Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Some time ago I wrote about a "meet the artist" forum with Diego Garcia.

This is a (poorly) translated resume of the parts of this meeting that I found more interesting.

Diego Garcia Huerta
Pipeline & Tools developer at Blur Studios
Los Angeles. CA
www.sloft.com

Several jobs he has had:
Department of programming and control of quality, Software Engineer, Tools Team, Tools Programmer, Pipeline & Tools Developer
He works as a “tools and workflow developer” “designing and developing tools for pipeline”, “doing tools to make artists´life a bit easier, save production time, or achieve visual effects that would otherwise be too expensive to acomplish.”

How do you decide the tools you need:
Before a production is started, the script and animatic is revised in order to determine wether tools are going to be needed.
Other areas where the tools are used are day to day recurring problems and pipeline development, that is, the Studio´s methodology for all works, careful planning of how will the departments communicate with each other, who depends on who, and how does someone´s work affect somebody else´s. For instance: Naming Convention usage, Quality control, automatic notifications between departments, renderfarm tools, etc.

What tools for animators have you done in Blur:
-Modular rig system, that allows the rigger to add “layers” of functionality keeping the previous animation.
-Facial animation system integrated with Face Robot, allowing the animator to mix bones, morfos and Face Robot animation, all in the same package.
Also tools like copy/paste poses/animation, mixer, a bit of everything
- Animation supervisor control system fo find animation mistakes in 'first pass', 'second pass', 'final pass' animation, before moving onto tne next stpe of the pipeline which is scene assembly.
- Characters crowds and instancing system.

How many in-house tools do you use in Blur to help artists
A quick search in our server says we have some 1600 scripts (from easy 4-line scripts to more complicated ones) of those I would say 280 are really useful because according to the story have been used at least once during the last month. I would say there are some 30 production tools thta are used all the time by the artists in the studio.
These tools are added to the commercial version of 3dsmax, making it different, but it is more important the pipeline that is organized around, defining the methodology of work.

Which languages are used for programming in the industry:
In Blur he uses:
3dsmax: Maxscript, C++
XSI: python, pyQT, javascript, C++
Pipeline general and IT tools: QT, python, perl, C++
python is an incredible script language, very versatile and superpowerful, I recommend it to whoever wants to learn scripting with an OO (object oriented) language.

The big companies like Sony, Disney, as far as I know mainly use Maya but they have an army of programmers who modify it so much that is hard to recognize it (from the programming point of view).

There are plenty of in-house tools, everyone programs what best suites his pipeline, Sony has its own render and lighting system, Disney its own hair system, Rythm&Hues has programmed almost everything by themselves, etc

How long does it take to finish one job:

Blur works on different types of projects: from spots and animatics to small VFX for feature films. The time it takes depends on the customer´s desires and the available resources, sometimes there is a bigger number of people involved in a project, which is finished earlier, and other times you only have 3 or 4 persons.

A long project as 'A Gentleman's Duel' took one and a half year ( form initial idea to last render) but of course not everybody worked on that project all the time, it began with a couple of persons doing the script and concepts, then more people entered into the layout phase, animation was done in the last three months, in parallel with “scene assembly” and “render”, where almost all the studio got involved to get in time to present it to the Oscars.

On the other hand you also have one month projects, as TV spots, and cinematics that last 3 or 4 months. It mostly depends on how complicated the customer wants it.

About different approaches to a job, regarding departments, proccesses, etc in different studios.

Each studio has its own pipeline, adapted to its size and the kind of projects they do. They are all very different, for instance Disney´s programming team is as big as all Blur, Sony has a whole floor with programmers, here we are only 2 persons full time.
Each company´s process is somewhat reserved, as this can be the difference in productivity between a company and its competitors.

On the other hand, the departments are almost the same: concept, modelling, rigging, animation, effects, compositing, etc. it might change a little bit depending on the type of CG that is done, VFX houses will have a real footage integration department, videogam houses will have a motion capture and engine department.

Some companies are more interested in the final product asn if they can afford it they will hire as much people as possible for the best finishing, but they have to “let go” that people at the end of the production. Others, as Blur, are more oriented to people, here we try to create a team of people that work happily together project after project, avoiding to let people go because we can´t afford to keep them on board.

Regarding the layout itself, in Eurocom we were separated in rooms, like four or five in each room, whereas in Blur it has an open plan style, like an industrial room, where all artists, bosses and programmers sit close to each other, without distinction, easing the communication among teams.

Links:
In english:
http://www.awn.com/
http://www.animated-news.com/
http://www.cgchannel.com/
http://www.cgsociety.org/
http://www.3dtotal.com/

In spanish:
http://www.3dyanimacion.com/
http://www.3demotions.com/
http://www.3dsymax.org/
http://www.cg-node.com/
http://www.3dpoder.com/

DVDs, courses and schools:
http://www.gnomonschool.com/
http://www.animationmentor.com/
http://www.pepe-school-land.com/

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