|This week's flashback is none other than the famous "Bingo" character and animation, which was the brainchild of Chris Landreth, a guy well known for doing fairly unusual animated shorts, to say the least...
Images from Ars Electronica
Anyway, "Bingo" was produced concurrently with the development of Maya 1.0.
Word on the street was that this initiative was all kinds of crazy difficult and that it was never going to happen again (that A|W was going to develop software AND produce an animated short). While this was before my time, one only need to imagine the hours required to work on the creating assets, characters, blendshapes, animations, simulate particles, render and composite -- AND -- have computers for writing the tools (the point of "Bingo" was to use Maya out-of-the-box)...all the while using what was essentially unstable software. FUN TIMES FOR SURE!
Well, as you can see, all of Landreth's films since that time have been made using student-labour and Toronto studios! Have a look at the press release on "Bingo" below :)
ORLANDO, Fla., July 21 /PRNewswire/ -- A clown so realistic you can smell
the face paint, a coy little girl that morphs into a hideous creature, and a
bizarre, little man with seventeen arms made of money, are a few of the
characters encountered in "Bingo." Created and developed by Chris Landreth,
"Bingo" was has been selected as the grand finale of the Electronic Theater at
SIGGRAPH '98. Developed concurrently with Maya(TM), Alias|Wavefront's ground-
breaking 3D animation and special effects software, one of the goals of this
in-house production was to rigorously test the software to ensure that it
could satisfy the most demanding and innovative of creative endeavors.
"'Bingo' is like no other production both in terms of the artistic content
and the process for creating it," explains Landreth. 'Bingo' and Maya were
basically developed in tandem which was challenging and exciting. The fact
that Alias|Wavefront would support a project of this scope is a testament to
its commitment to creating the best tools for artists."
"Bingo" is a five-minute computer animated adaptation of a live theater
performance called Disregard This Play which was first produced in Chicago in
1993 by Greg Kotis of the Neo-Futurists theater company. The recorded audio
performance of this play is used in "Bingo" which incorporates exciting and
bizarre visual imagery to support the telling of the story. Landreth is a
senior animator at Alias|Wavefront who in 1995 was nominated for an Academy
award for his animation, the end. With "Bingo," Landreth introduces a cast of
animated characters who are alternately, shockingly human-like and
"'Bingo' is an animation that stretches the boundaries of realistic
representation while also pushing the limits of the technology," describes
Landreth. "We wanted the characters to look a certain way and in every case,
By using virtually all of Maya's tools in a variety of different ways,
Landreth and a team of Alias|Wavefront employees who volunteered to help him,
were able to give critically important feedback on how to make Maya a cohesive
and comprehensive package that can withstand even the most challenging
production environments. The "Bingo" team ranged from software engineers to
customer support-line employees to product specialists, who were able to use
the production environment to refine their skills and learn how to build and
support the world's best software.
Keeping Up Appearances
The characters in "Bingo" range from the realistic to the fanciful. A
variety of tools in Maya helped Landreth and his team achieve precisely the
look they wanted. The blendshape feature was used for setting the facial
animation for the characters. This tool allows for incredible precision and
speed in developing facial animation by allowing the animators to set poses
which connect the character's facial movement to the appropriate phonemes.
Landreth took advantage of the customizability of Maya to create unique
shaders for numerous specific effects. Realistic hair was created by using a
custom anisotropic shader which provides directional highlights across both
the X and Y axes. Similarly, the strange and wonderful mechanical elephants
have ears that were built using a variety of shaders layered on top of each
other until just the right texture appeared.
Movement of both characters and objects in "Bingo" is naturalistic and
compelling. Characters not only have incredible depth of detail, they also
walk, leap, and bicycle across the stage while exhibiting the subtleties of
movement that make for very convincing animation. Objects such as balloons,
cloth, and even ponytails move with incredible realism and interactivity.
Maya allows artists to apply real world dynamics to virtually anything in a
scene, which means that animators don't just have to guess what a response
would look like, they can actually simulate the real-world effect. For
example, the little girl in "Bingo" twists and sways and her dress follows
with all the fluidity you would expect from real fabric. Landreth achieved
this feat by making the dress a soft body and applying weight, gravity and
other properties so that it deforms with the flow and swish of cotton. To
further add to the realism, Landreth made the little girl's legs collision
objects which cause the dress to shape to the force of her legs each time she
takes a step. The inverse kinematics in Maya made it incredibly easy for
Chris and the other animators to set up walk cycles for the various
characters. It also permitted an unprecedented level of control over the
character's body language by maintaining consistent movement and
characteristics throughout the production.
With "Bingo," Landreth has created a world that is dark, stark, and
unsettling. The powerful mood created in "Bingo" comes, in part, from the
deft application of lighting and special effects. As the clown walks onto the
stage, a subtle swirl of dust settles on his shoes, emphasizing the seedy
circus atmosphere created in this scene. The dust was created using Maya
software's phenomenal particle system which offers a collection of flexible
particle creation and emission tools that can be combined with dynamics fields
such as gravity, wind, and turbulence.
Further enhancing this scene are stark spotlights used in combination with
gently fogged peripheral lighting. Artists who helped work on this scene were
amazed with the speed and interactivity of Maya which allowed them to apply
and adjust lighting and instantly see the result of their tweaking.
"Maya really lets you get to the heart of making art rather than spending
time fighting tools or waiting to see your results," notes Landreth. "You
spend more time finessing your work and in the end you have a piece of work
where the artistic vision shines through."
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