-based system, which was very strong; it was very troublesome to interrupt it. We got here up with phoneme libraries and the way can we do speech and the tongue system and eyes and lids and the way do you get expression out of the eyes and head. Raman and I labored with Dick quite a bit on all that, and he was simply this unimaginable craftsman.

Dick is a tremendous, superb artist and technician. He’s an artist in his personal proper, however he actually needed to know the artist’s problem, the animator’s challenges, and he designed this technique. That first era part system was superb, actually, the management we had over the faces.

After which it was, how can we train the artists to make use of that? It was a brand new notion that you would do that with a 3d face, and no one had ever actually accomplished that on the time. On Toy Story, we’d had controls, however in case you take a look at Toy Story, the eyes are spheres with lids that rotate, it was not an built-in flesh system. The mouth had extra of that, however this was a totally built-in facial masks [in which] all of the elements work collectively. It was unbelievable and it was very expressive and we didn’t actually discover the bounds.

[Dick Walsh received an Academy Technical Achievement Award in 2003 for the development of the PDI/Dreamworks Facial Animation System. The Academy’s description of the system noted, ‘This effective software simulation system is used to create and control natural, expressive, highly-nuanced facial animation on a wide range of computer-generated characters.’]

A piece-in-progress body from the animation course of for “Antz.”

Nailing the opening

Rex Grignon: Raman and I animated the entire opening sequence the place Woody Allen’s character is on the sofa and also you zoom down in and he goes, ‘I used to be a child of 10,000…’ And he has the entire id disaster factor on the sofa. I did all that stuff, after which Raman did the stuff the place he was pacing across the workplace. I did most of Basic Mandible, the villain. In reality, I might work in the course of the day supervising, go house, I had a brand new child on the time, come residence, have dinner with my household, tuck her in, after which I’d return to PDI to do the late shifts. So I’d animate from like 10:00 to 1:00 within the morning, day-after-day.

Dan Wexler: That first sequence was the primary to undergo lighting, and I’ll always remember it. The lights within the ceiling wanted volumetric lighting, which we had previous to that solely ever achieved with pretend particle cloud results. And the renderer had solely been used on a business, one business, earlier than we landed a function manufacturing on Antz. So we’ve obtained this primary shot that had to make use of volumetric results which have been a really superior function. And never solely that, however within the lighting, it had tiny little particles that floated round the whole lot, and we desperately needed to forged rays down. It was very difficult.

I distinctly keep in mind a second the place Jean Cunningham, who was the lead lighter on that shot, was speaking about one thing within the renderer not engaged on that shot. And I used to be, as normal, sitting at her ft, listening to her and making an attempt to determine how on earth I’m gonna make one thing work, and I feel I informed her on the time, ‘I don’t understand how I’m gonna make this work however I’m right here. I’m not going away. We’re nonetheless gonna make this film. We’re gonna get this accomplished collectively.’

And that was the spirit that we had there, it was, we’re gonna determine this out collectively, we’re gonna construct these instruments as we’re making this movie, and we’re gonna work this out collectively and get this completed. And it was only a fantastic setting for that sort of creativity.


Juan Buhler: There have been a variety of ant crowds to do. Ultimately, it went into its personal division, however crowds have been underneath the consequences umbrella at PDI then. For some purpose, you recognize, we have been making a film about ants and nobody had considered making a system for animating hundreds of them.

For the gang system, say each time eight or extra characters have been on display, say background characters, that’s the place we used it. It had issues like avoidance collision and making use of timing cycles. Now, the factor is, nobody assigned me that job. Someday I used to be speaking with Luca Prasso, who wrote the instruments for characters that want retouching.

A picture from Juan Buhler and Luca Prasso’s patent arising out of their work for “Antz.” The patent was granted for ‘3D stroke-based character modeling appropriate for effectively rendering giant crowds.’

So, each time you had background characters that they’ll animate particularly methods, that’s his code, and we have been speaking about that and he had completed some exams about crowds and I assumed it was an fascinating program and I simply went forward and wrote this factor. And I did a few exams and other people appreciated what I did and it was assigned to me.

You would take a look at the animation curve within the spreadsheet that was there, one of many instruments animators needed to edit numbers on these curves. I used to be wanting quantity by quantity on a type of spreadsheets making an attempt to return up and see which joint I needed to copy to attract my character, and I had too many variations of that as a result of I needed several types of characters and so forth.

I used to be writing these into textual content information that might describe these relationships. And, Lawrence Kesteloot got here to ask me if I needed to play Final Frisbee that day and he requested me what I used to be doing. And I informed him. And he stated, ‘I could make one thing for you.’

And the subsequent day I had this device the place I might load the animation curves and click on on joints in 3d area and make variations of my characters. So as an alternative of getting 5 variations by doing it by hand, I ended up having, like, 50 or a 100, because of Lawrence’s software. By the best way, the final time I discussed this to him, he utterly forgot he did that for me.

Rendering all these Antz

Dan Wexler: We have been constructing a brand new renderer and a part of that course of was a completely new consumer interface for controlling the renderer, or lighting device, as we referred to as it in these days. The lighting device was referred to as Mild and the renderer was referred to as d_render.

A screenshot of the Mild device as used on one of many Shrek movies at PDI.

Previous to Antz, PDI had by no means finished what can be referred to as three-dimensional movement blur. We had all the time rendered what we might have referred to as two-and-a-half-D movement blur, the place we rendered a picture and, per pixel, we additionally included a velocity and a digital camera focus for a circle-of-confusion. And we might take the completed picture, the secondary picture of the movement vectors and digital camera confusion, and apply a type of two-and-a-half-D course of that leveraged a lot of the identical know-how because the particle rendering stuff that we used to make a blurry model of the picture, and we had executed this with movies for years.

In fact, we’re doing a brand new renderer, and naturally the brand new scorching factor known as 3d movement blur. Some individuals had written about in papers and a few corporations have been doing it, however there was just about nothing out there about it. So we spent a bunch of time truly implementing that for the renderer and we did use full 3d movement blur on Antz, however the applied sciences that we already had for a part of the rendering have been closely used as properly.

For a lot of, a few years, they have been nonetheless used. We needed to all the time discover methods to make these totally different techniques work collectively quite than forcing all the things to undergo the academically right mechanism. We have been extra about these types of the way of, let’s get every little thing working and work out a approach to make the instruments work higher collectively.

[In 2013, Wexler, Lawrence Kesteloot and Drew Olbrich received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy for the creation of the Light system for computer graphics lighting at PDI/DreamWorks.]
Flood within the movie and flood at PDI

Rex Grignon: One of many sequences was this ant tower of hundreds of ants standing on shoulders linking arms, and this tower swinging, as this flood water rushes round their ft and our heroes climb up the surface of this tower. They pitched this to us and we have been identical to, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s put down the crack pipe, we’re not doing a sequence like that. There’s no attainable approach we might do this.’ However we pulled it off.

Shawn Neely: That flood sequence within the film was an enormous factor, so we employed a man who had simply accomplished his PhD, Nick Foster. Nobody had actually finished that in movie earlier than. So we had a physically-based water fluid simulation, and there have been a few actually massive challenges nevertheless it was nice as a result of we had sensible individuals engaged on it.

Juan Buhler: After which, throughout Antz, there have been a number of days of heavy rain and the entire basement of the constructing flooded. We spent two days filling sand-bags and cleansing up.

Shawn Neely: That basement was full of kit and knowledge from the early days of PDI. Ken even misplaced his motorbike.

Ken Pearce: Principally the constructing was a three-story constructing that had a basement that you’d park in. There was an enormous flood. There was eight ft of water and dirt and sludge within the basement. So all these things was underneath eight ft of muddy water, together with my motorbike.

Dan Wexler: Everybody needed to get in there to assist. Individuals like Aron Warner, the producer of Antz was there filling sand luggage with the remainder of the workforce.

[Video below courtesy of Webster Colcord, an animator on Antz.]
An Antz legacy

Ken Pearce: Antz was identical to doing the unattainable, you understand? It was like shifting this big boulder. That was a part of the attraction of it, every thing was so new and felt so inconceivable and, in the long run, all of it labored out. However, wow, it was a loopy time.

Juan Buhler: We have been doing one thing that, so far as we all know, hadn’t been finished. I imply, Pixar had finished it, however only one studio had. One thing hadn’t been finished outdoors of Pixar. And it was a time, I feel, in pc graphics the place there have been so many issues that weren’t invented but or not finished but, like fluid simulations, at an enormous scale in a film.

Dan Wexler: We have been undoubtedly standing on the shoulders of giants. We have been beginning a movie however individuals had been producing visible results and business tasks at PDI for an extended, very long time earlier than we began occupied with movies. It was all because of Carl Rosendahl, Richard Chuang, and Glenn Entis [the original founders of PDI].

Rex Grignon: I really feel extremely lucky. I by some means labored on the primary two cg movies ever launched.

Juan Buhler: And the opposite factor was, there was this setting the place somebody like me might stroll previous somebody’s desk and say, ‘Hey, I’m making an attempt to unravel this drawback. What do you consider it?’ I did that, like, too many occasions with you Shawn…

Shawn Neely: However you by no means received in hassle for it.

Juan Buhler: Yeah, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m busy don’t hassle the programmers as a result of they’re engaged on necessary stuff.’ I might stroll by and ask for assistance on an issue or make a suggestion.

Shawn Neely: Did you ever put cash in my tip jar?

Juan Buhler: I don’t keep in mind.

Ken Pearce: Yeah, Shawn had a tip jar.

Shawn Neely: I had two jars. I had ideas and bribes.

Ken Pearce: Which one obtained extra money?

Shawn Neely: I by no means received a lot.

Antz is being re-released on Blu-ray for its 20th anniversary. Pre-order the Blu-ray right here.