PART 4: FX AND LIGHTING AT ANIMAL LOGIC
3D World UK|Christmas 2020
In the fourth instalment of our journey behind the scenes of Animal Logic, we look at the FX and lighting pipelines at the studio

In recent years, Animal Logic has been called on to produce visual effects and animation ranging from things as diverse as brick-based LEGO characters and environments to furry photoreal rabbits – and many elements in between.

Just about anything might be needed for the studio’s projects, which is why Animal Logic has invested significant time and resources in its visual effects and animation pipeline. This includes FX and lighting, two very critical areas that have undergone lengthy development over the past few projects.

In 3D World’s newest breakdown of how Animal Logic works, we talk to members of the studio’s team from lighting and FX to see how characters and other assets go through simulation, and how lighting is carried out. Some of the central projects in this latest case study are The LEGO Ninjago Movie and Peter Rabbit, which both featured their own set of very particular challenges.

THE INS AND OUTS OF FX

Most people might associate FX in visual effects and animation as elements such as destruction, fire and water. At Animal Logic, those are certainly aspects dealt with by the FX department, but the group also covers several other areas, as FX department supervisor Miles Green, who is currently based in the Vancouver studio, details.

“We are perhaps a little unique at Animal Logic. There’s pure effects like destruction, fire, smoke, magic and ethereal things but we also take care of crowds and character FX. Character FX includes producing elements such as hair, cloth and skin, which we do post-animation. Essentially we look after anything that is simulated or can be procedurally created.”

At the backbone of Animal Logic’s FX work is SideFX’s Houdini, which, most recently, was implemented in a large way for character FX, starting with the hair, fur and cloth simulation for Peter Rabbit. One reason the studio adopted Houdini for this work was its procedural end-to-end nature.

FX AND THE ART OF REAL REFERENCE

ON THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE, THE CREW TOOK A FRESH APPROACH TO GATHERING REFERENCE FOR EFFECTS SIMS. FX DEPARTMENT SUPERVISOR MILES GREEN EXPLAINS

1. AS IF IT WAS FILMED IN A BACKYARD

Before Ninjago, we had made LEGO movies that were predominantly brick-only. But on Ninjago, director Charlie Bean wanted to make it look like a child had filmed this in their backyard. So, the rain would look like it came from a watering can, for example, and then the idea is we would match that look in Houdini.

2. LEGO TESTS

We would set up little dioramas with LEGO. We’d take it from display shelves or off people's desks – “Oh we won’t go far with this, we won't destroy it…”. And then we’d go film footage with watering cans, or with flour for snow, or we’d spritz the LEGO to see how water droplets stayed on it, or dunk things in fish tanks to see how water ran off.

3. AT THE BEACH

Some of our artists went down to the beach in Sydney, and they’d take a few mini-figs – one of which was actually a prototype that no one had seen before – to get some reference in the sand and to see what happened when a wave hit it. We’d be working out, do the mini-figs make footprints? How does the sand stick? What happens with wave foam?

4. MATCH-STICK DESTRUCTION

We had some shots that needed missiles, so we thought about how kids playing in their backyard would imagine that, what would they use? They’d use firecrackers. We actually looked at reference of match rockets where they use foil and matches and light them. They deliver these amazing thin trails – perfect for our missiles.

5. SMALL-SCALE EFFECTS

One of the challenges was that most FX artists work on large-scale VFX, like big explosions. So we had to get them to think about macro-level effects of the smaller, close-up variety.

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